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November 26, 2012

Feeling Shortchanged by the Sexual Marketplace, Part I

Say you don't need no diamond ring
And I'll be satisfied
Tell me that you want those kind of things
that money just can't buy

I don't care too much for money
For money can't buy me love

- The Beatles

Maybe the idea that sex is a commodity to be bought, sold, or traded for is the problem. A few weeks ago, kavu sent a link to a thoughtful article on college hookup culture. It begins, as so many of these pieces do, with a familiar anecdote. Naive/vulnerable young woman embraces casual sex and gets the worse of the bargain, thereby proving what we all knew before reading the article: women only want relationships and men only want sex. Several things about the story bothered me as I mulled it over during the ensuing days. The first wrong note will probably not surprise anyone familiar with college frat life:

Not long after she arrived on campus in September, Nicole had started hooking up with a guy who belonged to one of the more popular fraternities on campus. As she explained to me over coffee that day, one night in the fall, she got drunk and ended up having sex with this guy in his dingy frat room, which was littered with empty cans of Keystone Light and pizza boxes. She woke up the next morning to find a used condom tangled up in the sheets. She couldn't remember exactly what had happened that night, but she put the pieces together. She smiled, looked at the frat brother, and lay back down. Eventually, she put her clothes on and walked back to her dorm. Mission accomplished: She was no longer a virgin.

This was a routine she repeated for months. Every weekend night, and on some weekday nights, she would drink so heavily that she could remember only patches of what happened the night before and then would have sex with the same fraternity brother. One night, she was talking with someone else at the frat when the brother interrupted her and led her upstairs to have sex. On another occasion, they had sex at the frat, but Nicole was too drunk to find her clothes afterward, so she started walking around the house naked, to the amusement of all of the other brothers. She was too drunk to care. Eventually, everything went dark. Next weekend, she returned to the frat.

It's hard to know whether hookup culture is the chicken (girl drinks to excess to overcome her natural reluctance to hooking up) or the egg here (risky sex happens because girl drinks to excess). The Dartmouth I attended over three decades ago could, at times, be something of a disconcerting environment for women. Boys outnumbered girls three to one, heavy drinking was common, and frat parties were pretty much the dominant form of entertainment. I don't know what it's like now, but depending on the point I wanted to make, I could easily cherry pick my memories to support almost any thesis about relationships between men and women. I knew girls like Nicole in 1977 and found their stories disturbing enough to augment the growing disquiet that eventually caused me to leave Dartmouth. But the vast majority of young women I knew during my freshman year were nothing like her. Perhaps equally importantly, the vast majority of young men I encountered were nothing like her frat-boy hookup.

That's the problem with anecdotes: they show us a small part of a larger picture. We don't know whether this story accurately encapsulates Nicole's sexual experiences. We don't know whether it's an accurate representation of the experiences of most female college students. To her credit, the author attempts to balance Nicole's story with selected statistics about college hookup culture. But like the anecdote, they too are ambiguous:

... anywhere between 65 to 75 percent of undergraduates nationwide have participated in the hook-up culture.

What does this mean? In the 1970s, the term "hookup culture" had yet to be coined but we had our own term: one night stands. Do 65-75% of today's students regularly hook up to the detriment/exclusion of relationships? Or have 65-75 percent of students incorporated a one night stand or two into a more complex set of experiences? As the perennially perky Tamilee Web (of Buns of Steel fame) likes to say, "There's a major, major difference!". A few paragraphs later, the author quotes another study that seems to undercut the "girls lose/guys win" theory of hookup culture:

...66 percent of women and 58 percent of men want their hook up to develop into "something more."

Dr. Helen Fisher cites a similar study of 515 college students that suggests the whole casual sex thing is overhyped:

...I’ve been working with a graduate student named Justin Garcia, and he and I believe that people go into hookups, or one-night stands hoping to trigger a longer relationship. And in fact, in a study that he did of 515 men and women in a college in the northeast, he asked them why they went into this hookup; this one-night stand. Fifty percent of women and 52% of men reported that they went into the sexual experience hoping to trigger a longer relationship, and in fact, 1/3 of them did.

As it turns out, quite a few studies indicate that actual (as opposed to perceived) promiscuity is far less common that articles on hookup culture would have us believe:

Using the robust body of data of 20,000 students gathered by Paula England at Stanford University, feminist sociologist Lisa Wade has concluded the following :
11% of students enthusiastically enjoy hookup culture. 50% hook up, but do it rather ambivalently or reluctantly, some with extremely negative experiences. 38% opt out of hooking up altogether. Less than 1% maintain a committed relationship.

