The Men, And Women, Of Yale

Nearly thirty years ago, in a column in the New York Times Magazine, conservative firebrand William F. Buckley waxed nostalgic about his college days at Yale. He imagined a young Yalie today, at the now-coed, gender integrated, university, longing for “a fraternity house that wouldn’t end:”

Someday, damn it, we’ll have a treehouse of our own. We’ll build it out in the woods where Mother can’t find us. And we’ll eat when we want, what we want. We’ll bring our friends. Have a secret club. And no girls.

Defensive and wistful, Buckley experiences increasing gender equality as an invasion into those pure homosocial refuges, one coupled with constant policing by angry Mommies. Not all that surprising from a guy whose first book title included only God and man.

I was reminded of this little dream of homosocial purity when I received a link this past week to the now-viral video of pledges at Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity marching around and shouting “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!”

(For the historically minded, DKE was mentioned in The New York Times in 1967 in a scandal over branding their pledges with red-hot coat hangers. The Yale Daily News called the practice “sadistic and obscene.” The chapter president defended it as akin to a cigarette burn. His name, incidentally, was George W. Bush. That was the first time Bush was mentioned in that newspaper.)

The immediate and universal outcry over the video focused, rightly, on the first half of the chant–the explicit support and encouragement of sexual assault. Legal questions were raised: Is this hate speech? Does it promote a hostile environment in which actual sexual assaults (of which Yale reported 13 a year in its most recent crime statistics) are ignored, downplayed or explained away?

At first, the fraternity issued a cover-your-ass smirking apology for offending people’s feelings (read: you feminists can’t take a joke). Their next apology, a day or so later, was far more abject, and showed they’d put some serious thought into how their actions might have been experienced by others. It seemed sincere enough.

But it lacked historical perspective. In 2006, fraternity guys marched in a sort of picket line outside the Women’s Center on campus, chanting those same phrases. In 2008, members of another fraternity celebrated their love of “Yale sluts” by screaming about it outside that same campus Women’s Center.

What does it mean to chant “No Means Yes” outside the campus Women’s Center, the place that offers a safe space for women who have been assaulted or abused? What does it mean to target the one place where women might actually feel safe enough to find their own voice, feel strong enough to succeed in a world still marred by gender inequality? It’s a reminder that men still rule, that bro’s will always come before “ho’s”. Even the Women’s Center can’t protect you.

That is, it’s a way to make even the safe unsafe.

We could leave it there, and let the campus judiciary and the blogosphere continue to debate about free speech and hostile environments and hate speech. But I think it would miss another, equally important element–the second half of the chant, “Yes Means Anal.”

This chant assumes that anal sex is not pleasurable for women; that if she says yes to intercourse, you have to go further to an activity that you experience as degrading to her, dominating to her, not pleasurable to her. This second chant is a necessary corollary to the first.

Thanks to feminism, women have claimed the ability to say both “no” and “yes.” Not only have women come to believe that “No Means No,” that they have a right to not be assaulted and raped, but also that they have a right to say “yes” to their own desires, their own sexual agency. Feminism enabled women to find their own sexual voice.

Sometimes, as in the case of the now-famous Karen Owen at Duke, they can be as explicitly raunchy as men, and evaluate men’s bodies in exactly the way that men evaluate women’s bodies. (I agree with Ariel Levy that women imitating men’s drinking and sexual predation is a rather impoverished style of liberation.)

This is confusing to many men, who see sex not as mutual pleasuring, but about the “girl hunt,” a chase, a conquest. She says no, he breaks down her resistance. Sex is a zero-sum game. He wins if she puts out; she loses.

That women can like sex, and especially like good sex, and are capable of evaluating their partners changes the landscape. If women say “yes,” where’s the conquest, where’s the chase, where’s the pleasure? And where’s the feeling that your victory is her defeat? What if she is doing the scoring, not you?

Thus the “Yes Means Anal” part of the chant. Sex has become unsafe for men–women are agentic and evaluate our performances. So if “No Means Yes” attempts to make what is safe for women unsafe, then “Yes Means Anal” makes what is experienced as unsafe for men again safe–back in that comfort zone of conquest and victory. Back to something that is assumed could not possibly be pleasurable for her. It makes the unsafe safe–for men.

In this way, we can see the men of DKE at Yale not as a bunch of angry predators, asserting their dominance, but as a more pathetic bunch of guys who see themselves as powerless losers, trying to re-establish a sexual landscape which they feel has been thrown terribly off its axis. This is especially ironic, of course, because these straight, white, upper-class Yalie DKEs are among the most privileged 20-year-olds on the planet. And yet now they feel one-down, defensive, reduced to impotent screaming–and all because of women’s equality.

