Concerning SAE and sexism
In writing this letter, we by no means intend to diminish the gravity of the racial implications of the actions taken by Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledges in Bear’s Den last week, but we do hope to bring to light another facet of the issue: sexism. Thankfully social justice is not a limited resource, and this is yet another area in which our campus still begs growth, education and awareness.
When we read the earliest iteration of the Student Life article regarding last week, we didn’t think that sexism figured into the hurtful acts that had taken place. Only as the facts continued to unfold did it become apparent that other dimensions of oppression also played a role in the incident. When the pledges involved rapped the lyrics to “B—— Ain’t S—,” black students were not the only individuals marginalized by the performance. The SAE pledges not only used racial slurs, but also offensive language that works to demean and denigrate women. The song opens as follows: “B—— ain’t s—/but hoes and tricks/Lick on these nuts and suck the dick/Get the f— out after you’re done…” With the first three lines, women have been reduced to objects existing solely for the sexual gratification of men, and the misogyny only escalates throughout the remainder of the song. It quickly becomes apparent that the entire purpose of the song is to disparage women. By performing this song in public and making light of the pervasive offensive language (both racial and gendered), the pledges implicitly supported these messages and projected them onto our community.
Furthermore, no fewer than four of the 17 scavenger hunt items referred to tasks involving women. Specifically, pledges were asked to gather photo evidence of getting spanked by a girl, of standing with a girl over six feet tall, of being simultaneously kissed by two girls and of saluting a “sexy female.” Three of these four directives work explicitly to objectify women or—as the Wash. U. alumni so eloquently put it in their open letter on the incident—to treat them “as if they were on exhibit, a prop to be used in another’s play.” Such treatment of female students is unacceptable.
Sexist attitudes appear to be pandemic on our campus; they extend beyond the bounds of a single campus fraternity. We could probably fill a book with all of the sexist encounters that we and our friends have had at this school. The misuse of words like “b—-,” “slut” and “hoe”—the same words recited in “B—— Ain’t S—”—seems to be a particularly pervasive means of attacking female students. This degradation, dismissal and objectification of women has dangerous effects on college campuses. National and Wash. U.-specific studies confirm that one in four women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college career. The vast majority of these assaults will be perpetrated by a fellow student, by someone known to the survivor. We cannot continue to pretend that misogyny doesn’t have devastating effects here at Wash. U. Just as we have risen to respond to racism on campus, so too must we address sexism in our community. There is too much at stake for us to do otherwise.