Monthly Archives: August 2012

In 2004, Elizabeth Armstrong, then a sociologist at Indiana University, and Laura Hamilton, a young graduate student, set out to do a study on sexual abuse in college students’ relationships. They applied for permission to interview women on a single floor of what was known as a “party dorm” at a state university in the Midwest. About two-thirds of the students came from what they called “more privileged” backgrounds, meaning they had financial support from their parents, who were probably college-educated themselves. A third came from less privileged families; they supported themselves and were probably the first in their family to go to college. The researchers found their first day of interviewing so enlightening that they decided to ask the administration if they could stay on campus for four years and track the 53 women’s romantic lives.

Women in the dorm complained to the researchers about the double standard, about being called sluts, about not being treated with respect. But what emerged from four years of research was the sense that hooking up was part of a larger romantic strategy, part of what Armstrong came to think of as a “sexual career.” For an upwardly mobile, ambitious young woman, hookups were a way to dip into relationships without disrupting her self-development or schoolwork. Hookups functioned as a “delay tactic,” Armstrong writes, because the immediate priority, for the privileged women at least, was setting themselves up for a career. “If I want to maintain the lifestyle that I’ve grown up with,” one woman told Armstrong, “I have to work. I just don’t see myself being someone who marries young and lives off of some boy’s money.” Or from another woman: “I want to get secure in a city and in a job … I’m not in any hurry at all. As long as I’m married by 30, I’m good.”

The women still had to deal with the old-fashioned burden of protecting their personal reputations, but in the long view, what they really wanted to protect was their future professional reputations. “Rather than struggling to get into relationships,” Armstrong reported, women “had to work to avoid them.” (One woman lied to an interested guy, portraying herself as “extremely conservative” to avoid dating him.) Many did not want a relationship to steal time away from their friendships or studying.

Armstrong and Hamilton had come looking for sexual victims. Instead, at this university, and even more so at other, more prestigious universities they studied, they found the opposite: women who were managing their romantic lives like savvy headhunters. “The ambitious women calculate that having a relationship would be like a four-credit class, and they don’t always have time for it, so instead they opt for a lighter hookup,” Armstrong told me.

The women described boyfriends as “too greedy” and relation­ships as “too involved.” One woman “with no shortage of admirers” explained, “I know this sounds really pathetic and you probably think I am lying, but there are so many other things going on right now that it’s really not something high up on my list … I know that’s such a lame-ass excuse, but it’s true.” The women wanted to study or hang out with friends or just be “100 percent selfish,” as one said. “I have the rest of my life to devote to a husband or kids or my job.” Some even purposely had what one might think of as fake boyfriends, whom they considered sub–marriage quality, and weren’t genuinely attached to. “He fits my needs now, because I don’t want to get married now,” one said. “I don’t want anyone else to influence what I do after I graduate.”

The most revealing parts of the study emerge from the interviews with the less privileged women. They came to college mostly with boyfriends back home and the expectation of living a life similar to their parents’, piloting toward an early marriage. They were still fairly conservative and found the hookup culture initially alienating (“Those rich bitches are way slutty” is how Armstrong summarizes their attitude). They felt trapped between the choice of marrying the kind of disastrous hometown guy who never gets off the couch, and will steal their credit card—or joining a sexual culture that made them uncomfortable. The ones who chose the first option were considered the dorm tragedies, women who had succumbed to some Victorian-style delusion. “She would always talk about how she couldn’t wait to get married and have babies,” one woman said about her working-class friend. “It was just like, Whoa. I’m 18 … Slow down. You know? Then she just crazy dropped out of school and wouldn’t contact any of us … The way I see it is that she’s from a really small town, and that’s what everyone in her town does … [they] get married and have babies.”

Most of the women considered success stories by their dormmates had a revelation and revised their plan, setting themselves on what was universally considered the path to success. “Now I’m like, I don’t even need to be getting married yet [or] have kids,” one of the less privileged women told the researchers in her senior year. “All of [my brother’s] friends, 17-to-20-year-old girls, have their … babies, and I’m like, Oh my God … Now I’ll be able to do something else for a couple years before I settle down … before I worry about kids.” The hookup culture opened her horizons. She could study and work and date, and live on temporary intimacy. She could find her way to professional success, and then get married.

–Hanna Rosin, “Boys on the Side” (bolding mine)

Breaking news: hooking up may in fact be an exhibition of young women’s agency and desire to manage sexual desire against other competing goals like career and friendships. Sorry sexual panickers.

