“He tried to kiss me like eight times,” my friend said as she casually took a sip from her iced coffee — her mascara from the night before smudged under her eyes.
“He did what?” I asked.
“I kept telling him it wouldn’t be a good idea, but he was so drunk he just kept leaning in. It was crazy,” she chuckled uncomfortably, as if remembering an off-color joke.
Our group of friends sat around the living room, disheveled and numbingly hungover. When we each took our turn in the sacred “morning debrief,” I was appalled at the stories coming from each one of my girl friends after the fraternity date party we attended the night before.
A lot of my friends’ testimonies seemed to carry a similar theme: One of pseudo-consent, with many of their male dates behaving under the impression that a date party invite meant implicit consent, consent that lasted all night and expired at sunrise. That all their nights would end in an inevitable, albeit not explicitly-consensual hookup.
“You know that’s not okay, right?” I inquired wearily.
Intrinsically, we all knew this behavior was not okay, but that didn’t stop the stories from the night before to be told with a casual lightness — with us all too afraid to address the underlying level of discomfort. With each story of one of my friends being groped or continually hit on by her date, I became increasingly disgusted. I began to wonder why this was coming up now.
My friends and I go out to bars and parties on a regular basis without having to withstand such blatant lack of respect for our bodies. There was something about this outing — The Date Party — that made the notion of consent feel different.
Date parties are a common occurrence on college campuses in many student organizations. While they have origins in college Greek Life communities, they also occur frequently in professional fraternities and other organizations, like pre-law frats, pre-health frats and other university clubs.
LSA Sophomore Jenna Al-Nouri has experience with date parties as a member of both a social sorority and a professional pre-health fraternity. Thankfully, Al-Nouri hasn’t had a date party experience in which a date has pressured her into feeling like hooking up was the only way to end the night. But, she is still aware that this culture exists. She reminisced on a time when a male friend of hers stated that he “wanted to bring a date that he could hook up with.”
Al-Nouri recognizes the disrespect toward a woman’s boundaries that is often heightened around date party season and has come up with ways to combat this negativity while still preserving the fun of the event.
“I made a rule that I will only bring a best friend that’s a girl because I know she will be chill,” Al-Nouri shared. “I have a lot more fun when I bring a friend.”
Al-Nouri’s tactic is a smart one when examining how non-platonic date party affairs often proceed.
The usual date party scene looks something like this: You invite a date over text or maybe even Snapchat. On the night of the party, you and your date get dressed up and meet to start drinking. Then, you and your date travel to a venue (possibly at Detroit’s Club Bleu, Ann Arbor’s Necto Nightclub or even an apple orchard) and continue drinking, with some added dancing and socializing sprinkled in.
Upon the conclusion of the planned festivities, an integral aspect to a date party that is unspoken but clearly understood arrives: sex. Sometimes sex isn’t initiated at all, but many other times, sex feels like an expected part of the date party experience, the last event on the date party’s nightly itinerary.
But in order to further discuss date parties and the underlying norms of consent and sex, we must recognize that this article assumes a very heteronormative perspective. This is a reflection of the archaic nature of these date parties, and the routine sexual encounters that follow — a phenomenon made possible by the heteronormatively-constructed institution that is Greek Life.
The expectation for sex at a fraternity date party in particular is viewed as being rightfully earned, as the guest (usually female) does not pay for anything. The female guest is provided with her alcohol of choice and transportation to and from the event. While this all seems very courteous and in line with the actions of inviting someone as your date to an event, these are also elements of transactional consent beginning to form. The organization itself (whether it be Greek or not) perpetuates this type of transactional relationship in the “freeness” of it all. The organization’s involvement in providing the guest with transportation and a spot on the guest list formalizes the power of the host.
This is an important distinction to note because the blame cannot be placed solely on the individual. Date parties work within a larger system that normalizes the notion that getting treated to this grand event is in and of itself a form of pseudo-consent.
Date parties and sex are intrinsically related, making it impossible to separate the harmful sexual encounters born from these events from the power dynamics that exist between men and women in college.
Indeed, date parties can be thought of as a modern representation of out-dated, sexist gender norms that allow men to feel entitled to sex and weaponize that entitlement in a way that replaces legitimate, healthy consent.
Formally defined as “the belief that men are owed sex on the account of their maleness,” male sexual entitlement is a symptom of a patriarchal structure of society, in which men believe that they carry an inherent power over others (i.e. women) and are therefore entitled to sexual relations as a kind of transaction between the dominant male role and the submissive female role.
While this might seem outlandish and unrelatable to many modern men today who actively try to counter the patriarchy, date parties actively reinforce and act as a vehicle for young college men to practice transactional sex.
Standing on a dance floor in a hazy, lowly lit Detroit club I turn around to see every couple surrounding me entwined with their date in a passionate make-out session. Is this why I am here? I think to myself. Somehow, date parties have the ability to diminish my sense of self worth to a sorority girl in a tight dress. I feel like my value is equated with my ability to be a “fun date” and make out with my date on the dance floor, like everyone else is doing.
The fact is, it wasn’t really my individual date’s fault that I felt this way. The types of organized events that are condoned and supported through institutions like Greek Life dictate these social norms. The event is set up to make a woman feel this way. In its most harmful interpretation, having my alcohol bought for me and my transportation organized is used as a way to pay your date back for the sex that they hope will transpire later.
While this problem — transactional, heteronormative sexual expectations between men and women — extends beyond just the individual date party, the date party as a case study represents how ingrained this type of misogyny is even in more casual settings, and how social institutions like Greek Life allow it to happen.
The nonchalant attitudes my friends maintained while describing their dates’ coercive actions terrified me. If a man leans in to kiss you multiple times after an initial rejection, that is not consent. Even if he bought you a bottle of your favorite $37 tequila at Champions Liquor Store, that is still not consent. Even if you flirted with him earlier that night, that is still not consent.
Instead, one of the main pillars of healthy consent is it being verbal and specific. Saying yes to a date party isn’t saying yes to sex (or kissing!). Communication and respect are blatantly being disregarded and it feels like a regression toward anti-feminist gender norms that have plagued society for many decades.
A date party is meant to be a casual event. However, the casual nature of date parties is no excuse to ignore lessons of consent and basic respect that should be at the forefront of anyone’s mind when engaging in a sexual act.
Ultimately, the events that transpire at date parties are a microcosm of the subtle ways consent and respect for women are being dishonored in other facets of society. The transactional nature of date parties is simply one night within a broader context of gendered power dynamics and larger sexist institutions that seek to take control, diminishing a woman’s ability to reject sexual advances by coercing her with the guilt of denying something she never consented to.
This doesn’t have to be the end-all, be-all.
To men — especially men in fraternities — work on listening and valuing how your date responds to your sexual advances. If she says “no” or her body language indicates a negative response, honor that.
And us women must remember our right and power to say “no,” even when the social environment tells us something different. Beyond the work individuals must put in, Greek Life itself needs to actively counteract the outdated gender norms that are perpetuated by date parties. Although its origins are intertwined with sexism, the institutional power Greek Life holds could be remodeled to put consent at the forefront of social functions, like date parties, that carry sexual activities as an implicitly-understood event.
Because it’s not sexy when your date doesn’t want to kiss you, and you keep trying.
Statement Columnist Ella Kopelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.