I was listening to a new EP by a talented musician named Nathalie Raedler and discovered a song called One Night Stand https://soundcloud.com/nraedler/one-night-stand, that poignantly describes an experience that inspired her song. It got me thinking about how much progress women have and have not made over the past few decades around sexuality and relationships, particularly young women, including and maybe especially college-age women.
As a “veteran” of the 1970’s women’s movement – or what is now being called the Second Wave – I was part of a women’s group that met weekly to read and discuss historical and contemporary feminist articles, and to support one another in applying feminist principles in our personal and professional relationships. We “took charge” of certain activities that were typically done by men at the time, like changing tires and oil, and doing basic home repair.
I remember how thrilled I was to change a doorknob and shingle a house on Cape Cod! We analyzed popular culture to understand how it was reflecting and promoting gender imbalance, and over endless cups of coffee, we bonded as friends and as change-makers, taking charge of our relationships, our bodies and our lives. A small group of us published a newspaper called “New Salt City Press”, which reviewed films and major national and international news, including a how to column on topics like car repair and how to winterize your home. Our underlying message was an echo of women’s cries during World War II – We Can Do It!
While we were not a part of the “free love movement” – that was another “faction” of cultural change at the time – we also believed that women had the agency to determine how we wanted to engage in sexual and other types of relationships.
A few decades later, I joined the Women’s Caucus at Occupy Boston, a group of women who came together because a couple of women who lived in the encampment had been sexually assaulted, and moreover, they felt men were dominating the conversation at the encampment. I was disturbed to hear about these problems, but curious about and ultimately impressed with these women, many of whom had literally been schooled in universities around the country to understand and confront sexism. I discovered that the spirit of women-oriented culture lived on among these young women, who were both lesbian and heterosexual, in a “third wave” of the feminist movement. Men were still dominating the mainstream culture at Occupy, a microcosm of the broader society.
But without much backlash – a sign of changing times – these women at the encampment made great strides in inserting their voices into the conversation, organizing a successful “women’s” march, a speak-out on violence at the encampment, and sponsoring women speakers on reproductive rights, rigged ballots and gender and unemployment. Certainly what was different from 30 years before was that this “third wave” was bringing its collective voice to this particular table successfully. Despite enormous strides women have made in both the work and domestic spheres, it still seemed that young women – college age and in their early 20s – were experiencing gender imbalances in relationships with men.
Musician Nathalie Raedler captures the experience of this imbalance in One Night Stand, which she wrote after spending a night out with a group of “guy friends”. In this song, she describes how her “guy friends” had spent most of the night assessing women as possible pickup material, based on various body parts.
Their banter didn’t result in anyone taking anybody home that night, as far as she knew, but it did reinforce the bond between and among them, as they entertained one another with the assumption that the women were there for the taking. Did they think that their banter would also impress her? Or did she become invisible as they focused their energy on objectifying the women around them?
This male bonding over sexual exploits is explored in depth by sociologist Danielle Currier, in a recent Gender and Society article, based on her qualitative study on hookups among college-aged women and men. Based on interviews with 78 full-time, heterosexual students at a coed, public university in the South, Currier found that hooking up is common among college students, but there remains a sexual double standard. All of her study participants report that hookups are “ever present and normative in college and a central component of social life”, women participants disregarded their own sexual desires, performing oral sex on men without reciprocation and “ignoring their right to sexual pleasure in hookups”. As one of her participants said, “sex is defined as over when the guy climaxes”. Pleasure is equated with orgasm for men, rather than the full array of physical and emotional experiences associated with sexuality. Currier concludes that a central aspect of this configuration is “gender asymmetry”, with the assumption that men will achieve sexual satisfaction in hookups, and women’s role is to help them achieve this goal. Another critical aspect of her analysis is that women want to avoid being labeled a “slut”, worried about whether they will be viewed as having “too many” hookups. Women were “strategically ambiguous” about the nature of their hookups, not talking about them, and being vague about the details, to avoid this label which was applied only to women, not men, reflecting the “underlying double standard” used in labeling the nature of and amount of their sexual activity.
The aforementioned finding in Currier’s research, which Nathalie Raedler gives voice to in One Night Stand, is the “importance of bonding with or impressing other men, much more than bonding with or oppressing women”. Currier concludes that the gender imbalance in hookups is evidence of how “emphasized femininity is often a reaction to or an offshoot of hegemonic masculinity”. Moreover, “doing femininity still often means reacting to men and cultural definitions of masculinity”. In her song, Raedler describes the men as “hunting down random chicks”, asserting that the men have “nothing in your head. That’s why you have to think with your dick”. To the women, she asks “are you looking for someone? You’re selling yourself cheap.” Her song challenges men and women to undo this gendered configuration. Check out her song and new album: http://www.nathalieraedler.com/. Raedler has a beautiful and strong voice and a lot to say, and in a marriage of art and scholarship, Currier’s research captures the essence of Nathalie’s song with a strong scholarly piece of research.