What is it? My bright blonde hair? The way I talk? Do I just seem like a sorority girl (whatever that means)? But the better question is, why does my Greek association always seem to discredit me in some way?
I’ll admit it: I was (and technically will always be) an Alpha Phi. I rushed and became a member of the sorority when I was 18, the week before I became a freshman at UC Davis. My college experience knew nothing else. I was Vice President of Marketing, where I helped raise over $8,000 dollars for charities related to women’s heart health. I eventually became President, where I did more than I can even recall. Sadly, post-college, these confessions typically embarrass me and I just pretend Alpha Phi didn’t exist in my life. But why?
The recent publication of a sorority’s pre-rush “beauty standards” reminds me exactly why. This story spread like wildfire to media outlets, on Facebook, and throughout Twitter. The “standards” put in place by this chapter not only create unhealthy images for the young women in the chapter but produce a dramatically repulsive image of sororities. Because of publications like this, Greek life naysayers have effortlessly concocted a one-dimensional view of sorority sisters – one of rigid beauty standards, promiscuous costumes, and guzzling alcohol with their favorite fraternities. And who can blame them? I’m the first to agree that there are some extremely crucial problems plaguing fraternities and sororities at both a university and national level. But should those issues define who I am just because I was involved in a similar organization?
Sororities were initially founded when women were considered unqualified for higher education and men dominated college campuses. Sororities became a way for women to connect intellectually and socially -- they would meet to pray, sing, and write poetry together. While this is a stark contrast to the stereotypical vision of the modern day sorority girl, the foundational principle of connecting on a deeper level with other women still exists. I’ve experienced firsthand that sorority involvement can actually enhance feminism (as it did mine) in certain ways:
1. Sororities can give you the opportunity to surround yourself with strong and diverse women who share many of the same goals and values as you (and other feminists). The young ladies I surrounded myself with were of all different shapes, sizes, ages, races, religions, sexualities, etc. The diversity of women contributed to the richness of the environment and taught us how to respect and appreciate each other’s differences as women and as adults. Further, the majority was also intelligent and driven, constantly pushing me to be the best I could be.
2. Sororities also give women a support structure during and after college. They can provide connections as well as academic, professional, and social support. Not only did I make lifelong friends as an Alpha Phi, I was also encouraged by fellow sisters to attain academic excellence and received assistance navigating my professional life from both peers and alumnae.
3. These organizations allow you to experience all aspects of “femininity." Because my sorority had over 120 members, I quickly learned that every woman was truly unique in her own way. It encouraged me to accept all aspects of femininity – those considered both “traditional” and “untraditional"- and the relative lack of it.
Although Greek Life may perpetuate gender roles in certain ways, it can actually encourage feminism in young women as well. At the end of the day, it’s true: “Stereotypes of sororities are more dangerous to womanhood than sororities themselves.” Feminism is not only women’s equality but also the right for women to make their own choices. Just because some women choose to join a sorority does not mean they should be considered inferior feminists.
As I have readily admitted, some of the habits traditionally enforced by sororities may preserve some antiquated gender roles. However, it also needs to be understood that an organization dedicated solely to women can have feminist advantages, too. Becoming a member of a sorority was a choice I made and something that shouldn’t embarrass me or discredit my belief in gender equality. Rather, the women I created relationships with and the organization I was a part of only fueled my desire to become a powerful, independent female who defies gender stereotypes. So, contrary to popular belief, being in a sorority didn’t make me an inferior feminist; it made me a better one than I used to be. And, that's not something to be embarrassed about.