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Fraternity Rape Culture: Analyzing Cultural Instigations and Exploring Solutions

(Original Work)
                Fraternity rape culture continues to be an unattended and mystical issue among universities nationwide. In the journal article “Wales Tales, Dog piles, and Beer Goggles: An Ethnographic Case Study of Fraternity Life” Rhoads reminds us that “half of all reported acquaintance rapes were committed by fraternity members and athletes” (307). Patricia Yancy Martin and Robert Hummer push further that “over 90 percent of all gang rapes on college campuses involve fraternity men” (458) While the statistics are clear the reasons are not. Elizabeth Armstrong and colleagues speculate that the use of alcohol as a scarce resource creates an environment where fraternity brothers have leverage over women and can dictate the party atmosphere (489-490). Paula Nurius and colleagues point the finger at the gap between perceived risk and actual risk at fraternity parties and ultimately women’s inability to accurately pick out danger cues.* Patricia Yancy Martin and Robert Hummer explain that fraternities prefer a litany of “stereotypical and narrowly masculine attributes and behaviors” thus the selection process of fraternity brothers is what creates such a high probability of acquaintance rape (460).
            This paper intends to address what factors contribute to higher acquaintance and gang rape at fraternities among universities nationwide. While there is no doubt that rape occurs in many other places besides fraternities, I will not address rape issues outside of the fraternity atmosphere. Also there are some studies and solutions which mainly focus on what women can do to protect themselves from rape. Since this does not address the very culture which breeds the risk of rape to begin with I will be minimally addressing these solutions since I feel that they are not substantial enough and tend to blame the victim. Instead this paper focuses on analyzing what aspects of fraternity life contribute to fraternity rape culture. Based on that analysis I will put forth solutions intended to change the culture as a whole in a way that makes college campuses across the nation a safer place for women.
The Issue of Fraternity Rape on Campus
In the book “Fraternity Gang rape” by Peggy Sanday, a victim of a fraternity gang rape was interviewed about her experience.
            This guy was on top of me, and there was intercourse going on. Then, the other guys in the room would either come over and one would be like touching me while the another was having intercourse or whatever. There was somebody leaning on me most of the time, which made me feel like I was being held down. One person sat on the bed and the other person would sit on my chest with their penis in my mouth or something…At various times, I said “that hurts, please stop doing it, please leave me alone” All I heard them saying was, “that doesn’t hurt, you like that you don’t want to leave now” At one point there was some anal penetration which was really painful. I was crying and somebody held my hand. I said “this really hurts.”
It is saddening to hear such awful stories, and yet it seems they are quickly dismissed. Although the issue of fraternity rape has been evident for decades, institutions have failed to provide substantial solutions and punishments for such criminal activity. Nurius and colleagues remind us that “College women are at roughly three times greater risk for sexual victimization than are women in the general population” (1). Armstrong furthers that despite colleges’ awareness of fraternity rape and their and programs to stop rape on campus “rates of sexual assault, however, have not declined over the last five decades” (484). Obviously the solutions provided so far have not been effective, all the while tens of thousands of women across the nation are still being victimized.
            The Stranger Myth
Women perceive their risk of assault by a stranger as greater than by an acquaintance (Nurius et al 1). Many women are afraid of the stranger on the streets, in the woods, or under their cars. Women are prepared for such encounters, and most women would not be afraid to self-defend in such situations. However Sanday explains that “97 percent [of female rape victims] knew their attackers” (54). When the victim knows her attacker it does not fit her definition of rape and in such cases the woman “may not view themselves as having been raped at all” (Ehrhart, Sandler 6). While the woman knows she had sex against her will, it does not fit her connotation of rape and it may leave her feeling confused about what happened, especially if alcohol is involved. Acquaintance rape leaves many women unprepared to defend themselves because they were not expecting rape to occur in a familiar environment. Women are socialized to be nice and have a hard time defending physically against an attacker that they know. This discrepancy between the common connotation of rape and the actual reality of rape increases women’s risk by leaving them naive and unprepared to defend themselves. Moreover when there is no evidence of physical defense, it is more likely to be assumed that the act was consensual.
