It is not the alpha males we must appeal to in the hopes of change, but rather those behind the scenes, those who have a conscience, those who may be strong enough to influence their peers. We need to reach out to the “middle guys.”
“Rowdy and fun… Hope your baby is ready for a good time.”
“She called you Daddy for 18 years. Now it’s our turn.”
“Freshman Daughter Drop Off. Go ahead and drop Mom off too.”
These are a few of the disturbing statements loudly (and proudly) displayed at Old Dominion University in Norfolk Virginia’s fraternity houses during “Welcome Week” for incoming freshmen students. My reaction to this news story was a myriad of emotions: as a woman, I am angry and disgusted. As a parent of a daughter, I am terrified. As a parent of sons, I am disappointed. And as a college alumnus myself, I am, unfortunately, not entirely surprised.
This type of behavior, “rape culture” as it is sometimes coined, is not new. Although this horribly disrespectful treatment of women did occur when I attended college 15 years ago, and when our parents and grandparents attended college as well, the rise of the Internet is doing us all a favor. Social media shoves these issues into our faces. We cannot possibly ignore the blatant suggestion, and mockery of sexual exploitation by a group of boys now that it is on every screen we see.
Therefore, as a parent, as a woman and as a girl who knew boys like this when she was a young, impressionable and nervous girl herself, I feel compelled to reach out—but not to the proud boys holding these signs. The few smiling (and probably drunk) faces in these images are not the faces of boys whom I deem reachable, or changeable, or even conscionable. I believe these are the few alpha-males in such fraternities who are simply douche-bags. They probably were raised by douche-bags and were not hugged as children. Even if this news story ruins their collegiate aspirations, I am not naïve enough to think they will rue their actions and feel compelled to rectify their wrongs. I think they will probably continue on with their douche-baggery, and it will manifest itself in other forms. The boys I would like to address are “middle boys.” They are in those frat houses, behind the scenes. They are part of the show, but they don’t run the show. And they know it is wrong, but they don’t know what to do. How do I know they are there? Because I was a “middle girl.”
As a girl, I was on the periphery—not the alpha-queen Regina George from Mean Girls, but allowed (tolerated might be a better word) to attend events run by the popular crowd. I had an older sister and older friends and was sort of funny and maybe a tiny bit cool. I was no Carrie getting blood poured on her head either. I wasn’t an outcast. I had friends and melded in with various social circles. Because of my role as a “middle girl,” I was granted access to the truths and master plans of the groups’ leaders. I knew their game, and how to play it. But middle kids get to keep their conscience. They know when something is wrong, and they have a choice in whether or not to participate. They aren’t top dog, but they are high enough on the hierarchy to possibly enact change and influence others.
So I’m looking at you, middle guys at Old Dominion and at all other high schools and universities. (Because Old Dominion frats are not unique in this way. They are just unlucky enough to have their infamous day in the sun right now. Next month it will be a new school with new signs and new douche-bags.) Middle guys, come out of those houses. I know you’re scared. You’ve worked so hard to solidify yourself a spot in the popular crowd, and to give it up means social suicide. But you’re also terrified of staying. You know the possibilities: what happens when the same mentality that created the signs hanging outside your house mixes with a keg party? You don’t want to see half-conscious girls being dragged into bedrooms as they softly say “No, please….” The frat leaders may implore you to participate. You’ll be called a pussy if you don’t do it. You’re not a man if you don’t do it. What are you going to do?
Next time you’re forced to choose, next time you hear your conscience trying to talk to you, ask yourself a question. Where will you be in 10 years? In 20? Where will that guy be who is taunting you? Will any of this matter? Will it matter if these boys liked you, included you? I know it seems like a lifetime away. But someday, middle guy, you’ll have a daughter. Someday she will be 18 and you’ll be dropping her off at college. You’ll pray she meets a nice guy, a middle guy maybe, who did the right thing and got out of that house.
Photo credit: Flickr/David Goehring