Op-Ed: On being a feminist in a sorority

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 - 4:33pm

Many people who have known me for a long time were shocked when I decided to join a sorority. People told me that joining a sorority did not seem to align with my values — I always prioritize school, I don’t love partying and I am not a “girly-girl.” But most importantly, I value gender equality. It was implied to me that being a feminist and joining a sorority were mutually exclusive. But to me, joining a sorority was the embodiment of feminism — it meant being a member of an all-female organization of strong, passionate leaders on campus. 

My sorority experience has overall been positive. I certainly joined the sorority that was the best fit for me and have become friends with women from all over the country whom I likely wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Yet being a feminist has led me to identify problematic aspects of Greek life, most of which are due to the stark gender roles embedded in the Greek community. I hate getting emails about our social schedule each week encouraging us to be “fun and flirty” for fraternity boys. I hate the gendered themes of parties, like “Army Hoes and GI Joes.” I squirmed at the emails we received during rush detailing the specific shoes and makeup we needed to wear. I was constantly aware that the men in Greek life were never subject to any of these social pressures to act or dress a certain way for girls’ benefits.

The most blatant gendered difference in Greek life involves the alcohol policies in fraternities and sororities. Parties are only held at fraternity houses, where men provide the alcohol and control who is able to attend the parties — a “home-turf” advantage of sorts. Fraternities do not have adults living in their houses and are not subject to frequent checks for alcohol and drugs. Walking into a fraternity member’s room, one is likely to see a bottle of alcohol or a bong sitting out in the open.

Sororities, on the other hand, are not allowed to host parties. Sorority members are not allowed to have alcohol in their houses and have “house moms” who live with them to make sure the women are on their best behavior and who often dig around in girls’ drawers to look for illicit substances. While I am not encouraging either organization to bend the rules on underage drinking, I would like to see some equality. Women should not be held to a different standard from men, and if it is acceptable for men to drink underage, women should be able to as well.

Sorority women are taught they should never accept drinks given to them at fraternities, yet they are punished if they are caught with alcohol in their houses. The implied logic is that sorority women should not drink. However, this is an unrealistic aspiration and certainly not one that is thrust on fraternity men. Instead, men are able to patronizingly provide alcohol to sorority women at parties, since fraternities are allowed to have alcohol. Not coincidentally, sorority women are more likely to be sexually assaulted than other college women. This fact alone should indicate that Greek life is problematic.

There is a case to be made that women would be safer if they were implicitly allowed to have alcohol in their sororities, just as men are implicitly allowed to have alcohol in fraternities. For one, women should be allowed to drink alcohol they have purchased and measure the number of drinks they intend to consume. This is infinitely safer than taking drinks from strangers at fraternities, who could add a drug to the drink or simply pour more alcohol than the recipient can safely handle.

The recent Interfraternity Council ban on fraternity social activity provides an opportunity to sit back and reconsider what Greek life is really about. We must remember why we decided to join this community and make changes that are representative of our values. The ban on fraternity parties is absolutely pointless unless we use it as a catalyst for long overdue changes. As women, we do not need to be complacent in a system that creates a power imbalance between men and women. We should stand up for ourselves, instead of encouraging the perpetuation of harmful and unnecessary differences in policies based solely on gender for fraternities and sororities.

Fraternities allow men to occupy a space that makes taking advantage of women easy, and it is time to recognize the need for change in this patriarchal system. It is time to start treating sorority women the same as fraternity men. Maybe part of the answer is allowing women to have their own alcohol and throw parties — which includes managing who is let in and out of the house, rather than attending parties in an environment that puts them in danger. These are valid changes we must consider as we recognize the problems in our community.

At the moment, I am not proud to be affiliated with Greek life at the University of Michigan. I would be prouder of this community if we made changes to promote gender equality and encourage women’s safety in a conventionally patriarchal institution.

Hannah Chosid is an LSA sophomore.