This article was updated to reflect a clarification.
A former member of Alpha Epsilon Phi posted a picture of her conversation with a recently dismissed Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge to Facebook last Thursday. The controversial screenshot included messages from the male student asking women to send him pictures with “Rush SAE” painted on their breasts, which is apparently a common practice in Greek life known as “rush boobs.” The discussions that have been taking place in this past week have been largely divisive. One half of the student body is condemning SAE, and Greeks in general, for actively practicing such a demeaning tradition. Others have raised concerns with the screenshot itself for naming the pledge in question — which can be seen as cyberbullying — and allegedly ruining his future.
Fraternities across the country have incorporated “rush boobs” in the initiation process for years. In fact, the Greek website Total Frat Move features weekly compilations of hundreds of “rush boobs” submitted to chapters all over the United States. As a result, pledges feel obligated to participate in these activities to fit in and improve their chances of being initiated. Fraternities are so comfortable making inappropriate requests to women, and sororities are so accustomed to accommodating these requests, that members of Greek society no longer recognize that these actions are problematic, regardless of their gender. Male students are taught that demeaning women is acceptable and even encouraged from the moment they enter Greek life. Internalized microaggressions initially manifest themselves in seemingly harmless ways, like asking women to promote specific chapters using their bodies, but all of these traditions are part of the reason why sexual assault is so prevalent in Greek life. By convincing pledges that they are powerful enough to ask women to deface their bodies, fraternities are implying to their recruits that they are entitled to anything they want from women, such as sexual favors.
Although SAE is not the only fraternity prone to this misogynistic behavior, it is especially ironic that the national chapter’s mission is to shape its members into “true gentlemen”, while pulling off sexist recruitment activities like “rush boobs.” True gentlemen, my ass. True gentlemen don’t get suspended for sexually harassing sorority members, as CBS reported. True gentlemen don’t get their recognition as a fraternity revoked, as the UC Davis SAE chapter did. In addition to these expectations, true gentlemen do not support breast cancer research and awareness philanthropy, and then “rush boobs.” While the UCSD Guardian Editorial Board appreciates that the UCSD SAE chapter is handling this, hopefully a la Olivia Pope, and that it “does not condone objectifying women or the degradation of others” — we can’t help but think, what the hell? What were their members thinking (or not thinking) when “rush boobs” seemed like an idea that coincided with being “true gentlemen”? Hopefully, SAE— and the Greek community in general — will get its act together and realize what a true gentleman is.
Admittedly, it is unfortunate that the former pledge’s name was not blurred out or removed in the screenshot, which received over 200 shares on Facebook before being removed. And it is unfortunate that other major news sources, including Fox and NBC, mentioned him by name in their coverage of the issue. In addition, it’s also unfortunate that of the thousands of fraternity men participating in this tradition, a newly recruited pledge was the only one who was caught. However, that should not be the focus of all conversations surrounding this incident. Instead of asking why the female student neglected to consider the pledge’s feelings when publicizing this conversation, people should be asking why this conversation even occurred in the first place.
A student has actually asked that question in the UCSD Free & For Sale 2.0 group on Facebook to raise awareness of the innate misogyny that exists in the interfraternity society. Interestingly enough, the same people who rushed to defend the SAE pledge’s right to privacy also cyberbullied this student for talking about the issue at all. Using the excuse that he posted irrelevant content in a group primarily used for buying and selling goods to fellow students, dozens of people replied to the post with scathing comments — namely a lengthy response that called the student an underweight virgin, implied that he posted about the incident to receive sympathetic attention from women and suggested he douse himself in sulfuric acid. This interaction is a perfect example of the current attitude toward gender-related issues at UCSD: indifference and ignorance of the problems, defensiveness regarding personal involvement and contempt for those who attempt to voice opinions that deviate from the norm. When incidents like “rush boobs” are so prevalent, it’s time to address these problems head on instead of pretending like they don’t exist. At least, that’s what true gentlemen would do.