By Gabriella Fleming-Shemer
This past week I went through two rounds of rush before confirming the idea that sorority life isn’t for me. I don’t want to insult any members or potential new members of sororities on campus because rushing gave me the opportunity to hear about all the positive results of joining, such as giving more to the community and supporting other girls’ school activities. Nevertheless, what was revealed to me during the process was more than my lack of enthusiasm toward crafting. It was that Greek life is a university’s religion. During those long hours spent sweating in the staircases, I thought about the plethora of similarities between these two institutions. Joseph Campbell said that humans need beliefs and stories, such as that of Christ or Hercules, in order to tie together humanity and give us examples of how to live. I believe that Greek life is a set of stories to live by that is both a social and psychological fulfillment.
Consider the rituals, such as the initiation ceremony and Big/Little gifts. Consider the beliefs of each sorority or fraternity that set them apart from the others. Consider the specific guidelines, morals and practices. Consider the conformity necessary to truly belong to the group. This kind of institution provides people with their need to belong to something greater. Both solidify our existence and our place in the world by belonging to a higher power. By becoming part of a symbol and partaking in those rituals, your individualism is put on hold for the sake of group identity.
With that established, I have to say that as well as most religions, I find this institution problematic. While I support the community service initiatives and social connections, I think the system as a whole is founded on false pretenses. All students rushing receive the Panhellenic Recruitment book with the subtitle “empowering women from college onward.” As I stood in the staircase shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of heavily eye-lined girls, all compulsively flattening their hair and searching for any type of reflective surface in which to examine their reddening faces, I wondered where the empowerment part came in. Personally I felt like a pretty crappy feminist. Here I was on a Saturday afternoon sporting short shorts and red lipstick, repeating the same answers to each girl’s identical questions, (I row, I’m from Texas, I’m utterly undecided about my major, I’ve traveled a lot), all in the hopes of fitting into a certain group’s standards. Where are our own standards? While we are supposed to “be ourselves,” we are also supposed to be immediately engaging, physically attractive, confident, etc.
In a place such as college where people grow to accept and appreciate diversity, Greek life encourages conformity and the juvenile desire to always fit in. But perhaps this is important, even crucial, because isn’t college just a microcosm of the real world, and shouldn’t we throw on our pearls and get used to the female competition that dominates our patriarchal society? Maybe the problem actually lies in people like me, the sassy and cynical who are perturbed by the NorthFace trend and have a deep rooted fear of mass ideology.