Gender Equality And Responsibility

Hi, my name is Zack Wiener, and I want to start a conversation about fraternities and sororities on campus. In many ways, I am following in the footsteps of my father, who wrote a piece for the Duke University student newspaper calling for the abolition of frats. My sister was also a leader of a Pan-Hellenic organization, and one of my best friends from home is the president of a chapter of Kappa Alpha. I learn from their example, and I truly value their dedication and hard work to their respective organizations. That said, as a queer person who is dedicated to gender equality and responsibility and holds a deep stake in the direction of my alma mater, I have to side against the establishment of more gendered Greek organizations at Swarthmore. Furthermore, I believe it is time for Swarthmore to live up to its ideals of social justice in fully abolishing gendered Greek organizations on campus.

My main concerns with Greek organizations lie with the boundaries that they draw in exclusive membership, and how those boundaries can be co-opted and combined with larger structures of oppression in society at large. Mainstreams and margins obviously aren’t unique to the world outside campus grounds, and I am suspicious when groups on campus exclude others in their definition and stake a claim in the grid of power dynamics within communities at large and on campus. I agree with some of the points made by the supporters of sororities: I think we need to interrogate the way that party spaces are dominated by specific points of view with regards to race, gender [identity], class, sexual identity, etc. However, my solution would be to dismantle the problem rather than add to it. The answer to the lack of safe spaces for women (of a particular type of identity) to socialize is not to further divide campus spaces by delineating organizations by gender. Rather, we should face head on the components of existing organizations that use gender, and in doing so, marginalize large groups of students on campus (women, queer people, transfolk, survivors, what have you). I agree that it is neither equitable nor responsible for Swarthmore to endorse one type of gendered Greek life and not the other — but rather than draw more lines in the sand and marginalize other people who fall into neither category of institutionalized gender (or just aren’t interested in gendered social spaces) why not get rid of the source of the problem altogether?

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: I wish there were more organizations on campus that were fashioned after the Greek model. I’m in love with the sibling-style induction, the social support systems, the institutionalized sharing of capital, and a mission that includes service. What I’m saying is: why do these organizations have to be specifically gendered? Why do these organizations have to superimpose themselves onto deeper structures of power when a clear option is to be more inclusive and less orthodoxly defined? I can envision a great system where we have many types of Greek organizations based on many different axes of identity — just not ones that make people feel unsafe or silenced in their homes.

Zack Wiener ’12 is a Sexual Health Counselor at Swarthmore.

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  1. 0
    W says:

    I feel like there are two anti-sorority streams of thought that don’t really make sense when you put them side-by-side.

    1) Gendered spaces should be torn down, and are transphobic (Zack, MC)
    2) There are lots of great gendered spaces already on campus, but sororities are unique among gendered spaces in that they are potentially divisive (Joan and Emma, Lisa)

    So either a) all gendered spaces are inherently bad and transphobic, or b) gendered spaces are not inherently bad and transphobic, but become so when they are sororities.

    Joan, Emma, Lisa: Is your issue with sororities institutionally, or with members of sororities and their actions? I find “members of sororities do divisive things” a lot more compelling and realistic than “sorority charters are institutionally worse than charters of other gendered groups”…but also a lot more rooted in stereotypes.

    Zack and MC: you make broad statements about gendered spaces, but only apply them to Greek life. What do you have to say to other gendered groups on campus?

    1. 0
      Marian Firke says:

      I think you missed one:

      That the desire for sororities is partly a reaction to women* feeling unsafe in male*-dominated spaces.

      *can be defined as cis- in both cases, but are not NECESSARILY defined that way either.

      Rather than being concerned about whether sorority life is divisive, or whether an all-inclusive “-ity” is an acceptable alternative to gendered greek life, I think I (and a lot of other commenters on MC’s article) are most concerned about what this new push says about the current state of social affairs at Swarthmore.

      Are women just looking for a place to drink together? Or is this related to deeper issues of how women are treated in party spaces on this campus?

    2. 0
      ZW'12 says:

      W, you make good, attentive observations, but I I think you might be seeing connections where none were necessarily meant to be. My article only represents my views, and wasn’t meant to cohere with the others ones; I read the other responses the same time you did.

