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To fully understand masculine behavior in public spaces, it is important to clarify that the concept of masculinity and gender in itself isn’t defined by a static binary of predetermined roles. Gendered behavior is exercised through assumed beliefs of male and female etiquette and is validated through its reception in the presence of others. Defining behavior as fluid may seem problematic when attempting to describe the effects of masculinity but the truth lies in analyzing similar patterns people display amongst each other. The patriarchal and privileged element of contemporary fraternity culture perpetuates cultural norms of heterosexual masculinity (i.e. confident, fit, good with the ladies) through interactions with their peers. Through my own experience at a frat party at one of U.C. Berkeley’s most popular fraternity houses, I attempt to analyze the tendencies and conduct of frat boys and the effect it had on the party. It has become common today to assume that collegiate frat parties offer an environment for students to have fun and enjoy themselves while this assumption may hold for some, upon close inspection these frat parties are a breeding ground for a dominant class of men to exercise their masculinity and gender privilege in an unchallenged space.

I approached this party intending to document this experience for this paper; however, I did not have an idea of what exactly it would be that I would document. To put it simply, I came there to have fun and would keep a lookout for anything that appeared to be interesting. I showed up to the frat together with my teammate intent on having a great time and a massive Saturday night party with loud music in a hot and moist congested frat house seemed to be the move. Upon entry, we made our way straight to the dance floor and quickly realized the crowd wasn’t as dense as we’d expected but we had arrived prematurely. Our early arrival was strategically planned as frat houses are notoriously keen on keeping their girls-to-boys ratio high so we got in before they’d get too strict with the dudes. Occupying the dance floor were a few groups of varied demographics; a cluster of Latinas, some hyperactive geeky-looking boys, and some sorority girls were the first few to brave the dark and empty dance floor. As minutes went by and the house started to swell with numbers clusters of mainly white frat boys started to emerge throughout the dance floor. Most of them swaying side to side and slightly bobbing their head to the beat of the music could be seen intermingling with many of the sorority girls. Although these groups were listening to the music, many of them weren’t actively invested in the dancing as much as they were focused on chatting with one of the girls in front of them. Yet they were taking up the majority of the space on the dance floor which had thus relegated the students actively dancing to the outskirts of the floor. It should be noted that a large percentage of those who were dancing were women, Latinos, and blacks; essentially those belonging to minority groups. As I observed all of this I had been dancing along with my teammate for about 20 minutes. We’re both pretty skilled dancers and didn’t feel shy busting out various moves because we knew we were pretty good at it. Soon enough, other people noticed our dancing, and the group of Latinas I had seen earlier made their way over to us and surprised us with practiced and choreographed moves of their own. We made our circle and allowed anyone who trusted themselves enough to have a couple of four-counts in the middle before the next person hopped in. The circle got loud as we all started shouting with the music, hyping up anyone who took the spotlight in the middle and it wasn’t long before it caught the attention of outsiders who wanted in. The bravest fellow was one of the brothers from the group behind us, he joined our circle without skipping a beat and got in on the fun. Things started to get weird when he danced his way over to one of the Latinas and tried to get in front of her so she’d dance with him. She slowly tried dancing away but the frat boy intent on getting this dance was having none of it, he moved with her and danced harder. What came next was what made this party special for me, fed up with his antics the Latina busted out a dazzling T-step shuffle (a move she and I had done together earlier) as if she was challenging him to keep up. The move was too much for him but I took this as my cue to step in so I shuffled right back, it looked like she felt relieved and we kept dancing. At this point, our circle had somehow made its way to the middle of the floor but we kept on dancing, more people had showed up to the party and added to our group. The frat boys and their conversation groups still took up a lot of real estate but we had a genuine dance vibe going and people were starting to notice. We had all kinds of people in our group of various ethnicities, shapes, and sizes but it was when the white girls came into our mix that things got interesting. Slowly the white frat boys ventured over having noticed the influx of female presence in that area and they started trying to dance on the other girls. The passive rejection from the girls prompted a more energetic reply with some hardcore dancing with aggressive jumps and jerky bodily motions as if they were headbanging off of two points at an EDM set. They weren’t making much progress and eventually, many of the brothers switched up their approach and started genuinely dancing to the music to foster some good energy with the ladies. However, by then it was too late to fish for much attention, the athletes had started filing in, fashionably late as usual, and the big, hunky football players stole the dance show and the attention of many girls right from the frat boys. When showing up to frat parties, athletes don’t hold back too much as they’re now free to exhibit party behavior around peers outside of their normal athletic space. With the presence of new energy, we danced off the domineering frat boys and partied until we couldn’t.

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As odd as it may seem, the unrelenting approach from many of the frat boys is all too common in frat houses. Doctor of Philosophy, Shane Patrick Mckee contends that, “From the beginning fraternity brothers have exuded a form of hegemonic masculinity that they have used to empower each other while excluding others and in so doing men in fraternities have not only structured their own lives, but also the lives of many of their fellow students” (42). It’s important to describe the historical context and formation of white masculinity in America which is intertwined with the racist roots of this country. A new era of political activism introduced an emphasis on individuality because there was a newly legitimate group fighting for equal rights. Black men wanted the same manhood rights as their white male counterparts. Feeling the power of their white supremacy slip, the whites themselves wanted no part in being associated with a race they deemed as inferior and savage so the white male set out to establish his own identity by showing how evolved and dominant he could be. Molded and sculpted over the years to keep up with cultural evolution, the white man’s hegemonic masculinity has for long been projected as a more subordinate form of masculinity and reproduced through experiences.

The privilege of being the dominating class forces those juniors to adhere to their cultural norms and expectations. At the frat party I observed, those dancing on the outskirts of the dance floor were not actively participating in Greek life but were there to consume it thus rendering them helpless in trying to assert themselves into the middle because that would cause a scene. Those groups of frat boys placed themselves in the more desirable spots of the dance floor because that is where most people, specifically the girls, would flock to. Anyone not part of their circle would have to resort to being the outsider literally on the outside. Renowned dance historian, Dr. Sally R. Sommer, speaks on the description of physical spaces that can be represented through the types of feelings invoked in that space. She describes this phenomenon as “Psychogeography” She further explains, “Psychogeography is the practice of drifting… mapping the cityscape according to structures of emotions, energy fields, and memories… they disrupt traditional categories and the hegemonic powers that made them.” (212). Being able to dictate the kind of energy required to occupy certain spaces on the dance floor gives the frat boys control over who can do what and where.

Fraternities serve as catalysts for young men to gain new friends with whom they will share a lifelong bond tied by their vows of loyalty to the organization. This brotherhood offers a space outside of the contemporary college experience and helps them find their footing in college life. It has become common today to assume that collegiate frat parties offer an environment for students to have fun and enjoy themselves while this assumption may hold for some, upon close inspection these frat parties are a breeding ground for a dominant class of men to exercise their masculinity and gender privilege in an unchallenged space. While fraternities were founded with good intent it does not shy away from the thousands of incidents instigated by frat members through their various nefarious lifestyle choices and behaviors

Works Cited

    1. McKee, Shane Patrick. “MANTALK: FRATERNITY MEN AND MASCULINITY”, Washington State University, August 2013, https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/4928/McKee_wsu_0251E_10797.pdf?sequence=1
    2. Sommer, Sally R. PERSPECTIVES ON AMERICAN DANCE: the New Millennium. UNIV PR OF FLORIDA, 2020.

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