Feminisms: Frat Surveys, Mens Magazines, and Violence Against Women

Yesterday, an extremely upsetting news story about the University of Vermont’s chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity made the Internet rounds. Apparently, a survey given to members of the chapter asked, in addition to harmless questions like what are your hobbies, fave music, etc, “If you could rape someone, who would it be?”


It’s been 24-hours since I heard this and I’m still seething (see above keyboard freakout). I’m seething because I’m not surprised. At all. This is not to put down Greek culture as a whole (I’ll let others do that), but in my studies about rape culture and my experience as a sexual violence peer educator back in college, it’s clear to me that groups of men often try to impress each other using women as the tool. Some of these same men have also committed sexual acts that meet the definition of rape, but seem to have “no idea” that what constitutes acquaintance rape and consent. See also: Judd Apatow’s oeuvre, aka getting girl drunk so she’ll have sex with you (Superbad, 40-Year Old Virgin). That little tactic, boys, is called r-a-p-e. Learn it. Know it. Don’t Do it.

So to see a survey like this in which men are actively calling out who they want to, as Whoopi Goldberg would call it “rape rape,” I am horrified. But, I am not surprised. I know these statistics are a bit out-dated, but in 1980 Malamuth and Check reported that 69% of the men they sampled would rape a woman if they could get away with it. Did those men raise the men who wrote the frat survey? Somebody told them it was okay to treat women this way. Makes me wonder if it’s just an act when men say they didn’t know they raped someone in those “he said/she said” situations. I mean, isn’t pretending you didn’t know that “no means no,” while also benefiting from society’s propensity to victim blame (see: comment threads on the Vermont stories), basically “getting away with it?”

And I repeat:


How does this happen? How do we raise a society where the men not only want to rape women when they can get away with it, but one in which they rape women all the time and seemingly don’t understand they’ve done anything wrong? The answer is our rape culture: the language we use, the way we treat gender, the dynamics we set up between men and women, our films (see again: Judd Apatow), our visual culture, our music… In fact, a recent British study compared the language in men’s magazines (FHM, Loaded, etc.) and that of convicted rapists and COULDN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE. That’s right, men’s magazines spoke about women the same way that rapists did. (to see the examples, go here, but seriously, TRIGGER WARNING) Of course stuff like this creates a society where fraternity brothers think it’s okay to ask “who would you rape” questions on surveys…

Yesterday, the CDC’s The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) also came out: Oh, the poetic timing of the Universe! You can read the executive summary here, but some key findings are:

  • More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.
  • More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance; for male victims, more than half (52.4%) reported being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger.
  • An estimated 13% of women and 6% of men have experienced sexual coercion in their lifetime (i.e., unwanted sexual penetration after being pressured in a nonphysical way); and 27.2% of women and 11.7% of men have experienced unwanted sexual contact.

This is what’s happening to people who you know and love, University of Vermont Sigma Phi Epsilon members. And only ONE of you came forward about the survey… You deserve to lose more than your charter, a punishment I doubt will fully impress upon your members what a question like that on a survey really means to women and men who have experienced sexual violence or to the future of our society that continues to condone and propagate rape culture… or to your own lives and the type of person you want to be.

For shame.

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19 thoughts on “Feminisms: Frat Surveys, Mens Magazines, and Violence Against Women

  1. […] Anyhow, I hope you watched it and smiled like I did. Really nice to see positive action from young people. Kinda turns a day around. […]

  2. Jim Bishop says:

    I have a question, though I can forecast many of the responses. I will lead by saying I am not, in any way, attempting to justify rape. Still, I have a question. One interpretation of rape, now challenged by some sociological scientists (‘The Natural History Of Rape’), is that rape is an expresson of male aggression and will to dominate women. If the motivation is non-procreative, as people often claim, what is the root of the agression? Male infants and boys are generally raised by females, and the primary grades in school are commonly taught by women. Could there be some ingredient in the relationship between young males and their significant female others that breeds this agression? An alternative could be that male humans are naturally (instinctively?) aggressive toward females in the most basic primate sort of way, a view, given the affect of education and socialization on ‘civilized’ males, and the commonly peaceful relationship between male and female children, I tend to reject.

