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fratpledging
Credit: Seyoung An

Rush season has just wrapped up. Men and women on this campus have sorted themselves into different Greek organizations, having prepared for very different experiences. Ultimately, however, both fraternities and sororities at Penn enforce an outdated, regressive concept of gender roles. Both institutions cement traditional attributes for men and women that repress and marginalize those who do not fit in.

Consider the fraternity pledging process. Men wishing to join frats are forced through a toxic, deliberately aggressive process. Those who cannot abide by this are either forced to drop during the pledging process, or are cut during the rush process. 

I know this particularly well because I myself was in a fraternity for a year. While that particular frat has done much to reform its processes and police itself, I still found myself too uncomfortable to stick with it. To put it simply, it was undeniable that a more aggressive, stratified conception of masculinity dominated the social environment, and it was not a space in which I felt good being myself.

Despite attempts by administrators to reform fraternities and rein in pledging traditions, the fundamental nature of fraternities as an institution is hierarchical and competitive. Fraternities exist as a bastion of men who have “proved themselves” through pledging and selection. This toxic vision of masculinity has no place in the 21st century. If we want men to be comfortable expressing their feelings, if we want to deconstruct and defeat toxic masculinity, we must ruthlessly critique the institutions that uphold such toxicity. Fraternities are one such institution. 

Pledging is hardly the only way in which fraternities reinforce toxic masculinity. Fraternities host parties in their own spaces, controlling the environment and who can or cannot attend. This is once again an example of male social stratification and competition. Some frats are known for letting in pretty much everyone, while others enforce strict "ratios" and only let in the girls they consider the most "f**kable."

As important as the concept of supportive female social groups is, sororities as institutions unfortunately reinforce this toxic masculinity. Sororities pair up and mix with fraternities, and the same social stratification of frats is mirrored by their female counterparts. By virtue of participating in the Greek system, sororities further implicitly enforce heteronormativity. One way in which sororities do surpass fraternities is with initiation and new member education. Sorority members, once given a bid, are instantly welcomed into a supportive family, free from toxic hazing. This view of femininity is markedly different from the fraternal view of masculinity. While sororities essentially view femininity as innate and something to be celebrated, fraternities implicitly enforce masculinity as something that must be constantly earned and battled for.

Finally, Greek life sends a clear message to transgender individuals: you do not belong. You are either a man or a woman, and must obey the roles appropriate for your sex. There are many people on this campus who do not identify as either gender, and they are being institutionally rejected. That is simply unjust. 

There is no perfect solution to this problem. The abolition of Greek life, while possibly beneficial in some ways, would lead to immense pushback and the formation of more off-campus groups, making it a non-viable option. However, if Greek life is to truly see itself as an asset to Penn, the entire system must evaluate its own deepest values about the nature of masculinity and femininity. 

TYLER LARKWORTHY is an Engineering junior from McLean, Va. studying Computer Science. His email address is tlarkwor@seas.upenn.edu. 

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