Where the Boys Are: A Challenge to Snapchat's CEO

It's no longer acceptable to condemn individual behavior without looking at the culture that protects and promotes it.
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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Evan Spiegel of Snapchat attends TechCruch Disrupt SF 2013 at San Francisco Design Center on September 9, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Evan Spiegel of Snapchat attends TechCruch Disrupt SF 2013 at San Francisco Design Center on September 9, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

It's good to know that Snapchat’s 23-year-old CEO, Evan Spiegel, is not the same person he was three years ago.

This is reassuring for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that 20-year-old Evan's emails to his Stanford University frat brothers at Kappa Sigma, published last week by the Gawker Media Valleywag blog, are nauseatingly mysognistic. The one that garnered the most attention describes being so drunk that he urinated on a girl in his bed, but they are all worthy of note. Here's but one example:

So, give yourself a pat on the back or have some girl put your large kappa sigma d**k down her throat because you f*****g HANDLED this weekend. Can’t wait to see everyone on the blackout express soon, evan

But as Spiegel says, those emails, "in no way reflect who I am today or my views toward women." Phew! That is enormously reassuring, as he controls a multibillion-dollar company, used by millions of adolescents daily. Of course, this means that in addition to all his other accomplishments, he’s achieved the fastest developmental arc in history. In three short years, he evolved from a well... whatever to a well-adjusted adult male. Awesome job, Evan!

Given the great irony of the situation (Spiegel is, of course, the ideal Snapchat user), I am a bit surprised by the lack of media attention this has garnered. There have been a few calls for him to step down, and Amanda Bennet wrote a great article in the Washington Post. But considering the current attention to sexual assault cases in colleges and universities, I would have expected Spiegel's rants to create more of an uproar. After all, those emails were sent to all his frat brothers, suggesting some consensus with his views, or at the very least, no overt disagreement. In other words, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that any of his fellow Kappa Sig bros stepped forward to say, "Dude, do you really think it's cool to get so drunk that you pee on a woman?"

Anyone remember the Duke Lacrosse scandal? All members of that team were acquitted of the charges, but the media coverage exposed a culture that made it easy to condemn their attitudes, if not their actions. Ryan McFayden, a member of the Duke lacrosse team who reportedly had to eventually change his name to get a job, sent out a whopper of an email:

To whom it may concern. Tommorrow (sic) night, after tonights show, ive decided to have some strippers over to edens 2c, all are welcome. however there will be no nudity. I plan on killing the bitches as soon as the(y) walk in and proceeding to cut their skin off while cumming in duke issue spandex...

Sorry about that, but it's important to actually read, or reread, the viciousness of those words. McFayden claims that his email was actually a riff on American Psycho. He maintained his intentions were harmless: "You send something like that to 40 guys and you don't think about it. So that was me. I was just making a joke about that night. I sent it off and that was it."

Strangely, I do not find this reassuring. Some of his more cultured lacrosse teammates evidently got the joke, suggesting that there was group knowledge and appreciation of the values of the narrator in American Psycho. I doubt that anyone responded with, "Do we really have to kill them and cut off their skin?"

When John Danowski was hired to replace outgoing and disgraced Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler, he worked hard to change the culture of the team. Interestingly, he blamed the team's behavior the previous year on summer internships on Wall Street. Danowski said:

They are around 40 and 50-year-old men all summer. During that time they see that for those men, hiring strippers and dancers is acceptable behavior. But the rules of private behavior on Wall Street are different than the rules at college. I'm teaching guys values every day. I'm holding them accountable to their teammates. These guys have great futures ahead of them. They're the next masters of the universe.

Notwithstanding Danowski’s efforts to teach values, he's not reassuring me either. This is "acceptable behavior” for 40- and 50-year-old men? Does the culture of Wall Street corrupt elite athletes, or do they become misogynistic much earlier, in sports teams and in fraternities? But Danowski is right about what happens next: Duke lacrosse players and Stanford fraternity brothers do grow up to become the next masters of the universe.

And that's everybody's problem. Stanford fraternities, a multibillion-dollar company, big-time college athletics, Wall Street bankers -- no one can argue that this isn't the establishment. These email chains provide evidence of what we on the outside have long suspected: how unthinkingly violent and misogynistic these outposts of entitled all-male culture can be. I can hear my husband and male friends saying, "Not me, not all men, a few bad apples," and certainly, not all college sports teams nor fraternities can be judged by these emails. A good friend of mine has a son on the current Duke lacrosse team, and she tells me that Danowski has indeed changed the culture of the lacrosse team, providing leadership and demanding integrity, discipline, and loyalty on and off the field.

But the fact is that we can and do judge a team, be it a sports team, a fraternity, or the boys club of Wall Street, by the behavior of a few bad apples. And we know too much. It’s no longer acceptable to condemn individual behavior without looking at the culture that protects and promotes it.

Stanford Provost John Etchemendy made this point in his excellent address to the Stanford community about the Spiegel scandal, when he called upon the recipients of these emails to take responsibility, and “affirmatively reject” them, especially when they come from friends.

Finally, this is reassuring. And so is the fact that in my clinical practice, I hear parents becoming more critical consumers of higher education. Deeply worried about the current college culture of binge drinking and boorish behavior, they are contemplating taking schools “off the list,” even if they are elite colleges and universities. Especially if they have daughters.

So, Evan, if you’re really not the same jerk you were three years ago, let’s see how your views toward women have evolved. Put your money where your mouth is. Join the fight against violence and sexual assault on women at colleges, at universities and, finally and especially, in fraternities. Here’s a place to start.

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