Party theme proves rape culture is present on campus

December 5, 2013 6:16 AM17 comments

Column by Madeline Cramer

MadelineCramerIn the midst of all the rumors circulating here at Drake University, where a few fraternity members were about to host a themed party called “Pigtails and Pedophiles,” and people were actually about to attend it, we, as a community, need to focus on what truly matters.

This party was merely one of the many examples that rape culture exists on our campus.

We cannot analyze each of the situations independent of one another.

Let us look at the bigger picture. Instead of solely consuming ourselves with the “who” and the “what” of these scenarios, let us ask ourselves: “Why?” Why does it keep happening? Why do people justify it?

Furthermore, there needs to be a clear distinction between what these individuals did and who these individuals are.

We must hold the few fraternity members accountable for attempting to throw a party that makes a mockery of child molestation as well as everyone who was about to attend it.

While these individuals acted in an ignorant and insensitive manner, it is not a revelation of who they are as people.

If our only objective is to combat rape culture, we must always remember this. People are inherently good. We all deserve a second chance. We deserve an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. We must practice forgiveness. We must teach. After all, rape culture is a battle that is fought on college campuses all over the country.

It doesn’t end there. Rape culture finds us on the streets, in the lyrics of popular music, on magazine covers, movies, commercials, etc. We live in a country that obsesses over sex yet finds discomfort in discussing the negative side effects that it yields. It is only through open dialogue and education that we can hope to heal from them.

According to the United States of Department of Justice, sexual assault “is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.

Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest fondling, and attempted rape.”

An article about the themed party, “Pigtails and Pedophiles” was recently written in Total Frat Move. The author explicitly stated that we have to “deal with the reality we actually live in.”

Here is the reality: According to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Every. Two. Minutes. Rape culture is the act of normalizing this statistic through making a joke of it.

“That test raped me,” or, “Let’s dress up as pedophiles,” are two examples that enable sexual assault to be a topic of humor. In order to shift the paradigm, we must recognize that there is nothing funny about sexual assault.

The two components that sustain rape culture are naivety and indifference. The author of TFM argued that people should not take offense to something that does not “overtly or directly hurt anyone else.” This very statement embodies naivety.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in six men are sexually abused before the age of 18. This means that there are more than 42 million adult survivors in the United States.

According to a Broman-Fulks study, 73 percent of child victims don’t tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year. Forty-five percent of victims don’t tell anyone for at least five years.

The haunting reality is that the true prevalence of child sexual assault victims will never be known. Researchers of the Children’s Assessment Center conclude that only 8 percent — 20 percent of all victims have come forward.

Can the author of TFM, the fraternity members, and those who were going to attend the party conclude with utmost certainty that this party did not “overtly or directly hurt anyone else?” We cannot excuse bad behavior as “harmless.” If the theme of this party were truly harmless, there would not have been a public outcry against it.

The party could have been triggering to survivors of sexual abuse while diminishing their recovery.

It is due to parties like this, where people choose to make a mockery of such a traumatizing experience, that survivors of sexual assault feel as though they cannot come forward with their stories.

The author of TFM wrote that he was not personally offended by the theme of the party. He argues that there is no point in calling attention to something that offends us because that kind of behavior is going to happen regardless.

For those who did take offense to the party, he argues that instead of “imposing their beliefs on another group of people,” the solution is to simply ignore it. “Ignoring” something that offends us exemplifies the same kind of apathy that causes us to be detached, inconsiderate and thoughtless. It desensitizes us.

Beyond the normalization of sexual assault, this kind of apathy creates an unsafe space for victims of every kind.

The author of TFM also wrote that “at least (the themed party) isn’t racist.”

Just this year, a group of students from Lee University dressed in “blackface” for Halloween, and there was a public outcry against it.

His logic proclaims that a “racist” party is different from a “perpetuation of rape culture” party.

In reality, they are one in the same. We cannot excuse one insensitive act by questioning if it is better or worse than another insensitive act.

We cannot appropriate what we do not know.

The few who organized the “Pedophiles and Pigtails” party and those who were going to attend were appropriating what they did not know — the psychological and emotional trauma, the flashbacks, the post-traumatic stress disorder and other side effects that are relentless.

All of this is unfathomable to anyone who has the privilege of not being a survivor of sexual assault.

Yet, we justify this bad behavior because we empathize with the accused instead of the victims. When the story of this themed party blew up, everyone asked, “Who is at fault?” Instead of, “Who could have been negatively affected by it?”

So, what keeps us indifferent? Perhaps we feel uncomfortable going against a tide of popular opinion. In general, people crave a sense of belonging.

