Whenever I read or hear about a new student group or project that promotes the discussion of sexual assault and harassment, consent, and male privilege, I feel proud of my generation, my alma mater, and my fellow human beings; I become excited about the new and innovative ways students are looking to change society and change our world’s perceptions of gender, the deservedness of sex, and the value of women and their bodies; I become eager to learn about what I can do to not only disperse these positive messages in the modern world, but also to look back upon myself and question my own conditioning and socialization.

Projects that make individuals dedicate even one extra second to thinking about consent and issues of gender and power in modern day society are projects that indeed do some good for our world. However, I have recently come across one group that, while well intentioned, appears to have a rather distorted understanding of the reality of consent and male privilege.

The nonprofit organization “Consent is So Frat” was founded only one short month ago. For its mission, the group boasts, “Making consent and healthy relationships part of what it means to be a fraternity brother.” The group sounds promising; an organization that specifically targets fraternities in its efforts to bring consent culture and education to college campuses – what could be better than that? Based on its mission, “Consent is So Frat” appears to help fraternities question their own opinions, perceptions, actions, and conversations about sex and women and then begin to work towards those that better promote gender equality, respect, communication, and consent.

A quick scroll through the Facebook wall, however, tells me this is not the case. Tank tops that read, “Are you DTF? Consent is So Frat” and photo campaigns that showcase different groups of fraternity brothers holding signs broadcasting “Consent is So Frat,” tell me that rather than working towards radically changing the attitudes of fraternity brothers towards consent and sex, “Consent is So Frat” merely aims to equate fraternities with consent in the eyes of its peers. Hold a sign that says “Consent is So Frat” and you become part of the solution, not the problem. Hold a sign that says “Consent is So Frat” and you tell the world you believe in consent and a world free from sexual assault.

I understand that these campaigns aim to use trends and brands to equate consent with something that is popular and cool, and I acknowledge that this group succeeds in making consent a topic actively present in the minds of fraternity brothers. But I do find something very concerning and problematic in even the very title of this group; “Consent is So Frat” neither means “I Believe in Consent,” nor “I believe in consent and therefore I try to think about consent in all of my actions, thoughts, and words.” Instead, “Consent is So Frat” means, “Consent is, in the present, part of fraternity life and all of the men who belong to it.” And that is simply not the case.

I believe that every man who holds one of these signs believes in consent. However I also know — by interacting with them in relaxed environments and hearing what they say when they think they are behind closed doors — that what they believe and how they act are not always in line with one another. I applaud these men and am proud to see so many of them acknowledge the importance of consent in relationships, but acknowledgement is not enough. In order to see a decline in the number of sexual assaults on campus we need to see action: a change in the language men use to talk about women and a change in how college-age men view drunk girls (i.e. not as an “opportunity”).

“Consent is So Frat” operates under the notion that consent culture is something that is active in fraternities in the present and, in my opinion, this is one of the largest problems with this organization. How many other non-profit organizations function in the present? Most organizations work towards change and therefore operate in the future. Whether they concern themselves with cancer, HIV, domestic violence, hunger, or animal abuse, they explain, “These conditions we have in the present are detrimental to our society and harmful to individuals who live in it; we must therefore find ways to change them and to work towards a better future.”

If an organization does not operate in the future, it cannot challenge its own values and ideas and learn to improve them. If an organization does not operate in the future, how is it anything more than a mere PR campaign, simply self-promoting its own brand? If consent is already “so frat” and already a part of fraternity life, what work do we have left to do? How can we end the trend of sexual assaults taking place in fraternity houses or at the hands of fraternity brothers? Promoting the value of fraternity life as opposed to acknowledging its grave faults and working from the ground up to solve them, one by one, exhibits the reality that members of this group may believe in the value of consent, but they are not willing to put forth the hard work necessary to constantly educate themselves and actively make consent a value of fraternity life in the future.

At their core, fraternities are spaces of gender-based segregation. At their core, fraternities are exclusive groups united around brotherhood and maleness, and in this society, being a male holds power and privilege. Consent is not power and privilege; consent is individual and personal. Consent is not exclusive and segregated; consent is a basic, universal human right. Consent is not “so frat”– it does not depend on the existence of fraternities–but should fraternities continue to exist, it is vital that they begin to participate in consent culture.

