Kate Taylor’s New York Times article, “Sex On Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” has been on my mind. I do not like the article. I have talked with many different women who also found the piece flawed and annoying. It has taken me about three weeks to gather my thoughts because initially I did not know how to articulate what I disliked.
Taylor briefly describes six different commentaries of sex on campus, an economic approach, a get married or die trying approach, a depressed single lady approach, a celibate approach, a romantic approach, and a small segment about consent on campus (about which there is too much to say). Despite the array of experiences, Taylor’s article is reductive.
At first I thought my problem was the opening anecdote about “A,” some Wharton-going, high-achieving, Wall Street exec-to-be, who used financial terms to explain her romantic life or lack thereof. I study English, not Econ, I thought, maybe I just don’t get it. Then I remembered my love for Jane Austen’s commentary on the economics of love in Pride and Prejudice. So the fiscal slant was not my main problem.
Then I realized that my distaste came from the fact that there are a handful of disparate narratives in the article and yet A’s story still dictates the overall tone of the piece. Taylor’s introduction implies that women only want casual hookups and high GPAs, even though her examples show that some women want different things. And even though there were different voices, I did not identify with any of them. I felt excluded from whatever sexual zeitgeist Taylor attempted to explain. I could not see myself—a cisgendered woman whose generation Taylor purported to describe—in any of these stories.
Then I thought about female-identified people who could not relate to this story because of their sexual preference. I thought about male-identified people who were only represented as (heterosexual) partners—without any wants or thoughts—in the article. In fact, Taylor makes men seem even more two-dimensional than women; in the article men are shadowy figures whose sole function is to “[press] their genitals up against you and [try] to dance.” I would like to give some male-identified individuals more credit than that—perhaps navigating the turbulent seas of hookup culture poses its own difficulties for them. And then finally, breaking out of the freakishly rigid walls of the gender binary, I thought about folks who do not identify with either gender; Taylor does not mention them at all. If I couldn’t see where I fit in, how could they? And moreover, why did I feel the need to “fit in” in the first place?
I came to a more concrete criticism. Taylor’s argument pigeonholes an entire generation’s sexuality by sensationalizing it. There should be no trends in sexual expression. Whatever you want to do, or do not want to do, in your private time is your choice. However you may feel about relationships is okay—you are not abnormal, just a person with your own desires and philosophy. Communicate what you want and when you want it to your partner and if you’re both down, go for it (as long as you are consenting adults and you use appropriate protection). And if you do not want to have sex, or make out, or even hold hands with someone, that is also a completely valid choice.
Sexual activity is nonlinear—just because you want to do one activity one night, does not mean you will want to do the same activity the next night. Even if you want to be exclusive with Jesse, you might not want to be exclusive with Taylor. You do not have to desire the same thing every day with every person you meet. Your desires do not have to be the same as the desires of your peers. Personally, I plan to squash my anxiety over what the Times says ‘everybody’ wants because if I pursue what I want, chances are I will be happier with the outcome.
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I happen to agree with Taylor’s article. But I feel like your view isn’t necessarily criticizing her article because what she observes as a trend doesn’t appear or disappear with the belief that sexual activity is nonlinear. Even if every one thinks that ze can be casual one day serious another, it is still true that more women are hooking up rather than having serious relationships.
Taylor’s article bothered me as well. I think you articulated my concerns as well as yours.