Does A Skewed Gender Ratio at College Turn Girls Into Sluts?

Does a high ratio of girls to guys on campus turn co-eds into sluts? That’s the conclusion of a recent New York Times article on the subject. I’m not convinced.

The thesis of the article is that as the gender ratio on college campuses gets more and more unbalanced in favor of female students, girls are forced to dress more scandalously, hook up more frequently, and have sex more consistently — all to entice the male college students. The thesis has a strong theoretical foundation: As the relative supply of boys at colleges decreases, the demand for boys will go up. So girls who would normally restrain themselves will now throw themselves at boys. They will take them back to their rooms after just meeting them. They will text them incessantly. And the girls lucky enough to rope guys into relationships will forgive them when they cheat. The paucity of boys at the schools drives the girls CRAZY!!!

The theory does make a little sense. If we assume that men prefer hooking up and women prefer relationships, then it stands to reason that at a school with fewer men, the heterosexual female population will be forced to do more of what the men want, namely hooking up. The girls who hold out for relationships will find that guys can always move on to co-eds who are more amenable, and the guys who are looking to hook up get to choose from a multitude of boy-starved, sex-starved women who know that if they do want a relationship, they’re going to have to pay for it in advance.

But I, like many of you I’m sure, have a real problem with this analysis. Do guys really prefer hooking up to girls? Do girls really want relationships more than guys? Is the only thing keeping Swarthmore cleavage concealed (to the extent that it is) the fact that we have a roughly even gender balance? The analysis seems premised on the usual stereotypes about how all guys want to do is fuck myriad women and all women want to do is find that one sweet guy. In reality, I think there are plenty of girls who enjoy the hook-up culture. And I haven’t met too many guys, who, upon meeting girls they are attracted to and like would say, “I would never envision being in a relationship with her because the single life, and having the potential to lock lips with tons of women, is so appealing.” My guess is that if women do tend to prefer relationships to men, it’s not by that much.

Furthermore, I don’t think that the stereotype the theory assumes is very consistent, because it assumes that men are sex crazed and want it all the time. This second stereotype may well be true. But if it is, then guys shouldn’t want to hook up — they should want relationships! There’s no question that people who are in relationships in college have far more sex than their single brethren. Even if the women are throwing themselves on top of you every night you go out, there is no way guys are finding random girls at parties, taking them back to their rooms, and hooking up with them more than, say, two to three times a week. Could you imagine if you had a single male friend who brought different girls back and had sex with them twice a week on a regular basis? That would be one very successful friend. Now consider some of your friends who are in relationships: they can have sex basically whenever they want to. Really, if all guys are concerned about is sex, they should be getting into relationships as frequently as possible.

The fact that the foundation for the argument seems a little shaky and more than a little sexist should lead us to examine the author’s actual evidence. What behavior did the reporter witness at Chapel Hill, a school dominated by the fairer sex, to convince her of this conclusion? Well, as earlier stated, the reporter found that the girls dressed pretty sluttily, and that some of them were concerned that all the other girls were, well, acting really slutty: grinding up on guys they just met, inviting them into their rooms just after meeting them, and scrutinizing text messages boys had sent them for fifteen minutes. The reporter quotes one female student saying, “I was talking to a friend at a bar, and this girl just came up out of nowhere, grabbed him by the wrist, spun him around and took him out to the dance floor and started grinding.”

I hope this doesn’t sound sexist, but doesn’t that statement sound like it could have been uttered by frustrated women anywhere? And don’t women pore over eligible men’s text messages for fifteen minutes anywhere? (And vice-versa.)

Notably, nowhere does the reporter ever quote a student who admits to acting slutty because of the gender ratio. All she has are women who complain about how promiscuous the other girls are. Could it just be that students at every college complain about how promiscuous the other students are, and that this phenomenon has nothing to do with the gender balance?

The author further acknowledges that at a school with a gender ratio this skewed the students don’t think the hook-up culture is any different that at other schools. The author writes, “Students interviewed here said they believed their mating rituals reflected those of college students anywhere.” Exactly. And considering that these reports are based on nothing but the testimony of a handful of women who, critically, have only attended a college with a skewed gender ratio, it’s hard to understand why the author thinks the hooking up that’s going on at UNC is any different from the hooking up that’s going on at other campuses, and why we should trust the students when they suggest the hook-up culture at their college has everything to do with the male-to-female ratio.

I don’t mean to imply that a skewed gender ratio will not affect interactions between men and women. But I disagree with the claim that the gender imbalance is somehow key to understanding why the hook-up culture is so prevalent at schools like UNC.