One researcher found that fraternities were embracing “a more inclusive form of masculinity,” based on equality for gay men, respect for women, racial parity and emotional intimacy... Americans demonize fraternities as bastions of toxic masculinity where young men go to indulge their worst impulses. Universities have cracked down: Since November 2017, more than a dozen have suspended all fraternity events. But I spent more than two years interviewing fraternity members nationwide for a book about what college students think it means to “be a man,” and what I learned was often heartening. Contrary to negative headlines and popular opinion, many fraternities are encouraging brothers to defy stereotypical hypermasculine standards and to simply be good people... “Because masculinity is a status that men prove to other men, simply being in an all-male group may exacerbate pressure to uphold masculinity,” the study said. An East Coast junior put it this way to me last year: “We want the high-fives.”
But it’s wrong to assume that every all-male group is toxic.
.. Boys still face pressure to be “traditionally masculine.” In a 2018 survey of more than 1,000 10-to-19-year-olds, two-thirds of boys reported either that society expects them to “hide or suppress their feelings when they feel sad or scared” or that they’re supposed to “be strong, tough, ‘be a man’ and ‘suck it up.’” As boys reach late adolescence, they tend to disconnect from their emotions and their peers. Yet they long for the close male friendships of childhood, said Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University. They increasingly worry that opening up, seeking intimate friendships and showing affection are perceived to be feminine behaviors.
.. Eric Anderson found “a more inclusive form of masculinity institutionalized in the fraternal system: one based on social equality for gay men, respect for women and racial parity, and one in which fraternity men bond over emotional intimacy.” A member told him: “We expect our brothers not to partake in that macho jock mentality. We want to stand out as being intellectual and athletic, but also as being kind and respectful.”
.. they interviewed 50 young men who had challenged stereotypically male norms. These students, who came from 44 campus chapters, “consciously acted in ways that sought to disrupt sexism, racism and homophobia.” They confronted brothers who exhibited those attitudes and developed strong platonic friendships with women, as did many of the brothers I interviewed.
.. Professors Harris and Harper called these behaviors “productive masculinities” because they have been linked to better health and school engagement for college men. “Moreover,” they wrote, they “contribute to a safe and affirming campus community for all students.” The study participants said they behaved this way partly because they wanted to live up to the values of their fraternity.
.. Brothers in several fraternities described to me a weekly ritual called, “Good of the Order,” “Good of the Fraternity,” “Good and Welfare” or “Gavel Sessions,” during which brothers are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings. An Iowa junior told me that in his chapter, which requires each brother to say “Love and respect” after his turn, a member confided to the group in 2017 that he was depressed and feeling suicidal. During the ensuing conversation, an older brother told the group: “It’s O.K. to cry. It’s O.K. to open up. You don’t have to ‘be a man.’ That’s just a societal thing that shifts people’s views and promotes harmful stress.”
.. Fraternities that demonstrate a pattern of bad behavior should absolutely be shuttered. But what about the good actors? Few universities — or media accounts — distinguish between what academics refer to as high-risk and low-risk fraternities. Both exist. In a 2015 Sociology Compass article, Kaitlin Boyle, a professor at Virginia Tech, noted that on measures of sexual aggression, hostility toward women, and drinking frequency and intensity, members of low-risk fraternities did not differ significantly from non-Greek students. She concluded, “It is only the groups easily named as ‘high risk’ by students that contain the values, norms and practices that increase women’s risk of sexual victimization.”
Those are the chapters we see in the news, though they do not represent most fraternity members, many of whom told me they were sick of the stigma of being associated with what they called “rapey” students.
Colleges’ push to eliminate all-male groups is indicative of higher education’s overall dismissal of the needs of boys and men. Universities glorify the masculinity embodied in men’s athletics, largely ignore the emotional needs of their male students and then denounce “toxic masculinity.” But most aren’t providing the spaces or resources to encourage boys to learn about healthy ways to be men.
In a 2010 study, Professors Harris and Harper wrote that “student activities, resources, and courses offered on ‘gender’ are almost always about rape and sexual assault, empowering and protecting the rights of women.” You can’t prevent rape and sexual assault, however, without talking to, and about, men. Jason Laker, an education professor at San Jose State University, called “college masculinity” a “linchpin issue,” but said that student-affairs professionals are not “trained in this aspect of student psychological development, which is where the trouble is.”
In a 2011 call to action, the education experts Jim O’Neil and Bryce Crapser pointed out the fundamental problem: “The real challenge of the profession is to fully accept vulnerable college men are a special group that need our help and support.”
Today’s young men are coming of age at a time when we are renegotiating what it means to be a man, which presents new challenges, reopens old wounds and creates additional reasons for students to seek out brotherhood.
.. To promote a healthier campus culture, colleges could stipulate that all-male groups make their membership more racially and socioeconomically diverse, perhaps by offering scholarships to cover dues, which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars a year. Schools could require fraternity members to attend a several-week course about healthy masculinities led by an outside party and workshops on violence and sexual assault prevention, which studies have found are more effective in male-only groups.
..Rather than assume that every all-male group promotes misogyny, schools could support those that don’t. Examples abound. Christian Milano, a junior and member of Alpha Sigma Phi at Seton Hall, is working with a sorority sister at his school to create a sexual-consent education program for Greeks nationwide. Mr. Milano said he has “spoken with brothers numerous times on how to be active bystanders, how drinking culture plays a critical part in fostering an environment that encourages assault and how to be empathetic to victims of assault.”
Some chapters are going as far as they can to treat women as equals. In 2018, a Pennsylvania chapter of a Jewish fraternity changed its bylaws to start a “nonmember recognition program” that includes women, though national rules don’t allow them to attend chapter meetings and rituals. “I consider myself a feminist,” said Adin Adler, a senior and brother who championed the program. “We feel like, rather than a fraternity, we are a community of people.”