You are on page 1of 8

Molly Gibson

May 1, 2016
Feminist Analysis Paper - WGSS
My mom often sends me New York Times articles about anything she thinks
might intrigue me, from jobs in the tech industry to hikers on the Appalachian Trail. She
sent me a piece the other day that especially piqued my interest: When a Feminist Joins
a Sorority by Jessica Bennett. This article didnt catch my attention for the sole fact that
I am a feminist in a sorority (Im also hoping for a job in the tech industry and to hike the
AT), but because recently Ive been conflicted with the aspects of Greek life that go
against my feminist ideals. How can I call myself a feminist and still go to a party with
the theme Dads Grilling Steak and Girls on Spring Break? Bennetts main point is that,
although the Greek system at American universities might remain an old boys club,
young women in sororities today are collectively working to transform the oppressive
structure. When I first joined a sorority nearly four years ago, my incentive was not to
tear down the patriarchy from the inside as the article suggests. I was new to college
and I felt lost. I wanted social events to go to on the weekend; I wanted friends.
Although I found fulfillment through my sorority sisters over the years, and I agree with
the sentiment of the article that Greek life is evolving from the anti-feminist system that it
once was, I have experienced the disadvantageous traditions of the Greek system
firsthand. It might be true that strong, progressive women are joining sororities, but we
need to recognize the aspects of the system that are counteracting equality. Bennett does
not give enough weight to the way in which Greek life perpetuates gender stereotypes
that portray women as the lesser sex, sets up a system that facilitates sexual assault, and is
stuck in the homogenous attitude that characterizes second wave feminism.

While it may be true that bright young activists are entering Greek life, as Bennett
suggests as evidence for how progressive sororities have become, the system itself is
drenched in traditions that perpetuate inequality. Certainly, lots of respectable, forwardlooking women join sororities at their university. They justify the decision to older
women by reassuring that [theyre] not as exclusionary as [they] used to be, [theyre]
supportive, and [theyre] going to lead to other possibilities after graduation. (Bennett,
2016) Sororities do provide a number of benefits, undoubtedly, but Bennett
underrepresents the severity of the flaws within the organization as a whole. Sororities
typically do not have houses, and if they do, theyre much more regulated than fraternity
houses; this means that men have control of the party scene and whatever alcohol is
served. Fraternity boys hold parties with themes that require women to dress scantily and
reduce them to sexual objects. Furthermore, they often imply that men are in the
professional position and women are there simply to look sexually appealing. Fraternity
party themes tend to follow a certain formula: (insert profession) and (related to that
profession) Hoes. The author of Sexual Assault on Campus gives examples that she
encountered: CEOs and Office Hoes, Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes, and Pimps and
Hoes. Men invite women to parties with demeaning themes, perhaps subconsciously, in
order to justify sexually assaulting them. Throughout history, men have been
dehumanizing women in order to justify rape. During slavery, slave owners justified
raping black slave women by claiming that they were promiscuous and thus were asking
for it. (Fischer, 60) The culture surrounding fraternity life is, in general, an old-boys
club that fosters a sense of superiority in numbers and a feeling of invincibility when
brothers are there to back them up. Men are quick to brag about their sexual conquests

to their frat bros. Fraternities, at their core, have an atmosphere of disrespecting women.
Bennett doesnt specifically examine frat cultureshe maintains her focus on sororities
but fraternity mixers and other co-ed events are a large part of Greek life for women.
In my opinion, Bennetts argument falls short because she omits any discussion of the
male side of Greek life, which is deeply ingrained in the female side. It is neglectful to
assess the relationship between feminism and sororities without delving into fraternities
role in Greek life.
Bennetts article also falls short in that she does not examine the inherent lack of
socioeconomic, racial, and sexual diversity in the Greek system. Although she discusses
the fact that the women rushing were not all skinny, tall, and blonde like the typical
sorority girl, any person attending a top-tier university like Harvard or Columbia is
extremely fortunate. The article might carry more weight if it discussed the Greek system
in the South, which is historically racist and elitist, or at a State university, which has a
better representation of the American population (and is also historically racist/elitist).
Columbia is already a very liberal school; it is not surprising that if the majority of the
female student population is in sororities, those same girls are also loud-and-proud
feminists. Bennett boasts Julia Wu, a junior at Brown University, recently hosted a
Lean In workshop at her sorority. Astrid Henry, in From Mindset to Movement,
discusses the best-selling book by Sheryl Sandberg. Henry describes Sandbergs
contemporary feminist approach to inequality: women need to pursue high-level
positions that are typically dominated by men and seize opportunities in order to get
ahead. Sandberg discusses a trickle-down approach to feminism. If more women are
in corporate positions of power, she argues, the entire structure of the world will be

transformed by the increased presence of women in our male-dominated society. What


