Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 02/24/2012

A Feminist Rushes A Sorority

kind of but not really

When I thought about what my college experience would be like as a high schooler, I never for a second even slightly entertained the faintest thought of joining a sorority. As a self-identified feminist, as someone who thought chapstick was a full face of makeup, and as someone who had about as much interest in enduring mosh-pits of grinding frat boys as she did in microbial taxonomy (read: none) I just had zero interest in what I, frankly, saw as an antiquated, possibly even anti-feminist and insulting tradition. Which is why when I pressed “send” on my sorority recruitment application last December, nobody was more surprised than I was.

Though I hadn’t entered college with a clear goal of finding my long, lost non-genetic “sisters,” my interest in joining a sorority was essentially born from that very concept. As it turns out, one of the hard things about going to school in an admittedly fabulous and exciting city is the tendency for the student body to disappear into it. Becoming a sophisticated urbanite was one of the main reasons I chose to move to New York City in the first place, but the lack of community was definitely starting to take its toll on me. Especially in the face of living away from home for the first time, a little loving support didn’t sound so bad.

A need for a more defined school community was the main reason I decided to take a chance on joining a sorority but, sure enough, as soon as I opened my mind to the process and became immersed in it, I discovered plenty of other perks. During recruitment itself, I assumed I’d committed myself to a weekend of small-talk hell, full of girls who silently judged me while engaging me in questions about my hometown and major. In reality, I had some really genuine conversations with some awesome girls. I even got into a heated debate about Scrabble v. Bananagrams, which, I must say, may have been the highlight of the weekend. As recruitment drew to a close and I made my final selection, I have to say I was actually excited. When I opened the envelope containing the name of the sorority that, through a process of mutual selection, I would henceforth be a part of, I felt deep down that I had made the right decision.

Since I’ve joined, it’s clear to me that sororities can even be considered feminist. After all, the concept of sisterhood is intrinsic to feminism. In the face of a patriarchal society, belonging to a community of women is vital. Knowing you will always have strong women to support you is incredibly empowering, especially funny and intelligent women, like the stereotype-defying young ladies in my sorority. And my sorority is all about support: Columbia University has a strict anti-hazing policy, which the sororities here actually abide by. My sorority’s philanthropy also focuses on raising awareness about domestic violence – a clearly feminist endeavor and noble pursuit.

Of course, I had to deal with a lot of judgmental questions, comments and blatant stares of disbelief when I told my friends that I’d be rushing. Which actually reminded me of another feminist principle at the heart of rushing a sorority: choice. To me, feminism means having the ability to make choices that will make you the happiest and most fulfilled version of yourself. For me, that meant joining a sorority. It’s true that I’ve only been a part of this sorority for less than a month and I’m not even a fully initiated member yet. And while I don’t know what’s going to happen down the road, I can confidently say that right now I’m incredibly happy with my decision.

I’d love to hear from all readers who are currently in a sorority or who were in a sorority in college. What were your experiences like? Any advice for me and other new pledges?

Also posted on The Frisky.

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  • Amy CT @ at 2:48 am, February 25th, 2012

    As a British girl studying at an elite university in Australia, my understanding of sororities comes pretty much purely from bad American College movies and an anti-frat American ex-boyfriend… but for someone like you to choose to rush, they really can’t be such bad things.

    And, it is sisterhood, after all.

    Also: “I even got into a heated debate about Scrabble v. Bananagrams, which, I must say, may have been the highlight of the weekend.” – very awesome.

  • Renee @ at 11:11 am, February 25th, 2012

    I’m just now signing up for my senior classes in highschool but I am so excited about rushing. I really want to be an Alpha Kappa Alphaand it’s good to see feminist support for them. Because so often I see this strand of feminism where we inadvertantly send a message were feminine/sisterhood(or anything resembling it)=bad.
    Also before reading this post I had never heard of Bananagrams and I have to say that it looks WAY more fun than scrabble.

  • Miriam @ at 2:00 am, February 26th, 2012

    I’m happy for you that you’ve found a Greek experience that meshes well with your beliefs, but I’m not sure that any part of the Greek system can ever really be considered “feminist,” given its long history of racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic discrimination.

