Of Frats, Rape Culture and #TFM

240382851_91ee3fd66a_zFreshman year of college, as I was on my way to my first fraternity party, I remembered the rule: Don’t bring any guys. Only girls would be let in to drink the free “jungle juice,” concocted by the fraternity guys. Looking back, I now realize what this rule was for: more chances for the frat guys to score.

There have been a number of headlines lately about sexual assaults filed against fraternity members. Two Yale students reported a sexual assault at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house; a Montana State University student was drugged and raped at a Pi Kappa Alpha house; three sexual assaults were reported in less than a month at Sigma Phi Epsilon of the University of Texas-Arlington, and the list goes on. Studies have found that 55 percent  [PDF] of campus gang rapes are committed by fraternity members, and fraternity members are three times more likely than non-fraternity members to commit rape.

So why are the sexual assault rates in fraternities so high?

For one thing, fraternities tend to enforce gender norms of men showing off their masculinity and power over women. Take the hot-spot website for fraternity members, totalfratmove.com. Popular columns such as “An Ode to Shackers” explain the all-too-common  embarrassment felt when a frat brothers realizes he slept with a girl who was than a “10″ and not “anything to boast about,” but, hey, she was there, so why not? The article explains:

You figure you might as well take advantage of the situation. You’re still a tad drunk, and some morning sex wouldn’t hurt. … Alright, sexually dissatisfy her and get her the hell home. Pronto.

The website also includes a wall that fraternity members can post to with the hashtag #TFM (total frat move). #TFMs include such gems as “Your friend having a ‘very important and private question’ for you as soon as the ugly girl starts talking to you,” or “Complimenting a pledge’s girlfriend on her cleavage.”

And how can we forget the infamous fraternity email written by a Georgia Tech Phi Kappa Tau member that was a “how to” on finding girls at a party to have sex with by the end of the night. The how-to ends with, “IF ANYTHING EVER FAILS, GO GET MORE ALCOHOL.”

If that isn’t a perpetuation of rape culture, then I don’t know what is.

Joshua Rogers, an Ohio University student and Alpha Epsilon Pi member, explains that “Gender norms are definitely a big deal in Greek life. Men always want to be manly. When you have a collection of guys as large as a fraternity together, sometimes it just seems a lot more important than it actually is.” On the other hand, says Rogers,

There is nothing cool about raping someone [in his fraternity]. That is for sure. And there is definitely no added ‘coolness’ to your reputation if you rape someone. If someone brags about that in a fraternity, chances are they won’t be in that fraternity much longer.

Outright rape might not be acceptable in most of today’s fraternities, but when frat brothers laugh about getting women drunk and having sex with them, they perpetuate rape culture mores. And why aren’t more university campuses holding fraternities—which house the largest percentage of college rapists—more accountable?

Perhaps it’s partially because fraternities hold power over universities financially. They provide students with off-campus housing that the university would otherwise have to provide, and so the university also doesn’t have to provide insurance for those students. Fraternities save universities a tremendous amount of money. And as with all cases of campus rape, universities don’t want to be thought of as being unsafe and unsavory, so they don’t like to have to deal with (and thus have to publicize) sexual assaults if they can avoid it. To read more on campus rape, see the cover story of our latest issue! Subscribe to Ms. today don’t miss another word!

Changes clearly need to be made within the institution of fraternities. There are certainly positives to Greek life, such as community service and charity work, but good works pale in the light of a party culture that perpetuates rape.

Sexual assault should not be #TFM

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Andrewcparnell licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

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Lindsey O’Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Love this article!

  2. Nice job.

  3. Susan Morrison says:

    Use our favored and most effective tool…BOYCOTT!!

    You are neglecting to empower women to simply refuse to attend these parties and create safe parties of their own and invite Frat men but allow them to attend only under certain circumstances….this is creating an alternative to following the herd so to speak for women…

    As a young woman I never attended parties like these why would I or any of my friends we knew the guys and understood the consequences of our behavior by attending… But we did have our own parties and the men who attended them behaved….because they knew that we expected them to.

    Expecting men to change is realistic….expecting them to do it on their own??? Not the slightest bit realistic!!

    • Lorna Rose says:

      As a woman, your perspective is really disheartening. You’re asserting that we should teach women to be more responsible for who has the opportunity to attack them. You DO realize how ridiculous that sounds, right? Sure, let’s tell women to stop partying at frats, they can throw their OWN parties! Better yet, let’s just ship women off to their own secluded island so nobody can rape them ever!

