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Last week, I watched the Netflix Documentary Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution. (2017/ TV-MA/ 1h 26m). The film was directed and written by Benjamin Nolot. Right off the bat, I am going to say this movie is hard to watch—especially as it goes on, and we are taken deeper and deeper into the thoughts and actions of ordinary college kids at spring break in Florida. The movie explores a phenomenon that is now being described as ‘hookup culture.’ Hookups have always been around and especially picked up speed in the 1920s with the mass sales of motorcars and movie tickets. Once young people left their homes for courting and socializing, versus at home with their parents lurking around, young people had the opportunity to experiment more with their sexuality. ‘Hookup culture’ is a broader worldview that is notably pessimistic regarding love and marriage, sees sex as completely devoid of emotions and peer pressures men to have sex with as many attractive women as they can to assert their masculinity and pressures women to be as sexy as they can to attract and be wanted by men. There are some significant problems arising from this rising trend for young people. (Hookup Culture, American Psychological Association, apa.org)
The movie begins with following a young group of college-aged men on their way to spring break festivities in Florida. They are smart, well raised, cared for men; however, as the movie progresses, we see a very dark reality regarding their views and treatment of women emerge. There are also vignettes of several other male and female college kids professing a kind of morbid world where love does not exist, sex is solely a detached activity, and that women are to serve men as sex objects. While both males and females may be participating in this hookup culture, the sexes are not experiencing it the same way. Far more females have regret after a hookup, feelings of being used, and notable stress during and after the encounter. Another important statistic is that nearly all of the men reach climax during a hookup and nearly none of the women do. Hookup sex is about the male reaching orgasm and the female being the tool for it to be achieved. Other statistics included the fact that almost all of the males when questioned had no belief or intention for the hookup to lead to a relationship. Conversely, many of the women surveyed thought that a relationship might arise out of a hookup. (Hook-up Culture, American Psychological Association, apa.org).
To be sure both in the movie and in the research I did on hookup culture, things are not all rosy for the young men. Peer pressure on what it is to be a man placed a lot of pressure on young men to behave in ways that were not in line with their core being—causing a lot of stress and angst. And, while not as many men felt regret or guilt after a hookup, there still was a good percentage that did feel regret afterward—in the same mirror fashion with the ladies: men felt guilty for using the girl, and girls felt bad for being used. In an article from the Harvard Political Review by Nataliya Palinchak entitled Hookup Culture (November 19, 2017, harvardpolitics.com) “Some students are defining hookup culture as something almost predatory in nature, and as something cold, where the person with whom you have hooked up with becomes disposable.” What makes that quote ominous is that hookup culture is growing in size and dominance. Again, from Palinchak, “Hookup culture has become a significant part of the college experience. It can create new bonds and build healthy self-image while simultaneously allowing for the marginalization and perpetuation of harmful treatment of those around us.”
Hookups will always be around and most likely have always been around; however, hookup culture is something altogether different in that it is becoming the dominant culture on college campuses, it involves heavy peer pressure on the men, and deep cultural messaging to women regarding self-worth and sex and being wanted. Essentially, in the logic of hookup culture, if you are a man, you need to avoid committed, loving, intimate relationships and ‘bag’ as many girls as you can in order to have a feeling of worth or success, and if you are a woman, you need to be hot and pursued sexually by as many males as possible in order to have a feeling of value or worth. Along with hookup culture is an epidemic of sexual assault on campuses as the hookup culture and alcohol culture create a nearly toxic effect. The last section of the documentary dealt with hookup culture and sexual assault, and it was brutal to watch. Oddly, you felt bad for the men too as they had allowed themselves to become subhuman. It was tough to see young men—bright, ordinary, college boys—say and do monstrous things. As for watching the college girls—it was sad and terrifying.
Again, as for the movie Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution (2017, livestream on Netflix) it is difficult to watch, but I still heartily recommend it. You will not fall asleep, and you will have plenty you’ll want to talk about, so do make sure you see with a friend or two. I saw it alone, and it was kind of a drag that I didn’t have anyone to talk about it with. Plus, it’s a pretty stressful movie to watch, and so it would have been nice to look over at a friend and mouth, “Oh my gosh.” It’s hard to imagine what kind of world we will have on our hands when these hookup kids enter society as adult professionals—it looks pretty grim considering the abusive and limiting definitions of masculinity and femininity hookup culture provides. I want to end with one quote from an extraordinary article written by a female college student from Middlebury College. It was brave, smart, and incredibly moving. Definitely click the link below and take the five minutes to read the article as it skillfully articulated what it really is like to be a college kid today in the era of hookup culture. “My girlfriends and I were top students, scientists, artists, and leaders. We could advocate for anything—except for our own bodies.” ("Playing the Game: A Lot of Women Don’t Enjoy Hookup Culture—so Why Do We Force Ourselves to Participate?” by Leah Fessler May 17, 2016, Quartz)
If you are interested in reading the article, you can find it here. Below is also the trailer for The New Sexual Revolution.