After a hiatus, Coffee and Conversation returns this Friday (check out the...
Guest Post: Why the Hockey Team Again: A Cultural Basis Underlying Predatory Behaviors
by Devyn Buckley
Like many other BU students, I was shocked to see the headline in BU Today that another accusation of rape was directed at a hockey team member. At first I believed that I clicked on old mail, seeing as this was a headline not too long ago in the same publication. Sadly, it would be hopeful to believe that this was the only extent of sexual violence on campus, as many cases probably do not become reported and resolved. Even less make it to BU headlines, though each is worthy of it, even if hockey players are not involved.
Interestingly, I saw it suggested in the Boston Globe and in President Brown’s university wide email that there may be a “cultural basis” for this behavior on the Hockey team. Brown has composed a team to investigate this possibility. He speaks for many when he suspects more than mere coincidence. After all, two serious criminal accusations have been made within only a few months—both directed at Hockey team members. However, narrowing one’s focus to the Hockey team is a mistake. Given the fact that only a handful of students belong to the Hockey Team and that the Hockey Team interacts with the rest of BU’s campus, the possibility of a campus cultural influence should be taken into consideration. Furthermore, we must be careful about what it means for a culture to be partly responsible for such serious behavior. If the investigation seeks to find a rape culture, it will likely come up short of evidence. However, if it looks for a culture condoning, say, sexism, stereotypes, jock worship, defiance of authority, and/or wild partying, etc behaviors such as sexual assault, harassment, coercion, and general disrespect can ensue without being overtly promoted.
Out of the mouths of both male and female students and on publically posted signs sexist beliefs are a common enough occurrence to worry about. The same may be said for other campuses. There are also questions as to the role of these beliefs in the greater culture at large. Many opinions reflecting stereotypes are not held to be sexist because sexism is often only seen as institutional discrimination (e.g. exclusion from job positions, politics, and generally, inequitable distribution of freedoms legally speaking). Stereotypes, that is, predefined characteristics, in this case for men and women, control behavior in ways that are sometimes more powerful than laws. Ideology is, arguably, the most effective social control in human history.
One of the stereotypes most pertinent to the recent incident is the belief that manliness consists in objectifying women. “To objectify” does not mean to be attracted to or be desirous of. It means what it sounds like: viewing someone as an object. The objectification of women pairs with the belief that sexual coercion is a triumph, since it involves manipulating a woman to allow herself to be used, an action incompatible with her stereotypically womanly desire to have an emotional connection, rather than a detached “manly” one. Essentially, sex is seen as an asocial act in the case of men and as an emotional one in the case of women. It is also perceived as a manly trait to accumulate a score of non-serious sexual encounters, viewing women as obtainable goods. A larger collection imparts a greater status or triumph, not to mention a secure display of heterosexuality. Stated literally, this appears worse than when it is stated in more metaphorical ways (i.e. jokes, popular music, character portrayals in movies), though the message is the same. Such beliefs are offensive to both women and men alike.
Additionally, the belief that college is a time to party, amplifies the problem by turning what should be serious into comedy. Many students are desirous of rebelling against an abstract authority—a patchwork of parents, conservative political positions, or abstemious religious beliefs—what have you. This combines with the already entrenched belief that such behavior is expected of college students. Additionally, party animals are seen as confident and independent in virtue of self-centered hedonism. The latter view especially supports notions of objectifying others because it makes the world into an instrument for the self and develops a particular understanding of pleasure as “detached” from others and animalistic.
Several concrete examples will serve to paint a portrait of this abstract “culture”. An issue involving sexist signs in my dormitory was brought to the attention of Deans Elmore and Weldon. One sign included a giant drawing of a phallus with a speech bubble next to it saying “come one, come all ladies.” This sign was in the common room for everyone to see and directly across from the RA’s room. Multiple signs were also hung around the house advertising a house event with a picture of a woman holding several pitchers of beer with the following written under it: “House event: Food! Women! Battlestar Galactica!” A response was written on the sign stating “this is sexist and offensive.” The following response was “Yeah, get over it!” This was also shown to the RA, who commented that she saw nothing wrong with it and did not take the signs down. Other images of penises were drawn and left hanging around the house with other explicit drawings.
