No, there isn’t a link between male bonding and sexual violence

Gabby Bess of Vice wrote an article attempting to link male bonding with sexual violence. This is a very common refrain in progressive spaces. The idea is that when males congregate, existing social norms and testosterone prompt males to commit sexual assaults against someone, usually a female. Or as Bess stated:

It’s obvious that the worst institutions in our country (the NFL, police forces, fraternities) are largely made up of men—brotherhoods, they would perhaps call themselves. However, in the spirit of summing up the past 365 days, one could remember 2015 as year that the men (some, not all) who pledge allegiance to, and hide behind, these elaborate networks of power stopped getting away with rape and violence against women.

This year’s most notorious example is perhaps Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma police officer and serial rapist who was able to assault 13 women during the three years that he was on the force. Or maybe it’s porn star James Deen, who was accused of allegedly raping and abusing six different women; Deen violated many of his alleged victims on set, while the camera crew, managers, and whoever else was undoubtedly around turned a blind eye. Or it could just be all the countless, faceless fraternity brothers who are three times more likely to rape than their non-Greek peers and write songs about sexually violating women before killing them.

The latter is inaccurate. The study Bess cites states, ” Moreover, fraternity men were more than 3 times more likely to engage in sexually aggressive acts during the 3-month follow-up period than non-fraternity men (OR = 3.27). Perceived rape-myth acceptance of peers entered the regression model but was not a stable predictor. […] However, as changes in the dependent variables were not assessed over time, it is difficult to extrapolate whether perpetrating sexual assault exerts influence on variables such as rape supportive beliefs and fraternity membership.”

Yet that did not deter Bess. She decided to interview Lionel Tiger, the man who coined the phrase “male bonding,” and it went completely out of her control. For example, read this exchange:

It seems like institutions that aim to develop an in-group mentality among men in order to foster a militant sense of community tend to lead to sexual violence, whether against each other or someone outside the group. There was a story in the news recently about members of a sports team using penetration as a hazing tactic. Do you see rape as a characteristic of male bonding?

Well, I don’t think it has anything to do with eroticism or homosexuality. It’s more like West Side Story, for example. Like the song, “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet”—it’s about being able to rely on the members of your group. When we see extreme hazing in fraternities, usually there’s a lot of alcohol involved, but the basis of hazing is to create a ritual that will then translate into normal life. You may become drunk or get penetrated with a pole in the process of being hazed, but that’s the end of it. After that it doesn’t happen again. From now on you’re a Kappa Kappa Kappa, or whatever your particular brand is.

Tiger responds beautifully to Bess’s loaded question. Of course rape is not a characteristic of male bonding. If it were, it would be far more common and it would also be done against other males. Rape is not that common. It affects about 20% of the general population. There are certainly circumstances in which rape may be more likely to occur, such as in prisons. Yet even in those instances, the rate of sexual violence is rarely high, such as 60% to 90%.

Yet Bess continued:

But those “extreme” hazing tactics seem to be fairly common. Do you have a theory on why they occur and reoccur in male initiation rituals?

You know, there aren’t as many studies about female initiation rituals, but there are some. We have information that in a number of sororities initiation can consist of a pledge stripping down to her underwear while the older sisters use a marker to draw circles around her body fat to harass her. It doesn’t usually involve actual sexual activity, though I’ve obviously never been in that situation.

In fairness, that was a bit of a dodge by Tiger, however, I do see why he mentioned this. Bess attempts to argue that the behavior is unique to males. The truth is that we do not know that for certain because we do not research women’s bad behavior.

This was not the response Bess wanted, so she shifted gears:

OK. So do you think that male bonding is largely positive?

[…] Male bonding isn’t only associated with positive phenomena, but vital phenomena—such as police work, military activity, and first responders. To turn it into a charade about fraternity initiation and over-hyped football players is, I think, a mistake. It’s part of a current, anti-male position [that says] if you’re a man, you’re bad. On the contrary, you could say that the guy who was killed in Afghanistan, and every one of those 2,000 cops who was standing out in the cold this morning at the cathedral, had a sense of being worthy members of a community. I daresay, if you look at the fraternities that you may have a negative attitude toward—a lot of those guys will end up being pillars of society. One thing that they’re learning in the spectacle [of fraternity] is the importance of association and commitment to the broader group.