Still, researchers have found that when students are asked what percentage of their fellow students had sex the previous weekend, they often reply in the range of 75-80%, when the real number is closer to 5%.


It's hard to argue with Ms. Esfahani Smith's thesis that hookup culture's promise of consequence-free sex is both unrealistic and harmful. If there's anything more bizarre than the disappointment of young women who think using young men as glorified sexual appliances is a good idea, it's the equally entertaining angst of young men - and all too frequently, their fathers - whining about how unfair it is that they can't have sex with anyone they want to without (Oh!, the humanity!) having to worry about divorce, pregnancy, paternity suits, or false rape accusations.

Sex outside of marriage has always been risky. Before DNA testing and paternity suits, men risked venereal diseases or shotgun weddings to women they didn't love. They risked violent retaliation from jealous husbands or angry fathers and brothers. Women risked pregnancy and the ruin of their reputations and marriage prospects. And then - as now - both sexes risked broken hearts. Technology has made it easier to avoid pregnancy and STDs but has done absolutely nothing to mitigate the risks stemming from our own profoundly human natures.

It's easy to despise the young man Nicole hooks up with, but I couldn't help finding him just as dysfunctional and damaged as she. It's one thing to think one can have sex with another human being - repeatedly - without incurring the messy entanglements of a long term romantic relationship. But what kind of person seriously thinks it is acceptable to treat others with the contempt implied by his every action: never to speak a single word to her, even when they are alone? To refuse to acknowledge that he even knows her in public?

This doesn't seem like a normal response. Would a young man who can easily sever sex from emotion - one who was truly untroubled by the morality of what he was doing - behave this way? If he truly doesn't think what he's doing is wrong, if he is either unaware of or untroubled by the effects of his actions on his partner, why go to such elaborate lengths to disassociate himself from her?

One answer is that he's a bit of a sociopath. A less dramatic one is that he's distancing himself from his own feelings. Or perhaps his conscience.

More on this tomorrow. Meanwhile, discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at November 26, 2012 05:55 AM

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Comments

Another case of too much being made of the wrong thing – yes? A cocktail of raging hormones, autonomy, and opportunity should not result in early onset delirium tremens. Whatever the genesis of male sexual sociopaths it does not do to excuse, encourage, abet, or supply them with sexually emancipated young women.

The erotocratic elites, including educators and administrators, have made the culture safe for the sexualization of children, the schools safe for the introduction and indoctrination of children, under the rubric 'sex education', to the pansexual world, and safe for sexual revelry on campus. State U's Sex Week or Ole Ivy's Pansexual Festival are held to molest traditional sexual mores and celebrate deviancy as a convention, I think. I think there is a declared war, in the flesh, on the adage "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes junior in a baby carriage". I recall, dimly, from my school days, a prophetic Brave New World being the result of just such a vanquishing of the natural order.

Posted by: George Pal at November 26, 2012 10:24 AM

Your comment touches on where I'm going with the second half of this post: the idiotic assumption that somehow we shouldn't have to worry about the character of people we associate with (and that "something should be done" or someone else should protect us against the consequences of our own bad decisions).

Sex is an area that has always been risky. You're letting someone close to you either physically, emotionally, or both. The idea that it should be "safe" or consequence free is just plain dumb.

Societies have come up with various ways to mitigate that risk (discourage premarital sex, encourage marriage, keep women covered up or in purdah, etc.). None of them eliminated the risks and none were perfect. This seems to be an area where people are always going to break rules.

I'm not sure that is a good argument for ignoring the risks and throwing out the rules entirely, though that seems to be a popular theme with these kinds of articles :p

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 11:45 AM

Wait just a moment. Why is the young freshman in that story being shown as a victim? Which one of the decisions that she made during the course of that... well, relationship is clearly not the right word... interaction she had with the frat boy absolves her of responsibility for her actions? She kept going back to him. Sure, it's clear that doing so was not good for her, but she wasn't forced to keep returning to him. Hell, you can't even say he was emotionally manipulating her, he refused to speak with her, she was just his masturbatory aid. So why did she keep going back?

