University administrators allow fraternities to turn colleges into rape factories

Aug. 31, 2015

When I was an undergraduate at Emory University in Atlanta, the fraternities had a little Sunday morning ritual called the “Walk of Shame.” After all the big Saturday night parties, brothers would drag lawn chairs into the front yards of their campus frat houses and berate women who were walking down Frat Row, heading home the following morning. Many of them would hold up cards ranking the women’s attractiveness from zero to 10.0 in what one frat called the “slut Olympics.” Odds are that some of those women were the victims of date rape but none deserved to be devalued in that way. But that was the 1980s. Stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore, right?

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Lately news stories of rapist frats have to compete with news stories of racist frats so it’s easy to get confused. Last week’s story about the banners hanging on the Sigma Nu house at Old Dominion in Virginia urging parents to drop their freshman daughters off “for a good time” was just the latest offense to actually make the news cycle. Did the frat boys (yes, boys) know that freshman females are at the greatest risk of becoming rape victims the first two weeks of their freshman fall term? Even if they didn’t, I’m sure it’s what they were banking on.

The list of such stories is long. From frats jokingly referred to as “rape factories” (Wesleyan) to frat emails about female students as “rape bait” (Georgia Tech) and on and on. It is the norm of the rape culture in a place that is not only supposed to be safe for young women (universities), but is also supposed to challenge the power status quo by enlightening students to the abuses of power. Instead universities with fraternity systems are reinforcing the the status quo in the worst possible ways. I have endless stories of frat bigotry from brothers I have encountered over the years, from racism (ex. at University of Alabama, “Want one our niggers to fix you something to eat?”) to homophobia (ex. at Oregon State University, “We don’t let fags into our party.”) But misogyny was always just the air they breathed, not even worth noticing.

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Universities may suspend fraternities whose sexual abuse makes it into the mainstream media, but for the most part, it goes unchallenged in any meaningful way. Why? Because fraternities are the engine of the Old Boy Network that carries “brotherhood” into the corporate boardroom (and washroom, and country club, with “business meetings” at the strip club). This is the Old Boy Network that invented the glass ceiling and sows the seeds of rape culture because it’s a male privilege and it brings money from good old boys from Duluth to Dubai. Happy alumni in high ranking positions give a lot of endowments to universities to preserve their fond memories of academics and parties, but mostly parties. Why would any cash strapped university president bite the hand that feeds his or her beast by suggesting that the beast is deeply sick?

First, the reality

Because they’re right there on campus, researchers have had a relatively easy time studying frats for decades. Repeated surveys have shown that one in five daughters sent to college will become victims of sexual assault. A 2007 study found that fraternity brothers rape at three times the rate of non-fraternity members (300%) and that most campus rapes happen inside fraternity houses. It’s not just “coeds” who are victims. We can include off-campus girls and women (including “townies”) and young men (including fraternity pledges) in the body count.

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For years I’ve assigned Martin and Hummer’s classic 1989 study on fraternity date rape to my students. The research detailed how fraternities use “little sisters” (adopted female students) to lure women to fraternity parties, maximize their alcohol consumption (see my recent post on Cancun), and then crank the music as loud as possible. The brothers would then use the line, “It’s really loud down here. Let’s go upstairs so we can talk,” to set the stage for the rape of the incoherent female. Interestingly, the study also found that fraternity members with girlfriends were less likely to engage in rape. However, members with girlfriends were routinely castigated for being “henpecked” and “pussy-whipped.”

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There’s another deeper subtext about how these rapes often occur in group settings, gang rapes, with brothers watching each other have sex with semi-conscious women, performing their masculinity for each to other. In Peggy Sanday’s 2007 book, Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus, there was almost a sport-like quality to “beaching a girl” – having sex with her while the frat brothers watch. Researchers have also explored the deep homoeroticism of young men living together in a “Greek” house as they throw any off any suspicions that they themselves might be gay by expressing homophobia and sexually “conquering” women (but not having girlfriends). Things that make you go, “Hmmm….”

Three things: Generalizations, boys and sororities

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Let me clear about three important things. First, not all fraternity brothers are rapists or repressed sadistic homosexuals. I’ve known plenty of fraternity guys, including my father and my college roommate. Both, like good guy Brad Pitt (left), were Sigma Chi members. (We hope Brad was a good guy in college.) I am confident they saw the experience as formative and way to make (or buy) friends that lasted beyond Graduation Day. I am not generalizing about individual members, but I can weigh in on the moral corruptness of institution itself.

