The Power of the Party: Gender Inequality in Greek Life

by Julia LaSalvia, ’13

Author’s Note: Before I launch into an argument explaining my issues with the Greek system at Stanford and ultimately why I left, I must make a disclaimer: I think there are a lot of amazing people in the Greek community, many of whom are my best friends at Stanford. I was in a sorority for three years and a lot of my most memorable experiences occurred with the friends I made through my Greek organization. However, for the majority of time that I was in the sorority, I felt like there was something wrong. I couldn’t understand why girls, including myself, would take part in a system in which we voluntarily subscribed to superficial judgment by our peers and were constantly made to feel like we needed to impress the opposite sex.

Greek social culture revolves around male gratification – it’s often overt, sometimes subtle, but the conclusion remains the same: in Greek culture, fraternities hold the power. My goal in writing this essay is not to offend anyone, but rather to start a dialogue that might determine a way in which we can change the power dynamic of Greek culture so there is more equality between genders.

The problem with Greek life at Stanford is structural: it pushes people towards gender stereotypes and ultimately upholds a power dynamic where women are encouraged to impress fraternities in order to achieve success within the system.

First, lets take a look at the differences in recruitment processes between fraternities and sororities (note: I am only referring to ISC and IFC organizations, as I am not familiar with the multicultural Greek organizations’ recruitment method). Girls who decide to take part in the ISC recruitment process are forced to rush every sorority, even ones they are completely certain they do not want to join. This is problematic because each sorority at Stanford has a completely different reputation – some are known for drinking heavily, some were founded for religious reasons. Why should girls have to seek acceptance in a sorority they have no desire to join?

In contrast, men going through the recruitment process undergo a far less rigid structure. They are given the opportunity to select which fraternities they want to pursue and only undergo the rush process for the ones they choose. I believe that the ability to choose sororities during the recruitment process would make for a more positive experience. The interviews would be more genuine as prospective members would only be speaking to sororities that they were actually interested in joining.

While it is true that the recruitment experience could be easily changed to help achieve a less superficial process, this would only solve a small part of the problem. The more deeply ingrained issue is the power dynamic that occurs once people are a part of the system.

It became very apparent during my time within the Greek community that a sorority’s level of success is achieved by their popularity with fraternities. The structure of the Greek system gives fraternities most of the power and because of that, their opinion is paramount to a sorority’s success.

Fraternities hold the power because they hold the parties. In Greek society, a sorority’s ability to land a pre-party, a party before the all-campus party, is the ultimate measure of success. For those unfamiliar, all-campus parties are huge parties held in frat houses that all students are able to attend. These parties are the largest social events held on-campus. If sororities were able to hold more parties themselves, the system would be far more equal. However, under each sorority’s national regulations, they are not allowed to have alcohol in their houses. While it is common knowledge that most sororities at Stanford don’t follow these rules, these guidelines prevent sororities from hosting their own school-wide social events. Why is that the case? What purpose does it serve to not allow sororities to host events?

If sororities were able to hold events, they wouldn’t have to impress fraternities. Instead, they would have an equal spot in the social hierarchy. The ramifications of this would be far reaching – parties could be thrown in ways that sororities find more appealing. Many of the themed parties that I attended had degrading themes where girls were encouraged to dress provocatively. Dressing in a skimpy outfit is fine, but doing it to seem cool and enhance status is problematic. Not to be a wet toga here, but it felt like women were sexualizing themselves to collect social capital. And why wouldn’t they? That was the game and it’s very easy to get sucked in. I did.

The last point I’d like to address is a myth that is pervasive among Greek organizations. The myth– that fraternities vote on girls to determine which sorority “wins” the recruitment process–was often referred to during my time in the sorority. The moment I met my sorority sisters, they proudly boasted how “we won rush”. “Word from the top” was they had received emails from a variety of different fraternities saying that our incoming class was the “best” of all of the other sororities. Although I have no direct proof to the contrary, I find this hard to believe. Regardless of its veracity, the fact that that this myth is pervasive is equally concerning. It alters the way people act. Sororities pick girls that appeal to frat boys. It was apparent from the moment I joined that our highest priority was popularity with fraternities.

I, like most of my friends, joined a sorority to have fun in college. I knew there were allegations of sexism within Greek organizations, but I assumed because I was aware of them, I wouldn’t be affected. This wasn’t the case. Somehow I found myself perpetuating power structures that I came to college to break down.

It’s not going to be easy to change the system. Most of these institutions were founded over a century ago and long-standing secret rituals add a barrier to open discussion. I left once it was clear that I no longer shared the same values.

But the reality is, Greek communities aren’t going anywhere. Statistics show many of society’s power players are in them (85% of Fortune 500 executives were part of a fraternity or a sorority). I hope that the next wave of women will not leave so easily, but rather promote change from the inside. In the words of MLK, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.”



Julia is a 2013 Stanford graduate, majoring in Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations. She studied Middle Eastern Politics abroad at Oxford and now enjoys writing about social justice, music and American Politics. 


Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

8 thoughts on “The Power of the Party: Gender Inequality in Greek Life

  1. emmatheish says:

    You are awesome! I am sharing this, I am surprised that it is not more shared.
    I love the way this is written and I love how you have stolen the thoughts from my head…

  2. Deactivated Sister says:

    I recently de-activated a sorority I had joined as a freshman. Hoping to find female friends and create lasting relationships, I was shocked by how little sisterhood was emphasized within the group. Instead, all of our events revolve(d) around fraternities, or just men in general. The obsession with status, preparties, and “winning rush” was not what I signed up for. I appreciate your article and am glad to know someone else within the system is frustrated with the outdated Greek social system.

  3. […] The Power of the Party: Gender Inequality in Greek Life ( […]

  4. […] an insider look at the role of sexism in Greek life at […]

  5. A Thought says:

    While I do not attend Stanford, I am in a sorority at another university campus. This is mainly in response to your first point on the differences in rushing. I would like to point out, however, that rushing all of the sororities has quite a few positive aspects that I think are ultimately beneficial rather than completely problematic. Before I rushed, I was very wary of the reputation of my sorority (“X” for the purposes of anonymity) and reluctantly went to X’s rush events. Through the rush process, however, I discovered that the girls in X were more genuine than I could have imagined otherwise and I was like a moth to a flame. After joining X and becoming an initiated sister, I began to understand more of how my sorority’s particular recruitment process worked. One of our chapters was closed due to low recruitment numbers last fall. I think many sororities, especially at schools where Greek Life is not emphasized, struggle to meet quota and face being shut down by their Headquarters. Because of this, I view rushing all sororities as a pro instead of a con. Of course, I’m no way familiar with Greek life structure at Stanford, but thought I’d share.

    • I definitely agree with you. Rushing all sororities is definitely beneficial in terms of discovering where you fit best. I just think that it should be a choice that each person gets to make on their own. I view the policy as paternalistic and while it would be helpful to encourage that behavior, I don’t think it is necessary to mandate it.

  6. Miranda says:

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: