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

By Peggy Reeves Sanday | Go to book overview

Seven
The Law of the Brothers

In this chapter two initiation rituals are described that took place in separate fraternities during the mid-1980s on two large, urban eastern campuses. The fraternities are well-known and exist nationwide. Sexual abuse and gang rape have occurred in both fraternities. This is not surprising in view of the fact that admission to these fraternities makes abuse, sexism, and homophobia part of masculinity and brotherhood.

All the steps seen in Sean's initiation ritual are repeated in the rituals described below: death of the old self, exposing and stripping the initiate's vulnerabilities, a covenant of power, and creation of a new self. One difference in these rituals, not seen in Sean's initiation, is their portrayal of the old self as being fragmented and of shifting sexual identity. The pledges are treated as polluted and despised women and as “pansies.” Becoming a brother is synonymous with becoming a man. To this end the rituals “cleanse” the “pussy,” “nerd sin,” and “faggot” from the bodies and minds of the pledges. The rituals also force the pledges to declare their loyalty to the fraternity in “trust tests.” In one case the test requires a symbolic sacrifice of the left testicle to a superior power representing the communal identity of the house. This sacrifice seals the covenant between the individual pledge and the fraternal organization. Like the covenant struck by Abraham with Yaweh, the sacrifice confers power.

These rituals stamp the pledge with two collective images: one image is of the cleansed and purified “manly” self bonded to the brotherhood; the second image is of the despised and dirty feminine, “nerdy,” and “faggot” self bonded to the mother. Thus the process of becoming a man and a brother relies on negation and humiliation as a ritual device in order to break social and psychological bonds to the family in establishing new bonds to the brotherhood. The traumatic means employed to achieve these goals induces a state of consciousness that makes the abuse of women a repetition of cleansing the self of the inner, despised female as brothers renew their fraternal bonds. The over-

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