Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus

Power dynamics based on gendered interactions can be seen widely in Western societies in particular. The most prominent negative repercussions of these dynamics can be seen as instances of rape and sexual assault. Similar gendered interactions and discourses can be seen as heavily embedded into initiation and bonding rituals and fraternity culture at large. These rituals have been sometimes seen to rely on rape, sexual assault, and sexual discourse in general. In her book, Fraternity Gang Rape, Peggy Reeves Sanday chooses to focus on all male group bonding rituals at a college campus in the United States, particularly the bonding ritual of “pulling train,” or, gang rape. Peggy Reeves Sanday is a professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She has authored a number of books, focuses primarily on matriarchies and acquaintance rapes occurring in societies. She was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania at the time that the specific gang rape addressed in Part One of this book occurred and was teaching the victim.

Sanday constructs an argument that focuses on exploring how groups of men bond through the use of sex. This is further developed as not only being constructed through actions but also through discourse amongst the group. Her argument is crafted around these group acts existing to allow for homoerotic and sexual experiences to be shared between the men involved. This is particularly explored due to the heavily homophobic mentalities usually seen in these environments. Finally, Sanday focuses on how sex can be seen as a marker of power societally and the constructs that exist which uphold these dynamics.

Fraternity Gang Rape begins with a delving into a discussion of, societally, how the differences between men and women have been seen. This is primarily done through the lens of looking at the three sexual revolutions and models that have been used to understand gender power dynamics. While discussing the various sex models, Sanday constructs a picture of the act of rape as societally upheld by the sexist subjectivity that people have been raised within. Sanday also explores some of the problematic structures that exist within college, mainly fraternity, party culture. Namely these are seen as the seduction tactics used by males, which include feeding girls drinks until they are drunk enough to give in. The ability to do this successfully is often used as a marker of one’s masculinity and reinforces the gender hierarchy that exists within these party interactions.

Sanday constructs her study in two parts. The first part is specifically tailored towards what she calls “The XYZ Express,” which focuses on trends discovered following a specific incident that happened at a fraternity on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus in 1983. This part contains a lot of information that primarily applies to the the fraternity “XYZ” and various incidents recounted primarily by women. This goes through interviews with both members of the fraternity and a number of women who have unique relationships, either sexual, friendly, or both, with members of XYZ. Their interviews highlight social bargaining for a better position within the group’s hierarchy, primarily through having sex with members, an ability to hold your own while drinking with the brothers, or both, which is heavily encouraged by party culture. Sanday also depicts structures within XYZ that reinforce these dynamics, primarily what the brothers refer to as the “Little Sisters Program” as well as aggressive circle dances, which end with a mass heap of all of the brothers, sometimes on top of a woman. The concept of this program is that the brothers of XYZ essentially scout out females to be sexually available for members within their organization. The major rape that spurned Sanday’s writing of this book was the gang rape of one of her students, referred to as Laurel, whose rape was referred to as an audition for this program by brothers. Sanday uses this discourse and the actions of gang rapes and circle dances to discuss the manners in which these actions allow for brothers to bond homoerotically within a heavily homophobic and hegemonic masculine environment.

The second part of her study is heavily focused on phallocentrism, male power, and silencing the feminine. This part focuses on discourses and interactions that are seen in groups, primarily in male centric groups. This focuses heavily on rituals utilized to break young men out of “the feminine”, or their dependencies on their mothers seen prior to adulthood, with a heavy emphasis on the ways in which this is done through fraternity initiation rituals. Sanday discusses in particular detail the exact ways in which the fraternities psychologically mess with their pledges in order to shift their mindset from a loyalty to oneself to a loyalty to the fraternity. This is done not only to promote male social and sexual dominance, but also to construct widely felt male bonding throughout the new members. This is opened up to how initiation rituals in non-Western cultures either create rape free societies or uphold gender power dynamics similar to the ones seen in fraternities. Sanday raps up this part by focusing on how sexist subjectivity is created through discourses and how difficult these structures are to deconstruct as they are so embedded into our language and interactions.

The book ends with an afterword, written in 2006, discussing how much has actually changed since this book was first published. Sanday explores the various ways that hookup culture and these sorts of incidents are perpetuated not only by fraternity culture. An interesting discussion can be seen about the roles that sororities play in upholding the hookup and rape culture that is perpetuated by most fraternities.

Ultimately, Sanday argues that while these issues are discussed much more heavily than they used to be, the statistics haven’t really changed at all. This is primarily due to the persistence of privileged positions of all male organizations of cisgendered, heterosexual white males in society. While this is not 100 percent true about fraternities,  they are predominantly filled with white, cisgendered males. Sanday does comment on the prevalence of discourse regarding sexual assault and rape that is happening in what she dubs the “New Sexual Revolution,” with a particular focus on the affirmative consent policies that are becoming widespread in colleges and universities. She concludes that protecting those more vulnerable and deconstructing these power dynamics that uphold and allow for rape and sexual assault to occur commonly is the most important move we can make societally.

