[CN: rape, frat violence, misogyny, homophobia, white supremacy, rape culture]
Any campus with fratboys in it is a war zone. Any place where fratboys can act with impunity is where the Old South is rising up again.
The Rolling Stones story on frat gang-rape at UVA is the second mainstream article I’ve seen this year that frankly covers the horrors frat culture is capable of producing, the political cover granted to it by college administrations, and the tolerance held by society at large. (The second was from the Atlantic).
I entered college with a live-and-let-live attitude about fraternities. I knew the Greek system was powerful here, and I came anyway because of the humanities faculty and because I figured the bastards would leave me alone. I quickly learned to save myself the pain and hate all fratboys on sight. So this post is personal.
I will be honest. When I read these stories my stomach twists in sickening anger. Along with the despair I feel for how above the law fratboys are and how there is fuck-all anyone can do about it, I feel a fierce desire for nihilistic retaliation — to, as one survivor in a zine put it, “make him feel as out of control, scared, and vulnerable as he had made me feel.” And it is in these fugitive moments, when my hatred is burning pure like an invisible flame, that I feel like a full human being.
I’ll try to show you why.
Frat culture as we understand it should have been defeated along with the Confederate South. The opulence and the psychosexual trappings of fraternal values and rituals are the ghosts of the aristocratic planters. The rape and harassment that characterize frat culture are not isolated incidents but a pattern of behavior that once fueled an entire white supremacist regime.
This is why it’s no surprise that the worst frats are in the South. The gang-rape I discussed in a previous post was in Dixie, and in other cases fratboys construct the metaphor themselves, draping the stars and bars and a noose over the statue of a black student; a war of representations. Fratboys in Eugene Oregon fly the confederate flag as well, but the fascists at my college aren’t brazen enough — they settle for the Gadsden.
There are recorded incidents in the antebellum 19th century of southern college fratboys gang-raping African American women slaves. These were political statements of white male ownership and control of all female bodies, the totalizing vision of frat life. The elite planter owned his black slaves as well as his white women. The Confederates wanted to build a frat boy nation with the pre-modern slave economy and the rigid racial and gender hierarchy, with the white man on top, left intact.
The same way racist USans trot out the “lost cause” narrative as a backlash to the perceived headway made in social justice, fratboys fight a lost cause of their own. Their way of life is endangered, as it had been since the 60s. An oppositional social force has the fraternity in a corner, prompting them to lash out in acts of grotesque violence.
What is this massive threat to the frat boy? Sexually autonomous women and a racially diverse student body, naturally.
The 80s saw an upsurge in the reactionary right, resulting in a rise of activity in both white supremacy groups and college fraternities. Women were gang-raped at parties but were also harassed in public as an every day occurrence by the unwanted attention of frat boys. These gentlemenz felt the need to punish women for invading a space that was traditionally theirs. Female students who wanted an education and a career were not women who knew their place as a sex class, so examples had to be set.
As it is in other fascist movements, homosexuality is fair game for violence within frat culture. Homophobia in the US has been shaped by anti-communist hysteria, so all sexually deviant activity bears the taint of an anticapitalist threat. Fratboys from the 50s onward took this to heart. They violently expelled closeted gay men from their ranks (after all, the fraternity life style would attract a lot of gay folks). They harassed gay rights activists and assaulted them, in one case throwing a Gay Straight Alliance organizer down a flight of stairs.
And therein lies the tension. See, as psychosexually fucked-up patriarchal men, we view only other men as complete human beings worthy of emotional contemplation. Our misogyny, that is, our belief in essential differences between men and women and the superiority of men that arises from this, makes us alienated from women in a fundamental way. So the only relationships of any kind of intimacy or human worth are forged with other men — a fraternity of men — typically over alcohol. But now we have to convince our dear companions and ourselves that we aren’t fags! As Peggy Reeves Sanday pointed out, when fratboys gang-rape a single woman they are also fucking each other.
And this is why fraternities exploit the women around them. Think about that. All of the rape, the trauma, and the silence, across more than a century, because of gay panic.
Some people tell me, “maybe you’ll come to like or understand them more if you took time to know them,” to divert from systemic issues. They tell me, “well all men are violent brutes who crave to put their dicks in vaginas so what can you do?” to use essentialist bullshit. They tell me, “well removing fraternities wouldn’t guarantee a decrease in campus rape,” as though fratboys, being the most organized and vocal in promoting rape culture, in no way overlap with campus rape, and as though that is even an argument for not destroying all fraternities now.