Secondly, young males are inherently stupid and not encouraged to be enlightened. Teenage boys are not taught about the impact of patriarchy on their mothers and sisters. They are taught to take risks to prove they are “real men.” This includes me. My dorm at Emory’s Oxford College had an annual event called The Whore & Pimp Party. Not only did I not challenge it’s existence, my sophomore year I organized it (and booked a great Atlanta metal band called Metalworks). I really hope Oxford left that party in the twentieth century. It was both sexist and racist. And there are few more despicable characters in modern American culture than the pimp. (No Trump reference needed.) I was a stupid 18 year-old-boy. But, after that, I chose to evolve

Third, people will say, “But what about sororities? Isn’t that equality?” First of all, sororities were created because women were (and are) locked out of men’s fraternal organizations. Secondly, “separate but equal” has never translated into any form of equality. And third, sorority girls (yes, girls) aren’t dropping roofies in male students’ drinks and raping them. Sororities give the illusion of equality and therefore serve to give legitimacy to the fraternities that exclude them (unless they are “hot” enough to be a frat little sister). Sorority girls are the house slaves who think they are equal because they have a seat at the master’s table, but are still thought of just like the field slaves by the brothers. (I borrowed that analogy from Malcolm X.)

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When I was a grad student teaching at Emory, I declared open war on the racist sexist fraternity system and all its bogus “traditions.” The KA house had its big Old South party, romanticizing the days of slavery. Another frat (Pike), had a “Pole Party,” and advertised it on flyers featuring a woman with a pole going up her vagina. That one actually got a reaction. Word got out that if you were a frat boy or sorority girl, cover your Greek letters in Blazak’s class or he will call on you to defend your lifestyle choice. Anti-frat graffiti started popping up around campus. Women started saying, “I’d never date a frat boy.”

It came to a head when I was invited to a big conference of fraternities to discuss my opposition to the Greek system. Into the lion’s den. And I didn’t hold back. I talked about how we emphatically opposed racial apartheid in South Africa but we don’t recognize gender apartheid in our own house. I talked about how sororities are propping up a system that routinely turns a blind eye to the rape of their members. I said, “You are educated people heading into the twenty-first century. Is this the best you can do?”

There were lots of boos and and one alumni stood up and asked, “How can you say these things when we do so much good charity work in the community.” I could’ve questioned that charity work (A carwash for a children’s hospital! Thanks!), but for once I was right on point. I simply said, “Do you honestly think you could not have done that good work in a organization that allowed women to join?” He had no answer because there is no answer. Afterwords, two young women approached me and said they were quitting their sorority.

Now whenever I see fraternities recruiting on campuses, I always stop to ask, “Do you allow females to join yet, or do you still discriminate against women?” They just smile.

I have a fantasy that one day I will be invited to give a commencement speech at Emory. (Maybe after the film version of my book, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, comes out.) I will tell some funny stories about political science classes with guest lecturer Jimmy Carter and the day I started a punk rock riot when Ramones played at the school. And I’ll also tell a few about the bad old days of the fraternity rape factories. Of course, there are still frats on university campuses, including at Emory. A tumbler account ranks the current Emory frats, from top dogs Sigma Chi, “Good looking guys who are good with girls,” down to Phi Delta Phi, who were kicked off campus for “fight clubs.” The cream of the crap.

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My daughter, Cozy, will head off to college in 2032. I might be naive, but I hope fraternities (and sororities) are long gone by then. A memory of a hurtful tradition, like slavery. Young people do have the constitutional right to assemble. If the KA’s want to march around like Confederate soldiers they have that right. If the Alpha Phi sorority wants to say it only recruits attractive white females, they also have that right, just like the Klan does. The question is, do they have the right to do it on university campuses, subsidized and supported by all the other students who either would never be allowed to join them or who are, as my mom claimed she was in the 1960s, GDIs (God Damn Independents)? No, they do not.

Dear university administrators, do you want to reduce hazing deaths (and the lawsuits they incur), and also reduce institutionalized racism and sexism while weakening the glass ceiling that so many female administrators have pushed against? (Only 26% of college presidents are female.) End the archaic Greek system and join the twenty-first century. Clemson did it last year (temporarily). Individual frats and sororities have been kicked off campuses. It’s time for the whole system built on the exclusion of others to go. This includes black fraternites and other minority frats that exclude women and the minority sororities that back those frats up. College is supposed to be a place where all are safe to find and follow their dreams, not be encouraged to become rapists or the victims of rape. Are alumni donations more important than your daughter’s safety or your son’s criminal record? (Of course, many colleges deal with rape accusations behind closed doors so that today’s privileged college student isn’t tomorrows registered sex offender. Prison stints might cut into alumni donations.)

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Fraternity members are not “men.” They are boys who are trying to become men in a setting that encourages them to value “bros before hos.” Michael Kimmel wrote about this so well in his 2008 book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. In the end, he urges society to raise “just guys,” who care about justice, instead of just “guys,” who continue the cycle of bro culture. What if the next time a fraternity or sorority tried to colonize a campus (that’s their term), young men came out and, in the spirit of the opposition to Wal-Mart stores being built in small towns and big cities, said, “Not on my campus! Not at my school!”

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Some would make the case that the solution is to just teach frat boys not to rape. I would argue that’s not feasible within the institution built on the exclusion of women. It’s like teaching white people not to be racist by sending them to an Aryan Nations compound. It’s time for the whole thing to go. If they want to have their “No Girlz Allowed” treehouse off campus, they can. But let’s keep campus a safe space. I know this won’t eliminate rape (date rape is a campus-wide problem), racism and hazing deaths from America’s universities, but it will get the institutions that celebrate them away of our institutions of higher education. And obviously, some good old boys with deep pockets whose heads are still back in their college animal houses are going to whine about “political correctness” (No Trump reference needed) and threaten to close their checkbooks, so this is where the administrators get to decide where they stand. And it is a crucially important choice. The voice of non-Greek students is pretty clear.

