I had a similar reaction as some other people when reading through Michael Kimmel’s chapter Hooking Up: Sex in Guyland and Shelly Ronen’s Grinding on the Dance Floor: Gendered Scripts and Sexulized Dancing at College Parties. Frankly, I could not stop blushing as I read them sitting with my parents next to me; all I could think about was how disturbingly well their observations applied to the social life of Connecticut College. Much of what both sociologists discuss I have noticed many times in my own environment, whether observing friends or strangers, the pattern is very similar, and I believe many of the sociological motivations are as well.
Kimmel sets a context, stating that his study on hooking-up applies to heterosexual couples, excusing any outlying trends that may oppose these observations. Interestingly, however, he also compares this new trend of hook-up culture (including “friends with benefits” or “hook-up buddies”) to the homosexual trend labeled “fuck buddies.” Within this comparison, I wonder why he chooses to study a singular sexuality and pidgeon-hole the roles and choices given to each gender as a result of this singular perspective. Ultimately, since the same trend occurs in homosexual interactions, there should be a broader way of explaining hook-up culture than by dividing the role of the male from the role of the female. If the same pattern occurs elsewhere in a male-male relationship, than Kimmel’s explanation is lacking. I understand that he focuses on the homosocial aspect of hooking-up, explaining that the women are merely being used as a way for men to interact with one another, but I wonder how this hierarchy would function in a single gendered hook-up. Is there still an individual that is more objectified than the other?
Similar to Kimmel, Ronen’s study did not observe any gay couples. Regardless, the same question remains: Does one individual in a homosexual interaction become passive while the other dominant? Does this differ between lesbian and gay interactions such as grinding? Does grinding exist in a similar way? By focusing on heterosexual and homosocial motivations, both sociologists left me with these questions. Despite this, Ronen also mentions several aspects of grinding that I had never thought to analyze before. For example, women who dance provocatively with one another do not do it for fun, but ultimately for the pleasure of men. In other words, girls who “just want to dance” on a Saturday night are not doing so for their own pleasure but in the hopes that their sexualized dancing will attract men join them. This unspoken desire is not necessarily hope for a sexual encounter, as Ronen’s observations show, many times the men’s advances are not well received—mostly according to their appearance. The conclusion, then, is simply that women’s sexualized dancing that mocks grinding is used to gain attention. There is no assumption that this attention will go any further than grinding, but, as Kimmel says, there is no expectation for a further relationship or sexual experience.
I enjoyed reading these two pieces in tandem because they produce similar results from observing two different phenomena. Both hooking-up and grinding provide a homosocial lubricant with which men can more easily interact. They also show the hierarchy that exists in such social situations; men dominate while women merely play a passive, objectified role. For me, the result of both readings shed some light on how aspects of my own life can change with a new perspective. Living on a college campus myself, Ronen and Kimmel gave me new things to consider about the social interactions around me.