We always said that sororities weren’t for us. But when we got to Penn, everyone said that Greek life here was “different.” It wasn’t rah-rah, it wasn’t life-defining, it didn’t embody that Animal House, girls-in-pearls stereotype. So we joined, and after three and a half years, multiple terms on our sorority’s executive board and “bonds of sisterhood” to show for it, we don’t regret our decision. But after three and a half years, multiple terms on our sorority’s executive board and one semester of investigation, the lopsided patriarchal governance of Greek life at Penn became impossible to ignore.
Penn is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and we’re proud of that — especially considering that women literally run Penn. The University president, the Undergraduate Assembly president and our senior class president are all women. Widespread involvement in movements like the Vagina Monologues and Take Back the Night further demonstrate how Penn offers a receptive environment for discussion of women’s issues.
But in Greek life administration, we have come to realize, women simply aren’t treated as equals. Admittedly, national sorority institutions and their antiquated principles are partially to blame. And while we don’t fault Penn for allowing these institutions to exist on campus — Greek organizations create a wonderful sense of pride, community and philanthropy — Penn administrative bodies, specifically the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, have exacerbated this institutionalized gender inequality.
Why are sorority women threatened with rush sanctions if they meet in groups of larger than six that include freshmen before recruitment, while fraternities engage in a semester-long, alcohol-fueled dirty rush process and OFSL turns a blind eye?
Why is a sorority-hosted philanthropy event that raises over $18,000 for charity criticized for its premise and venue, while a nearly identical philanthropy event hosted by a fraternity at that same venue goes unchallenged?
And why is a sorority that is found “guilty” of hosting an event for freshmen with alcohol initially issued virtually identical sanctions to a fraternity caught red-handed engaging in “hazing-esque” activities by the police?
Maybe these seem like trivial injustices, and you’re thinking that we’re just whiny (ex-)sorority girls. But the fact of the matter is that Penn, an institution at the forefront of progressive and modern research, is teaching a portion of its female students that they require more oversight and scrutiny than their male counterparts, and we are no longer willing to tacitly condone this.
The Penn Panhellenic website boasts that “Sisters within the Greek system at the University of Pennsylvania are leaders on campus and in the classroom.” If women are really campus leaders, why are we treated as if we are incapable of making choices in our own best interest?
A criticism of drinking and hazing in Greek life is not what we’re getting at — that’s not a new topic. But the gendered enforcement of policies governing behavior and the alarming culture of paternalism that they perpetuate is what needs to be discussed. At Penn, we have witnessed that when a fraternity is accused of breaking the rules, it can expect a slap on the wrist. We know from firsthand experience that when sorority women are accused of the same crimes, such leniency disappears. This selective enforcement is ostensibly meant to protect women — from competition, objectification, alcohol and overt sexuality — but at the end of the day, these policies are really meant to protect women from themselves.
It would be wrong to place all of the blame on OFSL for the sexism that exists in Greek life. There isn’t even one place to put all the blame. But first and foremost, we look at ourselves. For the past three years we have been complacent with a system that propagates inequality, but not until recently did we realize that the institution that purported to protect us has actually been undermining our strength as college women.
Yes, we could have chosen not to join Greek life. But we did, and we certainly don’t regret it. What we do regret are the years we spent silent, not challenging the double standard that governs sororities and fraternities at Penn. We are proud to be part of a group of women refusing to accept that some rules apply to only half the Greek population. Now, we are pursuing what we originally thought sororities might have to offer: a space that empowers women to question antiquated systems, build a community based on shared ideals and start a meaningful conversation about existing problems in the process.
LINDSAY BALOW and LIZA JOHNSON are College seniors studying communication and international relations respectively. Their email addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. They are both former members of a sorority recently in the news.Comments powered by Disqus
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