      Frat brothers should not use their house, their parties, their bribes of free-flowing alcohol as an excuse to commit sexual assault. There is no reason why women shouldn’t be able to attend a frat party and leave un-assaulted.

  4. Frat boy/jock culture has always been a high testosterone environment where only all the worst attributes of males are accepted and encouraged. I would advise any young woman to stay away from anything to do with male frat culture, and would advise any males who possess any sensitivity to do the same. As a grown man, 50 years old, when young, I always tried to stay away from all-male settings, as they tend to bring out the worst in guys. To this day, I do the same. Just witness the behavior of (mostly) males at any sporting event, and it just makes me embarrassed that I am of the same sex as them. Glenn in the Bronx, NY.

  5. Why can’t we teach our young women NOT to go to frat parties? I went to college, I think I went to about 2 frat parties our freshman year that were full of a bunch of pigs. We didn’t go again.

    Friends don’t take friends to frat parties. Pass it along.

    • Because that is exactly the perpetuation of rape culture! When you ask those not guilty of wrongdoing to change their daily lives in order to avoid a situation, you normalize and accept the behavior of the wrongdoers while punishing and blaming those who did not commit the wrong. Why can’t we teach our men and boys NOT TO RAPE?

  6. Jude Alexander says:

    Um, is nobody mentioning that most universities are run by men? Men holding men accountable for sustaining a rape culture… I’ll believe it when I see it!

    • ^excellent point. Although some universities, including mine, do have women presidents, the lion’s share of people running colleges are men. Rape culture is just part of the larger sexist culture where women are devalued. Both have to be dismantled.

  7. Marlene E. Simmons says:

    I agree with Jude Alexander. And at the recent 1 billion rising rally around the world I was left with the distinct impression that we are begging for help being seen as equal, still. On the other hand it was important to let women in less developed nations feel supported by the women around the world. What I feel is important is to help young women feel less afraid and isolated by the term feminism. We can only protect ourselves from rape if we recognize that we are surrounded by the threat and the society that we live in. Identifying with the feminine experience is the best defense from and recovery from rape.

  8. Michelle says:

    I have a comment about the involvement of frats in perpetuating rape culture. Sororities and sorority houses are not allowed to host parties where alcohol is served. This means party spaces where alcohol is present are not controlled by women. While some might argue that alcohol should not play as significant role in college social life as it does it is a major part of greek life on almost every campus. If rules around alcohol and sororities changed and women could control the spaces where they partied maybe they could create a less predatory environment. As it stands now most large party spaces are controlled by men, even outside the frats, and women are disempowered and have to put up with these kinds of environments or not participate in that type of social life. Like Susan says women need to be able to make safe party spaces but within the current greek system that is impossible. By allowing sororities to host parties of their own, in their spaces, where alcohol is present they can set the tone, they can kick out the men who behave inappropriately, and hold those who perpetuate rape culture accountable for their words and actions. Although alcohol is involved in the vast majority of rapes on college campuses I feel like some of that has to do with the environments where alcohol is served. By changing drinking culture on college campuses to be more female controlled rape will not entirely disappear but in the absence of banning all drinking or disbanding the frats I think it could make a big impact

  9. Lonnie Snyder says:

    Thank you for writing this great article. I went to Drexel University, I was in a fraternity and I was not happy with the rape culture so I started the group One in Four at Drexel. I made presentations to fraternities about rape culture and how to change the mindset. I still volunteer with Women Against Abuse in Philly and I visit my fraternity at alumni events to keep the positive mindset going. It is challenging to completely eliminate rape culture, but I feel that there is a good change ongoing.

  10. I’m sorry, but the little paragraph at the end saying Greek life isn’t all bad does NOT make up for your over generalizations in the rest of your article. I was a victim of molestation as a child. I still can’t watch certain movies because of their violence towards women. I understand how someone’s unspeakable behaviors can torture you for years. I also have amazing guy friends who are in Fraternities. I have even had a group of them protect me against someone trying to take advantage of me. I apologize for your bad experience with fraternity men, but do not say it is due to Greek life. That sounds more like bad parenting.

  11. My fraternity (Sigma Chi) is pictured above but isn’t once mentioned in the article. Not that I’m trying to trivialize the issue but let’s not play the whole “guilty by association” game.

  12. Alright, to preface my commentary, i’m a 28 year old male who attended a high-end art school that is particularly removed from the typical college lifestyles experienced at state schools. I had no involvement or personal experience with fraternities, but have had many friends who were engaged in these institutions as they attended said schools. I have a notable level of disinterest in fraternities since most male behavior comes off demeaning, filthy, devolving, and backpedaling while appealing to their chosen environment. I can’t imagine anyone being able to focus and accomplish their schooling / uphold responsibilities when they are seemingly surrounded by their social achievements, club exploits, and segregational belittlement of others. Yes, I sound bitter, but this is fully from an outside look in. I’ve never been bothered by anyone in a frat, as I haven’t been directly involved with the culture.