    • emkfeminist says:

      “The Natural History of Rape” is badly done pseudo-science that justifies rape as an ‘evolutionary adaptation’ in the male of the species. Thornhill & Palmer attempt to back up their ridiculous thesis by citing male scorpionflies as an example and extrapolating their findings to account for human rape as well. This nonsense holds male rapists completely unaccountable (they couldn’t help it), engages in disgusting female victim blaming, and totally ignores the fact that men are also the victims of rape, women can be perpetrators, and a penis is not the only thing used to rape someone. I would recommend reading “Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape” by Nicola Gavey to gain some insight into the ridiculously flawed logic behind Thornhill & Palmer’s ‘work’.

      • Jim Bishop says:

        That may have been fun for you to write, and interesting for me to read, but it doesn’t move us far toward an answer to my question. ‘If the motivation is non-procreative, as people often claim, what is the root of the agression?’ In any event, according to Nationmaster, a source I cannot evaluate, the US doesn’t appear among the worst 50 nations where rape is listed per capita.(http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_rap_percap-crime-rapes-per-capita) Nothing justifies even one, of course.

        Still, whatever the real number may be, my question remains. Why do some American men reach puberty and begin acting in violently sexual ways toward women? In addition, while I an not carrying a brief for Thornhill and Palmer, their thesis often receives what I consider to be an irrational evaluation from feminists, many of whom show no sign of having read the book, and thinking about it. Particularly typical is the very false claim that the two scientists theory ‘…holds male rapists completely unaccountable (they couldn’t help it)…’ The two researchers cannot, reasonably, be accused of making any such suggestion, nor do they hang their research on the behavior of one species of insect. I will investigate the book you have referenced, and hope you will take a few moments and actually read the book you have trashed. My brief attempt thus far to find information about your book has led me to an ‘Association for Women in Psychology’ and the ‘Psychology of Women Quarterly.’ among other sources, all written by women, and praised by women’s organizations. It seems to me that we are here dealing with a subject that, on inspection, should reveal the same answer to a man or a woman investigator. I have yet to discover a review that seems completely clear of any gender bias; you know, ‘The American Psychological Association,’ rather than ‘The American Men’s (or Women’s) Psychological Association.’ I am always suspicious of any ‘scholarly’ organization that specifies its priorities as it claims to be a source of objective truth.

  3. emkfeminist says:

    Sorry; hit reply before I meant to. The Nicola Gavey book also answers many of the questions you pose, Jim. It provides a very thorough investigation of what we call ‘rape culture’ in order to account for ‘normal’, ‘average’ guys committing and/or condoning rape. She argues that rape doesn’t occur because of some sort of natural aggression, but because of how we are socialized to understand gender, ‘romance’, and heterosexual relations. Anyhow, my synopsis doesn’t do it justice; you should definitely check it out for yourself. :)

  4. emkfeminist says:

    Wow. Thanks for showing me new levels of condescension and arrogance, Jim Bishop. Obviously, I wrote my comment for “fun” and not as a serious response to your comment. If you do actually take the time to look into what I said and the book I recommended, it does answer your question.

    Sexual violence is normalized and perpetuated by a culture that teaches males to objectify women. Yes, some rapists may also fit into the category of sociopath or psychopath, but the majority of rapes are committed by “normal” men who know their victims and don’t think they did anything wrong. Evidently, if you re-read the original post, sexual violence is minimized and normalized in our society when college fraternities think it’s not only completely acceptable, but funny to make surveys about who you would rape if given the chance. Anyway, it’s hugely complex issue, and like I said in my follow up comment, “the Nicola Gavey book answers many off the questions you pose, Jim.”

    As for your claims about Thornhill & Palmer, they’re simply not true. The implications of their work hold women accountable for their own rapes because of their “provocative” behaviour and clothing, which the authors think women should keep in check. I stand by my previous comments.

    And god forbid that the Nicola Gavey (an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland) is part of/contributes to the “Psychology of Women Quarterly” or the Association for Women in Psychology. The very presence of the word “woman” automatically makes it biased — of course! And there is definitely no bias present in the APA EVER! If there were, it would include the word “woman” or “man” in the title. Or, you know, — just a thought — the “woman” part could refer to the subject matter being written about by psychologists, or it could refer to supporting women professionals in a field traditionally dominated by men. I know, I know. That’s reverse sexism, right?

    • Jim Bishop says:

      OK. Slowly, and quietly, have you read the book you trashed?

      • Elizabeth says:


        I haven’t replied because Megan is doing a fantastic job, but going to pipe in. I just had an upper GI endoscopy so I’ll keep this short and quick so I can go back to being loopy from anasthesia…

        1) I personally have read the book–I also have a degree in biological anthropology and this is considered, in general, medicocre, sensationalizing ‘scholarship.’ There is nothing wrong with talking about evolutionary imperatives behind sexual assault or biological characterstics that aid in our cultural acceptance of assault of women for purposes of control and power. This book does not do a good job of it and does tend toward victim-blaming.