Note the tone of Bess’s question. She already assumes male bonding is largely negative. She is simply looking for Tiger to confirm this bias, but he will not because unlike Bess he actually knows what he is talking about. He is not spouting an ideological talking point. He has examined male peer groups and seen that they are largely harmless and quite beneficial for men and boys. That does not match Bess’s perspective, so she attempted another swing:

But do you think that fraternities, with their higher incidences of rape, violent hazing rituals, and penchant for being anti-women, are really the types of institutions that we should be encouraging young men to be a part of?

I have the feeling you’re trying to push me to say that what males do is ipso facto dangerous and bad. Sometimes it is. Yes, it’s important that initiations don’t involve penetrating people with a pool cue. That’s obscene and awful. It’s not unusual for males to do this, but nonetheless the organizations that sponsor these rituals have the responsibility to police them very carefully. I get your point—one has to be careful about what men do in groups because there’s often opportunity for them to do damage while trying to engender solidarity. If you’re saying that all male organization is inherently dangerous, there’s an element of truth in that, but it’s only an element. It is not the core.

And there the article ends. I would like know if these were the only questions Bess asked or if these were the only ones that allowed her to walk away without looking defeated. Her final question suggests the latter. The notion that we should discourage males from bonding with each other because sometimes some men do bad things is a bizarre and sexist position. A handful of frat boys do horrible things. That does not mean all frat boys do those things.

Every group has the potential to be dangerous and bad. One need only glance at the feminist movement to see the bigotry, hate, discrimination, and violence perpetuated by its adherents, acts often condoned within the framework of the movement. No group is clear of this.

The issue with fraternities is the lack of consequences, not the existence of male bonding. Many of the fraternities face no reprimands for bad behavior. They are often protected by the universities and colleges. A similar situation happens in military schools. The acts are allowed to happen and go unpunished. If people stepped in to stop it and punish those who committed them, others would be less likely to repeat the behavior.

It is curious that feminists like Bess are so quick to demonize male bonding and male groups when these groups of the very reason why modern society exists. It is in those spaces that people learn the importance, as Tiger noted, of association and commitment to the broader group. They learn that they are part of something larger and that there are other people as important or more important than themselves. They learn the value of teamwork and they learn what it feels like to be valued as part of something. More importantly, they learn to connect emotionally with other males in a way that modern society no longer allows.

That is not a bad thing, and to reduce that kind of bond to something as vile as promoting rape is absolutely despicable.

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5 thoughts on “No, there isn’t a link between male bonding and sexual violence

  1. Good reposte. Curious that gorgeous Gabby mentions James Deen and forgets that Deen previously identified as a feminist…

  2. Based on your summary here, I wanted to congratulate Gabby on at least caring a little about male hazing victims, but then I clicked on the link itself and of course she doesn’t. She feels compelled to lead off by assuring us that she really only considers heirarchal violence a problem when it spills out a bit and impacts women- the rest of the time its just an example of men’s sub-human nature or something.

    And that’s really the crux of the problem, I think. Heirarchies. Police, sports teams, the military and fraternities don’t haze because they are male or participate in male bonding (since when do the police even DO any male bonding?)- they haze because they are heirarchies. Social structures that are designed to funnel the efforts of many members into power for a select few members.

    Joining a heirarchy is usually a raw deal. Most policemen are street grunts who endanger their lives for low pay so that the chief and politicians have the ability to literally run the city. Most athletes put in countless hours and risk injuries for NO pay just so that a few can be champions. Fraternity pledges pay dues and clean so that the most senior actives can live in a big house and throw awesome parties. The only upside is the slim chance that you will make it to the top, it’s like buying a lottery ticket for power.

    The only reason heirarchies are typically male is because only men are willing to join them, and men are only willing to join them because we are already saddled with unrealistic expectations. How can one person be productive enough to provide for an entire family of people? Only by being lucky enough to be at or near the top of another group. That’s simple math.