My dream is to drop Cozy off at her freshman dorm at Emory University seventeen years from now. I want my biggest fear to be her deciding to become a business major, not if she will be one of the 20% of female students to be raped. Let them talk about the Greek system in her history class along with slavery. Evil Traditions 101.

Note: Donald Trump was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity while at Fordham University. It is not known if he raped anybody while there and if he did how many women he raped. As Mr. Trump is fond of saying, “we’re looking into it.”

These books were mentioned in this blog and can be purchased at Powell’s Books by clicking the covers below.

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“Donald Trump is the new face of white supremacy,” says hate crime expert.

August 24, 2015

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Before you think this article is “just one liberal’s opinion,” let me briefly say I have dedicated my life to studying racism. I earned my PhD from Emory University in 1995 after spending several years doing ethnographic field studies of white supremacist groups. I have published books and articles in peer-reviewed journals on the subject and have appeared on more TV shows than I can remember discussing how hate works. In my 20 years at Portland State University, I interviewed scores of committed racists, from teenage skinheads to racist murderers and founders of Nazi prison gangs. So when I say that presidential candidate Donald Trump is a racist hate-monger it’s not just a political pejorative. He has a constitutional right to hold and express racist views, but using those views to manipulate the intellectually vulnerable and mobilize active bigots requires a coherent response. As an expert on hate, I am more than comfortable stating that either Trump is a virulent racist or that he is willing to perform racism and use racism of others to advance his political position.

Trump represents a frightening trend of convenient racism rooted a belief that America was great before ethnic and racial minorities, women, and sexual minorities wanted equal rights. (What Trump calls “political correctness.”) These people will say that “racism is wrong, but…” or “I’m not a racist, but…” and then something deeply racist follows. They’ll say that “all lives matter,” in the face of the movement to acknowledge the devaluing of black lives. They’ll say they are not homophobes, just for “religious freedom” (an argument the KKK still makes). They’ll say they’re not Islamaphobes, just against terrorism (ignoring the carnage done by domestic, often Christian, terrorists). And they’ll say that they are not bigots, just opposed to illegal immigration (of brown people). It’s a kinder, gentler form of bigotry, but it’s still bigotry. And Donald Trump is the new Father Coughlin and he wants to be free of the political correctness that would stand in the way of his bigotry. (At least he’s abandoned the GOP’s “go after the gays” mantra from the last election.)

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Trump has been visiting states with troubled racial histories to sell his rallying cry that “illegal immigrants are killers and rapists.” First Arizona and then, on Friday, Alabama. He started his rally with some classic hate speech, telling the assembled 30,000 supporters and curious (I would have gone to see the Trump clown show) about the alleged rape and torture of a 66-year-old victim in California who was supposedly attacked by an “illegal immigrant.” The crowd went wild. “We have to do it. We have to do something,” he then said. The crowd roared, and some chanted, “White power!

Two things to know about Trump’s rhetoric

Anyone knowledgeable about the horrific statistics on rape know that women are overwhelmingly victimized by somebody they know, including family members and dates. Only about 18% of rapes are committed by a stranger (and a tiny fraction of those by undocumented immigrants). So if Trump actually cared about women, it would make more sense to devote his rape obsession to step-fathers instead of Mexican immigrants.  Of course, this is a man who has been challenged on the issue of marital rape of one of his ex-wives. Rape is an emotional issue. It was used to lynch innocent blacks in the South and Trump is using it the same way to go after people who are often the hardest workers in the country.

Secondly, in my research I have attended numerous Klan rallies, skinhead gatherings, and meetings of the Aryan Nations, and the rhetoric is almost exactly the same as Trump’s. I was at a Klan Rally in Covington, Georgia in 1991 in which a Klan leader told the small crowd the story of a white woman who had been raped and beaten by an “illegal Mexican.” As with Trump’s story, whether it was true or not didn’t matter. It served to whip the racists into a frenzy. And like Trump’s crowd they were out to “do something” about it. I’ve heard Trump’s rhetoric many times before. “Let’s go back in time to when America was great.” Usually the speaker had a swastika tattoo.

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So it wasn’t surprising last week when a news story emerged of two brothers in Boston who brutally beat a homeless Latino man (and urinated on him), claiming they were inspired by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” one said, in the police report. When told of the crime, instead of condemning it, Trump said, “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.” Later, after much outcry, he backpedaled, posting that he opposed violence on his Twitter account. We still don’t know if he opposes urinating on immigrants. We also don’t know if there have been similar Trump-inspired hate crimes, but it is very likely there will be.

