Yes Actually Just Means Yes, and Nothing Else

About two weeks ago, members of the Yale Chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity marched down campus one night for an initiation exercise.  The blindfolded initiates were marched to a part of campus where mostly female first-years lived, as they chanted “No means yes, yes means anal.”

Now, your first reaction might be laughter, or it might be disgust.  Or you could be thinking that this is old news.  But many students, activists, and even parents nationwide are scratching their heads about the incident, as Yale faculty scramble to maintain the school’s public image.  And that is precisely what is so interesting about the DKE case: how students and faculty have handled an already appalling situation.

Let’s begin with the event itself.  A YouTube video surfaced shortly after that night.

The video depicts blurry footage of faceless silhouettes moving around; the only thing distinguishable about it is the unified yelling of “No means yes, yes means anal.”

When I first read about the event, I had a fairly mild reaction of mixed annoyance, rage, and even a little amusement about these frat boy antics. I mean, does this kind of behavior surprise anyone given the reputation Greek Life has in the U.S.?  But then I watched this video, and heard the enthusiasm in these kids’ voices.  And suddenly, I felt unsafe–even though state borders and a computer screen separated us.

That’s the first thing people have to understand about why the DKE case is so problematic.  There’s nothing funny about large groups of men skipping past your house and singing about violently raping you. Furthermore, the chant implies that anal sex is a shameful act women should be embarrassed about, goaded into, or victimized by.  It implies the act can never be consensual–let alone pleasurable–and is merely a weapon of perceived male power.  Charming!  It implies that women don’t deserve sexual agency or control over their own pleasure.  It implies a message of “she was asking for it.” That chant was loaded.

Even more problematic, though, has been the diverse campus-wide and national backlash to DKE’s actions. According to the Yale Daily News, the DKE Board of Directors called for a temporary freeze on all pledge activities.  Yale faculty and the campus Women’s Center hosted a forum to make some decisions.  Yale College Dean Mary Miller and many other were very pleased with how the forum was organized and called it a solid first step.

But–there is a big but–some thought these actions were too harsh.  The situation was dismissed by some fraternity directors as a case of “bad judgment.” Bad judgment. As if singing and prancing in exaltation of violent rape was, what, a slip of the tongue?   Naturally, the Yale campus Women’s Center had a strong reaction to the incident.  But when they went so far as to claim that “making light of rape crossed a line,” the Yale Daily News wasted no time in replying that the Women’s Center response was “histrionic.” As in, hysterical, theatrical– characteristics typical of females, of course. Overreacting, because the boys were just, you know, being boys.

I’m going to let that one sit for a second.

What upsets me is not the incident itself, and not even the misogynistic reactions to it, but the fact that nobody so far has taken a comprehensive view of the situation.  The fact of the matter is that Yale female students were victimized that night; words have the power to hurt and threaten.  However, one also has to look at the other side: that of the perpetrators’.  Let’s face it: Yale doesn’t have the best reputation for female empowerment within its Greek life.  Two years ago, members of the Zeta Psi frat posed for a photo in front of the Women’s Center, holding up a “We Love Yale Sluts” sign.

It isn’t fair to dismiss all fraternities as misogynistic organizations.  Chauvinism happens, but it’s up to individual people to stop it.  The same goes for rape: potential perpetrators are the ones who can stop rape in its tracks.  These boys knew exactly what they were saying when they yelled “No means Yes.”  We all get taught about sexual assault as children; it’s not rocket science.  However, while these boys surely knew it was wrong, I doubt they knew exactly why.  After all, many students surveyed by the Yale Daily News were themselves unsure.

I didn’t learn about the concept of “Yes means Yes”–the idea that consent to a sexual act requires an emphatic “yes,” and not silence, an unconvincing “yes” or “no”– until my third year at university. I didn’t know much about rape culture either.  And I’m a girl, right?  I should know this kind of stuff.  So I highly doubt that these underclassmen frat boys knew either.  This doesn’t make them blameless, but it means that students nationwide remain largely uneducated about sexual violence.

If it were up to me, I’d probably suggest some heavy exposure therapy to the responsible individuals.  I’d probably suggest that Yale University take a harsh campus-wide stance in combatting sexual violence.  Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority of those who think so.  Many Yale students claim to remain unoffended by the incident, dismissing it as merely silly.  Others were offended, but couldn’t pinpoint why.

