It is another 100-degree afternoon as swarms of girls — all wearing the requisite tank tops and shorts — file up several flights of stairs and into the Old Main. Once inside, each girl will find out whether she has made the cut and will be accepted into her sorority of choice.
For these girls, the next four years of their lives are about to be determined. Once their fate has been revealed, they exit onto Old Main’s lawn — first in small groups of twos and threes, and then in constant streams of shrieks and smiles as the afternoon progresses.
The sisters congregate on the lawn, decked out in the bid day themed apparel. They proudly hold the big, colorful Greek letters of their house. There is screaming, singing and a few tears. The handfuls of frat-boy bystanders seem slightly intimidated by the spectacle. This is ASU’s Bid Day, when new recruits are welcomed into the sororities that have selected them from a massive pool of hopefuls.
Looking at the scene, it is easy to recognize the many stereotypes associated with sorority sisters, especially at ASU.
But, what if there is something deeper beneath the sparkly letters and matching tank tops?
Justice studies sophomore and newly minted sorority sister Braxton Hynes insists that there is.
“I really liked the idea of learning what it means to be a sister to someone, and creating a life-long bond with people I could consider family,” she says.
Braxton says — contrary to the media’s perception of sororities — as groups are dedicated to making all members the same, she has experienced a lot of acceptance there as a feminist.
She says, “The point is to accept each girl for who they are, despite whether or not you want to be their best friend.”
These two identities — feminist and sorority sister — may seem to be polar opposites. Braxton sees them both as victims to some seriously damaging (and inaccurate) media stereotypes.
“If you think of movies that have come out recently surrounding sororities, they all portray fairly to severely negative stereotypes of sorority women,” Braxton says. “The same goes for the feminist, which are sometimes characters played opposite the sorority girl. There’s not much room in between.”
One former sorority sister agrees with Braxton. Women and Gender Studies professor Georganne Scheiner says, “We have this image of what sororities are or what they are supposed to be, and the line between real and imagined is blurred.”
While pop culture’s depictions of sororities make them out to be “mean girls or ditzes,” the history of sororities brings out a much different side of the sorority experience.
Scheiner says, “Sororities were originally founded as female support networks formed by women in otherwise hostile co-educational settings and modeled after male fraternities. (It was) where female students could confront male opposition to their presence on campus.”
Knowing the history of the sorority system’s formation also helps to put Bid Day festivities in a whole new light. When fraternity brothers witness the crowd of girls joking that they wouldn’t go in there without a bodyguard, what are they really saying?
Is there still a presence of in-your-face female friendships that makes some students uncomfortable?
While the answer seems to be yes, Scheiner believes that young women will continue to rush in spite of that.
She says, “Sororities still function as communities that can support women, and I think the majority of women join sororities for community and support.”
This support is especially important during women’s college years, when many say they find it hard to cultivate healthy female friendships. Urban planning and Spanish literature junior Sarah Stockham values close relationships. Stockham is the chief executive officer for Kappa Alpha Theta.
“I never had close female friendships until I joined a sorority,” she says. “The friendships I have gained through my sorority are ones I know I will have throughout my entire life.”
So, do we really need to label sororities as either feminist or anti-feminist?
According to Professor Scheiner, questions like this miss the point.
“Are there mean, petty, superficial sorority girls? Absolutely. Are there radical, man-hating feminists? Absolutely,” Scheiner says. “However, that’s only part of the story. Both are so much more.”
Instead of focusing on labels, it is important to remember that both groups have the potential to transcend the stereotypes that others associate them with.
While sororities may never choose to identify themselves as feminist, their members grow in ways that both “Greek geeks” and feminist activists can get behind, Scheiner says.
“In the end, it’s not the label that’s as important as what they do and what they stand for,” she says.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jlpruett