Informal Activism and Friendships

Hello, potential new readers, coming over from the 91st Carnival Against Sexual Violence! I’m writing this series of entries to help other people see a story of awareness raising against sexual violence, so that they may have something to emulate when they want to raise awareness too. I hope you stick around!

What happened in the stairwell at the Fraternity House was sexual harassment. What happened on Facebook was also sexual harassment. Using the formal structures of the fraternity yielded me no comment, no awareness, no justice. So I prepared to take matters into my own hands.

Over the previous three years of association with the Fraternity, I had built up a lot of social capital. I had learned names, I had spent weekends in the house, I learned board games and danced with brothers at semi-formals. I had gained a reputation for being a feminist, for not putting up with shit, for challenging people in their complacency. But I did not have a reputation for being an angry feminist, which I felt spoke to the respect that these young men (my peers, really) have for me.

So I decided to put that social capital to work. With Tim’s help and support I formulated a four point argument as to why what happened was sexual harassment, and why it was bad for the fraternity. I picked out three Fraternity Gentlemen who were particular friends/strong acquaintances of mine, and Tim picked out the ring-leader of the harassment, and we decided to attend the the LAN party.

The Argument:

1) Women are scared of rape. We carry our keys out when we walk to our cars at night, so they can be used as weapons, we don’t set our drinks down in any public event in case we are drugged. We may seem irrational in our fear, but society says that if we don’t follow every single rule and we are raped? It is our fault. Society says that men are not in control of their sexual desires, and that women must be in control of a man’s sexual desires… by never putting themselves in a vulnerable position. Which, by the way, is nearly impossible.

2) What happened in the stairwell was a giant farce which glorified rape. Not knowing her name is dubious. Tricking her or otherwise persuading her with substances or other methods to have sex is rape. Having multiple people have sex with her is rape. By the way, the young woman in question may never know what was said about her, and I would rather that be the case. (She was at the LAN and I believe she was safe, as the guest of Christina, a Fraternity girlfriend.) Any sort of sexual advance that is not reached affirmatively (a lack of no is not a yes, and you always want Yes to mean YES!) is rape.

3) All of the women associated with the fraternity are recruited by the same system that recruits members into the fraternity. The Fraternity Girlfriends and Wives like to say that we are “stuck at step four” of the recruitment process. We’ve been made a friend, we’ve been introduced to other friends, we’ve been introduced to the fraternity, but we will never, ever be given a bid. Girlfriends and Wives need to be recruited just as much as as members, because some of us are life partners to the fraternity members, even if we’re never invited into the ritual. And as such, the house, needs to be safe for women as well.

4) The fraternity needs leaders to fight against a hostile environment for women. Otherwise, the hostile environment will continue, and will be detrimental to the fraternity in the long-run. The young men I talked to were asked to speak up whenever they heard someone speaking about rape in a manner which was considered humorous. [Note: As a guard against the argument of “But it is just black humor!”, I explained that black humor only works because we agree that the morality of murder, cancer, and dead babies is reprehensible. We are not at that point in our society with rape: too many times we say that a woman was “asking for it” or that “a good cock will fix her” or other such ways of justifying rape.]

In Two Sentences: If women did not feel safe in the Fraternity House, the Fraternity would lose members. And in order to make the space safe for women, sexual harassment (especially talk of rape) could not be tolerated.

Did it work?

John, Greg, and Jeff all took my short talk really well. All three were pretty interested in what I had to say, and because I am friendly with these gentlemen, they were more willing to listen to me — more so than if I had started complaining to the executive board of the fraternity, the alumni board of trustees, or perhaps even worst of all: the international headquarters. But I felt good about what I had done, because even if I hadn’t actually changed their behaviors for the long-term (that sort of behavior change would be magic), maybe they would think more carefully about what they said, and to be critical of what other people said.

John had an interesting proposal though. He said that I should teach a pledge orientation class. I took him up on the suggestion, and I’ll be writing about that next week.

This post is third in a series.

Combating Sexual Harassment in a Fraternity (as a female non-member):

In Which I Encounter the Rape Culture (Not for the First Time)
Failures of Formal Activism
Informal Activism and Friendships
Sexual Etiquette: A Lesson
On the Other Hand…

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5 thoughts on “Informal Activism and Friendships

  1. Hullo Katie!

    If you want, I have a very short bit of video from your “good sex/don’t rape people” talk. I can message it to you if you would like it. Looking forward to your next post.


    Chrissy

  2. Pingback: In which I encounter the rape culture (Not for the first time) « Practicing Empathy

  3. Pingback: Failures of Formal Activism « Practicing Empathy

  4. Pingback: Sexual Etiquette: A Lesson « Practicing Empathy

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