Friday, October 15, 2010

Bro's Before Ho's and Fraternity Hazing Lows

"Spank him hard, but after each spanking make
 sure to caress his tender cheeks." Photo Credit.
By doing things like forcing your pledges/rooks to eat human shit or do an elephant walk you are basically saying, “Hey, by learning what your fellow bros’ shit tastes like you will be better bros,” and I have to say - I really respect that....Everytime I say, “I’m going to make your fucking life a living hell,” I still get a half-chub. Bros fucking love power. You know who else loves power? Slam pieces. By hazing the shit out of pledges/rooks in front of slam pieces, 9 times out of 10 they will go down on you immediately. The other time they will give it up doggy.  Bros Like This Site, July 23 2009.

Two days ago, residents of Oligarch University's historic quad, where all first year students are housed, were interrupted in their evening activities by a line of young men chanting. As the Oldest College Daily (OCD) reported,

At their pledge initiation....DKE members shouted phrases such as “No means yes, yes means anal” and “My name is Jack, I’m a necrophiliac, I f--- dead women.” Some of the students were blindfolded and being led in a line with their hands on each others’ shoulders.

Perhaps even more stunning than the fact that any young man thinks that declaring himself a rapist is a reasonable prerequisite for joining a campus organization, was a senior DKE brother claiming in Thursday's story that the pledges, and only the pledges, were responsible for this incident.  Saner heads prevailed, or someone from the national and/or the university administration called with a stern warning.  As of today, the president of DKE has apologized for the chants.

The good news is that the Oligarch Women's Center went into action almost immediately.  The bad news is that, with the exception of SAE which has had a steep learning curve on hazing and sexual violence since an incident in 2008, the other fraternities still don't have a grip on what is wrong here.  According to the OCD,

When William Bradley ’12, president of SAE, heard of the event Wednesday night, he contacted the Women’s Center and the Pi Beta Phi sorority to express his regrets about the incident and apologize on behalf of SAE.  But Bradley referred to the pledge’s chanting of “SAE” during their initiation as part of the good-natured rivalry between the two frats and “friendly banter.” President of Sigma Nu Matt Chesky ’12 said he thought despite the campus reaction, DKE did not intend to offend anyone.  James Berry ’12, president of SigEp, said he did not see the issues of sexism and sexual violence as limited to Greek life at Yale, but rather as a larger issue that is not talked about enough.  Harry McNamara ’11, president of Sigma Chi, and Bill Toth ’11, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, declined to comment on the incident.

Some confusion in the ranks, isn't there? Wouldn't want to screw up pledging by deferring to a bunch of feminazis and their pu$$y-whipped male counterparts.  OK, let's get to the takeaways.

First, all fraternity members are always responsible for anything that happens in any initiation ritual.  Always.  Any fraternity chapter that does not understand this should have its charter lifted immediately. A hallmark of hazing, and a reason why it is against the law many places, is that it is a lot like rape.  Hazing depends on inspiring fear and humiliation by making people do dangerous, physically intrusive things against their will.  Because of this, unless tightly controlled by sober people who understand the elements of physical safety involved and the limits of consent, hazing becomes more and more extreme depending on both the tolerance/fear of the pledges and the new normals that are set as the hazing process escalates.  This is true whether you are talking about scavenger hunts, forced drinking or pranks (check out this one, where an SAE pledge at the University of Kentucky was set on fire, or this one in which a Sig Ep at Florida Atlantic was kidnapped, bound with duct tape, verbally abused and forced to drink until he vomited repeatedly and passed out.)

Second, a strong women's center, staffed by professionals, is essential to any campus that cares about preventing sexual violence against women or men.  The quick response, and prior organizing efforts, of Oligarch's women's center was important to initiating a positive and firm institutional response to this incident rather than the de-centered rage and tension that can sometimes obscure the issues at stake around sexual violence.  What is more important is that the university can only punish the individuals involved.  But a community informed by institutionalized feminism can do the kind of consciousness raising necessary to address the fraternity's underlying assumption that sexual violence can be "just" a joke, or worse, is necessary to men creating intimate bonds with other men and therefore isn't anyone's business but theirs. In fact, it is the cloistered quality of frat hazing, and its homoerotic content, that makes initiation violence so dangerous to the campus community as well as to individual pledges.  Consider the following suggestion for effective hazing rituals over at Frat Beat:

Inserting objects into a Little Brother's rectum is a tradition that stems all the way back to Prostatus Engorgum and his Unity of Anal Fixation. Keys, whisks, squash racquet handles, boots, bottles, whatever. It may pain him, but it will teach an important lesson: sometimes life hurts. Indeed, the Little Brother might even cry while learning this. He might fight the handcuffs and bleed, but you can diffuse his misery quite easily. Masturbate afterwards and this will show him how proud you are. Upon completion of your self-pleasure, mark him as your territory and he will surely squeal with delight. The two of you have a bond that can never be broken. So crack a beer and hit the sororities, dude!

