Andrew Lohse and the Rise of the Frat Bro Feminist

You've probably heard of Andrew Lohse, or at least about what Andrew Lohse has told you about being excessively hazed by the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the fraternity he was part of at Dartmouth College. Lohse got famous in 2012 for publishing a tell-all about the disgusting antics he and his fraternity brothers took part in and now he's written a book about it called Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy. The title is accurate: there are lots of frat boys in the book but very few women. So why is Andrew Lohse being heralded as a "frat boy turned feminist"?

Lohse has been everywhere lately, promoting his book as authors do. Several of his pieces and interviews, like a heavily touted article in Cosmopolitan and another profile with Mashable, proclaim Confessions as Lohse's coming out party as a feminist, and according to the quotes available, they'd be right. In Cosmo's September issue, Lohse wrote that even when he first started pledging his SAE, he "sensed that there was something fucked up about the misogyny associated with" the fraternity, "from bros calling girls sluts and slampieces, to their tireless efforts to get girls drunk and hook up with them, only to speak degradingly of them later. My frat's basement was spray-painted with the words FLETCH HATES WOMEN. It was a predatory conspiracy."

In the Cosmo piece, Lohse goes to explain that "hazing warps guys' concept of consent," which, reading his book, is quite clear. He and his fellow pledges didn't really consent to anything; one could argue quite readily that they're pushed into every disgusting activity they take part in, from sitting in tubs of liquid consisting of a mix of each other's bodily fluids and solids to eating the much of the same stuff.

Mashable's profile of Lohse follows this line of thinking:

Lohse is a frat boy turned feminist, though he shies away from being defined by any particular political movement. He is sensitive when talking about Greek life and the problem of campus sexual assault.

"If being a feminist means speaking up about these issues and equality," he says, "then you could call me that."

But in Lohse's book, women don't appear much at all, and sexual assault is barely discussed. Lohse's first mention of rape occurs briefly, at 33 pages in. He's discussing a test SAE made him take as part of the Rush process:

"What course of action would you take in each of the following situations? Explain your reasoning briefly. You may utilize the reverse of this sheet if necessary.

A. One of your pledge brothers admits to you that he slipped Rohypnol into a young lady's alcoholic beverage. He proceeds to engage in sexual intercourse with said lady.

B. You notice that one of your pledge brothers is gaining significant weight over the course of the pledge term. He begins to have issues with his body image.

C. A pledge brother becomes involved in the trafficking of an illegal substance across state borders. The substance is cocaine. His dealings become increasingly risky. He is thinking of moving on to 'harder' drugs."

Looking around the clearing, I saw that most of the pledges were obviously unsure what to answer. Were these things that might happen? Were they just fucking with us?

For the rest of the book, date rape drugs and rape barely enter the picture. It's not until page 285 – out of 303 pages in the book – that Lohse mentions people he knows who experienced sexual assault explicitly, in an explanation of his final come to Jesus moment about turning his back on the frat:

Then when I was done feeling sorry for myself I'd call up Wallace and depledge Sigma Alpha Epsilon and try to forget all the animalistic bastards who'd made me chug vinegar and vomit until the blood vessels around my eyes burst into little red dots that resembled some sort of rare tropical malady. I'd finally talk about how I'd come forward to the administration, and how, in my opinion, they hadn't done much to address hazing. I'd finally talk about how disturbed I was that I needed two hands to count all of my friends who'd been raped at Dartmouth. I'd purge myself for weeks, take along trip, give up, maybe apologize to some people, find a way to atone.

Lohse has girlfriends, but we don't see much of them; they seem to serve as barometers for how deeply he's fallen into the fraternity pit. One relationship with a girl named Blair he says he was "pretty much in love with" ends because he's such a mess. He also dates Caroline, a girl who does as much coke as he does and seems much more comfortable than Blair is with the person he's become because of the fraternity. But we don't hear much about them or really any other woman; in this book, women dance around the edges of parties and wear pearls and cute outfits and basically exist as window dressing.

When I interviewed Lohse and asked him about the discrepancy between his book and the pieces and talks he'd done since, Lohse said the complaint that women didn't feature much in the book was one that'd he gotten "from a couple of people." He has a good answer for why that is: he wanted to focus specifically on his own observations in Confessions, not the realizations he had later.

"I wanted to stick really tightly to my exact experiences, as they were happening, as they unfolded," he said. "I thought it would be dishonest to imprint my current understanding too much on those events as they happened."

But the bigger reason comes later. "I didn't have a whole lot of direct knowledge about these issues as an undergrad, other than hearing from my female friends," Lohse says about sexual assault, adding that he "didn't want to speak for the women, my friends, who had had these issues." In that way, Lohse is the happy product of an environment that, because of a combination of student activists and media coverage, has slowly opened itself to understanding sexual assault, especially as it exists on college campuses. He told me something I've felt myself: when he graduated only a few years ago, this stuff wasn't talked about as much as it is now.

And it's because of those stories that Lohse now believes that it's impossible to talk about fraternities without talking about sexual assault.

If taken as a straightforward memoir-as-cautionary-tale, Lohse's book falls flat, leaving you with only a feeling of hollowness and the lesson that if you drink too much, yes, bad things will happen. As is the case with other coverage of frat life, what you can miss from a quick read of Confessions is a semblance that there's more than some stupid boys damaging their livers here. There are many, many women who are hurt by fraternity culture, in that many frat boys consider women "objects, or a commodity that would be imported into the basement for a party," in Lohse's words.

But his work since seeks to broaden that perception. Lohse says he's "generally forward-looking" and doesn't dwell much on rethinking his past relationships, sexual or otherwise. Instead, he'd like to draw a connection between fraternity culture and sexual assault, and about how hazing warps the way men understand consent at an impressionable age. Fraternities are about power and hierarchy, and rape is certainly about the same.

"Women were not an afterthought in my life," Lohse argues, but, later clarifies that, "To a fraternity itself, women are an afterthought." He explains that in his experience, when people who don't belong to the frat (often women) enter a frat house, they're subject to the same "pseudo-sexual dominant/subordinate" dynamic the pledges are subjected to.

And Lohse doesn't stop there: while his book might not cover sexual assault, he's being included in the conversation about these issues – though he makes it clear he doesn't want his voice to be the loudest one in the room. He was part of the much buzzed about panel on The Diane Rehm Show this week, the one where the former President of George Washington University Dr. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg put his foot in his mouth and then proceeded to leave it there. Lohse says he was wholly disappointed in Trachtenberg's comments, but also just in who is being called on as experts when it comes to sexual assault.

"What bothered me too was that there was only one woman on that panel. What license do four men of those ages have to talk about this?" he says.

Are there other men like Andrew Lohse? He seems to think so – or hopes that he can encourage them in that direction. "One of the questions that needs to be raised is, what kind of men go through this and become successful? What kind of men are they?" he asks of the former frat boys like him (or not like him) who go on to rise through the ranks of business and politics. If you're anything like what Andrew Lohse seems to want you to be, read Confessions. Then do like he did, and move on from there.

Image via Andrew Lohse/St. Martin's Press