October 21, 2010

My Apologies For Not Finding The Humor In Chanting “No Means Yes”

Men from Yale University marched through campus chanting: "No means yes and yes means anal." Did they think this act of hazing was a good idea?

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If you haven’t heard yet, fraternity men from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States (Yale University, the alma mater of several past presidents) sent their pledges out to march through a main section of campus. They were chanting within hearing distance from the dormitories housing most of the freshmen females. Their chant: “No means Yes and Yes means Anal.” According to Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) president, Jordan Forney, this act was “a serious lapse in judgment,” a hazing ritual that was in poor taste, and a mistake. Although Forney indicated that DKE “doesn’t condone sexual violence,” I am left to wonder–what exactly do the men of DKE think their chant “No Means Yes and Yes Means Anal” implies if not a statement of support for sexual violence? I think this act is yet another example of how the contemporary college culture and today’s generation of young people refuse to take sexual assault seriously.

Sexual Assault among college students

And sexual assault is a serious issue. About one in four women will experience a sexual assault during their life time. And women are at an increased risk for sexual assault during the four to five years they spend in college. Maybe part of the reason that so many women get sexually assaulted during college has something to do with the general attitude college students have toward sexual assault and sexual violence? College students are constantly confronted with and promote misogynistic, sexist images and messages (For reference–think of any frat’s rush t-shirt which implies that casual sex with drunk women who are passed out is funny). Even universities seem to institutionally support sexism by endorsing the Intra-Fraternity Council (IFC) rules which hold one set of standards for male conduct and a different set of standards for female conduct (i.e. fraternities can host parties with alcohol while sororities cannot-see Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong’s article for reference).

I argued in one of my previous blogs, Can Women Ever Really Say Yes?, that a woman’s consent to sex is not taken seriously (i.e. we call her a slut). But, based on the men of Yale (and many others), clearly when a woman says no or yes, she is not taken seriously. Their chant not only trivializes the experiences of women who have been sexually assaulted (and really all women) but it also says that women are not to be taken seriously in their refusals of sex. My frustration also stems from the implied contempt for women demonstrated in the chant. In other words, it feels to me that these men are saying that women’s refusal to sex should be completely disregarded and in situations in which a woman actually does say yes, men should try to “stick it to her” in as demeaning a way as possible, as if women are not human beings that deserve respect. Instead, their chant implies that women should be seen as receptacles for sex. (For reference-refer to Snoop Dog’s Diary of Pimp lyric “Bend the b**** over, get the chip off her shoulder.”)

My apologies

If I come off angry-it’s because I am. And you should be too! In response to this act, (as well as other situations that have occurred over the years that are along similar threads) I have heard people say, “lighten up!” implying that the problem is with me and not with these types of comments. I have had people say that the chants (or other similar events and acts) are only jokes and should not be taken seriously. I am disturbed that people have told me to lighten up in response to situations where people make a mockery of consent and rape and imply that sexual assault is simply a joke, rather than spend energy telling men to shape up. I want to remind the people telling me to lighten up that sexual assault has numerous long term physical, mental, and sexual side effects. I want them to compare the few seconds they spend humoring themselves at someone else’s expense to the decades of pain and suffering that sexual assault survivors have felt. I have also been told to “lighten up” because, after all, the DKE men of Yale did apologize. In fact, in an apology issued by the brothers of DKE, the group stated that they “accept responsibility for what we did and want to sincerely apologize to the Yale community. We were wrong. We were disrespectful, vulgar and inappropriate.” And my response to that is…too little too late!

But it is all so familiar…

To me, the most unfortunate aspect of this entire event is not only that it occurred, but how common such behaviors are which trivialize and mock rape. Just last year, the Dakota Student ran an article called “One-Night Stand–the Method” in which the author, Josh Brorby, provides advice to men on how they can “get laid.” Brorby advises men to assess a woman’s condition by making sure “she’s good and buzzed” or “maybe a little unconscious” and then have sex with her when she is passed out. His advice for getting consent was to tell men just to say: “‘Let’s have sex,’ and if that doesn’t work, drop this bomb on her: ‘Hey I’m going to have sex with you now. If you’re a real dare devil just pull down your pants and get to it.” Similar types of commentary have also appeared on numerous online blogs and forums in which advice about forcing women into having sex (which really amounts to promoting rape) is joked about. Again, I was told that this article is another joke that I should find humorous rather than offensive. And I am outraged that people would even think that raping a woman could, under any context, be considered a laughing matter.