The most reasonable Republican candidate might be Ohio governor John Kasich (who was just endorsed by Deez Nuts!).  At the first GOP/Fox News debate earlier this month, Kasich (maybe buttering up the Donald), admitted that Trump was “hitting a nerve with voters.” But it’s not all Americans. It’s a small subsection of white people who fear the reality that America is getting less white (and more brown). They see the privilege of their white authority undermined every time they walk into a Home Depot and see signs in English and (gasp!) in Spanish. These are the people who say, “I’m not a racist, but…”

The United States is a nation of immigrants, coming from all directions. Most white Americans have ancestors that only go back to no further than the 1880s, making them “less American” than descendants of African slaves. When my great grandfather, Michael Blazak, came here from Prague in the 1890s, he faced plenty of anti-Catholic hostility. His son converted to Protestantism and married the daughter of a Klansman and the cycle of immigrant hating continued. “They’re taking our country away! Let’s make America great again and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!”

Trump lies to win support

Obviously, Trump is a clown who will say anything that feeds his narcissism. When he said he was going to get Mexico to pay for a wall between our two countries, I could just hear President Peña Nieto laughing and saying, “Señor Trump, chupamela.” Trumpies (I’m coining that term) often say they love Trump because he tells it like it is. If by that they mean that billionaires buy politicians in return for political favors (as Trump admitted in the Fox debate), they are correct. But if they mean all the rest of the crazy stuff that comes out of his mouth, in reality Trump tells it like it isn’t, but it’s what “I’m not racist” racists wish it was. Politifact works overtime trying the present the actual facts to Trump’s lies, but the Trumpies prefer the lie. Something far too common on the right. (“Obama is a Muslim!” “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction!” “The Jews control the banks!”)

Where Trump’s lies are greatest are his bizarre tirades on immigration. Despite his fear mongering, the number of undocumented immigrants has been on the decline since 2009.  And despite his endless mantra about “rapists and murderers,” actual data (a word the “King of Capitalism” should know) shows that crime rates in cities decline as their population of undocumented immigrants increase. Think about it. If you are living in America without papers, you aren’t even going to jaywalk. Why do anything that would risk deportation?

My wife was an illegal immigrant. Thanks to immigration reform under President Bill Clinton, and a lot of difficult hoops to jump through, she earned a permanent resident card and is hoping to become a citizen in time to vote in this election. Our daughter, Cozy, would surely be called an “anchor baby” by Trump (and Jeb Bush). Bush recently asked for a better term to use instead of “anchor baby.” I would suggest the word, “baby.” But dehumanizing immigrants (even infants) wins the “I’m not racist, but…” voters. Trump has said on his first day of his presidency he would immediately “get rid of all these people” (I assume my wife and child are included in that group). Besides the fact it’s not possible (Trump’s “looking into” changing the 14th Amendment of the Constitution), it would devastate the American economy. Who does he thinks picks the strawberries that go into his daiquiris? His latest wife is not only a lingerie model but an immigrant! Maybe he should ask her. (The new First Lady?)

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It’s ironic that Trump laid this line out in Sweet Home Alabama. Alabama Republicans passed a law in 2011 (HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act) to crack down on “illegals.” Residents soon saw produce rotting in fields, disappearing from grocery shelves and restaurants closing. The federal government weighed in (with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center) on the Constitutionality of the law and it is now a fond memory of the intersection between racist politics and reality.

Alabama tried a Donald Trump-style immigration law. It failed in a big way.

Trump, of course, caters to the convenient racists. At the Alabama rally he was joined on stage by Jeff Sessions, one of the most extreme anti-immigration politicians in the country who has been linked to white supremacist groups. Trump is now using this avowed racist as a “consultant” on his immigration policy. It should be pointed out that when Trumpies blather about “illegal immigrants,” they are not concerned about undocumented Russians, Ukrainians, Irish, Canadians or even Chinese. It’s all about brown people. Trump telling the story of an undocumented Irishman committing a heinous crime wouldn’t get the same roar of approval as a similar story about an “illegal Mexican.”

And now that Trump is trying to woo Conservative Christians, he’s added Islamophobia into his stump speeches, including making up stories about Christian refugees from Syria not being allowed into the U.S., when Muslim refugees are. It’s another lie, but the “I’m not racist” Trumpies send the lie around in chain emails and Facebook stories. (It even got posted by a Trumpie on my page.) Can you imagine what Jesus would say about Donald?

I sincerely doubt Trump really wants to be president of the country and submit himself to the art of the compromise that is politics in the real world. He just wants to win to feed his massive ego. But who knows how many hate crimes he will inspire in the process. It should be noted that Trump is widely popular on the racist Stormfront discussion board. Stormfront is the primary place white supremacists and Neo-Nazis meet and registered members have been linked to almost 100 murders.

White supremacists lining up behind Trump

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I know this blog is supposed to be about being a feminist father and the challenges of raising my daughter in a patriarchal world and not about politics. But there is no better example of the failed model of racist, sexist masculinity than Donald J. Trump. He is an artifact of the past and he wants to drag the country back to it. The man’s rhetoric directly affects the security of my family. The thought of someone hating my wife and child (or attacking them) because they want to “make America great again,” is frightening. When was Trump’s America great? In 2008, when the Great Recession started? In 1954, before the passage of Brown vs. the Board of Education? In 1860, before the start of the Civil War? America is better than Donald Trump, but I fight against him for the safety of my family.

