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December 11, 2017

The objectification of women in Greek life

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

Across the United States and on our campus here at the University of Massachusetts, women are consistently treated as objects in fraternities. While the culture of Greek life at American universities is deeply rooted in tradition, one must ponder the effects of a potentially degrading system for young women growing up in this kind of social climate.

A classic example of this behavior at fraternity parties can be seen before you even walk in the door. Standing outside, women are often seen and described merely as bodies in a ratio of women to men, essentially making them a currency in the transactions of men who attempt to attend these parties. Everyone has heard an example of a man speaking to a fraternity brother, saying something like “I’m with four girls,” as a way to get in. The way in which these women are discussed at the door portrays their objectification distinctly, as it likens them to no more than something to be traded in return for entry. Personally, many of the girls that I am friends with have expressed a distaste for how they are treated outside of these parties, especially as men who are strangers will ask them to help them get inside. Often, these men don’t even bother to ask for their names.

Some weekends, themed parties that further objectify and sexualize women are held at fraternities, while men are able to attend in costumes that lack the same level of seductiveness. Party themes such as “CEOs and office hoes,” “King Tuts and Egyptian sluts” and even “lingerie party” incentivize women to wear more revealing clothing and often lack a male requirement of the same caliber. With many people adhering to these particular mandates, college campuses have created a culture of simply accepting these issues as normal actions of young adults—both male and female. In order to create a less sexualized view of women, issues like the expectation that certain outfits must be worn at parties must be done away with.

Once inside, an intense environment loaded with excess amounts of alcohol and drug abuse can create situations in which sexual assault and rape become a disturbing reality for some women. According to the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002, “one in five young women experiences rape during college,” which is a truly chilling statistic. With the image of young adults partying being heavily represented in popular culture, the effects appear to have normalized a custom of categorizing women as sexual objects untouched by the concept of obtaining consent. Allowing such activities to continue across our country devalues so much of the social progress made over the past century, especially if women in these situations are not perceived as people with hopes, fears and futures to build. Constructing a dialogue geared toward educating the public about the harmful effects of perpetuating a damaging association of women as sex symbols is absolutely imperative as the world works toward fostering respect for all.

Greek life at UMass and in the U.S. has the potential to exist as a formative agent for the growth of young people of all genders. But in order for such positivity to exist, a significant change must occur in the basic structure of the way women are treated, both inside the college bubble and in the real world. Altering the way smaller institutions, like fraternities, work could ultimately influence the way in which some women perceive themselves and their self-worth, in turn modifying how people interact with each other on the most basic levels of communication. No longer can we ignore the fundamental moral injustice of representing women as a commodity, or as objects existing to meet set standards of beauty and behavior.

Jake Russian is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at jrussian@umass.edu.

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