Opinion | Southern Morals: Gone with the Wind?

| September 30, 2014

southerngentlegonewind-croppedNick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

A VSU fraternity proves that southern chivalry and respect has largely fallen by the wayside.

The “southern gentleman”-archetype, forever typified in Clark Cable’s portrayal of protagonist Rhett Butler in the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s seminal tome, Gone with the Wind.  Gable’s Butler conjures poignant and rosy imagery of antebellum chivalry, as he whisks Vivien Leigh’s lovely Scarlett O’Hara off her feet with his honey-soaked southern drawl.  Concurrently, Leigh’s O’Hara personifies the stereotypical nineteenth-century southern belle.

Consider the Rhett Butler-model of gentlemanliness juxtaposed against the recent heinous incident involving members of Valdosta State University’s chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity and there becomes a staunch contrast.  On September 20, roughly thirty members of VSU’s Sigma Nu chapter stirred a great deal of controversy after several of their members in attendance at VSU’s football game against Delta State University specifically targeted sexually explicit, graphic, and overtly misogynistic signs at the VSU cheerleading and dance team.  Among the signs paraded by Sigma Nu members, was a direct reference to Florida State University football quarterback Jameis Winston’s recent profane diatribe on FSU’s campus in Tallahassee.  At least one of the Sigma Nu members involved was arrested for refusing to cooperate with police.  Currently, it is unknown if alcohol or drugs played a role in the behavior of several members of the fraternity.

When the story first broke on WTXL, there seemed to be a fierce condemnation of the frat boys’ actions.  And rightfully so.  But as time progressed, many felt compelled to mount what can only be seen as a distinct, politically-motivated counteroffensive in opposition to those who felt repulsed by the actions of the Sigma Nu members.  And I asked myself, why?

This is not a political issue.  This is not a free speech issue (the frat boys in question were, after all, on private property, broadcasting obscenities—and obscenity is not constitutionally protected speech).  However, it is an issue of female objectification, and overt disrespect on the part of Sigma Nu fraternity.  I often wonder why these issues must become an exercise in left or right; liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican.  Why can’t this be a simple exercise in: “what these frat boys did was wrong, and they ought to be punished for it?”

The irony here is that many fraternities hold themselves out as a platform for refinement of gentlemanly social graces within their rank and file, to show that a “real man” can be, and ought to be, a gentleman.   Here was an opportunity for Sigma Nu’s leadership and membership majority to say, “Enough!” and shut the renegades down.  This did not happen.

Had any one of these thirty-something “frat guys” stood up and objected to this sort of toxic and disturbing behavior—that would have been the mark of a “real man.”  To those who still stand for misogyny: don’t.  I get it; many who have defended Sigma Nu’s actions merely wanted to show their support for their friends, classmates, or even “brothers” who were involved in this fiasco.  And I know, “they’re not bad people.”  But remember, they did a very, very bad thing.

Both Valdosta State University and Sigma Nu’s national organization have suspended the chapter pending a full investigation.  So now is a time for action.  VSU’s president, William J. McKinney, must deliver.  He must ensure due process to the parties involved, and then send a message that this behavior will not, nor should not be tolerated in the genteel and mild-mannered south.

What’s for certain is that Bill McKinney is a leader who regularly strives for what is popular, above all.  He plays it safe and, frankly, who can blame him?  Thus with this calamity, Bill McKinney has the window to do not only what’s popular (take forceful, decisive action against the fraternity), but also what is right (stand up for not only women, generally, but VSU’s cheer and dance team, specifically).

No true gentleman; further, no one with a conscience or any sense of decency would stand behind this behavior.  Think of the young women who stood on VSU’s football field only to be mocked and objectified by these indecent mongrels.  And what does this say about respect and decency in the new south?  What does it say about our culture, which purports to uphold chivalry and female virtue, if our local leaders do fail to act—and moreover, fail to act decisively?

Frankly, the frat boys involved in the game day incident are more akin to the “Bluto” Blutarsky-caricature of National Lampoon’s Animal House than the likes of the refined and proper Rhett Butler.  What is for sure is if this behavior is to be tolerated or quietly swept under the rug, as these things so often are, the norms of chivalry, respect, and gentlemanliness that we hold in such esteem as southerners may very well be “gone with the wind.”


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

The author has contributed this article as part of Valdosta Today’s effort to provide local opinions to spur discussions and positive conversations related to improving our community. Comments and opinions are from the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Black Crow Media, Valdosta Today or our sponsors.

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