Fraternities receive a significant amount of flack from those who claim that its culture breeds negative attitudes towards academics, partying, and — most unfavorably — women.
During the last several weeks, I’ve had conversations with friends and classmates —male and female — who are frustrated with what they call “frat culture,” its implications, and how it affects sociocultural standards in college. Most of all, they worry that “frat culture” encourages its subscribers to think of and treat women in unhealthy and even toxic ways.
Take, for example, the website Total Frat Move, which published an article called “50 Ways to be the Perfect College Girlfriend” earlier this year. It lists a series of big-and-bold suggestions under a picture of four women clad in scanty, American flag bikinis. These tips include gems like “before you do anything, ask yourself ‘would a psychopath do this?’” and “there’s nothing less sexy than insecurity…except maybe love handles.”
Though I believe that this list was satirical, I think that publishing it was problematic. There are sadly some who would take its pointers to heart and treat potential girlfriends with about as much respect as they would an errant player who messed up their fantasy football line-ups.
There are also some that would believe that this list, as well as content on similar websites, is completely emblematic of what fraternities have to offer in college settings. The very fact that this list was published on a website called Total Frat Move — which markets itself as somewhat of a humorous how-to guide for the burgeoning frat boy — only serves to entrench this idea.
Though TFM aims for humor, this article (as well as others on and off the site) may unfortunately further the stereotype that fraternities produce young men who value women only slightly more than their left hands — a generation of Jimmy Tatros without the same sense of subtle irony.
I don’t think this is fair.
We can’t blame the fraternity institution as the sole (or even primary) reason that men interact negatively with women during college. When we scapegoat an institution like this, we ignore (and consequently fail to improve) the underlying sexism that we should hold responsible.
Contrary to popular belief, fraternities don’t churn out assholes — it’s just easy (and lazy) for us to believe that. We shouldn’t forget that frequently, fraternities can mold men who — under their tank tops and khaki shorts — have hearts of pure gold.
The prejudicial attitudes that govern relationships between college-aged men and women exist outside of the fraternity or Greek life structures. They will continue to exist unless we more precisely determine and eliminate their cause.
Moreover, we shouldn’t let the stereotypes found on websites like TFM — whose articles sometimes unintentionally toe the line between humor and misogyny — color our perception of organizations that often do have significant merit to them.
Instead, I think we should blame those who choose to act like their brain cells went down the toilet along with all the Everclear they threw up on requisite Sunday mornings. These folks exist in almost every student organization or college environment — Greek-centric or otherwise. We must hold individuals accountable rather than their organizations.
In fact, I have personally had significantly more negative experiences with men who don’t belong to fraternities than I have with those who do — interactions that have left me feeling devalued, disrespected, and worthless outside of my physicality or sexuality. I have known men in frats who have made my skin crawl, but I have also known men who are not in frats and who have done the same — if not worse. Additionally, my close friends who belong to fraternities are, for the most part, kind-hearted, gentlemanly, and respectful to women.
Though I know that this is only anecdotal, I think that claiming that the very act of belonging to an organization can make someone good or bad — respectful or chauvinistic, chivalrous or rude — or in any binary sense is shortsighted.
We need to remember it’s not the frat that makes the men but the men who make the frat.
For example, I recently went out to dinner with a few people I’d met while attending a leadership summit — all of whom were male, as it happened. I sat at the end of the table with a friend I’d made earlier that weekend, who was a brother in a Midwestern chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (four for you, AEPi…you go, AEPi).
The three other guys grouped themselves at the opposite end of the table. As they waited for the waitress to bring them their baskets of 30-cent wings (this discount was a very big deal and the primary reason we went to that particular restaurant), they started discussing the few female students at the summit.
“Yeah, dude, so that girl I was talking to the other day…I would totally hit that,” said one of the guys. “I think I’m going to ask her to come out with us tonight.”
“She was so hot, dude.” One of his friends nodded in agreement. He licked his lips — though, I’m not entirely sure to rid them of residual wing sauce. “Hit that, for sure.”
My friend — the AEPi in shining armor who was there to restore my faith in mankind — turned to me and muttered, “Don’t listen to them. They’re just a bunch of try-hards.”
Later, when he and I left the restaurant — heading towards Time Square rather than a miscellaneous bar with the rest of our dinner party — we laughed about how ridiculous that conversation was. The three other guys had used the word “dude” approximately 67 times while trying to determine their chances with each of the female students they’d identified as potential conquests.
After all, people who are assholes will act like assholes regardless of where we find them.