Tuesday, February 27, 2007

So Much for Sisterhood

Several folks have e-mailed me to ask if I've seen this article and to get my take on it. This has been rattling around in my brain for two days now, and to truly comment on it I have to tell my own story of being in a sorority at DePauw.

When I arrived at DePauw in the fall of 1992, I was just a naive nugget from the South. I didn't know there existed annual salaries as high as those earned by the families of my fellow first-year students. I had never heard the names of the northwest Chicago suburbs, many of them enclaves of social elites and enormous earnings, from which many of my fellow students hailed. I was a normal kid from a middle-class family. I lived in an average-sized house in an average neighborhood. I had no idea.

What I did know was that I would participate in sorority Rush in the fall. My mother and grandmother are both Chi Omegas at Transylvania University and Wittenberg University, respectively. My aunt was an Alpha Chi Omega at DePauw in the 70s. They all spoke fondly of their experiences in their sororities and my mother regularly communicated with many of her sisters.

For me, even Rush didn't provide me a full picture of the social elitism present at DePauw. I had a great experience. I was only released (read: cut) from two houses and even that wasn't too painful. After all, I figured, I couldn't expect everyone to want me as a sister. The best advice I received during Rush came right before the Preference Parties (the final two parties, after which a Rushee ranks her preferences). It was, "When you're standing outside waiting to go into the house, look at the women around you. Decide then and there if you want those women to be your sisters. You're choosing the women who are already in the house as well, but those women standing outside with you are potentially the women you will be sharing your life with for the next four years."

That made it easy. The women standing outside AOII with me were so normal. They were down-to-earth. As a whole, they didn't fit the typical sorority stereotype, and that was good, because I wasn't particularly interested in the stereotypical sorority. I wanted a place where people would appreciate who I was, not who they hoped I would be.

After I pledged and initiated and got nice and settled into this new sorority life, there came a startling realization: At DePauw, normal is not cool. Breaking the mold and standing outside the sterotype is not socially acceptable. Being rich and skinny and traditionally attractive is cool. Being down-to-earth is not.

And that's what we were at AOII: We were normal. We were just us, for better or for worse. As a whole, we were not pursuing careers as runway models, but my sisters were bright and witty and oh so full of personality. My sisters were goofy and silly and generally unconcerned if other people didn't appreciate an odd sense of humor or well-placed sarcasm. And that's where I belonged. And I was happy.

And things started going downhill. Our sisterhood was strong, but it became increasingly difficult to recruit new members. When I arrived at DePauw, the percentage of students participating in social fraternities and sororities was rumored to be around 80-85%. As the years passed, more and more women became comfortable choosing not to participate in Greek life. Those who did want to participate were more interested in the stereotypical sororities, that which we were not. The women whom we would have normally picked up, the women who weren't so sure initially that they even wanted to be Greek, chose not to participate in Rush at all. And our numbers dropped. And our reputation was not so good. "Not so good" meaning we weren't all skinny and loaded and cookie-cutter-ish.

In 2000 our chapter closed. There were not enough women to financially keep the house running and our nationals really had no choice but to put the current women on alumnae status and close up shop. Fast forward to Delta Zeta.

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