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A Reluctant Defense of Sorority Girls

February 17, 2010

Nathan Bengtsson
A Reluctant Defense of Sorority Girls

I often laugh to myself when I think of how horrified my mom would be should she accidentally stumble into my apartment at any number of inopportune moments. Granted, in real life I would probably have fair warning, as she is bound to make some noise scaling the mountain of empty Natty Lights that litter our graveyard of a front porch. But I still occasionally imagine her sneaking in during some conversation my roommates and I are having, only to have her cover blown by the abrupt and repeated use of my full name, especially the middle one, that would undoubtedly result. It’s not that my roommates and I are especially crude. On second thought...we definitely are. But in your own house with your closest friends, it is natural to let your guard down. Besides, if CMC is going to build apartments paper thin walls, it follows that bathroom noises become the subject of living room conversation. (On that note, I hope they spent a ton of extra money getting the prefab cardboard doors textured to look like wood. It really contributes to the cozy feel of dentist’s office.)  In any case, the patois of obscenities and ridiculous abbreviations that we use is an intensely personal thing, and to have it taken out of context would be extremely frustrating. We are all bright, articulate people, and the things we say to make each other laugh while having a beer or two do not define by any means.

I make this point to help illustrate another one. A few weeks ago, Ivy League blog IvyGate released some “fashion guidelines” authored by the Recruitment Chair of the Cornell chapter of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Received from “an anonymous tipster,” these guidelines are the absolute epitome of the worst sorority and Ivy League stereotypes. I’m sure you’ll follow the link, but for those of you who are extra lazy, I’ll share a few of my favorite damning sections right now. This is clearly one of the best: “Heels: mid-height. This round is still 'casual,' so no sky-high hooker heels! I’m thinking mid-height Mary Jane heels, or mid-height chunky Kate Spade, etc.” It was followed closely this heart-warming tidbit: “If you’re wearing cheapo shoes, make sure they don’t look it.” As the author who broke the story wryly notes, this is pretty important stuff in the Pi Phi quest to, “to promote friendship, develop women of intellect and integrity, cultivate leadership potential and enrich lives through community service.”

The memo absolutely deserves some level of ridicule for its simultaneously shallow and snotty content, and I could not help but feel smug the first time I read the IvyGate post. But after a little consideration, all of the ruckus caused by the memo seems ridiculous. The "story" of the "Pi Phi plastics" is nothing but absurd for a couple of well-considered and soon to be excellently articulated reasons.  For starters, this document captures only one facet, granted an ugly one, of what these women are about.  In the same way that what I do and say around my buddies does not encompass my whole self, neither does this memo condemn the sorority, or even the authoring rush chair in any definitive, meaningful way.   A transcript of almost any five minute conversation from my apartment would probably keep me from being employed EVER if it was to be made public.  And yet I have many prospects for after graduation.  These two facts are not irreconcilable; in fact, the silly and the serious, the shallow and the selfless all go into making a complete person.  We all screw up, and we can all be ridiculous.  Please, let it go.

The other reason that the flak created by the “fashion guide” is unwarranted is because it is hypocritical.  Here’s why.  Go the North Quad on any Thursday night and view the majestic bacchanalia  that is the best and worst CMC has to offer.  Any attempt to formalize the social rules that govern TNC debauchery would result in a document so much more incredibly damning than the “fashion guide” that to compare the two would be like drawing parallels between Bataan and a walk on Baldy’s nature trail.  The fashion guide is only news because it was issued from a source people doubly love to hate: Greeks and Ivy Leaguers.  In sneering at the women of Pi Phi, it is easy to forget about our own social rules, or those at many other schools across the nation for that matter, and how shallow they would sound should we take the time type them up.

And that is where my defense ends, because what is truly unforgivably stupid is that the girl actually did write it all down.  As we would say in my apartment, “WHAT DID YOU LEARN?!”

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