Like crabs in a bucket. I’ve heard this analogy used thousands of times about women treat one another. Some argue that women are each other’s own worst enemy. Rather than building one another up, we often find ourselves competing for the favor of suitors and employers. As efforts to achieve gender equality continue, I argue that sororities can and do play a very key role in this quest.
I came across a New York Times article that discusses the recent surge in participation of women in sororities. This trend is encouraging. I’ve always felt that the negative connotation often associated with sororities is unfair. In my experience, the stereotypes and generalizations are wholly false, and I’m heartened to know that they are slowly losing their grasp.
I appreciate that the NYT article discusses the origin of sororities as feminist organizations that sought to increase gender equality at institutions of higher learning. That Delta Zeta Sorority, of which I am a member, was founded in 1902, 18 years prior the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote, is a fact that has always awed me. That the six founders of this organization gathered at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to support one another at a male-dominated university is remarkable.
In 2001, as a freshman at Angelo State University, I decided to sign up for Greek recruitment. At the time, I didn’t intend to join a sorority. Rather, I just saw “rushing” as an opportunity to meet people and hopefully make a friend or two. By the time the week was over, I was enthralled with the concept of sisterhood; the eternal bond of women brought together by the goals of “walking truly” and “giving graciously” (excerpts from the Delta Zeta creed). Plus, I’ve always been more introverted than not. I’ve become more outgoing as I’ve gotten older, mostly out of sheer necessity, with the help of jobs in politics and public relations. However, at the time, my wallflower tendencies made it difficult for me to make new friends, especially in a new environment like college, where only 3 other people from my high school attended. The idea of a group of 30 women – sisters – who would be there for me through thick and thin was revolutionary and extremely appealing.
My collegiate experience with Delta Zeta Sorority is something for which I’ll be forever grateful. I met my best friends in life through the organization (to illustrate this point, I’ll be at the hospital this Tuesday when my best friend and Delta Zeta pledge sister has her third baby). I was given the opportunity to develop leadership and organizational skills through my service on my chapter’s executive board. I held nearly every position on the board in my four years as a collegian, culminating with my service as chapter president senior year. I recognize that this is more the result of attending a small university – my chapter was much smaller than most others throughout the nation – nonetheless, I learned skills I likely wouldn’t have without my involvement in the sorority. While there certainly were moments when some of the girls didn’t get along, the instances in which we supported one another were far more prevalent, in my recollection. From witnessing upperclasswomen mentor younger members, to pledge sisters helping each other study for a big exam, I can list countless examples of women supporting women throughout my tenure as a member of a sorority.
As a new alumna in 2005, I joined the online alumnae chapter of Delta Zeta, Surfing Sisters. I was thrilled to personally confirm that our sisterhood truly transcends the college experience. Surfing Sisters includes Delta Zetas of all ages, from across the globe, with cultures, interests and beliefs as diverse as those of our country. I’ve had some of the most thought provoking conversations about politics, philosophy, and literature with the women on this website. I’ve also witnessed some of the most beautiful examples of women supporting women. I was even a beneficiary of this unparalleled support several years ago when I made the difficult decision to call off my engagement. These women, all of whom I had never met in person, rallied behind me with comforting words, advice, and “virtual hugs.”
I can only speak to my experience, and I don’t intend to gloss over or diminish the instances in which women have had negative experiences with sororities. Yet, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that any organization is capable of straying from its original mission. It’s easy to get distracted, to revert to old tendencies, or mislay priorities. Infighting occurs within every organization and sororities certainly aren’t immune. However, I am convinced that sororities offer a unique opportunity for women to achieve the truly enriching experience of a community of peers who support one another. Those of us who believe in the concept of sisterhood must remain vigilant to ensure it isn’t perverted or diminished. I, for one, will continue to advocate for sororities as organizations that promote positive female relationships and contribute to achieving gender equality.