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Feminspire | April 16, 2014

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Fighting The Misconceptions Of Being A Sorority Sister

Fighting The Misconceptions Of Being A Sorority Sister

March 12, 2010 was a very significant day for me. It is etched both in my memory and on the back of a gold membership badge I wear on occasion, signifying my initiation into a women’s fraternity at my Canadian university. I remember, at some point or another, the current president asking for my affirmation that I indeed wanted to be part of the lifetime commitment that came with being a sister. I said yes. Whole-heartedly.

For the few weeks I had known these girls. I had come to realize that both their values and principles lined up with my own. I couldn’t fathom a reason why I shouldn’t join an organization that esteemed integrity, academics and charity, all while providing a foundation of support to young women during their years of collegiate study.

Little did I know, I would spend the following three years defending a decision I had made with unwavering certainty.

sorority life

First, I have to say that sororities in Canada are much like the sororities in the US, if not mirrored exactly, just on a smaller scale. We may not all have a Greek row, or hold budgets with at least six digits, but that foundation of sisterhood, ritual and friendship? Yep, we’ve got that. Charity events, philanthropies and mixers? We have that, too.

Think of the oldest person you know. My organization is older. Being part of a women’s fraternity founded in 1897 should give us some credit. It doesn’t though, it just merits eyebrow lifts and pointed eyes full of judgement, as if to say: So stuck up girls have been walking around in those letters pledging to what is probably just a girls drinking club for over 100 years? Cool story. I know the media depiction of sororities is less than favourable. If those movies and television shows were my sole source of information, I probably wouldn’t know any better either, and while I would like to make a stand and say the stereotypes they create don’t exist, I would be lying to you. Stereotypes derive from somewhere; my problem the past few years has been in dealing with the burden they place on those who don’t fit them.

My sisters and I do not fit comfortably into the media’s categorized boxes of what makes someone beautiful, intelligent, passionate and so on. We have girls of all shapes and sizes, representing every ethnicity, all races, all pursuing different interests. We don’t hold ourselves to an unachievable standard of beauty. In fact, I’m sure if you asked every single girl in a sorority what they’d prefer to be wearing, they’d probably tell you sweatpants.

sorority stereotypeWe are not a girls drinking club. My organization isn’t even allowed to drink in our letters, or as a group, so when people say this, I find it of little meaning. I am a twenty year-old university student. Legally, I can drink whenever I want with whomever I want. We don’t pay to join an international organization under the idea we will hold each other’s hands from bender to bender, mixer to mixer. If we drink together, we do so as friends without the association of our sorority because we value the image we represent.

We do not pay for our friends. Yes, much like any other organized association, we have dues we must pay. Nobody asks a hockey player why he pays thousands a year for the sport, or a dancer why they must pay for the course, however the question “why would you want to pay for your friends?” plagues many conversation sorority women have. We aren’t paying for our friends; in fact, many of us have life-long friendships outside of the organization. We are paying into an organization that equips us with immeasurable skills, with leadership institutes, with a headquarters and an international president, networking opportunities and initiation badges. We pay dues because no organization is free.

We don’t hold car washes just so we can hang out in our bikinis. In fact, in my time at university, I’ve never washed a car in my bikini, and I’m not planning on committing to doing so anytime soon. We have international philanthropies, raise millions of dollars for organizations, and hold outreach events to educate the community on issues that may not receive the acknowledgement they deserve.

Furthermore, we do not bend over backwards to make your life a living hell. We have standards, manuals, presentations, bylaws all written on anti-hazing. Most sororities have taken a stand against outdated and cruel forms of initiation that often result in a sense of fear rather than sisterhood. At my school alone, we have a Greek governing body that ensures severe consequences for those found hazing their new initiates. When we welcome new girls into our organization, we don’t ask them to change who they are, because they are being accepted on a mutual understanding that they like us for us and we like them for them, not some artificial, malleable version of the latter.

joining sorority stereotypeWe are not majoring in anyone-can-pass, bird-course programs just to attend a school where we can party and meet boys. If there is one thing that is entirely underestimated about sorority women, it is not our intelligence, but our drive. You want an event planned for hundreds of people in a week? No problem. Thirty page paper on the economics of developing countries due in two days? I have an entire support team ready to act as editors and motivators. We have sisters majoring in forensic science, studying to become veterinarians, studying journalism or public affairs, psychology and art history, all with dreams bigger than those condensed in a four-year degree. Furthermore, while we are studying for that midterm or writing that large paper, it’s a safe bet we’re also balancing an executive position within our sorority chapter, volunteering within the school, getting involved in activism, applying for internships, or traveling the world. Our alumni have worked on international legislature; they are lawyers, professors, actresses. I find it almost funny when I hear sororities equated with being underachievers, because in my experience if you gather a handful of sorority women in a room, you will be astonished by the independent, strong-willed, overachieving women you see in front of you.

Of course, everything I have mentioned is my own personal experience. I don’t doubt that some have had negative experiences with Greek life and that is especially disheartening considering if you find the right group of girls, you’ll make bonds and memories you can carry with you forever. In the past three years, I have met a group of girls that have changed my life. I’m aware of how strong of a statement that is, however, it is through them that I’ve grown and become involved, through them I have learned the importance of family, of dedication, of working hard to attain my goals. Sure, when I wear three letters on my clothing, I am making myself an easy target for your assumptions of a sorority woman is. But I don’t claim that those letters make me better than you; just that they make me better than who I used to be.