This book gives an interesting overview into a very serious occurrence seen in many all male university organizations. A particularly interesting perspective can be seen when looking at rape and sexual assaults through an anthropological sense instead of sociological. The discourses and interactions are vital to understanding more about why these events occur at the rates they do, whether through groups or by individuals. Furthermore, Sanday does a good job at comparing these discourses and structures across Western and non-Western cultures. However, a further delving into other experiences with in Western fraternity culture would be beneficial. Also, while Sanday provides commentary that this is applicable to groups of men that are not fraternities, more evidence and discussion of these alternative groups would be helpful to support her argument. Furthermore, the generalizability to other fraternities at the University of Pennsylvania or on other campuses is slightly problematic. Through this part, Sanday offers a limited gaze into a few other situations, providing token examples, but a wider spread study that expressed experiences truly representative of the diversity of colleges seen in the United States would provide a more appropriate generalizability.  The manner of splitting the book into two distinct parts makes the main argument hard to connect or follow at some points. Sanday also fails to discuss that all of these interactions she is exploring have occurred in aggressively heteronormative environments. While she briefly highlights homophobic discourse, the addition of this could be beneficial to helping strengthen her argument. This is presented as central to her argument, but discussion of it is lacking in comparison to her other points. I would recommend this book as a good eye opener to someone looking to delve into how fraternity culture upholds and reinforces gender power dynamics and privilege in a heteronormative, white centric perspective.

Sanday PR. Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus. 2nd ed. New York: New York University Press; 2007.

Hook Ups: A Pervasive Force on College Campuses

Thrill seeking, sexual gratification, and intense infatuation are all reasons college students engage in hookup culture as Kathleen Bogle describes in Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationship On Campus (2008), the culmination of years of research done on two college campuses that includes studies of sexual double standards, gender norms, and how relationships and sex have changed overtime. Bogle chronologically presents the evolution of hookup culture, from its roots in dating and calling to its present widespread cultural norm. Through interviews with seventy-six people (fifty-one undergraduates and twenty-five alumni), Bogle questions how these students understand this culture, how they participate, their interaction with the opposite and same sex, as well as fall into the structural roles that this sexual culture makes available.

In Hooking Up, Bogle addresses the chronology of hookup culture and how it has changed over time. Yet, she lacks a central argument. The interviews and reasoning based on opinions that she hears are not brought forth in a constructed viewpoint; rather the argument is left for the reader to construct. However, Bogle’s work does present a couple major conclusions. First, hookup culture and its script are less gendered, as both men and women have the ability to access these sexual interactions. Second, even with different powers in this system, there are still double standards between men and women that negatively affect the success and experiences of college women. Third, hookup culture supports those in the majority in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Heterosexual white men, especially those involved in Greek life, tend to maintain dominance in this world of hook ups, while heterosexual women, gays, lesbians, minorities, and others are subverted and forced to find other methods of socialization. This book carries importance in understanding how hookup culture has evolved and changes within itself; the culture is very fluid and influential, but there are not many mainstream works that compile some brutally honest, eye-opening, and comprehensive discourse on this aspect of college like Kathleen Bogle has. Hooking Up provides many examples on the emotional, institutional, and systematic ways in which men have successfully taken full advantage of this hookup culture, while in the process of participation, have been able to maintain a higher status and control than women could ever hope to have.

Dr. Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up, is an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Joseph’s University and her Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. Hooking Up is her first book, but she has also published an article titled “The Shift from dating to hooking up in college: What scholars have missed” and a paper titled “Exploring the Connection between Pornography and Sexual Violence.” To this conversation of youth hookup culture, Dr. Bogle’s publications rightfully place her in the middle of the conversation; more than a few times in Hooking Up, she speaks to her work as being one of its kind as many previous scholars have failed to study this subject in the same way.

To compile her research, Boyle conducted qualitative data collection from 2001-2006 through interviews with thirty-three college women, eighteen college men, sixteen male alumni, and nine female alumni (Bogle 187-188). To find these interviewees, she asked professors at an unnamed religious college and a state university to find volunteers for her study. She used vague solicitations to these students so that a larger group of people would be interested in being a part of the study instead of a small group deciding to participate based on very specific characteristics (187-188) Her interviews were recorded and transcribed, lasting between one hour and ninety minutes (187-188). In this interview process, Bogle used a relaxed, conversational way of interviewing as a way to gain as much knowledge as possible from the participant, as the likelihood remains that they would reveal more of their opinions if they were comfortable.

In Bogle’s work, she gives chronological background to dating and hookup culture, interspersing quotes and conversation from interviews as they fit into this discourse. In the second half of her work, she includes more interviews as she tries to reveal more intrinsic and subconscious aspects of the culture. Beginning with a definition of a hookup, Bogle cites a national study of college women’s sexual behaviors that states that a hookup occurs when a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don’t necessarily expect anything further (2). She proceeds to describe to question the change from adolescence to college life to life as an adult as denoting different norms of what sex and romantic culture should look like. She describes different sexual scripts that culture participants use in their different encounters overtime; in the early 1900s, the practice of calling, where young men call young women in the hope of getting invited to the woman’s home to meet their family, was well-practiced, but as time persisted, the concept of the date came around, as dating was more individual and less focused on the family (7, 12, 14).

