Free(dom)inated: A Feminist Examination of Hookup Culture’s Sexual Empowerment and Sexual Policing of Duke University Undergraduate Women

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Date

2017-05-05

Authors

Farless, Hayley

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Allison, Anne
Smithson, Brian

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Abstract

How do Duke University undergraduate women experience the seemingly empowering norms of hookup culture? While debate rages among feminists, scholars, journalists, and others as to whether or not hookup culture is beneficial for young women, this research offers a fresh perspective via an ethnographic examination of undergraduate women at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and how they experience hookup culture in a larger structure of male-privileged society. Based on interviews, qualitative surveys, and participant-observation on campus and at parties and bars, I explore the gendered elements of hookup culture and how they simultaneously sexually empower and oppress women at Duke’s campus. I argue that hookup culture polices women and their sexuality; that is, while hookup culture normalizes female participation in sex, it forces women into a prude–slut dichotomy. I then focus on the carnivalesque nightclub and the fraternity party as the primary sites where hookups are initiated, asserting that these spaces encourage female sexuality but also pressure women to objectify and commodify themselves. Finally, I consider the emerging, liminal space of the smartphone application Tinder and its gendered relation with hookup culture, in which women gain more control of the hookup space but are subjected to dehumanization and self-objectification. I argue that although the cultural norms of collegiate hookup culture seem to empower women’s expressions of sexuality by normalizing sexual activity for women, these same cultural norms actually contribute to Duke women’s sexual oppression by policing, objectifying, and commodifying female sexuality to serve male pleasure. This conclusion leads to a broader claim for future research: any degree of female sexual liberation that occurs within patriarchal society and male-privileging social structures only serves to placate women and perpetuate male sexual power.

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Farless, Hayley (2017). Free(dom)inated: A Feminist Examination of Hookup Culture’s Sexual Empowerment and Sexual Policing of Duke University Undergraduate Women. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/14274.


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