In my Africana Studies class, we talk a lot about perspective: how things that seem acceptable or normal to a society at a given point in history can often seem incomprehensible to that same society several generations later. Oftentimes, the professor asks us to think about things that we take for granted about our own way of life, things that we do without ever really stopping to consider why we do them in the first place. She asks us to think about the fact that these might be the very things that, 50 or 100 years from now, people will learn about in their classes or hear about in stories and say, “Wow. How was that still going on in 2017?”
There are many things still happening in 2017 that are incomprehensible and unbelievable and, when looked at closely, insidious. And one of the most glaring instances that I see on our campus is what I call the standard fraternity party. While this may not happen at all frats, the standard fraternity party goes something like this:
You approach a frat house that has people milling about outside, often clamoring about to get in. Some guy you might vaguely recognize from your freshman seminar stands in front of the door and surveys you. He’ll let you in if you’re with a group that meets the required ratio: three girls to every guy; or if you’re what he deems “a really hot chick”; or if you happen to be on the guest list; or if you can recite the names of some members of the fraternity. You have to, of course, prove that you’re worthy to enter.
When you actually get inside, you can barely see anything because all the lights are turned off. People are dancing and groping each other and smoking and spilling alcohol all over each other and the floor. A couple of frat brothers are mixing and disseminating alcohol from behind a bar. Hopefully they know what they’re doing — well, maybe not. After all, it is called jungle juice.
I’m going to be radical — I’m going to put my social status on the line — and say that fraternity parties are both covertly and overtly sexist. And what’s even worse is that this sexism has become so normalized that we don’t even think about it anymore. You want me to be part of a ratio? Oh, sure, whatever you say! You want me to come dressed up as a Playboy Bunny or a VictoriOZ’s Secret model? Wow, what an inventive theme! But why not — I’m just so honored to be invited to your party.
The fraternities have no incentive to get rid of their sexism because people keep going to their parties. The fraternities have no reason to recognize their parties are sexist because people keep going to them. The only way to make them think twice is, simply, to stop going. Because if you continue to go — even if your only intention is to kick back and have fun — you are inherently acquiescing and contributing to the perpetuation of a system of sexism. And it shouldn't have to be that way.
My grandmother began college at the University of Arizona in 1960. She, and all other women at the U of A, were prohibited from leaving their dorms past 10 p.m. When I asked her if male students had a curfew, she looked surprised and said no. “The point was to keep the women safe,” she explained.
If that makes you cringe, don’t worry. We’ve moved past that. We’ve progressed.
My grandmother and my mother were both in sororities in college, and this is how their sororities interacted with the fraternities. The fraternities hosted the parties. The fraternities controlled the alcohol and the atmosphere and the space. They controlled who entered and sometimes who exited their parties. And all the women could really say was, “Well, at least our dues don’t go to alcohol. And at least our houses don’t get trashed.”
Isn’t that what we’re still saying, in 2017?
Are frat parties really so fun that it’s worth having that guy in your freshman seminar refer to you as a part of a ratio every Friday night? So fun that you look past the lyrics of “Or Nah” when they blast it on the dance floor? So fun that maybe it’s worth it to keep going to OZ parties, even after that one email they sent? These parties must be so fun that it’s not even worth it trying to throw your own party — or attempting to redefine what a fun party even is — because their parties are so fun that no one would ever dream of coming to yours!
Why make a big fuss over wanting to change things, when things work so well the way they are now?
If we never protest the ratio, if we never think about the implications of the fraternities controlling all the party variables — physical space, alcohol and the people present — if we keep going to frat parties as they are, things will never change. If we don’t stop going, if we don’t take a moment to think about what’s really happening when we present ourselves for inspection at the door of a frat house (because that’s what it is: inspection), our daughters will be doing the same thing 30 years from now and our sons will be standing on the front porch of the house, arbiters of it all.
EMILY HOEVEN is a College senior from Fremont, Calif., studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Growing Pains” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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