Jan. 28, 2015
Dear Members of the National Panhellenic Conference:
We write with great concern that your national presidents agreed to prevent University of Virginia sorority members from attending Boys’ Bid Night.
While we appreciate and share your concern with women’s safety on campus (and, as college professors, believe that all students would be better off at home studying), we would like to suggest that you consider an entirely different mandate to keep sorority women both safe and free. Your mandate that they not attend the big fraternity rush night, a tradition at U VA that involves the sorority girls going from one frat house to the next in tank tops imprinted with their Greek letters, will no doubt reduce the risk of rape–but only through cloistering.
How about, instead, you mandate (and fund) self-defense training for all sorority members? Women are far more likely than men to be sexually assaulted on campus, and yet it’s a crime that most women can thwart with verbal and/or physical self-defense.
We support your desire for the sorority women to engage in more sisterhood events, and we don’t see why any woman wants to hang out with drunken guys being obnoxious at a frat house anyway. But we get their outrage at your paternalistic protection tactic. And we can only imagine the response to the women who dare to disobey their curfew, who refuse to be grounded: go to the frat houses at your own risk.
Restricting women’s freedom and mobility in order to keep them away from a potentially dangerous and criminal situation–while allowing the potentially dangerous and criminal situation to run unchecked–is a clear message that men cannot be stopped and that women cannot stop them.
Self-defense empowers women and increases, rather than restricts, women’s freedom. Rape and the fear of rape keep women in line, while self-defense training gives women more options. And, training to assert and protect one’s own bodily boundaries would make a great sisterhood event.
Martha McCaughey and Jill Cermele