TRUMP Part 2 – This is what fascism looks like.

TRUMP Part 3 – Kiss my anchor baby!

TRUMP Part 4 – I told you Donald Trump was a fascist!

TRUMP Part 5 – Who the hell is supporting Donald Trump?

Here is a song for Señor Trump he might know.

¡Cozy turns uno! Happy first birthday to our daughter!

Aug. 17, 2015

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It should be hard to imagine where we were a year ago, but the whole experience is frozen in amber. Our unborn daughter was ten days past her due date. Andrea had tried everything, from acupuncture to a hike up Mt. Tabor (aka Mt. Labor), but Cozy was on her own time table. When the labor started, it was no quick ride to parenthood.

The midwives came to our house and urged patience. Andrea’s mother was here from Mexico helping to hold her hand. When we did head into Alma birth center, it was just more labor, and day turned into night.  About 5 a.m. I drove to the house to get Andrea’s mother for support. On the way I saw a coyote in Irvington and took it as a sign that something magical was going to happen.

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By the next morning it was clear that Cozy didn’t want to leave her cozy apartment and the midwife told us to head to the hospital. A frantic car ride to St. Vincent’s (with Andrea screaming that she was going to jump out of the car on to the Sunset Highway) and a security guard waiting with a wheel chair (who thought he was in an action movie) and then, finally, an hour of pushing. Thanks to the handy encouragement of Dr. Girolami and a herculean effort by my wife, Cozy made her magical appearance at 9:25 pm and the world suddenly became a better place.

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In the year that’s followed, it’s been a breathtaking journey watching that 8 lb. 6 oz. butter bean turn into a person full of personality and light. Anyone that knows Cozy knows that she is a charmer. Besides the smile that outshines the Batsignal, when she crawls into a room, she owns it. When she was very little, I would take her shopping with me at Fred Meyer and people would fall over themselves, asking about her, and Miss Cozette Valentia would work it for all it was worth. Now when we take her out to eat she has the whole restaurant eating out of the palm of her little hand. When we go to the Mango Cafe, here on the isla, we don’t need a high chair because the waitress and the owner just cary her around while we eat. That’s Cozy.

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I know all parents project greatness on to their children at the start, but I really have to believe Cozy is going to be a mover and shaker. She’s got such a charismatic personality. Of course so did Hitler. But I think she already loves bringing joy so I’m not worried she’ll use that power for evil.  We were lucky in that she was born healthy and has thrived every day. Andrea is such a thoughtful mother, staunch advocate of breast feeding and brain stimulation. And of course, I sing the best songs and can be a good pillow for a nap. How can she not turn out great?

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For Cozy’s first birthday, we threw a fiesta here on Isla Mujeres. Andrea’s mom made chicken molé and her sister dressed her in a funky party outfit. We had tried to find a Donald Trump piñata but a Frozen one was perfect. My students were there and so were a bunch of the kids from our neighborhood, La Lomita. (Andrea put the word out that there would be a piñata full of candy to smash and they came running.) The folks from our hotel, Hotel Paraiso, helped out and Cozy got the first swing. Cake and singing and our little girl smiling her face off.

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So much to be proud of. 365 days and I didn’t drop her once. (So glad it wasn’t a leap year.) Probably 10,000 diapers changed. Moving her from the bed to the crib (and then back to the bed). First steps and swims in the ocean. Some amazing baby sitters to give mom and dad an occasional night out or short road trip. When Cozy was three months old we drove with her all the way to Los Angeles, so between that, the trip to Vancouver, BC to see U2 and summer here in Mexico, I think we’ve raised a traveler.

After a year of being a parent the big thing you learn is how much your heart can grow. I had no idea. I mean besides the endless worry, just the immense obsession I have with this child. And it’s extended to my wife as well. I love her more each day in ways I could never have imagined before. What’s happening to my brain? I just think about these two ladies constantly. They are my priority. I’ve forgotten to keep up with pop culture and music trends. I don’t even know what bands are on tour! Isn’t there something about El Niño destroying the earth this year? I don’t know. But ask me about la niña…

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We’ve created this bubble that’s called a family. Inside it there is a safe glow that all the drama from the outside cannot diminish. Cozy is strong like her mother and silly like me. She has brought deep happiness and focus to my corner of reality that I would have laughed at thirty years ago. If you would have talked to 21-year-old Randy, sitting on his Vespa outside the 688 Club that someday a baby would arrive to give him a whole new way of thinking about the world he would have probably thought you were in a cult. And then recited some lyric from a Minutemen song. (“God bows to math…”) Little did I know what was coming.

I’m a better person because of Cozy and Andrea. And I’m getting better all the time. It’s nice to have so much to look forward to with our little holy trinity. Someone once sang that three is a magic number. Yes it is.