It takes a very loud sense of courage to stand up against a group of people, especially knowing it could push you out of the inner circle.

However, the groups we affiliate ourselves with and the titles we possess are irrelevant in our process of sifting through right and wrong.

We must hold one another accountable.

We must work to be more sensitive to what is clearly offensive, recognizing and acknowledging when others act in poor taste.

We must strive to be sensitive to the realities of the suffering in the world.

If we don’t, we are only perpetuating these ugly cycles — the very ones we should be breaking.

Cramer is a first-year politics major and can be reached at


  • Jonathon F. (A Drake Father)

    Great article! Wow! Passionate, well-written. One of my sons graduated from Drake ’11, another one heading there next year – I sent this to both of them. Glad to know Drake is in good hands of the powerful youth. Keep up the good work, Madeline!

  • Can you explain the party more? What was the plan and how many people were hurt? I’m having trouble seeing any problem with it except the title.

    Also, it isn’t their job to prove someone wasn’t hurt. That’s illogical because they are being asked to prove a negative which is almost impossible in most situations. To explain further, its more likely that someone will prove there’s life on other planets than someone will prove there isn’t.

    I would agree that rape is a bad thing and it should not be perpetuated. The statistics you provide are kind of sketchy because if one in six women is sexually abused as a child and only 8% have said anything, then all women plus a few that haven’t been born have been sexually abused, and most guys have. While I do not know if that is the case, perhaps you should reconstruct your presentation to address that statistical issue. Of course, I may have read it wrong as well and I apologize if that is the case.

    Thank you for your time and reading this. I hope to hear from you soon.

  • Thank you for you voice against the “pigtails and pedophiles” party in particular and rape culture in general. You are right, rape culture is pervasive. I applaud your article.

    I just want to add a comment about one sentence. You said: “We live in a country that obsesses over sex yet finds discomfort in discussing the negative side effects that it yields.”

    Yes, we are obsessed with sex because, by our nature, we are sexual beings. Sexual energy is always present in us and indeed in all living things. But I don’t think rape culture is a “side effect” of this obsession. More likely, it is a narrow expression of sexuality, fueled by centuries of sex-negative laws, culture, beliefs, etc. I believe we need to return to a full spectrum expression of the sexual energy we are filled with. Sexual energy does not “spill over” into aberrant behavior. We don’t need to fear embracing our sexual nature. Rather, sexual energy spews out in aberrant ways (as if constrained in a pressure cooker) because we have “put the lid on” our view of its beauty and divinity.

  • Greek Student

    Referring to the individuals who hosted this party as simply “fraternity members” is as stigmatizing as the party itself. These individuals are men and Drake University students first. Like you said, “We must strive to be sensitive to the realities of the suffering in the world. If we don’t, we are only perpetuating these ugly cycles — the very ones we should be breaking.”

    Greek life stereotypes far out date these individuals, and are far from the truth about Drake’s Greek community. By pointing the finger at “fraternity members,” you are harming this community just as much as the party harms those who have been affected my sexual abuse. You are perpetuating an ugly cycle that our community has been working to break for years – and, if you were involved in the community, you would know that the VAST majority of it’s actions are positive. Just as you ask these men to consider other’s sensitivities, you should consider what labeling this party as a “Greek” event is doing to 1/3 of Drake’s campus.

    • Another Greek Student

      How can it not be a considered a Greek event when the entire guest list was Greek and the hosts were Greek?

    • ….as a Greek alumnae, I think it’s VERY important that the group was named as a fraternity. Members of Greek houses spout off the same rhetoric constantly– that they hold themselves to a higher standard, that they strive to be leaders on campus, so on and so on…. so absolutely it matters that it was a fraternity who hosted, essentially, a pedophila-themed party. That’s just gross.

      I’m all for supporting positive Greek image. I am Greek. But if fraternities want to avoid the rapey, negative connotation that they so often get in our culture, they need to not throw parties that have rapey themes. Period. We can’t blame the media when groups of our own do things that are regrettable. The media has every right to point the finger when it’s a Greek group doing something questionable; to imply otherwise is ignorant and is contributing to the negative image. Sometimes, we just need to take responsibility for our actions, as much as it sucks.

  • “an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes” = FACT
    “People are inherently good” = OPINION

  • Madeline,

    Thank you very much for writing this article. We need more people in society like you who are comfortable to speak the truth about these kind of situations! It is so wrong that people encourage others to “ignore” something that could be very hurtful and traumatic to someone. If we as a culture and a society continue to ignore and push aside “uncomfortable” circumstances, we will never combat the problems in America that truly break people down. We will continue to be looked down as a society that is insensitive, sex crazy, ignorant, and of course selfish. There are many wonderful people who are working to encourage others to open their eyes about the happenings in America and make active changes, and I am glad that you are one of these people.