Man up, guys. Women can say no–and they can say yes. And in 2010, real men can learn to hear both.

Comments

  1. Odd article and I have mixed feelings about it. I think maybe because for as much as this clearly names and decries the chant's meaning, it misses something I feel is important: IMO if this a violation of free speech, it is because it is essentially a direct call for violence. Rape is violence sexualized, not violent sex. It's not just about agency (although it certainly is about that); it's a call for widespread violent crime.

    And, yes, the article is dead-on right about this: it's pathetic (among other things).

  2. What if the chant has nothing at all to do with women? That men who say "No" are really saying yes to anal sex with other men? Maybe this is the usual – men loving men and hating women! Men have sung that song for thousands of years and sing it still…

  3. alisekobre says:

    Awesome post!

  4. This is a well-written and articulate response to the rantings of a group of over-privileged toddlers who feel it necessary to shout down the voices of independent women who threaten their feeble sense of virility. Much appreciated.

  5. This story makes me want to puke. It makes me feel scared and naive for thinking we've come such a long way. These are the privileged white men who are going to get the most opportunities to run our country. And they are capable of doing this. Not only are they capable of doing it, but they're being taught that they can say things like this and go unpunished.

    • That's the ticket here. Yale and Harvard are ostensibly the country's best and brightest — and if these are the best and brightest of the country, what does it say about the country? Or about humanity?

      • Indeed. I'm so glad there is a counter balanced presence, but obviously, if this is okay, we need to step up the presence. Have you guys called or emailed the Women's Center, written to the Harvard paper or directly called the frat? Send them subscriptions of Ms. Magazine. Send them gay calendars, encouraging them to further explore their interest in anal with new partners. Let's get a stronger movement out there. Get out there and be the voice of pro-sexual choice!
        Peace~

  6. Merely Academic says:

    A comment I saw elsewhere and have been thinking about. If a group of gay men had marched under the DKE windows chanting "No means yes! Yes means anal!" would DKE have thought it was funny? What do you think the result would have been?

  7. Insightful up to the end, when Kimmel says "Man up." Why use this problematic phrase when the conversation is about breaking open masculinity's assumptions? Odd choice.

    • S_B_Edwards says:

      I'm assuming Michael's use of that phrase refers to Sharron Angle's debate with Harry Reid – she told him to "man up." Colorado GOP candidate, Jane Norton, said the same thing to her male opponent as well.

    • anotherjess says:

      "Man Up" is also the cover headline of the 9/27/10 Newsweek, kinda reclaiming the phrase to progressive ends.

    • My reading of it was that it was ironic, in the vein of anti-colonialism, deploying the oppressor's discourse against him, as he obviously invests power in that discourse.

  8. " In 2006, fraternity guys marched in a sort of picket line outside the Women’s Center on campus, chanting those same phrases. In 2008, members of another fraternity celebrated their love of “Yale sluts” by screaming about it outside that same campus Women’s Center."

    This literally made my stomach turn.

    I am so glad I never joined a fraternity…

    This piece did raise a couple of questions in my mind:

    – What was the university's response to the conduct of these men? What was their response when it happened in the past?
    – Does a fraternity have to abide by a code of conduct in order to continue to be chartered at the university? If so, then does the act of yelling "No means yes, and yes means anal" in front of a woman's center constitute a violation of such code of conduct? And if it did, what, if anything, did the university do about it?
    – Did the women's center file a complaint against the fraternity with the university? If so, what was the outcome? How is the university protecting women from this kind of abuse, particularly abuse from members of their own male student population?

    If I were president of Yale, I'd make sure I'd do whatever is within my legal means to make an example of that fraternity. I'd shut it down and expel the whole lot of them if I had the power to do so.

  9. Very perceptive column.

  10. merely academic,
    i think that a group should find out. maybe they would then feel as terrorized as those in the women's house feel. would they learn from it? probably not but it is worth a shot.

    • snobographer says:

      More likely, the DKEs would have beat up the gay chanters and claimed the "gay panic" defense. Gay men don't have this kind of privilege.

  11. you need to do your research. i'm a current yale student and while what the dke guys did was horrible – they aren't a bunch of white, upper middle class guys. the chapter has students from every possible ethnic background, and more than 50 percent of the guys receive a hefty amount of financial aid. the majority are also from the south and the midwest – not "upper middle class east coasters". if you can't do your research, don't make an assertion.

