The smell of sweat filling a musky basement, warm beer sloshing out of solo cups, cheers erupting from the nearest beer pong table. Welcome to the classic college frat party, where the jungle juice flows, the house music blasts, and everyone is in pursuit of a good time—until something goes awry.
Bill Frezza, president of the house corporation for the Chi Phi fraternity at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, blames drunk girls for the issues that arise at frat parties. In his recent Forbes article—thoughtfully titled “Drunk Female Guests are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities”— he writes, “In our age of sexual equality, why drunk female students are almost never characterized as irresponsible jerks is a question I leave to feminists.” For Frezza, an MIT staff member, drunk females are “ticking time bombs” that are the catalysts for a rainbow assortment of issues for frats: injuries, alcohol poisoning, and—of course—sexual assault allegations. He plays on the age-old adage that it’s the drinker’s fault for drinking, not the assaulter’s fault for assaulting.
Though his piece is steeped in misogyny and victim-blaming, Frezza does have a valid point: Why aren’t female guests held to the same level of responsibility as male guests? But this question is only symptomatic of a larger problem: the pervasive unequal power dynamic that is at play in many college social interactions. Women cannot have an equal share of the responsibility when fraternities are the ones throwing the parties.
As Claire Groden from The New Republic writes, “When a female student wants to party, she’ll go to a fraternity. And when an affiliated male student wants to party, he goes downstairs.” It’s the men that pay for alcohol, mix the drinks, and provide the location and have a type of control that comes coupled with a particular sense of responsibility. As Groden summarizes, “When a party goes wrong and police or paramedics end up at the front door, it is the fraternity that deals with the legal and financial repercussions.” Fixing the power dynamics of these frat parties by enabling women to host and pay for these events that men are arbitrarily charged with planning would allow female guests to shoulder some of that accountability.
However, there are systemic impediments that prevent women from finding a way to empower themselves in party culture. Not only do some sororities have stricter regulations than many male fraternities, but they are not allowed to have houses to begin with. This includes all of the sororities at Auburn University, a campus in my home state with more of a Greek-affiliated presence than Emerson. How can anyone equalize the power dynamic while lodged in someone else’s basement?
There’s your problem. No matter the basement in question, it’s impossible to level this proverbial playing field without addressing the larger structural inequalities that continue to disallow women to empower themselves. Men escape the regulation of social, sexual, and personal conduct in a way that women don’t, even with the 22-page risk manual Frezza touts his fraternity having in his Forbes piece. The stereotype of men as providers—of alcohol, venues, and protection—prevails.
Women hosting parties in their own spaces to relinquish the label of “guest” is a start in the effort to take control. In urban campuses, it is especially important to look out for each other and aid troubled peers, but nothing can change until we’re comfortable with releasing women from the decades-old pedestal that disallows them from being seen as providers and sexual initiators, especially at the crowded, college parties where these stereotypes are most present.