If President Brown aims to profit by his investigation, I recommend a long stay in the Warren towers cafeteria, where ample supplies of the beliefs composing a campus culture come in the form of overheard conversation. With an open ear to Friday night anecdotes one doesn’t have to attend campus parties to know exactly what goes on there. Here are a few examples: I recall hearing a student brag about taking advantage of a 16 year old to a laughing group of 6, half of which were female. At an academic club I joined briefly, the entire club laughed at the fact that one member had made out with girls at parties and found it funny that they contacted him the next day as if he cared about them. He and the only other male member of the club agreed that “women were crazy.” A female member of the club, regarding the instrumentalization of women, remarked that that’s what boys were like. Though not every social gathering or party on campus involves this behavior, enough do to be paid attention to.
A series of written observations paints the portrait of the culture best, but has the disadvantage of not being verifiable. More concrete examples can be found in the record of the written word. Sexist attitudes are, in part, responsible for the tacit acceptance of predatory behaviors, often directed at freshman and including the incidents of late. Several BU publications have been quite frank about this fact. The BU Quad in the section The Hookup in an article titled Defeat the Walk of Shame guidelines are given for what to do the morning after “hooking up” with a stranger. There are two sections, one titled “For Girls” and the other “For Guys.” The section geared towards girls provides a series of ways to conceal the shameful night past. For guys there is a single line: “Get dressed post-coitus and look in the mirror. If you spot a hickey, pop up your collar. Thank you, double standards.” The approval of double standards in this case is literal. The use of the word “coitus” emphasizes the dehumanized nature of the hook up and the collar popping signifies confidence in conventional approval. What is worrisome is that this magazine is not fringe, but mainstream.
Another article titled Getting’ Fresh: The Freshman Hookup Phenomenon began with the affirmation that a massive amount of parties and clubs exist for the purpose of “pulling ass.” The author mentions that her boyfriends’ roommate, a 23 year old, asked out a waitress of about 18 out saying “Psssh. I just want to get laid at the least possible expense to me!” She further writes, “I have many good guy friends, and most of them confide in me the same ideal: they all want to have non-serious flings with girls. While I don’t discourage that…most guys seem to target underclassmen, who are so new to the college partying and dating scene they don’t know what they’re getting into.” Given that many people have birthdays half way into the fall term or later, it is likely that there are several cases of statutory rape going on here. While the article slightly admonishes freshman girls at the end, it is coupled with the contradictory statement that “hooking up can be fun.” Additionally there is a jokey tone throughout the entire article. The article also expects and approves of men instrumentalizing women. This generates a tacit approval of predatory behaviors including the coercion of freshman, harassment, and even assault.
To give an example outside of BU, the Huffington Post recently published an article on an online magazine written by college men for college men that published the following message on their site: “If the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. ‘That seems to be fairly good odds.’ … ‘Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying surprise’” The magazine is the self-advertised “number one university student lad’s magazine and guide to getting laid.”
The University of Surrey reported on a study to be published in the British Journal of Psychology in which a group of men and women were given quotes from the British lad mags FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo, as well as excerpts from interviews with convicted rapists originally published in the book The Rapist Files. The subjects couldn’t correctly distinguish which statements came from magazines and which from rapists. The lad magazine quotes were also rated as slightly more derogatory than the statements of convicted rapists. One quote from the men’s magazine read as follows: “You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.”
The prior examples certainly do not exhaust the examples of persistent sexist beliefs in campus culture. These beliefs are not merely bad in and of themselves, but are realized in actual behavior—more often in disrespect of women, harassment and coercion than rape, but still influencing the latter. While not technically rape, coercion can create a sense of being used and violated that mirrors the psychological ramifications of rape, especially in late adolescents. It should, therefore, not be disregarded. While most college students would not condone rape, it is obvious that sexist stereotypes combine synergistically with a free-wheeling, college party mentality to create a pernicious culture—pernicious because of its influence on how people choose to act. Just as this cultural abstract has a real manifestation, so can the push to raise consciousness, even if such change is subtle and slow. One of the most influential devices for changing ideas is media and also an audience. By raising awareness of the injustice of sexist beliefs and their consequences, a social taboo may be created. Social taboo provides a powerful check on behavior. Consider how forbidden racist claims are today. While the immediate steps to take are not obvious. What is clear from history is that individuals may have a real impact by raising consciousness. This article was written with the expectation of a receptive audience that may be inspired to do just this. Hopefully, President Brown’s suspicion as to whether or not these egregious incidents are mere coincidence has also been answered.
Primary source concerning the University of Surrey study followed by the secondary source from which I obtained it:
BU Quad article from which the “double standard” quote was taken: http://buquad.com/2010/08/29/10382/
Second quoted BU Quad article: http://buquad.com/2009/10/04/gettin-fresh-the-freshman-hookup-phenomenon/#respond