Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Same Sex Relationships at Duke

In thinking about same sex relationships at Duke, I thought of two things. First, I remembered a student’s comment in one of our first classes about a person at Duke who was about to make his true sexual orientation public and how this would cause some sort of reaction among the Duke populace. Secondly, I thought about how one of my closest friends, who also happens to be a gay male who recently graduated from Duke, was having a difficult time finding his niche at a prestigious medical school, even though he was surrounded by a plethora of attractive, fun, and open-minded twentysomethings much like himself. Both of these had implications for the kind of culture we have at Duke for homosexuals who are still in the closet.
Thinking about this mysterious person who was about to come out at Duke, I thought about how it was interesting that we choose to concern ourselves with the sexual orientations of those who are in the public eye more than those who are not. Is it fair for us to hold different people to different standards just because of their visibility? Rationality would say no, but actuality would say fairness is not a consideration – many would think that by virtue of being an public figure one is supposed to be a representative sample of the body he or she is associated with, and that a homosexual individual could not possibly do this to the fullest extent possible. In this way it almost seems like this person is being self-sacrificing by having kept his or her identity hidden, which is a testament to the tenor of homosexuality on this campus and the pressures which force many homosexuals to stay in the closet.
On a different subject, my gay male friend who was out while he was here and remains very proud, confident, and open about his sexuality has told me many stories about the underground gay scene at Duke. While it applies mostly to males, I’ve heard stories of “frat stars” in even the most elite frats whose sexual preferences are for the same sex, but whose social circles would definitely not permit them to be open about such desires. While I do not know names and would not ever want to ask, he implies that the homosexual scene at Duke, while secretive, is open within its own walls. The gays at Duke, regardless of being open or not, are all aware of the goings-on within the gay community, where secrets are kept from the student body as a whole but where no secrets can be maintained on the inside. Another student has remarked that in this gay subculture there still remain cliques, groups, and divisions – the same as the openly heterosexual world on campus. But what does having such a present gay male community mean for lesbians, bisexuals, or transsexuals? Does this mean that these groups are made to feel outsiders even within the “alternative lifestyle” community? A friend of mine who came out freshman year as a lesbian actually decided to transfer because the culture here for lesbians was so scarce. I think this issue deserves further consideration.
Homosexuality at Duke is tough on those who are out, but possibly even tougher on those who are still in the closet. As time passes it sometimes becomes more difficult instead of easier to reveal one’s true sexual identity. A person may find, over time, that he or she becomes more comfortable with his or her sexual orientation and that he or she is more willing to reveal these sexual preferences to others. On the other hand, however, people who have built reputations and lives around being heterosexual, who have had long-term girlfriends… people especially in cultures who may be less accepting of homosexuality, may find it harder to Duke does has its advantages in being a small school sometimes, such as the feelings of intimacy it provides, but when it comes to a juicy morsel of gossip its intimacy quickly becomes one of its largest detriments and becomes a further impediment to going against the norm. Being a homosexual at Duke is difficult no matter who you are, but Duke’s social culture makes it possibly more difficult than other settings.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Hookup Culture

