Friday, March 02, 2007

Women's History Month: Sorority Girls, Image, and Other Problems

Note: March is women's history month. There might be a lot of these posts to follow.

Or there might be none, as I've been sitting here with an empty screen for almost an hour.

Here is one of the saddest, and yet most typical, articles about sororities I have ever seen: Sorority Evictions Raise Issue of Looks Bias.

Right when I got this notice, I emailed LT. He and I went to college together, and he was a fraternity brother--that's how I met him. The following is our correspondence.

From: Aarwenn
To: LT


This particularly hits home for me--and many other Zetas--since although there were exceptions, this was Zeta's rep at CMU, too. Zeta never had this problem, specifically, because we weren't national and didn't have a national chapter to please. One of the reasons I'm happy with AChiO is that they seem to put a lot of emphasis on grades, not on looks--their national chapter is very concerned with philanthropy and extra-curricular activities, and making sure its girls lead well-rounded lives.

That doesn't mean, of course, that they don't want to be the prettiest and most popular house on campus, but I think if given the need, they'd try to invigorate recruitment by pushing each sister to be more interesting, more entertaining, express herself more at Rush, etc. And also to brush their hair and put on a little makeup, of course, but a few reminders towards personal appearance aren't a bad thing, especially at CMU where we tend to sleep in our clothes. It's a well-known fact that good personal appearance enhances people's perceptions.

I don't know how my AChiO chapter is doing at CMU, and I'm scared to find out; I'm pretty sure they're still having a problem with recruitment. I hope the methods they use are similar to the ones I described above and not similar to the ones Delta Zeta used.

The real problems with this terrible story are:

1. Obviously Delta Zeta National is a lot different from the mood at the DePauw chapter, or there was a miscommunication at a basic level or something. The sisters of the sorority assumed their brains and personalities would be welcomed on a national level as they were on the local level. That turned out to be not true. That's the first big problem with Delta Zeta that I see. Either keep a tighter rein over your local chapters or truly be the kind of national house that allows each chapter to blossom differently. Don't suddenly decide that a local chapter has strayed too far from the MotherShip and employ strong-arm tactics to make it bland and pretty again--now they have to start all over because they have six sisters and three pledges. They're in ten times as bad a shape as they were.

(Side note: I know girls at Sorority ABC AND Sorority DEF--names changed to protect the entirely guilty--who were asked to stay in their rooms during rush. It really does happen.)

2. Delta Zeta seems to be taking its reputation as a sorority way too seriously, especially about weight. Haven't they heard this joke: "How do you get a sorority girl into your room?"
"Grease her hips so she can get through the door and throw a twinkie on to the bed!"

I mean, it's mean and terrible, but I know that on many campuses, sorority girls are often stereotyped as overweight--that much beer and pizza, not to mention partying, will do that to any figure. Does Delta Zeta not know this? Some chapter, on every campus, has to be the dog chapter, the chapter that welcomes brains and personality over looks, and more to the point, these reputations change over time. But instead of waiting for that, or taking comfort in the fact that surely other Delta Zeta chapters have better reputations on other campuses, Delta Zeta employed these terrible, awful, no-good very bad tactics. I don't know what to say.

From: LT
To: Aarwenn


Honestly, I don't think I've ever heard that stereotype of sorority
chicks; I've heard more that they're hot, dumb, and easy. WHICH IS NOT
WHY I'm dating you :) You're hot and smart, and..well...you know. :)

Seriously, one of the huge problems I have about this article is it
doesn't distinguish between NATIONAL and LOCAL representatives. "The DZ
president...." Which one?! Local or National? It EFFIN' MATTERS!

Also, I'm not sure what you mean that the sorority is taking their
reputation too seriously...your reputation is vitally important.
Locally, it's how you stay alive, and if your reputation is that you're
a bunch of drunk partiers, you won't attract any decent recruits.
Nationally, it's a Public Affairs NIGHTMARE if you're apparently a bunch
of drunk partiers.

Enjoy your blog post. :)

From: Aarwenn
To: LT


Yes, reputation is vitally important. What I mean is, I think there's room on a campus for sororities with all sorts of reputations, although I may be wrong.

Zeta always went for girls who weren't "typical" sorority girls, which seemed to go well at first but began to work against us as CMU became more mainstream, and the girls who rushed became more mainstream, so our market shrank.

