TED Conversations

Alexander Koch

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Is it possible to alleviate the cultures of chauvinism and sexism within college fraternities? If so, how, and what will come of it?

Katz does a thorough job of discussing the cultures of "victim-blaming," chauvinism, and sexism that pervade many traditionally all-male organizations and groups, using the example of sports teams as (traditionally) a breeding ground for male hegemony. How does this idea relate to college fraternities in America, which many feel share a good amount of the characteristics that Katz bemoans as conducive to such bigoted attitudes? Finally, would it be possible to alleviate or mitigate the cultures of chauvinism within fraternity life, or are they completely endemic of the structure of college fraternity life? Considering the statistics regarding economic and ivory-tower social success of elite college fraternities versus their classmates, what changes might we expect to see in the upper, more established, and often less-permeable classes of gender construction if such a change were possible?


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      May 31 2013: I think you are very right to say that this is a touchy subject, as I (and I hope the same goes for most) don't log into TED solely to have a pleasant dinner conversation. If you want to talk about the way in which we construct gender roles being rooted in an animal ancestry and somehow tied so survival structure, I think that you bring a legitimate point to the table. However, humans (in the contemporary context) interact with each other in a fundamentally different way than most other animals, through culture. I do not mean to say that we are not biological, for, of course, we are. What I mean is that the way in which we interact with each other has moved so far beyond purely physically and biologically deterministic notions of DNA and survival as the sole concern, that a more nuanced understanding of our behavior has largely discredited such sociobiological notions.

      It is our nature to label and to assign meaning to those labels, but I think that the broader point is evident in the above statement "people choose those roles." The whole idea that Katz was trying to make evident is that many of these roles are not chosen, but so deeply ingrained the the way in which we interact and in the power differential within our society's gender construction, that they often come to be accepted as "given," as your use of the phrase "traditional roles" shows quite well. Also, wouldn't you say that it is more of a critique of our own society rather than feminists to say that women would be "harmed" by
      trying to escape (sorry, I know that that is a loaded word) their current and traditional roles?

      While, yes, I am speaking in generalities, I don't quite understand how you can assume that "the only evidence" of fraternities and sports teams treating, or even unconsciously sanctioning through social interaction, chauvinistic treatment towards women is that they are all-male in membership. Please help me understand what you have to say.
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          May 31 2013: You're right that Alexander has labeled these organizations as sexist without presenting evidence here -- the evidence for American college fraternities (and sororities) being sexist and chauvinistic is so incredibly prevalent that he chose to simply start with that fact as his premise, and focus as his question on whether it can be changed.

          But for those less steeped in the horror stories: There are fraternities where entire pledge classes are told to sleep with the same girl (who has not volunteered for the honor), there are fraternities where they train their members to keep giving alcohol to girls who are clearly already too drunk, there are fraternities where members publicly rank girls' attractiveness in meetings, there are fraternities where the formal events are deliberately so expensive and lavish that girls will feel guilty for being invited and not sleeping with their dates. In short, at their worst, they take existing misogynistic, sexually coercive tendencies and institutionalize them.

          I'm personally of the belief that that's not the whole story. I'm generally a fan of the Greek system, and believe that fraternities (and sororities, which have their own set of problems) can be forces for good when they're doing it right. I just hope that clears up the question of whether the ONLY evidence that they're sexist organizations is that they're single-sex.
        • May 31 2013: LaMar, BRAVO !!!

          You've won the HITS THE NAIL ON THE HEAD award...
          presented of course by me...

          I love to read about picking at a scab.
          Better we define first what target it is.
        • Jun 2 2013: Bahooey! ...By all!
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          Jun 3 2013: The sad fact of the matter is that many of these issues are only seen internally because many women are afraid of the social stigmas and feelings of resentment from other members on campus that accompany making these incidents public. I imagine that nothing is more terrifying, to a first-year female new to a college, knowing the circumstances she would have to endure considering the way that the administration would react if anything were found out. In case that isn't satisfying, here you go:


          From my experience, alumni are rarely, if ever, directly in charge of the active chapter of a fraternity. And yes, many feel that the scenario you describe above of the school's involvement is what could very well happen. Schools, especially private, largely rely on alumni donations, many of which come from members of fraternities. As a school, there is no better way to lose tens of thousands of dollars than to alienate wealthy alumni.

          I guess it's hard to say I have an agenda of bringing down fraternities when I'm an active and proud member in my own, right? Of course blame must be placed on an individual, but if all we end up doing is treating these incidents as isolated occurrences from the actual context, then we will never get any closer to solving the root of the problem.
    • Jun 1 2013: Being a male, I don't think you fully grasp what you are implying; i.e. that most women are happy with their assigned "roles" or that this is thew way its always been and always will be. I would strongly disagree with both of those assumptions. You are fostering male dominance, fighting...all the things we see destroying our present-day society. How can you believe in "studies" when you know a certain mindset (chauvenism)inherrently influences female answers?

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