Other suggestions include nipple torture, urine play and group-humping a water melon.

Frat rituals that turn young men into "bitches" are so powerful because of the pre-existing assumption that women and gay men are already "bitches" to proper men.  Even when hazings do not simulate S/M sexual practices that should only be attempted by highly knowledgeable and consenting adults, fraternity initiations are always, in some degree, sexually abusive to men.  Hazing  temporarily makes men into "women" and "queers;" it then recuperates them back to proper masculinity from what the ritual itself has articulated as a despicable and lowly socio-sexual position.  Until college and university administrations address the role male eroticism and sexualized violence have in fraternity and team hazings, they will not be able to come to grips with sexual violence and homophobia on campus either.


Needlelover said...

Made a little joke about the English and spanking the other week, no? Seems pretty harmless by comparison...

(Good article - I wonder what the alumni think)

Catherine Pellegrino said...

This alum is appalled but not, sadly, surprised.

Flavia said...

[F]raternity initiations are always, in some degree, sexually abusive to men. Hazing temporarily makes men into "women" and "queers;" it then recuperates them back to proper masculinity from what the ritual itself has articulated as a despicable and lowly socio-sexual position. Until college and university administrations address the role male eroticism and sexualized violence have in fraternity and team hazings, they will not be able to come to grips with sexual violence and homophobia on campus either.

This is one of the smartest things I've heard said about hazing rituals. Thank you.

(And, like Catherine, I'm sorry to say I'm not surprised. And especially not that it was DKE, which always seemed to put a premium on the grossest forms of public humiliation.)

LouMac said...

I can't believe I've only just discovered this blog. I'm as excited as I was when they opened a dog park in my neighbourhood. I'll be hanging out at both places a lot.

I've been teaching in the US for over 10 years, but still have little insight into fraternity cultures (when I first arrived on a US campus and saw T-shirts saying things like "Go Greek", I thought they were people from ... Greece.) Thank you for this, especially your razor-sharp analysis of the gruesome dark-carnival function of homoerotic hazing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tenured Radical,

I love your blog and read every post for info, insight, and a little professional therapy as I work my way along a tenure track. I also dig your piece on Hoover. Plus, I live in OK, so thanks for your remarks on the unconscionable abortion bills passed here in the last few months. One of those bills, as you point out, amounts to state-mandated rape with an object (the internal ultrasound wand). Yes, the state assembly here has all the sensitivity toward sexual violence of a frat.

I worked for a fraternity's national HQ for a couple years in the 1990s, and then I taught English comp for years during grad school. It's comp where the students going through "hell week" often show up deliriously fatigued. So, the DKE story is not surprising to me, I regret. But I wonder if your source Frat Beat is actually a poor-taste parody site (no doubt only to be enjoyed by the same oblivious boys who sing rape carols while walking the campus)? It seems to be sponsored by a site called "Chickenhead" that publishes other gems such as "Baby Review," "Animal Defense Militia," and "Iron Hymen: Abstinence Only For Girls." I confess the whole collection is disorienting to me.

Anonymous said...

This post continues "anonymous" comment #5 -- I didn't realize there was a character limit per post. Sorry.

I bothered to follow the link to Frat Beat because the citation in your post about rectal penetration with objects and group humping a watermelon struck me as implausible. And not because I hold out any hope for fraternities. But I think the homoeroticism of fraternities is so informed by homophobia -- obvious to you and your readers, I realize -- that the hazing rituals always entail a thin veneer of plausible denial regarding their sexual subtext. In the heterosexist ethos of most fraternities the activities listed on Frat Beat cross a line that would make it too difficult to claim the hazing ritual is about demonstrating the right mettle to make a man and all that and not, contrary to appearances, young men getting a libidinal charge out of slightly younger men's subservience. So, paddling, however homoerotic, can be called a test of discipline. Strings tied to penises (with minimal direct touching) attached to bricks that are then thrown over a ledge only to hit the ground with slack in the string, well that's a test of trust. But anal penetration activities or group masturbation with the watermelon would mean that your various fraternity chapter spokespeople are keeping secrets of sexual activity and violence among members rather than participating in a softer manner of sexual intimidation that they don't know how to recognize as such. State Assembly men and women in OK don’t get it either; they think they’re saving souls when they vote to compel doctors to penetrate pregnant women. I don't mean to naively suggest that fraternity members are never raped by other fraternity members. I'm sure that happens, but not in the routine course of standard, criminal, homoerotic & homophobic initiation rituals. Those traditions are enabling for the unmistakable acts of sexual violence against members or guests for which the fraternities, through their official risk managers, can deny responsibility with claims that the incident was an exception and the perpetrator a bad actor unrepresentative of their organization’s values. Instructing the institution, then, is like talking to the US military from the outside. (Though if it weren’t for grim-faced Jeff Sessions and a few of his bros in the Senate things might start looking up in the armed services, maybe.)

