I’ve called Bill Frezza a lot of nasty things over the years. “clueless”, “insensitive”, “misogynistic”, “hate profiteer” are a few of the milder ones. I’ve chided him about selling out to the man, questioned how much they pay him to shill for the establishment, and directed all manners of sarcasm in his general direction. In one long running gag on an email discussion list I adopted a mocking Frezza-wannabe personality in the vein of Colbert-as-Limbaugh. But I’ve also called him “brother”. Yep, I am a class of ’87 graduate of MIT from the Beta Chapter of Chi Phi.
So, while I do believe he deserves all the scorn he’s getting for his truly disdainful Forbes article titled “Drunk Female Guests Are The Gravest Threat To Fraternities”, I won’t be joining in on the hatefest. Instead, taking the wisdom of Cecilia Winterfox and Audre Lorde to heart, I assume some of the responsibility for educating Bill about just how wrong he is. I am sorrowful that any of my brothers could write something so profoundly wrong as Bill did, and I offer my heartfelt apology on Bill’s behalf for his mistakes.
We are fraternity brothers. I am allowed to do that (that is, apologize for him). He may hate me for it, but I think he wants to apologize as well, but is too proud to do it. Also, if he’s auditioning for a FOX News gig, forgiveness and understanding might spoil his aura.
In any case, I’d like to enumerate all the wrongness of his column (which, sadly, has disappeared down the rabbit hole of the google cache, but still survives at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/3207597/posts where the comments are mostly repulsive). I welcome feedback on things I’ve missed or gotten wrong.
So, what’s wrong with this article?
The headline is 100% tone deaf.
I would have argued that “People have the general impression that fraternities are factories of misogyny, racism, gay-hating and overall elitist pricktitude” would have scored higher on the “Grave Threats to Fraternities” scale than “Drunk Female Guests”, and I wish I weren’t right.
Anyone who takes issues of violence against women seriously sees clearly how ugly it is to ignore the threat that a fraternity might pose to a “drunk female guest” while holding up a threat that a “drunk female guest” might pose to a fraternity.
Sentence one begins “I realize this headline is click-bait, but…”
So, three sins before the first sentence is over. First, let’s all widely acknowledge that click-bait headlines are evil, and the people who write them (and profit from them) deserve nothing but sorrow and bankruptcy.
Secondly, expecting anyone to turn so quickly to some nuanced intellectual argument with a “but…” after such a seedy headline is bonkers. Even if the rest of the article were well done, all the rhetorical damage has already been done.
And thirdly, that word “click-bait”. Of course, “click-bait” descends lexicographically from “jailbait”, which is a wholly sexist term and very, very apropos for this topic. “Jailbait” is sexist because it implies that the problem with sex-with-an-underage-girl is that the man could face jail. True, perhaps, but it totally ignores the fact that “sex-with-an-underage-girl” is just wrong. If the headline didn’t already ignore the moral wrongness of violence against women, then the use of “click-bait” might not be a problem, but in this instance, it is strongly objectionable.
Bill goes on to tell the story of a drunk student who “danced her way out a window” at another MIT fraternity. The incident should have been sobering enough when considering the danger to the student and the ramifications for the fraternity. But Bill chooses to stress the rather inconsequential fact that it was a female guest who did this. But he doesn’t really say why this fact is important. At least he didn’t use the old-timey, cringe-inducing (and sexist on its own) term ‘coed’ like he did in this post:
Ban Kegs From Fraternity Parties? Require Them Instead!
But then he continues implying that the real problem with female guests is that they might be “pretty or flirtatious”. Which would be a great segue into a speech about how men need to learn not to tolerate rape culture, about how to care for intoxicated students and protect them from getting into trouble. But alas, Bill wants to stress legal liabilities over doing the right thing, advising students to leave someone on the sidewalk to pass out rather than caring for them inside.
And here’s where recognizing privilege comes in. If you’ve got a lot to lose, by definition it means you’ve got a lot. Especially if you are male, you have privilege. And sure, doing the right thing in this case might put some of that privilege at risk. But that’s what good people do. I wish Bill were instructing students to “First, do the right thing”. That would be a lesson worth learning at a fraternity.
Next, Bill offers the advice to “assign several brothers to monitor female party guests”. Some of you will read this and know how much this might feel like stalking. It’s creepy. And again, why the fixation on female guests? Being on the lookout for the overly-intoxicated ought to apply equally to everybody at a party.
And as if the message about tending to legal liabilities rather than doing the right thing missed you the first time around, Bill tries again with a warning about the low value of a “signed contract indicating sexual consent…”. Much better would have simply been a clear statement that “any sexual contact with an intoxicated person is wrong”.
And to top it all off, the image displayed with the article is just horrible. Whoever chose that image should be fired. Or worse. Seriously.
But despite the ugliness of this article, Bill is my brother and my friend and I think he is doing great work as the president of our house corporation (it is not an easy job). I I really, really do take some measure of responsibility for helping him understand the world outside his echo chamber. I promise to try (not an easy job, either).
I support our house because I think young men need a place where they can grow up and become adults and have some support as they do it. In my time at MIT, friends (or maybe me) had struggles with losing a family member, struggles with sexual identity, struggles with addiction, struggles with taking responsibility for one’s own actions, struggles with feelings of suicide, struggles of separation from family, struggles with faith, struggles with prejudice, struggles with trying to survive the academic rigor of MIT and yes, struggles with recognizing one’s own privilege. True story: It was halfway through freshman year before I realized one of my roommates was considered an “underrepresented minority”. Having a house of brothers made it possible to survive those struggles and learn from them.
Listening a week ago to the wonderful Isometric podcast Brianna Wu brought up a point that stuck me deeply — that despite the male privilege inherent in our society, one thing that men have trouble with is simply having friends. Friends to confide in, friends to share grief with, friends to celebrate with. I can’t say I have many friends, but I can say that most of the ones I do have I met at Chi Phi. I treasure the friendship of all my brothers, including Bill.
So, Bill, if you are reading (I know you are), know that you are my friend, and know that you are loved by the whole brotherhood, and know that with that love comes the responsibility I feel to set you straight about a few things — my wonderful, liberal MIT education compels me to try at least as much.