The internet has been buzzing with all kinds of forums, blogs, dialogues and debates about the recent display from Yale’s DKE fraternity where its pledges paraded around outside a women’s dorm and chanted “No means yes! Yes means anal!” and other obscenities. How should we view DKE‘s actions? As a college prank? As hate speech? As a negation of the seriousness of sexual assault? Specifically how do we at FVPC view these actions through a domestic violence prevention perspective?
First, we must put things in historical and societal context. This is not a single time incident of DKE using verbal sexual violence to degrade and humiliate women. In 2006 DKE members formed a picket line outside Yale’s Women’s Center chanting the same phrases. Did the DKE brothers who headlined that obscene gesture do so as a vindictive, malicious attempt to hurt the women they chanted it to? Did they do it to indicate that they condoned sexual violence? Probably not but regardless of intent, their actions implied that sexual violence is okay.
To look at this incident as merely a joke or “distasteful” is naive. We believe that it is ignorant of greater societal acceptance of violence, particularly male violence against women. Consider the fact that DKE (a privileged all male institution) felt that it had the right to go to spaces where women should feel safe (a university women’s center and women’s dorms) and chant sexually violent phrases towards them. What does it mean to chant “no means yes” outside safe spaces for women? And what does it mean that an all male institution is the voice of these threats? We believe that it means there is no safe space from violence and if you’re a woman, even traditionally safe spaces can’t protect from a culture of violence.
I’ve heard reactions from many people that “it’s a joke. It’s twisted and stupid but just a joke. Reacting strongly to it (aka: You feminists can’t take a joke) is just giving them the misguided attention they were searching for all along”. I find this logic wrong on several accounts. When sexual violence becomes trivialized –as the basis for a fraternity pledging event–we as a society need to take a serious look at our cultural beliefs regarding violence. The emotional and physical trauma that sexual assault victims go through was completely ignored by the members of DKE the moment they decided to use sexist, threatening phrases as a way to humiliate their pledges. When violence is normalized, it becomes easier for individuals to assault their partners without understanding the emotional and physical ramifications of their actions. Normalized violence also objectifies the target. This objectification allows the perpetrator to both emotionally distance themselves from the victim (and their actions) as well as strip the victim of their own rights and desires.
None of us live in a vacuum. The things we believe and the actions we take are influenced by social and cultural factors. Perhaps, the DKE pledges felt as their language was okay because we live in a culture that says free speech is our inherent right. The implication, then, is that it’s okay to threaten women or to not take their right to sexual autonomy and safety seriously. But, this logic is wrong. And, so we must work to deconstruct the systemic normalized violence that pervades every facet of our culture.
What can we do? Don’t laugh at sexist, racist, or homophobic jokes. Ask your friends to use less violent language. Don’t listen to music that encourages and normalizes violence against women and partner abuse. If you hear someone saying something or doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable or seems hurtful say something about it.
What are some other ways we can work to dismantle systemic violence in our society? Leave us your thoughts!