To call her a victim of the hookup culture itself infantalizes her. If she is a poor pitiful fragile flower bent to the demands of the hookup culture, then she clearly is not capable of any kind of adult decisions. And if she is a fully realized human being, then only she is responsible for her own actions, and clearly not a victim. On the other hand, I have far less sympathy for the frat brother in the article than you. Dysfunctional and damaged he may (or may not) be. But responsible for his actions and how he treats a fellow human being, he most certainly is. And I wouldn't give a warm spit for him.

What I see in this article is nothing more than an attempt to blame poor life choices made by two young people on "the culture". Which is about as pathetic an excuse as you can find. They're two (supposedly) adult human beings, so why the hell should we give them a pass on their decisions? "The culture" is what individuals make of it. To say that young women on campus have no options but to become sexual toys for men because they outnumber men (and there are always other women willing to just give the guy what he wants), is to say that women are not capable of making adult decisions. I reject that.

Posted by: MikeD at November 26, 2012 11:49 AM

Mike, I agree with you 100%.

It has always bothered me a bit to see so many conservatives cast young women as being in need of protection from their own decisions. We get how wrong this approach is when we see The Life of Julia, but somehow lose sight of it when young women are unhappy with the entirely foreseeable consequences of their own bad decisions.

The question I kept asking myself while reading this piece was not, "Why was she having sex with him?", but "Why would she have anything to do with him at all?"

Being treated that way ought to set off alarm bells from the very beginning.

Another thing I kept thinking of (warning: this is geeky) was the Thomas Covenant sci-fi series. If you're not familiar with it, it involves a man with leprosy whose wife has left him. He is somehow transported (or hallucinates about seeing) a different world where people can literally feel disease. It's painful to them, whether they're looking at a person or a plant that is sick.

When I was raising my sons, that seemed like the goal of a moral education: to teach my children the right way to do things so that anything else would seem "not right" (they wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel every time they encountered some moral dilemma). The older I get, the more I realize how much I rely on what my parents taught me, and the more concerned I am that a lot of kids seem to have no idea what a healthy relationship ... of any kind... looks like.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 12:41 PM

Unsympathetic father of a poorly sleeping 5 month old is unsympathetic.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at November 26, 2012 12:48 PM

Not sleeping is the worst, Yu-Ain - you have my sympathies.

Though I completely enjoy having our kids come to visit, I never get much sleep while they're here. I still hear the slightest cough or cry in the night and I'm instantly awake, even though I know I don't have to be.

Hope it gets better soon!

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 12:54 PM

It really isn't all that bad, considering. I just thought it funny in that "complaining about your shoes to a man with no feet" kinda way.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at November 26, 2012 02:45 PM

Cass, I think that in your part II you'll have to identify just what risks you are talking about. The cultural practices you mentioned as mitigating risk are all really directed towards mitigating pregnancies, i.e., as a type of population control in societies where getting adequate food was always a problem and additional unwanted mouths to feed were not desireable. One of John Ringo's books in his Kildar series goes into this in some detail.

Relatively modern society has developed good birth control methods as well as safe abortion. In addition, food is not as scarce as it once was. So, without the forced necessity of avoiding additional unwanted mouths to feed, for whichever reason, people are experimenting with changing sexual mores. It'll take awhile for modern sexual mores to straighten themselves out, if they ever do, and it's only been a couple of generations since the 60's.

Posted by: Rex at November 26, 2012 03:41 PM

The cultural practices you mentioned as mitigating risk are all really directed towards mitigating pregnancies,

Perhaps in modern times, but I grew up reading classic literature and it was full of references to other practices aimed at risks other than pregnancy.

Chaperones, for instance, protected young women from unwanted advances as well as gossip about their virtue. They also protected young men against false accusations from unprincipled young women hoping to blame a pregnancy caused by someone else on a young man of good name and fortune.

Reputation was certainly more of an upper class concept, but it was considered worth guarding. Today, that notion sounds downright quaint.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 04:14 PM

I did not realize esteemed editor and I shared “The Dartmouth Experience.” I followed closely enough behind Cassandra to understand why she would choose to leave. During that time the college was in transition from an all-male Animal House atmosphere to a 60%-male Animal House atmosphere. While still a student I distinctly recall stating, “I love Dartmouth, it’s the right place for me, but I’m not sure I’d send my daughters here.” [Those were hypothetical future daughters that have been displaced by two actual sons].


I agree with much of what MikeD has written and I look forward to the second posting on this subject to see where Cassandra takes her commentary.


