You hear that sound? Is that Perry Como on the radio? Because I’m getting a pretty strong 1953 vibe here.
On the University of Virginia campus, where students are still reeling from a Rolling Stone article about an alleged gang rape that probably didn’t happen, the backlash was strong this week. And, predictably, it was aimed at women on campus.
Sorority sisters were ordered by their national chapters to avoid fraternity events during bid night this weekend; organizing “sisterhood events” for their safety was a suggestion. Some sororities went so far as to plan required stay-inside retreats.
Because this Wicked Stepmother edict of locking up the Sweethearts of Sigma Chi sounds a lot like the rules in the Michigan State University Associated Women Students Handbook, 1953-54. Lots of schools had rules like this in the era of MRS degrees:
“Women students may visit only those men’s residences where an official housemother employed by the college is present under the following conditions:
(1) The housemother must be present.
(2) Women may not go above the ground floor.
(3) Women students may not visit in men’s residences during the morning hours.”
See, back then, women were treated as though they couldn’t make decisions on their own, as though they were the problem when it came to unwanted sexual contact, as though their behavior had to be moderated and controlled and they were infantilized to keep young men from ravaging them.
A housemother was their greatest defense? How different is that from what happened this week at U-Va?
It was an insult to the women as well as the men.
It’s not like campus rape is not a huge problem all over the country, despite the Rolling Stone debacle. One in 5 American women reports being sexually assaulted at some point in her life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are many examples of the college rape problem — no need for a made-up story sensationalized by a music-and-culture magazine to underscore that fact. (Listen in on a book club or a girls’ night out. You’ll be surprised at how many women tell their own rape stories.)
Or just look at the papers. This week, two Vanderbilt University football players — Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, both 21 — were convicted of raping a 21-year-old neuroscience major. They dragged her around, slapped her on the naked behind and took turns assaulting her.
To make matters worse, Vandenburg recorded the assault and sent the video to friends while it was happening. He then tried to say he shouldn’t be held responsible because he just watched. The jury rejected claims that the men were too drunk to know what they were doing, and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be blamed for the attack.
Seriously. That was their defense — that everyone’s doing it.
In 2015, we’re still a herd, even in our institutions of higher learning. And it’s not just the guys who are guilty of heinous peer pressure.
Have you seen the wave of wicked sorority grooming requirements leaked around social media and burning it up on Jezebel? Paging 1953.
Makeup! “This means eyebrows waxed, roots dyed, nails done, hair curled or straightened, makeup done in a neat and clean fashion,” one example said.
Sororities issued PowerPoint presentations on acceptable shades of turquoise to wear, appropriate hairstyles (“No Waves!” one memo screeched) and one dictatorial diva simply said, “cannot express how important Spanx are.”
Yup, back to 1953. Is your petticoat properly starched?
What happened to crusading for your rights, both on campus and off? The women before you had to fight to get on campus, they had to fight to keep the housemother from signing them in and out like property, they had to fight to get jobs and fight to keep them. We’re still fighting.
By locking down the sorority sisters instead of fighting for their right to be safe, we assume the worst of our young women. And our young men.
Shame on that defense attorney for trying to make the Vanderbilt rape a crime of campus culture. Shame on the people who refuse to make alcohol abuse — by men and women — part of this conversation. And shame on the people who have given up on raising good and decent men. Smart men who understand the difference between yes and no, power and passion and right from wrong, who have to take charge in this conversation and lead the way in the cultural shift that must continue.
And seriously, ladies, enough with the turquoise and unruly eyebrows. That’s pretty darn horrid, too.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.