    • Michael Kimmel says:

      Is that a quote from my article? I said nothing about what region they were from, and only that they were straight and white, the latter of which I got from their photos. And financial aid recipients or not, Yale students are among the most privileged young people in the world. They have privileged people in the south and midwest also, BTW.

  12. Encouraging men to better understand the destructiveness of such behavior is fantastic. Phrasing such encouragement in the form of "Man up!" is unfortunate, as such rigid gender prescriptions are part of the same problem that "No Means Yes" chants are. Encouraging alternatives to traditional masculinity would be a better way to change things than resorting to "Man up!"

  13. As usual, another extremely perceptive article by Michael Kimmel. Also insightful was Merely Academic's observation about gay men marching outside the DKE House. We know how they (and most men, I think) would feel about that – and they wouldn't see it as particularly funny.
    To readers of this blog, if you also like Kimmel's entries, buy his book, Guyland. It's excellent!

  14. Kimmel asserts that these men are "among the most privileged 20-year-olds on the planet…And yet now they feel one-down, defensive, reduced to impotent screaming–and all because of women’s equality." However, I do not agree that this is solely about women. Because our society lacks any coherent ritual that demarcates the passage into manhood, there is a chronic insecurity, desperate need for validation, and sometimes sadistic cruelty in an attempt to obtain validation. Thus, guys improvise with hazing and other initiation rituals (such as having DKE pledges chant obscene remarks) that assert their power over others, in an attempt to prove their manhood. This follows the point that hazing is not so much for the initiates to prove something, but for the hazers who are proving their popularity and power over others, and thus their masculinity. With this, we see that this incident is not solely about women and men; it is also about men and men. The men chanting in the video are pledges of the fraternity, instructed to chant these obscene remarks by the already-established "brothers" as part of the pledges' hazing/initiation. The power that the older members assert over the younger pledges by having them chant "no means yes" serves to simultaneously put down women AND the male pledges. Though "man up" is definitely not the wording I would have chosen, I think we definitely need to encourage men to reassess their masculinity in order for true reformation and change to come about, not only for women's sake, but for men as well.

  15. As always, Michael Kimmel is tremendously interesting, but I have trouble seeing these vastly overentitled morons as "pathetic bunch of guys who see themselves as powerless losers." Kimmel gives them an awful lot of credit for (unconscious) self-knowledge. Maybe they are just arrogant a-holes. In their own terms they are quite successful. They're at an exclusive fraternity at one of the most exclusive universities in the world, about to embark on lucrative careers, and in their elite little fraternity/sorority world are many attractive thin blonde elite women who think they're great and will want to date them, have sex on the men's terms, and should the men push them into something they didn't really want, blame themselves. Since the DKEs have contempt for other worlds and scales of values, there's really no reason why they can't go happily along for many years. As long as they make lots of money, there will be plenty of women who will want to be with them.
    There are many men who have learned to accommodate women's equality — whether because they need women's income or because liberated women are the only kind of women in their social sphere, or because they've been raised with decent feminist values, but these guys? I doubt they need ever confront themselves.

    • True. These men have made an unbreakable bubble of their privilege. They'll invariably live and die without a hint of introspection or self-critique — that is, like animals. And even if their psyches rose to the level of men, how could they ever hear that little voice of doubt in their minds with the rest of the world bowing and scraping to get into their clique?

    • "There are many men who have learned to accommodate women's equality" Whoa. "Accommodate"? You' appear to be looking at this through a lens in which male privilege is essentialized and men have no reason to desire women's agency except in the context of their individual, specific relationships with women. Furthermore, it assumes misogyny as the "default" ("natural" or essential) male mode of behavior, such that men start out that way and must be made to "accommodate" women-as-people via economic necessity, social-sexual necessity, or (re)socialization via "feminist values". This is insulting to (particularly feminist/non-misogynist) men, a disturbing outlook for women, and an erroneously essentialist perspective. You seem to have internalized the idea that misogyny (or at least male privilege) is an intrinsic, essential characteristic of "men" (I'll leave the fact that it's impossible to establish "men" as a stable, uniform category for another time). This is a dangerous proposition, as it re-conceptualizes a radical/liberationist discourse within extant systems of privilege and vectors of power, divesting said discourse of its ability to challenge those very structures.

      • Male privilege is pervasive. Anyone who is raised as male in this culture is steeped in it and must be explicitly taught a different set of values of he's to overcome it and participate in healthy relationships. Both men and women, myself included, are surrounded by assumptions of male privilege that get into our brains and affect our reflexive thinking. To get past this kind of internalized misogyny, we need to replace these cultural messages with new systems of thought that emphasize gender rights, personal agency and egalitarian relationships.

