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Gender and Greek Life

With Penn’s renowned celebration and commemoration of “Take Back the Night” thiscoming Thursday, an event that prompts important discussions of gender roles in social college settings, a significant question has come to the discussion table of Penn’s Her Campus: what roles does gender play in establishing and differentiating Greek life, one of the most active sources of social interactions in any university setting?

To begin, there are some pretty archaic, implicit rules about the very coordination and structure of social organization. No sorority, ever, throws parties – that responsibility is strictly delegated to fraternities, as stringently dictated from the National Panhellenic Council.

Though seeming trivial and kind of ridiculous even to complain about from a female perspective (cue the sight of a house the morning after a Tour de Franzia or Hotel party), the ability for boys in fraternities to dictate and control the social scene creates a certain level of disenfranchisement for girls and other participants not directly involved in the fraternity. It also creates a paradigm in which a small group of individuals control the entire right to decide who participates in the scene, who doesn’t, who is accepted, and who is not.

Additionally, from a more tangible viewpoint, this places the boys in charge of getting alcohol. Again, while seemingly a silly complaint objectively and from a strictly superficial level in the vein of saving money, time, effort, etc., this places the control of alcohol and a further realm of the social situation into the hands of a small, but powerful minority.

These two important duties that are afforded strictly to men place women and those not involved in fraternity life, often, at a vulnerable position of lacking power to dictate the rules and boundaries of these social situations. Though they seem banal and even petty to complain about, these rules reinforce the Panhellenic perspective that women are incapable, infantilized, and should not have the agency or power to create their own social situations, to dictate the limits of what goes on, and to maintain identity and power within social interactions.

So what can non-fraternity members do? More than just being cautious, finding a buddy, watching your drink at a party.  Shift the dialogue and place the responsibility of avoiding dangerous drinking situations not on those who enter the party, but those responsible for creating it, which is exactly what events like “Take Back the Night,” and groups like PAGE, Women SPEAK, and PAVE help to do.


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