Where I will diverge with Mike a bit is on the question of the Frat brother. One trespass I find difficult to forgive in all politicians but particularly active liberal ones, is their failure to appreciate just how impossibly difficult it is to set up good “rules” for governance. It is very easy to intend well; it is very difficult to do well. When you legislate an unwitting moral hazard on Wall Street, it will be arbitraged. When you create profit opportunity in the “Obamaphone” program, folks will find a way to abuse the program’s ends as a means to enrich themselves. Rational -- sometimes less than ethical -- actors understand the rule set where they operate and they act accordingly to “maximize their potential.”


With that observation in mind, is it fair to ask if the young man is simply picking the fruit that circumstance has favored to put within his easy reach? If the current set of rules -- for whatever reason -- have provided him with arbitrage, is he not a rational actor (even if he is one that you do not approve of) for taking advantage of the situation? A beautiful woman is attended by many pleasures; the best table in the restaurant, command of any room she enters, and the “pretty woman discount” at the bar, etc. I expect neither the young man nor the beautiful woman to “start paying for their drinks.”


I look forward to seeing with the post and discussion travels.

Posted by: kavu at November 26, 2012 04:17 PM

I have far less sympathy for the frat brother in the article than you. ... I wouldn't give a warm spit for him.

usw from MikeD's remarks.

And

It has always bothered me a bit to see so many conservatives cast young women as being in need of protection from their own decisions.

I agree with Mike and demur from this part of your answer. In general, women don't need any more protection from their decision outcomes than anyone else. But sometimes an individual does need that help/kick in the a**. Here is a clear case. The young girl had lost control of her decisions, and she needed that kick. The frat...boy...needed a similar swift kick, as he similarly had lost control over his decisions.

Sadly, it's not uncommon. When I was in college, my girlfriend of the time sent a friend of hers to talk to me (how I became a counselor in those days remains a mystery to me). After hearing her story, my advice was for her to dump what was a real son-of-a-b*ch. When word of that advice got out (no privacy at Dear Old Grinnell, either), I caught holy H*l from my girlfriend and all of her female friends for advising that. I should, instead, have helped her figure out how to stay with and accept that...person. No thought of the girl breaking free and becoming her own person again.

Yet the girls (I hesitate to call them women) of Grinnell were aggressively sexual because that was the core of women's lib. Go figure that inconsistency.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at November 26, 2012 04:45 PM

...is it fair to ask if the young man is simply picking the fruit that circumstance has favored to put within his easy reach?

Is it fair, then, to ask if morality is an irrational behavior? The frat person's behavior was plainly immoral, unless he was a knuckle-walking, beetle-browed, slack-jawed, drooling idiot--in which case I must ask after his nurse, and conclude that the frat person's behavior was plainly amoral. Even Mike's forgivable first occurrence. The frat person knew the girl was incapable of informed consent; he pressed--in all senses--ahead, anyway.

I don't hold moral behavior to be irrational; albeit we might disagree on what is moral.

As an aside, the opening line of OP also caught my eye: Maybe the idea that sex is a commodity to be bought, sold, or traded for is the problem.

But sex is a commodity. Making love, on the other hand....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at November 26, 2012 04:56 PM

With that observation in mind, is it fair to ask if the young man is simply picking the fruit that circumstance has favored to put within his easy reach? If the current set of rules -- for whatever reason -- have provided him with arbitrage, is he not a rational actor (even if he is one that you do not approve of) for taking advantage of the situation?

I don't see what bearing being a rational actor (or profiting from circumstance) has on the morality of an act? A very pretty girl can probably steal all her friends' beaux away with ease. That doesn't make it right to do so, because she risks hurting both her friends and at least some of the young men she teases, but has no intention of spending any serious time with.

This is one of the first lessons girls are supposed to learn: simply being pretty doesn't give you some special license to do things that are cruel or hurtful. Having that power means you need to be *more* careful, not less.

A beautiful woman is attended by many pleasures; the best table in the restaurant, command of any room she enters, and the “pretty woman discount” at the bar, etc.

Not always, and many of those pleasures may not be pleasurable to/valued by her. What kind of person relishes that kind of attention?

I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that treating others with contempt or disdain hurts them. How can that be morally right?

I was never what you would call beautiful, but I was pretty enough when younger to have boys fall for me that I was not interested in. I didn't enjoy that one bit, and in fact it was painful to me because everyone knows how much it hurts not to have your interest returned by someone of the opposite sex. I have seen girls/women who seemed to enjoy stringing men along, and I always thought that was pretty pathetic.

