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Fraternity Ideals and Brett Kavanaugh

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Denison chapter.

In an article published by The New Yorker entitled, “Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, and Things Men Do For Other Men,” author Jia Tolentino discusses the way in which men’s, and in this case Brett Kavanaugh, views of women have been impacted by fraternity life. I think it is important to distinguish that not all fraternity chapters are the same, and not all fraternity men have similar experiences. But, in the case of Brett Kavanaugh, it appears that his involvement in two fraternities during college has impacted his view of women, thus making the accusations against him even more significant.

In Tolentino’s article, she quotes Nicholas Syrett who wrote that “fraternities attract men who value other men more than women” in his book, “The Company He Keeps” about the history of white fraternities. Syrett goes on to say that the reason for this is due to the fact that “The intimacy that develops within fraternal circles between men who care for each other necessitates a vigorous performance of heterosexuality in order to combat the appearance of homosexuality.” In this kind of environment, Tolentino explains that fraternity men use women as tools to show off their sexual prowess and develop bonds with their fraternity brothers. And this “vigorous homosexuality” can be seen through Kavanaugh’s choice of fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon or DKE.

The Yale chapter of DKE is notorious for accusations of sexual assault and heavy drinking. The Yale Daily News has covered various stunts by the fraternity throughout its years on the campus. According to the paper, DKE members, during Kavanaugh’s sophomore year, carried a flag made up of women’s underwear across campus, although it appears that Kavanaugh himself was present during their walk. In 2011, DKE pledges were suspended for five years after chanting, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” in front of the Yale Women’s Center. And, in 2016, DKE’s president was suspended after the school found him guilty of “penetration without consent,” or in other words, rape.

In the Greek system, women are purposefully made to be unequal to their male counterparts. Fraternity parties encourage heavy consumption of alcohol and even drugs, as well as encouraging women to look as “slutty” as possible with themed parties like, Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes, CEOs and Office Hoes, and Mathletes and Athletes. At some fraternity chapters, the showing of skin is almost required to be able to even attend the event. Tolentino also brings up the point that customarily, it is the fraternity that throws the party and therefore, provides the alcohol. The lacing of party-provided drinks with date-rape drugs and high-proof alcohols has become common practice among many fraternities and as Tolentino writes, because “sororities rely on fraternities to provide booze—they frequently become a casualty of this dynamic.”

Tolentino makes the point that this idea of male “performance” is not only pervasive throughout the fraternity circle, but is present in male social and professional life as well. She writes, “In high schools, in colleges, at law schools, and in the halls of Washington, men perform for one another and ascend to positions of power…it illuminates the centrality of sexual assault in the matrix of male power in America.”

So, what does all this information have to do with Judge Kavanaugh? It suggests that having spent many years in a system that views women as simply a means to an end, Kavanaugh may have truly believed that sexual assault was the way to gain power, to gain male trust and bonds. That being said, Kavanaugh’s fraternity participation by no means validates his actions. However, it is somewhat illuminating in regards to figuring out why he did the things he did. In some ways, one could argue that Kavanaugh’s actions have, more or less gotten him to exactly the place he wanted to be. And, moreover, have helped him to secure the trust and admiration of one of the most powerful men in the United States today.

President Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, went to bat for Judge Kavanaugh during his news conference at the UN. He spoke very highly of Kavanaugh saying, “This is one of the highest quality people I’ve ever met and everyone that knows him says the same thing.” Then, when asked by a reporter if he understood why a victim of sexual assault would not immediately come forward, Trump responded, “I only say this. Thirty-six years, no charge, no nothing.” Most unsurprisingly, Donald Trump identified to the situation Brett Kavanaugh has found himself in because it has happened to him too. Trump told the press that the accusations against Kavanaugh were “totally false” and continued on saying, “I’ve had numerous accusations about me. They [his female accusers] made false statements about me, knowing they were false. I never met them. And what did they do? They took money in order to say bad things.”

Brett Kavanaugh certainly should be held accountable for his actions, regardless of his age or how intoxicated he happened to be. There is no excuse or justification for sexual assault. However, if the fraternity system has not appeared to change very much since Kavanaugh’s own time in it, then the continuation of men viewing women a sexual pawns in their rise to power is never ending. Kavanaugh is not the only man living unaffected, after having sexually assaulted one or many women. Quite frankly, it’s 2018. The time of viewing women as objects of sexual desire, as unequal, as incompetent, is over. 

Who's that girl, it's Lex! English Literature major at Denison University.