Sambergs theory and the NYT article both lack is a realistically intersectional approach.
Henry scrutinizes Sandbergs argument:
[T]he reality is that 62 percent of working women in the United States make an
hourly wage of less than fifteen dollars an hour, and most work in femaledominated sectors, like service and clerical work, which offer few opportunities to
lean in. The majority of women in the United States do not have the college and
graduate degrees needed to enter into the high-powered corporate world described
by Sandberg.
While the NYT article is discussing college women in particular, as opposed to the
average American woman, it still glazes over the large barriers to entry of the Greek
system. For one, not every student can afford an extra hundreds of dollars per semester
for a social organization. Additionally, Greek life is historically racist, and some
Southern chapters still deny access to black women. (Bennett, 2016) Bennett suggests
that women in sororities today, self-identifying feminists, are working to change the
oppressive nature of the system from the inside. Pamela Aronson, in the article
Feminists or Postfeminists?, demonstrates that many women dont have the luxury to
spend time questioning gender roles in society. A number of these women [who didnt
identify themselves as feminists] experienced great stress in daily living, leaving little
time for reflection about such issues. (Aronson, 913) College students who join Greek
life are predominantly upper-middle class, and therefore ha[ve] few responsibilities
other than their schoolwork. (Armstrong, 482) Bennett, while she touches on women of
color, still puts all of her emphasis on privileged, Ivy League women. Similarly to how

its negligent for Bennett to omit fraternity structure and its influence, it is also careless to
discuss modern feminism without taking an intersectional approach.
Lastly, Bennett is correct that sororities are evolving, but I argue that its at a
slower rate than feminism elsewhere; sorority life, and the feminism that Bennett
describes, mirrors the second wave of the 60s and 70s moreso than the modern third
wave. Some of the main characteristics of second wave feminism were getting women
together under a common goal and fighting for political change. Sororities, similarly,
provide a sisterhood that brings the members together. As Bennett describes, women
often unite under the name of their sorority to fight inequality: The women of
Columbias Theta chapter decided to decorate that mattress, standing front and center at a
rally on campus. (Bennett, 2016) Sororities certainly do not encourage individuality and
independence, which are more characteristic of the third wave. Women are meant to
dress alike, sing songs about the sisterhood they share, and even can be fined for missing
a meeting. Furthermore, as I discussed in the paragraph above, Greek life remains
overwhelmingly homogeneous. People of different races and sexualities, while they
might be allowed to join a sorority, are often hesitant to join such a white, upper-middle
class, heterosexual system. To participate [in the campus party scene], one must
typically be heterosexual, at least middle-class, white, American-born, unmarried,
childless, traditional college age, and interested in drinking. (Armstrong, 482) People
who dont fit the mold of a typical sorority girl, which is often synonymous with a
party girl, face cultural barriers to entry. While sororities are working to become more
inclusive, they can still be compared to the second wave in their un-inclusive (not
specifically exclusive, necessarily, but not working very hard to include women with

diverse viewpoints and life experiences) nature: In the late 1960s and early 1970s
lesbians often felt in unwelcome straight feminist spaces. (Henry, 164) Many minority
women have similar views of Greek life now to how they felt about feminism during the
second wave. Furthermore, the process of joining a sorority is quite exclusive. Bennett
discusses the rising Greek enrollment at Harvard University: Of [the 280 women] who
rushed, 193 were offered bids. The article doesnt make any mention of the fact that 87
women were denied entrance to Greek life altogether. Women are chosen to join chapters
based on quick conversation and superficial factors; theres no formal criterion for who
will be excluded. This exclusivity is problematic, especially for women in their early
twenties, because it can affect their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. The second
wave of feminism, similarly, attempted to define the ideal woman, and left women who
didnt fit that definition feeling subordinate. While many progressive women might be
rushing, feminism within the Greek system as a whole is stuck in the relatively closeminded era of the second wave.
Im not arguing that a truly self-respecting feminist should go back to opting
out of the Greek system altogether, like she might have done a few decades ago. I have
met many wonderful women in my sorority, and Bennett is correct that it has provided
friendships and connections that will remain for life. I do believe that if bright young
activists continue to join sororities, the system will continue to evolve into one thats
more accepting and inclusive. Based on the evidence I provided above, however, I do not
believe that Bennett gave a comprehensive discussion of feminism within Greek life. She
disregarded the fact that the system is set up to degrade women and, as a result, often
enables a culture of sexual assault. She focuses on a small, elite percentage of the

American population, and does not consider women of different socioeconomic statuses,
sexualities, and backgrounds. Exclusively speaking to women who attend Ivies will not
provide a wide enough array of experiences to apply her research to feminism as a whole.
Lastly, Bennett doesnt investigate the ways in which feminism within the Greek system
is far more conservative than the modern feminism seen elsewhere on college campuses
and among young adults. As a feminist in a sorority myself, I appreciate the direction
that Bennett is taking in When a Feminist Joins a Sorority, but her analysis leaves a
great deal of room for improvement.

Bibliography
Armstrong, Elizabeth A., et al. Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel
Integrative
Approach to Party Rape. Sex Matters. Georgia State University.
Print.
Aronson, Pamela. "Feminists Or "Postfeminists"?" Gender & Society.
Michigan State
University, 6 Dec. 2003. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
Bennett, Jessica. "When a Feminist Pledges a Sorority." The New York
Times. The
New York Times, 09 Apr. 2016. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
Fischer, Nancy L. "Purity and Pollution." Sagepub.com. Washington
University
School of Medicine, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 03 May 2016.
Henry, Astrid. "From a Mindset to a Movement." Feminism
Unfinished (2014): 147226. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.