The Expectations of College Life
There are many expectations about college life that contribute the generalized rape culture on campus. These expectations are exacerbated at fraternities and inhibit women from accurately defining danger cues. A focus group participant from the journal article “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel Integrative Approach to Party Rape” describes her feelings going to college. “You see these images of college that you’re supposed to go out and have fun and drink, drink lots, party and meet guys. [You are] supposed to hook up with guys, and both men and women try to live up to that” (Armstrong et al 487). With such an emphasis on partying, drinking and casual hookups, the college culture itself creates danger for women. Nurius and colleagues explain “Emphasis on college experience as a last bash before entering responsible adulthood …may impede women’s efforts to screen for early stage warning signals of sexual coercion or aggression. These social expectations may also impede men’s likelihood of detecting early stage resistance cues” (Nurius et al 2) Women attending parties are often too caught up in having fun that they forget to look for danger cues. College men on the other hand can get so caught up in the fun, that they don’t realize that their seductions are non-consensual. Partying norms further put women in a vulnerable position by promoting that partiers should “drink, display and upbeat mood, evoke revelry in others…[and] like and trust partymates” (Armstrong et al 490). Party norms create an atmosphere where partiers drink heavily, make friends, trust partymates, and potentially hookup. The combination of women wanting to be nice and likable, the norm of trusting partymates, and the norm to drink heavily puts women in vulnerable positions where acquaintance rape is more probable to occur.
Fraternity Peer Culture
The process of pledging not only weeds out effeminate men but creates a sense of distinctive loyalty among fraternity brothers. The pledging process is centered on trust and loyalty in the fraternity. The pledge process is often humiliating and creates a sense of secrecy. Brothers often would never want anyone else to know about what happened during the pledge process. This humiliation process to be accepted creates an eerie loyalty and trust in the fraternity. After being recruited members of an anonymous fraternity were told “You, in return, must show the fraternity that it can trust you, that you are loyal to it. You must be willing to die for it” (Sanday 181). Ehrhart and Sandler further that “Often the bonds of brotherhood prohibit getting their brothers into trouble…no matter how sleazy your actions there is always the fraternity to hide behind”(8) This sets up part of the stage for the fraternity rape culture. With such a strong sense of group loyalty individuals who commit crimes, even gang rape, are seldom persecuting as harshly as the general public. This is in part because of the fraternity’s unwillingness to cooperate. Such crimes are also more likely to occur because stereotypical masculinity is the ‘end all and the be all’ in fraternities. This in turn creates increased hostility towards women.
The recruitment process and selection standards typically only allow men who have traditionally masculine attributes and are therefore are more likely to engage in sexist behavior. In the article “Correlates of  Sexual Aggression Among Male University Students” Lackie and Man note that “sexually aggressive men tend to score high on masculinity” and “the higher men scored on masculinity the less they reported feelings of disgust, contempt and guilt, when asked to imagine committing sexual assault” (2)
In the journal article “Fraternities and Rape on Campus” Martin and Hummer describe this weeding out of effeminate men; “Narrowly masculine attributes and behaviors was recited and feminine or woman-associated qualities and behaviors were expressly denounced”(460). Fraternities seek men who are “athletic”, “big guys” that are “good in intramural competition”, those “who can talk college sports”, are “willing to drink alcohol” and “can hold their liquor” (460). Masculinity in fraternities is defined in a narrow and stereotypical fashion. Men in fraternities ought to be tough, strong, macho men. Those who do not exhibit such qualities are out casted and are labeled as “gay” and “wimpy”. Men in majoring in art, music, humanities or traditionally women’s’ fields such as nursing are usually rejected. (460)     
The very notion of traditional masculinity has a strong rooting in anti-femininity. Masculinity is what Femininity is not. A man who is not “strong” and “tough” is instead “wimpy”, a “fag”, a “bitch”, a “little girl” or a “sissy”. Even these words like “bitch” and “sissy” used to describe men who do not fit the masculine stereotype are derogatory towards females in their very nature. In this context a real man is not a woman; it is clear that a woman is less than a man and a man should avoid being like a woman at all costs. And if he is effeminate he will be socially rejected. This is particularly true in fraternities. This antifeminism shows itself in most fraternal pledges. In the book “Fraternity Gang Rape” Sanday details such a pledge process. During a hazing process the recruits were shouted at. “Look at you all, you’re nothing but a bunch of girls …pussies! …You don’t belong here. If you girls want to stay, fine, but do something useful and clean up all this shit, this house is a mess! But do it quietly. We don’t need to hear any bitching” (167). Clearly these “pussies” were to be made into fraternity “men”. Meanwhile in their “girl” state they were degraded and made to do subordinate tasks and clean up the other fraternity brother’s garbage. It is implied in traditional masculinity that girls are subordinate and of a lower standing. This creates an atmosphere were rape seems more acceptable.
