Combating Greek Stereotypes

2ND PLACE FCA AWARD WINNER - 2010

Will the 'Real' Sorority Life Please Step Forward?

Debunking myths associated with being Greek – and doing our part to combat stereotypes

 

By Lisa Romero, Editor
October 10, 2009

Every day, Jessica loves to sit down at her computer, browse her friends’ status updates on Facebook and indulge in a fantasy world of her own making: an addictive little game called Sorority Life.

She has her own sorority (named for her, actually). She recruits members to her “house.” She can choose snazzy outfits and accessories to wear, earn points to advance in the game through various activities and challenges, and even interact with other sorority sisters.

It’s colorful, fun and what she calls “mindless” escapism. But does it promote negative stereotypes?

“Yes, absolutely, especially the parts of the game where you can diss other people,” says Jessica, who admits she still loves aspects of Sorority Life. “It’s all about fashion and posturing, and it’s shallow, sure. I almost hate myself for playing,” she adds with a laugh. “But it’s there, you know? Everyone’s playing.”

Indeed, they are: More than 7.1 million Facebook users (not all of whom are actually members of a Greek organization in the real world) are avid players.

Moneymaking mystique


Sorority Life
is just one example of society’s (not to mention the
media’s) increasing interest in – and exploitation of – negative stereotypes associated with fraternal organizations (particularly women-based groups). The “sorority” concept has become a hot moneymaker, as these examples show:

  • The new "Sorority Row" movie – a slick remake of 1983’s campy “House on Sorority Row,” both of which focus on a hazing-type prank gone wrong, and the “secrets” that sisters supposedly keep.
  • A controversial new application (“app” for short) for the iPhone designed to help men select the perfect pick-up lines for women, including the “sorority girl” – a witless-looking gal wearing bunny ears, a miniskirt and toting a little dog. (The app was pulled from the shelves late last week, to the cheers of millions.)
  • Lifetime’s new movie "Sorority Wars," which aired earlier this month, focusing on what it termed “wild parties,” “hot boyfriends” and a “dirty rush scandal.”

Even 2001’s smash hit “Legally Blonde” (now a popular musical) takes a light-hearted jab, but comes out more or less OK in the end. (Elle Woods does graduate and go on to have a good life, after all.) Of course, the same can’t be said for MTV’s failed "Sorority Life" series, which was finally canceled earlier this decade after a furious uproar about the inaccurate, sensationalist way it depicted sisterhood.

Curiously apart from the pack is the popular TV show "Greek" (ABC Family), which at least attempts to dig a little deeper into the Greek culture, portraying various kinds of situations and characters that are more true to life (as even the National Panhellenic Conference cautiously admits in a recent article posted on Newsweek.com).

“People are clearly enamored of the mystique associated with Greek life – more than we’ve seen in a long time,” says Gina Kerley, former member of Phi Sig’s Supreme Council and two-term leader on NPC’s international executive team (serving as chairman of alumnae Panhellenics). “All you have to do is look at the numbers of women interested in joining sororities today…. Even in a weak economy, NPC member groups across the board have seen tremendous interest to ‘go Greek.’ ”

Challenging inaccurate beliefs


That poses a special challenge to Greek organizations like Phi Sigma Sigma, says Executive Director Michelle Ardern, who’s been actively involved in the Fraternity since graduating from the Delta Iota Chapter at Central Michigan University nearly 20 years ago.

“Now more than ever, we need to combat the negative stereotypes associated with being a sorority woman,” she says. “Movies and TV shows are fun to watch – but if people start believing what they’re seeing, that can lead to modeling of risky behaviors and attitudes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the modern sorority experience.”

Among the negative images and stereotypes most often associated with Greek life, Michelle says:

  1. Greeks like to party hard. “Not true,” she says. Twenty, 30 years ago, it might have been more the norm to see social events on campus that could be deemed a little “wild.” But increasing concern at universities over injuries, and even deaths, associated with risky behaviors have quashed such activities throughout North America. Indeed, most fraternal organizations (and all NPC organizations) have adopted policies and guidelines that encourage responsible social activities – and attempt to educate all members that since those times, Greek culture has changed for the better. “Greek groups still have a way to go,” Michelle adds. “But we’re doing our part to focus on the networking, sisterhood and friendship aspects of socializing in lieu of the old-fashioned ‘partying’ aspect.”
  2. Greeks are secretive because they have something to hide. “That’s pretty laughable,” Michelle says, noting that while Phi Sigma Sigma sisters vow to keep rituals “secret and sacred,” we do so out of respect for our Founders, traditions and history. “It’s a way to make the Phi Sig experience even more meaningful, because through ritual, we can ‘reveal’ the special nuances associated with our sisterhood. But there’s nothing in our rituals that couldn’t be made public, if we wanted that. We just believe our ritual is for sisters only. Sisters understand that, even if society sometimes doesn’t – and that’s OK.”
  3. Sorority women are: blonde, silly, shallow, rich, materialistic, catty, manipulative (fill in the blank here, because of course there are many other adjectives to describe them, as you know). “Today’s sorority member is someone who understands how much women’s roles have changed in the past 100 years – and sees the benefits associated with participating in a close sisterhood like Phi Sigma Sigma that offers fun, enriching opportunities to grow, learn and lead in the world while making friends for a lifetime,” Michelle says. “Our women come from all kinds of backgrounds, faiths, cultures – and they share different beliefs and socioeconomic lifestyles. They go on to be mothers, community leaders, professionals in a wide array of fields…. There’s no ‘one’ sorority woman, just as there’s no ‘one’ way to live a good life,” she adds.

So what can we do?


Of course, even knowing this, we can’t go around every day pointing out all the ridiculous stereotypes about our sorority – stereotypes that are ultimately about us, as members. (When they’re particularly egregious or troubling, especially online, you’re encouraged to contact our Headquarters, and we’ll help manage the situation: phisighq@phisigmasigma.org or 410-799-1224.)

That said, what Phi Sig sisters can do is represent the best of who we are, be proud of our lifetime affiliation with our group (and speak openly about that to others), note respectfully when we disagree with an inaccurate portrayal of Greek life (such as reporter Sarah Ball did in the Newsweek column), and know where to find resources that can help combat the stereotypes.

Here are two new and truly outstanding resources being promoted by NPC member groups, including Phi Sig:

  • TheSororityLife.com – Fun, popular and highly informative, this site is designed to share stories of true sisterhood in action.
  • SororityParents.com – Heart-felt and well-spoken, these blogs are written by parents sharing their observations of their daughters’ experiences in Greek life.

You may not be able to avoid the plethora of negative sorority or Greek images in this media-rich and reality-show-focused world. But knowing the facts, and staying true to Phi Sigma Sigma’s values – indeed, your personal values for living well – are all you need to navigate through it, and to help others understand the difference between the truth and fiction.




Lisa Romero

Lisa Romero is editor-in-chief of
Connections as well as our other publications, and assists the Fraternity and Foundation with communications.

E-mail communications@phisigmasigma.org or call our Headquarters: 410-799-1224.