Written by Nikki Gladstone
Follow her on Twitter, @nikkigladstone!

  • Arianna

    I was in a sorority for a year (before I left) and I have to say, my experience was EXACTLY like all the misconceptions you listed. A bunch of catty girls in a house wearing juicy couture sweatpants and constantly slut shaming each other. I’m glad you had a better experience, though. Maybe I should move to Canada.

    • Nikki Gladstone

      Canada is pretty awesome :) I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad experience, that’s awful!

    • op197

      I go to a school in Canada where greek life while small is positive. Non of the sororities are like the misconnections talked about. Some of my sorority sister are even close with girls from other Sororities!

  • Rosie

    I was in a sorority at my small university in Alabama for two and a half years and for the most part it was a great experience. It got kind of ugly in the end, but that was between me and some advisors, not the other girls. I’m so glad I did it.

  • Val

    This is a great article. Sorority sister’s are much more than those misconceptions!! Being in a Canadian sorority is so rewarding even though the greek system is not as big here. From my experience, we are a group of motivated young women who strive to serve our school community and the world. Yay for Canadian sororities!

  • Rich Del

    this girl nikki definitely doesnt get it enough. but to be honest, every greek organization gets hit with the same stigmas. I am in a Fraternity and to be honest I read this so that i could say to my friend that posted it, that she is wrong and a feminist.

    Again Fraternities are hit with the same problems however, if not a little bit different… we are players, jocks, alcoholics, morons, and douche bags. These are the stigmas of greek life not Sororities and not just Fraternities. To be honest a lot of people do fit into the stereotype in some way or another, but it doesnt matter because people are ignorant and somebody is always going to hate on you…

    Thanks for listening to my rant and stop being a feminist, we are all just people.

    @dudeimmadell

    • Nikki Gladstone

      I agree, fraternities are hit with the same stereotypes, sometimes they’re hit even worse. This is a website called feminspire as in feminine, and I spoke about MY personal experience, I can’t talk to the stereotypes fraternities experience because I’m not in an all-made fraternity. I’m not being a feminist, nor am I attempting to say none of these stereotypes exist, I’m simply commenting and defending my own experience. I can definitely appreciate that you’ve had a similar experience.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alisse.desrosiers Alisse Marie

      What the fresh hell is this.

    • http://twitter.com/abbeybabbling Abigail Lewis

      Good lord “you’re talking about women briefly in an article targeted at women on a website with female practically in the title and you don’t mention men at all. therefore what you’re saying is that men don’t matter and since you don’t mention fraternities that must mean they don’t exist and face no problems at all”

      let me direct you to this article and suggest you move to italy: http://feminspire.com/thank-you-italian-court-for-protecting-male-pride-and-balls/

    • Feminist

      So, what’s wrong with being a femist again? Just trying to understand why you would call someone that as if it were a bad name.

  • M.E

    To be honest I don’t think most sororities behave like this at all. However I almost pledged Gamma, and found them to be catty and to haze, but I found another Greek organization that I fit with well, and that experience is one of the best experiences of my life. So if you find a bad group of girls keep trying. I still regret that I did not report the hazing when I did as women should not be allowed to treat people like that. But most of us are good girls and you should love it.

  • CanadianSister

    I love this article. Canadians have less knowledge of what being in a sorority means so they constantly revert to stereotypes and automatically judge. I will never stop hearing (even from my own family) that we look like a cult, or because some things are secret, it MUST be a secret cult. I am so happy that other Canadian Panhellenic sisters are having the same experience as me – sisterhood, a support system, my own personal cheering section, and involvement in something much bigger than I could have ever imagined. Best decision of my undergraduate career! I am so proud to wear my letters, and happy to share my experience in hopes that I can change at least one person’s opinion of Greek Letter Organizations.

  • A Sister

    Thank you for writing this Nikki! A member of my family sent this to me (she’s not Greek) and said it helped her understand what I spend my life on a lot better. I’m proud to call you my sister!
    “I don’t claim that those letters make me better than you; just that they make me better than who I used to be.”
    That says it perfectly!

  • Heather

    I’m in a sorority in the United States, and my experiences and yours are almost identical! Our sorority as a whole as well as our university has strict policies against hazing. I’m not speaking for all sororities, but we can’t drink in our letters, we don’t live in a fancy house with a private chef, we’re not rich and prissy, and we’re honestly like family, even though we don’t get along all of the time… we are just a group of REAL girls. It’s honestly made me into a much better person, and I have so much drive and motivation now (I’m double majoring, graduating after my seventh semester, and going to attend the police academy… definitely not your typical sorority stereotype)! We’ve also been organization of the year two years in a row, and that’s including ALL organizations on campus, not just the Greeks. We’re proud to be Greek, but all the misconceptions drive us nuts! Thanks for posting the truth. :)

  • Hfx Sis

    I have been a sister in a Canadian chapter for – gasp – almost 30 years and the friends and support and leadership I have gained through the organization has been wonderful, and a times lifesaving. Thank you for this article.

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