The pledge process is not the only place where hostile representations of woman take place. Fraternity culture itself is very centered on being degrading and hostile towards women in subtle and even explicit manners. Ehrhart and Sandler quote Andrew Merton from the University of New Hampshire.   
For many males the transition to college represents a first step in a struggle for a kind of ‘manhood’ from which woman are viewed as objects of conquest—worthy but decidedly inferior. The idea of woman as equals is strange and inconvenient at best, terrifying at worst. Unfortunately, most colleges and universities provide refuges ideally suited to enforce these prejudices. Fraternities (5).
It is very common in fraternity culture to joke and mock that a member is being a woman. While playing the drinking game “Whales Tales” a player messed up and was to drink. Rhoads describes the experience. “The other brothers stand up around the table and mockingly grab their shirts with both hands, chest high…to signify imaginary breasts. Then all the brothers, except for the accused sing a song…[which] basically consists of the phrase “you’re a woman” over and over” Another common practice is called chatter. Chatter is when an unknown woman sleeps over at the house and the brothers yell degrading remarks out the window as she leaves. Common phrases include “fuck that bitch” and “who is that slut?” (Boswell, Spade 142).
Some levels of explicit hostility from fraternities are shocking. A woman who was gang raped at a fraternity was “dumped in the hallway of a neighboring fraternity house. The victim was found in a comatose state with crude words and a fraternity symbol written on her thighs” (Rhoads 308). Recently a Yale fraternity was called into question when a video was captured of the members walking and chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!” (Times). To a woman walking on the streets, it could be a terrifying and vulnerable experience to hear a group of men chanting about their lack of concern for her consent.
It is this implicit and explicit hostility which often sets the stage for rape in fraternity environments. Lackie and Man report that “Sexually coercive men commonly are hostile toward women…tend to hold rape supportive beliefs and accept violence towards women”.(2) Fraternities only accept men who already hold a stereotypical view of masculinity, that masculinity is exacerbated by group norms and a norm of hostility towards women. This hostility and masculinity breed to create an environment that is sexually coercive and degrading towards women.
Fraternities are often hostile towards woman but also use them as a sexual goal. Fraternity members aim to have sex with many women in order to gain status within the group. An Associate Professor at a liberal arts college is quoted in the article “Campus Gang Rape: Party Games?”. He describes fraternities this way; “Fraternities are sporting clubs, and their game is women” (Ehrhart Sandler 8). A fraternity member from the article “Fraternities and Rape on Campus admits “having sex with prim and proper sorority girls is definitely a goal” (465).
Alcohol is a common tool used by fraternities to get woman in bed with them. Martin and Hummer describe the use of alcohol as “a weapon against sexual reluctance”. Women often provided with drinks that are strong and made with “overproof alcohol” to get them drunk (464-465). Sanday explains fraternity members connotation of rape; “The brothers believe that when a man initiates sexual activity with a woman her state of mind is irrelevant. It does not matter if she is drunk or high on drugs. If she does not resist sexual advances, her lack of resistance is interpreted as willing acquiescence.” (87). Many also believe that women who drink are doing so because they are interested in sex. A fraternity member from the book “Fraternity gang rape” explained why a girl was not raped by his brothers. “She was responsible for her condition, and that just leaves her wide open…so to speak”. (134).
