Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus

By Peggy Reeves Sanday | Go to book overview

Eight
Constructing a Sexist Subjectivity

The subject is … perpetually in the process of construction, thrown
into crisis by alterations in language and in the social formation, capa-
ble of change. And in the fact that the subject is a process lies the possi-
bility of transformation.

—Catherine Belsey

When young men arrive at college, many find joining a fraternity an attractive possibility. Some have been led to believe that membership in a socially prestigious fraternity is a good way to begin to build a network of connections that can be useful in their later careers. To others fraternities offer a reassuring base from which to explore the risky and uncertain business of proving to themselves their adequacy as heterosexual males now on the threshold of developing relations with young women that will lead to marriage. As Sean explained, the fraternity offers an easy solution to anxious young men in a society that expects successful individuals to display a unified, heterosexual self. The initiation ritual helps construct this new self by “killing off the sensitive, vulnerable, separate self in order to give birth to the powerful, unified self of brotherhood.” As in other brainwashing experiences, the new self is constructed by holding up a mirror through which the pledge can see himself as a particular kind of subject, with particular thoughts, feelings, and desires. The pledges come to “recognize” themselves by the way in which the ritual addresses them as subjects and defines their status as brothers. By willingly adopting the subjectpositions necessary to their participation in the fraternity, the pledges do not, in reality, achieve autonomy or wholeness. Rather, they become subjected beings who not only submit their autonomy to the authority of the fraternity but mold their identity to fit mythologies of masculinity.

-180-

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