Wait, Is Hook-Up Culture Screwing Up Boys?

For all the hand-wringing about what it's doing to girls, it appears they may be better equipped for it emotionally.

the-guide-rosalind-wisemanLast week, TIME spent some time talking about the so-called hook-up culture in its piece “What Boys Want” written by Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes (the book was also the premise for Tina Fey’s 2005 movie Mean Girls, starring Lindsay Lohan).

Her latest book, The Guide: For Guys (which is available for free download through December 10th), argues that “an entire generation of parents has spent years panicking about the effects of hook-up culture on girls — making it all too easy to ignore the emotional lives of boys.”

This much I agree with. Industry, whether government, commercial or non-profit, is actively engaged in questions about the sexuality of women and girls. There are far fewer discussions about men and boys and their responsibilities as sexual beings and sexual partners. The expectation, in fact, is that women and girls are far less likely (or capable) to separate their emotions from their sexuality, whereas boys are expected (if not encouraged) to do the exact opposite.

Still, argues Wiseman, “A culture of sexual liberation and empowerment for girls and young women has left boys (and their parents) largely at sea.” Boys, she argues are now at a disadvantage on how to communicate with this new generation of self-possessed, confident young women. Wiseman says, “it’s actually boys whose emotional and academic lives have been suffering.” But feminism is not to blame.

Young men and women grow up with very different rules for engagement with the opposite sex. Boys are encouraged to pursue and to chase as they have been for generations, and girls today are getting caught in mixed messages about chastity and their role in the chase.

“It’s surprising how much overlap there is between boys and girls,” Wiseman writes, but a closer look at relationships between most teens reveals how intense teen romance can be, mostly because teenagers are emotionally volatile (and curious) creatures.

Wiseman writes about teens balancing “romantic gestures and feeling the sting of rejection,” as well as the art of “sophisticated manipulation,” a trifecta of healthy emotional output, casualty of war, and early onset sociopathic behavior exhibited by emotional terrorists in the 20-something dating scene. I don’t think any of these things are particularly new (surely, this happened in generations before) though the presence of the Internet at a teen’s fingertips certainly makes the desire to educate young men and women about how to properly express their emotions a bit more compelling.

Unsurprisingly, communication is a skill lost on many teens, as it most certainly is on most adults when it comes to matters of the heart (and the libido). The Internet, still a relatively young technology (especially if you consider social media exclusively) has changed rituals that once defined courtship, and as the first generation of people to employ this technology, we’re still writing the rules. This behavior isn’t limited to teenagers; the average women’s mag (which addresses grown women like adolescents, but that’s another column entirely) will discourage readers from responding to text messages too quickly, a 21st century version of mother’s famous “don’t make yourself too available.”

Communication through screen has also killed the art of conversation, allowing teens (and adults) to self-edit and create a persona that’s rarely captured just so when delivered live and direct. For teen boys, already under-encouraged to communicate  their feelings, this spells disaster. And more disastrous still for their potential partners.

What’s most compelling about Wiseman’s piece isn’t necessarily her argument about boys exclusively, but the revelation of how connected the emotional well-being of boys is to the emotional well-being of girls, and vice versa. Recognizing that can help adults empower them all.

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