Marina Adshade teaches at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics and SFU School of Public Policy.
Misogyny was on full display in London, Ont., last month during a 25,000-person street party in which several houses displayed bed-sheet signs promoting rape culture. The mayor, Ed Holder, condemned the signs, tweeting, “We will not allow young women – be they students, faculty or otherwise – to be disrespected.”
But this culture that demeans and degrades women runs deeper than one street party. Last Halloween, one of the many Western University fraternity houses was accused of distributing flyers inviting underage women – “17+” – to a party with the line “booze will be provided, bring your own condoms.”
Closer to home, the same pattern of rampant misogyny knocked at my own door: A UBC student told me multiple women had been allegedly drugged in the university’s fraternities recently. I wasn’t shocked; I was saddened. As a female faculty member who is trusted and confided in by her students, and as a parent of UBC students, I have heard similar stories before.
The question I want to raise for all schools that permit fraternities: How long are we going to allow our campuses to be dominated by secret societies of men whose culture promotes unhealthy and dangerous behaviour toward women?
As an academic, my current research focuses on the lives of men and, specifically, on how the persistence of outdated ideas of what it means to be man is hurting both men and women. One of those outdated ideas, particularly in this age of #MeToo, is the belief that having sexual relationships with multiple women is a prerequisite to being a “real man.” This idea encourages men to aggressively compete for sexual access to women, not simply because they seek intimacy or sexual gratification, but because of the desire to prove their manhood to other men.
Within the fraternities, the culture of competition divides men into winners and losers; this not only persists, but is very much the point of participating in Greek life – it is the ability to prove yourself better than other men by belonging to a top tier fraternity.
That culture of competition is driving some (although not all) men in those institutions to take desperate, and extremely harmful, steps to prove themselves part of that group.
While belonging to a fraternity might give men a sense of superior status, studies have shown that those men perform worse in school, even after controlling for high-school performance. They are more prone to binge drinking and are more likely to be smoker. They watch more pornography than other male students and are more likely to hold negative and degrading views of women. Despite their reputation, they are not more likely to participate in sports than other men.
Most importantly, the evidence shows that men who belong to fraternities are more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual violence than are other men on university campuses – three times more likely, in fact.
Many have called this week for an end to fraternities on publicly funded university campuses. This is a laudable goal and I applaud anyone who promotes that as a societal ideal. The reality is much more complicated, however, and given that many fraternities physically exist off campus this idea is probably more aspirational than it is feasible.
What is achievable, however, is that universities bring an end to single-sex campus clubs. Men’s clubs, and women’s clubs in the form of sororities, only perpetuate the gender inequalities that are undermining our ability to progress as a society, and our ability to grow as an economy. Women make up the majority of students in universities across the country; it seems very reasonable to ask that universities take this relatively minor action to promote their best interests while on campus, and to level the playing field for those women in the work force.
Finally, governments need to amend outdated Human Rights Codes that permit landlords of multi-unit housing to discriminate against potential tenants based on characteristics such as sex, gender, sexual orientation and race when tenants share bathrooms or kitchens.
Fraternities are simply boarding houses, and they should not be allowed to restrict their tenancy to men, especially in an era in which most campus housing is mixed gender and when housing is expensive and in extremely short supply.
We all grew up in houses in which kitchens and bathrooms were shared with men and women, there is no good reason why students cannot live this way, and there is good reason to believe that living this way will encourage a better treatment of women.
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