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?

  • May 31 2013: How can we overcome man's history?

    Aristotle posited that “women were imperfectly human,
    a failure in the process of conception".

    Augustine followed Aristotle in his belief that women
    were morally and mentally inferior to men.

    Aquinas followed Augustine and these men depicted
    women as easily tempted into evil.

    St. Jerome could not agree on whether or not
    women were completely human.

    Woman hating was rooted deep in the male psyche.
    Fears of the life-bearing and menstruating capacities of women.

    Cultural taboos and religious sanctions have prohibited women
    from participating in many human activities reserved for men only.

    Put yourselves in the picture. Has much changed today?
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      • Jun 1 2013: LaMar, I've reached TED's thumbs-up limit.
        But you can have my 'Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts'....
        Thank you.
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    May 31 2013: Power in the past has always lead to such behaviors, and may come down to the pure fact of none of them once in power ever got criticized until this age, and now it's really an issue since it's had light shed on it. Power in both gender roles breeds corruption in some sense, or even a onesided view on a number of topics. Unbridled power created unbridled action, and depending all on the person what the outcomes may be.

    So the best answer I can give is mass education and light being shed on this topic would yield more counteraction when such takes place.

    Just like fighting fires with fire prevention, teach more about it brin it to the forefronts of the minds of those most likely to witness and you'll have a better chance of stomping out such behaviors, however parents are the best prevention of such a mindset to take place. Relationships and parental traits mold much of a person's moral compass.

    Thing is, it may even be a basic trait of humans, since even kids are known to only allow admission to games and group settings ( clubs ) based solely on gender. And that's as early as age 2, most even being born with the understanding females safety, Male's = loud.
  • May 31 2013: If fraternaties are offensive to you - don't join one For females - don't join a sorority. These are voluntary organizations.
    • Jun 1 2013: But I think you miss the point being that these institutions teach or promote "anti-us" beliefs and feelings which affect a persons behavior throughout life.
      • Jun 2 2013: I've never belonged to a college social fraternity, but so many things do that including churches, political groups, corporations, states, etc.
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          Jun 3 2013: I probably should have explained this fact in the first place but I purposefully didn't because I wanted differing perspectives from what I would have received. I am an undergrad and an active member of a fraternity at my college. I can say with absolute certainty that the kind and magnitude of social interaction, let alone the duration, within a college fraternity is unlike any, the exception probably being some form of commune. Not only are these supposed to be the "budding" and defining years of our life, but unlike political groups, churches, corporations, etc, one lives among these same people for the better part of that defining period. In this regard, the "us"ing and the "them"ing occurs to an extreme that I and no one else I have met has ever experienced.
  • Jun 5 2013: At our college we had a fraternity that started in the 1980s (the system's a little different in Australia), as a reaction to the rise of feminism. As you can imagine this made it a wee bit sexist. However, these days it is very much the opposite. We run many activities ranging from a month long competition of manliness (push up competitions, running races, etc), to partner dance classes. The tone is of the frat is about being a chivalrous, respectful man.

    The culture change occurred quite rapidly. Since, college students are only around for 3-4 years significant change can occur with 2 years and complete change within 4. The key is to have a leadership group that instils the correct values in the incoming students. Ultimately, it is about creating an image that is a) positive and that people aspire to and b) includes respect for women as a core part of this image. In my experience a chivalrous image works really well here. It evokes images of handsome knights, and better yet James Bond (who doesn't want to be James Bond?).

    As to what will come of it. I would argue a more positive experience for many students. Women will have less people trying to get them excessively drunk, coercing them into sex, treating them like object, etc. Meanwhile, fraternities get better press and men get to be more like James Bond.

    In summary, fraternities certainly can develop into less chauvinistic and sexist organisations. They can do this quite rapidly with the correct leadership and marketing. The result: women don't get treated like objects; fraternities get better press; men become James Bond.
  • May 31 2013: I understand that you are emphasizing the role of men, but there is a flip side to your issue.

    There are co-ed fraternities that have both female and male members. Since many college women still choose to join sororities, it appears that sororities also encourage sexism.
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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?
  • Jun 4 2013: Alexander - sounds like it works for you If that is the case - That's what counts. Believe me the Marine Corps has a great deal of social approval too among its ranks. So do many occupations.
  • Jun 2 2013: ...that's a big part of our crumbling morals and culture.
  • Jun 1 2013: I don't agree with your statement that "most women choose their roles willingly".Many are forced to accepting what roles are offered them, which is quite different. Certainly, most men and women are inherrently different but this difference should in no way affect their "roles" nor is one sex more superior than the other. By their general nature, men twnd to be more competitive and warloke and women are more peacekeepers and caregivers. Both contribute to the whole much more effectively than "rulers" versus "slaves". I'm not a feminist but believe everyone has an equal contribution to make a whole, so to speak.
  • Jun 1 2013: How does this idea relate to college fraternities?

    Fraternities, male and female, are maintained by coercion.
    But there are two different types of power exhibited.

    Coercion is exhibited by Males, both within and without their Fraternities.

    Female fraternities use the opposite without their Fraternities.
    They use their ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce.

    It is the old game of Politics. Soft Power -vs- Hard Power.
    Seduction is more effective than coercion.

    Anyone have any ideas on this offering?
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    May 31 2013: I spent a LOT of time thinking about this as an undergrad. I was in Greek life, and so were many of my friends, and what I found was this: There were huge differences among the various chapters even at the same university.

    I saw fraternities where socialization to be sexually coercive was an integral part of the pledge process, and I saw fraternities where ally training was a mandatory part of the pledge process. And the members of these very different frats were classmates and friends, totally a part of the same campus culture. To me, this means that it's absolutely possible -- that it's up to university and national leadership, as well as the students themselves, to take the prevailing traditions in a positive direction. Freshman boys are pretty impressionable. If you tell them that harassment isn't cool, then it isn't.

    I know many schools have abolished Greek organizations, feeling that sexism and elitism were embedded too deep within the fraternity and sorority structures to be worth attempting reform, but I disagree. I think there are countless actionable tweaks to the system (and particularly to the fraternities' budgets -- the more money they have to spend on formals and alcohol, the more they're able to create shades of a thankfully outdated atmosphere of sexual debt) that would lead to a healthier culture.
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        May 31 2013: I'll certainly never argue with the fact that it ultimately comes down to personal responsibility. In the end, every member of the system can control his own behavior and his own behavior alone.

        But the point I hoped to make by explaining the two coexisting fraternity cultures on one campus was that these are similar boys (who are often even friends with one another) going in, but that by the time they've been a part of a very specific organization for four years, the system has quite an effect.

        The agency may ultimately lie with individuals, but to ignore the harmful practices condoned by (most of) these organizations is to ignore a pretty big part of the problem, in my opinion. That said, I think the fact that not ALL of them have sexist, elitist cultures means that there's hope for those that currently do.
  • May 31 2013: Is it possible to alleviate the cultures of chauvinism and sexism within college fraternities?

    NO. Evil before Good exists. The exaltation of drugs, misogyny and violence
    is today too deeply seated in our culture.

    9/11 and the belief that violence saves, that revenge is a solution,
    WAR brings peace, that ‘might makes right’, are but a few of
    “Today’s continuously repeated stories, believed by the people in the world”.