Saturday, August 11, 2007

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie- deliberate, contrived & dishonest- but the myth- persistent, persuasive & unrealistic.” - JFK


Alexandra Robbins’ Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities is a weirdly compelling book. I find myself not wanting to put it down. Robbins does a terrific job of helping us get to know the girls she has undertaken to follow throughout a year of sorority membership, and rather than perpetuate mindless stereotypes, she intelligently and thoughtfully explores, dissects, and exposes the stereotypes and the truth behind them, both by in-depth, research-based investigative reporting and though a careful character analysis of her four subjects and her relationship with them as well as their relationships with their sorority sisters.

God, am I glad that I never rushed a sorority (not that any of them would have taken me anyway, probably, I apparently didn't worry nearly enough about how I looked).

But some of the other stuff this author talks about - I just don't know. I guess it takes all kinds. But now I get why people look at me funny if it ever comes up that I used to hang out at a fraternity when I was in college, and that my boyfriend was one of the brothers. Maybe there's some truth to all the stereotypes of Greeks. It's just weird, since it so doesn't gel with what I experienced - but then I wasn't deeply involved, like being in a sorority.

I always liked being at the house, I always felt safe there, I liked most of the brothers (actually, the other girlfriends were more the problem, what is with women hating other women?). Most of the brothers - I mean, really, most of them - were all right guys.

It's hard to reconcile my memory of fun parties, and being involved in events at Carnival that I might have skipped otherwise, and even more ritualized events like formals (even if I never did get my lavaliere - but I wasn't bitter. Ahem.) with the crazy stuff the author talks about in this book. Maybe I was just naive. Maybe it's because my boyfriend never seemed to take a lot of the stuff all that seriously. Maybe the house I frequented really was different from the norm.

I remember how heartbroken I was when I wasn’t selected to be an official little sister, before national outlawed little sisters. Later, some of the bigs officially made me a ‘friend of the house,’ but I still couldn’t wear letters. I LONGED to wear those letters.

I would have killed for a lavaliere from J. He either didn’t love me enough to be bothered, or, looking back now, what I think was probably the case, he didn’t take much of fraternity ritual very seriously at all and probably had very little idea how very very badly I wanted to be lavaliered. Yet when he proposed - with his fraternity pin AND his grandmother’s ring - after college, I turned him down. (Although I have to admit I did fondle that pin a bit…I had wanted it for so long. I mean, the ring was pretty, but that pin…)

But I knew from the get-go that sorority membership wasn’t for me. I have never been a woman’s woman. I’d have imploded in the hothouse atmosphere of a sorority house. This book merely proves me right in that regard. Some of the girls assert that they have found lifelong sisterhood with their sorority sisters, but others are as dismissive of the senseless rules and political playmaking as I would be. The sex, the drinking, the drugs, the partying and casual hook-ups, all ring very true to me, and that’s just from this GDI’s college experience in the early nineties. I am not sure how much being in a sorority contributes to these girls’ behavior, and eventually that is the conclusion Robbins reaches as well. But in the meantime, what a heck of a read. Like "Dynasty" meets Little Women, with a dash of The New Girls or "Clueless" thrown in for good measure.


David said...

You had a sorority, same way I had a fraternity. I had Brian, Walt, Pat, and the cormies I llived with for four years.

You had Debi and that chick with no short term memory who's name I can't remember now, and then Lauren, and Christina.

You don't have to live in a house and wear letters to be a "social society." For that matter, my guys did have t-shirts and even a few rituals.

Katy said...

I was so ready to not read that book, but darn it BabelBabe, now I want to. I live with three junior biology majors my last semester in school, and they were sorority girls, and now I want to know about their world.

It was great meeting you on Thursday! If you ever want an excuse to come to Chicago, you are welcome.

Sarah Louise said...

I admit my interest is piqued--I think in some ways if sororities had been less about partying that I would have liked to have been in one--I like being part of organizations that translate into larger national organizations--I think that was part of the draw to be a Mary Kay consultant, which is a bit of being in a sorority. Now I'm with the "bad" girls who quit. It's always fascinating to meet one--I do, about every two or three years.

A girl in our crowd in college rushed and joined. We couldn't understand it, she seemed the LEAST likely to be in one, (she was so darn wholesome) but she managed it, just like being on Crew, or being a bio major. It didn't really change who she was, just where she lived.

The "cool" sorority on campus were the Zetas, but I think they have been recently nationally de-frocked , or whatever it is when they shut down a sorority. I still remember them singing at parties to the tune of "I want to be sedated" the words , "I want to be a Zeta."

nutmeg said...

"I have never been a woman's woman." This strikes a chord with me. In high school I had one very close girlfriend (still to this day) and 4 guy friends and this trend continued on through university and later workplaces. It all fell in a heap (me included!) with the birth of my first daughter and the mother's groups and preschool mother's groups and school mother's groups etc etc. I am struggling in amongst all these women and their politics, tactics and strategies which I soooo struggle to understand. Yes, why are women so hard on each other?

And I'm off to google "lavaliered". I have heard this word before from an American exchange student but I cannot remember now.

Suse said...

I'm with nutmeg. That post was chock full of vocab I do not understand. Must be an American thing.


University in the US is a culture unto its own.

Fascinating post, nonetheless.

cupcake said...

Color me guilty. I pledged a sorority during my sophomore year of college. I think it's possible, however, to both have the lifelong friends and thumb your nose at the whole silly ritual of the thing. I sure did. I made friendships with girls I likely would not have met were it not for Kappa Kappa Gamma, and by and large, those friendships have lasted through the years. And yet I never bothered to memorize half of the ritual or nonsense. You can take the people seriously but not the secret passwords or secret handshakes.

I completely relate to your disappointment at not being a Little Sister or getting lavaliered. I, too, had more male friends than female, and was shocked - shocked, I tell you! - that none of the little bastards extended me the Little Sister honor. Not that I'm still bitter, 20 years later. Or anything.