But clearly class matters in distinguishing how women negotiating against these different norms. I LOLed at Susan Walsh‘s line that this was featured in The Atlantic, “the unrivaled go-to source for all stories describing the educated female’s life trajectory and meteoric rise to financial success and emotional independence.” I wouldn’t expect The Atlantic to focus more on how socio-economic status changes these dynamics, so I’ll hold out for Rosin’s book before making Walsh’s critique.

Also sexuality matters. What about the lesbian and bi ladies–does this apply? Or is this just a straight girl strategy? Nobody’s gonna know if we don’t do the research.

Real world sex is more creative, more innovative, more surprising, more amazing, more arousing and more hot than porn will ever be.

Cindy Gallop, describing the draw of her new start-up, which attempts to counter the ubiquity of hard core pornography by creating a space where real people post videos of having real sex

I gotta big crush on Cindy Gallop, who is just all sorts of incredible. It’s great to see the evolution of the project she launched with her TED Talk in 2009–and it will be really great to see how her “incubator/accelerator for ‘radically innovative sex-tech startups'” manifests in a few years time.

…Across the world, it seems, wealthier people are much more likely to complain — or kvetch, if you will — about being busy than the poor. It’s not simply that the well-to-do work more, although that’s part of it, says Daniel Hamermesh, the University of Texas economist who co-authored the 2005 study with a former graduate student. It turns out that if you hold the hours people spend at their jobs and on household chores constant, individuals who bring home bigger paychecks still feel more stressed for time. Increase a husband’s income, and his wife begins to feel busier.

Hamermesh reached his conclusions by analyzing time-use surveys from the United States, Germany, Australia, and South Korea. The results were fairly consistent across international borders, although they varied a bit in South Korea, he says. In general, the richer a survey taker was, the more they kvetched about their lack of time. Women, meanwhile, kvetched more than men. And although Hamermish is hesitant to make cross cultural comparisons, he says that Americans appeared to be the “world champions” of kvetching.

All of this seems a bit counterintuitive. After all, one of the perks of being rich is that you can afford to pay people to take care of life’s necessities in order to free up more time for life’s pleasures. A nurse and a Google engineer might work the same hours. But the engineer can afford a babysitter and maid.

Nice in theory. But in practice, hiring help only makes a marginal difference, Hamermesh says. “You can’t pay somebody to sleep for you,” he explains. “You can’t pay somebody to read Proust for you. Or go to the opera, or go to the movies, or go to a ballgame.” And that’s where a bit of psychology comes into play.

We all live on two things: time and money. And people who have extra income don’t get much, if any, extra time to spend it. As a result, Hamermesh argues, each of their hours seems more valuable, and they feel the clock ticking away more acutely. Much the way it’s more stressful to order dinner from a menu with 100 items than 10, choosing between a night at the symphony, seats at the hot new play, or tickets to Woody Allen’s latest flick is in some senses more stressful than knowing you’ll have to save money by staying in for the evening. There’s a lot the rich could be doing and too few hours to do it all. 

That isn’t to say the rich are necessarily more stressed overall. While the poor are less likely to complain about a lack of time, they are much more likely to complain about a lack of money. “One of them is always going to be scarce for you. If you’re rich, it’s time that’s scarce. If you’re poor, it’s the money that’s scarce,” Hamermesh says.

So should we all feel guilty about our kvetching? Not necessarily — as long as you remember that, in the scheme of things, being busy is a nice problem to afford.

–Jordan Weissman, “Why Only Yuppies Feel Busy: An Economic Theory

My conclusions are that the US will not be an area where groups will spring up; Americans do not, by tradition petition foreign governments or intervene on behalf of individuals who have been tried, sentenced and imprisoned. Nor are [US] prisoners men who can be aided to any extent by AI [Amnesty International]. None-the-less some group can and should be organized, funds can and should be raised, and information can be gathered by someone acting as liaison between AI and US civil rights and civil liberties organizations, and sent to AI headquarters in London. I promised to do what I can.

–Michael Straight, a former communist spy, who would later go on to be AIUSA’s first chair in 1961, quoted in “Exporting Amnesty International to the United States: Transatlantic Human Rights Activisms in the 1960s

History is funny. Because now AIUSA is Amnesty’s largest country section, with nearly 250,000 members. #americanexceptionalism

I’ve gone back and forth on the use of the term ‘victim‘ v. ‘survivor‘ when describing people who have experienced sexual violence. It’s a comparable issue when writing about people who have experienced human rights violations, but it’s in discussions around women’s rights and sexual assault that I’ve seen more thinking around the terms we use.

