December 3, 2006

Homophobia and Bored at Baker—It's Frat-astic!

So, even though Bored at Baker has been down for the past half-day or so (must be killing all of your attempts at procrastination), if you read Bored at Baker even somewhat occasionally while it was up, you probably noticed that a whole lot of posts are about 'gays'--how many brothers at a specific frat are gay, or how filled with closeted gays Dartmouth is (I think I saw the word 'fudge-packer' thrown around one time--what is this, British prep school?). And particularly popular is the combination of those two topics—how many closeted brothers there are in any given frat. This all leads me to wonder not whether any of this is true (I honestly don't care either way), but

Why is secret man-on-man frat action such a hot topic? Who is writing all these posts about it?

My guess is not too elaborate: it's other fratheads talking about the frats they don't like or didn't get into. It seems like the most common insult from one frat to another is to insinuate its gayness.

Here's my theory about frats and homophobia:

Being in a frat makes you more insecure about your "manhood" (and not just your heterosexuality) than being unaffiliated.

I have met very few unaffiliated guys who are vehemently homophobic or who call men a "pussy" or other emasculating words to insult them. On the other hand, you hear it a lot from the frats, and particularly, I think, from the "frattiest" frats—i.e. those with the most athletes, which doubles the following effects.

If you live or spend significant time in an environment where there are a lot of men who spend a lot of their time trying to be "manlier" than you, or "frattier" or "harder," there's a good chance that you'll come to the conclusion that some of them legitimately are manlier than you, maybe a lot of them. You could very well become insecure about your manliness. You could try to compensate for this by asserting the presence of closeted gays in another frat. The thinking there, I guess, is if you make other frats seem less manly, your frat will rise in manliness somewhat, and you'll be manlier too by virtue of your frat.

If you're unaffiliated, for the most part you're not always competing with a bunch of other guys to see who rages the hardest, and if you do, it's probably not regularly enough for a real anxiety to form if you don't hold your alcohol as well as your friends or you don't hook up with as many women or whatever.

Basically what I'm saying is, frat brothers are more confused about their gender than unaffiliated men. Probably not a shocking insight, but one worth making.


  1. In the last decade, it has been my observation that the more emphasis that someone puts on demeaning others' perceived homosexuality, the more likely they are to be homosexual or have homosexual tendencies. For example, I once knew a guy who went around verbally bashing "faggots" and "queers" all the time... then this same individual was caught having oral sex with another man in a rest area sting operation. Or then there was a married gentleman I knew who always talked about how much he hated the gay community; he ended up separating from his wife because, via a computer monitoring program, she discovered that he was going into gay chat rooms and using them to arrange sexual hookups with other men.

    It has also been my observation that misogyny is one of the most telling signs of a man who has no social skills with women and can not keep a girlfriend for more than a few weeks or months (unless she has really low self esteem).

  2. Anonymous5:19 PM

    I think that this is a seriously mistaken generalization.

  3. It's simply a hypothesis that I'm throwing out there based on a number of observations. As a hypothesis, if you can disprove it, please, go ahead.

  4. Anonymous3:47 PM

    The only way to disprove such a generalization would be to produce a rather awkward and difficult, if not damn-near impossible, statistical study on the matter. The fact that you have proffered a generalized hypothesis based upon your own personal observations is reason enough for me not to buy to much into it.

  5. The fact that you have proffered a generalized hypothesis based upon your own personal observations is reason enough for me not to buy to [sic] much into it.

    I'm not asking you to.

  6. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Come now, you can't make such arguments about a group of people, then claim that it's simply a hypothesis based upon mere "observations," and that the onus is on others to disprove them (as if personal observations can be disproved), and then back off further by claiming that you're not actually asking anybody to believe your argument/hypothesis/observation. That's as lame as smugly and unnecessarily pointing out somebody's typos.

  7. Are you aware that this is a blog and not a scientific journal? I think it's an interesting hypothesis; you're free to think differently.

  8. Anonymous8:31 PM

    Pardon me, but I did think otherwise, and expressed as much. You are the one who claimed, rather fallaciously, actually, that it was up to me to disprove you.

    I think that your hypothesis is based on stigmatic stereotypes that don't really help much in terms of discussing the unsettling bigotry that has been expressed via the safety of the anonymity provided by Bored at Baker. I don't think that much will come out of labeling half of the male Dartmouth population homophobic, misogynistic, bigoted, etc. by virtue of their choice to join a fraternity, other than, of course, a perpetuation of the same kind of thoughtless marginalization that you justifiably seek to criticize.

    It's disappointing that, rather than engage in some kind of fruitful discourse that addresses my contention that your generalization actually undermines the position against bigotry that you wish to take, you've decided to point out typos or suggest that I'm confused about where I am -- do you have anything to offer other than unmitigated condescension?

