Greek life acts as the prominent gendered phenomenon within my immediate environment. I rushed a sorority my freshman year and have been an active member in regards to my sorority’s philanthropy. However, I recently began the process of disaffiliating due to the overwhelming issues imbedded in the Greek community. It is not the cultural or ethnic Greek life chapters – I am speaking specifically about larger Greek life chapters.
I have witnessed toxic aspects of this social hierarchy that primarily alienates people of color, LGBTQ+ and students of lower income households. While exceptional examples to this statement exist, those cases are far and few between. The components of Villanova and national Greek life communities propagate a sexist and racist hierarchy and promote a culture based on substance abuse. Primarly white fraternities and sororities act as some of the most exclusive groups on campus. Rushing, or pledging a sorority or fraternity, relies on the oppression of minority groups and the segregation of the sexes. Specific gender norms are expected from sororities that differ from fraternities.
Sororities assume a passive role in the social sphere, whereas fraternities dictate the majority of the social aspects of Greek life, as they control the parties and social gatherings. Since they host the parties, they control the social status of each sorority based on who is able to attend and who is ostracized. Sororities follow fraternity standards. I have watched sorority girls comply with petty fraternity expectations by altering their self-perceptions based off of what fraternity brothers think of their sorority at large. For example if a girl is in a “top tier” or a “bad” sorority, her social identity and opportunity either entirely excels or diminishes. The Greek community establishes itself on rigid gender norms and sexist structures, which ultimately creates an atmosphere of white, male privilege and systematic female objectification, which I analyse through the lenses of Berger’s Ch. 3 of Ways of Seeing, Fortin’s Traditional Masculinity and New APA Guidelines and Roupenian’s Cat Person, which discusses a college student’s regrettable romance in the digital age.
Using Berger’s Ch. 3 in Ways of Seeing, fraternities exploit sororities as an object for their gaze and view them in a parallel way to what Berger suggests is the nude. Berger explains the difference between nakedness and the nude in terms of objectification: “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display” (Berger 54). The naked body mimics individual women in sororities. While they are individuals, they are unrecognizable given their association within a larger sorority and the expectations that come with each sorority. Fraternities manipulate the social reputations surrounding sororities in order to perpetuate their control over the community at large. They maneuver this power by controlling what most would consider the most important aspect of Greek life: the parties. This idea continues to parallel Berger’s analysis on how men view women:
One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus, she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight. (Berger 47)
Men host the parties and women attend. Men specifically choose particular women in order to gain status and/or sex. Furthermore, choosing which sororities are permitted to attend parties and other social events creates a social hierarchy among sororities on campus. Repeatedly within Villanova Greek life, people concern themselves with which sorority members are attending which frat party, which establishes the idea of “top tier” sororities and fraternities. This hierarchy brilliantly establishes “top tier” women over other “less desirable” women, according to fraternity standards. To get into these parties, girls must text a designated person of a fraternity to get a car ride to the frat house.
However, there is a set structure to obtaining a ride. A girl must say “Hi my name is Jane Doe in (insert sorority name); can I have a ride for the party this Friday” in order to potentially attend. The fraternity brothers will often ask for the girl’s last name to look up what they look like on social media, in order to see if the brothers want her at her party (I have been told this occurs by multiple sources in different fraternities). While the degree of this objectification varies from fraternity to fraternity, this system contributes to an overarching problem of pointless social status dictating personal identity. The idea of top tier sororities and fraternities thereby establishes themselves on an intricate web of objectified social interaction, appearance and status.
While these social structures directly impact and objectify women, Greek life also negatively affects men as well. Within Fortin’s article on Traditional Masculinity and New APA Guidelines, she address critical consequences to hyper gendered systems: “When boys and men challenge patriarchal constructions of gender, they’re at risk of being perceived as failures, or as weak,’ she (Dr. Chu) said. But she added that when women, girls and non-binary people criticized patriarchal systems that oppressed them, another idea began to take shape: “Maybe those systems hurt men, too, even as they conferred certain privileges” (Fortin Traditional Masculinity and New APA Guidelines).