So, in addition to suggesting (without certainty) that your Frat Beat source may not be a persuasive example of model fraternity behavior, I’m trying to echo your explanation of the importance of active, visible, and well-supported campus centers committed to gender issues. The pedagogical challenge of contending against the infrastructures of fraternities and sororities is daunting, especially since those Greek units fashion themselves co-curricular, living/learning institutions that temper or correct the eggheaded fancies of university instruction with practical knowledge. Touring about 100 fraternities in two years taught me that they’re damaging, immune to reform, and convinced that we in the Professoriate are the problem with their campuses.


s.e.s said...

Uh, those sites you mention/link to (Bros Like... and Frat Beat), are they real Greek sites or hoaxes? Sounds to me like they can't be real. Not that I don't believe that such things happen at fraternities with hazing practices (and the misogyny is a given), but there's something a bit clever about the way those sites serve as negative PR and satire.
I'm glad I went to a liberal arts college that doesn't allow or want for Greek life. But you could still trust the baseball and American football teams to have wild/misogynistic/homophobic events about once every year (and that's just the one we hear about, not the off-campus parties where you hear about someone getting beat up and someone else date-raped). I think any college administration that does not institute a Zero-tolerance policy (expelling and suing guilty parties; withdrawing institutional support for and publicly shaming the organisations involved) against such behaviour is entirely guilty of condoning and perpetuating this rubbish.
God, this makes me so angry.

flask said...

in 1984 i pledged a fraternity.

it was that fraternity's policy then (both officially and in practice) that hazing was unacceptable and that anyone good enough to be called "brother" after initiation was already good enough before the pledge period and as such not to be treated with anything other than respect.

sadly, this fraternity went belly-up last year on account of lack of pledges.

i can't figure it out.

Strelnikov said...

@ flask

In the pledge's mind the only fraternities that count are the ones that hurt to get in - the whole "rite of passage" nonsense.

Tenured Radical, hazing deaths like the ones you listed have happened before, at places like Harvard...Harper's Magazine listed a number of these incidents years ago in their "Readings" section; things like having students run around a track while dragging a granite tombstone or the guy who was covered in lampblack, then shocked (which then set the lampblack on fire, killing the student.) As long as there are frat initiations, people will be hurt.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

"Everytime I say, “I’m going to make your fucking life a living hell,” I still get a half-chub. Bros fucking love power."

And my mind jumped to the women this man will eventually date and/or marry. I can't even articulate the sadness this inspires in me.

(And if it's a joke, then I confess to having no idea why it's funny.)

Tenured Radical said...

You know, I wondered whether Frat Beat and Bros were fakes, and yet there doesn't seem to be a hint of irony in them: only relentless mysogyny and profound cruelty towards other men. Maybe they are hoaxes and frat guys think they are funny? Funny as the Conga line on Old Campus was supposed to be?

Similarly, I found a video posted on line that was supposedly a frat prank, in which a guy was tasked with picking up a girl, having sex with her, and filming it without her knowledge. Didn't link to it because it was so gross and awful. A joke? Maybe. But *not* funny.

And all of these possible hoaxes are extraordinarily similar to the stuff on line that you find that is very real, and you know it, as it is connected to lawsuits and frats getting closed down.

trixie dang said...

yup- what Flavia said.

it's not unexpected, but it is always a little jarring to see the way frat-jock heterosexism functions not by excluding or eliminating sexual deviance, but using it as something aggressive, humiliating and negative which, though clearly sexual, ostensibly isn't about sex.

and to echo Notorious, it strikes me as balls-out crazy to not suppose that this understanding filters through into other sexual relationships. you can't only pee in one side of the pool.

But maybe the most insidious bit of the whole enterprise has to do with the two DudeBro sites you linked to. I recognized them immediately as humor sites, just from the quotes... but that's only because i spent junior high and high school in the Boys' Locker Room.

Yes, those are jokes, yes, they're meant to be funny. but the punch line is that the people telling the jokes know, on some level, that they're walking a razor's edge between Manliness and Buggery. The humor is self-parodying because that's vital to the mechanism of homosocial/erotic bro-bonding. the self-parody points out that all this shit is actually hella gay, which means that, at any time, what had been an affirmation of Bro-therhood can abruptly, for any man involved, become incontrovertable evidence of faggotry.

so yes, it's misogynisitic and homophobic. brutally and pervasively so. but i don't think it's "patriarchal," or at least not in the hierarchical, different-rules-for-different-rungs-on-the-ladder way the word tends to imply. it's more like masculinity as written by Franz Kafka, where membership requires a pledge of obedience to a vast and opaque web of absolute laws with horrifying consequences, and the pledge is consummated by members ritualistically breaking those laws, and alternately experiencing and enacting the consequences.

