Two days after an OZ email for a “Wild Wednesday” party addressed to Penn women was flyered across campus with the captions “THIS IS WHAT RAPE CULTURE LOOKS LIKE” and “WE ARE WATCHING,” many of the physical papers have been taken down. But the discussion surrounding the protest is far from over.
There is no way to read the lines written in the poem as anything other than sexually aggressive. This email not only solidifies the normalization of misogynistic thinking across campus, but also targets the youngest female minds at Penn in order to establish and perpetuate an unspoken rule — that social life at Penn comes with a seriously disturbing tradeoff: Young women must objectify themselves if they are to be invited into an elitist world of campus partying.
This poem also speaks to the sadly worsening culture around sexual violence on Penn’s campus. These “Wild Wednesday” emails have been sent to freshmen girls for at least three years, but a look at the emails from similar accounts three years ago reveals that there were no explicit statements about sexual or behavioral expectations for female invitees. Rather, while OZ still targeted freshmen girls when sending email invitations to their “Wild Wednesday” parties, the email content did not contain derogatory language toward women. However, this year’s email was explicitly suggestive and perpetuates the notion that women must act in a certain way to be accepted into Penn’s social culture.
What does this say about the direction of our collective opinion regarding women’s place in social life at Penn? In a context of unfamiliar surroundings filled with new people and new norms, the freshman class should not be bombarded with any expectations about how they should act as a member of the Penn community. Whether it be an influence regarding the “necessary” or “correct” major, career path, friend group or social lifestyle, incoming students at Penn should not have to face any unwelcome pressure to conduct themselves in a certain way.
While this may be an off-campus fraternity or OZ-specific incident, it’s ironic that while Penn attempts to draw attention to the issue of sexual violence, the culture regarding it is worsening. The only way to foster cultural change is to stop dismissing seemingly “one-off” incidents as insignificant. We need to recognize the powerful consequences of allowing “small” incidents to build up, until they form unspoken and pervasive campus norms.
However, this is not a problem that can be solved by calling in the Penn administration. The administration has rightly called the email “offensive and ha[ving] no place at Penn,” as Director of Media Relations for the University Ron Ozio said. However, Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Life Monica Yant Kinney also pointed to a previous letter sent to undergraduate parents, explicitly calling off-campus fraternities unaffiliated with Penn. The fact that OZ is able to send these emails — and have sent similar emails in the past — is a cultural problem that students, not administrators, need to address. OZ and its fellow off-campus fraternities are off-campus by popular demand. They are unaffiliated organizations that exert a significant amount of social pressure — pressure that has been, in this instance, misused.
Misogyny, rape culture and other parts of off-campus fraternity cultures persist to some extent because we do not publicly address instances of them. Calling out behavior and drawing attention to actions that perpetuate rape culture is a step in the right direction. We cannot anticipate Penn stepping in. If we want change, we — the students — need to make it ourselves. To this extent, we applaud the actions of all those involved in the protest for spreading awareness throughout the Penn community and beyond.
However, the fact that many of the flyers were quickly taken down, most notably the ones across the bridge and the ones covering the LOVE statue, suggests that some would prefer to rapidly dismiss the callout. The action suggests that some would like to see the impact of the flyers lessened, which we find questionable.
Perhaps it is easier — and far more comfortable — to dismiss the email as a stupid mistake. An isolated incident that is unquestionably wrong, but isolated nonetheless. But nothing is created in a void, and the mindset expressed in the email already existed in people’s minds: the email only serves to make it tangible. The email’s tone was misogynistic and derogatory, but the cultural attitudes expressed within it did and continue to exist even without vocalization.
The Daily Pennsylvanian opinion board commends those who took action to disrupt the culture of making new students feel compelled to act in a predetermined way during their time at Penn. Especially when this pressure comes from a group of older males who do not understand the issue with trading party invitations for expectations of female promiscuity to benefit the drunken male gaze.
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