It certainly has been established that, at Duke, there exists a pretty prominent hookup culture. So what does this actually mean, other than the fact that Shooters is swarming with people simply looking for someone to go home with? Does it have any consequences other than creating some pretty awkward situations the next morning?
While the hookup culture may make for some good stories and exciting nights, it also has a more negative, far-reaching effect on the student body as a whole. Instead of intending to establish serious, meaningful relationships with fellow students, many people go out on weekends with the sole purpose of “getting laid”. People brag about their exploits rather than trying to turn them into something more serious. Now I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a little fun, and I also don’t believe that every drunken kiss needs to lead to a lasting relationship. However, wouldn’t it be nice to even believe that was an option?
After being in the culture for nearly 3.5 years, it’s hard not to be jaded about the possibility of relationships. Sure they do happen every once in a while, but for the most part students tend to fall into the same pattern: Get drunk, hookup with a random person, use the alcohol as an excuse, avoid eye contact on the quad. There is very little of the old-fashioned concept of “courting” taking place, and to most Duke students, the term “date function” has supplanted “date” in everyday vocabulary. The idea of taking someone out to dinner with the intent to get to know them better seems like a foreign concept, instead “getting to know someone” has much deeper sexual connotations.
But is this a bad thing? Is it really important to find that one true love during college when there is so much going on in your life? Are the stresses of having a significant other really needed on top of piles of homework, studying for the LSAT or MCAT, trying to find a job and hanging out with friends? I don’t believe that a hookup culture should be completely forsaken for one that simply pressures people into finding that serious relationship, that one person they want to be with forever. Instead, it would be nice to have a balance. I feel like when we all leave the Duke bubble, we won’t have any idea how to function in the real world of dating. It will be a shock to system of many guys who have become accustomed to the fact that they don’t really need to put much effort into getting a girl in bed. And girls will not understand that they should be asking more from a guy and that it is ok to expect dinner and a movie before going back to his place.
I spoke with a male who graduated Duke last year and is now living in a big city. He told me that meeting girls is a totally different story. Where all he once had to do was tell a girl he was in a fraternity and she would practically be begging to come back to his room, he is now finding it difficult to transition into a world of dating, rather than just random sex. He has taken several girls out to dinner, something he said he did only once in college. And I was surprised that he also said he likes this new scene better. The casual sex was tiresome after a while, he claimed. Although he didn’t believe it during college, he now says that taking the time to get to know a girl and actually court her is a lot more fulfilling. I was surprised to hear a guy say something like this because after leaving college he acknowledges that the number of sexual partners he has and the frequency with which he hooks up has dropped significantly. Sometimes all it takes is to get out of a culture like that, he told me, to make you realize what you really want in a partner.
I often hear people of both sexes here complaining that they want more than just a random hookup, but yet no one seems to do anything about it. This, I attribute, to the vicious cycle and the overwhelming burden of the hookup culture. People are scared. It’s really as simple as that. They see their friends having random hookup after random hookup, they hear terms like the infamous “hookup culture” and they see the way other people brush sex off like it’s nothing. People don’t necessarily want to lay their emotions on the table because they suspect that the person they are with wants everything to remain casual. This not only stifles potential budding relationships, but also works to perpetuate the stereotype and slowly wear away at self-esteem. If people start believing that all they are good for is a casual hookup, it becomes hard to value themselves at anything more.
Of course I realize that these are sweeping generalizations, and that not every guy and every girl is partaking in this hookup culture. However, it is clearly a strong enough force on campus to even have a lengthy discussion about it.

Hookup Culture at Duke

In June of 2006, just as the lacrosse scandal was at its height, Rolling Stone published an article calling attention to Duke’s so-called “hookup culture”, describing a scene in which sex is viewed “as a sport, as a way of life, as a source of constant self-scrutiny and self-analysis.”[i] The article portrays Duke as a highly competitive school in which the Greek system and the idea of “effortless perfection” cause such low self esteem in Duke women that they will hook up with just about anyone in order to validate their own social standing. Rolling Stone’s description of the school does not exactly do Duke justice. There are many students who are in relationships or who choose not to participate in the hookup culture or the party scene. Also, the reasons the article gives for why students choose to participate in this “hookup culture” may not be entirely accurate. However, the article does point to a culture that does exist in some capacity at Duke, one in which students engage in sexual relations somewhat freely without the thought of commitment, and one that alcohol and the party scene certainly cater to.

There is no question that Duke has a hookup culture, although it certainly doesn’t define the entire student body, as the Rolling Stone article suggests. There are many possibilities as to why the Duke hookup culture appears to be so prominent, even though it really only involves a small proportion of the student body. First, the size of the Duke undergraduate population is small compared to most universities, and the number of people who party often is even smaller, therefore most people who go to parties tend to know each other. It is not surprising then that this increases the amount of hooking up—it is more likely that people who know each other would go home together, rather than two strangers. Furthermore, these students are some of the most visible on campus, which makes the hookup culture seem more mainstream. Second, it is possible that Duke women view sex differently than women at other schools. Duke women are typically very smart and motivated, and they are likely to go on to pursue their own careers. They may not be at college to find a husband, as is the case with women at many other schools. If women are not looking for a relationship they may be more likely to engage in sexual behavior with men just for fun. Third, low self esteem may also contribute to the Duke hookup culture, though probably not as extremely or as pervasively as the Rolling Stone article suggests. Finally, college students today may be more open to sexual promiscuity than in generations past, and they engage in sex just for fun. This is probably true of most universities, but it certainly makes the hookup culture more shocking to those in older generations.

So is a hookup culture truly unique to Duke? All college campuses have some sort of party scene that involves alcohol and the potential for random hooking up to happen. In comparison to many state schools that have fraternity houses and a large student population, the social scene at Duke may seem tame. What may have been so shocking to the readers of the Rolling Stone article was that students of such a prestigious university would be engaging in these types of sexual activities with what seems to be little regard for dignity or morals. In reality, the behavior of some Duke students probably differs very little from that of students at other universities.

[i] Reitman, Janet, “Sex and Scandal at Duke”, Rolling Stone, 1 June 2006. .

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sex Work Today

Sex work in present day society is certainly not a very well perceived or acceptable field. The opposite is overwhelmingly true, and is based on the precedent for years now that the notion of gaining your income or being employed in the practicing of sex or from sexually inciting others is disgraceful. This, of course, is then based off of the fact that sex in the first place is something that a graceful or tactful or civil person should not publically admit to doing. So here we are in the present day, all sorts of preconceived negative notions coming to our heads the moment we find out that someone is a sex worker. Interestingly enough,we actually tend to look at sex workers as one of two things: victims or criminals. We either deem them victims of circumstance or sexual exploiters or something uncontrollable and beyond their autonomy, essentially saying that they have no independence of thought or way to find their way out of the predicament, or else we classify them as criminals. Then they become strange and illicit people who are autonomous but as a result also criminal and deranged—because who else would actually want or prefer to do such work for a living? We do not have hardly any shades of grey on this issue. This is telling of our want to write it off without serious consideration or depth of understanding. Because we are generally ashamed to discuss our own sexual lust publically, the issue remains quite dichotomous. However, recently, it can certainly be advocated that pornography and pornographers are becoming somewhat more acceptable in the public sphere. This is in large part due to the fact that pornography is becoming so widespread, and therefore generally and publically acceptable, due to the onset of the internet. Looking forwards, as we come to see sex, sexuality, and its implications on ourselves with a more understanding light, we may well come to see sex work in these same terms.

Self-Esteem at Duke

Recently at Duke University, a group of researchers led by Dr. Steven Asher initiated the Social Relationships Project. This project surveyed a random group of students (freshmen and students) in an attempt to learn more about Duke’s social constructs. One of their findings was a trend in self-esteem: Duke women appear to experience a drop in self-esteem as they progress from freshman to senior year, while Duke men report a higher self-esteem after four years. A linear “self-esteem vs. time spent at Duke” graph for men and women would appear to be an X; thus, the driving force behind this trend has been labeled “the X factor.” What exactly is the X factor? Several key words and phrases have been thrown around in an attempt to explain this trend- “effortless perfection” and “the hook-up culture” are among them.  Since there have already been several attempts to explain how these factors contribute to changes in self-esteem, I will focus on a more specific question: why do these supposedly major components of the campus culture affect Duke men and women differently?

