What’s the matter with Greek life?

In what’s been a tumultuous start to the year for the Greek Life institution, a secret Penn State University fraternity Facebook page showed exposing pictures and messages of/from women who didn’t appear to have given any form of consent. Some of the women appear unconscious in the photos, yet some people remind us that the fraternity is the real victim here.

It is shameful to see the self-righteousness that has sprung from the wood-works in response to the alleged Penn State fraternity “scandal.” Here’s a quick reality check: everyone — from Bill Clinton to your grandfather to every Greek organization in the nation does the same old stuff, just as they have been for the entirety of human history. That’s where that lil’ old quip, don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house, comes from. And believe me, we all live in a glass house. Thus it is laughably pathetic to see the media spring on an occasional incident such as this, especially a media complicit in overturning the same sexual mores and moral standards that for millennia had at least to some extent curbed outright licentiousness. The fire of indignant, misplaced self-righteousness that looks to ruin people’s lives and unjustly ruin reputations is the abuse and violation that should be at the center of discussion, not the humorous, albeit possibly misguided, antics of a bunch of college kids.

He decided to build up a First Amendment straw-man by calling the page satirical. A real satirical page would be a blatant parody of the rape culture that’s coming more and more to our attention. It would be an over-the-top guide instructing women on how to protect themselves at a frat party. They’d take risque photos of blowup sex dolls with clever captions. That silliness provides for a quick chuckle, something to make the subject matter more palatable, but at the same time, it throws the issue in your face. The safety guide and photos highlight how normal and real these threats are to women and how absurd it is that a frat would have to publish a guide that helps women avoid their aggression. The sex dolls also represent the objectification of women because the women on the real Facebook page were no more than that, sexual objects. Self-deprecating parody would have been a great way to help shine a light on this issue. That humor works because there’s so much truth to it, but this frat bypassed the whole parody concept and jumped straight to actually perpetrating the actions themselves.

Society tells women they can do anything, like go to college for an education and get a job, yet at every corner lies a trap. Instead of supporters and institutions pulling them out of these traps, they blame her for not being more careful. “You can’t blame men for acting on urges, especially in provocative situations involving booze and scant clothing,” and nothing about that seems wrong to far too many people. It’s like blaming a theft victim for not zipping his pockets better and not having his guard up so he could fight for himself, and then society turns on him for seemingly no reason.

Every time a frat gets in trouble, the police and university come out and act like they’re doing the right thing, but they never seem to get to the core of the problem. You can suspend a frat, but that bandages up one of many wounds. We know these institutions sometimes blame the victim or under-report crimes because those statistics hurt prospective student recruitment. The fraternity isn’t at all sorry and already flipping the narrative to make them appear victimized. What gives them the right to decide what disgusting and emotionally scarring actions are and aren’t allowed by a frat, committed without any consent and in secrecy? This isn’t looking through sexy photo albums and talking about other women amongst men; anyone trying to normalize this behavior is clearly the one with no regard for anyone but himself and his misguided brothers.

Not all Greek Life is bad of course, but these problems happen too often, and it happens systematically on institutional levels. It’s obviously a ridiculous claim that the page was satirical, but the idea of feminism is even more so. This problem shouldn’t be a feminist issue because it’s not normal to be subjected to such malice, and that’s the sad main point of feminism and civil rights. Women don’t have the same privileges as this fraternity, so having to be on guard during every waking moment they’re on a college campus, or just about anywhere else, is normal for them. It’s normal that this frat would sue for damages and reinstatement, and nobody would stop and acknowledge how we can live in a country built on the tenants of freedom and equality, yet even at our highest academic institutions, we hold our men to the same standards of less progressive countries while normalizing the fact that women sometimes have to live in fear in places they should be most comfortable; that’s why feminism and civil rights exist.

There’s no excuse these frats can make, but it starts at the top. It doesn’t help when the G.O.P. holds up equality bills or when politicians find themselves in their own sexual harassment lawsuits. There are real consequences to these actions, actual lives and families forever scarred so unjustly, just like there need to be real consequences for posting those non-consensual photos. It may be easy for the frat to focus on the photos’ sexuality, but it’s far too easy for them to ignore the destructive aspects they don’t see because nobody’s properly held accountable for something as obvious as one plus one equals two, or that treating women as anything other than equals is wrong. Maybe they’ll have plenty of time to let that lesson soak in as they’re objectified by their prison inmates.

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  1. Dale

    Fabulous article. Thanks for highlighting how absurd some of the rhetoric is that comes out of the mouths of these people. Maybe a quick lesson on the definition of satirical is in order

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