Sunday, March 27, 2005

Next step: sticker removal.

I wasn't in a sorority. I never even considered rushing. I didn't know a lot about the Greek system when I started college except for knowing that it wasn't for me.

So I finished this Alexandra Robbins book today while working my way through the piles of laundry that we've let accumulate (hey, it's a quick read). I want to do two things: I want to have my sister read it -- my actual sister, who was in a sorority -- to see what she thinks, and I want to take the Pi Phi sticker that she put on my car one of the summers that she was driving it off as soon as possible, sticky residue or no sticky residue.

I started the book expecting to find all my worst assumptions, based on conversations with friends in sororities, observations of non-friends in sororities, and who knows what else, confirmed. Well, they were. But the funny thing about this book is that, while to me it reads like a stinging indictment, I have a feeling that to people who are already pro-Greek system it's going to come across as at least mildly positive if not as a ringing endorsement. I checked out some of the reader reviews on amazon this afternoon, and that seems to be the case; readers who are now or who have been in the past involved with sororities seem to see the book in a more positive light. The adjective "entertaining" is the most frequently used in these reviews.

For me, though, Robbins paints a picture of sororites as they exist today that is not very flattering. In her book the average sorority girl is attractive but not too attractive, bright but not too bright, wealthy, and desperately insecure. She finishes her book with a list of suggestions for sororities at the national and chapter levels, none of which are likely to be followed. The reader reviews tell all: the things that Robbins (and readers like me) view as destructive for a group of women are evidently not seen that way by the women who get a lot out of sorority life.

I'm glad I read this book. It's not what I'd call eloquent, and I wish Robbins had spent more time explicitly contextualizing her discussion of sororities in light of the wider question of how groups of women treat each other. Sororities on their own don't really matter, but the bigger phenomena that they exemplify really do, and Robbins makes only passing allusion to the broader context. Still, the broader context is there for any reader wishing to see it.

I'm interested in having my sister (or any other smart women I know, especially if they were involved with sororities in college but even if they were not) take a look at the book at some point to tell me what she thinks of it. I bring a very negative view of the Greek system to bear on my reading of the book and I'd like to see what a good reader from another background has to say about it.


Blogger grumperina said...

Sounds like a book I'd be interested in reading. I wasn't in a sorority myself, and neither were any of my close friends, but I don't have a particularly negative view of them. I was always curious to learn more, I admit. Thanks for the heads up.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Kieran Snyder said...

I'll be interested to hear what you think if you do read it. I wouldn't have seen you as the sorority type. But I don't know how to clarify what I mean by that without offending what I consider to be the sorority type!

7:26 PM  
Blogger this charming man said...

would you recommend this book for my graduate class on college student life and culture?

7:00 AM  
Blogger heathalouise said...

I have been meaning to read this book for months. My undergrad had a miniscule Greek contingent, so it was almost as if the uncool kids were the ones who pledged. When I got to UGA for my master's, however, I stepped into a completely different world. I hated the sense of entitlement that these girls had, especially when it was couched in the late-'90s Feminism Lite mantra of "girl power." I had some friends in my cohort who were in sororities and I just could not understand. I have a feeling I will read it with the same perspective that you have. One question. At Penn, are they "eating clubs" like they are at other Ivys? Is that a slightly different phenomenon? I have no idea...

7:07 AM  
Blogger Kieran Snyder said...

Heathalouise: the Greek system at Penn is pretty traditional. Eating clubs are to my knowledge primarily at Princeton.

TCM: Yeah, it could be an interesting book for your syllabus. It's not totally academic -- after all, Robbins is primarily a writer and not someone focusing intensively on women's studies or education or sociology -- but it's definitely relevant and would probably lead to some good discussion.

9:21 AM  

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