The gender imbalance of power in the hookup culture arguably began as men went off to war in the 1940s. There were a lot fewer men available and after they returned from overseas, the popularized concept of domestic life took hold for a few decades (17). Men were the ones who held the jobs, made money, paid for dates, and made decisions regarding where they and their significant other were going and doing. In addition to the post-World War II culture change, the 1960s were a defining decade in terms of liberation and feminist movements, group socialization, and party culture. Feminist movements encouraged women to be free as sexual beings and to value the expression of personal choice (21-22). This support of free expression was only furthered by the increased availability of the birth control pill (21). Both men and women were encouraged to start sexual interactions, taking away the role traditionally served by the male. Sexuality became more public, accepted, and supported; this openness can be considered a catalyst for the rise and continued popularity of hookup culture.

After describing the evolution of this culture, Bogle transcribes many interviews that ask students how hooking up occurs, stereotypes and sexualization of the other gender, factors that play into the hookup, and the gender roles that come into effect in a hookup. Bogle finds that women can remain under the impression that they must not be as sexually active in a first hookup with a male so as to be sure that the male does not think less of them because they are perceived as being aggressively sexual (38). This is only one of the many places in which Bogle points to the unfair conceptions of this culture that males and females undertake.
Later, Bogle speaks more to the logistics of hooking up on a college campus. As women tend to be enrolled in college at a greater ratio than men (80 men to 100 women), this presents another structural constraint to the already marginalized female (19). There remains very little incentive for men to settle into one relationship; instead, it has become normalized that males can have sexual interactions with more women than is acceptable for women to have with men (55). In these situations, alcohol is a resource that makes initiating sexual contact a much easier feat, as it sets a tone of relaxation (63).

After an exploration of campus culture and the logistics of a hook up, Bogle summarizes different arguments and opinions regarding the double standards that persist for men and women. Using Doris Day and Sandra Dee as examples of the squeaky clean, virginlike image of a woman, she divides undergraduate sexual desires as women looking more for relationships and men enjoying the status quo of the hookup culture (96, 97). Men garner little to no stigma for their sexual exploits, even if they are called a man-whore or slut, it tends to be perceived as a joke; for women, it is very easy to be labeled as a slut (103-104). Bogle describes this process of labeling as being one that alters one’s sense of self and leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy that subverts and harms, even if it was not their own construction (113).

Many of the factors that affect hooking up disappear after college as individuals tend to become more isolated and have less factors and comparisons to create between them and their peers. Alcohol remains central to adult socializing, but hooking up with strangers in unfamiliar places is a logistic factor that presents itself in this adult world (130, 133). Though these adults are older than their college days, there remain sentiments of a game, arguably inspired by the college hookup culture, including being more respectful, polite, and caring to women, as the circumstances expect formality as well as seriousness (137). Speaking to adult relationships, one male interviewee indicates that the less a girl does sexually the better (150). Though one’s environment has changed from the college campus to the working adult environment, this process of othering and subverting the woman, even as an adult, seems to have persisted.

One of Bogle’s strengths in her book and research is that she offers very clear examples of the gender hierarchy and the beliefs, concepts, and areas of influence that gender comes into effect. Bogle will question the men she interviews when they tell her their opinions on what women should do in their role in hookup culture and she turns the question to them, asking why he should not adhere to the same expectations.

A very obvious weakness is Bogle’s research is the lack of minority acknowledgment inside this college culture. At the schools she surveyed, there was a predominantly white student body, but there was a significant amount of minority (racial, sexual, etc.) representation. In the few thoughts she contributed to the discussion of minority students, she generalizes opinions heard from interviewees and says that many minority students are not interested in sexual encounters with white students and vice versa (68). Though she does speak to the lack of queer-positive cultures and spaces on college campuses, she marginalizes the already less supported minority groups by putting them all in the categories of inner-socialization and tied to friends from home (68-69).

In my opinion, Bogle’s Hooking Up does offer a more contemporary and knowledgeable analysis of the hookup culture that has become normalized since its evolution from the era of calling and dating. Personally, I thought the shear amount of interviews she had with clear demonstrations of male privilege and the subversion of women were very valuable to her overarching arguments. One can talk about the sexual double standard, but until those opinions are truly expressed with valid examples, there will be no acknowledgment of a need for change. Bogle’s research does well in identifying the amount of sexualization, stereotypes, and preconceptions play into the game of hooking up. Though Bogle has recognized that this work is not intended to speak to all of college students, as well as in any large way to minorities, it would be good for further research to expand on Bogle’s to include sexual, ethnic, and racial minority hook up culture, so as to offer some deeper insight in the possible different spectrums of college youth culture. Audiences that enjoy this work would include college students, as a way to reflect on one’s role in the culture that may or may not be present around them, as well as adults, administrators, and other outsiders that would like to learn more about the sexual culture perpetuated on college campuses.


BookReview (Full paper attached w/ footnotes included)