In Greek Life’s governing bodies, gender feels stratified

Delta Tau Delta, located on the south side of Butler’s campus. Collegian file photo.

ANDRES SALERNO | Opinion Columnist | asalern1@butler.edu

To those involved with fraternity life on Butler’s campus, there’s an open joke often repeated to potential new members going through recruitment. “At least this isn’t sorority recruitment, do you see what they have to do?” I know I’ve used it to break the ice, and when I went through recruitment, it was repeated to me at multiple fraternity rush events. Those who are involved in Greek Life are likely aware, however, that the difference in standards and structure extends far beyond that one week in January.

One instance where rules are applied differently are the popular “lip syncs” put on by Greek houses around campus. These are lighthearted dance competitions pit all of the sororities or fraternities against each other under the premise of philanthropic causes. For fraternity teams competing in lip sync events at sorority houses, the teams prepare for about a week, get up on stage and embarrass themselves with hilariously raunchy, gag-filled routines, only held accountable to a semblance of propriety by the opinions of the ‘coaches’ from whatever sorority house is holding the event.

For sororities, however, the same leniency is not applied. Beyond the cutthroat attitude between sorority houses for these lip sync events, every dance, song, and outfit must be screened by the sororities’ governing body, Panhellenic Council. Things that have recently been deemed inappropriate by Panhellenic include lyrics such as “smoke,” “jack,” and a litany of swear words that were apparently not sufficiently edited out in the radio versions of the song.

The dances are monitored closely, and women are not allowed to dress scandalously — even exposed bra straps are a violation of Panhellenic policy. There is a clear discrepancy in what is expected of Greek members by gender, despite the identical events.   

Greek life is held accountable by two forces: the university and the Greek councils. For fraternities, there is the Interfraternity Council, where members from each of the five fraternities are represented and serve in a senate, governing fraternity affairs on campus. For sororities, there is Panhel, which is structurally similar to IFC and shares the same responsibilities.

So how is it that both fraternities and sororities are governed by similar organizations, yet the expectations just don’t feel the same?

I spoke with Ellen Ward, a junior Panhellenic representative for Alpha Phi, about what she saw as the responsibilities of Panhel.

“I see its responsibility as the governing body to help run recruitment, make sure it goes smoothly, and making sure that everything is according to plan according to the rules that are in place,” Ward said.

Ward said she believes the IFC exists to serve the same function, but doesn’t quite see the same results.

“I think fraternities suffer from the leniency that IFC gives them,” Ward said. “If there were a stricter governing body, there would be less incidents within fraternity houses. I believe that a lot of the rules Panhellenic has about recruitment are more fair and less stressful for girls going through recruitment…but I think that there are some things that Panhel are more stringent about and they could stand to be a little bit looser.”

Ward said she sees the system as flawed, but not broken.

“The way that lip syncs are policed is based in sexism and is based in outdated ideals,” Ward said. “But I also think that in a sense it’s under good intentions of protecting members and protecting member organizations.”

Whether or not the stricter rules of Panhellenic are sexist or productive for women is not a matter I wish to weigh in on. It is, however, clearly a different standard than the one applied to fraternities on campus.

“In theory, it’s the same idea as Panhel, but Panhel has more rules and guidelines for the Panhellenic chapters,” said Tyler Kennedy IFC vice president of communications and a junior Sigma Nu. “I feel as though IFC could be more involved especially in terms of the rules for how recruitment and how the days are run.”

Maybe there is a happy medium between the strict nature of Panhellenic and the more relaxed approach of IFC, but what is clear is that currently there is a divide in what is expected. Though no individual is responsible for the divide, the fact remains that holding women to a higher standard is characteristic of a sexist power structure — and there is currently nothing in place to combat this.

Women participating in lighthearted dance competitions for philanthropy should not have to become sound engineers to edit out words from songs that were already censored enough for the radio. They also should not be held to a high school dress code by a university organization. Juxtaposed with fraternity lip syncs, which suffer from a lack of oversight, this double standard becomes insulting.

Victorian ideas about the roles of men and women cannot be the standards Greek Life subscribes to. The benefits of Greek life will easily be outweighed if progressive reforms to match the standards of our culture do not take hold. We are not the University of Alabama — times are changing, and the organizations that govern Greek life on campus must adapt, lest they endanger every chapter on campus.

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