Reading Update: Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities

Like I mentioned a few posts ago, I picked up Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins on a whim.  I have these moments when it comes to nonfiction titles:  “Oooh!  This topic looks interesting.  This book might change my life/teach me something important.”  I then read a chapter or two, realize the writer sucks/the topic really isn’t that interesting, and put it down.  One of my literary goals is to read more quality nonfiction, but still, everything starts with interest:  what subject piques our curiosity?  About what do we want to learn more?

I didn’t realize I was going to be that interested in sororities.  As you may have guessed, I never joined one in college.  I thought the idea of paying for friends ridiculous, and refused to be part of what appeared to be such shallow organizations.  Plus, I was/am not your average “sorority girl.”  I was never popular or pretty.  Appearance-wise, the nerdy-librarian look suits me, and I was way too obsessed with school.  I had a close group of friends, a steady boyfriend, as well as jobs at the library and newspaper to help “make the university feel smaller.”  What did I need a sorority for?

Even now, I still despise Greek organizations at a certain level.  Miami was a mecca for Greek life, and at times, the place felt like it was crawling with skimpily-clad sorority girls with letters all over their butt, or obnoxious frat guys who started drinking at 2…on Wednesdays.  I saw more than enough bad behavior working for the newspaper, as well as the disgusting way the campus Panhellenic board and IFC would cover up said crimes.

However, I’ve also made some fabulous friends within the Greek system, including one of my best friends from Miami (an intelligent and driven young lady who was also the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper).  These girls (as well as my fraternity friends) proved that not everyone adhered to stereotypes, and that despite weekly meetings and ridiculous hoops to jump through, Greek didn’t have to consume your life.

It was with all this in mind that I set out to read Pledged, and I’ll admit: my opinions on the Greek system are right where they were when I started.  Robbins, an experienced reporter, went undercover for Pledged, following four girls at two different sororities at an anonymous “State” school.  The girls are already sorority sisters, but she describes all the stages of the rushing and pledging process, as well as what happens in the house.  She describes inane rituals, psychological warfare, hazing, promiscuous sex, drug use, alcohol abuse, rape and bitchy cat-fights.  Of course, she also spotlights four amazing young women, all of whom are talented, intelligent and driven.  Some blatently admit to using their sorority to meet friends and guys, some use them to gain connections and leadership experience, and some use them just so they can belong.  Although all four girls are members of traditionally “white,” northern sororites, Robbins ventures south where sorority membership is a rite of passage, and into the vastly different world of the African-American Greek system.

So, while I was hooked on the subject (it has to be my four years spent observing Greek life as an outsider at Miami) and I learned a lot, I finished the book happy I never thought to join a sorority.  My early assumptions proved to be correct:  not being very social, wealthy, or traditionally attractive (not to mention more than 105 lbs), I wouldn’t have been considered.  In fact, I would have been mocked had I gone through rush.  So while a good chunk of sorority girls are amazing people, the hive mentality dominates.  Girls are encouraged to look and act a certain way, and I simply didn’t fit the bill.  Second, the seemingly “secret” rituals that create the bonds of sisterhood are ridiculous.  I was curious to learn a few, but was disappointed most of them involve stupid knocks or saying Phi Beta Pi backwards.  I also wasn’t surprised that despite all their brooha, Greek life is more about philanthropy (aka, giving money) than community service.  They are what I thought they were:  social organizations.  This brings me to reason #1 to not join a sorority:  I’m not going to pay to have friends.

Some of Robbins’ observations were interesting, however.  She points out that despite all claims of sisterhood, most sororities are based around men.  Most sorority events are date-oriented:  date dash, formal, semi-formal, hanging out at bars.  All these events require the girls to find guys.  Many sororities also informally ally themselves with certain fraternities, and while the guys may serenade the girls or bring them brownies, the girls go to degrading lengths to make themselves sexually appealing for “their guys.”  Robbins describes several instances of rape by fraternity brothers, where the girls were encouraged not to press charges for fear it could create riffs in his fraternity and the relationship between said fraternity and sorority.  It’s “looking out for one’s own” gone to dangerous levels, and I’m shocked so many intelligent men and women allow it to persist.

I could go on talking about Pledged at length, including what Robbins has to say about hazing, southern sororities and Panhel’s paranoid relationship with the media.  But I’ll let you read about that for yourselves, as I highly reccomend the book to anyone curious how the system really works.  You don’t have to be an GDI (or God damned independent, as non-Greeks are called), but for those who are, it’s an interesting look into a world we’ll thankfully never experience.


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