  9. A) I didn't say you had to disprove it; I never implied that the onus was on you to do anything. What I said was, "if you can disprove it, please, go ahead." That's an invitation for further elaboration, not a demand for indisputable evidence.

    B) Why the hell are you so sensitive about being called out for a typo? Seriously, chill the fuck out.

    C) This "fruitful discourse" you think I'm avoiding was not even suggested by you until this latest comment. "I think this is a seriously mistaken generalization" is not an invitation to discussion, it's simply a statement of disagreement. Your subsequent comments also did not suggest a real "discourse," but rather 1) cited the conditions for adequate grounds which would disprove my hypothesis and 2) reprimanded me for doing something I never did (i.e. demand that you disprove my thesis). You never spoke of my hypothesis undermining anything until this last comment. To suggest that I am somehow in the wrong because I didn't address something you had not said is just ridiculous.

    D) To address this point now that you've made it:

    I am not marginalizing anyone here. I am trying to suggest the existence of what I see as a possible (and I think likely) effect of the frat system—it creates an environment of competition for masculinity which ultimately makes many of its members less secure about their masculinity/manliness than would otherwise be the case were they unaffiliated. This is a structural critique, not an ad hominem attack. Reviewing my post, I will admit that I could have phrased it more explicitly in that fashion, but I assure you that my concern is definitely about how the system works and not how I can best insult frat boys.

    So, no, I am not undermining myself. While I don't care to make a secret of my distaste for frats, that distaste is about the fruits of the frat system, which I do believe are quite often rotten. I hate the phenomenon of class, too, because of the way it blinds people to their own privilege and causes behaviors like arrogance and indifference to the poor. That doesn't mean I'm trying to marginalize the upper class—what would be the point? I think both systems perpetuate things that I loathe, and I do not feel that saying that—that a particular system tends to produce certain attitudes because of its inherent structure—is actually a marginalizing, bigoted generalization of the people within that system. If that is the case, the entire disciplines of anthropology and sociology, as well as geography and psychology, are inherently marginalizing and bigoted.

  10. Anonymous9:55 AM

    A) Your attitude was cavalier and dismissive. If you can't see that, then, well, I guess that's your problem, not mine.

    B) I could care less about the typo; it's just that I thought that only Reviewers were lame enough to try and undermine people's positions by analyzing their grammar and syntax.

    C) I certainly could have been clearer at first, and I admit that I expected a different response.

    D) Now for the meat of the matter. There are several problems with your assumptions. First, you are unaffiliated; yet, you presume to know, based upon your admitted distaste for fraternities, what happens within a fraternity house between fraternity members. Certainly, sexual segregation might encourage issues of gender; however, sex and gender are quite separate from each other. I can understand why one might nonetheless be suspicious of sexual segregation. Regardless of the original purpose, I believe that, today, it serves the useful purpose of reducing sexual tension between members, tension that might undermine the goal of producing strong bonds of trust and Platonic friendship. This certainly could lead to an "us versus them" attitude between sexes; however, this is but one possible result, and not a necessary one. Such a division between the sexes already exists in society, and it has nothing to do with fraternities.

    Second, what is this manliness and masculinity that you speak of? Most fraternities have gay brothers and dry brothers who are given as much respect and welcomed as warmly as anybody else. Drinking is hardly necessarily associated with masculinity, as a great many sorority sisters can attest. Any ribbing or back-slapping that occurs within a fraternity may often be self-mocking. With all of the cleaning, preparation, hosting, and philanthropy that is a part of a fraternity's weekly operations, are these ragers or homemakers? The point is that masculinity and maniless are probably seldom discussed in a serious manner. There is no reason to believe that there would be any necessary difference between a group of men in a fraternity and a group of male friends.

    This brings us to my third and most important point. Your assumptions assume, as you admit, something special about the structure of a fraternity that necessarily creates issues of gender, sexuality, and bigotry. Well, what is it? The sexual segregation? Most likely not. The living together? Hardly. The kind of people who decide to join a fraternity? It is easy to believe that this is what you're getting at; but, you deny it. Your analogy between the fraternity system and the class system is flawed for this reason. To join a fraternity is a choice; ninety-nine times out of one hundred, to be very wealthy is not. Fraternities are nothing more than groups of men who decide to live together and form a social and honor society. So, what is it, structurally, that makes these otherwise "normal" unaffiliated men become affiliated frat-head monsters? Is it impossible for any fraternity assuming this "structure" (and what is the "structure" of the fraternity system? its identifying characteristics? its "inherent" nature, as you say?) to avoid the doom that you describe? I highly doubt that you have adequate answers to these questions, which is why I called your generalization seriously mistaken. It is totalizing, assuming that all fraternities share the same core structure; it is deterministic, assuming that this structure necessarily produces certain results; and it enforces some kind of normative standard by which we can measure the difference between unaffiliated men and affiliated men who have been changed by the effects of this system.

