Of Frats, Rape Culture and #TFM

Freshman 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



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