        2) My original post touches on why boys do this when grow up: our rape culture teaches them to and, in fact, rewards them for it. Read the book Megan suggested for more details.

        3) Being suspect of specialized journals is ridiculous for multiple reasons a) There are tons of specialized subject journals, doesn’t change methodology or level of research. Just provides more platforms for publication and knowledge-sharing. b) The main organizations are, by default, white male organizations, which have left populations and perspectives underserved and underrepresented. Your argument is akin to the ‘Why do black people need own tv channel OR magazine aka BET? Where’s the white person tv channel?!” Um, every other tv channel and magazine and movie? They are, both purposefully and by default of our colonialist society, white. Same argument applies to academic and women.

        4) Perhaps instead of spending time talking about why we got here, you could work toward challenging the status quo? Whether men evolved to rape women or not, our brains allow us to see it’s wrong. So change it. People evolved eating meat, yet vegans are running marathons these days. Same idea.

        Okay, going to go back to laying on the couch.

        Happy holidays to all.

      • Jim Bishop says:

        I am sorry you are not feeling well, and hope for your speedy recovery. Merry Christmas.

        ‘This book does not do a good job of it and does tend toward victim-blaming.’ I don’t see it that way, and neither do the authors. Yours is a common reaction from feminists however, disdaining any suggestion that women contribute to the rape culture, and immediately charging any man who suggest women do have some responsibility with being a misogynist. The central point the authors made, however well you judge they made it, is that rape is most often a technique for reproduction and is common among many species, including humans. Males want to mate with as many females as possible, and females want to mate with the most successful and powerful male. It is a complex of cross purposes, and, if true, requires a change from the commonplace view that the crime is due to some urge to dominate in most cases, though certainly some.

        I once saw a beautiful young woman step down from an airplane and walk to the LAX terminal in a dress designed to look like flimsy underwear. To finish the getup, the designer had an open slit on each side of the gown that was held by lacing. The point was, I gather, to give proof to the suggestion that she had nothing on under the outfit as each side of her body was revealed from just under her arm to the bottom of the dress and there was nothing except skin to catch the eye. Now, I hold the firm opinion that a woman should be able to walk naked down any sidewalk, at any time of day, and not be molested or made uncomfortable, but I’m 70 years old and know from my travels that our world is not marching to that tune. Thus, what was the young woman trying communicate with her wonderful display of her body? Does she have any responsibility for the impact we can forecast she will have on the primates among us who lack my training, education, and lack of testosterone? Aside from the other factors we are discussing, the judgement and behavior of females must be subject to inquiry, or we are just engaged in a political battle.

        For the record, I fully agree that the fraternity poll you referenced should, as happened in ‘Animal House,’ earn ‘double secret probation’ for the person that wrote it. At some point, women and men will need to calm down and stop trashing each other as if every woman, and each man, is the same as the morons that put out the poll, and the idiots that don’t read books before they burn them. I continue to feel that there is no need to have a ‘men’s/women’s (name your science) association.’ If the inquiry is founded on the philosophy of science, the answer must be the same no matter the gender of the researcher.


      • Elizabeth says:

        I’m not going to respond any further to circular victim blaming arguments (eg I don’t think anyone should be molested, but what did she expect for wearing a dress like that?!) The authors of ‘Natural History’ clearly provided a compelling argument that fits into your worldview, one that is much more divisive about gender than my own. Feminists are not one thing nor do we have a call sheet with ‘appropriate’ feminist reactions to things. We are multi-faceted and consist of many varying perspectives. As I said, I have a degree in biological anthropology AND I think this book is crap ‘science.’ I am also a feminist and an anti-rape advocate. I could go on and on dissecting the problems in your response. Instead, the only (last) thing I will say is:

        The only person responsible for rape is the rapist.

      • Jim Bishop says:

        Hey! Can the lady get an Amen?

  5. Jim Bishop says:

    By the way – http://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/17/us/vermont-rape-survey/index.html

    >CNN) — The University of Vermont’s chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity has been closed after a survey surfaced online asking fraternity brothers whom they would rape.
    The national Sigma Phi Epsilon organization said it is “indefinitely closing the chapter.”
    “Without suggesting that every member had knowledge of this questionnaire, the questions asked in the document are deplorable and absolutely inconsistent with our values,” Brian Warren, the fraternity’s executive director, said in a statement.
    University of Vermont officials said they “respect and support” the decision.
    “From the beginning of this unfortunate situation, the national representatives of Sigma Phi Epsilon have been thorough, respectful and very serious in investigating this matter,” UVM Interim President John Bramley and Provost Jane E. Knodell said in a statement.<

    The small amount of research required to find this might have saved your going off, dare I say it, 'half cocked.'