Note: Bimbo is a bread company that sponsors the Mexican soccer team. This is still a feminist blog.

Cancun: Where the U.S. Government Sends its Rapists

Aug. 10, 2015

Whenever somebody tells me, “I love Mexico! We went to Cancun just last year!” I want to beat them senseless with their selfie stick. Let’s get this straight. Cancun does not count as Mexico. It’s an American strip mall built in the land of the Mayans. It is a city created to lure gringos who want a nice beach in another country but don’t want to deal with grubby foreigners (or even their currency). It’s a fabricated vacuum that has very little to do with the great, vibrant nation of Mexico.

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Cancun was created in 1970. (So I’m older than Cancun.) At the time there were only three coconut farmers living there. (The 2010 population was 722,800, not counting douchebags. bachelorette parties and roofie suppliers.) The Mexican government invested in nine hotels and America’s favorite spring break destination was born. Clubs, hotels, and all your favorite American restaurants, like Hooters and McDonalds, are all positioned not more than 50 feet from ATMs that spit out Yankee dollars. Don’t speak Spanish? No problema!

So on Saturday night we decided to have a little excursion into a bizarre alternative universe where basic laws do not apply. We hopped a ferry off our tranquil island home and journeyed into the belly of the beast. Andrea and I and her sister Viri hoped for best. How bad could it be? Surely not the heart of darkness.

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Arriving in Puerto Jaurez we let Viri get the taxi to the club district because my American accent would have doubled the price. The cab driver told me, “Drink mucho tequila! Tequila! Tequila!” We were quickly recruited by a bouncer to come to the “hottest club in Cancun,” called La Vaquita, the little cow. (I don’t really get the cow thing. Udders?)  So when you get to this area before midnight, the clubs are front-loaded with dancing girls to lure the bros in. They are essentially strippers who have been imported from north of the border to attract customers. (None of the women looked like Latinas, not that Cancun club owners should proudly exploit their own.) After the clubs are packed, these women head home, hopefully to some safe space, before doing it again tomorrow.

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So we got cut a deal since it was one dorky guy and two beautiful women. Only about $35 each cover charge and he slapped our wrist bands on. And that came with an open bar, so an endless stream of sugary daiquiris and piña coladas headed our way. But then our waiter, Luis, just started bringing the trays of shots, one after another. I got the hint that the goal was to get the ladies extremely fucked up so they would be more “fun.” I started dumping my shots off the balcony so I could regulate and keep my cultural anthropologist hat on straight. I noticed the club next-door was Dady’O, the place Kim Kardashian goes to shake what her selfies bought her. I thought about running in and taking a massive dump in her honor but fish tacos have got me a bit irregular this summer.

One thought I had was how little dance music has changed in thirty years. (Just check out the 1983 dance mix of Human League’s “Fascination.”) But instead of extended dance versions you just got half a song before the next jam for the ADHD generation. As the clubs started to fill up, the DJ switched over to American hip hop and all your favorite hits where some rapper demands to have his dick sucked. (Can we please have a moratorium on dick sucking references in rap songs until there is an equal number of jams about going down on the muffin?) For every killer Jay-Z cut there were five super-misogynistic songs to dance to with your ass grabber. We were hoping that one-hit-wonders like Soulja Boy were now working at a Walgreens, restocking maxi-pads.

The last ferry back to Isla Mujeres was at 12:30 a.m. and since I’m no party-pooper we decided to go all night and catch the 5 a.m. ferry home. I may be a 51-year-old academic, but if there’s a good beat and you can dance to it, I’m yours for the night. And on and on to the break of dawn.

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We made our way across the street to the famous Mandala club and got in for free (again, I was with two beautiful women so I guess the logic was that at least one woman would be available). And we never paid for drinks there either (although we might have walked out on the bill, but who could tell with the jets of steam blasting out the ceiling at odd moments.) Like La Vaquita, the club was full of American bros on the  prowl. Viri had some dude try to drag her away but she used her “No speak English,” defense to escape the guy’s grasp.

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Mandala had a better dance floor and a “show.” And by show I mean female dancers who were dressed like the escaped from Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby prancing around while one climbed into a giant champagne glass and some bored employee poured a big bottle of bubbly (water, actually) on her ass. Worth every penny we paid to get in. And the bros shouted rude things at her because that’s what bros do.

The clubs in Cancun are open to the street which gives pedestrians a peek at what they’re missing and also allows people inside to interact directly with street vendors. What is painfully obvious is the large number of children who are working well after midnight, selling trinkets to tourists. Around 2 a.m. we took a break to grab some food on the strip (with about 10 different sound systems at full volume) and we’re approached by a sad-faced 7-year-old boy selling bracelets. Viri asked him why he wasn’t home in bed and he said his dad had died so he had to work. It was heartbreaking. You don’t want to support this exploitation of children, so I just gave him my bottle of water a sympathetic look and wished that Mexico had the same child labor laws that the U.S. does. Andrea had spotted a woman selling necklaces with a 9-month baby on her hip and chased her down to ask her why she would expose her child to all this noise well after midnight. Turns out it wasn’t even her baby, she was using it for the sympathy factor. The child seemed listless and doomed but it’s hard to judge people that are forced into this globalized cluster-fuck.