  3. There are several key points that seem to have been left out of the discussion or only hinted at.

    First, there is a lack of male bonding/initiation ritual in Western society. Most have been abandoned. this has been reinforced by the lack of father involvement with male children. Western society no longer has any ritual to initiate boys into manhood. This means that boys now make up the rituals themselves. Given the adolescent male propensity towards risk, the result can be disastrous. I think this is what happens with college fraternal organizations

    It is also a complex psychological phenomenon. People are social creatures and have an innate need to belong. Maslow noted this in his famous hierarchy of needs. Social psychologists talk about in-group preferences. The more that a person is willing to risk to belong to a group, the stronger the commitment to the group. the stronger the commitment, the more the group believes it can rely on its members. But willingness to submit to the initiation is an important part. Bess doesn’t get it and Tiger doesn’t mention it. If the fraternity pledge agrees to the anal penetration, it isn’t rape, nor is it violence. It is probably overboard for initiation into a fraternity since it isn’t likely that such an organization would never need a member to sacrifice his life for the group, but for a military organization (or a criminal one), asking a member to demonstrate a high level of commitment during an initiation ritual might be more appropriate (not that I would condone anal penetration). From a psychological standpoint, forcing such an act upon an initiate would be likely to result in rejection of group membership. People do not tend to bond with others who abuse them under most circumstances.

    In my days in a fraternity, we underwent what I would consider mild hazing rituals. They helped to separate the committed from the uncommitted. Those of us that endured the rituals became loyal members, those who did not typically left. No one was forced to remain. The bond was strong enough that although I couldn’t stand to be around a couple other members, Despite the two of them being wholly in the wrong, I was willing to stand with them when they were threatened by a group of nonmembers, at great personal risk.

    In short, humans rely on groups for survival. Males, being bigger and stronger than females
    on average, combined with the female reproductive requirements, have been the primary instruments for providing food and protecting those groups. Therefore, male bonding has been an essential part of human survival. Initiation rituals are socially constructed to ensure loyalty to the group, thereby increasing the group’s chances of survival. Because they are social constructs that play on basic instincts, they cannot simply be eliminated. It does, however, mean they can be adapted to fit modern requirements. Labeling these initiation rituals as evil and attempting to eliminate them (which seems to be what Bess would like) isn’t likely to work. Instead, it is more likely to lead to alienation and perhaps even rebellion.

  4. It is curious that feminists like Bess are so quick to demonize male bonding and male groups when these groups of the very reason why modern society exists.

    It’s also curious that she apparently cares so much about this when feminism generally ignores sexual assault against men.

  5. This means that boys now make up the rituals themselves. Given the adolescent male propensity towards risk, the result can be disastrous. I think this is what happens with college fraternal organizations

    It is precisely what happens. Most of what we hear about is no different than what high school boys would do. This is not to say that in the past college men did not do similar things. What is missing from the modern version, however, is older male guidance. If leave boys to create groups without any understanding of responsibility, it should come as no surprise that it may look somewhat like Lord of the Flies.

    But willingness to submit to the initiation is an important part. Bess doesn’t get it and Tiger doesn’t mention it. If the fraternity pledge agrees to the anal penetration, it isn’t rape, nor is it violence. It is probably overboard for initiation into a fraternity since it isn’t likely that such an organization would never need a member to sacrifice his life for the group, but for a military organization (or a criminal one), asking a member to demonstrate a high level of commitment during an initiation ritual might be more appropriate (not that I would condone anal penetration). From a psychological standpoint, forcing such an act upon an initiate would be likely to result in rejection of group membership. People do not tend to bond with others who abuse them under most circumstances.

    I think this is true to a certain extent. A person who wants to be a part of a group may submit to things they would otherwise reject for the sake of belonging. I would imagine that most men do not want to be anally penetrated, certainly not in public, and definitely not as an act of humiliation. So I would not agree that the act is not rape or violence. I would say that it is in the general context because it is unlikely the fraternity pitched its member as including anal penetration.

    I do agree, however, the more harm a person goes through the more likely they will reject the group. This is part of the reason why this type of hazing is done in groups. The “weaker” person can look to the other men who are experiencing the same thing for support. That experience, more so than the hazing, will create a close bond. When that is removed and it is simply one pledge or a handful of them subjected to this treatment, the cruelty of it becomes more obvious.

    It does, however, mean they can be adapted to fit modern requirements. Labeling these initiation rituals as evil and attempting to eliminate them (which seems to be what Bess would like) isn’t likely to work. Instead, it is more likely to lead to alienation and perhaps even rebellion.

    We have that in the modern gaming, geek, and sports cultures, yet you see how people, particularly feminists, regard those communities. They do everything they can to demonize or control them, often ridiculing the men and boys who find those groups interesting.

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