        Feminist/non-misogynist men (or women for that matter) aren't simply born blessedly free of bias against women. They're people who've made an intentional effort to fight the constant influence of a misogynist culture, and committed themselves to the work of living in healthy, egalitarian relationships with people of all genders.

  16. @ merely acadmic and others,

    In theory, I love the idea of a group of gay men marching outside DKE chanting about rape, seeing if the men inside feel terrorized. In reality, I'd hate to see the violence that would result when DKE felt not terrorized but emboldened by the convenient excuse to attack an easy target.
    I think that we're missing an important part of the equation–one that Kimmel nodded to by opening with the Buckley quote. A lot of the issue is power: men hold the power at Yale, historically, administratively and socially. As a former Yalie all too familiar with the fraternity scene, my opinion is that most of these men are, at heart, good, decent individuals. But put together in a group that is given a house, plenty of alcohol, elevated social standing and an unlimited supply of get out of jail free cards by the university, and the results are these types of wildly offensive and scary "traditions."
    What should happen? University sanctions–definitely, although Yale has been embarrassingly reluctant to crack down on off-campus violence and misogyny in the past. But I also wish that more women students at Yale would use this incident as an opportunity to band together and take more control of the social scene. DKE throws a jam-packed party every weekend. What if all women students refused to attend? What if all women students boycotted the next football game? (A large proportion of DKE members are on the football team.) Could the repetition of these types of events become opportunities to create positive change for the school?
    And @ lily: yes I'll completely second your correction about the incorrect stereotype about DKE being all white, upper class men. There is plenty of ethnic and socio-ecomonic diversity inside DKE. But I don't think that changes what happened in any way.

    • Really? They are at heart good decent individuals? So what? What does that even mean, or matter? What matters is how people behave towards one another. And these manboys have behaved shamefully, to terrorize women.

  17. Thank you for this article. It is so disturbing what is going on and I appreciate your common sense approach to breaking down the issues.

  18. excellent and astute – thank you for posting this.

  19. This article made me ill and very, very disappointed. How is this still occurring in today's world? And what was the university's response?

    • So far? Next to nothing. Stay tuned for an update post on the response by students and the school newspaper, as well as ways to encourage the administration to take further action.

  20. What these guys seem to be afraid of, more than anything, is that when the "power" in sex is not in their hands, they won't measure up. If sex is consensual, then they have to perform well in order to not be made fun of, or to get it again. If they are a "lousy lay", then word will get around and they will be humiliated. Hence, insisting on forcing women to have sex against their will, and if they agree, to have it in a way that these guys assume the women won't like…so they won't have to be judged. Just like men who only chase virgins, because that way the woman will have no one to compare them with. Poor, pathetic, clumsy attempt to defend their own insecurities. I hope none of these guys get laid for years…it would serve them right.

  21. If I can be forgiven for plugging my own response to both Michael's great piece and the DKE incident: http://hugoschwyzer.net/2010/10/19/i-come-from-a-

  22. broadblogs says:

    I wonder why women don't ostracize the frat. Why do women continue to have friendships and sexual relations with these guys? Do they just dismiss the behavior, thinking the men couldn't really be THAT bad? Are Yale frat-boys looked upon so highly that really, they can do no wrong — or too much wrong? Or is the frat so prestigious that women choose an alliance with them regardless of their behavior? When I was in college and saw how frats behaved, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. Automatic turn off.

    And, thanks Mr. Kimmel. Love your work!

  23. Samantha Sinclair says:

    To Julie T. this is not an issue of free speech…it's hostile and threatening….basically saying that women do not have the right to consent to sex and further more, will be anally raped to be put in their uppity place. The chanting is an act of terrorism.

  24. As a male college student, I think that your article is slightly off the mark. Not because the reasoning is unsound- it makes perfect sense- but because you are overanalyzing the actions of these guys. They are doing what nearly all other guys their age do- saying rediculous and slightly disturbing things to get a reaction. I doubt that they were seroius about what they were saying. Even better for the upperclassmen, they got their pledges to do it so they would not get in trouble and could laugh at the pledges. Do I think that what they did was right? No. Do I think it transmitted the message you suggest to women in the center? Yes. Do I think that was intentional? No. I think that it was guys acting stupidly. Which, unfortunately, will likely still happen for ages to come.

    • I fail to see how taking these chants with a grain of salt is the proper action here. You may be right, but it's imperative for these picketing pricks to learn that their actions do indeed have consequences. We don't have the luxury of not taking this idiocy seriously, particularly when you look at Yale's history of sexual assault (13 cases a year according to this article). If all the boys in your frat tell you to jump off a cliff, would you do it? If all your frat brothers told you to carry picket signs advocating the sexual conquest of women and you do it, what is to stop you from following suit when these same brothers actualize their words? Again, while you'll never know how much I wish otherwise, women simply don't have the luxury of not taking these words seriously.