  • Sunday Links Round-Up! « @ at 8:06 am, February 26th, 2012

    [...] found this to be really interesting: “A blog about sororities and how a feminist discovers there are myths about sororities that need to be [...]

  • Ally @ at 9:52 am, February 26th, 2012

    I think it’s interesting that you chose to rush for a sorority but I would like to see you keep a close eye or awareness on the treatment of your sorority by other fraternities. Meaning, are the sororities treated equally or are parties generally hosted by the patriarchal frats. I also viewed sororities as sisterhood, but I soon realized that it was just a lesser form of a fraternity. Sororities are generally exclusive and promote standards for women to meet in order to make it into some sort of society. This in itself is not feminist. I too was happy joining a sorority because I felt like I belonged but it’s important to question whether or not it is the right place to belong. I had to be true to myself and my ideas as a feminist, therefore I am no longer part of a sorority. I still do the philanthropic work I did in my sorority, but I don’t encourage young women conform to any standards that may seem acceptable to certain societies.

  • Cassandra @ at 7:57 pm, March 3rd, 2012

    Let me just start out by saying that I find your post to be incredibly insightful, and I am grateful that you are giving sororities a chance instead of automatically stereotyping them like most people do. However, I do not believe a sorority is feminist in anyway.

    I attend a college on the west coast that has a very rich history of Greek life and Greeks make up a large part of the student body. I have been in my sorority for almost two years now and as much as I love my sisters, any feminism obtained by sisterhood is outweighed by the system’s flaws.

    The Greek system in itself promotes a hierarchy that makes it anti-feminist. For the most part levels are based on how beautiful the girls are, how down to party they are, and how fraternity men perceive them. Due to this system, many girls determine their self-worth based on these characteristics. Moreover, competition between levels encourages extreme cattiness and callousness among sororities and even in between girls in the same sorority. Depending on the level a sorority is determines how extreme this becomes.

    Sororities are not for everyone, but if you have found girls that you connect with then I encourage you to stick with it! The sisterhood that a sorority promotes really does last a lifetime. I’ve had amazing experiences with my sisters that I wouldn’t give up for anything. Despite the negativity of the hierarchy, the sisterhood is what keeps me there.

  • Joanne @ at 8:33 am, March 4th, 2012

    I joined a Sorority 21 years ago and I still feel as connected to it as the day I join even though I live half way across the world. Sororities aren’t for everyone and everyone is not for sororities but hen there’s a match it is magical. I have found it enriching in each of the phases of my life. I am very far-removed from the college parties and the “frats” but now there’s a mommy listserve where we support one another in motherhood and other such sub-groups. I am inspired by the women who join and continue the traditions that I helped shaped. Mine is an ethnic sorority so we bond over being women and of color. I echo the original article – being a feminist IS about choice and not having anyone dictate what they might be for you.

  • Molly @ at 11:29 am, March 5th, 2012

    Rushing was BY FAR the best decision I’ve made this semester. I have 100 pledge sisters who I know I can count on 24/7. Greek life and feminism are not mutually exclusive concepts. It’s true we are held to a higher standard of behavior and academics than the rest of the student body, but I fail to see how that’s a bad thing. In a lot of ways, our founders were the original feminists; they emphasized leading with values and sisterhood in an overwhelmingly male-dominated world.

    PPL

  • Marie @ at 9:46 pm, March 13th, 2012

    This article is screaming cognitive dissonance.

    Your rationalization is pathetic and I can’t believe you buy your own crap.

  • Nora Harris @ at 3:41 pm, July 30th, 2012

    Julie, I remember telling my mom and mentor in all things feminist that I never wanted to join a sorority for all the things you previously mentioned. When I realized how amazing and strong the women actually were I couldn’t wait to be a part of the community. I was so excited that I could be a part of a philanthropy working towards the protection of victims of domestic violence (btw I think we’re sisters!!). Being in a sorority has made me even stronger in my feminist views – we are the ones busting preconceived ideas and stereotypes about women. We work hard for our philanthropies, support each other through family struggles and studying, and organize ourselves to be a strong community. Thank you so much for writing this, I felt the same way rushing and joining. Today, I would do it all over again.

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