A typical ‘frat boy’Wikimedia

I have never been so glad that my family decided to move to England as I was when my cousin explained the process of ‘rushing’ for sororities to me. As a naturally grumpy and somewhat shy young adult, the thought of having to straighten my hair, put on a pink t-shirt that matched 400 other new girls and making preppy conversation with various sorority sisters makes my toes curl. These girls who are new and, if they are like anything like I was, scared at their newfound freedom, have to impress older students with their good looks and charm. It seems too much that for their struggles, they get the delightful reward of dealing with fraternities.

“This culture of toxic masculinity, binge-drinking and alarming sexual dynamics is an essential part of the fraternity system – and it seems so strange to us in England”

The Greek system is a part of American lore that many Brits would probably recognise. We grew up watching teen movies about them. We also read the news stories detailing the various scandals that embroil fraternities. A couple of years ago, a fraternity at Georgia Tech was suspended after a fraternity-wide email that offered advice for “luring rapebait” at parties was leaked online. Arizona State University suspended the affiliation of the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon in 2014 after it threw a Martin Luther King Jr-themed party that mocked African Americans. Just this year, fraternities have again dominated American headlines after a student at Penn State died during a hazing ritual.

The numerous rape cases that have been filed against frat boys must also be mentioned. This culture of toxic masculinity, binge-drinking and alarming sexual dynamics is an essential part of the fraternity system – and it seems so strange to us in England. But perhaps we have our own version of fraternities?

Drinking societies draw both ire and debate on campus. Some say they are the epitome of exclusivity and a token of how archaic Oxbridge remains. Some say they are a great way to meet new people and just have some fun. I’d argue that the clubs are the frats of our university. The binge-drinking culture is there in the name. The initiations and the swaps that follow are frequently glorified ways to get as drunk as possible. Indeed, they have their fair share of scandals: Caius students have been caught on camera goading students to drink until they vomited.

The Templars, the Selwyn drinking society, courted controversy when they created a Facebook group rating women they had slept with. The Wyverns of Magdalen were filmed parading through Oxford chanting about rape. Not all drinking societies are like this, just as not all frats are known for their sexual scandals and racism. Yet there have been enough scandals to warrant a comparison between the two.

As if a place like Cambridge needed ways to be more exclusive, clubs exist where the only condition of membership is your privilege. This is especially frustrating given how iron-clad and long-lasting Britain’s class system has been. These men will almost definitely go on to occupy the upper-echelons of power in our country; one only needs to look to the alumni of the Bullingdon Club to see how true this is. When our future leaders of industry and politics come to intellectual maturity in an exclusive club, especially one that has a reputation for binge-drinking and misogyny, ultimately it is society that suffers.

Drinking societies also arguably contribute to a culture of rape and misogyny on campus. We laugh about ‘sharking’ freshers. At swaps, people get bottles of wine instead of dinner, frequently aiming to get as drunk as possible – and to get laid. Indeed, the strange sexual dynamic of swaps – where women are often invited for the sole purpose of attempting to have sex with them – have inevitable darker consequences. Sir Alan Fersht of Gonville & Caius wrote an email decrying the actions of the college’s drinking society, saying they were ‘plying women with drink and abusing them’.

One woman told a Guardian reporter that at a swap she went to, women were encouraged to get as drunk as possible, at which point the male members of the drinking society goaded them to remove their clothes. She was sexually assaulted and hospitalised. Another woman reported being masturbated on at a drinking society event.


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Charlotte Proudman pointed out in that Guardian report that the names of male drinking societies are associated with power and prestige (the Epics, the Caesareans, the Stoics), whilst the names of female ones are reflect the highly sexualised status to which they are frequently restricted in drinking society culture (the Harlots, the Strumpettes, the Hoes, the Wenches). Fraternity brothers in America are 300% more likely than their peers to rape a fellow student. Misogyny seems to be a characteristic both frats and drinking societies share.

Whilst the kind of scandals that have embroiled frats across the pond are much more dramatic (no-one has died during an initiation thus far), it is clear that they share an exclusive and often toxic culture that educates this country’s future leaders that misogyny, exclusivity and binge-drinking are not just acceptable, but desirable

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