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Fraternity gang rape Constructing masculinity on American college campuses in the 1980s.

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Presentation on theme: "Fraternity gang rape Constructing masculinity on American college campuses in the 1980s."— Presentation transcript:

1 Fraternity gang rape Constructing masculinity on American college campuses in the 1980s

2 Introduction: Sanday investigated to an alleged case of gang rape in a fraternity on her campus. While this incident was shocking, she found that it was not that uncommon: –there had been 75 incidents reported across American campuses in –Many frat members bragged that ‘pulling train’ happened several times a month at frat parties on her campus. Her investigation led her to examine the cultural values, ethos, and rituals surrounding fraternity houses and their initiation rituals. Her ethnography represents an ethnography of campus culture and sexuality in the early 1980s US. Her focus is on discourse analysis: i.e. an examination of the way that power, ritual, and symbols influence and channel sexual expression.

3 The Incident of Gang Rape Laurel, a young woman with drug and alcohol abuse problems, reported that she had been gang raped by at least 6 young men at an XYZ fraternity party. She reported that she tried to leave the room, but the fraternity brothers would not let her, spun her around, and forced her to have sex. She also reported being in a semi-conscious state for most of the time and was known to be very drunk at numerous parties. Had also taken several ‘hits’ of LSD. The fraternity brothers admitted that Laurel had had sex with multiple men at the party, but denied that it was rape, since they saw her as not only consenting to, but initiating sex. They also argued that Laurel had put herself in a position to be used, since she was unable to control her alcohol intake, i.e.’ she asked for it.’ Blaming the victim naturalizes the event, masking the coercive nature of a group of males in a locked room with one woman.

4 The Campus Response Campus newspaper published stories of the incident and Laurel’s complaint. Local district attorney thought that rape had occurred, but it would be difficult to prove. –By law, rape is defined as such if sex occurs without a woman’s consent. –Her previous or current sexual behaviour is not to be an issue. –Lack of consent means not only using physical force, but also occurs if the victim is in such a state that they are unable to consent, e.g. semi-conscious, mentally ill, etc. A group of faculty supported Laurel when the administration failed to take strong action.

5 University administration: 2 stage inquiry: –First inquiry: University did not have to prove that rape occurred, only that the fraternity members did not behave in a ‘mature and responsible manner in which the rights of individuals were respected.’ –Concluded that serial sexual intercourse had occurred, avoided labeling it as rape. –Led to a secret, negotiated settlement involving mild punishments. –Faculty inquiry followed, charging that the administration had not treated Laurel in an acceptable manner. –Brothers countered with a law suit against the university, leading to a second inquiry. –This inquiry found that unacceptable behaviour had occurred at the party, but the sanctions were again very mild; with the fraternity being shut down for six months. –Subsequently, however, lawsuits on other American campuses led to stricter punishment for fraternities in the late 1980s.

6 Constructing Masculinity as Sexual Power and Sexual Hierarchy Masculine bonding in fraternities was based on the denigration of anything feminine. This is shown in the language related to sexual conquests –Riffing, working a yes out. –The participation of multiple men in sexual encounters, Not only in ‘pulling train’, but in men watching other frat brothers having sex –The terms used for various ‘classes’ of women who come to the frat house: Girlfriends (highest), regulars and bimbos –The terms used for women that frat members have ‘sexually conquered’: gashes, horsebags, heifers, scum, scum bags, queens, swanks, scum buckets, scum doggies, wenches, life support systems, breasts, bitches, swatches and cracks

7 Constructing masculinity as fraternal bonding Male bonding in fraternities was also based on psychologically expelling the feminine aspect of male identities: –through trust in the brotherhood. –Through stressing the separation between the brotherhood and families of origin. –Through stressing the difference between ‘the brotherhood’ and ordinary norms and values of the campus. –Brothers were encouraged to be rowdy, aggressive and rebellious towards authority, but… –Subservient to the ethos of the fraternity. –Perhaps the most important socialization into fraternity culture was through initiation rituals.

8 Fraternity Initiation Rituals Death of an old state; rebirth into a new one. Follows 3 phases: Separation, liminality and incorporation. Separation: pledges are abused and told that they are ‘mommy’s boys, pampered, not a man among you, pussies, girls, etc.’ –Multiple forms of abuse follow: the pledges are told to undress, their genitals are insulted by the brothers, in one case ben-gay was applied to the pledges’ testicles. Or they are sprayed with water and feces, throw up and are made to lie in their own vomit, then to clean it up. Or they are given a drink with hydrogen pyroxide that make them vomit. Or they are sent on a wild goose phone number chase until they are exhausted. Or some combination of the above. The goal is disorientation and death of the old self, the one dependent on mothers. –Liminality: In one case, the pledges are led to the basement, made to lie in coffins which are closed for 30 minutes. Following this, they are required to undergo ‘trust rituals’, e.g. falling down stairs to be caught by the brothers, have a noose put around them blindfold whose knots have been untied. Here the values of the fraternity are repeated over and over, along with the superiority of the brothers. Theme: only the fraternity gives the brothers strength, their individuality doesn’t matter. –Incorporation: Pledges are dressed in special attire, e.g. white robes and are told that they now belong to the fraternity, warned against revealing initiation secrets, told that their strength comes only from the group, must be 100% loyal, etc.

9 Conclusions: Fraternity initiation rituals, parties, and culture involve strong forms of resocialization, amounting to disorientation. Disorientation is based on a resocialization into unequal gender relations and hierarchies. –Involves a devaluation of the feminine: both of other women, ones own mother, and the dependence of the young man on his mother and family. –It also involves a subordination of the individual to the group’s identity through pledges of secrecy and bonding. –Strong us/them orientation involving a rejection of external authority and values. –Cultural events involve watching violent pornography, rating ‘girls’ on campus, partying with strong alcohol, getting drunk, etc. –Sanday: this produces a rape-prone environment, one based on an ideology of male sexual conquest and female fear and passivity.


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