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.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/mlemac28/ Emily

    I am optimistic that with everything we do now being recorded on the internet, there will be less occurrences like this. If the names of these boys have been listed somewhere online, then every future employer is going to see it when they Google their prospective employees (I can only imagine how the job hunt is going for Alex Kochno). Arguably, this only curbs behavior and doesn’t actually change their feelings towards women, but changing behavior actually does change attitudes over time. For example, if you smile when you’re not happy, your mood picks up. Also if you punch a pillow when you are angry, you actually get more angry. Theoretically if we all act like compassionate human beings in public so that grad schools can’t see that we’re actually assholes, we might actually become a bit kinder.

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

    Your thoughts are very poignant, especially now Courtney. Things still haven’t changed. I recently watched the tv movie on the Glen Ridge rape on Lifetime and reading this news reminds me of what went on in the film. I can’t believe how ugly entitlement can be.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lilacwine/ Anthony

    Why was the apology not directed towards the Yale community, as a whole?

  • http://feministing.com/members/rementec/ Colin

    Hi, first time commenter here

    I like your analysis a lot Courtney and it makes me wonder what their relationships with women are like. It seems like in this all-male spaces, like fraternities, that a lot is said and done that wouldn’t be acceptable outside of it. I am a college student and hear not only misogynistic, but homophobic comments all the time in these spaces, but it makes me agree with Mr. Kimmel and you in a very particular way, in that they are so insecure that they need to do things like these to reaffirm their “manliness”

  • http://feministing.com/members/athenia/ athenia

    I was really struck by the competitive element of the chant—it’s not just “no means yes” but “yes means anal.” While they might have great relationships with their SOs, this is so Tucker Max-like. Sex isn’t about pleasure, it’s about a conquest. It’s about getting to do the most “degrading” thing to a woman.

    I just don’t understand it.

  • http://feministing.com/members/kcar1/ kcar1

    I think you are dead-on… my grandfather used to say 1 boy is 1 boy, 2 boys is half a boy, and 3 boys is just trouble. Most are surely pretty normal guys and they are 18 (19, 20, etc.) meaning they are juveniles doing what juveniles do — finding/pushing the boundaries.

    That is not an excuse, to me that is all the more reason for the Yale administration to really make a point of establishing this is unacceptable behavior on the part of privilege students part of an elite organization at an elite institution — if anything, that DKE members are doing that suggests that message hasn’t been sent clearly enough before and to fail to act means there really isn’t much of a boundary there. They get to violate it, be “defiant,” and suffer no consequences… sounds like a recipe for well-formed leaders to me….

    If I were a parent of a Yalie, I’d be asking for a refund.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I’ll go on about what priveleged a-holes they are then. I only wish they were, as it was put here, “powerless losers”. The truth is they probably have the money and power behind them to get off the hook for any kind of crap they pull. Maybe they are just “testing their power” or whatever, but what kind of climate does it make for the young women who attend college with them. What kind of climate does it make for anyone at that school that does have a history of being sexually abused, or is just becoming a sexual being themselves, and wonders if this is the kind of thing they have to accept and endure? How much should we have to indulge people like this, just because they’re young, or insecure, or whatever other excuse they have?

  • http://feministing.com/members/defenderofpants/ David

    i dunno… are they really testing boundaries, or are they just completely oblivious to where those boundaries lie?

    • http://feministing.com/members/kcar1/ kcar1

      They can be one-in-the-same… but I think you can make a good argument that they “should know better.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/kmtou10/ Kerry

    Is the administration doing anything about this? I understand the First Amendment and all (sorry, Christine McDonnell) but there has to be some move that the Yale PR department is taking to fix this. It certainly doesn’t reflect well on the institution. After my university had a booze-filled throwdown (with rioting and tear gas, oh my!) last spring, the PR office made haste to turn the reputation of our university around. If these Yale shenanigans continue I guarantee that even some fourth-generation legacy parents won’t be paying for their son to go to their now-disgraced alma mater.

    My hope is that any freshman girl who is unlucky enough to live in that area and to overhear those chants knows very well that she is worth much more than these boys (not men) implied.