Fraternities enjoy the privilege of having an unfair share of alcohol. Alcohol can be regarded as a scarce resource among underclass college students. Fraternities are privately owned and thus have more access to alcohol than sorority members and college students living in residence halls where alcohol laws are usually strictly enforced. Armstrong and colleagues explain “Fraternities offer the most reliable and private source of alcohol for first-year students excluded from bars and house parties because of age and social networks”  (489) This unequal distribution of alcohol allows fraternity men to control many aspects of the parties they host. The parties are on their terms, their themes, their turf, with their alcohol. Fraternities can host derogatory party themes because of their ability to supply alcohol. “Party themes usually require women to wear scant, sexy clothing and place women in subordinate positions to men” (489). Some of these party themes included “pimps and Hos”, “Victoria Secret”,  and “CEO/Secretary Ho”. (489) Armstrong and colleagues further that “women are supposed to wear revealing outfits, while men typically are not. As guests, women cede control of turf, transportation, and liquor. Women are also expected to be grateful for men’s hospitality, and as others have noted, to generally be “nice” in ways that men are not” (490).
One vulnerability of ceding control of the party atmosphere is ceding control of transportation. Without adequate ways of getting around women have to rely on fraternity members to drive them.  This puts women in vulnerable positions. Fraternity men driving woman could easily take them someplace secluded, or could not drive them at all, forcing them to spend the night at a frat house or find another way home. In the journal article “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel, Integrative Approach to Party Rape” Armstrong and Colleagues exemplify this with Amanda’s experience. “Mike promised a sober friend of his would drive her home. Once they got in the car Mike’s friend refused to take her home and instead dropped her at Mike’s place. Amanda’s concerns were heightened by the driver’s disrespect. He was like, so are you into ménage a trios?” (Armstrong et al 492) This creates a higher vulnerability of getting caught in a dangerous situation. When a rape situation does arise, it is usually due to a variety of rape myths.
Rape myths refer to “ideas about the nature of men, women, sexuality, and consent that create an environment conducive to rape” (Armstrong et al 485). Three of these ideas are men’s uncontrollable sexuality, women as a gatekeeper to sex, and working a yes out of women through seduction. In our culture a man’s sexuality is seen as wild and somewhat uncontainable. Men are seen as sexual creatures and women have to be careful not to “lead them on” or give them “blue balls”. It is viewed in our culture that if you arouse a man, that is your fault, and he is uncontrollable in his aroused state. Boswell and Spade explain it this way; “Men’s sexuality is seen as more natural, acceptable, and uncontrollable than women’s sexuality, many men and women excuse acquaintance rape by affirming that men cannot control their natural urges” (134).
Women are viewed as gatekeepers to sex. They can be “passive partners or active resisters, preventing men from touching their bodies” (Boswell and Spade 134). This coincides with the notion that you can seduce a woman and work a yes out of her. It is viewed that women don’t easily give up their bodies for sex and so it needs to be worked out of them via seduction and alcohol. One fraternity member put it this way “She really wanted it; she just said no because she didn’t want me to think she was a bad girl” (134). Pornography exacerbates this issue by providing countless images of women being seduced into sex, depicting them as objects, and making it appear as though “women are always willing participants” (Ehrhart, Sandler 9). The idea that women say no when they mean yes is very detrimental to womens’ sexual safety.
Men in fraternities put a lot of effort into seducing women into sex; their status in the fraternity and in essence their masculinity depends on it. Men expect that women will say no at first, but their goal is to seduce them into wanting it. This expectation for sex can create aggression and hostility. Ehrhart and Sandler dissect male hostility in these situations.
