This Feminist Is Defending the Sorority Sisterhood

As I sat down this past weekend to enjoy some down time, I got a double dose of anti-sorority sentiment. First was the outcry over the video put out by the Alpha Phi chapter at the University of Alabama. The second was when I was reading my latest issue of Marie Claire magazine.

I came across an article titled, "Secrets of the Sisterhood" -- which not only seemed out of character for the normally pro-women magazine, but also annoyed me for its stereotypical sorority bashing by someone who has never been in one. So here's my pro-sorority feminist manifesto.

The Marie Claire piece I mentioned above was written by the author of the book Pledged. Which, if you haven't read or heard of it, is basically an entire book bashing sororities and the women in them. So, clearly, this article was from an unbiased viewpoint... (note the sarcasm).

What frustrates me the most, and still often surprises me, is how much I am asked about how I could have been in a sorority when I am such a proud feminist. What so many people fail to realize is that I am a proud feminist because I was in a sorority. The two are not, and never have been, mutually exclusive.

1. Greek life is not perfect, But the majority of sororities are good.

I am not going to sit here and say that all sororities are perfect or that hazing never happens. Nor, will I say that there are not sororities that place a premium on having a certain "look" and only picking girls based on that. But I will say that I, personally, would never have joined a house if that had been the case. And there are hundreds of other chapters like mine where the women are athletes, artists, student body government leaders, and so much more.

I also want to make clear that I can only speak to the sorority side of things. I (obviously) was never in a male fraternity as a member, so I cannot speak for them. I will say that many of the men I knew in Greek Life were amazing guys. But I do not speak for them in this piece.

Further, I am including the sororities that make up the "Divine Nine" of the historically Black Greek letter organizations. I have friends in many of these sororities, who are also strong and amazing women, and they do not deserve to be tarnished with the same brush.

To paint sorority women with such a broad stroke, and say that all sororities fit the cliched stereotype, is the equivalent of saying that all police officers are racist or that all African-Americans are "thugs." Clearly, those statements are completely false and massive generalizations and no one would (at least, I hope not) believe them.

So why is it so easy to see one sorority misbehaving and assume that all Greek Life is that way?

2. The Marie Claire article uses two school specific studies to tarnish all sororities.

In the Marie Claire article, the author cites two studies which indicated that sorority women were victims of sexual assault at a higher rate than other women on campus. Both of these studies were specific only to the school from which they came from.

The author continues throughout the piece to claim that sorority women are at a higher risk for assault, while conveniently only mentioning once, and then glossing over the fact, that these studies were only at two schools and are not representative of all schools or sororities.

While the information that these studies reveal is horrible and I hope that the schools studied address this issue, this does not imply, as the author would have you believe, that every single campus has the exact same problem.

3. It is deceitful to imply that sororities are "hiding" something because of their media policy.

Another way the author of the article attempts to trash sororities is based on the fact that the alumnae board of a chapter discourages women from speaking to the media about incidents involving their houses. The author implies that this is because sororities are attempting to hide information. This is not only ridiculous, but patently false.

First, the media is always looking for a soundbite. They want that one outlandish statement that they can then run with at the top of the hour. It is reasonable to assume that if something happened involving your sorority, you would be highly emotional and/or upset, and may not be in the best place to give a response to the media with a cool head.

Secondly, the media will conflate the one house with that entire sorority. My sorority alone has 130 college chapters, 200 alumnae chapters and groups and more than 250,000 total initiated members. Of course, the legal team and media experts that work for the sorority would want to make sure that they fully understand a situation before speaking out on it. To try and say that the sororities are "hiding" something, just because they want to make sure that their statement is clear and consistent, is a very big leap of the imagination.

4. Saying the purpose of a sorority is to "go to mixers" is a bald-faced lie.

The author states that all sorority sisters join their house for the friendship and networking, but they are then "forced" to go to mixers "almost every week" with their sisters. Again, that is making such a large assumption about every Greek system at every school, I can barely wrap my head around it.

