Another day, another fraternity controversy. This time the bad fraternity is the Sigma Nu chapter at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The frat boys put up some signage purporting to “welcome” freshmen girls—and their mothers!—to the house.
The jokesters’ signs read, “Rowdy and fun, hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman Daughter Drop Off” and “Go ahead and Drop Off Mom Too.” As a show of school pride, the “O,” “D” and “U” in “Rowdy and fun” were painted in the school’s color of blue while the other letters were black. Such school spirit! This didn’t sit well with the woman who snapped the picture, and she captioned the photo, “‘We’re the driving force of college rape culture and we should be banned from campus’ #ODU #RapeCulture.”
That’s basically what has happened. School President John R. Broderick sent out an emergency statement that began, “I am outraged about the offensive message directed toward women that was visible for a time on 43rd Street. Our students, campus community and alumni have been offended.” Vice President of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services Ellen Neufeldt had a statement of her own. So did student government. Even a group of “Monarch Keepers” got involved, making a video response. The school launched an investigation into the group and Sigma Nu has suspended the chapter while the investigation is ongoing. Condemnations of “rape culture” at Old Dominion can be found from far away, such as in this Dallas Morning News editorial:
What ‘Animal House’ Says About This Incident
Now, there are any number of reasonable reactions to this fraternity’s lame stunt. I’ll rip on it in a minute, but I can’t be the only person who thought of “Animal House” when I heard about this. “Animal House” was the 1978 comedy, starring John Belushi, about the travails of a ragtag group of fraternity members and their struggles to stay on campus. It’s completely gross and ribald and also very funny. The film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress, and is ranked highly on funniest movie lists. Here’s a section of the plot description:
Bluto and D-Day steal the answers to an upcoming test from the office trash, not realizing that the Omegas have planted a fake set of answers for them to find. The Deltas fail the exam, and their grade-point averages fall so low that [College dean Vernon] Wormer needs only one more incident to revoke their charter. To cheer themselves up, the Deltas organize a toga party. Wormer’s wife attends the party at Otter’s invitation, having met him at a shop, and has sex with him, while Pinto hooks up with Clorette, a girl he met at the supermarket, and makes out with her; instead of having sex, though, he takes her home in a shopping cart. He discovers in a later scene that she is the mayor’s 13-year-old daughter. Outraged, Wormer organizes a kangaroo court and revokes Delta’s charter.
Can you imagine if “Animal House” were made today? It wouldn’t be. I should know, as I just watched “Neighbors,” a 2014 movie about a ragtag group of fraternity members and their struggles to stay on campus. It was beyond gross and extremely vulgar, but not very funny. The sexual comedy was unmemorable and, somehow, involved far less character development than that of “Animal House.” But viewed in the context of the frat house comedy, Sigma Nu’s antics don’t even get past cliched. To call it rape shows a lack of understanding about the seriousness of that particular act of violence.
Having said that, there is in fact much shade to be thrown at current expressions of sexuality (male or otherwise). Those signs may not be rapey, but that doesn’t mean they should be defended.
Why We Can’t Talk About Sexual Misconduct
We’ve completely lost a vocabulary for discussing stuff like this. Nope, it’s not rape. However, it is loutish. And a civilized society should understand that loutishness and vulgarity are unbecoming of young men. It’s certainly easy to be boorish and discourteous toward freshmen girls and their mothers. And, yes, it’s true that young men greatly overestimate how funny or charming their unrefined obsession with sex can be.
One of the many problems with American higher education is that we’ve completely abandoned the framework for inculcating young adults with a healthy sexuality. At the most hormonally charged times of their lives, we basically tell young men and women that any type of sex with any one at any time for any reason is a good thing, and when it turns out that this path leads at best to hella lot more complications than they were told, they are given few healthy options.
Cultural elites love to mock those days when men who had sex with women prior to marriage were expected to take responsibility for any emotional or physical consequences that arose. But lifting that restriction on sexual liberty has had some pretty negative consequences for both women and men—you can ask most never-married mothers for some details on that, or even just talk to college-aged adults about their dissatisfaction with their sex lives. A man who hooked up with a woman and then ghosted her used to be considered a bad dude. Now the emotional baggage simply has to be carried by the woman who’s been mistreated.
And literally the only word we have for college-age sexual wrongdoing or mistreatment in this age range is “rape.” We shouldn’t be quite so surprised with the constant cries from feminists of “rape culture!” and the false allegations of rape, given that we’ve taken away all other words to describe bad sexual behavior.
Mothers and fathers need to help their daughters reclaim some of their sexual power by rejecting the culture that took it all away. And mothers and fathers need to teach boys that loutishness and vulgarity are not virtues or paths to happiness either.