However. There's a big difference between a negative and a positive approach, that is, there's a big difference between painting yourselves as "the anti-sorority" (read: "anti-beauty") and instead painting yourself as "focused on achievement and well-rounded lives". That way, you're not purposely shutting out girls who might happen to be mainstream/pretty in looks but are also choosing to focus more on their lives than their reputation at the fraternity houses. We had a sister who was a perfect example of this. She was stunningly gorgeous, laughed at all the right times, was an asset to any party. We heard that Sorority XYZ's Rush Chair cried when she learned that this girl had pledged Zeta instead. This girl didn't want a typical sorority experience; she wanted a house that would be there for her, but she wasn't interested in what she called "sorority bullshit." We would have never gotten her if we had immediately looked at her and said, "Oh, she's too pretty for us."

Side note: Girls who don't think of themselves as pretty discriminate just as badly as pretty ones do. Had we done that with this girl, we would have been judging her personality by her looks, and we would have been really wrong.

So: reputation IS vitally important. I agree it's how you keep a chapter going. I'm saying that there's ways to be non-mainstream and still succeed in the sorority system, I think, and national DZ took the wrong path in "fixing" their supposed problem. I agree, though, too, that perhaps the local chapter of DZ was going about recruitment the wrong way too. The proof would have been in whether the sorority was shrinking in numbers or staying steady as a smaller chapter.

Sigh. Do you think I'm wrong? Do you think all sororities have to be known as pretty to succeed? It seems logically impossible to me--we can't ALL be "the pretty ones".

Can we?

4 comments:

alex said...

I don't think you ever mentioned before that LT went to CMU. Neat.

Anyway, I saw that article a few days ago, too, and I think you have it right in your 1st point: there's just a major disconnect between the national and local chapter.

As a non-fraternity person, though, it all seems rather silly to me (I realize I probably won't win too many friends here with this attitude). Isn't the whole system based on bias and discrimination? One is only let in if he/she is cool enough, where the measure of "cool" can be anything beauty, brains, athletic ability, how much pot you smoke, or whatever. The DePauw chapter just had a different yard stick than the National organization. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Shananigans said...

I'm another one who never had any interest in the Greek system. But I’ve always been pretty anti-conformity and it seems to me that the point of joining an organization like that is to try and “fit the mold”. Bravo to the girls that resigned in solidarity though, shows some backbone.

Aarwenn said...

Hmmm. You and Alex seem to have the same view of the Greek system: that it's all about trying to keep people out, or trying to create a false sense of exclusivity.

The point of the Greek system, originally, was to gather like minded people of the same gender together into groups, for help and support. The original point of "Rush" was to go around, meet a bunch of clubs, each focused on different things--philanthropy or arts or music--find a group you liked, and join the club. More like an activity fair than anything else, although because these groups weren't college-funded, they depended on private funds, meaning they were usually a privilege of the wealthy, and they could do whatever they wanted without disclosing their methods, because hey...it was just a club. And at the time, the classic languages--Greek, Latin--were taught as necessities, so all the founders of these different clubs used greek letters to name their clubs, to keep the "real" name of the club a secret, and for many years, that's what sororities and fraternities were: small clubs where wealthy young men and women gathered to socialize.

And they still are. Except they're not small anymore, not only the wealthy can join them, and "socializing" now involves kegs.

So. I hope the point I am making is becoming clear, in that the greek system at its best is supposed to be about support, help, a group of friends to lean on, like-minded people drawn together by common interests. Sadly, at big campuses, all that has fallen by the wayside, and sororities and fraternities are now all about socialization for its own sake, which leads to parties all the time, lots of drinking, eating disorders so you can drink beer like crazy and not gain an ounce, sororities fighting for the most attractive girls and then whoring them out to fraternities to get invited to the best parties with the most booze, wash, rinse, repeat. There's no POINT.

Anyway, alex, it's silly to say that the measure of "cool" can be anything, and using such a sentence to paint the entire greek system is sort of beneath you. :) I mean, people naturally hang out together because they have shared interests--pot smokers do, in general, hang with pot smokers. Groups of friends naturally stay together by occasionally rejecting or being rejected by a member who has grown up or grown apart from the original group. The greek system is no different, or shouldn't be.

I think your point might be, though, that certain groups are tighter and more controlling than others, and bring that yardstick into play more than is healthy, and that's definitely true. I was lucky that that wasn't the case at my own chapter. Zetas, all 50 of us, had exactly one group trait in common: We were all bat-shit-off-the-wall-insane! Well, most of us. :)

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