Amanda Zhang: Sorority rush institutionalizes sexism

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 - 3:32pm

Amanda Zhang

Amanda Zhang Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

Too often women neglect the sexism we ourselves propagate. It is easy to blame day-to-day adversities on the patriarchy when it is such an obvious source of culpability. From people like Harvey Weinstein and Brett Kavanaugh to issues like the wage gap and paid maternity leave, it seems as though the news cycle is teeming with examples of powerful men suppressing women’s freedom and autonomy. While these stories are undoubtedly important and justifiably attention-grabbing, they often overshadow other smaller, but nevertheless profound sources of sexism — those not at the hands of power-seeking men but instead at the hands of fellow women.

Recently, an anonymously written document began circulating around campus in which a former University of Michigan student describes her experience as the sorority recruitment chair. She shares intimate details of her chapter’s archaic and impossible standards for acceptance and outlines specific implementations including “Chapter Scores” and “Coffee Dates” used to judge potential new members and pledges.

Perhaps most troubling, but also least surprising, is the confidential rating system described in the document which supposedly measures how well a potential new member “fits” in the sorority. A system in which girls are reduced to a singular number is degrading in itself, but it is the criterion by which sorority sisters assign these ratings that are especially disturbing.

In this unnamed chapter, recruits are rated based on whether they remind the sisters of a current sorority member. This policy is extremely regressive and problematic. While not explicitly stated, the recruitment process essentially boils down to girls judging other girls in order to preserve traditional standards of femininity.

At its core, sororities exist to build community. For some, they make a school of nearly 40,000 students seem a little less intimidating. For others, they offer a sense of community and pride. But, as reflected in this anonymous exposé, the rush process can also be a breeding ground for toxic expectations that warp girls’ sense of confidence and self-worth. Regardless of how daintily it is phrased, sorority recruitment is a game of conformity.

The adversities women face in society usually boil down to the inability to recognize women as complex beings; the sorority recruitment process embodies this principle despite the fact that it is entirely managed by females. With just a few five-minute conversations, new recruits are judged, assigned a value and passed on to the next house. On the recruit’s side, this experience is incredibly daunting. With just a few minutes, she must be confident and affable, but most of all memorable. On the other side, sorority sisters must sort through hundreds of girls and decide who will receive a bid based on just a few brief memories and superficial details.

In the field of psychology, there is a phenomenon called the halo effect. It is a cognitive bias in which a single trait — such as one’s physical attractiveness — affects the overall perception of the person. Rushing a sorority is like the halo effect on steroids. It is impossible to fairly gauge anyone’s “fit” during the Greek life recruitment process, so, naturally, outward appearance is equated with social worth, while more telling qualities take a back seat. Whether sororities measure the value of these girls based on a numerical system or not is almost irrelevant. One way or another, they must decide who to accept and who to turn away in a painfully short time span. The only way to do this is to participate in oversimplified and often sexist profiling.

Among the thousands who have participated in the Greek life recruitment process are girls with a wealth of different aesthetics, backgrounds and interests. It is these nuances that define who we are. It is these nuances that determine where we truly “fit.” But, when fall comes around, new recruits assemble by the hundreds to assume their most traditionally feminine selves, tucking away their most salient qualities in the process.

We are all entitled to our own identities. We are allowed to be as classically feminine as we want to be. We can like dresses and makeup and cute tailgate outfits. But when we assign expectations and social values to others based on our own perceptions of femininity, we give rise to the same sexism we face in the workplace, academia and general society. Sorority recruitment institutionalizes this sexism. Not only does it reduce girls to one-dimensional beings, but it also perpetuates the concept of an “ideal” woman, favoring traditional beauty over its more unconventional forms.

Feminism is not as simple as just standing up to the patriarchy. Achieving gender equality in greater society begins with believing in it ourselves. Girls, especially those in sororities, need to support each other, but too often it is the opposite that occurs. Too often we reduce our fellow women to simpler beings and are quick to judge each other based on our differences. Sororities and women, in general, need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are interesting and diverse people, and our complexities deserve to be understood.

 

Amanda Zhang can be reached at amanzhan@umich.edu.