Theories about "hookup culture" are just another way of telling us what to do with our lady parts

Which is more offensive - being called a "slut", or being slotted into a sweeping cultural theory?

Good news, guys: "hookup culture" - or, as anyone else without a Gender Studies textbook might call it, "sleeping with people every now and then" - has been dominating the cybersphere. So novel and fascinating is this subject that articles have popped up in their droves in the last few weeks, and here we are jumping on the lubed-up bandwagon. Partly, this is because we never quite tire, as a society, of patting ourselves on the back for those "crazy college years" when the permanently stationed condom in your wallet waited faithfully for the day when a party got just out of control enough to make you do something spontaneous and kooky. And partly, it’s because of a book on its way to your local Waterstones’ any day now, rather sensationally entitled The End of Men.

"Feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture", wrote Hannah Roisin, in an excerpt from the book in The Atlantic, which comes out later this month. The "hookup culture" to which she refers is the prevalence of no-strings-attached sex on American college campuses, which, she argues, represents an engine of female progress. It’s quite a claim. Who knew that a cheeky blow behind the bins after an evening of dancefloor dry-humping at Tiger Tiger could hold so many sociological connotations? Yep, next time you’re peeling last night’s knickers off some paralegal’s laminate flooring as he farts loudly beneath the duvet, try and remember that you did it for the ladies.

Hannah Roisin is, of course, not the only person to try and reinvent the wheel. Journalists have been claiming that casual sex is a "new thing" since the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s. Despite the fact that Erica Jong coined the term "zipless fuck" way back in 1973, and the more mundane physical fact that there are only so many ways to insert a penis into any given orifice, the media insists on finding every generation more depraved than the next. It’s made for a popular opinion piece since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of The Times), and it goes a little something like this: journalist declares the generation in question liberated or doomed, and extrapolates wildly on chosen position. Either today’s young people are morally corrosive hedonists on a path to seventeen different strains of Chlamydia/ the apocalypse, or, by having sex with each other all the time with little care for commitment, we represent the absolute zenith of sexual progress*.

Roisin opts for the latter position, and by doing so represents the minority viewpoint. The problem is that ultimately, like many on the opposing side, she forgets that sex is just sex: an activity that the human race has been engaging in since its inception, and that has, despite the best efforts of certain women’s magazines, remained pretty much the same mechanics-wise. Sex itself has changed very little over the years: it is society’s attitudes and value systems which have changed, and we’re sure we’re not the only ones who feel somewhat patronised each time some jumped-up theory is projected onto us and our bedroom antics. People are not cut from the same cloth, and while many may enjoy a casual shag, others will feel that a long term relationship is more their thing (that goes for both men and women, by the way.) Boiling down the central tenets of feminism to a one night stand feels just a teensy bit reductive.

Casual sex as a "delaying tactic" for women who refuse to allow inconveniences such as "love" to get in the way of their single-minded career ambitions is a great theory of Roisin’s in capitalist America. It’s unfortunate for her that in real life terms, it’s all crap. In many ways, it also teeters on the edge of being a plotline for a dystopian novel: women enter the market, become the most ruthless competitors of all, brazenly renounce true love, and single-handedly do away with decency forever. Meanwhile, men get off scot-free with a shrug and a ‘boys will be boys’. How did they manage that, when all we’re hearing right now is either "girls getting out their fannies will carry us to a more enlightened society" or "girls will be the engines of everyone’s destruction"?

We’re all different, and so are our sex lives. To quote HBO’s Girls: “I AM NOT ‘the ladies’”. Some of us want to save ourselves for Mr Right, and some of us are ecstatic to find Mr Right Now outside a club in Clapham every Friday night. Hell, some of us like to dress up in animal-shaped onesies and act out bestiality fantasies at furry parties. Not that this will prevent newspapers regurgitating Roisin’s wild theories until the book comes out (the Sunday Times got there already) and crowing about how men are like, so over, and women are now perfectly in control of their own vaginas, while ignoring the fact that shaming sexually adventurous women remains a national sport. Thank you feminism, and goodnight.

All this begs the question: which is more offensive? Is scrutinising a woman’s sex life and coming up with the enlightened conclusion that she’s a "slut" really that much worse than a load of social theorists crowding around the proverbial bed and deciding that her aforementioned sex life symbolises a dramatic shift in the cultural zeitgeist? Both represent Other People telling "the ladies" what to do with their bits, or making wild aspersions about the power of some fairly unremarkable flaps of skin. We know we’ve said it before, but can the party that wasn't invited please GET OUT OF OUR VAGINAS.

