Li: Greek Girl Power

Greek abolitionists fail to acknowledge what the system does for women.

by Lucy Li | 1/24/17 12:22am

At Dartmouth, Greek letters float across Tuck Drive and through Baker lobby on t-shirts and sweatshirts. Our affiliation has practically become a suffix to our names. Most Wednesday evenings call for a flood of text messages across campus with the words, “Are you going to meetings?” We speak Greek, we engage in Greek politics and we breathe Greek each time we enter a fraternity basement and inhale the sickly-sweet aroma of stale beer and other fluids I’d like to forget. That most of us hardly notice the stench anymore is proof of the pervasiveness of Greek culture.

Greek life has embedded itself into not only the walls but also the structural foundation of Dartmouth. Yet abolition of the Greek system has become a frequent topic of conversation on- and off-campus, with a plethora of evidence presented by the abolitionist side, including high sexual assault rates, binge drinking, alcoholism, hazing, exclusivity, flaws in the rush process and the dangers of male-dominated social spaces. It’s for these reasons that the media seems to shine an especially blinding spotlight on us — but can we blame them?

The film “Animal House” was based on a fraternity of our very own. Rolling Stone’s 2012 article “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses” practically vomited on Dartmouth’s reputation, and our unsavory image as a college full of binge drinkers with elitist tendencies doesn’t quite align with our status as a world-renowned Ivy League college offering the promise of a prestigious education.

Since women entered the College in 1972, female Dartmouth students have always had to fight a battle and a half for social equality and respect on campus. It’s rumored that one of our oldest and most iconic traditions, Dartmouth pong, is what it is today because former patriarchs figured that women wouldn’t have large enough hands to hold a ping pong paddle without its handle, a testament to true Dartmouth ingenuity and exclusivity.

However, Dartmouth has grown and evolved in spite of our unwillingness to let the old traditions fail. We are in the midst of a social revolution that will continue to shape our culture until every identifying woman on this campus has absolute social equality. Despite the numerous ways that the Greek system places women in danger, there is one crucial aspect of the system that is utterly underrated: the sorority as a major source of female empowerment. For once, let’s throw sororities into the conversation.

For many Dartmouth women, sophomore fall is largely defined by an excruciating week of rush followed by an onslaught of new sisters or a rash of disappoint. There is no denying that the women’s rush process is flawed, but its flawed nature results from the attitudes of the women who rush as much as from the structural problems of the process itself. It is more difficult than we realize to stay levelheaded after holding conversations for four consecutive hours — and it’s even more difficult not to run away with the idea of being in a certain sorority based on what it might do for one’s social future.

From personal experience, rush week becomes an all-consuming experience for women. Tunnel vision prevents you from seeing anything beyond Dartmouth: your classes become an afterthought, and somehow none of your clothes are appropriate to wear anymore. Then the week is over, and you can see the peripheral world again, and now you have a hundred new sisters, an unbelievable amount of work to catch up on and a social calendar for the first time since you’ve been at Dartmouth. Slowly, though, you begin to realize that sorority life is something bigger than yourself, and that as fun as it is to have plans every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, that isn’t the only reason you affiliated.

The bottom line is that choosing to affiliate is not about social climbing, and even the most genuine and down-to-earth woman is capable of losing sight of the actual end goal. When you remember what that goal is, though, you gain something truly phenomenal: female solidarity, something rare and hard to come by.

Women are programmed not to like each other. Perhaps it’s because our patriarchal society has taught us that we need to be prettier, funnier and more popular than the next girl, or maybe it’s because as vehicles of reproduction we are biologically programmed to compete with each other for the better mate. Whatever the reason, women compete with other women instinctively, and sororities, no matter how historical the concept, are revolutionary by nature in that they allow women to overcome these competitive predispositions.

“Sisterhood” manifests on social media as glitter, matching outfits and cheesy captions, but in real life it’s living and breathing proof that women actually can like each other. We choose to be a part of a sisterhood not just because we want more friends and more parties, but because it gives us a community of women who can celebrate our successes and inspire each other to embrace diversity and individuality. Sororities are integral for furthering gender equality on college campuses because the fight for women’s rights starts with women themselves. We are so much more powerful as a united force than when we hold each other at arm’s length.

The women’s marches that took place all over the world this past weekend represents this radical idea that women who like each other and work together can achieve unbelievable greatness. After coming home from the women’s march in Montpelier, Vermont, I sat in my room with four beautiful women whose eyes were lit with so much excitement for their futures as we scrolled through photos from women’s marches all over the world. This is something to keep in mind in the discussion surrounding the Greek system: Dartmouth sororities are women’s marches that never stop marching. Yes, the historical nature of the Greek system is inherently backwards in theory but — like other historical artifacts — with the right upkeep and maintenance we can keep it in line with our modern expectations.

Women’s winter rush is upon us, and I urge all potential new members to be mindful throughout the process. It is imperfect and not at all foolproof, but it will work in your favor if you remember that rush is about finding your home on campus and, more importantly, it’s about girl power.