Animal House

Maybe this is the frat to which Rush Limbaugh was referring when he described what happened at Abu Ghraib as "sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank. Sort of like that kind of fun."

Police are investigating a hazing ritual at a University of Central Florida frat house that including forcing pledges to wear "fairy wings", women's under garments, diapers, and possibly rape.

Police were called to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity by a person reporting to have heard screaming, sobbing and moaning coming from the house.

A police report said officers found pledges in various forms of undress on their hands and knees and there was a heavy smell of beer, vomit and urine throughout the house.

The report said that one pledge was nearly passed out and wearing pink fairy wings and women's underwear. Another student was found passed out on the floor. He was wearing a pink tank top, women's underwear and a blond wig. A third student, a rainbow-colored wig and a diaper was found in a corner crying and in pain. Three pledges were taken to an area hospital.

WKMG television reported that "a number of devices" were found in the house leading police to believe some of the students had been sexually assaulted.
SAE is one of the oldest fraternities at the University of Central Florida, and the chapter was immediately disbanded by the national headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, as nearly “two-thirds of the chapter’s approximately 90 members may have been involved.” A spokesperson for SAE’s headquarters said the board “does not feel it’s worth the effort to rehabilitate this group.” Meanwhile, UCF is investigating “whether the school’s anti-hazing policy had been violated.” If it hasn’t, that’s one laissez-faire policy.

I visited the website of SAE, which is America’s largest fraternity, to see if they were providing any easily accessible resources to their 280,000 members on LGBT equality and rape prevention. And to their credit, they are. As part of “a comprehensive member-education program” that they call the True Gentleman Initiative, they provide a Web Links page, which links to both the Lambda 10 Project and Men Can Stop Rape. They also expressly ban hazing, repeatedly, all over their main website.

So what went wrong? Did the True Gentleman Initiative, which describes a True Gentleman as “the man whose conduct proceeds from good will…whose self-control is equal to all emergencies…whose deed follows his word, who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own…a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe,” simply not reach Florida?

Or, in spite of the SAE national headquarters’ best efforts, are we back to the issue on which I’m fast becoming a broken record—the ugly history of defining the masculine in opposition to the feminine (and the perceived femininity of homosexuals)?

Let’s consider the form of the hazing. Pledges were forced to wear pink “fairy wings,” women’s undergarments, pink outerwear, female wigs, rainbow wigs, and diapers, creating what sounds like some grotesque Frankenhorror of an infantilized half-woman half-drag queen—and once the emasculating transformation was complete, the pledges were allegedly further demeaned as the frat brothers raped them. Not with their dicks, mind you, because that would be queer, but with “devices”—proxy penises that establish masculine domination without the troubling possible complication of undeniable arousal at sexually assaulting another man.

Like the entrenched tradition of defining masculinity by othering that underlies ritualistic hazing, the hazing itself becomes a vicious cycle. Certainly the perpetrators of this monstrosity had themselves been subjected to this humiliating rite of passage, and thusly felt not only entitled but obliged to subject others to it, in order to reclaim the dominance of which they’d been ceremonially stripped.

It is a pattern that plays out over and over in fraternities, athletic teams, the military, as men who have been hazed recover their masculinity by becoming hazers themselves—and sexual assault is frequently an integral part of this ugly process. reports that the most commonly reported hazing incident among male high school students is sodomy, with penises, fingers, or other objects; usually it’s the teammates, but sometimes it’s the coaches. (Google “hazing+rape” to quickly discover how frighteningly prevalent the problem is.) Rape—and, make no mistake, unwanted penetration of any orifice is rape—is a sex crime, but its intent is control, which is why it is such a useful tool for violent hazers, who restore their own masculine authority by subjugating other men. Each year consequently yields a new batch of emasculated victims who await their absolution, to which becoming a victimizer is regarded as the singular path.

Indoctrination into a culture in which rape is not discouraged, but instead considered a necessary social survival tool of any self-respecting man, is, by way of colossal understatement, problematic. Inevitably, there is toxic spillage from the specific context of hazing in which the tool was bestowed, and it is foolish and naïve to ignore the association between vicious hazing and its male targets who later greet challenges to their dominance with the use of the powerful and wicked tool of rape. Even outside the boundaries delineated by the hazing experience, it becomes a reliable strategy for reestablishing control, as women who say “no” rather than submitting are simply overpowered, and gay men who fight back against belittlement are not merely beaten, but sexually violated.

Regrettably, even the best-case scenario is not encouraging. While we might hope that being forcibly effeminized and summarily raped would generate some sympathy for the women and gay men whose stereotypical accoutrements were employed in one’s shaming, the reality is more grim. Even those violently hazed who don’t engage the instruments of hazing outside the explicit milieu are generally not left with sympathy, but increased contempt, for the others to whom comparison served as the basis of their indignity. It’s a dreadfully destructive cycle, and, at its center, the definition of masculinity predicated on contradistinction to and supremacy over women and gay men becomes increasingly, unavoidably, indurated.

And in its wake, a never-ending procession of victims is left to contemplate a problem they can’t fix.

For a very long time, the people who have most vociferously scrutinized and challenged both the rape culture and traditionally adversative definitions of masculinity are those who stand to gain the most from change—women and gay men. Problematically, however, inculcated misogynists and homophobes don’t listen to women, especially feminist women, nor to gay men. Additionally, women and gay men have been habitually excluded from the institutions in which aggressive hazing most often occurs, rendering their ability to affect change, imagining hazers were even amenable to it, essentially nonexistent.

Groups like Men Can Stop Rape and individual progressive men who have joined the debate are therefore tremendously welcome, particularly as they position themselves as allies. As I read MCSR’s statement of its goal to “work as allies with women in preventing rape and other forms of men's violence,” I was reminded of the three questions posed by Pam to LGBT allies on National Coming Out Day: “Are you “out” as an ally? Are you able to talk about gay friends or relatives with others? Are you comfortable shooting down homophobes when they spout off during a conversation?” As we’ve discussed here before, there is no organized progressive men’s movement at this point dedicated to addressing the redefinition of masculinity, the eradication of othering, and the rape culture that victimizes both women and men. But an organized movement isn’t a prerequisite for becoming an active ally, committed to those goals. What are your answers to these questions:

— Are you “out” as an ally to women and gay men in preventing oppression, othering, and associated violence?

— Are you able to blog about and talk to other men, including your sons, about your commitment? Have you educated your sons about rape prevention as thoroughly as your daughters?

— Are you comfortable shooting down misogynists when they spout off during a conversation?

Just not being a virulent misogynist and homophobe isn’t enough. Just not being a rapist isn’t enough. At the University of Central Florida, nearly 60 of the approximately 90 members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon were involved in a brutal hazing that relied on misogyny and homophobia and likely culminated in sexual assault. The other 30 weren’t.

But it wasn’t enough.

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