    • Probably you'll also think those "boys who will be boys" are acting "stupidly" when they rape drunk women at parties. After all, they didn't intentionally to rape her, she just didn't respond because she was passed out. Or she did voice objections, but not strongly enough.
      13 assaults per year? I assume with the incidents that were not reported the number will be higher.

    • I agree with your analysis Andrew: "They are doing what nearly all other guys their age do…" That is EXACTLY the problem. normalizing this sort of rape-/assault-normalizing behavior is what feminist theorists mean when we talk about a "rape culture". The fact that MANY men behave in this fashion doesn't excuse the behavior or make it okay: it makes it the big problem that it is. I also disagree that the reinforcement of a rape culture is unintentional. It might not be a conscious decision i.e. "I'm going to do this because it normalizes rape," but it absolutely IS an intentional action with perhaps only a subconscious awareness of the impact. If these men are not aware of the impact of their actions, it's a willful ignorance, an establishment of plausible deniability such that they can continue to create a discursive space that normalizes male sexual privilege and denormalizes female sexual agency while divesting themselves of culpability for doing so in the eyes of people like you.

    • Ummm…..when I was in college, I went to a rugby party. It was pretty obvious that it would be a good idea if I left, so I did. There was a fraternity that believed the South would rise again in all her glory. If I was black, I would not have shown my face anywhere near one of their parties. I wouldn't want to end up in the hospital for a very long time…assuming I didn't just disappear. The TKEs had a good reputation, as did three or four others. Point? It was pretty common knowledge which parties, etc., were a good idea to avoid or leave at a certain point. A good reason not to get yourself drunk. No, no date rape drugs, but that;s why you don;t leave your drink alone now. Archaic? Um, yeah. My teenager daughter taught me more about sex than I ever knew existed. Apparently the latest is to have anal sex to avoid pregnancy. Perhaps that was the context in play? Heck if I know. The whole thing is very sad.
      As an aside, my daughter was in Army Junior Reserve Training Corps, and she has a very frustrating time w her old-fashioned mother. I also have two sons, and testerone in a young man is a very real motivator, right or wrong.

  25. It is a sad reflection of the teenage male's view of their own sexuality. At the same threatened by women and encouraged by the dominant porn culture to abuse them. They are literally lost and have no idea what to think. They react in a typically testosterone fueled way as male crowds often do, without any sense of what they are actually saying, never mind the offense they may be causing. I suppose a lot of women must look at these guys not with anger but utter pity. These guys are also feeding on the repressed homoerotic undercurrent running through their buddy buddy behaviour. Not that I imagine an 'out' gay guy would find them anything other than pathetic. The answer? LSD to expand the mind and put a mirror to their souls and MDMA to encourage feelings of empathy?

  26. Thank you so much for posting this. Very well said, and I definitely appreciate this kind of insight coming from a male feminist. Men and boys need more positive, assertive role models who don't have to stoop to such discusting lows to feel powerful and confident.
    Thanks!

  27. As usual, Dr. Kimmel's take is insightful and thought-provoking. One of the most interesting areas of debate on this message board is if the chant is protected speech or a direct call for violence. I would wager that for the majority of the guys doing the chanting, they didn't intend their words to be promoting the act of rape. But, their intent is only one piece of the picture. Imagine a freshman woman, sitting in her room (in what should be the security of her home) hearing this chant. For some of them, this chant is easily understood and understandably experienced as a direct threat. I'd like to hear a legal expert contribute their thoughts to this situation.
    Finally, if you'd like to read more, please check out my blog on the Yale incident here: http://www.menspeakup.org/yale-fraternitys-pro-ra

  28. Kimmel is the best!

  29. I would like their mothers to be phoned and encouraged to come down to stand in front of the Women's center. Not as a punishment to the mother's but to send a message to the boys that their behavior is also attacking the very women that they love.

  30. Ah Yalies.
    They still don't want women in their playground.

    At Yale, you can post objectfying insulting photos of women in research offices.
    And if someone complains that is not appropriate for a workspace, they're told "boys will be boys" and that it's their problem.
    And then they wonder why women drop out of their PhD programs.

  31. It is crazy that men would chant such things. Who are they trying to impress? It certainly is not the ladies in the women’s center that represent a wide variety of women. Possibly eachother. It is gross especially in this day and age.

  32. Great article. I especially love the last two paragraphs.

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