30 04 2008

Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both

By Laura Sessions Stepp


Laura Sessions Stepp is a journalist for the Washington Post who specializes in issues with children and families, more specifically teenagers and sexuality. Stepp is a frequent public speaker around the country. Outside of writing, Stepp served on a panel for the U.S. Surgeon General focusing on adolescence. Unhooked is the second of two books she has written.

The book discusses Stepp’s two-year study of nine ambitious high school and college students, aged 15 to 21. Through meetings, lunches, and emails, Stepp follows these young women as they explore high school and college. What she found was a dangerous new culture unlike the one she had experienced in high school and college- one based around hooking up. Stepp argues that the term “hooking up” is “deliberately undefined by this generation so that when you tell a friend you hooked up with someone, you’re not really telling them anything at all.” (Stepp, 1) When exploring the student’s backgrounds, Stepp finds enlightening information. Many of the women who are involved in the hooking up scene have parents (more specifically mothers) who encourage their daughters to be perfect in school and to not waste time developing relationships with boys. These students were raised to have careers, not become housewives. While several of the parents in the book prefer that their daughters get involved in hooking up rather than developing dependent relationships and see it as the lesser of two evils, Stepp disagrees. She believes the hook up culture is not only emotionally damaging to students, but that it also deters them from developing the relationship skills necessary in marriage. Her argument develops as the reader follows the students through several one nighters, failed attempts at relationships, and their ultimate feeling of loneliness.


The primary problem I have with Unhooked is the students Stepp chose to study. The college students she followed were Duke University and George Washington students. As this is not a random sample of students, it is difficult to say that Stepp’s findings are true of all college campuses. There probably is a hook up culture of some kind on every American college campus- which in some ways hurts Stepp’s argument. Stepp believes, more or less, that “the combination of post feminist liberation and pressure from parents to “do it all”- as one kid puts it- has led girls to confuse the need to be independent (which they associate with success) with the need to be invulnerable.” (O’Rourke, 2) But what about the kids in the hook up culture who do not have pressure from parents? If there is hooking up in many colleges, and only a portion of those involved have pushy parents, where does the desire to hook up rather than have a relationship begin? Stepp often tries to relate her information to the larger mass of American college students when in fact she may not be able to. While I agree with her point that lasting relationships are more rewarding than hook ups, Stepp sometimes goes too far and comes off as antifeminist (something she is not). Stepp writes that feminism has gone too far: “it needs to revisit its assumptions and expand its vision of what it means to be a woman.” (Aronowitz, 1) She continues this idea by suggesting that women should admit that bars are not a place for ladies, and instead they should stay home to bake cookies, because guys, she confides, will do anything for homemade treats.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

Any book that criticizes the way things are is bound to raise some controversy. Similarly, when a book discusses sex or any other “taboo” topic, some may find it easier to avoid the issues rather than discuss the topics that the book brings up. Some found the book to be controversial because it reveals scary and threatening information about what the current teenage generation is doing. Others found the book threatening to the feminist movement that has come so far over the years. One critic wrote that the book “is an odd throw back- not only in its point of view, but also out of sync with the current climate of high-achieving girls who are usually applauded for focusing on their careers and their female friends, rather than on finding Mr. Right.” Another critic wrote that Stepp “resurrects the ugly, old notion of sex as something a female gives in return for a male’s good behavior.”(Rosenbloom,1)

It is a dangerous book- but for a different reason than other dangerous books. It is not trying to change something old and traditional, but change newer ideas that mean more to us because of their more recent founding. It does not denounce Christianity or inspire Communism. Instead, it undoes something that many women have worked for

Rather than accepting progress, the modern feminists believe Stepp is encouraging young females to change back to the 1950’s mentality of women being housewives, not presidents.

Also see:

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. A Disconnect on Hooking Up. 1 March 2007. The New York  Times. 15 April 2008. www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/fashion/01hook.html

Willis, Nona. Come Home With Me, Baby! 18 February 2007. The New York Observer.  15 April 2008. http://www.observer.com/node/36723

O’Rourke, Meghan. In Defense of “Loose” Women. 20 February 2007. Slate. 15 April  2008. http://www.slate.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2159995

Stepp, Laura. A Conversation with Laura Sessions Stepp. Laura Stepp’s Website. 15  April 2008.  http://www.laurastepp.com/unhooked/qa.html




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