      W/r/t “gendered spaces should be torn down”, I think your verb choice overrides some of the work I tried to put into treating the issue sensitively. Let me reiterate what I mean in the “baby and the bathwater” paragraph. I think I constructed those questions in that paragraph in a way that reads as rhetorical, but I remain open to someone who can convince me that those spaces need to be gendered. I’d refer you to the post by “alum” on the DU Brothers’ article; there, that anon asks a question I think I would also like answered: what about the frats’ mission and activities needs to be specifically from a male POV? I think that if we can answer that question productively in a way that people feel comfortable with, then sure: again, I’m a fan of the Greek model!

      But if we can’t find productive answers to the question of gender exclusivity, then maybe frats at Swarthmore are something that we should move away from?

      Thanks for all y’all’s input, questions, and food for thought.
      PS: W, I would totally give my papers to you to WA as well.

      1. 0
        W says:

        First, thanks to MC and Zack for taking on the teacher role here and being willing to respond to everyone’s concerns. Sorry about verb choice, and you’re right, there doesn’t need to be one coherent anti-sorority argument. I see them blending together in the comments, and I think it’s useful to separate them.

        MC: That makes sense, and I’m glad we agree that not all gendered spaces necessarily posit two genders. I just ask: so why doesn’t that apply to Greek life? Well, you’ve already answered that one, saying that Greek life is rooted in systems of oppression. Here we just disagree, and I guess I’m more optimistic. Just because a system has been rooted in oppression in the past does not mean that it is inherently so. If we wanted to have a progressive sorority, we could. We construct our own reality, and all that. I must say: if you think that no institution conceived under an oppressive framework can EVER overcome said oppression, that is one grim view of history. (but maybe that’s a straw man)

        Zack, all I have to say to your question (which really gets to the heart of it all) is that I often want to talk/hang out/drink with people who gender their lives similarly to me. This is important to me, and pretty deeply ingrained, and I don’t think I need to apologize for excluding other genders at those times. I speculate that frats operate similarly. (food for thought: is laxbro a gender? I say yes.)

        I’ll defend the Greeks in theory, but I agree that there are serious issues in practice. In this case, the total indifference to women’s groups at Swat is astonishing, and I haven’t seen an apology for the ridiculous quote that heads Joan and Emma’s article. I also don’t believe the WRC was “hostile” to the group, and would like to hear how that went down, from both sides.

        I’m done here, won’t be coming back. Sorry to bail, but I just can’t. Don’t let that keep you from replying. My last words: Team Gazette

    3. 0
      MC says:

      I answered this on my thread.

      An institution that only permits gendered spaces that reflect the cissexist construction of a gender binary are transphobic.

      An institution that permitted a variety of gendered spaces or gendered spaces that very explicitly acknowledge a more sophisticated conception of gender would not be transphobic. They could still be prejudiced, but that’s a different story and potentially not backed by institutional power/privilege.

      Gendered spaces are not inherently evil or sexist or transphobic. I think it’s very important for marginalized genders (such as womyn or non-binary folks or trans folks) to have spaces to receive support and community re: their gender or genders.

  2. 0
    c ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    As a member of DU, how can you say that you don’t support Greek organizations on campus? If males on campus have the option of joining fraternities, why can’t females have the option of joining sororities? I find your stance tremendously hippocritical.

    1. 0
      Zack W-IE-ner'12 says:

      Oops! You fell in to the trap! You’re certainly not the first. See, there’s a Zack Wiener and a Zach Weiner on campus. I, Zack Wiener, wrote this article. I’m not a DU member. Zach Weiner is. My views are represented here, not his.

      Hope that clarifies.

  3. 0
    another suggestion ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’d like to add to this discussion by suggesting that there are co-ed fraternities on many other campuses that seem like really interesting opportunities for all genders to come together around different interests and career paths. Speaking from personal experience, a close friend of mine is in a co-ed business fraternity that goes to conferences, hosts business-related events, and of course has a social side as well. They don’t have a house (I think) and wind up having a great business network upon graduation. I think that investigating these and other types of co-ed solutions might be helpful in addressing the issue of gender equality that you discuss.

  4. 0
    V says:

    Zach, great article! You’re expressing all of the feelings that I’ve had about the sorority plan. Down with gendered spaces! (or something.) Down with exclusivity!

    “My main concerns with Greek organizations lie with the boundaries that they draw in exclusive membership, and how those boundaries can be co-opted and combined with larger structures of oppression in society at large. Mainstreams and margins obviously aren’t unique to the world outside campus grounds, and I am suspicious when groups on campus exclude others in their definition and stake a claim in the grid of power dynamics within communities at large and on campus.”

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