*For something a bit more nuanced, do read Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs (£), which looks at the impact of pornography and raunch culture on today’s young women, and is written by someone who is intellectually capable of holding two conflicting thoughts in her head at the same time.

Women having fun on a night out in Newcastle. Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Ariana and the Arianators: "We really are like a family"

The pop star provides her fans with a chance to express themselves joyfully - their targeting was grimly predictable.

Ariana Grande’s concert at Manchester Arena on 22 May began like any other. Children and teenagers streamed through the doors wearing pink T-shirts, rubber wristbands and animal ears (one of Grande’s signature looks). They screamed when she came on stage and they sang along with every song. It was only once the music had ended, and the 20,000-strong audience began to leave the venue, that the horror began – with a bomb detonated at the main entrance.

The show was just one date on Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour, which began in Phoenix, Arizona in February, moved across the United States and Europe, and had stops scheduled for South America, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. (Since the Manchester attack, Grande has suspended the tour indefinitely.)

Since releasing her debut album in 2013, Grande has successfully transitioned from teen idol to fully fledged pop star (all three of her studio albums have sold over a million each) with a combination of baby-faced beauty and Mariah Carey-style, breathy vocals. Her most popular records are bubblegum pop with a Nineties R’n’B influence, a combination also expressed in her fashion choices: Nineties grunge meets pastel pinks.

She entered the limelight at 16 on the children’s TV programme Victorious, which ran on the Nickelodeon channel, pursuing her musical ambitions by performing the show’s soundtracks. Many of the young people who grew up watching her as the red-haired arts student Cat Valentine on Victorious would become fans of her pop career – or, as they call themselves, the Arianators.

As she outgrew her child-star status, Grande’s lyrics became more sexually suggestive. Recent songs such as “Side to Side” and “Everyday” are more explicit than any of her previous hits. She has repeatedly insisted that young women should be able to speak openly about sex and feel empowered, not objectified.

“Expressing sexuality in art is not an invitation for disrespect,” she tweeted in December. “We are not objects or prizes. We are QUEENS.”

Grande also has a reputation as something of a gay icon. She has advertised her records on the gay dating app Grindr, headlined shows at Pride Week in New York, and released a single and a lipstick to raise money for LGBTQ charities.

Cassy, a 19-year-old film student and fan, told me the fanbase is “made mostly of young women from 14-23, but I run into guys and non-binary fans all the time.”

“It’s pretty well known that Ariana has got a LGBTQ+ fan base. She’s so outspoken about it and that’s what draws us to her. Because she’s accepting of everyone, no matter who you are.”

Like many child actresses-turned-pop star, Grande has a fan base skewed towards the young and female: teenage and pre-teen girls are by far the majority of her most dedicated supporters. A writer on the Phoenix New Times described the typical Ariana Grande crowd as “pre-tween, tweens, teens, young gay (and fabulous) men, moms with cat ears, and multiple candidates for father of the year”. The Arianators form tight-knit groups on social media. I spoke to several over Twitter after the attack.

Arena concerts, which often have more relaxed age restrictions than nightlife venues, have long been a safe space for children, young people and teenage girls. They provide a secure place for concert-goers to dress up, experiment, play with burgeoning sexualities, dance, scream and cry: to flirt with an adult life still slightly out of reach. Glitter-streaked tears stream down the unapologetic faces of fans touched by an emotion bigger than themselves. It is appalling, if grimly predictable, to see children, teenage girls and young gay men targeted by agents of regressive ideologies for expressing themselves so joyfully. On 23 May, Isis claimed the attack.

Andréa, a 17-year-old fan from France, told me about her first experience of a Grande concert. “It was incredible,” she said. “Everyone was so kind, excited and happy. We really are like a family.”

The fans are devastated by Monday’s bombing. Thousands of messages appeared on social media to commemorate those who lost their lives. “As an Arianator,” Alexandre, aged 16, told me, “I’m really sad and I’m scared.”

“We’re all taking it really hard,” Cassy said. “We’re a family and we lost 22 members of that family last night.”

Ariana began her gig in Manchester with the song that has opened every night of her current tour: “Be Alright”. In it, she repeatedly reassures the crowd, “We’re gonna be all right.” It’s a phrase that her fans are clinging to after the attack. So, too, are the lyrics of “Better Days”, by Grande and her support act Victoria Monét, which was also performed the night of the explosion. “There’s a war right outside our window,” the words go. “I can hear the sirens . . ./I can hear the children crying . . ./I’m hoping for better days . . .”

“It’s hit us all very hard because we’ve lost some of our own,” said one Arianator who runs a popular Twitter account about the tour. “People we interacted with on a daily basis. People that just wanted to have a night of fun. These are dark times, but we are looking forward to better days.”

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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