This statement from some of the women on the Pan Hellenic council is more than just a breath of fresh air: it’s a “where have you been for the last thirty years?”
To be clear, I have never joined a sorority. I came from a household where I was frequently advised against them – they were expensive, for snobs, etc. It is only as an adult that I recognize their strategic advantages – and also how those strategic advantages were generally reserved for the already advantaged.
Frats also had, by 1994, already earned their reputation for “sexual assault practically guaranteed!”
I began college with a thought firmly anchored in my mind: avoid getting raped. Avoid someone knocking you up. DO NOT let someone – anyone – help themselves to your future. Rape, pregnancy, marriage – those all fucked up self-determination and I wanted none of them. Sexual violence had already visited myself and all my friends and not all of it was rape. The most common version I saw involved mothers slut-shaming their daughters, being “concerned” at them developing positive enjoyment of sex or having sex at all. It was made clear that among women, sexual activity – even after marriage – lowered your human value. Nearly every mother of every friend sent this message. I was the only one that seemed to question the value and quality of motherhood in response.
Blame all those date rape pamphlets distributed during summer band camp at Valparaiso, University: I was prepared. I was never raped – just grabbed and vilified like most girls. I was not going to let it get past that.
It is worth mentioning that my reading was balanced, the kind of balanced that horrified most parents I knew. I also read every article from Cosmopolitan and Playboy I could, anything that had frank discussions of sex-for-pleasure and discussions about discussing sex. I didn’t come to college knowing how to flirt or get a partner, but I was well prepared for when I finally got one.
By age 18, I had read every article in print that I could about rape and its mechanics. This made dating frat boys and/or athletes an unattractive option for me. I figured, as a pudgy, bespectacled type I was safe enough from the athletes so long as I found ways to fly under their radar. ((I somehow wound up on the radar one athlete – that’s another story that thankfully has little to do with this one.)) I was happy to be free from the ones in my hometown – I could not go for a full hour without one of them trying to grab me, screaming obscenities at me on a daily basis or trying to befriend me so I’d do their homework. High school athletes tended to become frat boys. Christ knew mine had become walking nightmares with impunity.
So to my mind, frat parties to my mind were places to get drugged and then dragged to a back room.
One of the factors that prompted me to pick the college I started off at was that it had a fraternity that allowed both male and female members. In my mind, the path to safety lay in gender equality.
By the time I arrived on campus the next year, administration had dissolved that fraternity and also stopped freely distributing condoms. It had done a 180 from the reasonable, progressive, liberal place I thought I had chosen. I am unclear on why gender equality seemed so terrible. I could vaguely track some flawed logic that equality meant men and women having sex. There was only one co-ed dorm on campus and I am genuinely surprised it was not shut down in this sweep. I was deeply disappointed by the lack off a co-ed fraternity; it was also made clear to me by former methods that attempts to start an alternative would be shut down – I was best off joining the Christian fellowship group. So I tried that… and after a first meeting full of in-jokes, secrets and other means of alienating the new people, two things killed it: one of the person most guilty of the in-jokes said “I don’t know why people think we’re cliquish,” and a very sweet girl, holding forth on the greatness of the Bible, talked about how it was so scientifically advanced, like how it knew “men and women have a different number of ribs.”
I was already unhappy with the quality of my high school education. Suddenly I had concern for the quality of my post secondary and I was the idiot that picked this place. I handled the ribs question by having a guy count his and then I counted mine.
This campus had no special interest clubs. Aside from a just formed resident hall council, the only two offerings that did not have academic anchoring were athletics and Greek Life.
One of the kinder aspects of the Greek system at this school is that it had, in its way, a kinder sorority system. There were only two – one for the sorority typical girls, and one for the not. I had multiple invites to the non-sorority typical one in part because, as the inclusive one, they sent invites to every girl on campus. I was not interested – I did not want to join any organization that participated in gender division. Girls’ clubs put me off just as much as boys’ clubs.
I also did not want to date someone involved in gender segregation. I’d done my reading… if a guy I dated joined, no matter what a good guy he was, he had a very high likelihood of in some way acting as an accessory to a rape. I wanted none of that bullshit.
A tall, thin boy befriended me and got me to date him. Part of his courtship was to call on the first night of dual frat parties to “make sure I stayed away.” Almost immediately after getting an exclusive commitment from me, he signed up to pledge a frat.
Obviously, this pissed me off. I was actually pissed about being lied to. But he made sure everyone knew it was because I “hated frats.” ((I years later realized I was dating a classic narcissist. At the time, I was just confused and in that weird boyfriend = vindication cycle.))
He succeeded in making such a big stink about this that supposition about my feelings towards fraternities followed me, even as I left campus at the end of my second year there. People I never intended to say a word to asked me about it. The general attitude was that I threatened them.
The only thing that left people feeling more threatened by me was my distaste for marriage. No one seemed to connect that my opinion wasn’t going to cause any changes. I certainly wasn’t leading any strike against the Greek system.
The reaction to my dislike of Greek life started to wake me up to the degree of misogyny that ran the thought process of almost every boy and girl on that campus. But I didn’t have the words yet. Not then.
Now, these young sorority types do. I’m glad they said it. I’m not as opposed to the Greek system as I once was. I might even encourage some young people to join the right group. But in this letter is better delineated the reasons why I didn’t want to involve myself.