These rape-apologist shit stains remind me of Mayor Larry Vaughan from Jaws. The mayor, aware that a shark attack took place, has the medical examiner declare it to be a boating accident. He does this so his beach town will stay open for the crucial tourist money. To the mayor, the violent death of a woman, and soon later the violent killing of a boy, is the price of doing business. Likewise, those invested in protecting the privilege and power of the frat system accept that women and queer students lubricate the rape machine, which generates prestige and profits for the college. They convince themselves rape is so horrible it must not be happening; that it’s just women having a bad time in the sack (“that’s the sexual revolution for ya! It’s your own fault.”) Students who identify rape on campus are the true danger — to the university’s reputation.
The shark in Jaws is a classic movie monster, completely outside of society or anything familiarly human. But I like Bruce more than I like fratboys in real life. Fratboys are monstrous but they are not outside of society. Rather, they are the example all men must strive for. They are the crowning achievement of these historically male institutions. Their lifestyle is a shadow play of the ruling class. Incident after incident, and still the privilege and power of these groups can’t be dislodged.
UVA has suspended fraternities for two months in the wake of the Stones article. This pathetic response is one of the biggest victories I’ve ever seen as far as antifrat interests go. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that usually, nothing happens. Usually, frat alumni threaten the college by withholding donations before any serious measure can be taken. Usually, liability football is played between administration and private insurance companies if the frat is off-campus. This has been the standard play since the 1800s. Colleges put their revenue over the safety of their students, and the women who suffer this violence so that the menz can feel like men will be free to earn less than her rapists on the job market and relive these insults with every student loan payment.
After a frat at my college was outed to be harassing women, leading to property damage and a lawn sit-in protest, the response two years later has been to open an additional fraternity.
College administrations silence survivors and coddle the perps. The police are a fraternity with badges and guns. There is nothing for a defenseless student body to turn to except each other. We need alternative and oppositional systems that can meet the needs of the survivors and co-ordinate retaliation if desired. The women’s bathroom graffiti system naming campus rapists at Columbia is a creative and inspiring example. Independents can be encouraged that it’s possible to push back against their political subordination until the Greek system is razed to the ground and forgotten.
Until then, remember that fratboys make themselves visible. They wear their letter hoodies and prominently display their racist iconography with confidence. Get creative, starting with the stink eye while passing on the quad and working up. Event posters can be vandalized. Their crackpot arrogance, nurtured by their privilege, will guarantee than any hostile act will sting. Actions speak louder than words.
Now, I have nothing against the idea of individuals from a demolished frat re-organizing into a non school-sanctioned exclusion-based group. I’d like to see what damage they can deal without a national organization or administration to give them cover, or an alumni donation stream to hold hostage.
Maybe you are not interested in attacking all relations of power, but you may be interested in maintaining national consolidation. You may wish to do good to the folks who held the union together and freed the slaves a century and a half ago by crushing the zombified slave-holding traitors wherever they crawl up in the present.
Total war against the fraternity system and its defenders.
Anything less is too kind for rapist scum, and too cruel for everyone else.
I strongly encourage anyone to read Fraternity Gang Rape by anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday (still the only freshman orientation literature you should give a shit about), as well as historian Nicolas Syrett’s The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities to learn more about the atrocious crimes done by privileged white male supremacists within the schools that protect them.
And just to be clear, I don’t give a fuck about hazing or injuries to frat boy pigs (as the Atlantic piece talks about). Whatever frat boys do to each other is their business, and if sometimes they kill each other, so much the better.
It’s when they bring in women and independent students to establish their masculinity through rape and violence that anyone should see is unacceptable, yet is condoned by a frat-friendly campus culture.
If you’re pledged to a frat and happen to be reading this, consider teaching your handshakes and other secrets to all of your friends. And snitch on the brothers that you know are doing criminal behavior against other students — that would make you a decent human being.
I want to tell freshmen during orientation to never put peer acceptance over personal safety; to stay the fuck away from frat parties; that alcohol is overrated; to see hook-up culture as the dangerous compulsory sexuality bullshit it is; to be extremely careful. It’s not their fucking job to be careful and avoid getting raped — all I know is that I thought my campus was safe when I first entered it and I understand this now to be a carefully crafted lie.