Jewish World Review May 13, 2004 / 22 Nissan 5764

Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy
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Do fraternities deserve their bad reputations?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | How much of what you believe is based on fact, and how much has been manufactured?

For decades, society has been undergoing a powerful campaign known as political correctness, which seeks to control the definition and presentation of concepts, including "marriage" and "the family." The purpose is to encourage allegedly proper ideas and behavior, by law if necessary, and to discourage improper ones.

A recent news story left me questioning how deeply the ideas in my own mind have been socially engineered.

The news item was on college fraternities — or "frat boys" — and their relationship to violence against women. The Frat Boy. He's the drunken party-animal who date rapes when he isn't playing childish pranks or hazing. He's the lowbrow, sports-sated rich kid who is rude to women and minorities. I know this ... even though the fraternity members I've met do not resemble that image.

How do I know this? I've imbibed that image through a flood of TV shows and movies. I know fraternity houses are part of the "rape culture" on campus because feminist studies, such as the much-cited 1996 "Fraternities and Collegiate Rape Culture," reveal that fact. But how much of the image is real, and how much is a caricature based on a rejection of the traditional male?

Scant decades ago, fraternities were among the most prestigious student organizations on campus. Many of today's respected leaders were fraternity brothers, and fraternities can point to a long history of raising funds for charities and of alumni money for universities.

Feminist awareness may have exposed a dark side to fraternities and a need for change. But it is difficult to divorce their critique from their more general attempt to redefine campus politics according to a new feminist vision. Such feminist visions, and their underlying research, are notorious for being politically driven and methodologically flawed.

The news story that sparked my speculation was forwarded by a male friend at the University of New Hampshire: The front-page story in UNH's student paper on April 30 revolved around that campus' recent Take Back the Night march. (Take Back the Night is an international event meant to unify "women, men, and children in an awareness of violence against women, children and families.")

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The focus of the article was feminist outrage at the participation in TBTN of fraternities and sororities, the latter of which are also targets of PC caricature. In essence, the Feminist Action League led a protest against the involvement of Greek organizations in UNH's TBTN, with members carrying banners addressed to the fraternities. Two of them read, "We Don't Negotiate With Terrorists" and "Feminists Against Frats."

The UNH conflict has a back story, including a three-year-old accusation of rape that was never filed as a charge, vandalization of the frat house, and a subsequent civil lawsuit that was settled out of court.

Perhaps this partially explains why FAL decried the presence of all men — and even of sorority women — at the TBTN march. Nevertheless, the presence of non-disruptive fraternities (and the news story reported no incidents) could have been viewed as a feminist victory, since they are the very men from whom feminists most strenuously demand an acknowledgement of sexual violence on campus.

It would not be an isolated victory. Many fraternities seem eager to reform their tarnished image. In February, for example, the Interfraternity Council at Penn State voted to designate all IFC fraternity houses as "rape-free" zones and require members to receive training about sexual assault.

The conflict at UHN may be extreme, but it reflects a tension that exists to some degree on most campuses across North America.

The root tension may not be resolvable. The Women's and Gender Studies Program at Kenyon College in Ohio states, "Male bonding in groups like fraternities that promote traditional views of masculinity furthers the risk of sexual violence."

How can the foregoing be resolved with the self-descriptions of many fraternities? The mission statement for members of Alpha Phi Alpha at Texas Lutheran University is typical: "... to prepare them [members] for the greatest usefulness in the causes of humanity, freedom and dignity of the individual; to encourage the highest and noblest form of manhood; and to aid down-trodden humanity in its efforts to achieve higher social, economic and intellectual status."

A possible explanation is that both images are true and no stereotype of a "frat boy" exists. Another explanation is that the frat boy controversy is part of an ongoing ideological war on campuses.

Former Dartmouth Review Editor Steven Menashi has written of the controversy, "even though fraternities have been around for two centuries, it's only recently that colleges have launched a concerted effort to destroy them. In the last decade, anti-Greek initiatives have emerged at Dartmouth, Bates, Trinity, Bowdoin, Hamilton, and Bucknell — to name only a few."

Menashi concludes that a main reason fraternities are under attack is that they "have become a sanctuary for campus heterodoxy." For example, fraternities tend to be critical of affirmative action and so-called diversity policies. Thus, "the war on fraternities isn't about ending drinking or bad behavior, it's about ending dissent."

Is Menashi correct? I don't know. But I am increasingly uncomfortable with the automatic snicker that accompanies the mention of "frat boys." And I wonder at the vicious image I carry in my mind of an entire category of people.

Where does it come from?

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JWR contributor Wendy McElroy is the editor of Ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada. Comment by clicking here.