  11. Let's agree that A-C are irrelevant and are really just attempts by you to gain some sort of rhetorical high ground.

    I'll take your points separately and at considerable length, for which I apologize, but there is a lot to comment on:

    First, you are unaffiliated; yet, you presume to know, based upon your admitted distaste for fraternities, what happens within a fraternity house between fraternity members.

    A) I never claimed to know everything. I claim to know as much as I have observed and no more. I don't think the frat system is entirely arcane, however, and many behaviors are not confined to private meetings or one-on-one conversations. Finally, this all started off with observations culled from Bored at Baker--my key assumption was that it is mostly frat boys who are talking about how many closeted gays are in which frat. Perhaps you disagree with this assumption, but you have never disputed it. If you do disagree, I invite you to provide an alternative which would account for the alarming prevalence of this line of commentary.

    B) I really resent the o-so-sly comment that my presumption rests not on actual experience, but on my distaste for fraternities, as if the grounds for this post are entirely personal, and therefore dismissible. My argument is not "why I don't like frats" but "why frats may make young men feel more insecure about their masculinity."

    C) While I have no problem with anonymous comments, I think it is completely unfair of you not to make explicit your affiliation. It is unbalanced and improper to hide behind complete anonymity when you're clearly making an argument based on your experience. I think you should state not only whether you're affiliated, but with which frat. The specifics of your experience are dependent on which frat you belong to, as I pointed out in my original post, so you really should let us know where you belong. Or you should shut up.

    sexual segregation might encourage issues of gender; however, sex and gender are quite separate from each other. I can understand why one might nonetheless be suspicious of sexual segregation. Regardless of the original purpose, I believe that, today, it serves the useful purpose of reducing sexual tension between members, tension that might undermine the goal of producing strong bonds of trust and Platonic friendship.

    A) Same-sex segregation does influence gendering among those so segregated. Because the default assumption is that same-sex segregation is also same-gender segregation (default in the sense that we see anything different as an exception, not the rule), yes, it does affect gender performances within that segregated community—not always in the same way, but it always will.

    B) While I'm glad you admit that same-sex segregation increases animosity toward the excluded sex, it is incorrect to say that it also reduces the sexual tension among those segregated. Sexual tension doesn't have to be specifically homoerotic tension; it can also be homosocial tension, which I think you cannot deny is present among frat members. I am arguing that this homosocial tension may gradually erode the sense that one is able to be or become completely masculine. If it is demonstrably proven that other men are more stereotypically masculine than you, you may end up believing you are deficient in masculinity compared to them. This is not a difficult concept to grasp, nor should it be very controversial.

    C) Strong bonds of trust and deep Platonic friendships are not the exclusive domain of fraternities. I can definitely tell you that from experience. I have experienced such relationships as an unaffiliated male with other unaffiliated males, and it has absolutely nothing to do with same-sex segregation. In fact, such bonding has often taken place in the company of women. You're missing out if you think the only way you can form strong male-to-male friendships is by excluding women.

  12. Anonymous1:59 PM

    (1)(a) The fact that some comments discuss fraternities, fraternity members, and the sexuality of fraternity members, etc. does not mean that the comments are being made by fraternity members. Fraternities dominate the social scene at Dartmouth; they could have been made by anybody. It's probably likely that they were made by freshmen, who are much more enamoured with the fraternity scene than upperclassman. Upperclassmen and fraternity members are typically much less excited about or interested in fraternities than freshmen.

    (1)(b) This comment was meant neither to be sly nor to be dismissive. You should not resent my suggestion that your observations might be influenced by what you want to see or what you expect you should see. If you feel that you've taken this into consideration, that's fine.

    (1)(c) I'd rather not. For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn't really matter, because I am not relying on personal observations. I'm more or less undermining your assumptions and offering at least equally-as-plausible alternatives.

    (2)(a) Anything and everything probably influences gendering and gender performances. It seems unavoidable. My point, however, which you have not addressed, is to question whether or not fraternities necessarily do so in a particular or negative way. Like I said, it can't be the sexual segregation that causes the bigotry and chauvinism of which you accuse the fraternity system in general of being structurally guilty.

    (2)(b) I was referring to romantic sexual tension. It's no secret that heterosexual men and women have difficulty forming friendships as strongly as they could if they are attracted to one another. The desire to be somebody's partner, or the demands imposed by a romantic sexual relationship, can create a different kind of tension. Hence the "drama" often associated with coeducational fraternities. I'm not saying that this is necessary; I'm simply saying that sexual segregation effectively reduces its possibility. As for homosocial tendencies, I do not see why fraternities, structurally, encourage this any more than society, on its own, already does. There are certain homosocial relationships that fraternities necessarily imply; however, I would argue that fraternities discourage exclusively homosocial behavior, because most fraternity members, as with the greater community, are heterosexuals. They seek both friendship and romance with women, and, in most cases, the latter necessitates the former.

