Greek Life, Queerness, & the Gender Binary

Criticisms of the Greek system are crucial for its progression. As a queer sorority woman, the gendered nature of Greek life is obvious, but it may not be as clear to others who do not share a similar experience. Greek life was founded on white male excellence, making its roots inherently anti-intersectional. Events, ideologies, and identities within the Greek system promote a strictly gendered society despite the fine print in their bylaws. In order to truly understand this phenomenon and move forward from the past, we have to take a look at the history of these organizations.

Kappa Alpha Society was founded at Union College in 1825 and was the first secret Greek-letter society that was established as a social organization. After the creation of KA Society, Sigma Phi and Delta Phi were founded and together they coined the name “fraternity.” The first secret society for women, the Adelphean Society, was founded in 1851 and is now known as Alpha Delta Pi. At this point in history, BIPOC were still enslaved, leaving these organizations to privileged white individuals who had the opportunity to attend institutions and embody the model man- and womanhood at the time.

So what does this have to do with the current collegiate Greek system? In the 21st century, marketing a progressive image has never been easier. However, the realities of Greek life have not shifted to the extent that the system advertises. Casey Macander, a junior sorority woman at the University of Alabama, described how “[sorority] chapter members are supposed to abide by certain cloth[ing] stereotypes” and spoke about jokes such as “find[ing] [y]our husband” at fraternities. These small pieces are part of a larger picture of heteronormativity that is pervasive in Greek culture. Stereotypes and jokes are reflective of the way that Greek life exemplifies the limitations of the gender binary.

The genderedness of the Greek system makes LGBTQ+ identities inherently foreign. Same-sex date party dates, non-binary fraternity and sorority members, and any other examples of queer identities would stick out among the heteronormative standards of collegiate Greek life. The “straightness” of Greek life is, in a word, oppressive. Sororities and fraternities can preach inclusiveness all they want, but the nature of the system is designed to model the cis-gendered, heteronormative standards of privileged society.

Making change, in all honesty, will be an immense challenge. Greek life is soaked in a bigoted history, which unfortunately is still apparent today. Change starts at the individual level. If each of us, Greek students and non-Greeks alike, can expand beyond the heteronormativity which we have been taught, we can make a brighter future for everyone. Sororities and fraternities have the opportunity to be safe spaces for like-minded individuals, and it’s up to each one of us to make them that way.