If we had been at a production of Les Mis, this would have been a quaint but sad historical footnote. But it was August 2015 and it put a downer on the vibe. It’s so odd that Americans are invited here to party their asses off while small children beg at their spray-tanned feet for pesos. And just down the street they can buy some of those children for sex as Cancun has a healthy sex-trafficking trade in the heart of the club district.

So, hoping to stretch out our adventure with some fun dancing, we headed back to La Vaquita and our open bar. But the night had passed some tipping point and all those free shots meant there were scores of barely standing females with the douchebag predators making their move, grinding and groping. It became clear at that moment that Cancun must be the date rape capital of the western world. Bros of every stripe (American, Mexican, Armenian) floated around to find the drunkest girl to “pick up.” An obese Mexican guy grabbed a petite girl on the dance floor by the hair and tried to pour a beer down her throat. I threw a handful of ice from my daiquiri at his head and she slipped away. Another guy had tried to do the same thing to Viri a little earlier and I had to give him the “don’t fuck with my hermana” look.

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It got bad. Like open season bad. Part of me resented having to stay sober so I could cock-block these rapist wanna-bees. Part of me was angry that these women were making themselves vulnerable to these assholes. But the biggest part of me was angry that men still see this sexually aggressive behavior as acceptable just because “everyone is shitfaced.” “It’s not rape if we’re both drunk!” It makes it hard to cut loose when you are thinking about all the reality-checks coming the morning after. Petite Girl ended up hooking up with a bro in a backwards ball cap and a tank top that said “Just Do Me,” while DMX rapped, “I gotta get my dick sucked.” I’m sure they’ll live happily ever after.

As 4 a.m. approached, we decided we better beat the rush and find a taxi back to the ferry port. Outside the club there was another gauntlet of vultures too cheap to pay the cover for the club. They were just hanging out in the street waiting for drunk women to come out and then zoom in like seagulls picking off baby sea turtles who just want to make it to the sea. Viri came out before us and some Pitbull-looking-motherfucker was on her tail. And he had a sidekick to insure his game. I had to position myself near her to send some kind of signal. But how many women don’t have a brother-in-law to run interference?

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We made it back to the ferry and watched the stars shine from the top deck as we headed back to our beautiful island. It was such a challenging experience. I will dance my ass off to a good Kanye jam and am happy to gulp a cocktail bigger than my head but I felt on guard against the wall of shit that happens every single night in probably every single club in Cancun. The place seemed like a fantasy world for somebody like Donald “Miss Universe Contest” Trump who puts so much emphasis on female beauty, the deregulation of the economy, and the freedom to not be accused of raping your wife. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a hotel there. Look, I know this behavior happens elsewhere and I want people to be able to celebrate the joy of life and “be drunken” (as Baudelaire urged) in a beautiful place like Cancun, but would I want my daughter Cozy to come here when she’s 18 and set herself up for the bro predators? It’s a tough call. But for now, I feel like dropping a bomb on the place would be a good start. What was wrong with it just being a coconut farm? As we approached Isla Mujeres, we saw a shooting star above the ferry and I made a wish for my little girl.

Note: The U.S. government is not sending rapists to Cancun. They come for the cheap beer and steak fajitas. Likewise, the Mexican government is not sending rapists to America. Donald Trump is just a complete idiot.

Report from the Island of Women: #BringbacktheGoddess

Aug. 3, 2015

I’ve been living on Isla Mujeres for a month now and I’m feeling the presence of the Mayan goddess, Ixchel. Well, maybe that’s just wishful thinking. People love to think that God or the gods are a constant presence, but here on the island, it’s not hard to imagine. And while #Goddess may be now banned on Instagram, she is alive and well here on the Island of Women.

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When the Spaniards first arrived on this little island in the 1500s they noticed an abundance of images of women in the carvings and paintings. Being good Catholics, it never crossed their minds that they might be images of goddesses. They probably thought it was just Mayan porn. But, in reality, most of those images were of Ixchel, the Mayan jaguar goddess of fertility. She was also known as the goddess of medicine and midwifery.

That makes sense on a couple of levels. Islands often have feminine deities because they symbolize emergence from the sea, just like a baby emerging from her watery womb. There is a pantheon of goddesses across the seas that represent creation, from Huamea in Hawaii to Agemen in the Philippines, Rangda in Bali and Erzulie in Haiti.

We come from the water so it all makes sense in contrast to those land-locked nomads who butchered each other in the name of their male warrior gods. My favorite book to assign to my students is Riane Eisler’s The Chalice & the Blade: Our History, Our Future (1988). It’s a rereading of the history of the construction of God and how evidence shows that thousands of years of goddess worship was re-written by the image of God as male. At the peak of the Reagan Cold War she asked readers, what if the dominate icon of God was of a woman giving birth instead of a man being murdered on a cross.