Greek life embodies a typical patriarchal structure. Men hold the power to dictate the status not only of women, but also other men as well. Deciding which men – usually white, straight, and upper class – are permitted in each chapter mimics the power hierarchy that the patriarchy perpetuates. These systems allow a specific group of men to act with minimal thought to how their power affects women and other minority groups. This expectation for men to act in a specifically domineering manner reinforces harmful gender norms on men.
Fraternities encourage an excessive amount of binge drinking and other substance use problems that create an environment of aggression and stupidity. This consistent reinforcement of masculine expectations establishes an environment of particular gendered norms and customs, where only certain groups are welcome. This lack of diversity continues to harm members of the Pan-Hellenic community in a similar manner to how Fortin discusses previous APA guidelines for treating boys and men: “The guidelines add that men and boys have historically been considered a normative referent for psychology. In other words, men — especially white, heterosexual men — were overrepresented in Western studies, and their psychological needs and habits were considered more universal than they actually were” (Fortin Traditional Masculinity and New APA Guidelines). The difficulties are compounded for members of protected groups, especially students who identify as LGBTQ+, given the patriarchal system that Greek life is governed by a patriarchal system. Greek life tends to alienate minority groups.
Similar to Fortin’s discussion of the negative affects of gender norms on men, Kristen Roupenian examines a similar dynamic in her short story, Cat Person. While this story conveys a particular sexual assault narrative, it nonetheless touches on gender norms within Greek life, specifically fraternity parties. Fraternity parties are notorious for excessive substance use, girls grossly outnumbering the brothers, and then the perpetuating theme within Greek life: the performance of status. When a girl enters a fraternity party, whether consciously or unconsciously, the pressure to act a specific way in concordance with the expectation and desires of the brothers lingers within her head. Since girls are going to the fraternity house, they are now in the territory of the brothers and certain expectancies follow, which occurs in a similar way with Margot in Cat Person:
“It was new, and a little frightening, to be so completely on someone else’s turf… And, as though fear wasn’t quite ready to release its hold on her, she had the brief wild idea that maybe this was not a room at all but a trap meant to lure her into the false belief that Robert was a normal person a person like her, when in fact all the other rooms in the house were empty, or full of horrors: corpses or kidnap victims or chains. But then he was kissing her, throwing her bag and their coats on the couch and ushering her into the bedroom, groping her (parts).” (Roupenian Cat Person).
Margot’s initial discomfort with being in Robert’s house parallels the idea of girls entering fraternity parties. Being in an environment where freely leaving is difficult — due to absurd lines to take a ride home — establishes an atmosphere of complete submission.
The fraternity controls who may come, how people act, what girls do, and when they leave. Furthermore, most of the women chosen at these parties (since some girls bring friends who technically were not approved to come) act as potential sexual partners for the brothers. Since the men are incredibly outnumbered, each brother has a substantial pick from the flock of girls. This power dynamic upholds gendered norms and patriarchal power systems, which ultimately proliferates female objectification and sexism, and acts as a breeding ground for sexual assault.
While Greek life holds the opportunity to engage in exceptional philanthropic work and acts as a place of empowerment for some members, it also propagates intense sexism, gender regulation and sexual assault. Villanova University lacks significant diversity and inclusions, and Greek life grows from of this dilemma. Girls attracted to and admitted into sororities primarily are white, upper class, and heterosexual. This notion remains the same for fraternities as well. These groups, especially sororities, fail to establish themselves on genuine interest. Rather, people in sororities and fraternities often prioritize appearance and wealth over passions and purposes. While I am sure Greek life holds a few honest benefits to its members, in general, it negatively changes people to develop inaccurate self-images that are based in a pointless system that relies on the objectification and exploitation of women.