Why Naked Pictures Aren’t Harmless
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Last week at Swarthmore College a pledge posted a photograph on Instagram of his offer to join a fraternity. The picture was of a booklet cover featuring a mosaic of hundreds of naked or nearly naked women. The website Total Frat Move lamented that it wasn’t delivered with a note saying, “Enjoy the tits.” The fraternity has used this format for several years — but this year, a group of students led by senior Marian Firke protested the use of the photography. They created an alternative version of the composite image and asked the school to suspend the fraternity’s school-funded party budget.
Swarthmore’s dean of students agreed with protesters and took steps to address their concerns, including requiring members of the fraternity to attend yet-to-be-defined “special training sessions.” The speed with which the administration has responded may have something to do with the fact that the college is one of a growing list of schools, including Occidental, the University of North Carolina, Yale and Dartmouth, involved in very public complaints for their handling (or mishandling) of sexual assault cases. Emerson is the latest school to be investigated by the Department of Education for related Title IX violations. While the administration’s responsiveness is laudable, the truth is that given the scope of the problem at hand, entire swaths of our population need “special training sessions,” and before they even make it to college. What do we do about them?
Earlier this week young men at Georgia Tech received an email signed “In luring rapebait” that instructed them to, among other things, grab women “on the hips with your 2 hands and then let them grind against your dick.” In October of last year a woman filed a lawsuit against Wesleyan University citing a fraternity known on campus as the “rape factory.” At Miami University of Ohio someone thought it was a good idea hang a poster titled “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape,” which closed with, “If your [sic] afraid the girl might identify you slit her throat.” A University of Vermont fraternity surveyed members in 2011 with this question: “If you could rape someone, who would it be?” At USC, two years ago, some boys released a Gullet Report (named for a “gullet,” defined as “a target’s mouth and throat. Most often pertains to a target’s throat capacity and it’s [sic] ability to gobble cock. If a target is known to have a good gullet, it can deep-throat dick extremely well. Good Gullet Girls (GGG) are always scooped up well before last call.”). For good measure they added some overtly racist material as well. Five years ago, Yale’s Zeta Psi fraternity took photos of members holding up signs reading, “We love Yale sluts.” Another fraternity had fun running around campus singing, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” Meanwhile, the school’s recommended punishment for sexual assault violations was a written reprimand. In 2012 Yale reached an agreement with the Department of Education, which launched a Title IX investigation in the wake of the song and similar incidents.
None of this is unique to the United States. In the United Kingdom, the first part of the academic year is called Freshers’ Week, and similar behavior by boys is written off as lad culture. In early September, at St Mary’s University in Canada, more than 80 students sang this ditty during an orientation event: “Y is for ‘Your sister’, O is for ‘Oh so tight’, U is for ‘Underage’, N is for ‘No consent’, G is for ‘Grab that ass.’” Wales’ Cardiff Metropolitan University hung a poster for orientation week events that featured a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the text: “I was raping a woman last night and she cried.”