What a fraternity email says about our culture

phikappatauGeorgia Tech’s Phi Kappa Tau fraternity is in damage control mode thanks to an email one of its members sent out explaining how to lure “rape bait” (see story on the girlsCAN! Headlines Facebook page). For those of you not in a frat, that translates to ‘girls’ and ‘women’. The fraternity placed itself on probation and has suspended the member who sent the email, blah, blah, blah.

While this specific incident is troubling, what’s most troubling is what it says about the culture we live in.

Many of Phi Kappa Tau’s members are future social, political, and economic leaders. And, clearly, a large portion of them either support or condone sexual assault: it’s unlikely the email would have been sent to an unreceptive audience. The emailer likely felt confident that he not only wouldn’t endure shaming and exclusion, but would more likely be cheered and patted on the back: “Great email, man! That was so funny!”

The members of Phi Kappa Tau are bright enough to know right from wrong. But they’re also bright enough to know what they can get away with when it comes to subjugating and denigrating females. The emailer knew that his message was morally repugnant. He also knew he’d be a frat hero thanks to a fraternity culture that allows this kind of behavior, a culture influenced by the general America culture.

The issue here doesn’t involve enacting new legislation, nor does it involve greater enforcement of existing legislation, though, in this case, the emailer should certainly pay the price for his behavior.

The real issue involves social norms and the pressing need to change our collective attitudes regarding what’s acceptable when it comes to gender relations, particularly with respect to sexual assault, and how we should treat those who deem it acceptable to violate another person.

Specifically, we need to change how we treat rapists and those who have been raped. The kind of shame that drunk drivers endure is a better template for treating offenders than the victim-shaming currently used against people who’ve been sexually assaulted; can you imagine being ridiculed for being hit by a drunk driver?!

The threat of being shunned from the tribe for committing a socially unacceptable behavior is often more effective at eliminating that behavior than the knowledge that it’s against the law. And we certainly need to stop revictimizing those who’ve been assaulted by shaming them after the fact.

It would be a real mistake to think of this incident as isolated, because this behavior isn’t isolated to Phi Kappa Tau, or even to the Georgia Tech campus. We’ve seen many—too many—examples of this type of behavior over the past year all across America.

One things is certain: we are deeply concerned for the psychological and financial well-being of all the future female employees or subordinates of male bosses who only a few years earlier thought of them as rape bait.

NOTE: One of the primary focuses of GenderEqual and its girlsCAN! program is to change the attitudes and beliefs of both males and females regarding sexual assault, and to teach girls how to protect themselves from these kinds of incidents.

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