Traditional masculinity is still prevalent on many college campuses, and sustains environments tolerant of rape and violence.
Last week, a series of explicit e-mail conversations between members of a “secret fraternity” were leaked to students and, consequently, the press. Members of Epsilon Iota at American University used their Listserv of all things to joke about rape, talk about sexual harassment and promote underage drinking.
To ensure you understand how incredibly repulsive the conversations are, I pulled a few word-for-word examples from the screenshotted e-mails:
Sam Stern writes, “Someone needs to stuff a dick in that [name redacted] girl’s mouth with the quickness.”
Milain Fayulu explains why he hit a girl: “She assaulted us repeatedly, alongside with calling the entire brotherhood a rape gang and worthless pieces of shit after what she eventually got slapped back, very softly, slipped and fell in the bushes … I think if my goal was to beat her, first of all she would have been in the hospital.”
Daniel Bellows attempts to clarify why it is important to get girls drunk. He writes, “Get the bitches in the right state of intoxication so that plows will be raining all over the place.”
Lastly, Philemon Dawit writes, “She has a friend who got raped at our house? I would like to meet this lying c*nt and show her how African men treat their woman.”
Though extreme, these e-mails are an example of what traditional masculinity looks like in a college setting. The brothers of this secret fraternity encourage each other to view women as commodities, to get them as drunk as possible, to shove them around and put them in their place. When a man does so, he gains the respect of his brothers. This is something the majority of men are socialized to pursue.
But there is a fine line between being a man and being one of the jerks quoted above. Traditional masculinity, or as sociologist R.W. Connell calls it, hegemonic masculinity, guarantees the dominant position of men and the subordination of women. Stern, Fayulu, Bellows and Dawit are the clearest examples of hegemonic masculinity I have ever seen. Belittling women, endorsing rape and violence and scheming ways to get girls the drunkest in order to get laid – I can’t imagine encountering these kinds of human beings.
Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies Dr. Fauzia Ahmed said, “Such emails are a symptom of a deeper malaise: a hegemonic masculinity that is supported by patriarchal ideology and structure. We need to think of ways in which this masculinity can be transformed.”
You see, the thing about hegemonic masculinity is that it relies on something referred to as “emphasized femininity” to exist. It relies on the compliance and subordination of women who accommodate to the interests and desires of men.
Even in 2014, there are a lot of women who represent emphasized femininity. For example, a University of Maryland student writes an intense e-mail to her sorority sisters that reads at one point, “Newsflash you stupid cocks: FRATS DON’T LIKE BORING SORORITIES. Oh wait, DOUBLE F*CKING NEWSFLASH: SIGMA NU IS NOT GOING TO WANT TO HANG OUT WITH US IF WE F*CKING SUCK.” The young woman who wrote this e-mail encourages her sisters to make their “match up” fraternity, Sigma Nu, happy by doing whatever they possibly can to please them.
The two e-mails I included in this commentary, though extreme, are clear-cut examples of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity; they put on display the often-toxic social dynamic between men and women that enables things like rape, violence and dangerous drinking habits.
The only way traditional masculinity will disappear is if progressive-thinking men can encourage their friends to stop treating women as commodities. Dr. Ahmen said, “There are many men who do not conform to this type of masculinity. It is time for them to speak out as well.”
At AU, many students spoke out. Students started a petition to have those young men expelled from school. The petition received 500 signatures, both men and women, within the first 24 hours. Choosing not to be a bystander is so important in cases like this.
Miami University junior Derek Hessler said, “I definitely do not believe that these types of behaviors and beliefs are true among all men, considering I am one and I don’t think this way.” He adds, “Hearing about what was happening at American University was horrible, but what made it even harder to handle was reading texts and emails from these guys actually saying these things – it made it so real.”
In both the AU and Maryland examples, there was a lack of respect all around. Men need to respect women. Women need to respect women. And men need to respect men by encouraging each other to treat women like equal human beings. Shifting away from traditional masculinity and femininity will create a safer, healthier environment for young women in college.