My own diction has been determined by the nature of the work I’m doing: generally my research that examined occurrence and motivations behind  sexual violence focused on victimhood, whereas previous work I’ve done as a counselor and advocate (supporting women directly in aftermath) focused on resilience.

But the choice between these two terms has left me dissatisfied, namely because it oscillates between two notions that are simultaneously present in sexual violence.

Broadly speaking, feminist discourse has tended towards using ‘survivor’ as default. Kate Ravenscroft employs the hybrid term ‘victim/survivor‘, explaining that it is necessary to retain ‘victim’ as part of the label because both are connected to people’s experiences. She writes:

Much writing about sexual assault focusses on telling those of use who have been affected by it that we needn’t be a victim. That instead, we can be a survivor or perhaps even a ‘thriver’. That we can overcome what has happened to us simply by choice, or willpower or some special combination of actions and decisions. While I see what this sort of work is trying to achieve, and appreciate its intention, I cannot either agree with it or abide by it. We are victims. Sexual assault happens to you, hatefully and deliberately. It is inflicted upon you by someone who knew very well what they were doing, who understood only too well that they were harming another human being in the pursuit of their own satisfaction. What more literal experience of victim could you inflict? It was never our choice to be in this situation and it cannot simply be made otherwise, by us or by others, no matter how determined or well-meaning.

…Taking an experience of submission, brutality and suffering and turning it into the site of empowerment is no small task, even if it is, literally, a meaning of survival. I suppose that this is what ‘victim/survivor’ means, the importance of maintaining both terms, of linking them to describe this life. One does not come without the other, one does not outweigh the other, one does not replace the other. Rather, they are the conditions, the competing realities of a post-rape existence.

–Kate Ravenscroft, “What does victim/survivor mean, anyway?

But even this label is not enough in encompassing the full range of experience connected to sexual violence, particularly in conflict contexts. In a report on sexual violence in the DRC, Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern use the term “(non)survivor” “simply to point to the fact that not all victims of SGBV survive” (p 14, footnote 23). This may seem obvious, but given that the majority of discourse around SGBV focuses on the experiences of those who live after their violation, Baaz and Stern’s term is an important reminder that is not always the case, that recovery and justice is not always possible, and that in being a form of violence, rape is inextricably linked to mortality and death.

These are still imperfect labels though. (Non)survivor is easy to confuse with ‘non-survivor’, which could be used to desribe someone who has never been raped. ‘Victim/survivor’ is clunky and long. I’d be interested to know if anyone has other, or better, suggestions.

How many people do you know that want the “simple” solution? It may not even work, but they prize simplicity over everything else. These are the kind of people who ask questions like, “What’s the ONE thing you’d recommend…”


–Ramit Sethi, “When Dumb People Want Nice Things

It’s a little angry, but yes, this is totally a consistent factor in the people I admire, regardless of what field they are excellent in.

…while there are no generalized remedies to prevent sexual violence, let us highlight two common problems in policy efforts aimed at preventing sexual violence.

One is the tendency to adopt quick, easy and visible remedies, such as isolated workshops on human rights and IHL, and information campaigns, rather than long-term commitment addressing the complex structural causes. One can see why such remedies are so tempting: they tend to be uncontroversial, respond to a sense of urgency, and provide visible proof for the constituency that something is being done. However, these types of superficial interventions seldom have any tangible effects. The main problem in most warring contexts is not that the perpetrators of rape are unaware that rape is wrong and a crime.

A second problematic tendency in current interventions is the propensity to isolate sexual violence from other forms of violence committed against civilians. This problem is tricky, as the newly won arrival of sexual violence in the global security arena also signals a great success, which should not be underestimated or undermined. However, the resulting singular focus on sexual violence in many conflict arenas can carry some unintended and unfortunate effects. In addition to rendering us deaf to women’s (and men’s) stories of other violence committed against them, such a singular focus risks contributing to a commercialization of sexual violence, as has been the case in the DRC. This ultimately banalizes sexual violence. The fight against sexual violence is best served, not by a singular attention only to sexual violence, but by better listening to the stories of those affected by war, and by situating the prevention of sexual violence in the context of civilian protection and women’s rights more generally.

–Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern, “Ask the Experts: Sexual Violence During War” (bolding mine)

I really liked this excerpt from this concise blogpost from some of the heavy hitters in research on GBV during war. While there has been increased recognition and desire to address sexual violence during war by international and national policymakers, these two problems–the tendencies towards fast & simple solutions we can ‘see’ and towards isolating GBV from other connected political issues–will be the next frontier advocates and researchers working in this area will have to cross.