I think that taking advantage of a girl with a drinking problem so severe that she regularly blacks out is downright dishonorable. After reading the story the first time, I asked my husband, "Which do you think would be worse - being the parent of that young woman or the parent of the young man?"

To me, there was no contest: I would have been upset to have that happen to my daughter, but the worst I'd be able to say of her is that she had acted foolishly and a bit recklessly. It's not apparent to me that she hurt anyone but herself.

I can't say that about the young man in the story. If I were his parent, I would be deeply ashamed to have failed in my duty to teach him right from wrong (to say nothing of basic decency).

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 05:47 PM

...sex is a commodity. Making love, on the other hand.

Guys say things like this all the time. I can't help wondering if they say them because they can't imagine what it's like to be female, or whether they really believe it?

For physical reasons that are fairly obvious, men rarely think of sex as something that is (or could be) "done to" them. They seem to see it as something they do to others.

All of this reminds me of a funny story about a conversation I had with another wife back in the early 80s. Her husband came home from deployment and was badgering her (there really is no other word for the way he was acting) to do something in bed that she really didn't want to do. That's as descriptive as I'm going to get. This guy just could not understand why she wouldn't "play along" and no amount of explaining on her part helped.

The worst part of it was that she felt guilty for feeling the way she did.

I thought about it and then said, "Well, I think my response would be something along the lines of, 'Let me get this straight: you say this is no big deal, "everyone" (!) does it, and there's no valid reason for me to object. OK - you let me do it to you first."

For some reason I'll never understand, he wasn't willing :p Sometimes, perspective matters.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 06:10 PM

Guys say things like this all the time. I can't help wondering if they say them because they can't imagine what it's like to be female, or whether they really believe it?

Or, maybe it's because we've experienced both. Or do you think only women can sense the difference?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at November 26, 2012 06:21 PM

...maybe it's because we've experienced both. Or do you think only women can sense the difference?

Have you ever gotten that from my writing? If anything, I think I've argued repeatedly that both men and women can sense the difference.

We may be using the same words but talking about different things. When I think of a commodity, I think of something that is purchased or traded for. I don't think sex is one of those things, and it always mystifies me when men argue that it should be bought and sold.

Now this may not be what you were saying - I was surprised to see it coming from you because it doesn't really square with my impression of your values. You may not have been saying that sex IS or should be a commodity, but rather that it is often treated as though it were.

If that was your point, I agree with you.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 06:33 PM

Arghhh! Perils of drive by commenting.

Maybe this will be more clear. I really don't believe that sex is a commercial good like fresh baked bread or espresso or a fancy watch. And it's not a service in the same sense that having your shoes shined or even getting a good massage is. Neither the masseur nor the guy who shines your shoes offers intimate access to their body in the process.

Sex isn't like renting an inanimate object (a sex toy, perhaps) - there's a living, thinking, feeling human being on the other end that you can't fully control, anticipate, or own, even for half an hour.

People can learn to shut out other human beings - to pretend that they're no more than objects or experiences to be consumed. But I think that even for men, doing that on a regular basis has to warp or twist something inside of them. It's a denial of reality.

Does that make sense to you?

Posted by: Cassandra at November 26, 2012 06:43 PM

...maybe it's because we've experienced both. Or do you think only women can sense the difference? Followed by your dismissive Guys say things like this all the time.

Yeah, it seemed like you were writing that.

As for my statement that sex, as opposed to making love, is a commodity, I was merely stating my observations on the matter--no value judgments about the commoditizing of sex at all. Whether or not sex ought to be bought and sold, it is--from the street corner, to the work place where sex is traded or demanded in return for other things, to the too-frequent pseudo-courtships that are rampant.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at November 26, 2012 07:26 PM

My own drive by commenting....

Should have been ...sex is a commodity. Making love, on the other hand. followed by your dismissive Guys say things like this all the time.

[sigh]

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at November 26, 2012 07:28 PM

When I think of a commodity, I think of something that is purchased or traded for. I don't think sex is one of those things....

I sometimes get in trouble with my readers, too, for suggesting that the introduction of a market mentality can often be destructive. The sacred should not be bought and sold.

And yet, of course, even in the High Middle Ages there was a flourishing trade in pardons, indulgences, and saintly relics. It seems to be something that people do, even though they ought to be able to see that it is wrong.

As for whether the boy or girl is worse, it's hard to say given that the boy wasn't interviewed. His side of the story may have been quite different. It could be that there are facts not in evidence, or even that the two accounts disagree about the facts.

