Most feminists view fraternities as a bastion of patriarchy, in which male power and dominance is ultimately preserved. Male bonding inside these institutes creates a “rapist culture”, while reinforcing traditional ideas about masculinity. This section details the basic feminist principles about male bonding.
We are labeled as middle class to upper class white males who are, you know, healthy guys, sexually active, and like to party. That stereotype right there, even though it is fairly true, it opens the door to a lot of criticism as far as women go, and because it is a separate group, and all male organization, therefore it is so easy to attack as being sexist. (Lance)
Every Wednesday night we would have movie night, and all the movies we were watching were pornographic…it was mostly the younger pledges. The others? Some would show up and some wouldn’t, but it’s mostly the pledges…I found it amusing in the sense that all these guys were watching this movie, because I wasn’t down with that, trying to be cool by watching a pornographic movie, all the tension involved. (The World is Mine)
Around here women feel fairly safe, but some do feel threatened. I know one girl who said she would never drink in a fraternity house. I don’t know what kind of experience she had…a lot of parties are thrown in fraternity houses. It seems like the sororities seems real comfortable. They are always in groups. (Fish Killer)
We would point out the sororities that had fat girls in it, and we would do shit like wipe our butts on their door handle. (The World is Mine)
The feminist analysis of male bonding explores male interaction in terms of power and institutions. Thus male bonding is a process in which men, either consciously or unconsciously, maintain the status quo of male privilege. This male bonding is often referred to as patriarchy. Patriarchy has been defined as “a set of social relations between men which have a material base, and which, through hierarchy, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women” (Tong 180). This patriarchal power is reinforced by the use of institutions such as “churches, schools, professional organizations, and the family” (Tong 126). It is also suggested that male-defined laws, customs and beliefs further control women by defining practices in women’s sexuality and reproduction (MacKinnon; 1987).
For feminists, “male bonding stems from a contempt for women, bolstered by distrust” (Brownmiller 194). Therefore, the mutual desire to subordinate women is the historical impetus which bring men together; the acts by which men degrade women are the rituals of male bonding. For these reasons, the rituals involved in male bonding are interest to many feminists. Male bonding rituals such as violence against women, rape, war and pornography are all perceived as means to preserve the structure of men’s power over women.
It has been argued that men are bonded by these rituals regardless of individual participation or acceptance of them. Men do not need to participate in these rituals, because the potential for an act like rape to exist is enough to insure that men maintain power over women. Susan Brownmiller writes: “… The ultimate effect of rape upon the woman’s mental and emotional health has been accomplished even without the act… For to accept a special burden of self-protection is to reinforce the concept that women must move about in fear and can never expect to achieve personal freedom, independence, and self-assurances of men” (400).
Male bonding, through the means of rape, is a process that involves every man. Men’s personal actions or free will are moot issues. In fact, Brownmiller declares “rape…is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” (Emphasis in the original. 15). Such claims do not offer men any hope of being anything other than an oppressor. Regardless of what men do to prevent rape, the fact that some men are rapists makes all men guilty.
Inter-male conflict is also a topic analyzed by feminist theorists. Phyllis Chesler (1978) looks at male-to-male relations in greater detail. Chesler draws heavily from psychoanalytic theories and mythology to explore conflicts between fathers and sons (Oedipus), and brother to brother (Abel and Cain). In her view, it is inter-male conflict that ultimately leads to the oppression of women and other minorities. Chesler states that “[m]ale-bonding…is an enviable ‘old boys’ club which is a system of controlling or sacrificing the majority of our planet’s men and their female property for the survival, dominance, and comfort of a minority of men” (242). After an undisclosed number of interviews with men, Chesler determined that “men expect only competition and betrayal from other men” (236); that “male bonding is about the lengths to which men are willing to go to gain male approval, or rather, to avoid male violence” (244); and, more extreme, “men bond together only because (other) men are the deadliest killers of men on earth. Men bond only temporarily, to avoid, or to commit, the savage acts of betrayal or humiliation of other men” (243).
In this complex analysis, male bonding is a type of trap; men bond to protect themselves from other men, but male bonding creates a precondition that encourage the dominance of, or by, other men. Thus the purpose of male bonding is twofold; “rigid male rituals, such as handshakes or the ceremonies of fraternal order, easily recognizable signals between men, are essential for male feelings of security” and to maintain the privileges that stem from the domination of another social group (210). Men’s fear of male violence is so strong that Chesler wonders “to what degree male hostility towards feminist aspirations is related to a male fear of being abandoned by women – so that men would be left totally to themselves in an all-male society” (244). In other words, the maintenance of oppression against women rewards men with the intimacy, warmth, and emotional relief which they can not obtain through other men.
Fraternities are common topic among feminists and much has been written about their male bonding rituals. For example, in Patricia Yancey Martin and Robert Hummer (1993), initiation is thought to be a process in which pledges learn sexist attitudes after being broken down with humiliation, hazing, and verbal abuse. After being broken down, the individual is reconstructed to accept masculine standards which include the group values of competition, dominance, winning, wealth, alcohol consumption, and sexual promiscuity. Signs of the male bond are indicated by the pledge’s “willingness to submit to authority, follow orders, and do what one is told” (119). Overall, fraternity members are “vitally concerned – more than anything else – with masculinity” (117).
The male bonding rituals stress group loyalty, group protection, and secrecy. In Martin and Hummer description loyalty shields fraternity brothers from close scrutiny and criticism, group protection is used to support fellow members in incidents such as gang rape, and secrecy is “a boundary-maintaining mechanism, demarcating in-group from out-group, us from them” (121). Moreover, these rituals build brotherhood alliance by using women as servants, bait, and sexual prey. Women are the rewards served up for compliance to fraternity norms.
It should be mentioned that although I have referred to a few feminist theories about male bonding, it is by no means an exhaustive collection. Feminist theory is very divers; some have fundamentally different ideas than the ones above. For example, Camille Paglia (1990) holds the believe that “[m]ale bonding and patriarchy were the recourse to which man was forced by his terrible sense of women’s power” (31) and that “men, bonding together, invented culture as a defense against female nature” (9). Her theory is grounded in her belief that nature rules over humans. Nature controls us and we are powerless to it. Nature even governs our bodies against our will. Menstrual cycles and childbirth gave women a connection to nature that men lack. Therefore, male bonding developed as a ‘self-preservation society” (20).
Paglia believes nature, not men, is responsible for hierarchies:
We are all hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first. There are hierarchies in nature and alternate hierarchies in society. In nature, brute force is the law, a survival of the fittest. In society there are protections for the weak. Society is our frail barrier against nature (3).
Since aggression and lust is part of male nature, Paglia concludes that “the rapist is created not by bad social influences but by a failure of social conditioning” (2) and that “society is women’s protection against rape” (23). Paglia’s theory contradicts Brownmiller’s. For Brownmiller, male bonding is the cause of rape; for Paglia, male bonding, i.e., society, is the means to prevent men from regressing to the brute force in masculine nature. Although this might be true in some cases, there are many exceptions that prove otherwise. The following analysis of the German Nationalist männerbünde demonstrates that society, in contrast to Paglia’s belief, can also encourage the brute force in masculine nature.