This is the third installment in a four-part series exploring UC Berkeley’s “hookup culture.” Students’ names have been changed or withheld in order to protect their privacy and encourage honest conversation.
When the streets of Berkeley start to come alive on Sunday mornings, with early risers out jogging or vendors on Telegraph Avenue setting up to sell their wares, UC Berkeley students can often be found making the trek home after a night out.
But the social constructs that define these walks — “stride of pride” for males and “walk of shame” for females — illustrate a double standard pervading the hookup culture.
For example, one girl recounted stories from her boyfriend’s sports teammates.
“Some of them will sleep with two girls in one night — that’s just an awesome weekend for them,” she said. “But if a girl did that, she would gain some kind of reputation or be blacklisted from a frat.”
Many of the interviewed students noted that this double standard, a construction not limited to college, can be demonstrated by the similarly gender-segregated labels “player” and “slut.”
“It’s just accepted that we’re all just kind of sluts in a way,” said one female student.
Campbell, a sophomore, denounced slut as a “sloppy term.” When pressed to define the word, Campbell characterized a slut as someone who could completely detach emotions from their actions.
Other students acknowledged that situations and context make it hard to put a quantitative value on the term. David, a self-titled outsider to the hookup culture, deemed the label “slut” appropriate for someone who has “hooked up with enough people that they start connecting.”
Several males reaffirmed David’s belief, calling some girls “house vacuums” — ones with reputations for hooking up with multiple members of the same fraternity. One fraternity member emphasized that timing matters. He commented that he knew “a lot of girls who might have hooked up with five or six guys” in his pledge class when they had all been freshmen, making the action less condemnable.
Nearly every person interviewed, females included, at least partially blamed women for the propensity of casual sex in the hookup culture.
“I think (women) do go out to get fucked,” said Elle, another female student. “Why else do girls dress like they do? They obviously are trying to incite some sort of biological reaction in the opposite sex.”
Conversely, some students feel that this double standard is perpetrated by males in order to mitigate the fact that women have an inherent advantage in hooking up.
“It is a lot easier for a girl to hook up with a guy,” said a fraternity member. “If you’re willing to open your legs, you can pretty much hook up, whereas it’s not the other way around.”
Societal standards in part make it acceptable for men to constantly seek sex, according to licensed psychologist Audrey Ervin, who is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Delaware Valley College.
A college campus can be seen as a microcosm of society at large, said Ervin, a society that “sends really strong messages” about what qualities are essential to be a “real man.”
According to Ervin, some of the key tenants to society’s construction of masculinity include restricted emotionality, the ability to be a provider and, often, hypersexuality.
Karen Gee, a health educator who has worked with University Health Services since 1985, reaffirmed this. Through her work, she noted that she sometimes hears from males who feel pressure from peers to be sexual and engage in casual sex.
“There’s this feeling that if the opportunity exists and the woman is attractive, then he should go for it even the chemistry isn’t quite right,” Gee said.
One male student said these standards could possibly lead to males lying about sexual encounters, specifically in regards to women. While he said he thought the practice was rare, he admitted that men might exaggerate the number of their sexual encounters when speaking to others if they do not feel that the actual number is adequate enough.
According to Ervin, the lack of definition of what is masculine and what isn’t could explain why the double standard exists. The generally accepted definition relies on a comparison — “that which is not feminine” — which may explain why insults meant to devalue a man typically refer to “females or, particularly, to female genitalia,” Ervin said.
However, because the sexes do not fully understand themselves, they can hardly be expected to accurately characterize each other.
“There’s a schism (in the rigidity of socially constructed gender roles) that’s a problem because it doesn’t give sexual agency to anybody,” Ervin concluded. “It sets up an impossible double standard for both genders.”