Since the publication of this article, the feminist blogosphere has been buzzing with critique of campus Greek life. The article in question describes the National HQ's cleansing of a sorority chapter of its less-than-perfect sisters. In other words, the bigwigs at HQ swooped into this struggling chapter and, rather than help the chapter strengthen its membership in positive ways, like innovative recruiting events, they simply purged the rolls of its members who didn't fit the thin, conventionally pretty, passive, dumb type.
Obviously, this article infuriated me. It's obvious to anyone with feminist tendencies that this was a clear case of sexism, racism, and classism all rolled into one bizarre story. To think that grown women were denied the benefits (that they had paid for) of sorority life because of how they looked makes me ill. One minute, "Won't you join our wonderful group of loving sisters? We'd so love to have you!" and the next minute, "Well, we didn't really mean it."
But it also embarasses me immensely. Why? Because I was in a sorority when I was in college. I've spent a lot of time trying to reconcile my sorority days with my feminist leanings, and all I can say is that my sorority days gave me great insight into how women who are served by the patriarchy can be cruel to other women under the guise of love and sisterhood.
I was nervous about going to college, partly because I had never spent much time away from home, and partly because I was socially insecure. A bit of a rebel, my parents thought that rush would be a great way for me to meet people and find my niche. Besides, they were both in the Greek system in college, and it was great! So, I did it, and I joined a house that was quite diverse ethnically, physically, and intellectually. Even the philosophy of the sorority was feminist, founded on the principle that women should spend the college years learning to be independent and free thinkers.
Looks can be deceiving. After my freshman year of "love" and "sisterhood" and "bonding" I was about to go through rush from the other side. For two weeks before rush, we prepared under the guidance of the rush coordinator: rehearsing skits, memorizing facts about our history, learning songs, making decorations. One day, we were told to try on the dresses that we planned to wear to one of the events. We then had to model our dresses for the coordinator and her committee to make sure it was a tasteful dress. However, once we were in that room with them, the gloves came off. Some of my sisters were told they were too fat to wear spaghetti straps or no sleeves, others that they had to cover tattoos with makeup, and I was told that I had to buy a padded pushup bra because I was too flat chested. It was, in fact, a chance for the committee to prevent an "ugly" disaster.
The next day, we were told to get into a line. The coordinator and a couple of her lackeys started rearranging us in the line. I figured this was a height thing, and that they were lining us up by height for some sort of formation. But then I thought, "We can line ourselves up by height, and it would be a helluva lot faster than this!" And then it hit me: they were lining us up by attractiveness. One of my closest friends ended up at the back of the line. She was devastated, and I was mad as hell.
But I stayed, and so did she, because we had a support group in my circle of friends, and because social life outside of the Greek system on my campus was near nonexistant. I had a place to live (that was cheaper than the dorm or an apartment) and three balanced meals every day. I had a built-in social life, complete with fraternity socials and volunteer work. And I had a serious boyfriend in our unofficial brother fraternity. I knew that something was wrong with the way we did things, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I hadn't found feminism at that point, and my only exposure to feminism was in an English class in which my instructor was a separatist lesbian who was actually not a feminist at all, but a grad student promoting matriarchy.
After graduation, which came a year late for me, I had a whirlwind of weddings to attend while I nursed the heart that my college boyfriend had recently broken. My good friends were very supportive, but the rest of my "sisters" were just happy that it didn't happen to them. They had their weddings, complete with puffy dresses, confection-colored bridesmaids, and giant diamonds. I was supposed to be one of them, but there I was, attending these weddings alone. (I should note that none of my close friends got married right away, so I wasn't "in" any of these weddings.) Toward the end of wedding season, I realized that my discomfort with these weddings was that I knew that life after college was dramatically different, and it seemed like these couples were just playing house.
While my sisters were getting married, I was starting grad school, which is when I found feminism. Specifically, Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology (talk about baptism by fire!) It actually got me through my broken heart, and made me realize that I would have made a huge mistake if I had stayed with and married the college boyfriend, even though he was a really great guy. I realized that I had a lot of different paths ahead of me, and I was free to take any one I wanted. I also remembered that, as a little girl, instead of dreaming of my wedding day, I always dreamed of the day I'd be on my own. Remembering that dream is still something I do whenever I start to feel down on myself, because that's exactly what I'm doing.
But back to sisterhood. It took me a while, but I finally came to terms with the fact that I felt no "love" or "bond" or "sisterhood" with these women. It was a safety net. Sure, I had a small group of friends that I really did love, but I certainly didn't feel much affection for the other 85 women I'd sung songs with, passed candles with, and pledged my undying sisterhood to. Nope, it was all just an act. After college, the competition continued. If you were uncoupled, it was sad. If you were married, that was great. But if you were married with kids, you were so wonderful that your shit smelled like roses! That was the highest achievement with these women. And I lost interest in all the wedding/husband/baby updates.
I still keep in touch with my very best friend, and we see each other occasionally only because we live in the same state. I cherish her friendship, even though our lives are dramatically different. We probably never would have met without the sorority, so I can't say I completely regret it. But if I ever have a daughter, I will encourage her not to rush. I would hope that my child would be more emotionally deep than to just accept a pre-fab form of friendship, which is what I did, because it was easy. If I had it to do over again, it would be way different.