So I went to the Laura Sessions Stepp meet-and-greet at Politics and Prose yesterday. Perhaps there was a bit too much hype. I've been getting e-mails from people asking me what I had in store for her. Well, I had no interest in being banned from Politics and Prose and it's hard to nail someone (in the Colbert sense, not the Unhooked sense) who has the podium. So when Wonkette said that "this Q&A is not to be missed," I cringed a little. LSS was asked two dozen questions and only two of them could be considered negative.
Naturally, I was one of those two.
I refuse to pay for a recording of LSS talking, so, here's the gist of my question:
"You've referred to women as the traditional "sexual gatekeepers" who traditionally have the role of regulating teenage sexuality. Since you also claim that human beings need to learn how to properly love, are you arguing that a woman's role in a relationship is to be nothing more than to be loving? How is this role different from previous roles that women have had and shed such as the submissive homemaker?"
That's not a terrible question, is it? Of course I got no answer other than that she is only focused on women and how they're hurt by hooking up. She would never dream of speaking for men. Her husband would never forgive her! (The audience totally LOL'ed.)
I don't really buy that. If women are really the sexual gatekeepers, that implies that men are the sexual "keymasters." This is guilty of both being an oversimplified, cliched sexual metaphor and also of claiming men are best suited with their traditional status of "players." This goes back to men being the Lotharios while women are the damsels in distress. Men can handle hooking up with as many female partners as humanly possible. Women can't. We've moved past that. You can make the argument that the hook-up culture (I'll give LSS the benefit of the doubt and admit this exists even if she is only using the most extreme examples in her book) is empty and unfulfilling. But to say it hits women harder than men and using outdated gender roles as one's only evidence is insulting.
Other obnoxious comments from LSS yesterday were that women are naturally more romantic (using, I swear to God, the popularity of Norah Jones to confirm this) and that was just the way it is. Hooking up proves that this isn't "just the way it is" and her nine self-selected females she followed around for a year aren't going to prove otherwise. She went out of her way to choose nine girls who had a problem with the "hook-up culture." Her conclusions are therefore inherently flawed and for her to speak of this generation needing to learn how to love is fantastically condescending. The divorce rate is already at 50% so it's not like we need any help mucking things up even more.
I'm as uncomfortable with middle school oral sex rings as anyone else. And if Stepp's descriptions of high school are remotely accurate, then I'm not really comfortable with that either. Those are minors making dangerous choices that could have horrifying long-term consequences. Call me a prude, but I don't think 15-year-olds should be sleeping around and getting hammered every weekend. But for the love of God, please leave college students alone. Hooking up does not negatively impact grades. It does not turn people into emotionless shells. It is not a sign of addictive behavior. If someone is depressed because they're sleeping around and can't get a steady boyfriend, well, my advice would be to stop sleeping around. If people can't handle this as adults, then, well, the problem isn't the culture but the person. And if this person has a different sexual partner every week, well, you really can't blame my generation for that.
Reading Unhooked, I was stunned how many times I thought to myself, wow, these girls are really slutty. The use of sexual outliers doesn't impress me. Unless things have drastically changed in the two years since I went to college, I can safely argue that most women, and men, just aren't this sexually adventurous. The book is alarmist. If the people who were at Politics and Prose last night represent Stepp's target audience, then her target audience is significantly older than me. I resent the alarmist tone since it makes me and my peers look like deviants.
Here I am reviewing a book I haven't even finished yet. So, let me finish up with a few notes:
1. Laura Sessions Stepp totally signed my book. When I asked her to sign it to my name (which sounds an awful lot like my pseudonym Rusty) she totally recognized me. This isn't me being full of myself. My friends caught it too. This experience was both thrilling and frightening.
2. I obviously have problems with the way this book was handled by the author, but let it be known that Mrs. Stepp was a fairly good speaker who left a favorable impression on even the younger members of the audience. She was gracious to me even though I was transparently trying to trap her and it was cute to see her friends, family, neighbors and former students (she was a professor at GW) come out to support her. Would I want to be in a bar with her talking about blow jobs? Heavens, no. But she did leave a favorable impression. One friend told me she was expecting, based on how I treat her here, Laura Sessions Stepp to either be a judgmental demon or a total prude. She is neither. This is why I should stop going to events that feature people I mock. I am a big softie.
3. When I am finally done with this book, I will be posting the Top-10 funniest quotes. There are some doozies.
4. A big thank you to The Bee in DC for Photoshopping that picture. It is much appreciated.