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.
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.
We 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.
We 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!