    That all being said, I have some general disagreements here. First off, If women don’t like the way they are to be treated – or the expectations held over their heads as they attend these parties – then i’m inclined to think they should willingly avoid them as many have mentioned above. Yes, they have a right to attend and should be allowed to do as they will, but for those of you who think avoiding them doesn’t solve the problem, (with all understandings of the behavioral science at play) it actually should be contrarily effective. If women refuse to show up at a party out of fear for their sexual safety, they are allowing these men to realize that their behavior needs to change if they wish to interact with the opposite sex. It has nothing to do with making women think they have to be segregated – the idea is to empower their decision to avoid those who perpetuate the poor behavior, and impress upon those men that their social life will suffer if they choose not to be respectful of the opposite sex or their sexual pursuits.

    To parallel: If a child becomes unwieldy with the consumption of candy, you don’t continue to give that child the candy with the expectation that the child should respect his or her ability to act appropriately while eating said candy. You have to train the child into understanding that it must control it’s behavior if it wants to continue eating the candy… and that involves withdrawal and the acknowledgement of effort put forth for reward. (Not to compare sex and female interaction to a mere indulgence of candy by child immaturity – but to rather make a point that withdrawal is effective at the core of the matter).

    Secondly, alcohol consumption is not just an exploit of men. It seemingly impairs judgment equally between both parties, and reduces people to acting impulsively rather than using rational forms of conscious awareness. Everyone of age should be allowed to participate, but use their better judgment in avoiding the abuse of such a dangerous substance. Popular media and common peer interaction embraces the induced-impairments as comical and acceptable, thereby welcoming the problems that come with it – when admiration towards intelligence and awareness should be replacing this popular desire for “forgetfulness.”

    Rape is very clear. If a woman (or man) wishes not to engage in sexual activity, the pursuing individual should be respectful of that – if it’s at all forced, that’s obviously grounds for severe penalty and offense. If a male (or female) pressures someone into becoming inebriated and unable to discern their following decisions, then that male (of female) is responsible for any of the activities that follow regarding that individual in their company. HOWEVER, If alcohol knowingly impairs someone’s ability to say “no,” it would be in their best interest to not consume it, or consume it with reservations. Regret of consent (after the fact) while under the influence is not grounds for accusational rape – you are responsible for yourself just as much as you are for those you interact with. Being pressured is one thing, being willing is something else entirely, and alcohol can’t be used as a “crutch” for the theoretical “un-do button.”

    Sure, it would be in your best interest to tread lightly when a man or woman wishes to engage in sexual activity while inebriated. Nonetheless, to assume just because a woman is drunk that she should not be pursued sexually is to similarly assume that she shouldn’t be allowed to pick out what she wants to eat at Waffle House either. She may regret it, but just like she might regret having ate a steak with 2 waffles and 6 pancakes at 4am, she has to acknowledge the responsibility that comes into play with her decisions made while under the influence. We as a culture tend to find ourselves disregarding this responsibility because we prefer to blame a person’s choice to drink as a means of fitting in socially, and that the opposite sex should never exploit such decisions no matter how much those decisions are seemingly their own. This only further removes the idea that people are capable of being rational while looking to enjoy themselves, and evokes fear while potentially creating self-confidence issues. Again, It is RESPECTFUL to decline sexual activity from someone who is clearly incapable of making entirely rational decisions while acting on the effects of alcohol – but responsibility need not be removed from the equation out gender sentiment.

    Stepping back to my initial view, I will agree with this article and author that these testosterone-fueled ménages provoke illicit and disrespectful behavior, and that this rape culture is obviously very apparent. Even outside of fraternities, sexual objectification of women (and the efforts to manipulate them for sexual achievement) is very apparent and unfortunate.

    My last disagreement though resides in fraternities having power over universities. While that may be true in some cases, I hardly believe it’s because they save schools money for sake of residency. As it stands, most universities make a very large amount of income on forcing freshman to live on campus in school-owner dormitories – similarly with meal plans. I’d be more inclined to believe that fraternities bring in a lot of external wealth and donation that pays for campus luxuries that state taxes otherwise do not, and favoritism may be played in an effort not to disassociate with particular legacies.

    • Universities don’t make money housing and feeding students. The money is made in the endowment, that is wealthy donors giving money to the university to “invest”. Just saying.

