Sexualcentrism in the Greek System

by Christopher LaBarbera | 11/18/99 6:00am

I find Danica Lo's article very interesting in its citation of examples of sexism in Cairo; I wonder why she doesn't do the same examination to the Greek system.

Danica mentions that "some students believe that the Greek system has problems that have detrimental effects to the [Dartmouth] community." Later on, she commends the Greek system for "support networks" and claims that these have "thanklessly provided so much for the Dartmouth community."

What I find problematic here is the lack of criticism Danica considers for the Greek system. A further examination of fraternities and sororities will, in my opinion, present problems of precisely the same nature of the sexism in Cairo.

Point 1: The majority of Greek organizations discriminate on the basis of physical sex. Why do Dartmouth students permit this, but almost every other institution in America forbid the discrimination of the same kind? By creating a social environment that is completely prohibitory on the basis of physical sex, I think some interesting effects occur. There is no doubt in my mind that these organizations have a perceived notion of gender as a facet of physical sex, and I will argue that this notion of gender can only lead to oppression and continuation of stereotypes.

This is not to say that there shouldn't be "women's space" or "men's space" for those who identify as female or male, but there is a special problem that arises with the Greek system. This is a social organization that divides on the lines of having certain sexual organs. I think, therefore, that it's likely that there are socialized opinions of separation based on sex; these, I think, are the same foundations for sex-based notions of superiority and inferiority in the first place.

I am also wondering where the space for one that does not accept the stereotypes of gender based on physical sex would fall with regards to the Greek system. One fraternity, as part of a rush, had a male pledge walk around campus in a dress, feather boa, and full facial makeup for a day. What if he had come to the first prospective pledge meeting at the fraternity dressed the same way? It's a sorry reality that he would have been mocked. It is only the novelty of the harassment that a cross-dressing pledge would go through that makes this ritual persist. It's clear to me through actions like this that a male's gender role is either etched in stone to the conformity of the Greeks, or mocked by them.

Point 2: I think the media statement Danica mentioned -- namely that it is appropriate for men in Cairo to "mildly beat [their wives]" -- clearly assume heterosexuality. Although it may not be clear that assumptions of heterosexuality happens at Dartmouth, let me provide some simple examples. Note that this occurs throughout the Dartmouth community, including the Greek system.

It is not uncommon for my male friends to be asked if they have a girlfriend. This assumes that they are heterosexual. A friend once told me that his initiation ritual required that you knew all of the brother's "tastes in women." This assumes that all of the brothers of the frat are heterosexual. When I dance with my boyfriend at a disco party in a frat and a girl glares at me and whispers to her friend to turn around and look at us, she has operated under the assumption that I was heterosexual.

I am of the belief, and this may be far-fetched, that the majoritarian gender dynamic (the assumption that the male gender is attracted solely to the female gender, and vice versa) that is perpetuated in systems like the Greek system is what can give rise to oppressive sexual discrimination.

Point 3: Most incidents of sexual assault on this campus occur when one individual is under the influence of alcohol. As is my experience, alcohol is widely available in mass quantities in most social events at fraternities and sororities.

Now, I do admit that is the individual's responsibility to govern her/his own alcohol consumption in most cases. But, it is the society's responsibility to maintain an environment in which people can't get hurt. I am not saying that the Greek houses should claim that they are responsible for sexual assault, but they must recognize that they are providing the tools that lead to impaired states and bad decisions. Along with this should go an active responsibility to be conscious about sexual assault on our campus, and the recognition that sexual assault is detrimental to our community. To what extent this institutes prevention is contingent upon the individual.

I think a responsible community is one without the existence of the Greek system. I know what it does, and even in light of its defenses of community service and house awareness programs, the separation of social environments by sex leads to overwhelmingly negative consequences. The Greek system is a failed attempt at an organization that provides social activities separate from the college, which should operate as "communally equal." If there is one thing I learned long ago, it is that separate but equal is inherently unequal.

The Greek system has "thanklessly provided" something to our community. The reason that it is thankless is that they deserve little thanks.