College Fraternities: Breeding grounds for success, but also gender inequality

The recent and highly publicized Title IX complaint at Yale has raised numerous questions and concerns about continuing gender inequality and discrimination across America’s institutions of higher education. On March 15th, 16 Yale students filed a complaint against the university for violating Title IX—alleging that Yale had failed to curb a “hostile sexual environment” for women on campus. The incidents of such hostility include: a 2007 petition by women in the medical school charging sexual harassment; a lewd email ranking dozens of freshmen by “how many beers it would take to have sex with them”; and, most widely known, a fraternity pledge prank that involved dozens of men gathered on Yale’s Old Campus, shouting that women were “f–king sluts!,” followed by “No means yes! Yes means anal!”

Samantha Wishman, a recent graduate of Penn published a column in the Daily Beast arguing that the problem with gender inequality on college campuses originates in the Greek system. Wishman builds her argument from her personal experience as vice president of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta at Penn, where she continually faced a much stricter set of rules than her male counterparts. Wishman argues that although sororities were originally founded in order to give women a foothold on campuses that had once been all-male bastions they have since “come to infantilize the women they once sought to empower.”

The culture of male dominance fostered in Greek life has repercussions far beyond college culture. For although a minority of students take part in Fraternities, that minority remains enormously influential in wielding influence in the “real world”. According to Wishman, “fraternities have produced 120 current Forbes 500 CEOs, 48 percent of all presidents, and similar numbers of senators, congressmen, and Supreme Court justices.” If men in such positions of leadership are submerged in a culture in which women are viewed as weaker and less capable than men during their most formative years of development, transforming the Greek system would address a root cause of continuing gender discrimination in the workplace.

Caitlin Flanagan, the author of “To Hell With All That: loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife,” published a column in the Wall St. Journal arguing that fraternities present a serious hindrance to young women’s education. Like Wishman, Flanagan speaks from her personal experience as an undergrad at University of Virginia, where the dominating Greek culture nearly cost her a college education. Flanagan describes the Greek system as “dedicated to quelling young men’s anxiety about submitting themselves to four years of sissy-pants book learning by providing them with a variety of he-man activities: drinking, drugging, ESPN watching and the sexual mistreatment of women.”

This system, argues Flanagan, creates an environment that robs women equal opportunity to education. To back up her claim, Flanag provides some startling numbers:

Currently, as many as one out of five women are sexually assaulted before graduation. A 2007 National Institute of Justice study found that about one in five women are victims of sexual assault in college; almost all of those incidents go unreported. It also noted that fraternity men—who tend to drink more heavily and frequently than nonmembers—are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than nonfraternity men, according to previous studies. Over a quarter of sexual-assault victims who were incapacitated reported that the assailant was a fraternity member.

These statistics alone are appalling and disheartening. But while it can be tempting to isolate the culture of male dominance as fostered in Greek culture to the educational institutions that harbor them, the arguments presented by Wishman and Flanagan  make it clear that there are much broader implications across all sectors of society. Immediate, and effective attention must be paid. If you have a story, opinion, or idea of how to transform the Greek system, please use this opportunity to have it heard!


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