The real issue, though, is bringing the market where it doesn't belong. It is common for thinkers on the right to treat the free market as a kind of moral agent, because we believe it produces greater happiness and prosperity than other forms. There are things, nevertheless, that it must not touch. The older view -- that it is a corrupting force -- is not wrong, because it leads to the erosion of the sacred.

The marketplace is an important part of any city, but it needs high walls.

Posted by: Grim at November 26, 2012 10:34 PM

I can't say that about the young man in the story. If I were his parent, I would be deeply ashamed to have failed in my duty to teach him right from wrong (to say nothing of basic decency).


We've both spent some time in the den of the beast where the incident occurred. With the benefit of that experience, isn't it easy to see a different possibility -- or is that probability -- here? I strongly suspect that the young man was often more inebriated than the young woman during these encounters.


Alcohol affects judgement. I think they both know right from wrong when sober. That doesn’t mean they abide by those learnings when drunk. Both of them are probably guilty of engaging in acts they would not consider when sober.


One possible explanation for the young man’s distant treatment of the woman, is that he was deeply embarrassed by his actions while drunk and lacked the emotional maturity to square the situation with her when sober. Once drunk again, it seems like neither had much trouble falling back into the pattern.


It’s quite possible that the parent’s failings here are not that they failed to teach him right from wrong, I deeply suspect they did. What they didn’t teach him -- or he may have ignored -- is that it’s probably not a good idea to drink 12 beers.


the worst I'd be able to say of her is that she had acted foolishly and a bit recklessly. It's not apparent to me that she hurt anyone but herself.


Hmmm, I am open to the possibility that hurt each other.


====


I am still thinking about your comments about how women deal with beauty, they are interesting and were non-obvious to me. Which is why I come here; to learn.

Posted by: kavu at November 27, 2012 12:03 AM

As for whether the boy or girl is worse, it's hard to say given that the boy wasn't interviewed. His side of the story may have been quite different. It could be that there are facts not in evidence, or even that the two accounts disagree about the facts.

It has long been my position that we can only comment upon the story as presented. I'm actually unconcerned about what really happened, because we don't know the real identities of either student. My practice is to treat stories like these as hypotheticals (IOW, I assume there may be things we don't know but generally try to work from the case as presented). Certainly we can speculate - endlessly! - about scenarios not presented, but that's really almost a different discussion: "What if the whole thing you're talking about didn't happen, but instead some other thing happened?"

And that's entirely possible, but again, then we're discussing a different case.

I strongly suspect that the young man was often more inebriated than the young woman during these encounters.

That's possible, though it doesn't seem likely for several reasons. Firstly, guys have to drink a LOT more than gals to achieve the same degree of inebriation. Secondly, when I was there it was common practice to mix girls' drinks with several times more alcohol than boys' drinks. When you consider that the same amount of alcohol affects a smaller person more (and that women don't metabolize alcohol as quickly), the practice seems even more reprehensible. But I'll admit that I don't know for sure that happened here. Maybe things have changed?

Thirdly, in the case as presented she is regularly drinking enough to black out. Fourthly, a woman doesn't have to "do" much to have intercourse. He, on the other hand, apparently remembers to use a condom, is able to put it on (an act that requires no small amount of dexterity) and yet we're to believe he is *more* inebriated than someone so drunk that she has no memory? Possible, I admit. But not probable - the weight of probability seems to run in the other direction.

I'm not actually hostile to your point, by the way. I've written at least two posts over the years in which I argued that using, "I was drunk" as in excuse cuts both ways - it can't excuse the woman but not the man. But I also argued that every person is responsible for him or herself. It's not someone else's responsibility to prevent you from drinking so much that you lose control over yourself or even cause injury to others.

And just as I argued being beautiful means a woman has to be *more* careful because of the power her beauty gives her, so a man needs to be *more* careful because of his greater strength. Especially when dealing with smaller, weaker people. This is equally true whether we're talking about losing control over your libido or losing control over your temper and starting fights with smaller, weaker men. Same logic, it seems to me.

So let's apply that reasoning to this situation.

She's clearly responsible for drinking too much and having sex with him repeatedly. He isn't coming to her dorm room, drugging her diet cola, and forcing himself on her. This clearly isn't rape.