    • Elizabeth says:

      I’m not really sure the intent of your comment? Did you actually read the piece? Whether the national org closed the Vermont chapter or not (which I knew when I wrote it was under consideration- good for them for following through) has nothing to do with my argument, other than being follow-up info. My original post was about the survey’s existence being evidence of prevalence of rape culture, which is fed into by mainstream magazines (men’s magazine study) and how that translates into actual crimes (the cdc violence report that came out same day). It wasn’t about how the frat should be closed and oops! If only this over-emotional woman-brain of mine had known how to google!

      To be honest, I’m a bit miffed by your implication that my essay had no research or evidence behind it and is just some sort of emotional knee-jerk reaction. I do ‘minimal’ research on all my posts, and trust me, they aren’t based on reading CNN. I’m actually a historian by training (w a graduate degree and 10 yrs in the public history field), and use all the intellectual background and methodology that comes from that in my plain language writing.

      Finally, so what if the national chapter had some nice words to say about their values and closed that frat? It got caught doing something unconscionable! What else were they going to publicly do? Doesn’t disprove rape culture exists one tiny bit and it certainly doesn’t change the studies I referenced or the saddening violence statistics that were just released.

      • emkfeminist says:

        Dear Elizabeth,

        I was going to leave a response, but your comment covered everything I would have said and then some! Thanks for that and keep up the good work here. Many people on the internet would be lucky to have an “over-emotional woman-brain” such as yours. ;)

        I hope you get to spend time with friends and family and take a small break from obviously pointless arguments with internet trolls over the next few days. Seasons greetings!

      • Jim Bishop says:

        Merry Christmas to everyone here.

        It should go without saying, but obviously does not, that I have never used here, nor anywhere else either, the phrase “over-emotional woman-brain.” That is a straw-man of your invention. I came on the Blog asking a question that you cannot seem to engage, referred to a book two participants do not like, one of which will not say she has read, and have suggested serious topics both reject. As there have been some credentials trotted out, I am a retired full professor who would fail you both should you have responded during a graduate seminar in the fashion you have displayed here.

        Best to you both for the new year.

  6. emkfeminist says:

    1. I used the woman-brain term in response to what Elizabeth said, as a joke to her. In fact, none of my comment was directed to you at all. And while you claim that this is a strawman she invented, you did imply that she had an emotional, knee-jerk reaction and stated that she hadn’t done her research by saying she went off “half cocked.”

    2. Yes, I’ve read the book. You didn’t actually ask me if I had, rather, you made a blanket statement about most feminists judging it without reading it. Specifcally, you directed me back to your original question about male aggression, which I answered again. You then patronized me further by implying I was either stupid, a child, or both because I hadn’t answered a question you didn’t ask in the first place.

    3. Neither of us have failed to engage with you. We have disagreed with you and offered counter-arguments, which, apparently, you don’t like.

    4. The internet is not a graduate seminar, as you have demonstrated; if a prof were ever to have addressed me in a seminar the way you have here, I would have dropped their class.

  7. […] Anyhow, I hope you watched it and smiled like I did. Really nice to see positive action from young people. Kinda turns a day around. […]

  8. egalitarian says:

    The “1 in 71 men have been raped” stat from the CDC survey doesn’t tell the whole story. It defines “rape” as the attacker penetrating the victim, which excludes women who use their vagina to rape a man (rape by envelopment) which is counted as “made to penetrate”. The very same survey says “1 in 21 men (4.8%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else,” which is far more than 1 in 71. Also, the study says that 79.2% of male victims of “made to penetrate” reported only female perpetrators, meaning they were raped by a woman.

    The above, lifetime stats do show a lower percentage of male victims (up to 1.4% rape by penetration + 4.8% made to penetrate = 6.2%) than female victims (18.3%) although it is far more than the 1 in 71 you stated. However, if you look at the report’s stats for the past 12 months, just as many number of men were “forced to penetrate” as women were raped, meaning that if you properly define “made to penetrate” as rape, men were raped as often as women.

  9. […] Anyhow, I hope you watched it and smiled like I did. Really nice to see positive action from young people. Kinda turns a day around. […]

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