Shopping for Arm Candy in Hanson Hall
My first interaction with real-live frat boys was not entirely pleasant. In my second week of college, as I sat on my bed hurrying to finish a reading I had due, I heard several loud voices outside my open door. Distracted, I looked up to see a group of fraternity brothers in my hallway, talking to the guys on my floor. They were looking for freshmen girls to take to their formal, intent on shopping in my residence hall for the most attractive prospects. The guys on my floor were confused, offering a couple names up, as the brothers strolled back and forth through the hall, peering in at the girls in their rooms. I turned my head away from my door, hiding my face behind my hair, desperate not to be seen in that moment.
“Come on, guys,” one said loudly, “Let’s go to a different floor. You guys have a terrible selection here.”
The boys on my floor laughed, returning to whatever they were talking about previously, and I finally got up, closing my door on the scene. It felt pretty awful to be deemed part of a “terrible selection” in the first month of college, but it felt even worse to be looked at in this way, appraised and tossed aside in a minute after a brief inspection that I had never asked to be a part of. However, this treatment of women is common, and it seems, to some, completely acceptable. In a matter of minutes, these frat boys had unknowingly turned my dorm room, the closest place I have to a home at Gettysburg, into an environment in which I felt uncomfortable and frightened.
This is not the first time I have experienced this kind of treatment. In ninth grade, two boys in my class created a list of the hundred hottest girls in the grade. The last ten girls on the list were put on as jokes, just for amusement, as if suggesting these girls were attractive was preposterous to them. Outlooks like these, which seem minor on the surface, lead to more serious issues, as they encourage the mistreatment of women and normalize unacceptable behaviors, leading to the dismissal of sexual harassment as “boys being boys” or “locker room talk.”
When we allow such behavior without comment, we uphold systemic sexism. And, before we realize it, the silence that follows leads to a society in which a man can continuously and purposefully make vulgar comments yet still become President of the United States.
Research done by psychologists at the University of Kent has proven the relationship between objectification and aggression towards girls. The frat boys in my dorm did not see me as a person, but instead as an object to either be used as a formal date or to be deemed not good enough for them. When girls are objectified in this way, they are stripped of humanity. Instead of being seen as people, they are seen as objects, unable to have feelings, be hurt, or say “no.” Objectification of women rationalizes violence towards them, as they can be used however the aggressor sees fit, which can often mean sexual harassment or assault. These are the issues that Title IX protections work to prevent.
In 1972, Title IX of the education amendments was passed, changing the ways that government-funded schools nationwide were held responsible for punishing and preventing sexual harassment and assault on school campuses. In 2011, the Obama Administration enacted a comprehensive set of guidelines that clarified what schools’ responsibilities are under the law to enforce Title IX.
On September 22, 2017, Betsy DeVos officially announced that the Department of Education would be rolling back the “Dear Colleague Letter” set forth by the Obama administration in an effort to reduce the number of false sexual assault accusations that she claims are common even though only 2%-10% of claims are false.
While the Title IX law hasn’t changed, schools’ responsibilities are no longer well-defined. Without clarity on protections, survivors of sexual assault will again endure the shame and silence that has long overshadowed the reporting process at schools. It also perpetuates the misconception that false reporting is a frequent issue and that those accused did not receive due process.
By implying that victims are falsely accusing others of sexual assault, this rollback encourages the mindset that women are to be dismissed. It strips women of basic trustworthiness and respect, which allows for them to be seen not as people, but as objects. It excuses an environment in which a fraternity brother can roam first year dorms to determine whether or not a young woman is good enough for him. In short, it perpetuates a campus culture in which inequity, shame and fear can thrive.
This is not an environment that is acceptable for learning and growth. And it is detrimental to the progress of Title IX, which has not only protected victims of sexual assault and harassment, but has also given each gender equal rights to educational programs, activities, and federal financial assistance. Our response must not be one of complacency. We must take action on our own campus to foster an environment in which all of us can thrive.
Kate Delaney ’21