By the same token, she isn't coming to his frat, drugging his Nehi grape soda, and forcing herself on him. We don't know who initiated most of their encounters. We do know (according to the story as presented, which is all I can comment upon) that in at least one instance, he walked up to her when she was talking with another frat brother, and led her to his room to have sex. This is actually consistent with the way boys/men ordinarily behave - they tend to take the lead. We can't extrapolate from this one incident to all the times they had sex, but it does show that on at least one case he was the initiator.

His offense, in my eyes, is not so much his behavior when drunk as his behavior when sober. On balance, I am not inclined to believe he was *more* drunk than she because there's no evidence of this and because of the physical requirements of having sex for a man are greater than those levied upon a woman.

If it turns out he has just as big an alcohol problem as she, AND he regularly drinks to the point of blacking out, that would be a mitigating factor. But it does not excuse his behavior when sober. Shame might explain that behavior, but it doesn't excuse it (and I previously suggested shame as a possible explanation here):

One answer is that he's a bit of a sociopath. A less dramatic one is that he's distancing himself from his own feelings. Or perhaps his conscience.

I should have said, "melodramatic" because I agree with you that shame is the most likely explanation for his behavior. The problem I'm having here is that while I understand bad decisions made when drunk, I don't think being drunk excuses those decisions.

Doubling down on bad decisions you made while drunk once you're sober compounds the offense.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 06:42 AM

It is common for thinkers on the right to treat the free market as a kind of moral agent, because we believe it produces greater happiness and prosperity than other forms.

That's a utilitarian argument, and I'm not a big believer in "ends justify the means" morality. Utilitarianism can be used to justify some pretty horrifying deeds. :p

I tend to think of free markets as neither wholly good or wholly bad, in and of themselves. A free market in human slaves isn't a moral market, no matter how "free" it may be. A free market in which sellers act unconscionably isn't moral, no matter how free it is either.

But profit isn't immoral. Most free societies place practical limits upon commerce to prevent immoral or harmful actions. When profit itself is deigned to be immoral, that's when I get off the bus.

I agree, though - in a free market buyer and seller generally seek the best deal for themselves. Of course there's also the concept of fair trade, which if not coerced seems like a good moral framework. So free markets can be moral, or neutral (the best case) or immoral. I don't think they're any one thing all the time simply because (in the aggregate at least) they maximize wealth and the efficient allocation of resources.

Markets are not a good model for marriage, for instance, where it's essential that both husband and wife place the relationship above their own narrow self interest. Though I suppose the concept of fair trade might work :)

Posted by: Cassandra at November 27, 2012 07:03 AM

No, they aren't a good model, and we've talked about why not recently. It is because love is sacred, and -- insofar as sex is an expression of love, which it is when it is at its best -- sex is capable of being an expression of the sacred as well.

As for these two, my sense is that they are due our deepest pity.

Posted by: Grim at November 27, 2012 08:06 AM

Kavu asked:
is it fair to ask if the young man is simply picking the fruit that circumstance has favored to put within his easy reach?

It is fair to ask, but I'd still say he's responsible for that decision. And treating another human being like that (as presented in this article, of course) makes him a cad. I do not absolve him of his actions because "it was there for the taking". I too was a young man, and was able to resist taking advantage of offers that I knew I should not. And there's nothing magical or special about me. I resisted offers freely made because of various reasons. I was dating someone else at the time, or I felt they were not of sound mind to make said offer, or I felt I was not of sound mind to accept said offer, or later because I was married. I have certainly been tempted, I am not a stone. But I have managed 16 years of marriage being strictly faithful to my wife. And I assure you, I have been offered, in no uncertain terms, opportunities to do so that I politely declined. I fully grasped the "rules set available", and I chose to listen to my better angels.

And in any event, the major sin (in my eyes at least) that the frat boy committed was not accepting the offer of the young woman, it was the way he treated her afterwards. She was not given the consideration I would give a dog, and he was sleeping with her! To only acknowledge her existence when he wanted to "get his rocks off", and at no other time shows that he considered her (and potentially all other women) as a thing, no more worth a kind word than a wad of tissues. As Cass said:
His offense, in my eyes, is not so much his behavior when drunk as his behavior when sober.

As for this:
If it turns out he has just as big an alcohol problem as she, AND he regularly drinks to the point of blacking out, that would be a mitigating factor.

I reject that. I would only accept inebriation as a mitigation of one's actions the first time in that person's life that it happens to him or her. Lack of foreknowledge of what will happen gets you a one time indulgence (but not carte blanche pass) from me. And the reason I say that is no one is forced to consume so much alcohol that they black out (outside of some unrealistic hypothetical serial killer who forces his victims to drink themselves to death). The girl made the choice to drink herself to oblivion. A boy who did the same (and how one so drunk could consummate the act is beyond me) gets no pass either. They made the decision to drink themselves blind, that makes them responsible for the actions they take thereafter.