    (2)(c) Of course fraternities are not the exclusive domain of strong bonds of trust and deep Platonic friendships. I never suggested that. I simply suggested that fraternities facilitate the development of such relationships, and that such facilitation and development is more or less their purpose. Fraternities are more than a web of strong interpersonal relationships, however -- they are also tiny communities. There is something special about coming together as a strong and loyal collective. I am rather certain that you do not pool your resources or own a house with your unaffiliated friends, for instance.

    Let me make it clear, again, that I am not advocating a certain position. I think that fraternities are but one option among many, and could care less whether or not one is affiliated or unaffiliated. The fraternity system is not perfect, and it is not my intention to claim that it is the best option. My issue, as always, has been with your claim that there is something inherently and structurally wrong with the fraternity system, a claim that you have yet to support with any convincing evidence. So far, all of your supporting observations have been circumstantial and are far from necessary; you can go ahead and claim that, at Dartmouth, the fraternity system seems to fail in its purpose, or seems to perpetuate a certain kind of chauvinism and bigotry. That may be more symptomatic of Dartmouth and society in general, however, than a direct result of the fraternity system. It certainly is a criticism that applies to everybody, you and me included. Whether or not the fraternity system, structurally, necessarily produces this situation, however, remains to be even remotely convincingly demonstrated.

  13. This isn't a "fruitful discourse" if you are not adding any ideas of your own to it and only critiquing mine. Take a position and drop the total anonymity by contextualizing yourself.

    What are you really trying to prove? That I may be wrong? I will easily grant you that, and I have. That I am and must be wrong? You have not proven that and I don't think you can. This is fruitless.

    Finally, to show how little you know about me even while you assume so much, I have lived for most of the past two years in environments where I both pooled resources and lived with my unaffiliated friends. I have lived for two terms in Foley House, which is stipulated by ORL as a cooperative living environment, and now in Casque and Gauntlet, which functions very much like a cooperative living environment. So thank you very much, I know exactly that of which I speak.

  14. Anonymous4:34 PM

    A critique is not an idea, and can never be fruitful? I find that hard to believe. I have asked you a number of times to show me how, structurally, the fraternity system breeds bigotry and chauvinism. That way, I could accept your generalization. Unfortunately, you have not done so, and I cannot help but feel that yours is the kind of generalization that actually undermines a position against bigotry and chauvinism.

  15. I have given an account, repeatedly, of how the sexually segregated, intensely competitive structure of the fraternity system produces anxiety over the status of one's masculinity relative to other men in the system, creating a need for compensatory activity such as those I've described.

    All you're doing is refusing to believe that this could be true and demanding that I meet some burden of proof specific to your personal belief that frats are fantastic, a burden of proof which you have never made explicit. You do not even try to bolster your argument that fraternities are beneficial because their sexual segregation produces better friendships with any type of evidentiary support; it is a free-floating axiom dependent entirely on your personal opinion. You accuse me of all the things you blatantly do—most importantly, proffer ideas based on nothing more than personal prejudice--namely, your prejudice for fraternity life.

    You're an obstinate gasbag and nothing more. I'm done arguing with you. I will not respond to any further comments.

  16. In front of such much gratuitous violence against the homosexuals, and considering the ear-piercing silence of the world; as Christians coming from different confessions and progress of faith, we believe that it is in our duty to give some concrete answer, obviously, we won’t keep silent.
    That is why on Friday the 4th of April 2008 we will meet together in several cities of Italy to celebrate many vigils of prayer to remember the victims of homophobia and to smash in, through our testimony, the wall of silence and embarrassment that usually prevails in our churches and our society about this heavy problem.
    It is up to you, as Christians, to decide whether it is time to break your silence or not.
    For further information visit the website

    Vigils of prayer hold in the following cities (updates incoming):
    ITALIA/ITALY: Roma, Firenze, Milano, Bassano del Grappa, Rimini, Aosta

  17. Anonymous2:47 AM

    I'm gonna let you finish Andrew Seal, but piping hot cutting calzones are the most discussed topic on bored at baker. also if you're not in a fraternity, the only times you come into frats and have a window into their culture is when you come into a basement to drink their free beer. in the frat basement everyone there tries to be the "alpha male." Everyone tries to assert dominence by chugging the fastest and winning their game of pong. In the basement, for better or for worse its all about asserting your manliness. However, you are blinded by your inability to see fraternities as anything other than a frat basement. There are many aspects to a fraternity that you could never see unless you actually belonged to the fraternity and experienced life as a brother. I assure you that being a part of a brotherhood has the opposite effect. As a member of a fraternity you are by effect of being a member utterly accepted into a group of individuals who support you. There is no drive to prove yourself as a man when you are considered a brother.