It was a freshman girl’s nightmare. I was at my first college party and had managed to lose everyone I came with. I didn’t know the name of the frat or how to get home. My phone was dead, my future roommate hadn’t gotten to school yet, and I didn’t know what to do. Maybe it’s because I’d gone to an all–girls high school and was naive. Or maybe it’s because I have two big brothers and have always felt safe around older boys, but instinct told me to ask one of the fraternity brothers to walk me home. He told me I could sleep in his bed instead. I laughed. He didn’t. He made me an offer: he would walk me home, but I had to blow him first. For the record, I didn’t do it.
I’m not in a sorority, so before you say I couldn’t possibly understand “sisterhood” or “brotherhood,” I’m going to say you’re probably right. There are undoubtedly many wonderful aspects of Greek life that, not being a member of it, I will never understand. That being said, no matter how special your lifelong friendships are, the benefits of Greek life don’t outweigh the systematic, pervasive harm a system predicated on internalized misogyny perpetuates.
In light of recent events surrounding AXO’s investigation, it's important to take a serious look at the structure of Greek life and the related behaviors we’ve accepted as both normal and appropriate. Greek life needs to be dramatically changed or abolished in order for Penn to be a place where women and men are truly equal.
Full disclosure: when I was a freshman, I went through rush and signed a bid from Alpha Phi. For reasons that have nothing to do with the girls in that sorority (many of whom I like very much) and more to do with the fact that I was in a long–distance relationship at the time and didn’t see the appeal of date nights or mixers, I quit right after Bid Night.
Greek life’s double standard for women and men begins during recruitment. While men are technically not allowed to “dirty rush,” it’s pretty much taken for granted that they do, while sororities face very strict punishment for doing the same. Potential fraternity brothers have a semester to get a feel for the houses, while girls have five days during which they’re supposed to be able to decide where they belong.
Once official recruitment begins, men are allowed to go to whichever houses they want, eating and drinking in low–key environments. Sorority rush, by contrast, is a highly structured process where women have no choice but to start with every house and then go back to ones they may not even like. When I was rushing, I got a recruitment guide filled with rules like, “There is absolutely no talking between potential new members from the end of preference parties until the end of preference card signing,” and a list of behaviors that could get me dropped from recruitment (such as using a cell phone during recruitment, not attending one of the parties without an excuse or arriving late to a party without an excuse).
Sure, these are the National Panhellenic Council's rules, but by voluntarily being a part of these organizations, women are complicit in the appropriation of their own agency. What the rush process is really saying, and sorority women are by extension endorsing, is that women are incapable of making decisions without excruciating handholding and endless rules.
The gender bias doesn’t end on Bid Night. National rules forbidding sororities from throwing parties with alcohol are infantilizing and reinforce the message that men are more capable than women. Not allowing women to throw their own parties forces them to attend events at fraternities and surrender control to men.
With a monopoly over campus parties, frat boys control the guest lists and alcohol. I’ve spent way too many nights standing before khaki–clad boys while they evaluated whether my friends and I met their qualifications for entry. Why should my social life revolve around parties where my presence is viewed in terms of improving the ratio of girls who are fuckable to the guys who can fuck them?
I know I’m not the only woman who has felt something on the spectrum of objectified to blatantly unsafe inside a frat house. If sorority girls could throw parties on their own turf, maybe I could accept a drink without fearing my cup was filled with Everclear, Adderall and Kool–Aid. Maybe I could be at a party and feel like more than a potential sex object.
I assume people will respond with arguments about all the good sororities and fraternities do. They’re philanthropic, sure. But you can’t honestly believe that charity offsets the damage Greek life does to women. Sexism is scary when it’s overt, but when it’s so normalized and internalized that women don’t even care, or worse, don’t even realize they’re taking part in a system that’s oppressing them, we have an even bigger, more insidious problem on our hands.
Photo credit: wikipedia