I’m not saying sorority girls can’t be feminists. I’m not saying every frat boy hates women. Just getting that out of the way.
One of the reasons bigotry, privilege and oppression never seem to weaken their grasp on our society — no matter how many passionate, fierce individuals are willing to stand on the front lines and fight for justice and equality — is because we lack an understanding of systems. We fight racists rather than systems of racism and anti-blackness. We fight against sexual assailants rather than combating institutionalized rape culture. None of that is working. So we don’t need to berate individuals, but Greek life, at its core, is a system built on misogyny. And needs drastic correction.
Blatant sexism and heteronormativity appear immediately during rush week. For men, this week is an opportunity to meet frat brothers, smoke joints and get trashed. The whole process is relatively casual, and freshman boys spend the week getting a feel for each house at their own pace, selecting from a host of barbecues and beer pong competitions.
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This is hardly the case for women. Rush week begins and ends with fretting over wearing the correct shade of lilac, turning closets upside down in pursuit of the perfect dress — one that doesn’t expose too much skin (classy women cover up!), but is still just small enough that nobody could possibly get the impression they are, god forbid, on the heavier side. Rush events are notoriously high-stress, as girls compete for the “hottest” sororities, touring one house at a time and taking great care to use the right words at the right time, with the right girl.
While it may be true that girls meet close friends during rush week, it is also true they spend an unbalanced amount of time focused on physical appearance, social comparison and public image as beautiful, graceful and popular.
Throughout rush and recruitment, while boys are not only permitted but encouraged to black out every couple nights, girls are barred from going out, especially to fraternity houses. They are constantly hyper aware of where they are, who they’re speaking to and who might see them. While frats actively seek out the boys who can drink the most, a good girl, worthy of a bid, will abstain.
From the onset, men are groomed to put on display their most aggressive (read: most toxic) masculine traits, while women must contort themselves to fit an outdated — and, frankly, creepy and gross — mold of femininity. It is no secret sororities place much more weight on physical characteristics while fraternities value men who can get drunk, loud and laid.
The problem here is not the fact girls are discouraged from drinking. If sororities were meant to be communities for girls who objected to a lifestyle of partying and going out, then by all means.
But that’s obviously not the case. Once initiated, drinking at fraternity houses is a massive part of Greek social life. The whole purpose of banning girls from frat houses during rush isn’t at all to prepare them for what’s to come, and only serves to reinforce traditional stereotypes on how “elegant” women carry themselves.
Further, despite the popularity of frat parties, sorority houses are prohibited from hosting parties. Alcohol and men are both banned — not because sororities have an undying commitment to celibacy and liver health, but because either it’s not ladylike, or the National Panhellenic Association doesn’t believe adult women have the wisdom (which men apparently have?) to handle themselves.
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Aside: Banning alcohol and men from sororities, effectively forcing girls who want to get drunk with their friends to resort to fraternities where they are subsequently surrounded by alcohol and men, is probably not the best way to reduce instances of sexual assault in the Greek community.
Formals, date nights and crush parties all reinforce Greek life is centered around heteronormativity and what seems to be an extensive mating process. As if that weren’t problematic enough on its own, absurd fines facing girls who bring boys into their houses suggest that in this odd realm of coupling, control over sexuality is in the hands of men. Women are commodities to be had, but lack the sexual autonomy to make their own decisions.
I’m not saying sororities should immediately rent out a dozen kegs and throw parties. But whatever regulations sororities are forced to live under, better be applied to fraternities to.
These old-fashioned commandments of Greek life did not belong in 1940 and certainly do not belong in 2017. Clinging to sexist tradition for the sake of tradition is dangerous, and undermines the positive tenants of Greek life – comradery, philanthropy and community. Revisiting the bylaws on sexual assault is a good first step, but needs to be the first of many, many to come.
Yusra Murad ([email protected]) is a junior studying psychology, global health and business.