Up

04/30/04: Facts or propaganda? Deconstructing advocacy
03/26/04: Reading between the numbers
03/11/04: When ‘mother’ is a bureaucracy
03/04/04: Do Gun Control Activists Pad Gun Death Statistics?
02/26/04: The Separation of School and State
01/21/04: A Man's (and Woman's) Home Is a Castle
12/17/04: The Conservative Cookie Rebellion
11/26/03: Zero Patience for Zero Tolerance
10/22/03: Killing the Good Samaritan
10/08/03: Collective western guilt burdens today's children
10/01/03: Families pay price for government spending
09/24/03: Do Poor Fathers Deserve Debtors' Prison?
08/29/03: Going to extremes
08/23/03: The Marriage Strike
07/30/03: University Students Deserve Human Rights
07/09/03: The PCspeak of Diversity
07/02/03: Rebuttable presumption of joint custody
06/18/03: A Conscientious Objector to the Gender War
06/04/03: Gender issues impacted by masculinists
05/28/03: The value of error
05/21/03: U.S. to Fund Gender Feminism in Africa?
05/14/03: Cut men: Do they not bleed?
05/07/03: Women with guns fight back
04/30/03: No oil for food
04/28/03: The Great Lie
04/16/03: War may redefine gun control
04/09/03: Why we must discuss a post-war U.S.
04/02/03: Leftist feminists using war as podium
03/26/03: Laying down 'the white woman's burden'
03/19/03: Iraq War may kill feminism as we know it
03/13/03: A woman to replace Saddam
02/19/03: Elder abuse demands family solutions
02/13/03: Iraqi women brutalized by Saddam
01/29/03: There ought not to be a law
01/22/03: Gambling with race and gender cards
01/02/03: The future of fatherhood
12/26/02: U.N. complicit in forced sterilizations
12/20/02: Compassion, kindness killed by fear, paranoia
12/11/02: Affirmative action insults immigrant contributions
12/04/02: Stand up for yourself
11/27/02: Feminist fighting: Aren't we all women?
11/20/02: Rights & responsibilities
11/14/02: Feminist "urban legends"
11/06/02: Equal access does not guarantee equal outcome
10/24/02: Battered Women's Syndrome: Science or sham?
10/17/02: I demand a civil society that respects the individual and acknowledges the existence of honest disagreement between human beings of good will
10/09/02: Abortion debate is about to be ratcheted up yet again
10/02/02: 'Restorative justice' offers battered women more options
09/25/02: Why is prez promising to embrace UN radical social engineering programs?
09/18/02: Dirty dealings kill men's panel
09/11/02: Taking back your power
09/05/02: Calm down, Hootie!
08/21/02: Will Congress empower a group of radical feminists to oversee money slated for Afghan women?
08/14/02: Empower the U.N. with power to sculpt American laws and institutions into the image of gender feminism!?
08/01/02: Practicing 'intellectual virtue'
07/24/02: All male, bad. All female, good: Your tax dollars at work
07/11/02: Put Up or Shut Up
07/03/02: NOW they've done it, again!
06/19/02: A dark cloud shades U.N. Women's Treaty
06/10/02: This Father's Day, send justice
05/31/02: When good women do nothing
05/28/02: Feminists claiming motherhood as liberal cause
05/20/02: Wounds in health care system are self-inflicted: Or, why "my son the lawyer" makes more sense
05/10/02: Are parents boycotting public schools?
05/03/02: Women can't be gun-shy about defense
04/25/02: The Bill of Intellectual Rights
04/19/02: World Bank or World Government?: The World Bank is blackmailing impoverished nations
04/12/02: Victims From Birth: Engineering Defects in Helpless Children Crosses the Line
04/05/02: The professor made me cry, now I will make him pay!
03/31/02: Doctors and teens --- parents be on guard
03/22/02: I was born, now I'm suing you!
03/15/02: The 21st Century is knocking at the barricaded door of feminism
03/08/02: Fun and games at the Ms mag Bulletin Board
03/01/02: Andrea Yates, NOW, and Feminist Jurisprudence
02/22/02: Lady, Your Slip is Showing
02/14/02: 'Abusing' Valentine's Day
02/11/02: Is NOW Pro-Choice or Pro-Abortion?
02/01/02: Are 'fathers' rights' a factor in male suicide?
01/25/02: Is the U.N. Running Brothels in Bosnia?
01/18/02: 'Freedom' at another's (moral) expense
01/11/02: Feminists hit Ground Zero with WTC funds grab
01/04/02: Males winning "diversity discrimination" cases is good?
12/21/01: Good will toward men
12/14/01: "Boss Tweed" feminism
12/07/01: Call me 'anti-woman'

© 2001, Wendy McElroy