Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks | Speaking for ourselves

Think Twice | Returning the word on sex to the Penn community

· July 20, 2013, 2:04 pm

Zoe Goldberg | DP

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Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
Think Twice

Kate Taylor’s allegedly New York Times-worthy observations on our sex lives, “She can play that game, too” are no news to us.

Sitting at nearly 5,000 words and boasting a full academic year’s work, Kate’s reporting painted a pretty sad picture of our hookup culture, and one that, though factually mostly accurate, made little mention of the healthy sexual activity happening in somebody’s dorm room probably right now. But of course, “Dog Bites Man” never makes the Friday Styles’ front page, now does it?

As Penn ladies we can assure you that we are sick of hearing that romance is supposedly dead and buried. Though Taylor’s news piece does raise awareness about some of our ugly courtship rituals, we think her article does Penn men and women more of a disservice than anything else. Our friend Mimi Solmssen (her middle initial is Y if y’all really wanna know), a rising senior who is currently in a serious relationship, remarked, “I found nothing in this article empowering.”

Now we may not be New York Times writers, but we’ve been writing about Penn’s social (ab)norms for the past two years. Especially the sexy ones. Grinding , Blacking out , The Base System, Relationships and our infamous Work Hard, Play Hard stereotype to name a few. Haven’t we, and the other Penn female writers, got this covered?

We’ve heard a perspective from the outside. Let’s bring it back in.

Instead of further digesting examples of unhealthy, emotionless sex maybe our generation needs to relearn how to be human. We hope we can help.

Taylor reached out to us last August to talk grinding, sex and DFMOs (note that this is an acronym, there’s no “I” in “team”). We talked to her in a coffee shop in Manhattan last September, and on Skype from Barcelona, but ultimately, we decided to respectfully keep our thoughts to our own column.

Kate’s article ran like a hopscotch board of soundbites which, though perhaps truthful for certain girls, didn’t tell the whole story of our campus. Our friends, rising College seniors Amanda Wolkin and Arielle Pardes, as well as our very own Editorial Board, worked (work!) to fill in the blanks and rectify the untruths. But what Kate missed in her piece, besides her non-mentions of the sex-positive Vagina Monologues, One in Four, Penn Women’s Center, Sex Week, the LGBT Center and Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention, is that in the course of our three years at Penn, we’ve grown up.

Just as most Penn kids will learn from their academic mistakes over four years, so will they learn to make better sexual decisions than they may have during freshman NSO. Taylor’s piece had no chronological narrative to show us how a Penn girl (or boy!) morphs from 18 to 22, becoming more in touch with their sexuality as well as the person they want to be in college. This was supposed to be a piece on human interaction, not a sensationalized lab report.

With a Brian Williams-esque hard news feel, Taylor’s tone mimicked the nature of the scenes described in the piece. Sans the also extreme Mercedes, heart was nowhere to be found, just as it finds no home in hook up culture. And Taylor’s casual insertions of sexual assault were downright offensive, completely undermining the entirety of her research. She made us look like vacuous, career-obsessed robots that need sex every so often to charge our robo-batteries. There were sweeping claims of class and gender divides, villainizing us or victimizing us — and our boys! — with not much in between.

As about-to-be seniors, we now see many of our friends — both male and female — opting out of the game altogether (cue “SWUG”) or pursuing more serious relationships. After three years of playing the game at various degrees, both we and a multitude of fellow seniors are firmly team connect-with-another-human rather than team aimlessly-cohere-genitalia.

We understand that everyone will grow differently over their career at Penn and that many seniors still entertain the hookup culture, but we’ve seen consistently that our happiest friends have opted out.

Taylor interviewed 60 girls in her piece, identifying the women by first name or a mere middle initial. We’d now like to bring you some anecdotes from Penn women and men, many of whom spoke completely on the record, who have good sex and good conversation. These are Penn students, ranging from rising sophomores to ‘13 graduates, who felt underrepresented in Taylor’s article.

This is what they have to say.

