On Monday, my fraternity, Delta Upsilon, made the front page of The Badger Herald and, like most instances when a Greek house appears in the newspaper, it was not for an especially auspicious reason. The impetus behind the media coverage resulted from the publication of a picture featuring members of the house in another well-known periodical: Playboy Magazine.
The pictorial, which ran a full page due to the University of Wisconsin being named the number one party school, has not been met with much enthusiasm by the administration. Interim Dean of Students Lori Berquam has already announced plans to review the photo and, if merited, file a complaint with the Student Organizations Office in order to investigate whether the fraternity broke any rules.
When the photo, in which I did not appear due to grief imposed upon me by my parents, was taken last fall, my initial reaction was most likely typical of what most young men my age would think: Playboy! The opportunity for the fraternity to appear in a prominent national magazine, especially one with the reputation of Playboy, seemed to be ideal. It portended to be a fun occasion to have them down to the house and one that would boost our campus presence along with allowing the chance to see friends in print.
Yet, in the time between the photo being taken and its recent publication, my attitudes and opinions towards what Playboy represents and symbolizes have changed rather significantly.
During this past semester, I took a course in the school of Social Work called the Fraternity Action Coalition which predominantly dealt with attitudes within the fraternity system towards the treatment of women. The class consisted of twelve students who were all members of either my house or Sigma Phi Epsilon and was facilitated by one member from each house.
In the beginning of the course, nearly all of the participants held rather similar opinions on what was and was not harmful to women. Most of the group concurred that Playboy was in no way harmful and that societal expectations that imposed upon women a similar position or demeanor held relatively little reason for concern. Events that the group considered harmful, such as violence, were ones that were obviously wrong but since no member perpetrated such acts there was not an immediate sentiment of responsibility about the problem.
During the course of the class, we discussed "dominant stories" or ideas that are so pervasive within society that relatively few people even question their existence. These dominant stories included the machismo that men are supposed to embody and the idea that violence against women is a private problem. We analyzed how many of the ways men act towards women reinforce the idea of male dominance, from casual acts such as yelling out of a car to much more serious occurrences like physical violence.
From the coursework in the class, though, we learned that while we might not be violent against women, many of the actions that we participate in, without realizing it, result in a society that imperceptibly supports continued male dominance. It is this dominance which leads to violence against women and the continuation of a value system in which women must abide by certain rules that demarcates them as objects for men.
A main idea of the class was that as a "well-meaning man," one cannot be a passive participant when noticing actions that contribute to this dynamic. Instead, one should strive to create an acknowledgement of the shared role of men in modifying the attitudes that lead to the objectification of women.
Playboy finds a niche in this dilemma as well. Women who appear in the magazine do so willingly and many with the expectation that it will lead to bigger and better things. Yet, the magazine reinforces the idea that in order for a woman to advance in life, she must do so not by the strength of her own character or ideas, but through the appeal to men through sexuality.
It is imperative to recognize that while most attitudes and practices will not change overnight, the solution begins with acknowledging the problem and the onus on society to try to amend it. Hopefully, this can serve as an opportunity for the university community to examine this problem more in-depth and to show that everyone has a part to play in ending the attitudes that contribute to it.
Mike Skelly ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in finance and political science.