Privileged boys, impoverished ethics

description herePerez wrote about the Yale frat boys and their boisterous chants condoning, even encouraging, sexual assault last week. Jess has written about their antic back in 2008 (pictured here). Well, masculinity scholar Michael Kimmel has just thrown his hat in the ring regarding the ongoing analysis. For those of you who haven’t heard the unsurprising, but no less disturbing news, students at Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity marched around and shouted “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!” among other lovely declarations this month while partying. There’s video here if you actually want to listen to them getting their misogynist rocks off.

Over at Ms., Kimmel writes:

We can see the men of DKE at Yale not as a bunch of angry predators, asserting their dominance, but as a more pathetic bunch of guys who see themselves as powerless losers, trying to re-establish a sexual landscape which they feel has been thrown terribly off its axis. This is especially ironic, of course, because these straight, white, upper-class Yalie DKEs are among the most privileged 20-year-olds on the planet. And yet now they feel one-down, defensive, reduced to impotent screaming–and all because of women’s equality.

Kimmel’s analysis got me thinking about the conscious and subconscious desires of fellas like these. You see, I don’t think they are angry predators or powerless losers. I think they’re a bunch of insecure 18-year-olds, drunk and high, testing their new community’s boundaries, and pushing the limits of the power they feel at having been chosen to go to one of the best school’s in the country, and whats more, now being annointed worthy of one of its exclusive fraternities. Oh, and of course they’ve grown up in a culture that is still sexist, racist, and all sorts of other -ists, so when they’re in a boundary-testing mood, these are the unexamined and buried scripts that they recall.

I’m not, in any way, trying to let these guys off the proverbial hook. I think they’re probably already well aware that they need to check themselves before they wreck themselves, as my friend Ice Cube would say (see apology here). I’m just trying to suggest that it’s more useful for us to see them as complex human beings whose ignorance is on full display, than losers who know they’re losers. Something is broken inside these guys–that little voice that tells you that even though something seems wildly bold and fun in its fuckedupness, it’s not worth doing. A connection that others might make between the women they’ve known and loved, and the words that are pouring out of their drunken mouths, has been ripped apart. Their ethical inner lives are truly impoverished.

I’d like to start there, rather than going on and on about what privileged a-holes they are. I went to school with guys like these. I’ve probably even liked a few of them in their less annoying, bro-dude-seriously moments. And I know that they’re not going to change by sheer shame alone.

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