“One of my most fulfilling romantic relationships was one where there was no alcohol or intercourse involved at all. Seems kinda crazy for a college setting, but it opened a door to a whole different level of intimacy centered around our deep emotional and mental connection. It did exist at one far end of the spectrum, but I learned more about communication, respect and building a healthy relationship from him than any other romantic partner. And yes, I still managed to do well in class, enjoy time with friends, and find myself a great job — all without performing a cost benefit analysis.” -Isabel Friedman, ‘13 College Graduate

“Who’s Kate Taylor?” -Zach Tomasovic, Rising College senior

“I feel like ‘A’ presented a very abnormal side of sex life at Penn. The way she presented her feelings toward casual sex makes me sick and I am one of many at Penn who believe that sex is meaningful and love can definitely be found in college. I do not believe that this is the norm, and I think that any girl (or guy) that is able to do this was definitely over represented in the piece. It is not okay to portray penn by focusing on one girl that does not really respect herself, and call that the norm. I have many friends at Penn, many who are athletes and in sororities, and I really have never heard any of them talk about sex as casually as ‘A’ did in that article. Yes we are busy but that does not mean that we all turn to sex as a fun carefree outlet. Just because we go to a competitive school doesn’t mean that internships come before relationships. it just makes Penn girls seem like easy, dehumanized, too-career-focused-to-care people.” -Rising College sophomore, female

“I think the only point she made was that yes, men and women like sex. Good one. And given the number of conversations I have daily with friends — male and female — about relationships, how we see a career and family fitting together after graduation, analyzing every text message and spending hours dissecting every night out, people care deeply about the decisions they make and about those of others around them too. We are no different than any other college students who use the weekend to relax, unwind and entertain ourselves enough to give us something to dream about in the library during the week. Not everyone chooses sex or random hook-ups, but some do. I’m not going to say that I’m not guilty of the occasional DFMO, because I am. But I don’t think my rationale is anything different from any other college student.” – Victoria Pisini, Rising College senior

“I have never met anyone (of either sex) who prefers the experience of casual sex to that of a bond with a partner they care about.” -Rising College senior, female

“Penn offers a pretty good work-life balance, and my relationship is an integral part of my social experience at Penn. Going out on dates and hanging out with my girlfriend is just another way that I express myself socially. If you’re not in a serious relationship in college, it’s a great time to play the field, but I don’t think hooking up is necessarily the best way to play the field. You should be going on dates and actually meeting and talking to some of these girls. The hookup culture revolves around insecurities. People hook up so much because they’re insecure that if they actually approached someone they might not like them back. Being in a relationship gives you security and allows you to focus on better habits.” -Garrett Zwahlen, Rising Wharton and Engineering (M&T) senior

“I have changed IMMENSELY since freshmen year. I was 19! Now, I am almost 22. And it really bothers me that people who don’t know me could read this article and think of me in a certain way. Either it be from A’s perspective or Mercedes’. ‘Cost benefit’ analyses and ‘low risk and low investment costs?’ That’s not how I think.” -Hanna Bottger, Rising College senior

“A. made us sound like a heartless group of women. She doesn’t represent the Penn girl much less any girl of our generation. We’ll never really be like that because we can never let go of the emotion. We don’t just go around at night and throw ourselves at boys, we’re smart girls and we’re not here to be trophy wives, we demand reciprocal behavior and we’re looking for meaningful connection. What’s so hard about the hook-up culture is that when you’re hooking up with someone it goes along for a little while and you get invested, you share so many of the same values, you form this connection and then all of a sudden the other person doesn’t care anymore because they were just interested in the sex. But even though you get hurt sometimes, not trying to share any commonality is a hundred times worse. So you kind of grin and bear it and eventually you find someone, just like our parents did. At the end of the day we just want another best friend that we can share an even more intimate relationship with, and it’s the best feeling in the world.” -Rising College senior

“We met the first night of NSO and we waited a while to hook up. Here we are three years later.
For me it was more of a game to not be like anybody else.” – Hanna Kamaric, Rising Wharton and College senior

“I am in a healthy, long distance relationship with someone I love very much. We broke up at the beginning of our freshman year (last August) to give ourselves a chance to explore being single and whatever else comes with not being in a relationship. I enjoyed some DFMO’s and it was fun to be single for the first time since sophomore year of high school. But, after visiting him over fall break, I realized how much I missed him in my life and how much I didn’t want him or I to be with anyone else, so over Thanksgiving break we got back together. I am extremely happy to be in a great relationship with my best friend. I certainly make time for a healthy relationship, even though I am ambitious and I am pursuing an all-around fulfilling future.” – Sarah Engell, Rising College sophomore

