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Can Fraternities Change? October 28, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, LGBT, racism.
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Fraternities have been in the news a lot recently, publicized for promoting sexist chants and racist parties. College and University campuses should be safe places for students, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, but some people feel frats inherently compromise campus safety. University of Victoria students recently upheld their campus ban on fraternities and sororities, with 63% of over 500 students voting against frats. Arguing against frats, organizer Jaraad Marani said they’re “counter productive to the university’s mandate and the University of Victoria Student Society’s mandate on creating inclusive and safe spaces.”

I went to school at UBC, which has fraternities and sororities. When a student club I belonged to wanted to hold an event in a frat house, I objected, arguing frat houses don’t constitute safe spaces for women. Historian Nicholas L. Syrett estimates that as many as 70 to 90 percent of reported campus rapes are committed by fraternity members. My argument didn’t get a lot of support in the club and I ended up sitting out the event, but the more I read the more I believe it’s no coincidence we’ve seen the following reports associated with frats (not even close to an exhaustive list):

1. In 1988 an 18-year-old freshman at Florida State University was gang-raped by three frat members who scrawled fraternity symbols on her thighs and left her unconscious in a hallway.

2. In 2001, an edition of Dartmouth’s Zeta Psi newsletter promised: “Next week: [Brother X’s] patented date raping techniques!”

3. In 2007 a Texas State University frat’s MLK party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day devolved into a celebration of racist stereotypes with “some fraternity members and others eating fried chicken, drinking malt liquor from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags and dressed in faux gang apparel.”

4. This September, two women reported being date raped in two weeks at a University of Minnesota frat house, with one 20-year-old woman being trapped in a bathroom by a male frat member. The following weekend a 19-year-old also reported being raped at a different U of M frat party.

5. Earlier this month Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon frat became infamous as videos went viral of frat members marching while chanting, “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!”

6. Two weeks ago a Harvard Sigma Chi “Conquistabros and Navajos” party drew criticism for romanticizing genocide of North American Aboriginal peoples, forcing an apology from the frat.

7. In March 2010 a 19-year-old University of Kentucky student was charged after wrapping a frat pledge in toilet paper and lighting him on fire.

8. The University of Alberta suspended one fraternity chapter this week after hazing allegations surfaced, with frat members accused of forcing pledges to eat their own vomit and confining them to plywood boxes.

9. This month the University of Kansas suspended a fraternity’s rights after allegations of hazing, including forcing pledges to wear women’s costumes such as “Fairy Godmother” in order to embarass them.

Fraternities have been plagued with these types of news stories because they tend to promote a vision of elitist hypermasculinity that has to be constantly proven through rituals that reinforce the exclusion of “others”, usually women, gay and trans men, and non-whites. Even though these are extreme cases, they’re just magnifications of the types of things that go on every day on North American campuses. I remember at UBC being told that one of the big Greek fundraisers for the year was a musical revue put on by the sororities and judged by the fraternities. “So we basically just fight to see who can come up with the sluttiest number,” a friend in one of the sororities told me.

At the University of Michigan, student groups complained about fraternity shirts picturing sperm racing toward an egg with the slogan “Only the Strong Survive” and banners with Playboy bunny logos on them. Syrett’s research also found homophobia ubiquitous in fraternity culture, despite a seemingly contradictory level of homoeroticism in many frat rituals.

But some people think fraternities can change to become safe and inclusive spaces. If society gains greater acceptance for racial, gender, and LGBT equality, will frats begin to mirror that acceptance? Amanda Hess has reported on frat boys at George Washington University taking steps to eliminate rituals associated with aggressive masculinity and eject members who spread homophobia and sexism.

I’m sure there are other fraternities attempting to take similar steps and I applaud them, but I’m skeptical about the possibility of meaningful change. Fraternities are, by nature, gender-segregated. To some extent, you can’t maintain that segregation without policing the masculinity of participants. Historically, fraternities have also been white organizations, and the continuing examples of racist frat parties shows fraternities are still having trouble shaking their legacy of racial exclusion. Why would they have any more luck with their gender issues?

-Jarrah

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Pitt Meadows Rape Prompts Victim-Blaming September 21, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism.
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4 comments

Last week’s alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl at a rave in Pitt Meadows and the subsequent posting of the photos on Facebook is absolutely sickening.  Police say the girl was allegedly drugged and raped, potnetially by multiple attackers, sustaining significant injuries. They said being drugged means there was no way she could’ve consented.

The first question that leaps to mind is how so many young people could be seemingly okay with re-victimizing the girl by spreading the pictures around the internet. It challenges your faith in humanity when a group of people does something so fundamentally wrong.

But even though the primary reaction to the spread of the photos has been shock and outrage, there are still those who’d like to use the event to blame rape victims and conscribe women’s behaviour.

On the amateur side, some local girls started the group Reasonable Doubt in Pitt Meadows, which at last check has just over 100 members.