Some men assume that if a women is modern and sexually liberated, she’ll automatically want to have sex, and if she doesn’t they may feel cheated or used. Often they personalize the rejection, based on their own insecurities regarding maleness. They become threatened and angry and aggressive in an attempt to regain or achieve feelings of adequacy and control (6).
In fraternities there is a ton of pressure to be sexually promiscuous and masculine. When fraternity brothers feel they are failing at such behaviors they may feel insecure and inadequate to the group. This may lead to aggression and lead to sexual coercion that they may have never done outside of the group.
            Group conformity is strict with regards to sexuality. Some fraternities even engage in a process called “beaching” where a frat brother watches another frat brother have sex. “Usually, the male knows that he is being watched; indeed, he may communicate his intention to the brothers and leave the light on to make it easier for brothers to watch him from the beach” (Sanday 60). This extreme scrutiny makes the pressure for sexual conquest all the more intense. This can blur the lines of consent and create feelings of hostility, inadequacy, insecurity, and ultimately aggression.
Big Brothers and Little Sisters
            Many fraternities have programs where sororities can sport fraternity symbols and have “pseudo-membership” though a little sisters program (Martin and Hummer 462). As the names entail, the program is dominated by fraternities and the “little sisters” do little more than provide a sexual value to the fraternity for recruitment. Rhoads puts it this way; “Little sisters were merely a tool used to attract new fraternity members” (313). Fraternity members seek to obtain attractive, charming females though their little sisters program to get more pledges. A fraternity member details “if you  have a bunch of undesirable looking creatures or a bunch of people wearing your letters that you know you wouldn’t normally hang around with, that’s bad” (314)
            Once part of the little sisters program they “pay monthly dues to the fraternity, and have well-defined roles” (Martin, Hummer 467). These roles include “attending hostess fraternity parties”, “hang[ing] around the house to make it a “nice place” to be” and to “take care” of the fraternity members. (467) This subordination and objectification can create sexually hostile environments for the little sisters.
            The overall subordination and degradation of women is apparent and flourishing in modern fraternities. There have been efforts to reduce sexual violence towards women in college, but many of these efforts are individual focused and largely ignore the dominate college and fraternity.
How to Change Inadequate Solutions and a Failure to Respond Appropriately
Universities have attempted to reduce acquaintance rape on campus mainly by focusing on individual students. Many focus on educating students on risk reduction and consent (Sanday 201). These models have not focused on the culture that contributes to an overall rape atmosphere. To reduce rape on campus focused efforts need to be made to change the overall college culture that breeds hostility towards women in the first place.
            Women who are raped on campus usually receive intense criticism. There is an extreme tendency to blame the victim, to find reasons why she in some way deserved what happened to her. One woman accounts “my past was brought up like I was an alcoholic nymphomaniac…I was the victim and I was made to feel like the guilty person” (Ehrhart, Sandler 6). This creates an uncomfortable and sometimes hostile environment for rape victims and decreases their likelihood of reporting a rape. Institutions should work to reduce victim blame though advertising and education. Institutions should provide adequate outlets and counselors for rape victims, as well as adequate legal solutions to remedy the problem including full information on the victim’s legal rights.
            Institutional responses to rape are weak. Erhart and Sandler explain “One problem institutions may have is that many fraternities have an agreement with institutions whereby fraternities are obligated to accept collective responsibility” When a rape occurs the institution is reluctant to punish all fraternity members and so creates a lesser punishment like “social probation” or no more parties for a certain length of time. The punishment often doesn’t fit the crime. Universities need to focus on the individuals involved in the crime not the whole fraternity. These agreements with fraternities for group punishment need to be broken and acquaintance rape and gang rape cases should be handled by a local police department. When a rape does occur punishment needs to be swift and severe to be effective. Universities may be leery to enact such policies since publicizing such crimes can ruin their reputation; however it is an extremely important step to reduce sexual assault on campus and is necessary to bring those guilty to justice.
