Backpacks and hooking up

This morning, I was walking Little A to class. She saw a little girl with a backpack with her favorite Disney Fairies on the back. She decided to follow that girl because she wanted to take a closer look at the backpack. While the backpack had the fairies and glitter and colors that Little A. loved, it was not made very well. I’d give it until Fall at best. The backpack Little A has is a little more understated with an embroidered hibiscus on it, but is very well made (lifetime warranty). She’d ditch it in a minute to get that fairy glitter though, which can be expected because she’s six, and girls of that age tend to be a little short sighted.

Unfortunately, according to Laura Session Stepp’s Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both, high school and college girls are making the same kind of swap with much more serious consequences. They are falling for the illusion of control and unattachment, but they are getting poor quality relationships, exploitation and in the worst cases, disease and abuse.

I really appreciated Stepp’s compassion for her subjects. The purpose of her book was twofold: to encourage girls to apply serious thought to their part in a culture in which oral sex is as casual as a handshake, (but expression of emotion is grounds for ridicule) and to admonish adults to have open dialogue with these girls about their relationships and sexuality.

The author also urges those who participate in these activities to take a long range view of their actions. She talks about her experience facilitating classroom discussions where kids freely talk about their participation in hookups, but are completely dumbstruck when asked how to transition from these activities to the long term relationships which are their ultimate goals.

She shares excerpts from her conversations with dozens of girls from widely varied ethnic groups and economic backgrounds, with only a few opting out of hooking-up, a behavior which is purposefully referred to in vague terms so that people aren’t really giving serious thought as to what they are doing.

One particularly sad episode of the book was when a college girl, Jamie (the author changed all of the subjects’ names) was “hooking up” with a fraternity boy. They only went out to clubs occasionally with the arrangement that he could dance with as many girls as he wanted, but did not go anywhere else, and though they shared a bed nightly, the boy never saw fit to give her a ride home, instead allowing her to catch the bus across campus.

Stepp also allows a peak at different factors that explain the state of dating, or rather non-dating among these youth. While the extent to which young people keep in touch (phones, texting, internet) and increased sex in the media have some effect upon young people, the strongest impressions were left upon them by their parents, which is reassuring and daunting. It leaves me wishing that Little A’s biggest dilemma at school could remain learning the value of her simple backpack of the more appealing fairy backpack. Sigh.


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