Perceived Injustice: Feminists
It is no secret that feminists feel a deep animosity for fraternities. These institutes are viewed as centers for white privilege and male power. As a result, a number of women’s groups have produced anti-fraternity literature and tried to shut fraternities down on campus. However, these feminist actions actually bring fraternity men together and make their male bond much stronger. Being weighed down with their radical theories, feminists may be missing the opportunity to have constructive dialogue with their “enemy” on how to reduce sexual assault.
We know that a lot of times that one incident committed by one person can ruin the reputations of a lot of people because we are a group, because we have male bonded, and we have defined ourselves as brothers. If one person does something then, well, these guys all think the same right? If one person does something like that [sexual assault]. It is going to reflect on all of us. (Aaron)
I am not going to lie to you. Some houses that is what they are into, but labeling the whole system…is very unfair because we strive to stay as far away from that as possible. Since we are still fraternity members, people who don’t know us can still put us in the same class. My main gripe about the thing is that lumping that many people together into one group is never fair. (Lance)
It is really hard when you are having a party or something, you can’t monitor everybody who is there. People who are not on the guest list do get in…it just sucks. I heard about the sexual assaults that happened last year, and I don’t think it was a member of that house who did it, but it was inside their house and they got all the negative press about it. It is a big liability, I guess, having parties where anybody can come in…you can’t be everywhere at once. Most people, unless they are members, anyway, probably aren’t worried about it. (John Blutarski)
I have heard of an attempt at assault that had took place, that almost took place in this house, and I saw the reaction of my brothers. The person who had attempted to commit it was not a member of this house, and this person was dealt with very quickly by the rest of the house. That is not the kind of thing that we condone. I won’t deny that we are all between 18 and 22 and have severely large amounts of testosterone going through our blood, but that doesn’t make something like that acceptable. (Aaron)
One characteristic about male bonding is that two or more groups of men can bond together in defense against some mutually perceived enemy although they might, at other times, fright among themselves. By perceiving that an injustice is directed at fraternities, rival fraternity houses can rally together to confront their mutual enemy. When fraternity houses interact in response to opposition it helps shape the meaning of their bond.
Fraternities have historically experienced opposing force from a variety of social groups, e.g., university administrators, anti-Masonists, civil rights activist, and most recently, feminists. It appears that conflict with these social groups can lead to polarized attitudes as the fraternity members repeatedly interact and discuss their opposition among themselves. Consequently, fraternity members begin to view themselves as something opposite from their enemy. Since feminists are perceived as threat, fraternity members can find solidarity in response to them. Sometimes this bond can be achieved with the use of created dichotomies based on gender. This dichotomy was further broken down by participants into the two separate categories: sorority women and feminists. It was not made clear to me why sorority women cannot be feminists and visa versa. Nevertheless, the two categories were made clear.
Once the dichotomy is in place, bonding is solidified by perceiving that some injustice has been done to their group. In the case of feminists, the fraternity accusation is based on their belief that they have been stereotyped. By doing so, their feminist opponents are believed to be the hostile and aggressive party involved in the conflict. Bonding via perceived injustice became evident as I spoke with participants about fraternity stereotype. However, fraternity houses are also guilty at times of stereotyping other groups, as well as other fraternities.
In the Greek-letter system, many fraternity houses are stereotyped by other fraternities. As mentioned earlier, this is part of the process in which fraternities, who are organized in the same Greek system, split into competing coalitions and set about asserting dominance over each other. A stereotype is attached to a house and, depending on the situation and label, different fraternities might align themselves with, or aggress against that fraternity. Although a few participants expressed disapproval of internalized stereotype, the majority of participants didn’t speak of it as a particular injustice or a cause of major concern:
There is stereotypes within this campus like the stoner house, or jock house, or like that. There is stereotypes within the Greek system of what a house is like, although I don’t know if they are true…I am sure they aren’t true for the whole fraternity, but I am sure that a lot of the stereotypes are based upon truths but…you get a stereotype of that house, and you meet a guy from that house, and then you will totally change your image about that house. That happens to me all the time. (John Blutarski)
I know a lot of houses that have a stereotypical guy. I have never heard of one for our house. I would like to think that there is not one, but I imagine there probably is. (Aaron)
However, when I asked participants about stereotypes of fraternities, all participants expressed disapproval over outside criticism. It was notable how quickly each participant produced identical descriptions of fraternity stereotype, e.g., wealthy, elitist, drug using, loud-mouthed, alcoholic, hazing, gang raping, obsessive party-goer. Stereotyping by outsiders was something that outraged many participants. There was remarkable unity in how participants responded to the injustice of outside stereotyping. All participants stressed, even in their criticism of fraternities, that outside stereotypes were a source of ignorance. Although most participants admitted that there is some truth to the stereotype, they emphasized the roles of individual members and individual houses. Participants overwhelmingly insisted that fraternity stereotype is based a few bad fraternities or isolated incidents and that each fraternity house or fraternity member is different:
Some criticism is true, but…I don’t think an isolated incident reflects on the whole. (Bob)
We can’t necessarily clump everyone, everyone who has ever been a fraternity member together…you still have the individual thing where everyone acts and reacts accordingly. (Chris)
I ain’t saying [fraternities] are all bad, some do a lot of really good things, but it all comes down to the individual…it is like sticking a bunch of guys together who have things too early. They got a lot of things to contribute, but they never eventually get around to contributing them. The environment doesn’t provide that. The only time guys got around to contributing things was on an individual basis. (The World is Mine)
You can see different houses have different personalities. (Fishkiller)
[E]ach house stands for something different. To people outside the Greek system they are all the same, but once you know a little more you can really tell what each house stands for. (Lance)
[Problems are caused by] the mentality of the individuals that live there, definitely. I mean when you go into a fraternity you can generally get the feeling of what the people are like, and the mentality of the house. (Jack B. Dalton)
It is quite possible that participants would like to eliminate both internalized and external stereotypes. However, stereotypes from the out-groups bond fraternity members together against a shared enemy, while in contrast, the internal stereotype can lead to division among houses. Whether a stereotype is true or false, many participants imagined a schism between fraternities and the outside world. Furthermore, the outside world was often described as hostile to fraternity interests thereby making it possible for fraternity members to speak of themselves as misunderstood victims:
The people who don’t want to put the time in to see what [fraternities] are all about, I could care less what they think. If they don’t want to be a part of something that I am a part of that is fine, but that doesn’t mean that they have to label us and treat us as outcasts. If somebody doesn’t want to educate themselves, and to still say things that they don’t know are true or not, then let them say it, but we know better. (Lance)
They just emphasize the point that we only have one black living in, or something like that, and they focus on that more than all the other people we do have. We might only have one black at the time, but we have four Spanish, three Asian, and you know, all of the races. (John Deere)
A part of the Greek system got stereotyped by some of the very people who bitch about getting stereotyped and that was like a total contradiction. I didn’t understand that. (Aaron)
I hate when people rip on [fraternities] when they don’t know that they are talking about because definitely, it is basically fun. (Hugh G. Rection)
The point of this chapter is not to prove or disprove stereotype of fraternities, or to imply that fraternity members experience a collective paranoia of persecution. However, my impression is that conflicting fraternities often find solidarity when they mutually believe their interests are threatened. Clyde Johnson (1972) has noted this bonding capacity, “[w]hen opposed, fraternity men have shown themselves surprisingly effective, winning support from parents, alumni, an unexpected places because of their very underdog status, thus siphoning away from the school large and influential segments of the community” (339).
Economically speaking, it is debatable if fraternities classify as underdogs in the campus environment, nevertheless, some participants did speak of themselves as outsiders in campus politics. The one opposition group that seems to draw fraternity members together is feminists:
Women groups…they are pretty prejudiced against us. Like we had rocks thrown through our window, like when the women came to Take Back the Night. A few weeks ago we had a rock thrown through our window although we have never had a rape incident happen at our house. (White Sail)
Feminists really hate us. (Hugh G. Rection)
There are always feminists who just think that if you go to a fraternity house your going to get raped or something if you drink. You know there are a few cases where that might happen…they will focus on just one thing that happens and they will just nail you on it, and broadcast it everywhere, to make sure that if some girl got sexually harassed, even if it wasn’t by one of the members of our house, if some random guy walked in and grabbed a bunch of girls breasts, if they got harassed at this fraternity house they will come out and say, “Don’t go to that fraternity house or your going to get raped”. That is what they are all like…I am not saying that is all they think we are but if they can find it a lot of times they will exploit it…They really have blown it out of proportion instead of trying to work things out with us. (John Deere)
When I spoke with participants about issues such as sexual harassment, assault, and rape, the common response was to suggest that feminist accusations against fraternities were based on stereotype:
I severely doubt that it was condoned by the people who lived in that house, they probably didn’t even know about it until well after the fact. If they could have prevented it I am sure that they would have…I heard some harsh words in moments of conflict said to people in that house regarding that issue but I don’t think that it has affected them that much inside the Greek system, because I think most people realize that was an action of individuals. They haven’t condemned the house. (Aaron)
Something that bothered me, the big one these days is, say, sexual assault. If that happened in a resident hall or someone’s apartment I think it would be dealt with there, and that person would be punished and it would be left at that. But if it happens at a fraternity there are a lot of negative stereotypes there, so all a sudden the whole fraternity can be blamed for that. In addition, all fraternities are going to be blamed for that. It is just chalked up as one more for the people who have negative feelings about fraternities. (Bob)
Regardless of stereotype, sexual harassment and assault do occur at fraternity houses. Most participants strongly condemned such acts during the interviews. The question then is what can be done by fraternity members to stop it from happening? Defensive accusations of stereotype are not enough. A sexual assault can take place in their own house, regardless if it is by one of their own members. Therefore, proactive efforts should be developed as part of their bond.