            Fraternities need to be scrutinized just as harshly for underage drinking and alcohol as any other residency hall. This will level the playing fields so a fraternity is no more likely to have more alcohol than any other hall. This would create fewer incentives to attend fraternity parties and give fraternities less control over the parties. A woman might not choose to go to a frat party with derogatory themes if she can just as easily go to a more friendly party somewhere else.  
             The pledge process and hazing needs to be monitored or gotten rid of entirely. Hazing needs to be punishable. The pledge process is degrading to the participants, and helps to create an extreme sense of loyalty to the group. If the pledge process is avoided ideally group loyalty would decrease somewhat.
            Fraternities should not be able to have complete control over who their members are. Letting fraternities have complete control over this process allows the litany of stereotypical men and masculine views to perpetuate by allowing fraternity members to weed out men who do not conform to stereotypical and typically hostile forms of masculinity. Fraternities should be mandated to have a diversity of members with different majors, social class, race, and ethnicities. By mandating a diversity of majors and members the social norms of fraternities can be expected to change. Merely diversifying the fraternity environment to have a multitude of viewpoints and backgrounds can diminish fraternity violence by diluting the amount of traditionally masculine and hostile men in fraternities. In turn the fraternity culture may shift or change to a more tolerant and less hostile entity. This might be hard to enforce but it might be one of the most effective ways of reducing fraternity hostility, violence, and rape.
            The little sisters programs need to have more independence from fraternities and should not be affiliated as a subordinate group to the fraternities. They should either be equals if dependent, or be independent from the fraternity entirely.
            Lastly and most extreme, fraternities can be eliminated if they have a certain number of counts against them for sexual assault. Granted this would be a sticky legal battle since fraternities are partially privately owned but it might be a battle worth fighting.
            The fraternity rape culture is a small focus in the big social picture. Fraternity rape culture mainly stems from a global hostility towards women. This paper focuses on fraternity rape culture but also alludes to and can address larger problems with concepts of masculinity and femininity in American culture.
            This paper should be used to examine and address the culture which induces rape and hostility towards women. These findings can be used to change and monitor fraternities on campus to make colleges a safer place for women.
            There are many directions future researchers can take to further the material provided. Future research can focus on other aspects of American society which have similar cultures and similar rates of acquaintance and gang rape such as prisons or impoverished cities. This research could focus on the similarities of these cultures and differences and speculate why those differences or similarities occurred.
            Another focus could be on the effectiveness of different solutions listed. More information could be used to understand which fraternities are more rape prone and what makes a campus more or less likely to contain high risk fraternities. Finally efforts can be made to see if fraternities that have high hostility towards women also have high hostility and prejudice towards other minority groups.
“Are Colleges Doing Enough to Combat Sexual Violence? - TIME.” Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - Web. 18 Apr. 2011. <http:>.</http:>
Armstrong, Elizabeth A., Laura Hamilton, and Brian Sweeney. “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel, Integrative Approach to Party Rape.” Social Problems 53.4 (2006): 483-99. Print.
Boswell, A. A., and J. Z. Spade. “FRATERNITIES AND COLLEGIATE RAPE CULTURE: Why Are Some Fraternities More Dangerous Places for Women?” Gender & Society 10.2 (1996): 133-47. Print.
Ehrhart, Julie K. Campus Gang Rape: Party Games? Rep. no. ED267667. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED267667. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.
Lackie, Leandra, and Anton Man. “Correlates of Sexual Aggression Among Male University Students.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 37.5-6 (1997). Print.
Martin, P. Y., and R. A. Hummer. “Fraternities And Rape On Campus.” Gender & Society 3.4 (1989): 457-73. Print.
Nurius, Paula S., Jeanette Norris, Linda A. Dimeff, and Thomas L. Graham. “Expectations regarding Acquaintance Sexual Aggression among Sorority and Fraternity Members.” Sex Roles 35.7-8 (1996): 427-44. Print.
Rhoads, Robert A. “Whales Tales, Dog Piles, and Beer Goggles: An Ethnographic Case Study of Fraternity Life.” American Anthropological Association 26.3 (1995): 306-23. Print.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus. New York: New York UP, 2007. Print.


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