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Do Frats Contribute To A Culture Of Sexual Assault?

Illustration for article titled Do Frats Contribute To A Culture Of Sexual Assault?

Nicholas Syrett's article "Bros Before Hos" argues that fraternities developed their current reputations in response to fears of homosexuality.


In the 1920s, frat guys started worrying that living together and being all friendly with each other would make them seem gay. Solution: public demonstrations of dominance over women, including rape. Syrett quotes several disturbing passages on this topic. In 1967, sociologist Eugene Kanin said that for frat brothers,

A successful 'snow job' on an attractive but reluctant female who may be rendered into a relatively dependable sexual outlet and socially desirable companion is considerably more enhancing than an encounter with a prostitute or a 'one night stand' with a 'loose' reputation.


Translation: getting a "nice girl" to have sex with you, possibly by any means necessary, is better than having sex with a slut. A contemporary frat boy offers an even more upsetting bit of sociology:

When my friends pick up chicks and bring them back to the fraternity house everyone else runs to the window to look at somebody else domineer a girl and I tell you what you almost get the same satisfaction. Some of the guys like to put on a show by doing grosser things each time ... Watching my friends have sex with other girls is almost as satisfying as doing it myself ... By the same token I enjoy conquering girls and having people watch.

Syrett notes that men who are in fraternities are more likely to rape than men who aren't, and that frat boys may perpetrate 70 to 90% of college gang rapes. Chilling as these statistics are, Amy Benfer of Broadsheet warns that we shouldn't think of all fraternities as horrible campus rape factories. She thinks frat culture may get better with the current acceptability of both gay marriage and "bromance" (although whether a movie and a silly term really make close heterosexual male friendship anymore socially accepted is debatable).

Still, Syrett's argument contradicts Greg Laden's view that peacetime society keeps men from raping. Rather, there may be social structures — and fraternities may be one of them — that encourage violent behavior among men as part of a fucked-up status system. As Megan has said time and again (and as too many people still don't get), rape isn't always about sex — it's about power. And society is eminently capable of creating toxic power structures in which rape as a form of advancement. It does us no good to think of men as natural sex maniacs who need civilization to keep them from assaulting. Instead, we need to realize that culture plays just as big a role in violence against women as biology — perhaps bigger — and that culture can be changed.


Bros Before Hos: College Fraternities and Sexual Exploitation [National Sexuality Resource Center]
Gang rapes, gay bashing and snow jobs [Broadsheet]

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Sexual assault at UC Santa Barbara in the late 1980s was de rigueur. Every time any girls who lived on my dorm floor stepped off the elevator and into the lobby, she was asked if she wanted to suck a dick, followed by much laughter, lights were regularly turned out at parties at which time one expected to have her breasts and butt groped by strangers. Walking down the street alone sometimes resulted in groping by a pack of frat boys, frat boys held up signs from balconies with numbers to rate you on a scale from 1 to 10 as you walked by on a public street, drunk girls were locked in bedrooms at frat parties, the punch was regularly spiked with everclear. I can keep going on. Most people, including a LOT of girls, acted like this was just normal college behavior. Something to wink at and say "well what can you do?" as you shrug it off. I was called uptight. I went into a very deep and despondent depression and dropped out.