But it seems that human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to learn from modeling the behavior of others around us and the behavior of the Yale men seems all too familiar. The situation which occurred at Yale last week sounds a lot like Ben Roethlisberger who allegedly sexually assaulted at least two women and more recently Brett Favre who allegedly sexually harassed a woman half his age. Whether or not you believe the allegations brought against Roethlisberger or Favre, at the very least they engaged in sexist behavior unbecoming of a role-model for young boys. And they are not alone, there are countless examples of male athletes and celebrities who have sexually assaulted, publicly disrespected, or cheated on women, but then after the fact stated their apology and begged the world to forgive them and we did (think John Edwards, Chris Brown, Kolbe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Hugh Grant, etc.).

But they said they were sorry…

The interesting thing to me is that much like the boys from Yale, Roethlisberger (and Edwards, Brown, Bryant, Woods, Grant, etc.) said he was sorry. “Big” Ben was even docked a few games and a few million dollars as punishment for probably raping at least two women. And quickly, our attention and our focus as a culture has shifted away from what he did, which was probably a criminal act, to his apology, recovery and return to football. As a society, we are deeply concerned with his transition back into the world of football. In fact, last week, Big Ben’s return to football made the cover of a variety of news papers. But are we concerned with the health and well being of the victims? So why should we be so surprised when our young men think that chanting and joking about rape is perfectly fine? After all if they say they are sorry, (like they did) everything should be fine. And my concern is that, people often consider it to be “fine.” In fact, after their apology, five members of DKE had to meet with representatives from Yale’s Women’s Center, but there were certainly more than five men chanting and there were certainly more than five men involved in this incident. I am not sure what I think should happen to these young boys, but certainly issuing a statement of apology and having a select few brothers meet with the Women’s Center is far from sufficient. But at the same time, can I put the entire onus on those boys? After all they have learned by the example of public icons that have been less than chastised for their inappropriate and sometimes illegal actions and a rape supportive culture in general which depicts women as objects and implies sex against a woman’s will is somehow her fault. But my point is–the fact that an act like this has even occurred is an example of how far women’s rights have NOT come. People say, women are equal to men, and I have heard people question the need for a Woman’s Affairs office on college campuses. But this event clearly demonstrates that there is still a need to educate today’s young people and push for the progression of gender equality. After all, if there was no such thing as institutional sexism, then an outrageous pledging event like the one described here would not have occurred and would certainly not be tolerated to the extent that it is.

They claimed they were sorry and they knew it was wrong, but they did it anyway…

If the DKE men knew they were being disrespectful and engaged in this behavior anyway, it is clear there is a serious lack of understanding about how detrimental and serious sexual assault is. If the DKE men knew their behavior was wrong, but thought it would be funny, it is clear there is a lack of respect for women in general, women who have been sexually assaulted specifically, and all people, including other men, who think rape is wrong. And if the DKE men just did not know any better, than educators, parents, friends, teachers and family members have failed contemporary young men in terms of educating them on the difference between right and wrong, on having respect for other human beings, on treating men and women with dignity, fairness, and respect, and teaching them that sex without consent (aka rape) is a violation of those rights.

Will it ever end?

Unfortunately, I think sexual assault will not cease to be a problem until behavior like this comes to a halt and until we as a society and as a culture are willing to admit that sexism still occurs today, misogyny runs rampant in the contemporary college and American culture and that these things are issues that MUST to be taken seriously. I don’t think it will stop until we hold people accountable for their actions and stop glorifying behavior which is misogynistic, sexist and an endorsement of rape.

People ask me all the time– why do I get so angry about things like this-why do I let “little” things like men chanting no means yes and yes means anal bother me so much. My response is–if you are not completely outraged by this, then you should be paying closer attention!