I have read a myriad of biased   articles regarding fraternal goings-on, which is not to say that many of the criticisms laid against frats aren't legitimate. In some fraternities there is racism, misogyny, homophobia/antigay rhetoric, pastel popped collars, and alarming levels of douchebaggery. Some have labeled the rites of passage as "meaningless, difficult, dangerous and/or humiliating," while others have trumpeted them as "ragey" and "not all that unchill."
In reality, the same negative labels could be attached to many of our accepted institutions. Aspects of our educational system could easily be derided as meaningless, difficult and humiliating, and people also have no trouble being hateful or dangerous outside of fraternities.
Further, an honest and two-sided discourse about fraternities is rarely had. This is partly because criticisms are almost universally written by people who have never been a member of a fraternity themselves. The resulting articles tend to be very "OMG these frat things are crazie!! I don't get it...but I still feel I have the authority to write about it." The other problem is that fratbros tend to be fucking idiots so they can't articulate the value of frats beyond "BROTHERHOOD, yo."
Bullshit notions of arbitrary and unconditional "brotherhood" aside, there are some aspects about pledging a fraternity that I have never seen discussed.
I can only speak about my experiences and those I've come to know through friends, and I don't claim that the following couldn't be achieved through other means.
Apparently unlike others, my experience was that...
Everyone was a "target"
The cherry-picked quotes from fratboys that I've seen in the media almost always have a minority as a subject because that's what shocks people and makes for a "good read." The truth is, however, that everyone in a fraternity is a target of sorts. Everyone gets ripped on for one thing or another. Yes, there were jokes about the Black, Asian, and Indian people in our fraternity (there were a few) or in general. Were the racial jokes particularly hateful or offensive compared to everything else that was said? No, not really. Being white just meant that you would be ribbed about some other characteristic: height, weight, look, religion, family background, etc. Again it was less that bros were trying to hurt each other's feelings, and more that there was...
|Drink up, bro|
Haven't you ever wondered what people say about you when you're not around? Is it really nicer to say something behind someone's back than to say it to their face? Sure, no one should ever think anything that isn't nice—thanks, thought police! In a fraternity, dudes are going to tell you straight up what they think of you and your actions. Being overly sensitive to other's words, especially when they are true, is a life disadvantage. In this vein, pledging helped develop...
We had some events that were physical challenges, but nothing like the military or even like training for a major athletic competition. Instead, most of the events were more mentally difficult. This often meant doing something that previously conceived as disgusting or impossible. Through the process, I reexamined what these and other concepts meant: my threshold for what grossed me out increased vastly and my conception of impossible also changed. I also found that...
"Bad" pledging experiences gave perspective
Many arrive to college, especially at top private ones, sheltered and naive 18-year-olds. I like to think I was less sheltered and naive than most, but who knows. Looking back, the value from pledging was not that it "built character," but rather the understanding that life has been, and probably will be, relatively easy. People who complain about things like a line at Starbucks or having to walk a tenth of a mile in the rain lack perspective. Admittedly, people who have led comparatively more difficult lives probably would get much less out of the process. And is it a tad pathetic that some people are so sheltered and privileged that they need to voluntarily subject themselves to pledging to encounter negative experiences? Sure. I'm not equating pledging to something real such as living in a third-world country, but it does help to put things in perspective--it helps separate easy from difficult, necessity from superfluity.
Trusting others & Asking for help
No one was "forced" to do anything, and not everyone was able to complete every pledging task—at least not on their own. Pledging was not you versus everyone; it was your pledge class versus everyone. It was also necessary to learn to trust others and be trustworthy. Each person had and event or two that were hard for them in particular, and because most of these events were designed to have some group component, if you really couldn't do something, someone was there to help you. Hopefully, you later returned the favor to that person or someone else.
|Lol gay, your dick is in my ass, dude. I didn't say stop.|
The homo perspective
I knew I was not hetero when I decided to join. My particular fraternity had no openly gay dudes in it. Since I graduated I have learned that a couple guys, surprising ones, were actually homos. The house was split between conservative and liberal people, but when it came to homo issues the liberals would mostly shake their head in disgust, but not really take further action. The two main concerns with having non hetero memebers seemed to be:
1.) At a formal party (think suits and gallons of liquor) where brothers bring dates, how fucked up would it be if a guy brought a guy?
This one never really made sense to me. Never seemed like a big deal—still don't understand.
2.) Brothers hooking up with brothers would "tear apart" the house.
This is at least an interesting point to bring up. It does complicate house dynamics if you have bros in the same fraternity banging each other. Conservative members would cite other frats that had dudes hooking up and how detrimental it had been. Still, the stories were usually about frats that had good overall reputations and pulled plenty of girls.
I didn't weigh in on these discussions at the chapter meetings, but I wish I had. I hadn't joined a fraternity to meet dudes, at all. If that were my goal I would have joined the frat with all the pretty dudes. I guess I didn't meet the stereotype of my fraternity because whenever people try to guess which fraternity I was in they always guess wrong, and it's usually one of the pretty-boy douche frats.
But I've left out all the fantasy stories about having to blow brothers and spanking pledge's asses with paddles. Oh wait, none of that happened. True to their rhetoric, there was basically nothing homoerotic about our pledging, aside from the fact that were were in our underwear a lot. That's pretty gay I guess. I did hear stories, however, about other fraternities.
Allegedly, at one house a pledge would lay on the ground with ice cream on his stomach and the other pledge brothers had to eat it off of him. Sounds super hetero. Then there were the stories of elephant walks.
|Naked hetero elephant walk|
The reason that I accepted the bid was simple: I was at a college where about half of the student body did nothing but study, and my freshman dorm was about 95% that type of person. The fraternity system had people who were there not just to study, but also to have a fucking great time and be idiots. I thought fraternities were dumb, but I wanted to enjoy those four years of my life. And I did. Partly due to my frat, I had a fucking blast while at college. Some of the guys from my class are still close friends, including my roommate. We don't really discuss the fraternity much though—we're just "college friends" now.
I never intended to join a fraternity, and I haven't felt much of a connection to it since graduated, but I definitely don't regret the decision. It's also kind of chill that when I go back and visit I can stop by, have my name recognized and have some person I've never met tell a story about some impressive and/or stupid shit I did when I was an undergrad. I'm 26, but I still like to get fratty on occasion. I admit it. There's nothing quite like it.
If you didn't like frats, maybe you just weren't drunk enough.
What were your experiences with fraternities in college?