This column is part of the Up For Discussion on Greek life at Yale. View the other columns in the discussion here.
We’ve all seen movies and TV shows filled with “frat bros” making lewd jokes and objectifying beautiful women. That stereotype is prevalent not only in romantic comedies, but also in media coverage on sexual violence on college campuses. Searching for some way to explain terrifying sexual assault statistics, headlines citing rampant rates among men in fraternities suggest a compelling story: Sexist, chauvinistic, Neanderthal-esque men pump naïve female classmates full of watery beer and take advantage of them.
While hearing anyone call out sexism and misogyny makes my little feminist heart sing, I find focusing on Greek organizations alone unsatisfactory. Constructing a tank-wearing, beer-guzzling scapegoat in many ways detracts from the real problem.
Fraternity members often interact with women and the broader concepts of gender and sexuality in problematic ways. However, if we’re going to criticize sexism in fraternities, we need to take sexism in other groups seriously as well.
A general societal focus on that stereotype often shapes strategies for reducing rape and other forms of sexual violence. As a community, we’re more likely to acknowledge an experience as sexual assault if the alleged perpetrator is a fraternity brother. The same perception bias even extends to victims and the policing powers. Recognizing that, it is important to step back and ask why fraternities are often associated with sexual violence.
Misogyny, low impulse control, aggression and power are all factors that contribute to a person committing sexual assault. Fraternity membership is not inherently correlated with any of those traits. However, on many campuses, fraternities wield a great deal of social capital, which can give members opportunity for misconduct and protection from punishment.
Sexual violence prevention strategies need to focus on dismantling these power structures in order to build a campus that is not conducive to assault. Simply eliminating fraternities in many ways would be an easy path to take, but that strategy would be inadequate because it does not address the underlying forces.
Fraternities are far from the only organizations on campus that build a social climate conducive to sexual violence. If we narrowly focus our feminist fight on fraternities, we risk completely missing dangerous dynamics in other spheres.
Sexism and misogyny exist in all sorts of groups, regardless of members’ interests, gender, race or sexual orientation. Instead of asking whether to dismantle only Greek life, we should consider what other dangerous structures exist, and we should ask how our power systems or organizations contribute to this epidemic.
To really fight misogyny and sexism, we need to look at not just identities, but also behaviors.
Laura Goetz is a sophomore in Pierson College. She is an associate editor of Broad Recognition and a CCE. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .