Last February, the president of the Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fraternity at University of Pennsylvania sent an email to his brothers encouraging them to attend the University’s production of the Vagina Monologues in order to “demonstrate [their] commitment [to raising awareness of sexual assault prevention] and show that [they’re] determined to make a difference.” He even offered to subsidize the tickets of the first twenty brothers who told him they wanted to go.
I heard this from someone who’d heard it from one of the directors of this year’s production of The Vagina Monologues here at Princeton. Intrigued by the pairing of frat boys and vaginas (in monologue form), I reached out to this year’s directors, Azza Cohen ’16 and Olivia Robbins ’16, to get the full story of what happened at Penn and to see if anything similar was happening at Princeton.
Olivia, who has a friend in Fiji at Penn, forwarded me the email from their president (with names redacted). Regarding Princeton’s production, Olivia and Azza told me that they had not made any formal efforts to invite Princeton fraternities but were instead encouraging their friends in frats and on sports teams to attend the Monologues as a way to learn more about sexual violence and how women relate to their own bodies. The next day, Azza informed me that she had invited all the coaches of male sports teams to advocate for their teams to attend the show. Apparently, “the squash team responded enthusiastically.”
It didn’t sound like quite the same effort that occurred at Penn—at Penn it had been the fraternity president himself who encouraged the members to attend. Additionally, Fiji is a nationally affiliated fraternity, and many of the fraternities at Princeton are not. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by what some guys might have to say about the Monologues and about frat life in general, so I brought a couple frat boys along.
Three frat boys accepted my invitation to attend the show and agreed to talk about it after under the condition of anonymity, but you will notice there are only two interviews below. That is because when I texted the third one nine minutes before the show was supposed to start to let him know that I had his ticket, he responded:
“Oh my god”
“I totally forgot about this…”
“I’m so sorry I just sat down at Princeton Pi”
“I will venmo u for the ticket”
“I’m a disaster my b”
I told him to take his pizza to go and cross the street to come to Theater Intime, which he said he could not do because he was “w someone.” Thus, two interviews, which follow here. The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited for length and clarity.
FRAT BOY #1
What was your general impression of the “Monologues,” and which was your favorite?
I thought the girl who was like, “my vagina is angry,” was funny. It related to a lot of problems that girls have that you don’t really consider as a guy. I had a couple of thoughts as I was leaving—I thought it was interesting how they tried to shoehorn sexual assault statistics into the monologues. Performance-wise, I thought it was a real detriment. It killed the vibe or the mood of these funny, sort of light-hearted, but occasionally incredibly serious monologues. But some of it was really good.
There was also this weird disassociation between women and their vaginas throughout the show. It was almost an independent entity that existed outside of themselves or had unique desires, wishes, wants, and from the male perspective that’s sort of bizarre. Like, it would be as if my penis wants things different from the rest of my body, but I exist as a cohesive unit. So it was weirdly objectifying to me when they talked about certain body parts as if they existed independent of the person.
What did you learn from them, if anything?
I mean, the sexual assault statistics everyone’s heard before, but the one kind of interesting statistic they brought up was that in the 2014-2015 year, 28 percent of undergraduate women reported that they had heard a sexist remark or sexist joke [in an academic setting] and 31 percent of graduate women had reported the same thing. But said as a flat platitude, that doesn’t really carry much weight. I would be much more interested to hear: were the jokes malicious? What was the context of it, I mean, what makes something a sexist joke?
As far as learning goes, I would definitely go back to back to [the angry vagina monologue]. As a guy you don’t know that tampons are annoying or uncomfortable or frustrating, and it’s just something that I’m sure girls deal with very regularly but guys just have no conception of. Or even gynecological visits. My mother is a gynecologist and I don’t really know what goes on. You’re totally blind to that [as a guy]. Or the one who spoke about all the hype around girls getting their first period—how it’s treated and handled, or how they feel uncomfortable, was interesting.
Did any of them surprise you?
I guess the moaning one caught me off guard. I thought the one girl who told the story about being raped for seven days was pretty moving. I thought the cunt monologue was…I don’t know, it was gratuitous. Like it was trying to be so edgy but I just didn’t find the exploration of the word that thoughtful or interesting. It would have been more interesting to me if they explored the etymology of it, why people find it offensive and why some people don’t.
I guess here’s how I feel about the Vagina Monologues in general, nothing to do with the performers in that individual performance: it’s kind of the most conservative radical thing you can do. I guess it’s like Princeton students doing Teach for America. It’s like, you’re going off the beaten path, you’re not doing the jobs that regular people do, and that’s radical, that’s doing something that you love. But at the same time it’s incredibly conservative in that it’s a path that’s already laid out for you. It’s not really requiring any new thought or ambition, and so you’re doing something perceived as radical within a very conservative community already. So when you perform the Vagina Monologues you’re doing something people would call radical in some ways, like radically feminist, but it doesn’t really hit home as anything really progressive nowadays…it felt like kind of an easy path. I guess like I just wish they had spiced it up more, maybe adding a Princeton girl’s experience, even if it was anonymous and performed by someone else.
Did any of them turn you on?
Hah, no. I wasn’t at all aroused during the show. It is cool to hear people be so candid though, even if it’s not their own stories.
Would you consider yourself a feminist, and why or why not?
Yeah, absolutely. Hah, I’ve never had to justify why I’m a feminist. I guess because I think men and women should be treated equally, and should have equal rights.
How would you respond to another guy who said that he isn’t a feminist?
I mean it totally depends on the context, right? It’s not really my job to change your views, nor am I really equipped to do so. If it was in a more academic context I might probe a little bit, maybe try to see why or why not. I’ve definitely met Princeton kids who actively believe in gender roles or just aren’t feminists. Also if you don’t believe in feminism you’re probably not going to be easily swayed. You’ve probably thought about it before.
Do you believe that there is a ‘frat guy’ stereotype, especially regarding women? How would you describe it?
Sure, yeah. You’re probably semi-misogynistic, you’re kind of closed off from women, I don’t think you view women as friends, more as objects. You probably drink a lot, probably do a lot of hard drugs, probably coke, maybe weed. Most of your interactions with girls are probably a means to an end and that end is of a sexual nature. I guess that would be the stereotype as I perceive it.
How do you feel about it?
It’s terrible. It’s a horrible stereotype, something you really want to disassociate from as much as possible. The thing is, when you have a large group of guys together, inevitably women will be talked about. And when a group of people isn’t in the room to defend themselves from potential disrespectful remarks, it takes a lot for someone to stand up and be like, that’s not okay, especially if you’re not the offended party… You have to be—not self-righteous—but someone who cares a lot about justice. And I definitely have friends in my fraternity who would do that if someone makes an offhand remark.
On the whole I think most of my frat would identify as feminists, but I’ve definitely visited fraternities at other Ivy League schools who are very offensive, or disrespectful. You just have to fight that stereotype so hard because when you’re in a fraternity, especially at an Ivy League campus, there are so many negative connotations that come with it. It’s looked down upon by most other groups on campus. I mean, talk to your professors and mention that you’re in a fraternity and it’s like you have the black plague. Especially if you’re in a gender and sexuality class, it’s like you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Have you ever encountered misogyny from your own fraternity brothers? If yes, what kind and how did you respond?
Yeah, I mean, of course. I’ve encountered sexism going both ways from almost everyone I’ve ever met. Maybe like an offhand remark or joke, I’m sure it’s happened. Are people going to make a big fuss about it? No, I don’t think so. I mean depending on how offensive it is. If it’s subtle, maybe you’re objectifying—if you’re talking about a girl you think is hot I think it’s fine. But if you were slut-shaming, guys in my frat would object. It all just comes through internal regulation, right? We’re all just telling each other what we think is socially acceptable or appropriate or not. It’s a system of checks and balances.
The sororities and eating clubs here have to do alcohol education and sexual assault training. Do the fraternities, or your fraternity, do anything of the sort? And is there any kind of official discussion about preventing misogyny, sexual assault and rape?
Yeah, absolutely. We definitely have meetings and we talk about it. Also we are one of the more progressive fraternities on campus, otherwise I think that would probably be pretty uncommon. The unfortunate thing about something like sexual assault is that people only discuss once something’s happened. I just think of the officers of my fraternity and the way they talk about it and discuss it… I guess I’ve been in situations where other people, not members of my fraternity, have been infringing on gray lines, and I’ve definitely seen people intervene, but that’s not to say it’s the same thing as formal education or anything.
A part of [being in a fraternity] is learning and memorizing chants and creeds, some of which talk about respecting women and some of which talk about drinking. I can’t share them with you, but it’s about being a gentleman, being respectful and kind. There are ideals that we do formally discuss. It’s a lot of character building, honestly.
Are there any misconceptions about fraternities at Princeton that you’d want to address?
I guess this is what I would say: people who dislike fraternities the most are the ones who understand the least about them. That’s been my experience. Or feel like they were wrongly hosed from one. But any member of a fraternity that’s really actively partaken in the activities offered…I’ve never met someone who thinks they’re sinister or malicious. I’ve definitely spoken with girls who feel really strongly about the fraternities. But it’s so often informed by things at different schools or articles you read in the news that don’t really reflect the Princeton fraternal experience at all.
And yeah, you can read about these terrible organizations that do this brutal malicious hazing, but if you just talked to someone and came to an event, you’d see that its really just not when you think it is. I also think the air of exclusivity surrounding fraternities breeds resentment. In the same way that the most exclusive Eating Clubs kind of breed and harbor resentment. No one is going to have a bone to pick with Charter, because Charter is welcoming to everyone. But people do have really strong feelings pro and con Ivy, because its harder to get passes so you feel excluded. The same would be true of TI and Cottage.
Yeah, go talk to a frat brother, if you’re a member of Princeton’s campus and have strong feelings [about fraternities]. I’m sure they’d be happy to discuss.
Frat Boy #2
What was your general impression of the Vagina Monologues? Which monologue was your favorite and why?
I’ve never seen a show like that before. I thought it was great. The acting was incredible, so you could really get into each piece. The girl who was playing the old woman told had the best of what the whole Vagina Monologues were about — insecurity, fulfillment, and so I really enjoyed that piece. I think that’s the one that afterwards I thought it was the most complete. There were some pretty emotional pieces in there, but that one was so phenomenal.
What did you learn from them?
All the stories were really unique, so I don’t think its possible to see that play without hearing something new. There were the obvious things, like every person is very different, like vaginas are important. I guess that the most obvious thing to me, and also probably to most people, was that people—women—are fulfilled sexually in different ways, and that fulfillment is very important and can be very affecting.
Did any part of them surprise you?
The stories are so weird and crazy that you almost don’t believe them. The show is so comedic, too. It would be hard to watch a show like that if it weren’t funny. The show is meant to surprise you. Like the looking at the vagina piece was great. The story is just shocking and weird. But also you’re trying to empathize and connect with the story so though it’s shocking, the humor helps you get past that.
Did you feel that as a man, you couldn’t connect in certain ways?
I have friends who were like, ‘oh you need to see this show’ — all girls. It’s easier to relate to the show for girls, obviously, because they have vaginas. One of the reasons why girls want guys to see it is because they relate to the show in such a strong manner. I’m sure guys relate to the show differently. I can’t even speak for guys as a solid entity because also guys have different experiences with girls, which is important to realize. Yeah for me, I mean like…I just feel like weird getting into like…it’s hard to answer a question of how I relate because I would basically be answering how I relate to vaginas, which is hilarious and I’m going to abstain. But one of the biggest reasons guys should see this show is because it’s a reminder of empathizing with something that you may not really completely understand.
