Challenging Sexism

In August of 2015, I, along with thousands of other undergraduate students nationwide, prepared to rush a sorority. I entered the process starry-eyed and eager, excited to make new friends and experience sisterhood, an exuberant social life, philanthropic endeavors, and everything else that comes with joining a Greek organization.

After spending a few months as a member of a Panhellenic sorority, I started to become aware of certain aspects of Greek life I found troublesome. The main issues plaguing my thoughts were the unequal expectations and regulations placed upon men and women in the Greek community. Rather than staying silent, I decided to write an article about these concerns for my school’s newspaper. The responses I received varied widely, but I think each one of them further proved my point.

The afternoon my article was published, I opened the Facebook app to see a post from another girl in my sorority. She shared the link to my article on our sorority Facebook page with the caption “Read this if you want to be pissed off for the rest of the day.”

My heart sank into my stomach. I live in my sorority house and was on the way home when I saw her post. Another sorority sister offered a paragraph-long comment condemning my article, which received over 70 likes from girls in the house. A few minutes later the president of my sorority called me, instructing me to come to her room immediately.

I was petrified. I called one of my closest friends, who also works at the school paper and is a junior member of my sorority, and asked her to come to the meeting with me. I felt like I was walking into a war zone. Rather than letting me explain my purpose in writing the column, three members of my sorority’s executive team highlighted and analyzed the article line by line, pointing out everything they found upsetting and asking (essentially demanding) I take the article down. I did not oblige.

I explained the article was not meant to condemn our chapter, but rather point out the blatant sexism present in the Greek system at a national level. Our chapter president argued that this system had been around for over a century and I knew what I was getting into upon pledging. This is true. However, when the first sorority was founded in 1867 gender roles were vastly different than they are today. In 1867 women didn’t have the right to vote, the right to have an interracial marriage, or the right to practice law. It seemed to me that as society progressed, the Greek system remained paralyzed in its traditional, misogynistic structure.

Many of my fellow sorority members didn’t see it this way. They viewed my column as an act of betrayal from the inside. Why was I ‘biting the hand that feeds me’? Why didn’t I simply give up my membership if I didn’t like the way things were? These were questions I received from many of my peers. My answer remained the same: I believe if you don’t like the way something is, you should work to change and improve it rather than simply quitting or accepting it.

Although there was backlash from women who felt betrayed and disagreed with me, many others expressed feeling the same way I did and responded to the article with gratitude. A few sorority members I didn’t know left notes on my bed to say thank you. I was approached on campus by young women in other chapters who wanted to discuss their experiences, and I even received messages online from women at other schools saying they loved the article and felt the same way.

The associate dean of students contacted me to talk about what she could do to improve the situation. We are currently in the process of setting up a panel of sorority women and fraternity men to discuss these issues with the Greek system and how they can be improved. Although there may be no immediate way to mend gender inequality in the Greek community, the most pertinent thing we can do is to acknowledge that the issue is pervasive. We will never bridge the gap in gender equality if we pretend it doesn’t exist. One of my favorite responses to my original article was from my friend Lily who wrote, “It’s easy to pretend your sorority is perfect, that the issues Devin…talked about in this article are not really issues, and that sororities have these rules for a “reason”... But as women, we need to stop being so desensitized to the sexism that is happening to us everyday and work toward changing the way the Greek system works. This isn’t about protecting the image of your sorority, this is about a much bigger issue.”

Shedding light on the ‘bigger issue’ was my precise goal in writing the article. How can women enter the workforce and demand equal salaries, paid maternity leave, and other essential rights if they’ve adhered to institutionalized misogyny for so long they become unaware of it? Your sorority experience will only last four years, but the inequality women face extends far beyond the university experience.