Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, by Alexandria Robbins

I must admit, I have been putting off writing this review for several days. Reactions to this book are mixed (at best) by the public at large. The book delves into the secret, and sometimes scary, world of college sororities. The author follows 4 young sorority sisters for a full academic year at “State University” to get a full idea of what sisterhood is all about. Along the way, she sees drunkenness, covered up date rapes, girls pawned off as sex objects (which probably helped contribute to the date rapes), begrudging attempts at charity work, and mixed messages galore.

The reason I was so torn about reviewing this is because I am not certain if this book paints an accurate picture. The author herself, in the introduction, talks about how she has been threatened, demeaned, and blacklisted by sorority sisters nationwide, claiming the book paints a flagrantly erroneous picture of Greek life. Similarly, when I announced on my facebook page that I was reading this book, angry comments abounded about how “that is not what sororities are like at all”. Maybe not, or more accurately, maybe not your sorority, but I do believe that there are some sororities out there that are pretty close to the image presented in this book. Why do I believe this? Women have been raised to see other women as competition, and to treat each other poorly, but to do so with a smile on their faces. That is why I believe the things in this book are true.

As a high school senior, I had no desire to go far away for college; I knew I was not ready to deal with the pressure of maintaining academic excellence in such a new and intimidating environment, so I chose to live at home, and commute to a college campus. The campus offered no opportunities for Greek life, as it was only a regional branch of the state school main campus. As I read this book, I considered myself blessed to have escaped the fate of a sorority sister. In graduate school, I attended a religious based university, and while there was Greek life represented, students had an alternative choice to being Greek. They could instead enter the Household system. A Household was basically a sorority or fraternity, with its purpose centered on faith. Their activities were God centered, their mission was God centered, and each took a different religious devotion as its name (Lion of Judah, Handmaids of the Lord, etc.). They had weekly prayer, and meetings, as well as charity and outreach. They held dances, date nights, and did basically everything a sorority does; there was the same emphasis on sisterhood, only it was Christian sisterhood. To me, it seemed a healthy alternative. Unfortunately, such things probably would not fly at a state school, even if student organized.

The girls represented in the book really seem more of archetypes for the different kinds of girls who get involved in Greek life. Certainly, the Greek system has something positive to offer; many girls form lifelong friendships, make business connections, meet their future spouses, and find great charitable purpose as a result of being Greek. What concerns me about sororities, however, is the emphasis many (not all) have on conformity. The college years are so formative, with girls being away from home for the first time, really getting their first taste of freedom. It can be overwhelming, and to mask fear or homesickness, some girls will do anything to make friends, even if it means giving up their identities. The book clearly touches on this concept, specifically when it comes to male-female interaction. The author describes how sororities give girls mixed signals regarding boys and sex; be available to boys, but not so many boys that you are a tramp. In fact, one of the girls in the book talks about her overwhelming desire to have a boyfriend, and she becomes so desperate that she ends up going after a boy that had date-raped her the previous year.

This book opened my eyes to what some other girls’ experiences in college may have been. This book was not easy to read; I found myself feeling overwhelmingly sad for these girls, and grateful for the path I chose. Even though some difficult topics are discussed, I think this would be a valuable book for parents to read if they have daughters preparing to go away to school. It could be a great way to open up a conversation with your daughter about if Greek life is right for her, and if so, what her goals and boundaries should be when selecting a sorority.