The Greek Girl’s Guide to Feminism

Thousands of bright-eyed young women enter college campuses across the country every September. If there is Greek life on campus, many will be faced with the decision of whether or not to rush. Joining a sorority can often seem like the biggest decision she’ll need to make at that momentbecause it can shape your entire college experience. If you’re still trying to figure out what and who you are, like many college freshmen, the idea of joining a sorority can be extremely appealing. Who wouldn’t want the big, terrifying world of college suddenly narrowed down to a close-knit group of girls?

But the reason that makes a sorority so appealing is also the reason why it can be daunting. College is supposed to be scary, unknown territory. It can be nerve-wracking to join a group might tell you how to dress, what to say, who to see. Based on the stereotypes of Greek life, freshmen girls might think there is a ring-leader in every sorority and she has to be mean to the incoming fresh meat – after all, what about hazing?

Today’s women grew up in a politicized environment. We are the children of the first and second waves of feminism, the products of the social upheavals and sexual revolution of the 1960s.  Women’s equality is a battle we’re still waging but now we’re winning it. We’re wiser at our age than our mothers were and have complete autonomy of our minds and bodies.  College girls may be attracted to the sisterly bonding and party girl image sororities have but the misogynistic history and structure of Greek life might be off-putting to some.  After all, “Greek” live gets its namesake (and letters) from ancient Greece, a society where women had no legal personhood and were assumed to be part of the oikos headed by the male kyrios.

How can this be reconciled?

As with most things, your experience depends on the sorority and it depends on the school. Joining a sorority is, by definition, overwhelming. If your school has fall rush, then you go from being a high school student, to a rushing freshman, to a sorority “new member.” If there’s winter rush instead, as soon as you understand college, you are thrown into completely different territory. Sorority members receive weekly social updates, telling the members where the parties and mixers are that week. Members’ inboxes are bombarded with quizzes, announcements, updates, schedule changes, and questions. As a new member, you want to attend every meeting and every event, for the fear of being left behind.

It can be difficult to find your feminist voice when you are trying to fit in like this.

When you are a new member in a sorority, it can be intimidating to speak up. You don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of the seniors, or in front of your own pledge class, for fear of alienating yourself. After all, even though they are your new sisters, you still need to form a genuine relationship with them. Greek life in general can sometimes feel like an uphill battle against feminism. The “hook up culture” is especially prominent amongst sororities and fraternities, and it can feel especially patriarchal, since all the parties and any sexual encounters are on the boys’ terms.

Set the Example, Be the Change

As you, the new member, become more comfortable with your pledge class, you will begin to talk about these issues with some of your new friends. It will start out innocuous, talking about everyone’s hook up horror stories on Saturday morning, and then talking about why we have to do a walk of shame after a night of carnal debauchery when the boys only have to do a walk. You may question the tradition of only have parties at fraternity houses, NEVER Sorority houses, and how terrifying it is to be there alone for fear of what could happen to you.

After you have the support of this small group of new sisters, your confidence grows. You plant seeds by questioning the patriarchal traditions that are part of Greek life. You realize stereotypes about sororities, or girls in general, are inherently wrong.

Speaking out about these issues doesn’t embarrass you in front of the seniors anymore. On the contrary, they’ve been thinking about these same issues for years and you begin building allies and winning over girls to your point of view. But overcoming several centuries of tradition won’t happen overnight.

Start a Sorority within a Sorority – Don’t just be a Greek, be a Spartan!

The status of women in most of the Greek world was similar to the status of women under the Taliban and other Middle Eastern countries today. But Sparta was different. Spartawas a prominent city-state in ancient Greece known for two things – their dominant military and a social structure that put women on equal – and sometimes superior footing – than the men in their society.

Observers from other Greek cities were appalled that, not only did Spartan women have opinions, they were not afraid to voice them in public.

Women were revered for their child-bearing capabilities and female Spartan babies were significantly more nourished than other female Greek children. In their youth, female Spartans competed in gymnastics, wrestling, foot and horse races. Women were also known to compete in the Olympics and other important athletic events, usually wrestling.

Women were educated to read and write and trained in the arts, music, dancing, and poetry. Under Spartan law, women could be landowners and inherit wealth from their fathers and husbands – something unheard of in the ancient world.

Spartan women, according to historians, were very open sexually. Visitors to ancient Sparta have written that married women could sleep with other men on a whim, leading some to believe they were polyandrous.

Consequently, Spartan women were allowed to divorce their husbands without fear of losing their personal wealth. As equal citizens of the community, women could divorce and were not required to or discouraged from remarrying.

In a frequently quoted incident, the wife of King Leonidas was asked why Spartan women were the only women in Greece who “ruled” their husbands. Gorgo replied, “Because we are the only women who give birth to men.”  In other words, only men with the self-confidence to accept women as equals were men at all.

With Sparta being a part of ancient Greece, imagine the attention and notoriety your Sorority would get by having a Spartan committee to advance female equality in the Greek system?

Membership has its privileges

One of the many wonderful aspects of being a part of a sorority is all the connections that are made. There is likely a girl in almost every club in the school, which puts sorority members in a unique position to create change and exert influence. You probably have connections to feminist groups on campus, to student government, and to hundreds of other clubs without even realizing it. If you wanted to sit in on a student government meeting, just send out an email blast to ask who’s in the club, and your sister will likely happily have you tag along.

Because of all the stereotypes there are about Greek life, many people think being a sorority girl and a feminist at the same time is contradictory. You can prove them wrong. You can show them that you can be feminine and sisterly and still have self-respect and be an outspoken feminist. The world just sees the letters you wear. But you, as the now experienced member, see all the wonderful sisters who wear the letters with you. You, as a member of Greek life, have a fantastic support system of young women trying to figure out the world and women’s issues just like you are. Again, depending on your school and your sorority, Greek life is likely a generally close-knit group. It’s not just your sorority. You have an unspoken bond with all the sororities and fraternities on your own campus, and anyone who wears your letters nation-wide. What once seemed intimidating to you now seems comforting. But to the rest of the world? Two hundred girls passionate about women’s rights? The world better watch out.

This article is sponsored by A Tempest Soul – Kindle Edition.

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Nora Shepard is a junior at the University of Michigan, currently taking a semester off to live and work in Chicago. She's studying movement science, loves to write, loves working with kids, is an avid traveler, and an outspoken feminist.