Girls, Pong and Equality

by Peter Gray | 3/5/07 6:00am

On Wednesday nights, there is a social twilight when Dartmouth's male and female spheres are poised for convergence as meetings come to a close. This convergence takes place, by and large, in fraternities. The first girls who peek into the basement are priceless: their eyes betraying that honed split-second analysis of familiar faces, availability of drinks and whether everybody present has his shirt on.

The inequity of social power between the sexes at Dartmouth has been discussed ad nauseam, but has anyone presented even a partial concrete solution other than the implausible shutting down of the frats? In this sense, efforts at changing the status quo have been directed towards elevating the culture. Why not make things a bit more equitable?

The problem is simple. If girls want to drink socially, most of them are forced into fraternities. The only refuges from this ugly post-meetings decision for women are the three local sororities: Kappa Delta Epsilon, Epsilon Kappa Theta and Sigma Delta, who are free of any alcohol policies beyond that of the College.

Bart McGuire '08 made a passing reference ("Addressing Sexual Assault in Frats," Feb. 23) to the best idea I've heard about Dartmouth's social ills: Chip away at male social dominance by having more female-controlled social spaces. This is not because it is perfect or complete, but because it is the only action that seems both concrete (as opposed to making frat boys nicer) and relatively feasible.

How can we make all sororities comparable social spaces for girls, where they do everything that boys can do in those incubators of olfactory ecstasy we call basements? How can the sororities restricted by their national overseers become social equals, even if that equality only implies the freedom to play pong, get drunk and do the stupid things that boys get to do safely in the confines of their fortresses of machismo?

The affected sororities could either "go local," or they could convince their national organizations to make Dartmouth-specific exceptions to their

Draconian alcohol policies -- not a drop in the house. Both are problematic.

I asked Megan Johnson, assistant director of the Coed, Fraternity and Sorority administration about sororities seceding from their national counterparts. She underscored the logistical benefits of having a number of organizations invested in the Greek system, providing a broader safety net and spreading the risk of letting a group of young adults live together unattended when they are in their prime risk-taking years.

"Most importantly," she continued, "none of the current national sororities at Dartmouth have ever approached us with this desire. Each situation would be unique and complex, but the matter is not off the table." The CFS administration is ready to discuss any serious overtures to go local with open minds.

The national fraternities on campus have all gotten exceptions to their broader charters regarding alcohol to the extent that they can compete in Dartmouth's social market. Why can't sororities here get the same exceptions?

"Unfortunately, I think national sororities have let liability concerns direct their actions, rather than the other way around," said Whitney Dickerson '07, president of Kappa. "I find it pretty hard to believe that men can host parties with alcohol, but their female counterparts cannot so long as they are part of a national sorority. We shouldn't be left with the choice of chugging with the boys or sipping tea by ourselves."

The National Panhellenic Council has made such exceptions difficult by getting all 26 national sororities to sign a document, "Standards, Minimum Expectations," that explicitly mandates alcohol-free physical plants. When I spoke to the NPC and asked about their alcohol policy, I was referred to their insurer, who confirmed Dickerson's analysis.

The path is by no means clear, but sororities at Dartmouth should think hard about the plight of Dartmouth women. To those who argue that this college needs less beer, not more of it, I would remind them that any situation in which there is less beer further empowers fraternities. Why not fight fire with fire?

To girls at Dartmouth, this school imparts bad lessons about who should be in control. A Dartmouth where every girl (who wanted it) had a place to play pong on her own terms, smoke too many cigarettes and wake up with a whopping hangover, would be a better one.