Why Can’t Sororities Be a Place for Feminism?
Before college, I thought that joining a sorority would somehow diminish my identity as a headstrong feminist who wanted to save the world from the evils of a misogynist culture. I was naïve and didn’t understand that feminism does not fall under a set category of traits that are exclusive to all things pink and sweet. I thought that reinventing the way society saw women required throwing away the notions of being vulnerable, emotional, and nurturing. This fight with fire required the combustion of traits that society enforces upon women. So feminism and being feminine were mutually exclusive, and sororities, of course, fell under the latter category.
What I didn’t realize is that this type of mindset is just as anti-women as the notorious reputations of sororities. I was guilty of fitting women into one-dimensional categories that were either acceptable or unacceptable. In my mind, I had a guidebook of proper behaviors and called them “feminism,” and everything else was considered oppressive conformity. Funnily enough, while I disliked sorority girls because they seemed to behave as if they were better than others because they were pretty and social, I was guilty of the same fault. I deemed myself above all of them.
When I came to college, I found that most students had a similar attitude toward sorority girls, and I saw the fallacy of my logic rear its ugly head as I placed preconceived judgment. I attend a school packed full of students who want to pursue the “life of the mind” and discuss the works of Aristotle and Plato in their free time. However, there is an incredible amount of biased animosity toward Greek life. Sorority girls are still stigmatized as less intelligent than the rest of the student population, despite the fact that it takes an incredible amount of diligence and intelligence to attend this university in the first place.
Greek life constitutes less than 10% of the student population and does not play a dominant role within student culture here, other than providing weekend parties and hosting a few major events annually. For the most part, I did not know of the names of the sororities on campus until I joined one. Yet I had these notions of what sorts of people would join something like that. Party girls who succumb to the pleasures of men. Less intelligent, less dignified. Subservient, weak, fake, and the like.
However, after having an awful time adjusting to college life and finding my niche, I decided to give sororities a try. It wasn’t an easy battle. As I said, no matter how much I wanted to rationalize it, I couldn’t give up these sets of self-proclaimed appropriate behavior. But I was a point where I wanted to try anything and everything to get out of my slump. I attended a meet-and-greet for a sorority recruitment event. It was a whole bunch of girls sitting around and hanging out.
What convinced me was when I went to a more intimate event where there we were divided up into small groups and talked about what we were looking for in college and why we were interested in joining. A lot of the other girls—like me—said they were trying something new, they were looking for their niche, somewhere to belong. We talked about aspirations and shared majors. One girl, our current president, said she wants to become a lawyer and, ultimately, to work for the UN. Another girl was training to run a marathon. I, well, I was trying to find my place.
It was a strange phenomenon, because I would show up to the meetings anticipating a terrible and awkward experience. I thought I wouldn’t get along with the girls because I didn’t fit a certain persona. Yet I would walk out of the meetings invigorated and excited to begin a journey with a group of women who all wanted to succeed and who all wanted a support structure that is unique to sisterhood.
Sisterhood—this is the place where, as females, we can accept all aspects of our femininity, even the parts that may seem weak and contradictory to the headstrong figure characterized by Rosie the Riveter. It creates a space where we can be openly weak and vulnerable as well as aspiring and courageous. We can have fun and party and then study together on Sunday evening. We can cry on each other’s shoulders and paint each other’s nails and support each other when we have to present our B.A. project. We can be kind and friendly to one another and act like sisters, because we are bonded by our gender and shared experiences. The traits that patriarchy condemns — sensitivity, caring, compassion, nurturing — we can take these traits and make it our strength.
This is what happened as I went through the pledging process. We talked about how we could pursue our own personal and intellectual growth; we examined what friendship and integrity meant to all of us. We talked about our best friends, laughing and awww-ing along the way.
I suppose it’s hard to escape the habits enforced by a culture that qualifies how a “proper” woman should act and look like into one or two archetypes. I have learned to acknowledge that the notion of one size fits all does not apply to personalities. Each one has a different shape, and each is beautiful in a unique and incredible way.
When I think about it, an organization for females and about females should be nothing more than feminist. It’s a matter of values and execution of the organization rather than the mere fact that it’s a gathering of women who wish to engage in friendship, which bolsters the infamous reputation of sororities.
Reader submission by Helen Ho