Image Copyright : Robert Hainer
Jules Taggart
Aug 19, 2016 · 6 min read

I joined a sorority at a university in the Midwest nearly two decades ago. I met some amazing women and I’ve kept in touch with many of them over the years. I even served as president of the organization.

I now have two young daughters of my own. When it comes time for them to go to college, I am not going to encourage them to rush. In fact, I’m going to tell them exactly why they shouldn’t.

In sororities, homogeneity rules

Sororities are an environment where sameness is celebrated and revered. Only a tiny fraction of the women in my house were WOC, no one I knew was openly gay at the time, and nearly everyone was affluent and able bodied.

There’s nothing wrong with being a straight, cis, affluent white woman or spending time with other straight, cis, affluent white women. But there is everything wrong with intentionally organizing along these lines and making it difficult for women of color, lesbian women, differently abled women and poor women to feel welcomed.

All of that sameness creates a pretty narrow experience and I want more for my daughters than that.

Sororities reinforce traditional gender roles

One of my first memories of sorority life was during rush week when I was going through recruitment. All of the rushees stood on the sidewalk outside of this beautiful, towering white house with huge, stately columns. We nervously shifted from one foot to the other under a punishingly hot sun. We waited.

Then a blow horn sounded from somewhere in Greek Town and the doors of that big white house flew open and girls began clapping in terrifying unison, singing and marching down the front steps with military precision to greet those of us standing on the sidewalk.

Once inside, the girl who had greeted me pointed to a comfortable chair and invited me to sit. Then she kneeled in front of me and began to talk.

When I think about this years later, the kneeling is the part that I hate the most.

She kneeled to make herself seem subservient.

She kneeled to give me a sense of power and make me feel like I was the one making the decision (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).

She kneeled because that’s just how it’s done. It’s been done that way for decades. Probably longer.

But mostly, she kneeled because she didn’t question it when someone told her to do it. And I let her kneel because I didn’t question it either.

Picture a living room full of 100+ girls all talking at the same time, half of them sitting on the chairs that are dotted around the room and the other half kneeling in front, nodding and smiling in agreement.

Yikes.

I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t notice this playing out while it was happening. It was only the following year when I was on the other side of the conversation and I was the one kneeling in front of someone else did I understand how odd it felt. And that’s when I found out what was really going on — the kneelers were holding up fingers behind their backs to signify if they liked someone or not. Those hand signals would trigger other (usually older and more powerful) members of the sorority to walk over and introduce themselves to the rushees who would be a good catch for the house.

And what constitutes a good catch, you might ask? Well, after a 90 second conversation where you’re shouting to be heard over the cacophony of other voices in the room, I’m going to go ahead and guess that being a good catch doesn’t have a whole lot to do with being smart or funny or genuine.

Does she look like me?

Does she act like us?

Yeah, that seems more likely.

What that experience showed me is that in order for women to have power in a sorority, they have to make themselves smaller. Invisible, even. If someone is giving you power, like rushees are given during recruitment, it is often a diversion so the power can be reclaimed in another way.

If this is how women treat women within the Greek system, just imagine what we are willing to accept from men.

I want more for my daughters than this.

Standing together, always

This extends beyond rush, too. Once you get in, you’re paired up with fraternities to make homecoming floats together, play in intramural sports teams together, and go on date parties together.

Together, together. Always together.

It’s understood that you will spend most of your time with your sorority sisters. I worked all throughout college and I lived in the non-sorority dorm with non-Greek friends, so some of my closest friends were people I met outside of the Greek circle. This was considered weird. I dated guys who weren’t part of in the Greek circle. Also weird.

When there’s this much social pressure to conform, most of us end up conforming. We marry the frat guy, we only spend time with the sorority sisters — then a couple of decades years later we look around and wonder why all the people we know are straight, cis, white, affluent people. We say we’d love to have diversity in our friendships, our relationships, and our work, but don’t know where to find anyone who doesn’t look like us.

I want more for my daughters than this.

Sororities are resistant to change

The sorority I was in is not unique in its resistance to change. And I’d be willing to bet that the sorority structure on my college campus is not unique either. This is happening in other cities and other campuses around the United States. It’s not an isolated incident or an anomaly.

It’s the way of things.

Sororities are built upon patriarchal principles that reinforce the idea that change can only come from the top down. I joined a sorority in 1999. Today, 17 years later, there have been some changes for the better — namely greater regulations around recruitment, initiation, and hazing — each of these changes was seen by insiders as a poke in the eye, an annoyance, a threat to the way things have always been done. So yes, some important changes have been made, but the foundation of this system remains as sturdy and immovable as ever.

I want more for my daughters than this.

Feeding the beast is complicated, but so is starving it

This continues only if we keep feeding the beast. When it comes time for my girls to go to college, I’m going to tell them stories about all of the smart, funny, supportive women I met and all of the fun parts about being in a sorority. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also tell them about the downsides because in order to be a part of it, they’ll have to find ways to make themselves small. They’ll have to quiet the voice that wants to speak up in opposition.

I want more for my daughters than this.

Yet, even as I say that, I’m conflicted. I still benefit from this network and the sense of being “in” without having to do anything to be accepted. When I moved to a new city several years ago, I looked up the local chapter of my sorority as a way to meet people in a place where I knew no one. As recently as this year, I paid alumni dues .When a friend told me her daughter was going to rush, I offered to write a letter of recommendation.

I’m conflicted because I know there is goodness here, but the light doesn’t outshine the darkness.

So, what would I change to make it better?

A recruitment overhaul? Yes.

Consciously seeking to recruit a more diverse group of women? Yes.

Starting tough conversations about race and gender? Yes.

Unfortunately, I just don’t see this ship righting itself. If very little change has happened in the 17 years since I joined a sorority, I don’t think that Greek life will be all that different even 17 years from now when my girls are getting ready to go to school.

Tradition won’t allow it.

So instead of fighting for changes within the system, I’m going to encourage my daughters to look elsewhere. To become a part of something different. To ask critical questions, the ones I didn’t have enough guts to ask when I was in their shoes.

Our daughters don’t need sororities, but in order to survive, sororities need our daughters.

I hope both my girls and yours choose a different path.

Jules Taggart

Written by

A champion for the elevation of women and girls. Writer. Small business founder. Partner. Mother.

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