The only time I went out consistently during the week was when I was a senior in college. And I only did it then because I knew I could do it and still manage to make good grades (I graduated with a 3.73 GPA). Plus, I went out with a variety of friends, not just my sorority sisters. And never to a fraternity event.

I can't speak for all schools, but all of the events we had with fraternities were always on the weekends, never during the week. Additionally, I can tell you that girls never felt pressured to go to events at fraternity houses that they didn't want to attend. I was closer to one fraternity over the others, so I would go to the events at that house and not the ones at others. No one made me feel bad for it or like I didn't belong. Other sisters did the same. It was really not a big deal.

5. Stating that physical appearance is all that matters for sorority recruitment is ridiculous.

The critics of the Alpha Phi video and the author of the Marie Claire article both claim that all sororities are only interested in recruiting good-looking women. If we seriously based every recruitment decision on looks, we would have been without any new sisters a long time ago.

I mean what would even be the point of going through recruitment then? Why wouldn't we just use pictures of all of the girls and just make the selection based on that? If it's all about looks -- why bother to actually meet the girls?

Clearly, it is about far more than looks. I joined my house because I laughed so hard while I was there that I had tears pouring down my face. I also bonded with a number of the sisters about where I had grown up. The women in our house were a mix of athletes and theater nerds and scholars and artists. We all looked different and had different views on a variety of things, but we all came together when it mattered.

6. Are we seriously going to continue blaming the victims?

What really shocked me is that the Marie Claire article basically laid it at the feet of the sorority and the sisters for the sexual assaults that occurred. The author continued to imply that the women purposely put their fellow sisters into this situation. This thought process by the author is the exact same type of victim blaming that seems to continue to go on whenever a woman is sexually assaulted. Sadly, many people still think that a woman must have been "asking for it" based on her clothing or that she was somehow at fault for getting herself into that situation.

Secondly, all of the sororities that I interacted with on my campus, including my own, would absolutely never have put one of their sisters into a situation where they thought they may get hurt. In fact, there were numerous times that if one of us thought a sister had had too much to drink, we would make sure she got home and was taken care of. We wouldn't have left her alone to have something horrible happen to her. To assume otherwise is to paint the majority of us as some kind of cold-hearted evil bunch of women.

Instead of victim blaming, why not instead write an indictment of the "rape culture" that so many parts of our society feed into? Why not blame the perpetrators for assaulting the women instead of the women themselves?

7. Talking to women who are Greek conveys a vastly different view than the Marie Claire article.

Knowing how much being in a sorority shaped me to be a strong woman and a leader, I was curious as to whether others felt this way. I am a Skimmbassador for The Skimm (which, if you don't read, you are insane), and I posted this question in our group to see if there were other sorority women who felt the same. I expected maybe a handful of responses. Instead I got a plethora of comments from women who felt the same as I did and were tired of people thinking that they cannot be feminists and sorority women at the same time.

I decided to reach out to many of these women and absolutely loved their responses to the questions I asked. The thing that stuck with me through all of their answers though was how every single one of them readily identified as both a feminist and a proud sorority member.

Anna Roesler, a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota and a sorority member, said that from her experience, "Sororities are an inherently feminist organization; created for the betterment and effort of strengthening women."

Ariana Valderrama, a senior at the University of Rochester, said becoming a sorority member gave her the push to publicly identify as a feminist. "I didn't go to a feminist meeting until I joined my sorority since one of the girls in my pledge class was a big feminist and inspired me to go."

Molly Beck, who graduated from Missouri State University in 2011, summed up how I felt about my own sorority experience when she said, "My sorority experience positively impacted my self-esteem. I found a sisterhood full of women who believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. I also found a place in which all of me was accepted -- my strengths, my flaws, my quirks, my challenges, and my successes. I found my voice in my sorority and I found a group of women who inspired me to be a better person as we strove for a higher ideal."

Margaret Abrams, a graduate of Tulane University in 2012, said, "I became more outgoing because I had a support system that taught me it was good to speak your mind. I held leadership positions which made me more confident. I learned how to talk to people and network during recruitment."

