Tuesday, February 28, 2006

you can deal with gender problems on this campus, or you can ignore them. i recommend the first.

Ana Catalano wrote an excellent op-ed in the D today criticizing the "culture of protection" that has arisen in campus discourse on sexual assault. According to the piece,

"The culture of protection is based on the idea that women need to be taught how to protect themselves and other women from sexual assault rather than the idea that men, who commit the vast majority of sexual violence, need to be taught not to perpetrate or normalize these crimes."

The whole piece is excellent, and courageous. She even (*gasp*) criticizes the frats and the uncritical attitude with which we accept their presence and their problems on this campus. Read the whole thing -- it's thought provoking, and provides a perspective this campus is in desperate need of.

Less courageous is the explanation of Frat Free Friday by Shannon Troutman (president of pan-hellenic council). It confirms Alex DiBranco's critique of the event as timid: Troutman admits that the event was not more broadly publicized because they were unwilling to risk "retaliation" by the frats. Here's her take on the point of the event:

"The idea to hold a fraternity-free weekend was in no way an attack on fraternities, and had nothing to do with men in general. While many students on this campus appreciate and value the social scene that the Greek system provides, the point was to encourage alternative, female-oriented social settings.

First and foremost, however, the goal was to foster relationships among women."

I am personally disappointed by the lack of vision demonstrated by her explanation; when I originally received the blitz, I had read the event as a signal that even those women who normally participate in the frat scene are aware of the problematic gender relations in frat basements, and willing to make a public statement in favor of change. And I think many of the women who participated in Frat Free Friday are aware of the problems with the frat system (I'm not sure if I count, because I've been practicing Frat Free Fridays ever since I showed up freshman year), but pan-hel apparently doesn't want to make those problems a public issue.

My take: the way masculinity is constructed and privileged is a problem on this campus, as it is in society at large. The more problematic elements of its construction are supported and even reinforced by the hyper-masculine culture of the fraternities. We privilege that dominating type of masculinity when we refuse to discuss why men assault women and how their actions stem from broader cultural patterns, and we privilege it again every time we refuse to criticize the frats for their contribution to the problem.

For those of you who are on campus, I encourage you to go to tonight's SPEAK OUT on sexual assaut (8pm Collis Commonground). We, as a campus, have a lot of progress to make in how we think and talk about sexual assault, not to mention in how we try to prevent it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"She even (*gasp*) criticizes the frats and the uncritical attitude with which we accept their presence and their problems on this campus."

The issue of the existence of single-sex greek organizations is not new and has been discussed in depth before. The fundamental arguments have not changed for the last 15 years.

1. Let's be clear. The presence of fraternities in Hanover, NH is fundamentally not something the college control. The college is free to denounce and derecognize the houses, but the property and buildings are privately owned and supported by alumni (with the exception of Herot and Alpha Chi). The college may be able to stop students from living there, but certainly not from socializing. Starting a discussion with the assumption that the college can remove the greek system in one fell swoop is just silly. Hell, they couldn't even manage to get rid of the swim team. Once a house is derecognized, the college looses all of its ability to regulate it.

2. For most of the fraternities, a requirement for coed membership is tantamount to derecognition. Most national fraternities do not permit this and most houses would not be willing or able to cut organization or financial ties with their national organizations and by extension, their alumni.

3. That being said, the college can exert a great deal of leverage on the houses to implement systemic reforms within the current framework of the greek system. This is where energy should be focused and where we have the greatest potential for success.

9:14 AM  
Blogger anne said...

Whether or not the issue of the existence of single-sex greek organizations is new, it certainly is a taboo subject on this campus. We never openly discuss how fraternities contribute to the creation and maintenance of a culture that involves the objectifiication of women and sex -- and here I am borrowing some language from the op-ed -- much less what can be done to change them. Part of that is the volatile reactions to any criticism of the frats, which was eloquently demonstrated by the strong reaction to the timid and poorly publicized "Frat Free Friday."

We think it's time to discuss ithe frats more critically -- and refusing to accept their existence as a given and unchangeable fact is part of adopting that critical frame.

1. The discussion does not assume that the College could "remove the greek system in one fell swoop" - please don't accuse us of a simplicity of which we're not guilty. And yes, the alumni are a powerful group, but throwing up ones hands in the face of power seems like a pretty rotten strategy to address deep-rooted problems in our society.

I don't actually know much about the ownership of the houses, but the fact that other campuses (like Middlebury, for example), who surely faced the same structural constraints, have abolished their greek systems makes me think it might be possible. Clearly, though, the discussion would have a long way to go before we got to discussing the logistics of the matter.

2. National organizations are not all-powerful. Many of Dartmouth's frats went local in the late 60s (is that date correct?) when the College threatened to derecognize any greeks refusing to accept minorities. There is precedence for this, if we cared to make it enough of an issue.

3. I have no objection to reform, and I certainly hope that my post did not suggest that I did.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous sylvia said...

hey anne & co.
i'm not a big greek cheerleader or anything, but i'm not sure how effective external criticism of the greek system is.
and what about the co-ed non-greeks? panarchy and (i believe) amarna have both talked with ORL/CFS administrative types about the possibility of encouraging more co-ed undergraduate societies. i think it's pretty lame that the college is bringing in a new (what, eighth?) sorority before they bring in another (third) co-ed undergrad society.
in case you haven't heard the litany of great things about panarchy/amarna type orgs: there's no heirarchy, no hazing, it's co-ed, they don't revolve around alcohol, and there's no prohibitive membership fees. and it includes freshmen (who are ostensibly disqualified from the greek system). and there's a definite open sense of community, unlike Foley, which i like, but really, Foley's a place where people live, with a locked door, and it isn't open for folks to come over and hang out.

6:49 PM  
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