The final rounds of sorority rush this week presented freshman hopefuls with the ultimate test: to eat, or not to eat?
Showered in cookies, cake pops, popcorn and treats imported from the most coveted bakeries in the metropolitan area, the girls couldn’t help but wonder if the bountiful treats were a trick.
Food is an integral part of the open rush process for both genders. This past week, fraternities and sororities each served up a different plat du jour, subliminally reinforcing their specific dose of gender stereotyping in such choices. At the same time, we observed a similar divergence in the expected behaviors of guys and gals.
While the girls rotated from house to house, mostly posing with their pink lemonades, Penn men guzzled down some serious man food to prove their machismo to future brothers.
Not only were the members of the houses themselves subscribing to these roles, but their prospective biddies followed suit in the charade — acting how they believed appropriate.
Brian Wansink, director of Cornell’s Food & Brand Lab, notes in the Salon article “Men Eat Meat, Women Eat Chocolate: How Food Gets Gendered” that we eat foods associated with the traits we wish to see in ourselves. So if we are what we eat, girls must be home-baked and boys Philly cheesesteak-ed, right?
While the message sent to boys was straightforward — eat and be merry — Penn’s young women were receiving mixed messages. Though always encouraged to eat the treats, the freshmen confessed that this urging sometimes felt duplicitous, as though they should politely refuse to gain approval from the sisters.
We find this troubling in how it characterizes the creation of female-female friendships and for how it associates being skinny with prestige.
At least in our sorority house, we are seriously all about the food. No tricks. And we are confident that this rings true in every house, despite the false stereotypes whispered in the windtunnels.
Alex Enny, the Vice President of Recruitment for the Panhellenic Council explained that food shouldn’t be so central to sorority recruitment.
The ongoing 5-year No Frills Recruitment plan will phase out “the ‘frilly’ aspects of recruitment — i.e., the fancy desserts, the Open House mocktails and the skit. This is because in the end you’re pledging your life to a sisterhood, not a Naked Chocolate cupcake.” Nevertheless she maintained that girl rush does require structure and that a “cheesesteak and chicken wing”-centered process would be “horrific.”
That’s not to say food doesn’t play any part in the rush process. Engineering and Wharton junior Garrett Zwahlen, a brother in Beta Theta Pi, spoke to the importance of food in the open rush game.
His house chose to serve wings on day two, which undoubtedly pairs well with football and Axe deodorant. Garrett explained the subsequent script that follows at the Beta “chouse,” or chapter house: it’s not only acceptable but enticing for prospective rushes to shake the brothers’ BBQ-sauce covered hands. Practical? No. But bro? Bro.
Barra Foundation post-doctoral fellow Christopher Parsons, who currently teaches a history course through the lens of food at Penn, finds that eating not only satiates our hunger but becomes “a really important way of communicating.” He explains that human behavior towards food has a discreet, riddled social code that we all subconsciously understand.
When rushes gather around food and subsequently perform certain behaviors, they “reaffirm that [they] speak the same language” as the house they hope to join. But the trick is that this language is “unspoken” — a common practice used to reinforce status and maintain hierarchy.
While some freshman girls were unconcerned with how they might be judged based on their food habits, others looked for a signal from the older girls before snagging a snack — waiting for the older girl to go first and give the implied permission, in line with this unspoken language.
As one female College freshman who wished to remain anonymous noted, “at guy rush you’re here to eat, at girl rush you’re here not to eat,” reflecting the assumed governance of rush.
Freshies, you are totally overthinking.
And if you don’t believe us, take it from College junior and Sigma Delta Tau President Sharon Friedlander. She raves about her house chef Aimee’s homemade cookies — apparently the SDT girls make them disappear faster than their freshman rushes do.
These campus-renowned cookies are an emblem of SDT’s identity and Friedlander maintains that “girls should not have to feel awkward eating [them].” As College junior Caroline Quigley, a sister in Delta Delta Delta, said of their signature vanilla pinafore cake on Preference Night, “the only reason I would hope a girl doesn’t eat it is so that I can eat it!”
We trust her — it sounds delish.
Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York, N.Y. and Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. respectively. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every Wednesday.