Yale Fraternity’s Chant Reveals Depth of Our Culture’s Misogyny

Will Neville

A Yale fraternity inducts pledges with a chant extolling rape culture. The problem isn't that they repeatedly yelled something stupid. It's that I'm no longer sure we're shocked by people turning rape and sexual assault into some kind of a joke.

This article is crossposted from Amplify.org, a project of Advocates for Youth.

A follow up article on the Yale Daily News response to the DKE episode can be found here.

This is going to have to be short since I’m about to get on a plane, but I’m too angry NOT to write this.  I feel too nauseous.  I am too ashamed of my country and the culture we live in.

Apparently, a Yale University fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon decided to induct a new class of pledges with the following chant:

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No means yes!
Yes means anal!
No means yes!
Yes means anal!
No means yes!
Yes means anal!
No means yes!
Yes means anal!

Fucking sluts!

I don’t even know where to start.  Maybe this is just one more example of our culture’s deeply ingrained misogyny.  It’s certainly not the first time fraternity brothers have shown insanely poor judgment — and in the era of YouTube, that poor judgment often ends up on display for all too see.  In fact, DKE president Jordan Forney has already issued a public apology

But this goes far beyond just a chant at a Yale frat house. 

The problem isn’t that a group of young men at yelled something stupid, over and over agian.  The problem is that I’m no longer sure we’re shocked by people who turn rape and sexual assault into some kind of a joke.  It’s embarassing for those involved, sure.  But the sentiment they expressed is shockingly — and terrifyingly  — mainstream.

I ran across the Yale story right after reading a post by Digy quoting conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly talking about how it is impossible for a married woman to be raped by her husband:

 “I think that when you get married you have consented to sex. That’s what marriage is all about, I don’t know if maybe these girls missed sex ed. That doesn’t mean the husband can beat you up, we have plenty of laws against assault and battery. If there is any violence or mistreatment that can be dealt with by criminal prosecution, by divorce or in various ways. When it gets down to calling it rape though, it isn’t rape, it’s a he said-she said where it’s just too easy to lie about it”

Because a woman consents to marriage  — and, by doing so consents to a sexual relationship with her husband – apparently she can NEVER say no again.  It’s nice of Schlafly to acknowledge that violence and mistreatment are still unacceptable  — but, even by separating them out as separate categories, she frames the conversation in a way that minimizes sexual assault.  Rape, Schlafley implies, is neither violent nor mistreatment.  It’s just something that women have coming to them.  It’s in the job description to endure and survive.

Reading these stories back to back got me thinking.  Our culture doesn’t assume that all women deserve to be raped all the time.  After all, we’re still pretty obsessed with the preservation of female virginity – especially among young women.  America’s abstinence-only-until-marriage culture is still deeply ingrained, even if the programs that promote this ideology are finally begining to crumble.

I worry, though, that we’ve taken the Virgin/Whore dichotomy a step too far…  Have we hit a place where any sexually active woman – or any woman who has somehow failed to live up to our bizarre (and bizarrely sexualized) standards of sexual “purity” – is simply a lost cause?  She loses her agency.  She forfeits her ability to say no  — ever again.

Whether an assault is committed by a partner, by a spouse, or by a stranger, rape is a crime.  Whether the assailant or the victim is a man or a woman, sexual assault is NOT up for debate.  I can’t believe that we have already trivialized rape to the point that this is actually a debatable issue. 

But, with cultural attitudes like this, is it any wonder that so many sexual assaults go unreported?

1 in 3 women will be raped in her lifetime. 

I’ve heard that statistic a lot, but I don’t know if I ever really let it hit home.  1 in 3.  When was the last time you thought about the reality of that?  Seriously.  Look around the room.  Are there three women nearby?  Which one of those women is or will be an assault survivor?  Think about this the next time you walk down the street, the next time you’re hanging out with a group of friends, the next time you’re around the dinner table with your family.  Really look.  How many more women will have to suffer before we finally say THIS HAS TO STOP.

I’m sitting in an airport typing as fast as I can.  They’re starting to board my flight, and there are more than a hundred people in line already.  But now, as I look around, I can only wonder…  How many people here have been affected by sexual assault?  How many will be someday?  How many of their sisters or friends or daughters or mothers?  And what can we do to stop it? 

What can I do?

A few months ago, someone organized an event on Facebook called “National Punch A Slut Day.”  Literally thousands of people RSVPd that they would take part, possibly tens of thousands.  (I don’t remember exactly  — and the event is no longer accessible because the date has passed.) 

I was offended at the time, but now  — in hindsight  — I am simply horrified.  Because that’s how it starts.

One little game.  They play kissing tag on the play ground and pin a girl down even though she’s screaming “no.”  It’s recess.  They kids are only 6 years old.  It’s all just good clean fun.

One little Facebook joke. 
It’s wasn’t even a real event, right?  No one would ever actually punch someone.  Although she’d probably deserve it if they did, since she’s a slut and all.

One little chant.  “No means yes.  Yes means anal.  Fucking sluts!”  But it’s fine.  Some college boys just drank a little too much.  They were having fun.  And, after all, they’re sorry…

One little assumption.  If you’re married, consent automatically last forever…As long as your husband isn’t violent, you have no right to say no.  Ever.  Rape isn’t violent anyway.

We keep revising the definition of rape in our culture.  We tell ourselves that this time, it’s just a joke.  We didn’t mean it.  It was an innocent mistake. 

But someday we have to face the question  — and I beg you to join me in starting this conversation today  — when will we draw the line?  Because before too long, if a woman EVER consents to sex (and maybe even if she doesn’t) then she deserves whatever’s coming to her…For the rest of her life. 

She’s only a slut, after all. 

And yes will mean yes forever.

News Law and Policy

Wisconsin GOP’s Voter Restriction Law Suffers Another Legal Blow

Imani Gandy

In blocking many of Wisconsin's elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote.

A federal appeals court yesterday refused to stay a lower court order blocking several Wisconsin voting restrictions, allowing election officials to move forward with early voting in the state next month.

Attorneys on behalf of the state of Wisconsin filed the request for a stay with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court judge last month issued an injunction that blocked parts of Wisconsin’s sweepings elections laws.

The lower court ruled that the justification for the laws did not justify the burden on voting rights that they impose. And this week a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit declined to stay that ruling, without explaining.

The ruling comes days after elections officials in Madison and Milwaukee announced their intention to kick off early voting in late September, a month earlier than would have been allowed had the lower court not struck down the restrictions on early voting, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

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The Republican-backed elections law created state-imposed limitations on the time and location for in-person absentee voting, a provision requiring absentee ballots be sent by mail instead of fax or email, the requirement that dorm lists—a certified list provided by the university of the students living in college housing, which student voters may use as proof of residence—must include citizenship information, a ban on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to establish proof of residency, and a 28-day durational residency requirement.

In blocking many of Wisconsin’s elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote. Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature had implemented a system under which people who don’t have birth certificates or who have problems with gathering documentation needed to obtain the proper identification would still be able to vote.

The lower court noted that the Walker administration’s system did not provide a viable long-term solution for those voters who could not obtain their birth certificates because they were destroyed in fires or misplaced by bureaucrats.

The court later stayed that portion of the ruling, stating that the system created by Walker’s administration—which provides people with temporary voting credentials while they await a decision about whether they qualify for an ID—was sufficient to allow people to vote during the upcoming November election and therefore does not need to be immediately reformed.

The ruling comes on the heels of a ruling in another voting rights case in Wisconsin, Frank v. Walker, about the state’s voter ID law. In that case, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit stayed a ruling that would have permitted anyone eligible to vote in Wisconsin to an accommodation that would permit that voter to cast a ballot after signing an affidavit stating that they could not easily obtain an ID.

News Human Rights

What’s Driving Women’s Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates?

Michelle D. Anderson

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

Local court and law enforcement systems in small counties throughout the United States are increasingly using jails to warehouse underserved Black and Latina women.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a national policy and research organization, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, released a study last week showing that the number of women in jails based in communities with 250,000 residents or fewer in 2014 had grown 31-fold since 1970, when most county jails lacked a single woman resident.

By comparison, the number of women in jails nationwide had jumped 14-fold since 1970. Historically, jails were designed to hold people not yet convicted of a crime or people serving terms of one year or less, but they are increasingly housing poor women who can’t afford bail.

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

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Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” calls attention to jail incarceration rates for women in small counties, where rates increased from 79 per 100,000 women to 140 per 100,000 women, compared to large counties, where rates dropped from 76 to 71 per 100,000 women.

The near 50-page report further highlights that families of color, who are already disproportionately affected by economic injustice, poor access to health care, and lack of access to affordable housing, were most negatively affected by the epidemic.

An overwhelming percentage of women in jail, the study showed, were more likely to be survivors of violence and trauma, and have alarming rates of mental illness and substance use problems.

“Overlooked” concluded that jails should be used a last resort to manage women deemed dangerous to others or considered a flight risk.

Elizabeth Swavola, a co-author of “Overlooked” and a senior program associate at the Vera Institute, told Rewire that smaller regions tend to lack resources to address underlying societal factors that often lead women into the jail system.

County officials often draft budgets mainly dedicated to running local jails and law enforcement and can’t or don’t allocate funds for behavioral, employment, and educational programs that could strengthen underserved women and their families.

“Smaller counties become dependent on the jail to deal with the issues,” Swavola said, adding that current trends among women deserves far more inquiry than it has received.

Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute, said in “Overlooked” that the study underscored the need for more data that could contribute to “evidence-based analysis and policymaking.”

“Overlooked” relies on several studies and reports, including a previous Vera Institute study on jail misuse, FBI statistics, and Rewire’s investigation on incarcerated women, which examined addiction, parental rights, and reproductive issues.

“Overlooked” authors highlight the “unique” challenges and disadvantages women face in jails.

Women-specific issues include strained access to menstrual hygiene products, abortion care, and contraceptive care, postpartum separation, and shackling, which can harm the pregnant person and fetus by applying “dangerous levels of pressure, and restriction of circulation and fetal movement.”

And while women are more likely to fare better in pre-trail proceedings and receive low bail amounts, the study authors said they are more likely to leave the jail system in worse condition because they are more economically disadvantaged.

The report noted that 60 percent of women housed in jails lacked full-time employment prior to their arrest compared to 40 percent of men. Nearly half of all single Black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth, “Overlooked” authors said.

This means that costs associated with their arrest and release—such as nonrefundable fees charged by bail bond companies and electronic monitoring fees incurred by women released on pretrial supervision—coupled with cash bail, can devastate women and their families, trapping them in jail or even leading them back to correctional institutions following their release.

For example, the authors noted that 36 percent of women detained in a pretrial unit in Massachusetts in 2012 were there because they could not afford bail amounts of less than $500.

The “Overlooked” report highlighted that women in jails are more likely to be mothers, usually leading single-parent households and ultimately facing serious threats to their parental rights.

“That stress affects the entire family and community,” Swavola said.

Citing a Corrections Today study focused on Cook County, Illinois, the authors said incarcerated women with children in foster care were less likely to be reunited with their children than non-incarcerated women with children in foster care.

The sexual abuse and mental health issues faced by women in jails often contribute to further trauma, the authors noted, because women are subjected to body searches and supervision from male prison employees.

“Their experience hurts their prospects of recovering from that,” Swavola said.

And the way survivors might respond to perceived sexual threats—by fighting or attempting to escape—can lead to punishment, especially when jail leaders cannot detect or properly respond to trauma, Swavola and her peers said.

The authors recommend jurisdictions develop gender-responsive policies and other solutions that can help keep women out of jails.

In New York City, police take people arrested for certain non-felony offenses to a precinct, where they receive a desk appearance ticket, or DAT, along with instructions “to appear in court at a later date rather than remaining in custody.”

Andrea James, founder of Families for Justice As Healing and a leader within the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, said in an interview with Rewire that solutions must go beyond allowing women to escape police custody and return home to communities that are often fragmented, unhealthy, and dangerous.

Underserved women, James said, need access to healing, transformative environments. She cited as an example the Brookview House, which helps women overcome addiction, untreated trauma, and homelessness.

James, who has advocated against the criminalization of drug use and prostitution, as well as the injustices faced by those in poverty, said the problem of jail misuse could benefit from the insight of real experts on the issue: women and girls who have been incarcerated.

These women and youth, she said, could help researchers better understand the “experiences that brought them to the bunk.”


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