The group says it’s about “Advocat[ing] for the process and for critical thinking and for truth and justice”, saying the case has been sensationalized and the accused men not treated fairly. To be fair, they do seem to agree that sharing the photos is wrong, but instead of critical thinking what you’ll find instead is a group officer suggesting both the guy and girl should be charged in order to ensure the law is applied equally, and another administrator who just does a whole lot of random victim blaming (the “…”s are hers):

she was with him after this allged rape… and completly fine partying im sorry but if i was raped i dont think i would be hanging out with the guy after…. totally sobers you up… if it was something horendes like that and a lie detector test would prove what actually happened in a she said he said situation…. im not saying it wasnt wrong to be getting with a girl that was drunk or high on something but he was drunk to where are his rights huh … she was the one that took him to the field….

and if your drunk too its still rape… even if she says its not rape and it was consentual… figure that one out guys have the short end of the stick… the only way to know what the truth is is to do lie detector tests on both of them

Note: when I’m looking for legal experts, I’m probably going to be looking for people who can punctuate a sentence and spell “consensual” and “alleged” correctly.

Then there was Jon Ferry’s column in the Province, which while it strongly indicted the attackers and those who distributed the photos and did not directly suggest the victim was complicit, nevertheless used the whole situation to lament what he sees the declining morals in our society due to the demise of organized religion.

Ferry writes, “Teen girls should be better educated about the perils of excessive partying. If they’re going to a rave, they should take steps to ensure their own safety, perhaps by bringing along reliable male protection. In more chivalrous days, brothers used to perform that function.” A Criminology professor interviewed on BC Almanac last Thursday similarly suggested the best step to take would be to ensure more adult chaperones at such parties.

The problem is rape is about power. It’s only reinforced by the idea that women are essentially men’s property. Saying that women need men around for protection only serves to further those attitudes and to imply that women who want to go out drinking are just asking to be assaulted. There’s practically no onus placed on parents to teach their sons to respect women and their bodies, or on men to change their attitudes towards women. The prevailing belief seems to be that boys will be boys.

Luckily there are those who are standing up and saying that nothing makes drugging and gang rape okay, including a Facebook group created to give people a place to express support for the 16-year-old girl in Pitt Meadows. It’s not about prematurely convicting anyone, but about saying that no one asks to be drugged and raped. The group has signed up almost 10,000 members in just a few days, which should at least go a little way to restoring one’s faith in humanity.

-Jarrah

Non-Violent Sexual Assaults? September 2, 2010

Posted by Jarrah H in Can-Con, feminism, Politics.
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8 comments

I’m pleased to bring you this guest post from blogger Kaitlin. Kaitlin is a queer feminist from Burnaby, BC. She holds a degree in Political Science, and blogs about anti-oppression, politics, and social justice. She can normally be found at Equality Kitten, but is honoured to be contributing this guest post today to one of her favourite blogs.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu

According to recently released statistics, overall crime in Vancouver is down 7.5 percent. Rates are down in all categories except sexual assault, which is up a staggering 21%. According to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, aggravated sexual assaults are up 600%, from a single reported case last year to seven this year. Overall, 303 sexual assaults have been reported in Vancouver so far this year, up from 246 in the same period last year.

At a press conference with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Jim Chu explained that many of the reported sexual assaults were gropings, or “non-violent sexual assaults.” This is what caught my eye – since when is groping not considered a form of violence? Unless consensual, groping is an attack on a person’s bodily integrity. As with other forms of sexual assault, groping can cause emotional and psychological harm to the victim. The possible impacts of non-consensual groping can be life-long, and should never be minimized.

It concerns me greatly that the magnitude of groping is being downplayed by the media. Sexual assault is never okay. Implying that groping is somehow less bad than rape contributes to the all too widespread impression that it is not a serious crime, that people who commit this form of sexual assault are somehow less culpable, or that victims aren’t seriously wounded by the experience. These kinds of sentiments just contribute to rape culture, and it horrifies me that the fact that gropings are so common in Vancouver is somehow being used to temper the announcement about sexual assault statistics.

Now, admittedly, it is possible that these sobering statistics do illustrate possible progress: there is a chance that reporting rates have increased. This would certainly be very good news, as it’s known that many women feel too ashamed to report sexual assaults to the police. However, I fear that reports like this, casting groping as non-violent, could serve to counteract any progress of this sort.

Jim Chu attributes the rise in sexual assaults partly to the growing popularity of Granville Street. However, he also admitted that incidents of groping were up across the city. While alcohol can, and does, contribute to sexual assaults, the true culprit is a culture that downplays sexual assault, as is happening right now. If we accept Chief Chu’s assertion that the majority of sexual assaults in Vancouver last year were non-violent, then we risk making groping okay. So, I’m going to call him out: there is no such thing as a non-violent sexual assault.

-Kaitlin