Why we can’t have nice things: MEN and rape culture

June 1, 2016

When all the hullabaloo about banning transgender people from bathrooms in North Carolina hit the front page, my brilliant wife said something profound (as she is wont to do). She said, “As the mother of a daughter, I only have two things to worry about, BOYS and MEN.” There are no cases of transgender people attacking children in restrooms. There are endless cases of BOYS and MEN attacking girls and women in every conceivable location, including on a subway during morning rush hour in the nation’s capital. How we raise our BOYS has a lot to do with the hell that girls and women face on a daily basis.

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The reason people are opposed to transgender people using their restrooms is partially a product of transphobia but it’s also due to the fear that MEN, costumed in drag, will somehow abuse the bathroom right and assault girls and women. So trans people are punished for what MEN do. Frankly, I think much homophobia, in general, is rooted in this threat by MEN. Homophobic MEN are afraid gay men will treat straight MEN the same way straight MEN treat women; by sexualizing them, objectifying them, hitting on them, and raping them. I try to tell MEN that if a gay guy is looking at your ass, you’re safe. Just take it as a compliment. Those guys have high standards!

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Even before Cozy was born, MEN started telling me that I needed to get a baseball bat (or a gun) and be ready to beat down any BOY or MAN who harms my daughter. “If somebody lays an unwanted hand on my girl, I’ll kill him!” I’ve never heard a single father of a BOY say, “If my son lays an unwanted hand on a girl, I’ll kill him!” It’s up to the girls to not get raped. We train them for defense at an early age. When will we train BOYS not to do the raping and the assaulting and the harassing and the objectifying?

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There’s plenty of work being done to teach girls and women how not to become rape victims. Maybe she can take a class and learn a few good self-defense moves (“Go for his eyes!”) and her potential rapist will just go rape somebody else who didn’t take the class. There’s not much training of how BOYS and MEN can fight rape. But there’s plenty of training that helps BOYS and MEN to at least think about raping. It’s called our culture.

When I was a senior in high school I got called into the office. I routinely wore shorts to school to defy the unwritten dress code. One day the intercom in my Folk Guitar class squawked, “Will you send Mr. Blazak to the vice principal’s office?” When I asked why wearing shorts was forbidden, the very southern VP said, “Because legs are distracting.” I had to laugh at the thought of my sixteen-year-old BOY legs distracting anybody. But I asked, “What about the cheerleaders in their short skirts on Fridays? That’s not distracting?” The VP gave a chuckle and lowered his voice to say, “Okay, MAN to MAN, are you saying you don’t want to see their legs?”

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Right there is the mixed messages we give to girls. On one side, they have a narrow scope of expression or they risk slut-shaming (“Not wearing a bra? You’re suspended!) or being told they are asking to be raped. On the other side, they need to put as much energy into attracting MALES as possible and if their grades suffer, that’s just too bad. (“BOYS don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”) No wonder teenage girls get all emo. You have to look good to BOYS but not so good you “get yourself” raped.

Feminists are all too familiar with the concept of “rape culture.” It’s the normalization of rape in our society. The data is clear, nearly a quarter of all American women will become victims of rape. That’s a quarter of our daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, co-workers, and students. If I’ve got a hundred students in my class and half are female, at least a dozen are or will become rape victims. If you reading this and you’re female that’s not news to you. If you’re MALE, you might have done the raping or want to. Or just maybe you want to stop your fellow BOYS and MEN from raping. What BOYS and MEN fear the most about going to prison is what girls and women fear every day.

If you don’t believe rape is normalized, just watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones, a series that must be written by teenage rapist wannabes. “Rape as entertainment” is justified on that show because some of those rapists get their heads hacked off. Yeah! A survey last year found that 1 in 3 college MALES would rape women if they could get a way with it. Think about that. That’s rape culture. I’d like to give that survey to the MALES who watch Game of Thrones. I bet it’s a lot more than 1 in 3.

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A few years ago, I went the big Bi-Mart Country Fest in a giant field near Corvallis, Oregon. (Hey, I’m from Georgia and a good country song about beer can take ahold of my soul.) There was a young MAN in the crowd that had a T-shirt that read, “Let’s play a game. Let’s see how many drinks it takes before you fuck me.” I swear to God. This was a big GUY but I said, “Nice rapist shirt, dude.” He puffed up and said, “I’m not a rapist. I have a girlfriend!” His date looked like a scared rabbit.

You add the sexual violence that BOYS and MEN wage against girls and women to all the crime BOYS and MEN commit (Another school shooting yesterday?) and you wonder why presidential candidates aren’t spending more time talking about the threat by BOYS and MEN in this country and less about (the BOYS and MEN in) ISIS. I used to assign a book in my Criminology class called Men Are Not Cost Effective. Author June Stephenson makes the case that the bad behavior by MALES is so costly to our society (police, prisons, storage space for rape kits, etc.) that MEN should be taxed to help pay for their shit. Why should females pay taxes that go to arrest, prosecute, and lock up the BOYS and MEN who rape them? Maybe the MEN who didn’t stop them should pay. And just think what we could do with the trillions of dollars we have to spend dealing with the mayhem of BOYS and MEN? (Google “Iraq War”)

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I’m going to raise my daughter to be strong and understand the real threats of living in a patriarchal society. But I’m begging you to raise your sons to not rape her. It seems like a simple request.

Note: June 7. I want to dedicated this to Brock Turner’s father, the worst father in America and a representative of everything that is wrong with affluent maleness.

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.