Saturday, November 6, 2010

Yale Frat Proves Itself Particularly Insensitive to Issues of Sexual Assault

Fraternities at North American universities have not been traditionally recognized as particularly sensitive to issues surrounding sexual assault (…or women).

Thanks so much Yale for proving us right.

Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity has recently come under media-fire for making their pledges march around campus (and stopping outside an all-female dorm) and chanting “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!” among other declarations mid-October.

There has been outrage, from within as well as outside of the Yale community. DKE has issued an apology swiftly. Here is an excerpt:

The brothers of DKE accept responsibility for what we did, and want to sincerely apologize to the Yale community. We were wrong. We were disrespectful, vulgar and inappropriate. More than that, we were insensitive of all women who have been victims of rape or sexual violence, especially those here at Yale. Rape is beyond serious – it is one of the worst things that any person can be subjected to. It is not a laughing matter, yet we joked about it.

They have agreed to work with the Yale Women’s Center to create dialogue on campus around sexual violence.

I think we can all appreciate the sentiment. And while I can recognize that these boys were young, drunk and stupid and accept their apology as sincere, this is certainly not an isolated incident at Yale let alone in a larger university culture.

There’s something bigger going on here.

Salon recently interviewed an anonymous member of DKE. When asked about his previous experience as a member of the fraternity he was quoted as saying:

“Since I've been here, DKE has never actively promoted misogyny. This particular incident is an example of a thoughtless and hurtful joke, not an indication of a dangerous culture.”

I’m not so sure I agree. When a group of men are running around screaming, “No means Yes!” they are not taking consent seriously. Consent does not seem to be important to them at all. It’s even less funny when you take into consideration that 1 in 4 women in university have been sexually assaulted or experienced an attempted sexually assaulted. Or the fact that, in one survey, over half of college men reported that they have engaged in sexual aggression on a date1

Words are important. They matter and they represent ideas; in this case dangerous ideas about consent that result in the physical and emotional harm of real people every day.

The pledges of DKE may feel sorry and embarrassed for doing what they did (or maybe for getting caught) but forgive me if I don’t totally buy the idea that this fraternity or others like it are not misogynistic. McGill is not exempt from this. Remember, that awesome Engineering Frosh chant from a few years back?

I’m glad that the Women’s Center at Yale was able to turn this disaster into a learning experience for everyone. We definitely need more forums to discuss sexual assault on university campuses. It just sucks that such an awful event had to occur to spur one.

Related Links:

The Last Straw: DKE Sponsors Hate Speech on Yale’s Old Campus via Broad Recognition

Yale Frat Punished for Stupid Chant via Jezebel

Privileged boys, impoverished ethics via Feministing

Yale frat boy talks about "thoughtless and hurtful joke" via Salon

The Daily’s Amelia Schonbek tackles the notion that a song is just a song via The McGill Daily


Friday, November 5, 2010

Stranger Rape Subplot Just in Time to Boost Ratings

This week is sweeps week in television, when Neilson Media Research surveys are taken of television viewers and shows try to get the ratings they need to stay on the air. For years this has meant that shows toss crazy plot twists at the viewers left and right, with tense cliffhangers and violence and drama. Private Practice (you know, that spin-off from Grey’s Anatomy with the red haired lady and Taye Diggs?) is pulling out all three. Charlotte King, a strong, sexual, and sassy female character played by KaDee Strickland, is going to be violently raped by a stranger. This isn’t really being sold as a big reveal or surprise – the show is doing its best to sell the plot in interviews and special features. According to the press, the plot is going to focus mostly on the aftermath of the attack and the way in which it effects the relationships in the show.

The idea here is that the show is aiming to give a voice to survivors of sexual assault by validating experiences about being attacked and going through a healing process. The show worked closely with Rape Abuse Incest National Network and the whole project seems very informed. Strickland notes that this experience will be a part of the character for as long as the show is on the air, and in interviews notes that this is surely not the only way that rape or sexual assault is experienced, but that the script includes elements of shame and shock that many women report experiencing. It should also be noted that this is not the first time that this show has discussed sexual assault. A different character, Violet Turner, experienced rape in college, though she never goes into detail, and as a psychologist on the show, she has also had patients who have experienced sexual assault.

Strickland recently gave an interview with TV guide (not the video shown here) where she talked about her “joy” at being able to give a voice to this kind of issue, how she is “thrilled because it's a very personal thing to me, especially if you break down the statistics that one in six women will be raped in their lifetime.” The show is clearly trying to do something a little different, “really creating a legitimate experience for the audience in a way that you may not see on network television”. Irin Carmon noted on Jezebel that 1. it’s a little strange to hear someone get so excited about rape, and 2. How easy it is to use stranger rape as a source of drama, even though it erases the more common experiences of sexual assault committed by acquaintances or family members.

Update: Ratings for Private Practice experienced an unprecedented 44% boost in ratings for the sexual assault episode. The more detailed plotline includes 2 important details: 1. Charlotte is a recovering drug addict, so she has to endure her wounds without anesthetic and 2. She is refusing to go to the police or report the rape, and has only told one other character on the show that rape was even a part of the assault.

The implications of these script choices is interesting, and certainly a lot is yet to be determined. Jennifer Arrow, a blogger for E! did bring up an interesting point regarding the recent trend in plotlines where strong female characters do not report assaults committed against them:

"Is that just a more dramatic story to tell, or Is there something in our culture that doubts women who suffer rape and then speak out boldly—but trusts in women who keep their silence?"

For more on the subject you can read a follow-up by Irin Carmon on Jezebel, or a thoughtful review from NY Magazine entertainment blogger Emily Nussbaum which concludes: "No matter how well-motivated, a rape scene is a sex scene, and TV shows are fantasies. This one wasn’t sexy, but there was part of me that didn’t want them to show it at all."