            “Effortless perfection” is, in the words of the Women’s Initiative at Duke, “…the perceived expectation that Duke women should excel in everything. They felt they had to act as if doing so was easy and required no effort whatsoever.” Upon reading this, I wondered why Duke women seem to demonstrate a need to be effortlessly perfect more so than their male counterparts. I think that this phenomenon can be traced back to the fact that traits such as “hard-working” and “diligent” have been traditionally viewed as more masculine traits. This is evidenced by a comparison of gender roles in a traditional family: the husband who works hard all day so he can support his family financially, and the housewife who appears to fulfill all of her domestic duties with ease- think Ward and June Cleaver from the 1960s sitcom Leave it to Beaver. Although this division of labor between men and women is not nearly as clear-cut in modern American society, it is logical to assume that these old stereotypes have some effect how contemporary men and women view each other.

            Another factor that could contribute to the “X factor” is the purported “hook-up culture” at Duke. The Women’s Initiative defines this as “a culture of unpanned sexual encounters, usually fueled by alcohol.” Why might this culture decrease women’s self-esteems while boosting those of men? It seems that the answer to this question is rooted in the social norms of sexuality. Sexual purity is a trait that has always been much more valued in women than in men; as the number of sexual partners she has had increases, a woman’s value decreases. Conversely, a man who has slept with many women is considered impressive (by other men, at least.) If this hook-up culture really does exist at Duke, and if “success” means engaging in as many emotionally meaningless sexual encounters as possible, then the women who succeed are slapped with negative labels while the men who succeed are admired. Logistically, freshmen women are the (sexually) purest demographic, while senior men are the most experienced. Thus, it is easy to see why four years in the “hook-up” culture leads to a decrease in self-esteem for women and an increase for men.

            The hook-up culture and the concept of “effortless perfection” are only two of many things that may contribute to the self-esteem issues that some Duke women develop during their undergraduate years. However, both are unique because they seem to have the opposite effect on men. Thus, these factors deserve to be studied further- such an investigation may determine whether or not the “X factor” can be remedied.

Marriage and the Duke Hook Up Culture

Marriage and the Duke Hook Up Culture

I think that there are two large thoughts that immediately come to mind when discussing marriage within the context of the Duke hook up culture. First, there is actual marriage at Duke. What are these people’s lives like? How many of them are there? Why have they chosen to get married, or to be engaged? Secondly, there is the discussion of how the hook up culture affects marriage post-Duke. Does the hook up culture leave lasting effects on those that participate in it? Will they ever be able to achieve solid and stable relationships that will one day lead to marriage? In discussing this subject, a lot of speculation is necessary, but there is also the potential to look at alumni and examine their relationships and marriages.
I know a total of three people that for all intents and purposes are basically married. One is a junior male who is engaged to his high school girlfriend who attends school in his home state. One is a senior female who is not specifically engaged, but has been dating the same boy for almost eight years. Finally, I know one senior female who is actually married to someone from Durham who she met while working at a restaurant in the area. I have to say, although these are three unique cases, they are also examples of extreme situations. Not simply because they are not the norm at Duke, but if you examine their particular situations, one sees that they are all very special cases. For the first male, his high school girlfriend and him had been dating a long time, and perhaps would still be simply dating if it were not for the fact that she had cancer. The day that her cancer went into remission, he proposed to her has a signal of his commitment to her. The female who is married had a substance abuse problem her freshman year, spent some time in rehab, and worked at a restaurant instead of attending school. She married a waiter at this restaurant shortly thereafter. I believe it’s safe to say that this is an extreme situation that worked itself out in a particularly unusual way. Finally, there is the girl who is just in an extremely long-term relationship. After eight years of dating, it’s safe to say that these two are extremely committed to each other. Although they have not specifically outlined the future of their relationship, they have expressed a desire to have a future together.
These three examples are definitely not the main stream of the duke dating culture, if there is even a Duke dating culture. Within the hook up culture, there are people who begin to date, but it’s much more common to be “hooking up” with someone than to be fully dating them. To be defined as boyfriend/girlfriend is a strong symbol of monogamy that few undergraduates at this school actually undertake. Therefore, the idea of marriage while still at Duke is extremely unusual. The people that are engaged or married are looked at as extremely unique, and almost bizarre. For a culture that seems to be so obsessed with the immature idea of “hooking up,” finding people who have taken a serious step in devoting the rest of their lives together is very rare.
When discussing the subject of the Duke hook up culture and marriage, one must also consider the lingering effects of this hook up culture on those that participate in it. While it may render someone unable to have a real relationship, it may also just simply render someone to understand what exactly constitutes a real relationship. While most “hooking up” at Duke takes place under the influence of alcohol or some other social lubricant, a real relationship is something that would grow outside of the context of a Shooter’s dance floor. Necessary steps would need to be taken in order to remove the “hook up culture” scene from a real relationship. At Duke, these types of relationships are certainly possibly, but the fact of the matter is that there are forces in place that actively work against this possibility. There is the general understanding and acceptability of drunken hook-ups, thus condoning their existence. It’s also extremely acceptable that after one such hook-up, neither party takes any steps to contact or even acknowledge the other party in the future. Perhaps it’s out of embarrassment, or simply over having very little in common, but someone with whom you may have shared your bed is not someone that necessarily deservers a “hello” in the future. Of course, this is not always the case, and not everyone participates in these types of interactions.
Now, from this we can gather that certain people’s ability to engage in real, loving relationships at Duke may be stunted. Perhaps they are stunted by their particular personalities, or perhaps from the culture that they find themselves surrounded by once at Duke. But, how can we be sure that the Duke social system has some sort of lingering effects? Because the hook up culture has evolved a lot over the years, looking at just alumni may not be sufficient. I think that we would have to look to extremely recent alumni to truly get an example of how the current hook up culture may affect future relationships. Lacking any of these sources, we may have to simply ask ourselves in the future, ‘”how did the Duke hook up culture affect me?” “Am I a different person because of it?” Only time will tell.

