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December 08, 2021 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily

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I like to bring up my mom when talking to

friends about sex. No, it isn’t a product of some sub-
scription to one of Freud’s incestual talking points
— my tendency to mention her is actually empiri-
cally grounded: she is a professor who has taught
about the history of sex for over 20 years. And my
personal bias aside, I’d confidently say she is an
expert in the field.

Telling people what she does usually garners the

same cautious, yet intrigued reactions. People ques-
tion, “Is that a thing?”, to which I usually answer
yes and make a half-hearted joke about take-your-
kid-to-work day. Others wonder if it’s like “Sex
Education” on Netflix, and the answer is a little, but
the absence of British accents makes a bigger dif-
ference than one would suspect. By far though, the
response I get most often is some variation of: “You
must have had an interesting childhood!”

Without pause, I will always reply, “to say the


Despite being Jewish, my mom loved to decorate

our Christmas tree — but only with her beloved felt
vaginaments (vagina ornaments). And this type of
demonstration was no seasonal project; exposing
her children to elements of the body and sex was
my mom’s year-round, 24/7 hobby.

One of my fondest memories of her avocation

in action comes from a car ride to my fourth-grade
field trip. The destination was to a nearby retried
mission to explore the church-like structure origi-
nally established to expand Christianity to the
Native peoples of California. Naturally, my mom
objected to the trip alone for socio-political reasons.
But, in an effort to be supportive of my excitement
to go, she decided to enlighten me on the puritani-
cal origins of the sex position Missionary and its
anti-Indigenous roots.

Not to mention

the one time I
asked her who
Thomas Jeffer-
son was. She
felt the most


him was not

but that he was a
rapist; specifically, that
he serially abused

Hemings. She was adamant to explain how the
prevailing narrative of them having a beautiful
relationship is a historical inaccuracy. From there,
she derived an impromptu lecture about the nature
of consent and our culture trying to rename abuse
as love. I was 10.

These were not isolated incidents. By nature

of her work on sex, rape, power and race, she was
constantly uncovering the disgraceful histories
behind many current day, seemingly innocuous
social functions. I was 15 when her latest book,
“Colonial Complexions,” was published. The book
is dedicated to me and my brother and is focused on
characterizations of the body. It reads “For Casey,
For Ripley, May you each continue to embrace the
amazing bodies that house you.”

Because I had been taking my mom’s courses

since I could speak, there was no way my unsophis-
ticated, still rapidly developing brain could take on
the weight of such hefty subjects. So, I resorted to
adopting an emotionless perspective in order to
manage the overwhelming feelings that held hands
with this devastating reality of sex. I felt it was only
feasible to anesthetize myself in order to process
the intimidating facts I newly became aware of.
I sustained this perspective throughout my very
PG high school career. So, when I arrived at college
with this intellectualization approach, I found the
University of Michigan’s rampant hookup culture
to be one of the strangest, most grotesque social
phenomenons I had ever witnessed.

From what I could tell from my, admittedly

subjective, cis, heterosexual advantage point, it
seemed that most women in similar standings to
mine were losing out in hookup culture, yet still
choosing to participate. I watched as my friends
compromised their boundaries, safety, health
and sanity. They explained that their pursuits

were mostly motivated by a need for valida-
tion and human touch, which is completely
understandable. But rarely did it seem like
the extent of those benefits could ever mas-
ter the sacrifices required for them to

The women I knew became

jaded beings just weeks after
agreeing to participate in this
culture. And those


the lucky ones —

not everyone made it

out whole. I would seethe

with anger thinking about

the things that have been done

to the women I love. I still cry for
them. I had painfully related to
their sentiments of wanting to be
cared for and was saddened by the

means they felt necessary to achieve

that. And the worst part of it all? No
amount of cautionary tales could satisfy
my own morbid curiosity.

I am my mother’s daughter. Her love for intel-

lectual inquiry is hereditary, and we are at a top-
tier research institution, after all. I couldn’t help but
do my own experiment to see if I could stay above
water in hookup culture, regardless of knowing
the success rate of my peers. So, I embarked on a
self-directed case study to investigate and critically
assess loosely promised benefits within hookup

The most classic experiment to run is of course

a college situationship. Put in less than academic
terms, this title exists to represent the grey area of a
relationship where both participants operate under
the assumption that sex will be the primary focus
of the arrangement with no promise of exclusivity.
In theory, this is not problematic — casual sex is not
inherently destructive or wrong. But as I observed
through others’ participation, respect can vary
with the lending of bodies and it can be difficult to
reject the feelings that arrive with physical intimacy.
Methods for my field study go as follows:

My standards for the selection of a male par-

ticipant: way too low. The set up: a man invested for
sex and a woman, me, invested for emotional ful-
fillment. The variable that seemed to stay constant:
abysmal communication.