  • As a member of a Greek organization, I can attest that every Greek is required to take an online course called This course talks about alcohol consumption and the risks that are associated with that, one of which is the potential threat of sexual assault.

    The reason I question this article is because of the fact that I have many friends who are not affiliated with a Greek organization that have parties with themes similar to (and worse than!) the “pigtails and pedophiles” obscenity. However, because a Greek house intended to throw a party like this, they get bad publicity.

    While I’m not saying that I condone vulgar party themes, I believe that your views are misguided by focusing on one fraternity’s decision. This article seems to generalize ALL members of fraternities and sororities, when in fact the majority of us would be discouraged by our advisors and executive board to attend an event with a theme of this nature. It is actually in my chapter’s bylaws that we are not allowed to host/attend events that are degrading to any demographic.

    I also think that using TFM as a source ruins any creditability that this article could have possessed. As a frequent subscriber to TFM/TSM, I know that the website is satirical and the writers take their drink orders more seriously than the articles they write about. It’s humorous for the members of Greek life because we are familiar with the stereotypes and that is what TFM loves to emphasize.

    I understand completely what you are trying to accomplish through this article and I support your endeavors, however, I believe you could’ve found a better way to go about finding resources, as well as constructing the passage. When reading an article about something like this, I should feel as though I’ve been called to action to stop this from continuing. This article honestly fell short for me in that aspect…

  • Let’s go! Love it!

  • Thank you for standing up and doing so in such a well balanced manner.

  • Madeline,
    This is such an eloquent piece, and I cannot thank you enough for speaking up on an issue which (unbelievably) still seems to be controversial. Please continue to write about problems surrounding rape and rape culture- Drake is lucky to have your voice!

  • “In order to shift the paradigm, we must recognize that there is nothing funny about [...].” Ah, the rallying cry of of every humorless, self-righteous scold.

    If we forbid every instance of humor that *might* offend someone, or make them uncomfortable, or “trigger” them, what would we have left? Cute kitten pictures? No, probably not even that, because those might “trigger” allergy sufferers or victims of cat bites.

    The author clearly does not realize that she is perpetuating her own “ugly cycles”: Making Bad Taste a Crime, Finding Ever-More Minor Things to Be Upset About, Treating People as Helpless Victims of Other People’s Words, and most importantly, The Politicization of Everything.

  • Madeline, you make me proud to be a Drake student. All too quickly people want to defend something that they are apart of without stepping back and looking at what they did. YOU are the kind of student that is going to go somewhere because you aren’t afraid to stand up for your beliefs and for the greater good of the community.

  • Lets look at this through a more realistic lens, please? Im sure the people who thought up the party theme wasn’t going for offense. Where are the standards for what is funny set? In this day and age, definitely media. Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, and Will Ferrell have been the frontrunners of the comedic arms race, and crude humor happens to be the weapon of choice. We must focus our attention at educating masses that there is nothing humorous about abuse or discrimination in any form. But lets not point fingers at the Greek community as a whole, and lets not make out the people who thought this up to be cold, vicious, misogynist monsters. Finally, at least it wasnt a cargo themed party, that would’ve been offensive to everyone.

  • Madeline, I am sorry that there were people who commented on this without taking the time to read the article, or maybe the theme went over their heads. You are a brilliant writer, your message is powerful, and you are 100% right. In all of it. There is no way you can argue against this without making a fool of yourself. You weren’t attacking “Greek life” as people have accused you of. You were instead saying that we need not focus on who is at fault! You explicitly stated that, so it makes me laugh. Are people that sensitive about their organization that they are unwilling to admit when a few people who represent it mess up? As you stated, titles and groups we affiliate ourselves with are irrelevant in sifting through right and wrong. The theme of this party was WRONG. I’m sorry you still have to break that down and I am shocked that there is still backlash.

  • Every time I read an article like this, or read the middle/upper class white female perspective on how evil and horrific a male comic is for making a “rape joke” – I’m reminded that jokes about men being raped are a *staple* of television and film, as well as stand up comedy, and that there was no outrage on the part of feminism at any of *that*.

    Which, for me, captures why I’m a humanist and not a feminist. Feminism in essence isn’t about equal rights and valuations, but about eroding male privilege while protecting female privilege.

    Self interest masquerading as progressivism and selective outrage…. Yawn.