The important thing to take away is that rape on campus is probably more prevalent than you would think.  It isn’t talked about enough; it’s a complicated issue.  Many of us who make rape jokes or make light of sexual violence– well, we do it with harmless intentions, but we don’t always realize what our words mean.  Until we do, one can only hope that someone at Yale comes to their senses and takes some comprehensive and appropriate reaction to recent events– and maybe teaches the rest of us something too.

About Veronica Glab

Veronica Glab (CAS '11) is the Feministka writer for the Quad. "Feministka" means "feminist" in Veronica Glab's native language, Polish. There are few things Veronica loves more than eating pineapple, taking long walks on the beach, and thinking about Rasputin's beard.

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39 Comments on “Yes Actually Just Means Yes, and Nothing Else”

  1. sounds like veronica glab is an uptight feminist cow. calm down the point of this ritual was to make the initiates feel embarrassed because they know what they are chanting is improper, not to drive a chauvinist message down their throats.

    1. …because OF COURSE a gaggle of masked male chanting “NO MEANS YES YES MEANS ANAL” is all about teaching them the merits of not being chauvinists… because naturally all of the members felt UNCOMFORTABLE and EMBARRASSED about their pro-rape march…

      are you new? can you read? you’re welcome to come and enjoy a grown-up conversation when you’ve learned how to take your head out of your ass.

    2. Are you really that dense? If it had been white males shouting some racist remark would you say the same thing? No, because it wouldn’t even happen. So please do make an appointment with an optometrist because your world view is frankly myopic, among other far more unsavory things I will fail to mention.

    3. There are a million ways to embarrass the initiates that don’t involve making other people uncomfortable or condoning violent crime. Honestly, the kids in that video don’t sound embarrassed to me.

    4. another attempt to take away a woman’s legitimacy by calling her fat and ugly. “uptight feminist cow”? that’s your argument, really? she’s “ugly,” and therefore her points about sexual violence aren’t valid? she’s writing about rape, which is a SERIOUS ISSUE on all college campuses, including ours, and you tell her to “calm down?” has anyone ever tried to rape you? because it really doesn’t inspire calm feelings.

  2. So by your logic Jambahan, it would also be ok if a group dressed up as nazis and chanted in front of the hillel or people dressed in klan outfits in front of the black student union?… just a fun initiation rite?

    You wouldn’t argue that about any other group, so why is it ok if a group of men gather in front of a womens center and joke about raping women?

  3. Great post but it really saddens me that posts like these have to be written in the first place! Their behavior was disgusting.

    1. Ken, thank you for your insightful comment. Unfortunately, as a defender of free speech, I agree with you. And I would fight to the death to defend these boys’ right. However, free speech does not apply when words endanger other people. In example, it’s illegal to yell “fire!” in a crowded movie theatre. Secondly, Yale is a private institution with a code of conduct and sexual harassment goes directly against that. Here’s a useful link I found on google if you want to check it out:

    2. these boys have the right to free speech and self-expression, but not when used to rob others of peace of mind or a sense of safety. your rights end with the rights of others begin.

  4. I’m a girl and I really think the author should consider deleting this article.

    Are you really that one-track minded? I’m all for women’s rights, but you, my friend, are crazy.

    You felt unsafe through your computer? That’s funny… ?

    Get a life. Stop thinking about how to make everything into some stupid feminist bs. It’s initiation. Get a life.

      1. hahah feminists are hilarious!!!! It is this reason why females are ACTUALLY second class. They spend so much time getting their feelings hurt and complaining. Is it really worth being outraged and offended? Honestly, who cares? Does that rape march affect you? Were you raped? I’m actually laughing out loud to think you were offended through the screen. Basically, women such as yourself can’t handle jokes. I wish you the best of luck in your life where I am sure you will continue to be outraged and pissed off until the day you die because stuff like this will always happen! Take a deep breath and smile why don’t you, cutie-pie.

        a Realist

      2. hahahhahahhahahahahahhaha, that’s unfeminist of you considering I’m a girl… whose side are you on!?

      3. Dear “Realist”,

        You make quite a compelling point; and in fact I do like jokes! But usually they are along the lines of “Knock knock” or “So a man walks into a bar..”

        And you ask me if I was raped? I’m glad you find it funny and are “laughing out loud” because most decent humans would be pretty disgusted by even the thought of rape, let alone poke fun at it.

        And I doubt me saying anything to you will change your mind, but God forbid a woman you loved, your mother, sister, daughter, anyone…was in that horrifying situtation begging “NO” and the perpetrator just thought to themselves, “NO MEANS YES”.