Did any of it turn you on?
I honestly don’t remember; I don’t think so. I think by far the most physical was the one with the dominatrix who was faking orgasms. I don’t think it turned me on, mainly because I was just interested on what was going on onstage. What didn’t turn me on was the one where the girl was in tears the whole time. That was horrible. I think that was just very emotional, it made me want to leave the room basically, but that’s also the point of it in some ways.
Would you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
I don’t know. I have so many friends that would consider themselves feminists, girls, that like say “oh yeah, I’m a feminist” and I definitely relate to them and like, support them in whatever they’re doing. I wouldn’t say I’m like actively doing like, what do feminists do these days, like go see the Vagina Monologues? I don’t know if there are any rallies…
Well how would you define feminism?
People define it differently. There’s an idea in developmental economics that talks about allowing people to make the choices they want to make without hindrances, to make fulfilling choices. I think feminism is more about people-ism. That plays into equality a lot. The most obvious issues today are women in the workplace and equal pay—if you approach them economically, which is how I approach a lot of issues, then you get something that isn’t fair and should be addressed. I would gladly participate in some equal pay rally. But that’s the thing, like a rally? I don’t know, I feel like social media is the biggest way people gage if other people are feminists. But I’m also wondering what being active participant [of feminism] entails or means.
Do you think there is a frat boy stereotype, especially regarding women? How do you feel about it, do you identify with it?
Yeah, there’s definitely a frat boy stereotype. That’s something that sort of everyone knows. That’s something very widespread, and maybe uniquely a part of American culture. It’s not like you find them internationally. There are also sorority girl stereotypes, though.
Can you describe the stereotype?
Drinks a lot, hangs out with the frat a lot—I think that’s a big part of it, honestly. Part of the frat boy stereotype is that being in a frat is a big part of your identity, which is interesting because that’s not the case for everyone, at all. Other than that, I think being a guys’ guy. The frat boy experience [at other schools] feeds into how people see guys in fraternities in every university.
How would you describe the stereotype regarding women?
I think a lot of it comes from horror stories that you hear like the UVA one before that was ‘debunked.’ Those stories you hear make you question, are fraternities objectifying women and in what ways? Then you have counter-measures, like you need to go through this training and that training. There’s a kid I know who was in a frat down South and is fighting a rape case but the story is contested in so many different ways. It’s just one of those cases where its hard to know what happen. But they also play into stereotypes.
The sororities and eating club officers here have to do trainings like you mentioned…is there any discussion in your frat about preventing misogyny, sexual assault and rape?
Part of the thing about going to Princeton is that you have to do that as a student. Then every frat has different procedures to deal with that. It’s definitely something you have to talk about, that we have talked about.
Have you ever encountered misogyny among your brothers. If so, how did you respond?
There was a statistic cited last night, that 28 percent of undergraduate women will experience misogynistic jokes in their presence. Jokes like that pop up everywhere. I mean, I don’t have a mental ticker every time I hear a misogynistic joke. But if it were bad I would respond to it. I think most people do. To a certain extent the idea that frats just sit around and crack a bunch of misogynistic jokes is pretty ridiculous.
Do you have an example of a comment you heard that bothered you?
I could check the GroupMe and scan it but I don’t think it happens that often. That’s another reason why I don’t have an example that’s coming to mind. If I’m giving you the impression that it happens a lot then I’m doing the wrong thing, because I don’t think it does. I mean it is a group of guys, just like in any group on campus.
Are there any misconceptions about fraternities or frat culture at Princeton that you want to address?
One of the points of the Vagina Monologues was to understand that all girls are different, vaginas are different, and stereotypes aren’t always as they seem. Stereotypes may not reflect what’s actually going on. The easiest way to understand something is to get to know people who are in fraternities, and to hang out with them more.