“I’m not trying to have a hook-up buddy, I don’t want to only see a girl at 2 in the morning and have a fake conversation. I get a lot more value out of the moments when I take a girl to coffee, go on a run with her and take advantage of the great restaurants in Philly.” – Alan Sostek, Rising Wharton senior

“There is such a spectrum of relationships on this campus, each filled with its own sexual and emotional complexity that to limit our experiences to neat labeled boxes of ‘hookup’ or ‘looking to get married before graduation’ for a stereotypical collegiate dichotomy is appalling. You look around Locust Walk to a sea of such diverse personalities, interests, aspirations and goals… Why wouldn’t our relationships reflect that diverse narrative?” – Nicole Grabowski, Rising College senior

“I think Kate Taylor painted a pretty unjust portrayal of fraternity life. Almost 3/4 of my pledge class had girlfriends coming into the fraternity. At least 1/3 of the current fraternity have serious relationships, some of which have been going on for two to three years WHILE at Penn. If anything, I think people are usually looking for a more intimate relationship culture at Penn and aren’t totally happy with the hook up culture. And just because someone has a fraternity label doesn’t make them more prone to hook ups than others. K.T. very crudely tried to compartmentalize an inherently irrational and emotional part of human nature. There’s definitely a safe, fun and enjoyable way to hook up at Penn.” – Dan Riband, Rising College senior

“Over the course of my senior year I took 11 credits, joined a new club, trained for rqo marathons, fundraised over $5,000, and, after several trips to NYC, found a full-time job. I dated a guy all year who was busier than I was and we just made it work … Being productive doesn’t have to mean spending all your time in solitude.” – 2013 College graduate, female

“Really New York Times? Let’s actually have healthy and open conversations about sex and consent on campus. FYI, discussing sexual assault on campus in an article on hookup culture severely undermines the severity of the issue. If you were writing an article about hookups from the female point of view, why deliberately exclude queer women? … Kate Taylor’s ‘response’ is no less absurd than the article itself.” -Dylan Hewitt (via Tweets),
Rising College senior

“To my friends I acted as if I didn’t care, ‘Hey it’s a college thing! Whatever! I was using him too!’ I felt that was something that I had to say because that’s just what happens in college.” – Rising College senior, female

“The biggest issue I had (and probably everybody else had too) with the article was the casual mention of rape. I think the flippant inclusion of sexual abuse cases and the suggestion that it is a natural by-product of alcohol and hooking up doesn’t give the issue the respect and concern it deserves. Furthermore, the way in which sexual abuse is referenced doesn’t adequately represent Penn at all. It’s not a casual thing that we let slide. The women AND men on our campus constantly amaze me with their courage and conviction in the fight against all sexual abuse. Furthermore, it is heartbreaking that a reporter would come to Penn and to a Vagina Monologues meeting and not mention the kind of charismatic, confident women she met. The kind of women that aren’t victims of a hook-up culture Taylor defined by her own terms. The women at Penn define their own hook-up culture and no one else has that right.” – Manola Gonzalez, Rising College junior

“The other day I was thinking, How does it feel to be cherished? That would be so nice.” – Rising College senior, female

“A lot of people that go to our school don’t have a good perception of what a healthy relationship is. This is a function of the environment that a lot of students were brought up in as well as our school’s stressful environment. Girls at Penn need help, they need to be told ‘listen you are way better than how you are being treated.’ So many girls have such serious self esteem issues because of how competitive our environment is, between academics, money, social circles and looks, to name a few. The boys are even more lost than the girls. What about the word ‘values?’ People don’t care about that word. Some girls at Penn don’t seem to know what kind of love and respect they deserve, even though they’ve figured out what they deserve academically and career-wise. If you know what you want and need from your partner then you have the power.” – Allie Houlihan, Rising College senior

“We have meaningful connections with people who are rooting for us. These connections, these relationships are rare, they take time and effort and commitment to nourish. As I said earlier, these connections can come in the form of family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and more. They are all different, but serve similar functions. To let us know that we’re not alone in our fight to be awesome. Maybe Penn kids are romantic failures — and maybe it’s something we should worry about. But maybe it’s just that the people at Penn are so awesome that there’s no time to only root for one person. Maybe at this point in our lives we’re simply putting our friends first.” – Rising College senior, male

Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. respectively. You can email them at thinktwicecolumn@gmail.com or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot.

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