Women in Greek Life: Feminism's Place in the Sorority

If you've ever been part of college culture, it's almost certain that you've come across the great wide world of Greek life. While these two words have a myriad of meanings to many people like sisterhood, socials, loyalty, philanthropy, it’s hard to shake what most students see as the defining feature of Greek life: parties. Although there's much more to being an active member of a sorority (or fraternity), it's hard to ignore the weekend nights filled with blasting trap music, girls in small skirts standing on tables, and endless vitali bottles that host some of our most memorable (or not memorable) times in college. However, despite their strong presence, I wanted to cut through the stereotypes surrounding Greek life culture and dig deeper into its roots; I was convinced there was more than what meets the eye. As a woman not currently involved in Greek life, observing the experiences of friends and acquaintances in sororities has inspired a plethora of questions about what it's really like to be a woman in this world. Namely, how does feminism fit into Greek life and culture?

On my quest to answer this rather complex question, I enlisted the help of some wonderful women who have first hand experience in the sorority circle. I asked them a series of five questions providing a window into the Panhellenic world and how feminism is present in sisterhood and beyond.

Question 1: How do you define feminism?

Feminism is not a concrete term. While the dictionary may provide us with a literal definition, feminism can have a variety of meanings to various people. Before delving further into the various examples of feminism in sororities and fraternities, I wanted to know what feminism meant to these women and how their points of view influenced how they see feminist principles in their respective chapters.

Olivia Gaston, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta remarked, “to me, feminism is the fight for equality among the sexes. It is breaking the double standard. Feminism means being proud of my gender, being confident in every aspect that comes along with being a woman, and it means lifting up and supporting the women around me.”

This seemed to be the consensus of the other women I interviewed. While each of their answers differed slightly, I found it easy to identify a strong common thread within their definitions: feminism is the fight for equality amongst all sexes. Rather than bringing one sex down and letting the other rise above (an idea that often dubs feminism as a “dirty word"), these women are striving to maintain equality, respecting and lifting-up brothers and sisters alike. For Chloe Reavill, a first year student in Alpha Chi Omega, this equality means the maintaining of a healthy relationship between fraternities and sororities. “We all support each other” she said. It seems that mutual support regardless of sex, for these sisters, is what is most important in the fight for equality.

Question 2: Do you think feminism has a role in Greek life? If so what?

Having defined feminism, I wanted to know these values actually translated into the Greek community as a whole. Being in a sorority, where do these women find examples of the values they see as integral to being a feminist? I found that every sister felt feminism was at the core of the foundation of their sisterhoods. “I definitely believe feminism has a role in Greek life. Greek life serves as a platform for women to come together and have an impact on their community,” said Lauren Weaver (Alpha Phi). “There is also a huge emphasis on achieving and maintaining good grades as well as many networking opportunities for women to get ahead in the workforce after college,” she added.

This strong network of women, central to Panhellenic Society, is why many women choose to join their local chapters for a community of strong and supportive women they both relate to and trust. The sorority system in particular seems to heavily promote the mutual support of women nationwide, providing various opportunities, jobs, internships, and even assistance to chapter members with studying for finals. From the point of view of Lauren and her fellow sisters, it's clear the sorority system is a place created by women to uplift women and help them reach their full potential.

As Peytie Slater (Pi Beta Phi) puts it, “among the sorority alone, there is definitely feminism in that everyone is so supportive of each other and knows how to lift each other up.”

Image via [the Eagle]

Questions 3: What acts of feminism do you see in your Greek life experience? How do you practice feminism in Greek life? While you can be both a feminist and in Greek life, practicing feminism in Greek life is a different concept. It's wonderful to see such strong and active feminists join the Panhelleninc ranks, but how do they carry out their own feminist principles on a daily basis within their sororities?

“I see (Theta women) going to school, working on homework, studying, having a job, and still be able to maintain their social lives. I see them following their dreams and starting their careers. I see them taking part in marches for what they believe in. I see them always having each other's back no matter what. I see them respecting each other. Most importantly, I see Theta women as some of the most confident women I have ever met. They are so unapologetically themselves and it is truly inspiring.“ (Olivia)

In just working hard and striving to achieve their own goals, as well as help their sisters achieve theirs, sorority members practice feminism every day. From acts as simple as giving a sister a hug to long hours of group study sessions to ensure everyone walks into finals feeling confident, it's evident that feminist values of support and sisterhood run strong in the veins of these organizations.

In terms of feminism beyond the walls of the chapter house, there's no need to search hard for examples. In discussing this question with Lauren, Olivia, Chloe, and Peytie, I learned that community contribution is another integral part of sisterhood. Their sororities work hard to extend helping hands to women outside of the organizations. Alpha Phi for example, funds research at the American Heart Association and educational programs that support women's heart health. Pi Beta Phi is committed to increasing literacy rates nation-wide. Additionally, sisters attend events outside of their philanthropies to even further support other communities of women. “This past weekend a lot of girls in my sorority attended the Women's March and posted about it on their social media pages. This not only showed support from our sorority but also brought awareness to the issue of women's equality” (Lauren)

As best summarized by Chloe, “with all of our sisters' help, we gain the support we need to take our experiences and apply them to achieve our goals.”

Question 4: How do you think the presence of feminism differs between fraternities and sororities?

Although my intention was to keep this article primarily focused on feminism in sororities, I think it's also important to acknowledge the other 50 percent of Greek life: fraternities.

I wanted to know if these women saw feminism being practiced in fraternities as well. Lauren, Chloe, Olivia and Peytie all seemed to have the same consensus: There's a noticeable difference in the presence of feminism in fraternities from sororities.

“Feminism definitely differs between fraternities and sororities. I do not believe that the topic of feminism is usually a part of a fraternity man's vocabulary. It is not that they do not believe in women's rights or equality (because I am sure most of them do believe in that), however, I do not think it is something that they are actively thinking about like women do.” (Olivia)

It seems this difference isn’t one that exists due to lack of respect for women or intentional practices of mysogyny in frats, but rather exists simply due to sex difference. Frat members don't consciously act in the name of feminism as frequently because it's not something that directly affects their quality of life. Men simply don't experience the same levels of inequality in their daily lives as women do and this is important to recognize. Lack of feminism in fraternities isn't a matter of indifference, but a matter of awareness.

Even so, the sisters I interviewed seemed to feel supported by fraternities none-the-less. “Feminism is relevant at any place and in any organization at this campus.” (Peytie)

Conclusively, my research has given me a positive outlook on the role of feminism within fraternities and sororities. I've come to realize that at its heart Greek life, and sororities in particular, are truly intended to be a place made by women to support women. However, I think it's important to recognize that Greek life is not always a place of support for everyone, and traditions of materialism, sexism, and competition may influence the culture depending on the institution. Feminism means choice. It signifies the ability of all sexes to choose how they live their lives and how they wish to promote equality. Sororities, while not the only option, are a way of doing just this. In choosing to join the ranks of sisterhood, women across the nation are finding their own ways of practicing feminism. They are using Greek life as a means of working towards progress not only for their sisters, but for the female community as a whole.