It’s an exciting time to be a woman in this country. We are on the brink of a new wave of feminism: one that denounces man-hating and encourages all women to value themselves. We have brilliant women like Chimamanda Adichie, powerful women like Beyoncé, and icons like Emma Watson all unashamedly speaking up for women…AND for men in the battle toward gender equality. We’ve emphasized that a feminist is “a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” We’ve spoken out against wage inequality, sexual assault, and domestic violence, and in speaking out against these injustices, we’ve raised awareness and made people believe that there are still very prevalent gender issues in this country. I am hopeful that we are on the verge of a very serious breakthrough–perhaps one that will finally make gender inequity seem as incredulous as other cruel injustices of our past.
Unfortunately, during this very exciting time, fraternities have come under scrutiny. They’ve become scapegoats. The Guardian published a column last Wednesday–referencing a study published in the NASPA Journal in 2007–claiming that fraternity men rape women 300 percent more often than non-Greeks. That statistic was the author’s evidence in an argument for banning the Greek system altogether. To put it bluntly, this is just bad journalism, and it’s a VAST misrepresentation of an old study that proves correlation, but not causation.
To put it as simplistically as possible, the 2007 study surveyed the freshman class at ONE school at the beginning and end of its school year. After filling out a 10-item questionnaire where each question was more indicative of sexual aggression toward women than the last, the students who went Greek had answered “yes” to a higher number of questions than non-Greeks, which quite obviously means they rape 300 percent more often.
Even though a study, released just a year ago, suggested that fraternities are actually less likely than their nonaffiliated counterparts to be sexually aggressive toward women, let’s suppose for a minute that the above study is true. It is important to note that none of the articles provide any indication as to why fraternity men are “more likely to rape,” and the idea that simply being in a fraternity leads to sexual aggression is not only lazy, but it lends itself to a bigger problem.
There are two real differences between fraternity men and nonaffiliated men, both of which the fraternity men share with athletes (who are also known to be sexually aggressive toward women). Both Greek men and male athletes are hazed, and both groups live and spend a significant amount of their time with a large number of other men. Hazing is a serious issue and there are ongoing efforts to thwart it. If hazing and the feeling of subordination causes men to force women into subordination, then the ban should continue to be upon hazing and not the institutions and community as a whole.
If, however, when controlled for hazing, researchers find that fraternity men (and for our purposes, athletes) are still more likely to rape or be sexually (or otherwise) more aggressive toward women than nonaffiliated men, the issue is an even more difficult one to correct–the sexual aggression then comes from spending too much time in large groups of other men. The notion is a bleak one, implying a level of savage in all men. Then, if we use the same logic that the writer at The Guardian used to say there should be a ban on fraternities, there should then be a ban on any large group of men cohabiting and spending time with one another.
As any sane person should realize, this is no type of reaction, because it fixes the wrong problem. The solution lies in prevention, in getting to the bottom of why certain things lead men to aggression, and then attempting to eliminate those triggers. If it’s hazing, eliminate that. If it’s competition between men to be the most dominant and have the most sexual partners, we need to work on not making men feel that they need those things to prove their worth. If it’s simply because, when in large groups, men have more access to booze and to women, then the results are being skewed and that needs to be accounted for and controlled.
Last week, the White House launched an anti-sexual assault campaign called “It’s On Us.” The aim is for college students to realize that the solution to sexual assaults on campuses begins with us. Current statistics say one in five women are assaulted throughout their college careers, and less than one third of those assault cases result in expulsion–obviously, there IS a problem.
The first people to respond? Fraternities.
A fraternity at the University of Maine is putting on a “Rock Against Rape” event, while 21 Fraternities at IU alone have signed a written pledge to take a stand against sexual assault, stating, “We want to make sexual assault a taboo that is like drunk driving has become over the last 20 years.”
Eight national fraternities (with a combined 75,000 undergraduate members) including Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Delta Theta, Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Chi, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and Triangle are currently on board, working on new types of training to educate their members on sexual misconduct.
“If you think of the power of having all of these fraternities on a particular campus going through similar programming and similar messaging, it could definitely impact the culture on that campus fairly quickly,” said Marc Mores, executive vice president of the James R. Favor & Company.
It’s important that fraternity men are stepping up to the plate in this campaign, because for better or for worse, it is on us. Media outlets, school administrators, and the like are looking for fraternities to mess up. They’re looking to villainize these young men, while younger generations and collegiate peers alike are, at the end of the day, looking at “the cool guys” to set an example.
The “It’s On Us” campaign is important. It’s a necessary part of the women’s rights movement, and I couldn’t be more proud of fraternity men for disproving everyone and helping to move it forward..