To be fair, the Mayans were pretty patriarchal. Their kingdoms were ruled by patrilineal kings who often engaged in violent bloodsport, including human sacrifice, like heart extraction. (Ouch!) It’s believed that much of this was learned from their psychotic Azetec neighbors to the north, but once the idea of chopping people’s heads off to appease the gods becomes a fad, it’s gonna be hard to top that trend. Watch Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalpypto for a fairly decent (if debated) portrayal of these fun times.

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But I don’t think anybody was sacrificed for Ixchel, even though she was viewed as a warrior goddess. On the south end of the island, Punta Sur, there was a Mayan temple dating back over 500 years. Unfortunately, in 1988, Hurricane Gilbert knocked it off it’s foundation and there is only the base left. But the area is still known as Ixchel’s hangout. It’s the eastern most point of Mexico, so pagans and sun worshiper’s go there at dawn to watch the first rays of sunshine touch the nation. But those aren’t the only people who go there.

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Because Ixchel is the Goddess of Fertility, Punta Sur is a popular place to conceive children. Legend has it that if even the most infertile of couples takes a stroll on that end of the island, they will be blessed with a baby. The best place to go is the “womb of Ixchel,” a little cave at the end of the point. And yes, I took Andrea there. But more aggressive baby-wanters don’t take any chances and just strait up do the mambo right there by her statue. There are plenty of stories of lovers caught buns-up, paying tribute to the goddess. That seems a bit risky as the iguanas, giant flying frigates and Israeli tourists might be a bit distracting. But some people are just committed. And when someone gets pregnant on the island, the common refrain is, “Blame Ixchel.”

I love uncovering the hidden goddess cultures of the human race. There is a direct connection between Ixchel, the Aztec goddess Toci, and the worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. According to Mary Daly’s groundbreaking 1973 book, Beyond God the Father, when the Conquistadors came to Mexico pushing Catholicism, the locals asked “Where is your goddess?” Their replay was, “We don’t have a goddess but we have the Mother of God.” And that’s why you see more images of the Virgin in Mexico than you do of Jesus. There is an undying devotion to Nana Guadalupe, the holy mother.

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On our last bus trip from Morelia to Mexico City, we saw hundreds of cyclists on the highway. It wasn’t a fitness ride. They were all following icons of the Virgin.  At the basilica, you will see people who have crawled hundreds of miles on their knees on a pilgrimage to see the cloak of Juan Diego, emblazoned with the famous image of the Virgin Mary. I’ve seen it and as a committed agnostic, it’s humbling. It’s a moving reminder of the resonance of the goddess in the psyche of Latin America. It’s not the vengeful god of the Apocalypse, waving a Confederate flag, it’s a pregnant woman and author of kindness, forgiveness, and new life.

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There is such a fear of the sacred feminine in our male dominated world. I’ve written about the conspiracy of silence around breast feeding that is now cracking. The latest assault is by Instagram, where #Goddess has been banned because women were posting pictures of themselves nursing their children (#slut and #tits are still approved.) There’s plenty of porn on Instagram (Um, #Thotsbelike), but women nurturing their children is somehow offensive. But women are no longer silent to this stupid shit. #BringbacktheGoddess already had 5000 mentions on Instagram. (#Stopcensoringmotherhood has 6000 hashtags.) Instagram deserves to be publicly shamed for trying to shame women for being women instead of “hos.”

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I don’t know if there is a downside to all this fertility worship. It is not uncommon to see 12-year-old girls who are pregnant here. While this is pretty common everywhere, it may have a link to the early adulthood of islanders that Margaret Mead wrote about in Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928. Artist Paul Gauguin had three teenage brides while in Tahiti and Martinique in the 1890s who became the subjects of his most famous paintings. On Isla Mujeres, only grade school is paid for by the state. Most 13-year-olds are already working on fishing boats and planning their own entry into parenthood. So there is this great clash of cultures between competing ideas of motherhood and when it should happen.

One of my students this summer is studying local conceptions of fertility and the role that Ixchel plays in people’s lives. She’s finding that younger girls have lost the connection to Ixchel and are focussed on having C-section births which are now the norm in nearby Cancun. She’s also finding that the goddess has become more of a marketing tool to attract tourists instead of a deity. But she did mention asking a 14-year-old girl at a teen pregnancy meeting about Ixchel and the girl said, “Who is Ixchel?” To which another pregnant teen piped in, “Don’t you know why you’re pregnant?”

Motherhood is a sacred thing. On one hand it seems completely bizarre that things like birth and breastfeeding are met with such revulsion and censorship. Ask a teenage boy to pick up some tampons at the store and see how visceral the opposition will be. But when you look at the long campaign to vilify the sacred feminine as original sinners (“That bitch Eve was a ho!”), you can see the long history of the banishment of the Goddess. Hebrew texts banished Lilith from the Garden of Eden and Instagram has banished “goddess” from its hashtags. It’s all part of the same thing. Why do you need the sacred feminine when you have Caesarean Sections? But Ixchel is also the Goddess of Storms, so maybe she’ll have something to say about it.

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Isla Mujeres Field School Class of 2015!