"Run for the hills, ladies, we have unknowingly pledged our lives to a nunnery," were the first words I heard in response to sorority national presidents' recent mandate against UVA chapters' participation in Boys' Bid Night activities this semester.
Dated Jan. 20, letters to each of the University's chapter presidents essentially bar sorority members from stepping foot in a fraternity house on the night traditionally held in celebration of the close of fraternity recruitment. Boys' Bid Night -- an occasion marked by oversized, glittery neon tank tops and new fraternity members eager to celebrate their acceptance to their respective houses -- is now being erased from many a university woman's agenda.
To be clear, it would be difficult to assert that traditional BBN activities don't tote high risk factors -- alcohol is generally provided to underage students in abundance, and hoards of people congregating in the foyer of each Greek house surely don't make it easy to keep tabs on all your friends. Especially given the allegations that surfaced in a recent Rolling Stone article regarding rape culture at UVA -- and the calamity that ensued in its wake -- it makes sense for students and administrators to be hyper-aware of danger afforded by college nightlife.
Thus, I am not offended at the prospect of someone deeming Boys Bid Night to be potentially hazardous. I am highly indignant, however, of the "solution" offered to us, which is essentially this: if women want to avoid experiencing sexual violence, they should avoid going to parties at all.
This decision was made using the same misogynistic logic that has surrounded violence against women for entirely too long. That is, we can't tell women not to party for the same reasons we can't tell women not to wear short skirts in public -- because instances of sexual violence are not contingent upon a woman's manner of dress or a woman's decision to socialize among fraternity men. No woman, clad in any ensemble or caught in any social scene, is "asking for it" or deserves to be violated.
And that is precisely why women at UVA are up in arms about being prohibited from partaking in BBN -- not because we mourn the loss of a cherished opportunity to exude sorority sparkle or flaunt our fanny packs, but because of the counterproductive, antiquated message it sends. Take women out of the equation completely and everyone wins, right?
What's more troubling is that these orders are coming from officials who ostensibly work towards a goal of advancing the lives of university women, and who claim to be acting upon concerns for the safety of our students.
Subsequent emails between officials and University representatives clarified all sorority-related attire is strictly prohibited on this night. To contextualize, a UVA woman partaking in Boys' Bid Night generally emulates the height of modern fashion, sporting colorful leggings, a tutu, an oversized tank top and a fanny pack sometimes equipped with snacks provided by older friends -- an ensemble I struggle to view as a hazard. Even if we lived in a grossly superannuated society where it would be permissible to say provocative clothes are indicative of sexual invitation, we have no reason to believe the unsexy "srat tank" could be construed as a come-on. Though, admittedly, BBN garb's characteristically bright hue and display of sorority-related terminology are not exactly subtle in their affiliation with a certain organization that seems awfully concerned with saving face of late. You have to wonder who exactly is being protected in this situation.
Even more brow-raising to me is the officials' clarification to UVA students that the night will now be treated by the Inter-Sorority Council as any other weekend night. First of all, it's discouraging how this statement implies college women only experience serious threats to their safety on nights of fraternity-orchestrated madness -- because that's simply, gravely untrue. I am a sorority woman who regularly feels objectified by fraternity brothers and unaffiliated students alike. I am a talented university student who is regularly forced to take measures against placing myself at high risk to be sexually assaulted. I am a human being who is often made to feel otherwise -- on any given weekend. Where's the special mandate for female students' peace of mind every other night of our lives?
Additionally, since it is positively unreasonable to expect no sorority woman may decide to attend an event hosted by a fraternity in spite of the mandate, this statement seems like the ISC's way of saying, "Well, we warned you," and proceeding to turn a blind eye to any safety hazards that may persist. I can't pretend to be comforted by this halfhearted attempt at compassion.
It's also interesting to bear in mind how safety concerns were not nearly so regimented -- or made so public -- in the wake of the BBN when upwards of ten students were hospitalized for alcohol-induced health trauma on a single night. Of course, that incident didn't land the university administration or Greek life in nearly as hot water as the Rolling Stone allegations did, and being in the national spotlight does tend to shock institutions into being on their best behavior. As a result, we're being trained to smile pretty for the camera -- for the good of the Inter-Sorority Council.
And that's not to say it's the work of Satan for an organization as powerful as the greater Greek community to want to have respectable PR -- it makes sense, and I'm sure this kind of damage control is, to some extent, carried out with my best interests in mind. I'm not surprised or perturbed at how the Greek community has writhed uncomfortably under the magnification of national scrutiny.
That said, what I am deeply disappointed about is this: even without so much as beginning the conversation about the ISC's apparent phobia of transparency, this particular mandate was an ill-timed move that sets us back in the fight for gender equality. It suggests that in order to enjoy a similar level of safety to that enjoyed by college men, I should reform my lifestyle choices rather than the misogynistic culture that ferments on most every college campus in the United States.
This mandate effectively renders my friends and I passive in the national conversation about rape culture -- which, I am proud to say, we are not. I fully recognize these tumultuous months have made up a pivotal chapter of the ongoing war against women, and I am disheartened to report that in this matter, we have suffered a devastating loss.