I haven’t blogged in quite a while because I’ve been busy, but also because I haven’t felt inspired to write anything.
Last night I got some inspiration.
This post will begin with a story about a red couch.
Take the time to read this Jezebel article from my school. Last May, I, like many other students at the College of William and Mary, saw this Jezebel article, and I snickered at how ridiculous it was. However, at that time, I was also the Chapter President of Alpha Chi Omega on my campus. Once upon a time (about four years ago) The Alpha Chi Omega house had a big red couch in its living room (lovingly known as “Big Red”). My Sophomore year, we got rid of Big Red, and replaced her with some cream colored furniture. She now lives in a nice house off campus, but I digress.
Last May, I received multiple phone calls from my chapter advisor and the Fraternity and Sorority advisor at William and Mary about how “bad this Jezebel article looked for Alpha Chi.” Bear in mind, Alpha Chi Omega was never mentioned in the message, and bear in mind that Jezebel never specified which sorority the email came from. These advisors told me that I needed to do some damage control and that this “was bad.” I was also told that we would get in trouble, even if they discovered that the letter came before my time because it presented a “negative representation of the sorority.”
Maybe I’m crazy, but the only thing that this article said was that women were having sex IN THEIR OWN HOMES (albeit in the shared areas of their own homes, but their own homes, nonetheless). The reactions that this letter elicited from our own chapter advisor and the Greek advisor at William and Mary were steeped in both a double standard and a double bind that women, Greek women, and college women face DAILY. They saw this article as problematic because it displayed that women have sex, which opposes socially normative constructions of femininity that necessitate that women be chaste and non sexual (or they run the risk of being sluts). Women are supposed to be sexy and not sexual. Moreover, women of the world and Greek women are held to a different standard than their male counterparts. Colleges knowingly police female drinking, partying, and sexual behavior through a strict enforcement of rules and guidelines–rules and guidelines that apply to BOTH fraternities AND sororities.
So what does this story have to do with anything?
Last night, an article surfaced on the website Total Sorority Move that contained an email sent over the William and Mary chapter of Sigma Chi’s list serv. This email was foul and dirty and objectified women in a way that makes me physically ill. This purpose of this blog post isn’t really to talk about the lewd and unacceptable nature of this email and this behavior. Many of my friends have shown distaste with the email and many of them also know why this kind of rhetoric and ideology is problematic (although some of them do not understand, and even have gone so far as to say that the content in the email was “just a joke” or “funny”). Rather, the purpose of MY blog post is to highlight rape culture and how it manifests itself in both egregious and seemingly harmless ways.
This email from a member of Sigma Chi is particularly egregious. It reduces women to their anatomy and chronicles them as sexual objects rather than people. The author sizes up women on campus that he sees as sexual conquests (“sluts” as he calls them) by starting at their feet and moving up. In doing this, he creates this myth of the faceless woman and, instead, categorizes women solely by their shoes and vaginas, never making his way up the rest of the body and therefore trivializing the female body as a whole.
This email IS rape culture. Rape culture is an ideology, a practice and a set of beliefs (conscious or subconscious beliefs) that works to trivialize and eroticize female sexuality and to normalize rape and violence against women. Violence against women ranges from physical violence, to emotional violence, to sexual violence, to rape, to objectification. This email is a clear example of how rape culture exists in our society and why it is so damaging– but so are my advisor’s responses to the Jezebel article.
How can this be? The policing of women’s bodies is a manifestation of rape culture. Slut shaming is a manifestation of rape culture. Framing female sexuality as deviant is a manifestation of rape culture. When my advisors, BOTH of whom are female, told me about the possible ramifications of the Jezebel article, they were reacting within a framework of rape culture. Emails from our administration about “staying safe” in the wake of a campus sexual assault are a manifestation of rape culture because they address and advise the survivors instead of addressing the perpetrators of rape and instead of stating that rape will NOT be tolerated on our campus. Our society places an emphasis on how not to be raped rather than on how not to rape. Our courtrooms normalize rape and aggression by hiding these atrocities behind a veil of consent and culpability regarding a survivor’s alcohol or drug consumption. Rape culture is “she was asking for it” because of her skirt, her shots, or her inability to say “yes.” Rape culture is everywhere, and perhaps more insidious than the egregious examples like the Sigma Chi email are the small examples that we are taught to view as normal and commonplace rather than outrageous.
I don’t think that all fraternity men are bad people. Quite the opposite, I know many men that are in fraternities who are GOOD people and who are appalled by behavior like this. But, I am floored by the people who don’t see this type of blatant atrocity as an issue. Additionally, I have heard cries of Greeks across campus about how “this doesn’t characterize Sigma Chi, and this behavior is not representative of Greek life as a whole.” We are only as strong as our weakest link, and right now, we are pretty damn weak (The Greek community, and the William and Mary community).
I read a post on Facebook this morning from a man, a Freshman, who summed up my thoughts and feelings perfectly:
“Yesterday’s events are just another horrid reminder that it’s easy to condemn those who disparage, but that those same voices also create a culture of enabling that allows those who do nothing or don’t even want to admit that there remains problems to fight in this country to get away with it as the media pays little to no attention.” (Venu Katta, https://www.facebook.com/VenuRKatta?fref=ts)
Let’s stop enabling. Let’s start “doing something.”