Strangely, I’m reminded of the Summer of the Shark, that summer when the media garbled up stories revealing a new and terrifying trend: shark attacks ruining summer vacations! After three or four such stories, people started avoiding the beach, frightened by the sudden rise of shark attacks near vacation spots. Was global warming to blame? Were we eating more fish than we should, depriving the sharks of their natural prey so that they had to bit our children? Nope. We were just victim to another media blitz: media outlets reported more on shark attacks than ever before, so we assumed there were more shark attacks. But we were wrong – just more journalists and more need to fill up air space.
These “college girls gone wild” articles seem no different to me, another Summer of the Shark blitz, but this time, the sharks are 19-year-old sinewy young women and summer is one of three academic semesters.
Call me paranoid, but I am convinced that there is a correlation here between the rise of female enrollment on college campuses and the rise in articles scaring parents into enrolling their students in online universities – where they can study safely from home, far from the excesses of so-called hook-up culture. Remember “The New Math” article in The New York Times? There, higher enrollments of women in universities meant one thing only: a smaller pool of available men from which women could find suitable mates.
Now that the evidence indicates that females may be as or even more career-driven than men, and despite the fact that college students are having much less sex than they are perceived to be having (nearly 1/3 of college students consider themselves virgins), all of the communicative powers of the mainstream presses are corralling to undermine women’s successes and remind us that women are not and cannot be as powerful as we might think. They’re apparently not going to college to become better equipped for a career, but simply to do what they are best at doing: find a husband, have babies.
The Sexist also recently took up this trend on the hypersexualization of college students.
In the United States, the cultural narrative surrounding a college student’s sexual experience tends to by extremely hypersexualized. It’s not just that undergraduates are assumed to be promiscuous—it’s also that the sexuality of college students is presented as “out of control” and “gone wild.”
But The Sexist neglects the fact that the “gone wild” and “out of control” stigmas are disproportionately ascribed to women. There are far too many stories about women losing control over their otherwise contained sexuality. The CNN article mentions Laura Sessions Stepp’s book , in which she follows three groups of young women through their college lives as they navigate the hook-up playing field. And this recent Canadian documentary, featured on "The View," well, it speaks for itself:
Largely, the burden of abstinence and purity is on women's shoulders, further linking women's morality to their sexuality and saying nothing of these females' academic successes, ambitions, involvement in extracurricular organizations and the like. How can we create environments on campus that honor women’s choices to have sex, should they choose, while at the same time honoring women’s academic and career choices as well? How do we create a sex-positive environment that not only values consent but also fosters honesty among peers?
Moreover, where are the articles focusing on men who are abstaining? Or better yet, where are the articles lambasting men’s feverish sexual drives? Why don’t we hear more stories bemoaning men’s drives for casual sex? Why do we take for granted that men don’t want relationships but lament that women do? Why are we not afraid that men are suddenly having more sex but are terrified that women are doing so (assuming that men and women are both actually having more sex, which yet remains to be confirmed)?
What we see instead are ever-increasing stories in which men are assumed to be naturally sexual beings, simply the lusty canvases upon which women’s virtues are displayed. And judged.