Elise Springer said...

These are astute and disturbing observations about the way misogyny and homoerotically abusive hazing fit together. On a political level, this stuff needs to be opened up and confronted proactively. Otherwise such a festering culture of misogyny will continually leach out and undermine attempts to tackle sexism (and heterosexism) as if it were simply a matter of "bias".

Yet I also hanker for some reflection and investigation of what's going on here at a psychological level. Not that such an angle is TR's job. But...

What could *possibly* make this sort of abusive ritual *count* as a bonding experience? The notion that initiates are "earning" the privilege of treating others in the same way is not enough. Nor is hazing just about the appeal of "liminal experiences" as these play out in many other rites of passage.

What accounts for the specific appeal of such degradation rituals, if not for some kind of early humiliation that works its way into so many boys' psyches and their experience of bonding? In the long term, how can we, as a society, raise fewer and fewer men with a "haze me" trap door in their personalities?

(And from that angle, it doesn't matter much whether *some* of the online subculture is "merely" text, merely imagination and parody. Like any performance, abject masculinity is bound to come with, and thrive on, lots of drafts and out-takes.)

gravitysrainbow said...

While those sites may be fakes, this sort of anal rape definitely happens. As in this recent (15/1/10) article in Psychology Today:
The incident in New Mexico took place in 2008, and the students are charged with criminal sexual penetration and conspiracy to commit criminal sexual penetration with a broomstick.


Thanks for the post TR.

@Elise, I think this is pretty classic behaviour for re-socializing people. Think about army training. This account of a person becoming a Civilian Under Naval Training is highly recommended:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

What could *possibly* make this sort of abusive ritual *count* as a bonding experience? The notion that initiates are "earning" the privilege of treating others in the same way is not enough. Nor is hazing just about the appeal of "liminal experiences" as these play out in many other rites of passage.

The point of this stuff is to break down the pledge's cognitive and emotional integrity, and is why it also involves sensory overload/deprivation, such as sleep deprivation, blindfolding pledges, and forcing them to listen endlessly to repetitive loud music. Their cognitive and emotional integrity is intentionally shattered, and then it is restored as a gift from the fraternity brothers to the pledges, which renders all new brothers grateful and indebted to their elder peers.

It's exactly the same reason these tactics are used as military/police torture, and then the "good cop" comes along and "rescues" the victim.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, humiliation-as-bonding-experience traditions are not limited to men; hazing was an institutionalized tradition at the girls' high school I attended. It wasn't generally violent, but was considerably scaled back a year or two after I experienced it when a girl had Drano poured over her head, resulting in serious burns (waking boarding students up early in the morning to douse them with honey, pancake syrup, and similar substances had, until then, been considered acceptable). I was extremely uncomfortable with the tradition, both as a "new girl" and as a senior, and dealt mostly by using my day student status to sidestep the whole thing as much as possible (I did dress my own "new girl" up in a silly costume -- the least awful part of the tradition -- because I was afraid she would feel left out -- or be harassed -- if I didn't). Had I complained to the administration, I'm pretty sure I would have been told I was being a poor sport. But I just couldn't get my head around the idea that this was supposedly a "welcoming" ritual.

The atmosphere was also quite homophobic, but, to my knowledge, the hazing never took any explicitly sexual form. But I wouldn't be all that surprised to learn that, on occasion, it had.

I'd love to know how the tradition arose. My guess is that it was an instance of the girls' school trying to be just as good as its male counterparts (something the place, usually deservedly, prides itself on), and girls copying what they had heard about from their brothers at male prep schools. But I'm not sure; I just know it existed, and was a common experience apparently embraced by most of the girls in my class. Whether it has disappeared entirely, I don't know.

Tenured Radical said...

Ditto on that one -- hazing, while illegal at Zenith, occurs on numerous teams, many of them women's teams. A few years back, the seniors on one team topped off their ritual (which was largely centered on getting new team members fall-down drunk) with the appearance of the Nutmeg state version of naked go-go boys. One girl thought she was about to be raped and started screaming hysterically; passer-by Zenith lads, believing they were intervening in a sexual assault, heroically broke down the door and charged into the room, assaulting the confused and naked go-go boys. A melee ensued, police were called, coach was furious, players were benched, etc. etc.

On the retelling, I am realizing how funny this sounds, and yet it wasn't to the girls who were being hazed, not at all.

Khonsu said...

omg finally someone addresses power dynamics that create homoerotica and rape ideologies simultaneously ! !!! anyboy have any good sources: reading or vids on this topic????? or it intrigues you as much as it does me lol email me

Anonymous said...

Radical indeed. You really managed to encapsulate hazing with those wonderful and unquestionably reliable sources.