The first thing I gained in my preliminary

research rang true: these dynamics are not sustain-
able because sex cannot be the currency of a rela-
tionship. Emotional and physical intimacy run on
completely different metrics and bodies cannot be
traded and borrowed without any emotional toll.

One time, following my co-participant’s and I’s

usual exchange, I wanted to see how far I could
push this anthropological research. We sat in his
dorm room and I asked him if he respected me. He
replied with honesty: “Probably not as much as you
would like me to.” When I asked why, he respond-
ed: “It is hard to respect someone who doesn’t

twin-XL mattress became my
very own pyre as he finished his
sentence. He hugged me as I start-

ed to dissipate, my head hung over his
shoulder, facing away — he did not

have to bear witness to the casualties of

his words. It was a poetic injustice that he

never saw the hollowness my face assumed,
a disposition wiped and vacant of all intel-
lectual capacity.
He deduced that my mere participation in

the situationship phenomenon was permission
to mistreat me. My poor coping skills and desper-
ate need for validation were a green light for him
to borrow my body. In that moment, because of
my emotional vulnerability and a little internalized
misogyny, I had taken his conclusions as academic
fact — man had cracked the code once again. My
maltreatment was my own fault.

Empirically speaking though, I suspect that

experts in the field, specifically and especially my
own mom, would disagree with his theory. Walk-
ing home from his place, just like a little girl, I
needed my mom’s wisdom. I returned to the dedi-
cation she wrote in hopes it would wake me from
my comatose state.

May you continue to embrace the amazing bod-

ies that house you.

I speculated what message she would have for

when I do not embrace the amazing body that
houses me. When I deprive it. When I pinch and
appraise it in front of a full-body mirror. When I
forgo all intellectual thought, forcing it to accom-
pany me in subservience. It has housed me as I
have tormented it for the majority of my 18 years
of life. What is someone to make of such a man-
handled body?

I hypothesize that she would argue it is okay

to imperfectly reside in a home. She would say my
body still holds value and should be regarded with
inalienable respect. She would tell me I deserve to
be handled with care. And she would adamantly
note that neglecting your own body is never per-
mission for others to abuse it in tandem.

But why would I speculate? Why not just ask?

Mother knows best, and experts know even bet-
ter. Yet I chose not to tell her what happened that
day. I did not tell my mom about any of this, actu-
ally. Honestly, I would have rather relayed every
grueling detail to a Sweetwaters barista before
even mentioning to my mom the surface of my

And my apprehension about telling her was not

from fear of punishment. As I’m sure you can infer,
she is very sex-positive. Besides, I’m a legal adult,
and she never really bought into discipline anyway.
Instead, I refused to share what happened because
I knew, academically speaking, what was wrong. I
could confidently synthesize with very little mar-
gin of error what my mother’s professional opinion
would be. I know how she would correct him and
console me. I could hear her scream all the way
from California how ludicrous his logic was if you
consider bodily autonomy and the logical fallacies
of misogyny.

But these were not intellectual endeavors, so

they could not be governed by intellectual answers.
I could have known every philosophical, sociologi-
cal, historically informed argument academia had
to offer, and I still would have returned to his dorm
again that night like I did, even in the wake of his
dehumanizing comments.

I arrived to him as a lost puppy who realized a

locked kennel is warmer than the streets. I missed
my owner and domesticated animals do not
bother themselves with the trivialities of critical

After returning from my second visit, I

decided to tell my friends what was happening.
That way, at least the case study would be peer-
reviewed. As we debriefed the night’s detri-
ment, it became evident that my experience was
relatable to too many of them. We attempted to
reach for an empirical cure — all to assuage our
fear that this might be a universal experience for
women. We tried to find big words to assign to
our feelings and organize our thoughts to make
sense of the mess. We could have written disser-
tations on these topics.

And we do.

Hookup Culture: A case study with expert testimony

3 — Wednesday, December 8, 2021 // The Statement


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