Katie Bean, a Michigan State graduate in 2014, was proud to tell me that there "were many progressively minded women in my chapter while I was an active member. Many of them were 'out and proud' feminists, which is a point of pride! We were a diverse group of women and I am proud of that."

Kelsey Bryant, who graduated from the University of Florida in 2012 felt that, for her, "the positive effects of being in a sorority outweighed any negative ones. I learned how to lead, and even non-chapter leaders were supported in campus involvement, and strongly supported academically ... I'm a better feminist, and leader from the experience."

8. These same women had some great answers on the definition of feminism.

One question I thought it important to ask all of these women was -- what does the word "feminist" mean to you? Of the 40 responses I received back from my initial post, all of the women "correctly" provided the definition. But what I loved was that the responses ranged from the traditional definition of feminism (which is: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities) to the awesome:

The word feminist to me means owning your feminine. For so long, "feminine" has meant weak or quiet or emotional and while some feminists may be quiet and sometimes we are emotional, that certainly does not take away from me as a woman. Femininity and being a feminist means trusting my gut when making decisions, it means speaking with integrity and standing up for myself, while also being kind. It means that love and my emotions are not a sign of weakness but a sign of empathy.

Believing in your power as a woman.

It means taking control of my surroundings. Not letting anyone tell me that I can't do something just because I'm a woman. It means fighting to maintain control over my own reproductive rights and for equal pay for equal work. It means lending my voice as a white woman to other minorities to fight for equal rights. Being a feminist asks for equal treatment for all across the board. It also means that as a white feminist, I acknowledge my privilege and try to use it to shed light on issues for those who aren't heard.

A woman who knows that she can choose to do whatever she wants -- and supports other women doing whatever they want.

I especially loved this next one from my name twin and the fabulous blogger at Who Asked Her Anyway:

A strong as shit woman, who fearlessly stands up for what she believes in.

A feminist is any man or woman who advocates for equality of the sexes/genders and believes in empowerment as a means of change. It means not accepting the status quo, and for speaking out in defense of all women, including those who may be less secure in themselves or in the notion of being a "feminist." You can be a feminist in large, obvious ways, or in implicit, subtle ways -- however you believe in it, it's valid and important.

Now tell me, does that sound like a bunch of airheaded, "only here to get my MRS" type of women to you?

9. To state that sororities are mostly homogeneous is to denigrate the sororities in the Divine Nine and ignore the racial compositions of colleges and universities.

One of the biggest charges I always see, and one that was leveled against the University of Alabama sorority, is that sororities are too homogeneous. Namely, that they are all white. And while that may be true of some of the Greek organizations, that completely ignores the historically African-American Greek letter organizations and their importance in the Greek system. Further, it ignores the racial makeup of many universities.

I am not going to sit here and try to deny white privilege or say that there is no racism in any sorority, anywhere in the United States. I am not an idiot. I am sure there is. However, the majority of sororities are very inclusive and happily welcome women, no matter their race, sexual orientation, or background.

And if you don't know about them, you need to learn about the amazing impact of the sororities in the Divine Nine. These sororities are flourishing on campuses across the country and are a part of the greater Greek community. They deserve the respect that they have earned.

10. Sorority women are accomplished, amazing and strong women.

Even in my own sorority, just from the few years of girls that I know personally, I know of at least 10 lawyers and four doctors. Not to mention, countless other company managers, government officials and others who lead amazing and powerful lives. I know that there are many others who can say the same for their sorority sisters.

So, instead of assuming that all sorority women are the same, or falling prey to the stereotype that we are just having pillow fights in our negligees, maybe try to realize that we are so much stronger and better than some caricature.

I think Paige Hebble, a senior at the University of Florida and a sorority member, said it best during my interview with her:

I don't know where I would be without my chapter. My sisters lift me higher every single day and I don't go an hour without feeling loved and supported. If that is something that people want to judge, go ahead. But just know, you can take away socials and date functions and our houses, but letters and sisters, are forever.

Enjoy this post? You can read more by Amanda at The Color Coded Life