Participation however, requires breaking down societal norms, expectations of sex, and notions of gender and power. It requires reflection on and self-awareness about one’s own position in society and one’s socialization and participation in a world rooted in patriarchy and sexism. It requires not defense, but acceptance of failure, and the willingness to learn how to make consent not the focus of a tank top or a photo campaign, but every word one chooses to utter, every site one decides to visit, and every encounter one chooses to engage in. Changing a mindset is exhausting. Changing the mindset of hundreds of men across the country and the world is even more so. But looking towards change is active and it is powerful and it is the only way to truly make consent a part of what it means to be a fraternity brother in the future.

Kirby Sokolow is a member of the class of 2014. 

  • Anonymous

    You seem to be confusing consent with respect (and not extending much of the latter amidst your generalizations and unsubstantiated theories). It is actually possible for folks with differing points of view about an issue to respect a diverse viewpoint even if they don’t want to consent to the societal interaction. . . . except perhaps at Wesleyan, where freedom of association has yielded to rule-making based on popularity and edict. If anyone should be concerned with consent and personal violation it would be folks whose rights are being compromised against their will and freedom – whatever the context, whoever they are, and regardless of their position or standing.

  • Phillip Ross

    Have you investigated the group’s involvement history and plan of action in more detail? If a more thorough look into the organization and it’s plan for achieving a world where fraternities are a leader in consent culture reveals that they actually don’t have plans to drive that goal, then see if you and organizations you work with can cooperate with them to push a common goal. If it turns out they are on a better track then you think, then your argument is misleading and does a potentially good organization an injustice that could hurt your common goal.

  • PL

    I think you misinterpret what “consent is so frat” is actually saying. The statement “consent is so frat” does not imply that the current state of things is the ideal, as you claim, but rather what the ideal itself is. The concept of ideal is what is in the present, not the ideal itself. The idea is that consent is inherently part of what it means to be in a Frat and anyone who acts contrary to this is acting against the ideal. The purpose of the campaign is to serve as a reminder of what an ideal frat really is and to acknowledge that in the current culture in which sexual assault is relatively common in Frats, the spirit of what a frat should be has been perverted and has deviated from the initial concept of a Fraternity. I think that you can agree that Frats are founded on such ideas as “good citizenship” and “respect.” The fact that Frats don’t currently operate according to these ideals does not change the fact that the ideals exist in the PRESENT, hence the phrasing of the campaign. The idea is to create a culture in Frats that is in line with this ideal. To remind people that being in a Frat means respecting others and valuing consent and to not tolerate anyone who acts contrary to this.
    I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to think that consent is so Frat implies that the current consent culture of Frats is anywhere near the ideal. The people holding these signs are not saying that “everything is fine” but rather “we believe that consent is something worth valuing in Frats even though this is often not the case.” I think you are insulting these people’s intelligence to claim that they don’t understand that the current culture is unideal. The very reason these people join these campaigns is to acknowledge fault and you are telling them that they aren’t even doing that.
    It can be argued that awareness campaigns are ineffective, but this is not what you are arguing. I for one think that awareness campaigns are an integral PART of the solution in that they help to change culture on a large scale and cause people to question themselves in a way that couldn’t happen if they were unaware. That being said, there are very real, difficult, and active things that need to be done in conjunction with this. There is of course the danger that people will feel they have done enough with a campaign like this and will feel satisfied without really doing enough change. I also think the point you make about people’s thoughts and actions not always aligning is valid, but what do you propose as a solution? I think the point is not that what they are doing is wrong and that their wording is faulty, but that this is only part of what needs to be done.

    • Kirby Sokolow

      Thank you guys very much for taking the time to read my Wespeak and to respond; you’ve given me a lot to reflect on. I’d like to address PL’s comment in particular because it has both made me think about the organization in a different light and has also also helped me better understand and articulate what exactly I find problematic with it.

      PL: you’ve expressed that I misinterpret what Consent is So Frat is saying and that instead of arguing that fraternities in the present live by consent-positive practices, this group promotes, campaigns, and reminds
      brothers that consent is inherently an ideal of fraternity life, which is rooted in citizenship and respect, and that they must live out these ideals in order to be true fraternity brothers. You explain that the fact that frats do not currently operate by these ideals does not delegitimize the fact that consent and respect are indeed values of fraternities in the present.

