As Spring Fling season approaches at Tufts, I’m reminded of how members of Greek life always wear shirts with their Greek letters to this school event – and when about 10 of my non-Greek girlfriends and I mockingly donned “Kappa Kappa Gamma” shirts at Spring Fling my freshman year. Two years later, I’d like to take the time to publicly reflect on this act – even though it is now a trivial thing of the past.
It appears our shirts started quite the controversy. A day after the concert, I was made aware that a thread was started on the popular anonymous website, “College ACB,” specifically to discuss our shirts. As KKG is not currently a sorority chapter at Tufts, numerous students expressed their opinions about our attire, leading to 200-plus posts on the subject. The general reaction to the shirts was overwhelmingly negative, yet many students were simply interested in what our intentions were in creating them.
Although I cannot speak on behalf of my fellow “Kappas,” I personally didn’t think up designing, paying for and wearing a KKG shirt for the giggles, because, well, I didn’t think it was funny. To be honest, I thought we looked like idiots.
But that was my point.
I didn’t think pulling that stunt was funny because I didn’t mean it as a joke. I meant it to be satirical, because I wanted it to serve as an overt criticism of Greek Life. Let me be clear from the start: I do not dislike people involved in Greek life, and I visit sorority and fraternity houses to have fun with friends. But that doesn’t change how I feel about the establishment of Greek life itself.
To begin with, fraternities and sororities are inherently anti-feminist. They are largely based upon the principle that men and women are biologically and emotionally different and therefore should form separate spheres. I dismiss this concept of biological determinism, which is to say that I believe my personality and interests are no closer to a woman’s in a sorority than to a male’s in a fraternity simply because I was born with a vagina. Separating the sexes implies they are fundamentally different, and we have all learned by now that “separate is never equal.” This continued categorization by sex further contributes to women’s implied inferiority and weakness. Not convinced? Think of the cliches of the sorority girl versus the fraternity guy. What comes to mind? A “hot,” incredibly stupid girl who is always ready to service frat guys, versus a macho dude who chugs beers real good, constantly finding more ways to prove how tough he is. I’d even go so far as to argue that these stereotypes fully represent the hegemonic “female” and “male,” (i.e., what patriarchy has established to be “proper behavior” for the sexes).
Which brings me to my next point: The hazing of sororities and fraternities is also extremely gender-specific, perpetuating these stereotypes. I’ll admit I’ve mostly formed this opinion based on what I’ve heard about different sororities’ and fraternities’ hazing processes. I’ve found that girls are often screamed at, being told they are “fat,” “ugly” or “worthless,” whereas men are forced to prove their masculinity by performing disgusting or dangerous tasks. I take issue with the fact that the hazing is largely determined by gender, because it is once again assuming a precedent of biological determinism, and hazing techniques would be considered ineffective if they targeted the “wrong” sex. But the large gender division within hazing is only the beginning of the problem – the effects of hazing on individuals are most concerning to me.
While I’ll admit it is common knowledge that both sororities and fraternities incorporate drinking into their hazing, it is also common knowledge that fraternities usually take this to a greater degree, forcing pledges to prove their “toughness.” We can see these excessive displays of masculinity not only through the number of drinking-related tasks but also through other tasks pledges do to prove their physical, athletic endurance or simply their endurance for raw pain. At Tufts, I think it’s fair to say that men would argue they have a more “difficult” time pledging fraternities than women do sororities. But women, I’d argue, are the ones who get the short end of the stick when it comes to pledging.
I think the effects of women’s hazing are more obscure than men’s pledging and have the potential to be much more damaging to the pledges’ sense of self. Hazing of women pledges is insidious: It attacks their self-worth, pushing for them to unite as one because they are too weak as individuals. While men may leave feeling like they have “proven” something part of the time, it seems women often leave feeling insignificant – or however you feel after being verbally and emotionally abused for hours. And who knows if this sense of self-degradation will heal when the hazing stops?
To turn to the question that baffles me the most: Why would you ever want to go through pledging, knowing what you’re getting yourself into? At Tufts, it seems that many are looking for the “benefits” of being in Greek life afterward. What are these? Popularity, if that even still exists in college? An active social life? An odd connection to a future job? Again, I ask, how much of yourself are you willing to scrape away at to join a sorority/fraternity: your pride? Your health? Your overall sense of self-worth? And is that a fair trade?
What are the reputations of fraternities and sororities at Tufts anyway? Some say they’re known for their sense of “brotherhood” or “sisterhood,” but why can’t you have the freedom to find close friends on your own? Some say they’re known for philanthropy, and, well, really? I’ve even heard the argument that sororities specifically can be used as a “feminist” form of female empowerment – but a true feminist would realize that sex alone is not something that merits founding an entire organization, which then (ironically) uses the sex of someone to discriminate against potential members. So what are fraternities and sororities really known for? Do you happen to be in the “gay” fraternity? The “hot b—h” sorority? The “date rape” fraternity? The “ugly … but-don’t-worry-they’re-REALLY-nice” sorority?
Greek life has become so integrated into our campus’ social life that it’s hard to imagine it without it. I am the first person to admit that men at Tufts who do not pledge a fraternity or who are not on a sports team may feel as if they cannot lead a mainstream social life. Perhaps if more and more “chill dudes” choose not to pledge, joining a fraternity would become less of a Tufts social requirement.
But ladies, I find you to be in a completely different situation at Tufts. Is being a part of that group worth the personal sacrifice? You WILL make friends if you are not in a sorority. And here’s a secret – those “super-exclusive,” “Greek-life-only” events magically open up to non-Greeks much of the time. There are so many alternatives to joining a sorority that could potentially benefit you more (or even just harm you and your sex less). Follow your own individual interests, as opposed to joining a group that literally reflects the way in which you conform to a collective identity. Let your campus activities speak about who you are, personally.
Are the Greek life organizations at Tufts known for their sense of community, philanthropy and member empowerment? Or has their major presence on campus been reduced to the occasional “charitable” party and Spring Fling shirts? In all, I am convinced that Greek life usually does much more harm than good. I hope that if more students come to view them in the light that I do, their impact on the social scene at Tufts will fade.
So for now, opt to be a Tufts “Kappa.”
Lauren Border is a junior majoring in Spanish.