NOTE: Before anyone conflates that, I am NOT saying a girl who gets so drunk she passes out deserves to be raped, nor a boy who does deserves to be robbed, or that either deserve to have any kind of crime perpetrated upon them. They are not "asking for it" nor does it absolve the perpetrator from a criminal act upon them. But it must be acknowledged that if you place yourself in a dangerous situation, you bear a share of the responsibility for the consequences.

As an example: you get blind stinking drunk and walk down to the subway station. You are so very drunk, you fall upon the tracks and have your leg severed by the train. By great fortune you survive. I believe that while you did not deserve to lose your leg as a consequence of getting drunk, you have no right to sue the transit system. Your decisions put you in that position. Note the key difference between this example and (to choose a less incendiary example than rape) a young man who gets drunk at a party and robbed while passed out.

In that case, the young man does not deserve to be robbed. The thief deserves full punishment for robbing him, the victim's intoxication does not absolve the thief of his crime. However, I do not fault the host of the party for the fact that he gets robbed. The only ones who bear any responsibility are the thief (for committing the crime) and the victim for putting himself into a vulnerable position. Again, he did not DESERVE it, but he cannot blame anyone else for letting it happen to him.

Posted by: MikeD at November 27, 2012 09:37 AM

I strongly suspect that the young man was often more inebriated than the young woman during these encounters. and the subsequent discussion, including the potential for alcoholism--addiction--to be a player.

I tend to take a pretty hard line here. I have no sympathy and little pity for either, but I have contempt for the frat boy.

We're all products of the decisions and choices we've made, both proximately and over our lives. We're solely responsible for the outcomes of those. It's true enough there are factors that impact us that are beyond our control, but those impacts are mitigated or potentiated by the suite of choices we make leading into those impacts and in their aftermath.

Nobody, as has been pointed out, made either of these two drink to the point of inebriation--or at all. The choices they made while drunk, and outcomes resulting, are the result of the choices they made while sober. They have no excuses. They're alcoholics and can't help themselves? Crap. If one human can break/control his addiction, all humans can, albeit this will be more difficult for some than for others. Their supposed alcoholism confers no excuse.

My contempt for the boy stems from his taking advantage of his position of greater strength/power/ability to act relative to the girl in order to take advantage of the girl. He knew she could give no meaningful consent, once having arrived and begun drinking. He could have walked away from those events at any time after her (repeated) poor choice; he chose to take advantage of her incapacity. Her failure to choose wisely in no way obviates his obligation to choose wisely and morally. This may not meet the legal definition of rape, but in my pea brain, it meets a moral definition.

Was he too ashamed in the aftermath of each incident, the accumulating total of the incidents, to face her sober and in public? One would hope that he'd have the grace to feel shame, and it's even possible that he did. But that just makes him a coward for choosing not to face that shame--and her.

Both of them need help, both seem to need friends to intervene and break the cycle so they could seek that help. Where were the friends? Where was the community I've prattled on about in other commentary? Where was Ms Esfahani Smith, who closed her anecdote about her "friend" by saying she repeated the girl's tale to a frat person acquaintance and then feigned surprise at his response? And apparently did nothing to help a girl who plainly still needed it (assuming facts not in evidence, but the chain flows from the tone of the anecdote).

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at November 27, 2012 10:02 AM

Why do so many college students seem to feel the need to drink to extreme excess on a very frequent basis? There has of course been a lot of drinking among college students, a tradition going back to the Middle Ages, but lately things seem to be spiraling out of control on this front.

Someone once observed that "happiness is that moment we would not trade for non-existence"....being four sheets to the wind drunk is a pretty good simulation of non-existence, which argues for a pretty high level of unhappiness among college students.

A fair amount of this, I suspect, is people going through an educational experience that they're really not all that interested in but that they've been told they have to do in order to have any kind of a future.

Some of it may be that they need to be totally boozed to bring themselves to do one-night-stand hookups....I've seen data suggesting that BOTH boy and girl are usually fairly inebriated on their first (maybe only) sexual encounter...the question of the direction of cause-and-effect on alcohol culture and hookup culture is not obvious.

Posted by: david foster at November 27, 2012 10:58 AM

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