Op-Ed: The misogyny exposed by the mythical Pennsylvania brothel law

There is a common misconception that a brothel law exists in Pennsylvania that prohibits a certain number of women from living in the same house. At Lafayette, it is believed that this law is the reason why only three female seniors can live together off campus and why sororities don’t have chefs (fraternities do). But there is no evidence that this law even exists; it is only perpetuated by our misogynistic society.

A house cannot be considered a brothel unless the women inside the house are “engaging in sexual activity as a business,” according to Pennsylvania’s prostitution laws. There is nothing in the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that states that if more than three women live in a house, it would be considered a brothel. However, a law in the city of Easton speaks to capacity limits in city rental units, which include off-campus housing. Chapter 456 Article 17 Occupants Duties states that rented units must abide by the rule of having no “more than three unrelated persons.” Despite what the myth of the brothel law has made us believe, the capacity rule that the city of Easton set forward is not gender or organization specific.

The myth has more to do with power than anything else. Sororities don’t have private chefs because Lafayette owns their housing and must participate in the college’s meal plan. Four fraternities are owned by the local chapter house and therefore have their own fraternity meal plan which includes a private chef. We also see this power imbalance in the fact that sorority housing is mostly dorm-style buildings while fraternities have mostly mansion-style houses. Despite being held to such high standards, sorority members do not get rewarded for their efforts while fraternities get it handed to them.

Many other college newspapers in Pennsylvania have written about this supposed brothel law and all have exposed it for the myth that it is. The persistence of the myth exposes society’s perception of women. Why are we so quick to assume that there would have been this law? Is it really that unseemly for multiple women to live together? Are the messages of the porn industry’s portrayal of women really so entrenched in society that we take this myth for law?

There is no evidence in the lawbooks or manual of the National Panhellenic Council that this law ever existed. But the misogyny that has been ever entrenched in society made it easy to believe that this law was a possibility. To not only have believed it to have existed in the past but to still exist today is unsettling. But when we look at today’s society, it is easy to see why it’s so easily accepted. We have this hyper-sexualization of women, especially young women, so of course putting too many of them in one house would constitute a brothel because women are “easy” and “throwing themselves at men.” It places an emphasis on heterosexuality and subordination of women as being no better than an object for men to buy for their own pleasure. The perpetuation of this myth shuts down the curious feminist in all of us, but the exposure of this as a myth should beg us all to question what we accept as truth or suitable treatment in our respective intersectional identities every day.

McKenna Graf ’26 conducted research on Pennsylvania prostitution laws for The Lafayette.