On Gender Inequality In Greek Life

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“I prefer not to blindly accept rules without knowing the reason for their existence.”

These are the words of NC State student and Pi Beta Phi member Kelly Elder. Elder recently published an article for The Washington Post asking “Why do sororities sanction ‘slut-shaming’?”

Elder wrote this article after witnessing her sorority vote on whether or not to place a fellow sister on probation after sneaking a boy into her room in the middle of the day. She explains that the situation involved a harmless interaction between this fellow sister and a platonic male friend.

Elder felt that her chapter did not appropriately respond to the incident. She was so frustrated with the situation that she sought out several advisors at the local and national level, yet these organizational leaders failed to present a pathway for change or reform. According to Elder, if a fraternity brother had a member of the opposite sex in his room “he probably would have been high-fived.” She found herself questioning why the Greek system supported a double standard that would punish a sorority woman for doing the same thing.

And it is a good question – why are there so many things Greek men can do that Greek women can’t?

Last month University of Virginia student and sorority sister Erin Dyer found herself asking the same question. Dyer received instructions from the UVA National Panhellenic Council to abstain from any fraternity activities during “Men’s Bid Night” due to what they called “significant safety concerns”. Dyer took her story “We’ve been reduced to objects of sexual pleasure” to The Washington Post as well.

Dyer explained that attending the forbidden events would result in sisters being placed on probation. She felt that the leadership in her sorority was simply blindly following the rules and not questioning the underlying issues.

“If I were a boy,” Dyer wrote, “neither my actions nor my words would be silenced by an organization that promotes a policy that disregards gender equality.”

Dyer felt that the policy disregarded the women of UVA Greek life and their right to feel safe and supported on their campus. One speculated cause for the ban on bid night was the fear fraternity brothers might harm the women at these events.
“There is nothing progressive or mature or moral about encouraging women to stay inside of their homes and hide from men,” Dyer wrote.
The incidents at both of these universities prompted a discussion between a fraternity brother at Indiana University and I. I shared the NC State article with him and asked what he thought about the inequality women face in the Greek system.

“It sounds like this woman is at the end of a very unfair situation,” he said of the NC State sorority sister facing probation. “As a guy in a fraternity, I see a lot of rules like this that aren’t equal and aren’t fair.”

He admitted that no one ever asks him to think about Greek life from the female perspective and he sees many flaws in the system.

“If sororities want to emphasize equality, they should have virtually the same rules as fraternities. Having different standards is just reinforcing the differences between genders,” he said.

My friend appreciated Elder’s call to “reopen the dialogue regarding archaic standards” and expressed hope that every member of the Greek system could be involved in this dialogue.

The first step in reopening this dialogue is acknowledging that these standards are truly archaic. Merriam-Webster’s synonyms for archaic included out of date, old-fashioned, and behind the times. When we think of rules and system wide standards that promote gender inequality, the word archaic could not capture their spirit more perfectly. 

Is it not behind the times to tell sorority women to keep boys out of their rooms? Is it not out of date for some parts of our culture to suggest that a woman’s value somehow decreases as her number of sexual partners increases? And is it not old-fashioned to tell men the complete inverse? I wonder how national organizations made up of college educated Greek alumni have not found themselves asking these questions. 

One can only hope more sorority women and fraternity men will step up to speak out against the systems in place. The Greek system is a textbook case of the high level of disconnect between the public opinion and the decisions made by their leaders. Only when the public fights back to make their opinion known can they hope to see change.

Both sorority women and fraternity men I have spoken to want things to be equal on their campuses. I hope there will be a moment when everyone in the Greek community looks around and asks themselves why things are so unbalanced. Gender inequality and double standards don’t have to be the norm. I hope that as more people speak up, the Greek system will shift towards more equal and tolerant practices, promoting an ecosystem of gender equality on college campuses across this nation.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead

Editorial Intern for Beauty Coated Life

Nutrition Student and Health Educator at NC State University
Avid reader, aspiring author, and health enthusiast
Passionate about women’s health and global equality