        Really hope you wouldn’t be “actually laughing out loud”.
        cutie pie

        And @wow…unfeminist? Really? Well thanks to feminists, women like you still have the right to speak up for what they believe in, no matter how uneducated and shallow it may be 🙂

      4. Dear Realist,

        Yes indeed, I will go ahead and succeed in the real world with my radical ideas such as “equality” and “respect”! I will also be looking forward excitedly to see how your backwards and outdated ideas of what constitutes a “joke” will be taken in the real world, particularly if you ever have to deal with females in a professional context! Not that I have bright hopes of this ever happening for you, since it does not seem that your brain functions at an appropriately high level to have professional dealings with anything. It will be a sad day when “stuff like this” stops happening, i.e., when people like you realize how ignorant and oppressive you are being, won’t it, Realist? I wish you good luck on that day!


        A Feminist

      5. To my Fan base,

        I’m sorry about my previous behavior. Men suck. Jokes about sexism will definitely stop in a short amount of time thanks in part to your writing articles in bigtime newspapers about atrocities that occured at Yale. Your agenda is a very admirable one. I doubt that I will ever be able to attain a real profession due to my extreme stupidity. Equality and respect are something that I had little grasp on until i was enlightened. I hope one day to be as smart and wonderful as you all are. I wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavours. I will end my note with 3 shouts for Bra Burning! Hip hip hooray!

        A Realist turned Feminist.

        P.S. If i ever do by some sort of insane luck come across a real job where i have to deal with women I am sure i will be very challenged by this. The sad thing is, even if this women and I were doing the same work, I would be getting paid more for it…. so unfair!! I

    1. if you have to say, “i’m all for women’s rights, BUT,” and defend DKE for their march, you are not for women’s rights. you are no different than the members of DKE.

    2. The fact that this article moved you enough to write your comment is proof enough it shouldn’t be deleted.

      You preface your comment by identifying yourself as a girl, and say you’re all for women’s rights, well, good for you. Gender, race, sexual preference or proximity to the facts are not indicators of where one should fall on the imaginary feminist scale. For every person like you that feels this is “stupid feminist bs” there is another that feels the author is speaking on their behalf.

    3. well… i guess since you are a GIRL voicing an OPINION that clearly negates any other opinion any other GIRL has ever had, right? riiiiiight. let’s work on that logic, and then get back on why this article should be deleted. i doubt you’ll have anything.

      1. again- I wil l post.

        I think you guys misunderstood. The only reason I commented was out of the goodness of my heart. I felt it was necessary to let you ladies know that it’s going to be alright. We’re going to be ok. I was trying to free up some of your time and energy to do something ACTUALLY productive for people in general- say, maybe starving children in Africa or the inner city kids down the block from BU.

        But if you guys want to sit around and talk about your feelings some more that’s cool too. Maybe we’ll be able to vote one day…

        Oh wait…

        What are you fighting for again? Fight amongst yourselves 🙂

      2. oh shit, you mean we already have the right to vote???? oh my god, that must mean all sexism has ended. you’re so right, i’ll sit down now.

  5. i have to say i was one of the people who was offended and couldn’t really say why, but i think this article did an amazing job of articulating what i was feeling. the point especially about anal being made to be a shameful act was especially resonant. why should a normal sex act be used as a method to debase women? i’m not really into anal, but that’s because i’m a prude, not because anything is wrong with it.

    what happened here is a travesty. i agree with commenters who said that in any other situation it would condemned. if it were a racially or religiously based antic, the repercussions would have been significant. but because the only people targeted were women, and it was part of a fraternity ritual, it was written off as college shenanigans.

    college guys might be douche bags, but that doesn’t mean you should encourage, endorse or excuse their behavior.

    1. Excellent comment, and yes, if it was targeted towards any racial group or religious group, there would have been much more of an outrage and it would have been seen as an act of hate. Just because it’s directed towards women doesn’t make it any less demeaning!

  6. I can’t even believe that posting this article is considered controversial. Totally agree with Ian and the other defenders of this post, joking about rape (especially in such a public, vocal manner) is just as funny and disturbing as jokes about lynching black people.

    I also think women who go out of their way to say they’re not feminists (or do the whole, “i’m a feminist, but…”) are deluded by immense social pressure ingrained into society. feminism isn’t ACTUALLY a man-hating tirade of bitterness and self-pity, it’s simply sticking to the belief that both (rather, all) genders should be treated equally.

  7. This is a really wonderful article and i am horrified that people are responding negatively to it. Great job Veronica and don’t let the haters get you down(:

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