During the fall 2017 semester, I vividly remember the early August mornings when the hallways of Brumby were fragrant and thick with hairspray. Girls were awake no later than 4 a.m., perfectly styling their hair and putting on a full face of makeup, primping themselves for the long days of sorority recruitment in the sweltering Georgia heat. Panhellenic sororities at the University of Georgia promote a culture in which it’s easy to get your worth mistaken for your ability to stand uncomfortably sweaty while engaging in repetitively draining small talk all day.
Other than my inability to apply eyeshadow, I seemed to fit right in with all the other naive freshmen, unable to see anything inherently wrong with this scenario. Now that I’m a senior, it’s clear the standards required to assimilate into a prestigious sorority force women to embody a certain level of commercialized femininity to feel welcome. Despite the progressive changes of today, Greek life continues to reinforce and institutionalize this single-sided femininity, as well as toxic notions of masculinity.
Sororities and fraternities, especially at UGA and other large Southeastern Conference schools, perpetuate the extremities of traditional, outdated gender stereotypes to the point of stunting our current generation’s social progress. These binary environments are uncomfortable, unfavorable and exclusive to an entire group of UGA students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
Anna Houser, a senior environmental economics major at UGA, is lesbian. She recently stepped away from her sorority membership this past fall.
“At the time, being a part of Greek life and the LGBTQ+ community felt like I had one foot in the door of each place, but like I was never wholeheartedly in either,” Houser said.
From the maltreatment during pledgeship to the excessive encouragement of hook-up culture, fraternities have a reputation for embracing destructive practices and ideologies in attempts to promote “manliness.” Fraternities and sororities perpetuate this contrived gender dichotomy by prioritizing fraternity-sorority relations through formals, date nights and socials.
Fraternity events have far fewer rules than any sorority gathering, and Greek life has shaped an environment where men tend to get away with more reckless behavior than women, enforcing the detrimental “boys will be boys” trope. These institutionalized customs not only instigate a gender double standard, but also excuse men for actions they desperately need to be held accountable for.
We know Greek life has roots in racist, sexist and homophobic practices. It is problematic and destructive to our community that UGA turns a blind eye and allows these unacceptable and outdated practices to continue — especially when Greek life makes up quite a large presence on UGA’s campus.
UGA and other universities cannot continue on with disingenuous concern about the exclusive, discriminatory environments their own students foster in these institutions. Greek councils, including the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils, recently made diversity initiatives, but with the severity of these problems, the initiatives seem to lack the appropriate level of remediation necessary.
Furthermore, it is unclear how adamantly these initiatives will address issues surrounding homophobia, sexism and the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. The ambiguity surrounding their plan is unnerving and their reliance on desultory statements offers little hope for tangible change.
“A lot of things need to change in order for Greek life to be a more accepting community,” Houser said. “It’s like the cookie cutter type of girl and guy for sororities and fraternities who fit perfectly into that mold, but it refuses to acknowledge all the other individuals who may not fit so perfectly.”
Fraternities must dismantle their own harmful ideas and expectations of masculinity and work to redefine what the actual meaning of brotherhood is. Sororities need to acknowledge that the notion of femininity does not look or act a certain way — it is a concept that cannot be celebrated in full unless it is intersectional.
With institutional accountability, a shift in mindset, a change in recruitment policies and practices that uphold stereotypes, we could lay the foundation for Greek life to become a more constructive environment and follow our generation’s progressive path toward inclusivity and social equality.