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Chicago-area professor researches college promiscuity, gender roles

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Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2013 7:00 am

Many college students have likely conducted their own, amateur research regarding their one night stands, but a professor from the University of Illinois in Chicago is looking at hook ups academically.

Students inevitably have an opinion on sexual promiscuity, and, according to UIC sociology professor and department head Barbara Risman, these opinions vary based on gender and membership in college subcultures.

Risman has conducted research on dating and sexuality in college, and came to SIUE Tuesday, Oct. 29 to present her latest research examining whether college campus culture is more accepting of men’s hookups than women’s.

Risman began the lecture with her own definition of a hookup, saying that the precise meaning of a hookup is kept deliberately ambiguous. She said scholars think this helps men by making them appear more successful sexually than they actually are and women by protecting their reputations.

“My particular definition for this hooking up, for this conversation, is sex before conversation,” Risman said. “That is, not casual sex after going out to dinner and a movie, but rather, some kind of sexual exchange that exists before a date. It’s often at a party setting, almost always after some alcohol has been drunk.”

Sociologists’ preliminary research on college hookups found that about 75 percent of students report hooking up at least once in college. Risman also found in discussions with students that most felt there was a huge double standard in campus culture.

Yet Risman’s research did not find a double standard amongst the majority of students at various colleges. In her study, she asked students to agree or disagree with the statement, “If men hook up or have sex with lots of people, I respect them less.” Risman then asked the exact same statement but with women replaced with men.

Of the 24,131 students asked, about 50 percent said they would lose respect for men and women equally, and about 25 percent said they would not lose respect for either.

About 10 percent said they would lose respect for women but not men, and slightly more held a the reverse view, that they would lose respect for men but not women.

Comparing male and female respondents to the survey, women were more likely to lose respect for both men and women, and almost no women had a double standard. For men, 22 percent held a double standard.

Risman said she was personally surprised at the difference between her initial study and the actual data, though she has a hypothesis about the inconsistency.

“Researchers who work for consumer groups will tell you they do research on opinion leaders and figure they’re the ones they have to measure because what the opinion leaders do or think will seep out to seem as if it’s the whole culture,” Risman said. “So particularly on campuses with strong Greek and sports cultures, those are the men who are likely to have a double standard. Those are the public opinion leaders. Even if only 22 percent of men have double standards, but they’re the ones at the top of the campus hierarchy.”

While her research showed a connection between men in Greek organizations or varsity sports and believing in a double standard, little correlation existed between women in Greek organizations or sports. According to Risman, research has found that women in college sports are more likely to hold liberal views toward gender than men. However, women who lived in Greek housing were more likely to disrespect men but not women.

Risman also found that the 8 percent of non-heterosexual respondents to her survey were less likely to hold a double standard. She said this was likely because they already held a sexual identity outside the norm, making them less judgmental of other’s sexual choices.

In addition to finding that membership in campus groups can predict opinions, Risman said her research led to other conclusions. She has seen opinions on gender issues between men and women converging over time, though they are still distinct. Most importantly, Risman said she learned that endorsing gender equality is not the same as endorsing sexual revolution.

“We have to think of gender egalitarianism as a different question than how people think about sexual liberation. Now, I’m just old enough to have mixed those up in my mind because they sort of happened at the same time — the sexual liberation movement and the women’s movement — and they were intertwined,” Risman said.

Senior psychology major Kaylin James, of Granite City, said she was really glad to have Risman speak at SIUE.

“It was an absolute honor to be able to have her at our university,” James said. “She is a huge name in gender and sexuality research so it’s absolutely wonderful to hear her speak and even be in the same room.”

Risman has co-authored the article “From Sex Roles to Gender Structure” with SIUE sociology professor Georgiann Davis.

Her lecture was part of a series of lectures for SIUE’s women’s studies program. The next will be at 12 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8 in Peck Hall, room 1405. Katie Donnelly of Microfinancing Partners in Africa, will present a lecture titled “Women, Poverty and Microfinancing in Africa.”

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