By Kathleen Marie McDermott
I would like to commend Sun Senior Editor Katie Engelhart for making a series of necessary points about the Greek system at Cornell. One of her most astute observations was on the way in which most of us come to a diverse, liberal arts college only to almost immediately quarantine ourselves into comfortable social sub spheres. Many of us are guilty of this, not just those participating in Greek life.
With that in mind I’ll say that I have no problem with the individual sorority woman. There are many intelligent, capable, self-aware women in the system. I know some, they’re pretty nice! The problems with the system aren’t really visible in the individual sorority woman. The problems are visible in the group affect:
There is a problem in the fact that groups of young women come together to effectively ostracize and categorize each other. They may not admit it but they live by a code and it’s readable even to those of us on the outside. For example: three years ago you all bought Ugg boots, swearing they were not just stylish but functional, and it was the warmth that garnered the boots’ appeal. But this winter most of you aren’t going to be caught dead in them because as a whole you now prefer the more refined knee-high leather slouches. There’s a dress-code. And the most glaringly offensive part of it is the group conclusion you’ve drawn, that in order to get a man to sleep with you, you need to embrace the “75 percent of your skin exposed, pretty damn drunk, not demeaning toe-crunching stilettos, but sexually empowering toe-crunching stilettos,” look.
Meanwhile your frat-boy counterparts, the ones with the supposed insatiable sexual appetite, the ones who, (according to all movies from the late ’90s starring Sean Williams Scott), plot and plan to get chicks to give it up, manage to lure you into their beds without revealing (generally speaking) their upper-thighs, lower abdomens, or even a glimpse of their bare pectoral muscles in the dark bar just prior. We don’t even like seeing guys in cut-offs.
So why are elaborately themed mixers designed to make girls wear as little clothing as possible? Why are we desperately trying to highlight the appeal of our bodies to the men whom we thought were chasing us? Could it be because the system was founded as a sister to the male fraternity system? Could it be that the whole thing was designed to cater to men, men who decided women couldn’t live alone in a group without a “mother,” who decided that women couldn’t throw wild parties, couldn’t intoxicate and seduce freshmen boys in their basements? You deserve that chance, girls. Put some hair on those barely-legal chests!
Men know the invisible categories attached to sorority status as well as we do; the hot houses, the ugly houses, the Jewish houses. Sounds like an elaborate wife catching scheme to me! Get ‘em all in one place, organize them by house, get a good look at them in practically panties and take your pick!
And of course no individual can take responsibility for what has happened here. It came about, somehow, a long time ago. And I’m sure parts of your sisterhood are great — but this system is framing you in a very specific way, one that’s not in any way aligned with contemporary feminism. It’s a frame associated with group mentality, lack of agency, lack of having significant influence as an individual over the actions of the sorority as a whole, and finally, the lack of any ideological power of the sorority over the frat, because you seem to exist only to subsidize it.
They’d exist without you, they’d continue getting drunk and luring girls off the street onto their lawns. Would you exist without them? Can you get freshmen to join you without the promise of mixers with cute, older boys, the promise of an alluring social status? If you don’t like it, take control of it. Change your image. Start wearing more self-respect. The sooner you face the way the sorority system has framed you, the sooner you can work against it. If you aren’t just a bunch of rich, catty girls counting calories and competing for husbands; if you are a group of smart and pro-active women, together, often, under one roof, then do something about it.
Kathleen Marie McDermott is a senior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send letters to the editor at email@example.com