Same Sex Relationships at Duke

From an administrative standpoint, Duke provides numerous resources in support of the university’s homosexual community. The Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life is one of the more active organizations on campus and regularly offers discussion groups, social events, and ally networks where members of the Duke community can express their affirmation for homosexuality. Additionally, Duke students who choose to come out have the opportunity to receive counseling and graduate mentors to discuss any concerns they may have about coming out.

However, the consideration and support afforded by the LGBT center and other student affairs groups to make homosexual Duke students feel comfortable with their sexuality does not represent the treatment they receive from other modes of campus life. Within the context of the Duke “hook-up culture” which largely defines the university’s social scene, being openly gay can be incredibly challenging and intimidating. This social bubble, in which alpha-males and promiscuous girls are generally the center of attention, is based almost entirely on heterosexuality. According to a member of one of Duke’s fraternities, “It would be almost impossible for a gay person to join our fraternity without feeling uncomfortable. Not because anyone in our frat is homophobic, but because so much of what goes on in our fraternity revolves around trying to hook up with girls. Someone who wasn’t trying to hook up with girls would just feel out of place a lot of the time and would be viewed as somewhat of an outsider.” Even outside of the Greek-life culture, however, openly gay Duke students often find it difficult to attain complete acceptance in the social scene. One gay male student, who will remain anonymous, openly wondered whether he would have been better off attending a school with a student body that has more diverse lifestyles than Duke, such as NYU. Furthermore, those Duke students who are open about their homosexuality and are entirely comfortable with it are often accepted but treated completely differently from their straight peers. According to one student with an openly gay friend, “It’s probably hard for him because since there are so few openly gay students in the Duke social scene, he becomes the “token” gay student and therefore a lot of people expect him to act in a certain way and say certain things that are characteristic of gay people, instead of treating him the way they treat any other guy.”

While Duke students are accepting of homosexuality and blatant homophobia is rarely seen, there is certainly a sentiment that it is difficult to find complete acceptance and comfort as a gay individual in Duke’s “hook-up” culture. Gay students are not treated maliciously but they are treated differently from straight students, which sometimes causes them to feel like outsiders.