  13. “Outright rape might not be acceptable in most of today’s fraternities, but when frat brothers laugh about getting women drunk and having sex with them, they perpetuate rape culture mores.”

    Yes, exactly! College attitudes toward drunken sex and misconceptions of consent that assist in perpetuating rape culture. I know there is one fraternity on my campus people commonly refer to as the “roofie frat”, but no one seems to do anything about it. When I mentioned that to someone once, they asked, “Well what do you expect me to do about it?”
    You’re right- university officials need to intervene in order to curb sexual assaults associated with fraternity life.

  14. I attended a private liberal arts school that was 90% Greek housing (fraternities & sororities). I was a few years older and could not imagine being affiliated with these and lived in the dorm and then off-campus. Fraternities and sororities always seemed so mean-spirited at heart. Deeming certain students “worthy” and others “not worthy” of living in their hallowed halls. That in itself breeds an entitlement mentality. That creates rape culture. And the sororities had very strict rules about what you could wear, when you could study, when you had to attend fraternity events, etc. The fraternities were anything goes, on the other hand, which is odd when you consider that men are generally less prepared to take care of a home than women, and probably need that structure more. The message is that men’s space is unsafe for women. Is it realistic to expect men to leave that mentality behind when they graduate from college? And let’s not forget the time-tested joke about the “MRS” degree.

  15. The first six months of a woman’s freshman year at University are the most dangerous for her. She may be shy, and swept off her feet by the rapist (grooming) telling her he doesn’t usually invite freshmen to their parties, etc., to get her to feel special, to let down her guard.

    I believe most men know the difference between right and wrong. It’s America’s rape culture, America’s mob mentality that gets the better of individual men. Granted, they are cowards to go along with the boys, so this is where the law needs to step in and prosecute/convict anybody who assists in rape by
    1. Not reporting/stopping it. 2. Filming it (and the myriad other ways of providing encouragement).

    There ARE *some* frat houses that have a room all ready for a rape, a very plain room with no outstanding features to identify the scene of the crime. These are the *same* frat houses where the members address the rapist by a fake name all evening so the survivor doesn’t know the identity of the rapist.

    Most rapists are a small group of serial rapists, and it’s now known that they are also responsible for sexual attacks on children and a great deal of domestic violence. They groom victims, call them “meat” among their friends.

    In a film of an interview with an anonymous campus rapist, he said he pins the survivor down by holding his arm across her chest, but as he says this, his darkened silhouette clearly shows him putting his arm *across his throat* as he shows the interviewer. A few seconds without air is enough to send anyone into sheer terror of losing her/his life, and leaves no bruises, no physical evidence of force.

    Most rapists are acquitted by WOMEN. It’s thought that if it the rape was the fault of the survivor, the survivor must have done SOMETHING wrong to “deserve” the attack, that she dressed inappropriately, that she got drunk, and that she, the woman on the jury would NEVER do something that stupid, therefore the woman on the jury subconsciously considers herself safe against rape. WHICH SHE IS NOT.

    If one has had training in sexual assault, one may NOT serve on a jury in a rape trial. In most states, alcohol is now considered a WEAPON when used in rape, as is a CAR if the car was used to take the survivor to a different location to rape her.

    • Last year I was chosen to be an alternate juror for a sexual assault case that involved a 14 year old girl and a 37 year old man. I was open about my experiences working with assault survivors and the training I had received. Apparently, these issues were not of concern to the lawyers involved because I was chosen to serve on that jury.

  16. Don't feel like giving name says:

    I am a student at the University of Texas at Arlington so when I read this article I was stunned that the assaults on campus had gotten so much attention. I did enjoy this article and found it helpful. I hope that my university will improve the conditions of the rape culture here.

  17. You do realize that TFM is satire, right?

  18. just checking says:

    Relatively few men admit to raping women. Often men don’t even ask a woman if she would like to have sex with him before he plants one on her. I think one problem is that men are not taught what constitutes a sexual assault, and they rarely try to educate themselves. Another dangerous assumption drunk men often make is that when a girl agrees to a kiss, it means the man can then try force his way around the bases. The reason why drunk men look for drunk women is not because drunk women are wearing beer goggles, but because drunk women not as able to defend themselves. Rarely are they clear minded enough to figure out ways to get out of being raped once a sexual assault begins.

  19. The truth is the truth. Anyone who would make a satire out of raping women really needs some therapy. It is exactly this type of sexism that destroys college campuses, and keeps sexual assault rates way above zero. Until frat boys stop raping women, these conversations will continue to take place.

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