      I agree. I agree that this interpretation is most likely the intention of the group and of course I agree that this angle is valuable and, if enacted properly, incredibly productive and positive. However, this clarification on the intention of the group only further strengthens my resolve that the actuality of it is not a positive contributor to the conversation about consent in fraternities. Let me tell you why.

      In order to remind brothers that “being in a Frat means respecting others and valuing consent and to not tolerate anyone who acts contrary to this,” the group and brothers alike must acknowledge the ways in which fraternities fail to uphold these ideals and the ways these failures negatively affect others (i.e. consistently women); in other words, for CISF to be positive and effective, it must hold brothers accountable for their words and actions, refusing to accept the behavior of brothers that runs counter to these values.

      If we neither show brothers what respecting women and asking for consent looks like, nor explain to them when and why their behavior fails to uphold these ideals, how can they ever live out these goals?

      You argue that by creating the group itself, CISF indeed acknowledges that the consent culture of
      fraternities is not ideal – that accountability is implicit in the founding and existence of the organization. Why then do so many of the same men who smile behind a sign that reads, “Consent is So Frat” continue to grope girls at crowded parties or objectify women behind the safety of alcohol or the lifelong bonds of brotherhood? How are they still tolerated?

      Implicit is not enough. Acknowledgement is not enough. Accountability is about giving up power in real ways – starting with accepting failure and criticism and working towards changing the words you use, the sites you visit, and the way you approach women altogether.

      Consent is So Frat is not ready to give up power. Consent is So Frat does not talk about survivors; it does not talk about cases of sexual assault or rape; it does not talk about the way that consent, gender, and power negatively affect women; and, quite frankly, it does not mention women at all. Rather than talking about how women can be safer in a consent-positive culture or how we can change the sad truth that 1 in 5 American women have experienced rape in their lifetime by enacting proper consent education and a change in the way men view, approach, and hold expectations for women, Consent is So Frat talks about “how fraternities can benefit from talking about consent.” and the “true value of being in a fraternity.” Rather than aiming to be partners and equals with women in combatting sexual assault, it instead aims to be “leaders” — to hold power within the fight, and to give value to fraternities based on their presence in the movement.

      Consent is So Frat says consent is important but it does not dare to remind brothers of the dangerous outcomes of environments and mindsets that prioritize expectations of sex and the desire for gratification over the safety and respect for women – the mindsets of the men they have pledged to support for life. Consent is So Frat does not address sexual assault with the urgency and soberness it deserves and it fails to reflect on consent with humility, introspection, or openness to change.

      • JG

        It seems like your real problem with the “Consent Is So Frat” campaign is that it represents a genuine effort by fraternity brothers to address the expressed concerns of campus feminists, to make the issue their own, and to promote the very thing you claim to be for: to focus attention on the importance of consent.

        The fact that you find this objectionable further underscores the real objective of all the “rape culture” hysterics–which is not to promote constructive change or reduce the so-called “epidemic” of “sexual assault,” but rather to dismantle fraternities themselves. Its about power.

        Unfortunately, in their naivety, these fraternity brothers are taking you at your word. They don’t realize that it will never be enough. The goal is not to “reform” fraternity brothers. It is to make them disappear.

  • upulous

    “At their core, fraternities are spaces of gender-based segregation. At their core, fraternities are exclusive groups united around brotherhood and maleness, and in this society, being a male holds power and privilege.”

    So segregation is only ok when it isn’t based on power…
    Sororities are still fucking segregation. Just because women aren’t “in power” doesn’t make it ok.

  • upulous

    “At their core, fraternities are spaces of gender-based segregation. At their core, fraternities are exclusive groups united around brotherhood and maleness, and in this society, being a male holds power and privilege.”

    So segregation is only ok when it isn’t based on power…
    Sororities are still fucking segregation. Just because women aren’t “in power” doesn’t make it ok.

  • alum’14

    Well said! I also agree that the tank tops are absolutely disgusting in light of what the organization claims to stand for – I’d love to see the founder defend his choice of design.

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