Sororities and Feminism

By Olivia Heersink

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Members of a sorority at the University of Idaho

One of the single most disappointing conversations I have to have as a member of sorority and a self-identified feminist is how the two can possibly exist within the same woman, as if the ideas are mutually exclusive. I find myself constantly explaining to people how I can be so in love with my sorority, but also have an undying love for the advancement of equality and social issues.  And now that I have (or like to think I have) grown up significantly while in college and am much more knowledgeable about the world around me, I realize that I have become an even prouder feminist; I owe so much of that to my sorority and my sisters.

One of the best things that ever came out of my sorority experience was the idea that women do not constantly need to be pitted against one another. I’ll admit it — I am competitive; grossly competitive and I really don’t care to lose. I’ll also admit that in high school, I spent a good majority of my time comparing myself to my female peers; I constantly asked myself if I was as pretty, as intelligent, or as athletic as other girls my age. I never backed down from competing for a spot on the team, or on a boy’s arm (isn’t that absolutely disgusting to think about?). I always considered women competition because it seems that with as little opportunities as there are for the advancement of women, I had to constantly be better than those women who surrounded me. Since I joined a sorority, I have thankfully found a new appreciation for how much further women can go when we collaborate instead of compete. Through teamwork and good vibes to one another, we accomplish so much more and progress for one women tends to encourage progress for all, especially in the number of opportunities that are open to us.

As any feminist would tell you, access to education is truly one of the most effective ways to empower women, and a key factor in the advancement of gender equality for all. Education, and the worldly knowledge that comes from it, have long been regarded as a grand tool of the feminist movement because education is more than just acquiring a vast amount of knowledge; education allows one to experience personal development while gaining the necessary critical thinking skills to become a politically active member of society. Education is incredibly important not only for individual economic success, but also success on a wider scale as it leads to more productive and successful members of society, causing a much wider impact on the world. Although I have always been a good student and lifelong learner, as I have gotten more involved in sorority life I have realized what it’s like to be expected to focus on your education, not only for your own benefit but also for the benefit of your community. Not only are we expected to maintain a certain level of academic excellence in our personal GPA, our sorority as a whole strives to be the best academically with our cumulative organization GPA. In addition to expecting academic excellence, sororities do a wonderful job of providing resources for success; whether it’s encouraging (and sometimes even requiring) a certain amount of study hours with sisters, providing a list of sisters available for tutoring, or connecting the chapter to wider opportunities available on campus for academic achievement sororities do an incredible job of making sure that their members succeed on a personal level in order to encourage them to go out and do great things in their community.

As most know, there is a *fun* double standard when it comes to how women express their sexuality in comparison to men; it’s often more socially acceptable for men to have multiple sexual partners while that makes a woman a slut, whore, or (insert other degrading word here). For as long as I have been in my sorority, my sisters have supported my decision to express my sexuality in any safe way that I see fit. I have never experienced a slut-shaming moment from my sisters, even in situations where I would often receive criticism from larger society which includes my consensual decision to have more than one partner as well as darker topics such as sexual violence. As a society, we are quick to slut-shame survivors of sexual violence with statements referring to how a person was dressed and how much alcohol they had consumed. Not only do members support each other in the horrific instances of sexual violence, the Greek community as a whole is beginning to get more involved in condemning sexual violence and supporting survivors. From opposing the Safe Campus Act

(which is anything but) to taking a stand with It’s On Us campaigns, sorority and fraternity members alike are flexing their feminist muscles and telling society that we do not stand for sexual violence, slut-shaming, or double standards when it comes to a woman’s ability to express her sex-positivity in the way she sees acceptable.

If there is one truly important feminist characteristic that I’m glad my sorority taught me, it’s my ability and responsibility to stand up for others, and myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have never been a quiet person and I have always been someone who has no problem with speaking my mind. However, until I started doing more philanthropic work within my sorority for various organizations, I never realized the importance of standing up for other people who may not have the same ability to stand up for themselves as you do. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should act as though you have the same struggles as them, or pretend that you have the same understanding of those struggles but it does mean that if you have the ability to be an ally to another person, you should be. Just as important as it is to stand up for others, it’s important to stand up for yourself as much as you are able to. In life, you should be your own best friend and #1 fan because you are the person that you will always have to live with. If you wouldn’t allow someone to treat your best friend the way they treat you, you have the obligation to yourself not to let them treat you that way. Sometimes people won’t like what you have to say, and they will think that you come off aggressive, angry, and bitchy (because you know, women aren’t allowed to act that way in our society) but that shouldn’t keep you from standing up and speaking the words you think need to be heard. Not to worry, the other really great thing about sororities is that they teach you how to do it in a poised and graceful manner that won’t take away any of your bite.

I personally get extremely irritated when someone accuses sororities of only accepting a specific type of woman. While I know there may be some exceptions, sororities as a whole do not only seek out the picture-perfect Barbie types; we are not all skinny, tall, or blonde as some seem to assume you have to be in order to be in a sorority. In my chapter, I have never in my life been surrounded by such a diverse group of women who come from so many different backgrounds and life situations. So many people want to focus on the fact that we are all human, but I honestly think that does a disservice to our community; boasting about not seeing differences, all the different colors each individual brings to the world, is not something to be proud of. Rather, it just means that you’re missing out on a beautiful portion of a larger picture. Not only do sororities encourage membership for all different types of women from different cultures, religions, socioeconomic classes, and countries but they also encourage us to recognize and celebrate those differences in one another. Sure, I understand the historical implications of our founders and the likelihood that they supported a sisterhood based on women of all the same race, social class, etc. but as our world has continued to change and (slowly but surely) become more inclusive, sororities have continued to do so as well. And let me tell you right now, I have never been surrounded by a more supportive group of women who celebrate my differences more than my sisters do.

Since I’ve joined, it’s clear to me that sororities can 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. 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 a person having the ability to make choices that will make him or her the happiest, most fulfilled version of himself or herself. For me, that meant joining a sorority.

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