Pledged, The Secret Life of Sororities is my latest read. As indicated by the title, it is about college sororities. While not telling exactly how she did it, the author got several Sophomore sorority members at a state university to speak with her and/or she infiltrated the sororities in some manner and then wrote about these girls' year in the sorority. At that school, rush is after Christmas and girls don't live in the sorority house until their sophomore year, so, while fully initiated, these girls were new to full sorority life. The author gives their school and their sororities fictional names but says that the events really happened. She follows the girls from move-in day, through parties, meetings, friendships, romance rush and initiating new members. The girls she followed seemed at least at the beginning of the book to be inside outsiders--members who didn't see themselves as inner circle members of the sorority, who considered leaving it, but who, in the end stuck it out. In general, the book paints a rather bad picture of sorority girls as drunken, sexually loose, spoiled rich girls who are mean to each other and to outsiders; yet the author also state that for two of the five girls she followed, sorority membership was a very good thing, and for the others, it wasn't really bad. From reading the book, I'd guess we don't have enough money to have to worry about my daughters joining a sorority, but if we did, and if this book paints an accurate picture, despite the fact that the book says that sorority members make higher grades and are more likely to graduate than non-members, I wouldn't want my daughter to join one. The sorority often seemed to be a high school clique on steriods and the social events were basically hanging out at a bar, drunk, and then having sex with fraternity boys. Though friendship is often touted as a reason for joining a sorority, the girls in the book seemed a lot like my college friends, in that we had two or three close friends, five to ten other "members of the gang" and had other folks on campus that we liked, and didn't like. Even though these girls were allegedly "sisters" with a whole sorority, they pretty much stuck with their little groups.
I graduated from Mississippi University for Women which was the first and last state-supported institution of higher learning exclusively for women. We didn't have sororities, we had local social clubs. They had some of the same trappings--the rush parties followed pretty much the same format as the rush parties described in the book, new members were called pledges and had to earn their membership in the group during a pledging period that included learning about the group and its history, doing activities with the group and culminating in Hell Night. They had club sweaters or sweatshirts, club mascots that cluttered their rooms, paddles and the like. They were different from sororities in that they were local and they did not have houses. While this year the school has started to house all social club members (if they want to) in one dorm, up until now, they have lived among the general student population, often rooming with members of the same club, but not always.
I started rush my freshman year because people told me it was a good way to meet people--and that's what everyone was doing then anyway. I dropped out after the first round because it was easier than dealing with the rejection I figured was coming, and I wasn't all that interested anyway. Later I realized that no one who went through rush ended up without a bid--and after I got to know my way around school I figured that there were several clubs that probably would have accepted me. I say this simply to say I was an outsider to the system. I don't know exactly what went on behind closed doors with the clubs, but I did see the public aspects of pledging, which at the W, in my day, took place during the first semester of the freshman year for most folks. The first thing I noticed is that when "the gang" got together to go to dinner it was much smaller, since the pledges were required to eat with their clubs at certain meals and tended to do so that others. These meals were in the cafeteria and they'd offer me an empty chair, but it didn't take long for me to feel like an outsider and find a group of independents to eat with. Pledges wore some type of membership symbol--usually a wooden plaque around their neck, which could be taken by an active if they broke some rules. They carried pledge books which gave the history of the clubs, their family tree, club symbols, songs etc. They had to get all the actives to sign their book. They also had silence days when pledges were required to eat with the club, but on which members did not speak to them at all. For some reason this made more than a couple of pledges cry. Pledges had to perform skits for actives at meetings. In short, with the exception of silence, I had no real problems with the pledging activities I observed or heard about and I could see that their purpose was to create a sense of group identity and to make the girls value the group.
My problem with pledging was the silence--and anything I didn't know about which made the girls subject to it unhappy or uncomfortable. I thought then, and still think now, that taking a vulnerable group of girl who were away from home for the first time, putting them in a position where you were their main support system (since you were the ones she was eating with, studying with, playing intramurals with, visiting nightly etc) and then saying that to remain part of the group you had to tolerate x, y, or z that you didn't like, was giving the actives too much power. I had a couple of friends who were "almost" members of a club. By that, I mean that they lived with members of that club, generally ate with the club members, went out with them, and were even sometimes invited to club social functions. They pledged the club as Juniors but dropped out pretty quickly. When I asked why, one said "It was a lot of hassle and I realized that the girls in the club who were my friends would stay my friends even if I dropped, and those who weren't my friends wouldn't become my friends because I was a club member." She also said that had she done this as a freshman, she would have probably stuck it out. The W also had two-year social clubs for juniors and seniors. The girls who got bids to those clubs were popular girls who, for the most part, were members of other social clubs. I heard some rumors about the awful things they had to do when pledging and since I don't know how much is fact and how much is fiction I won't repeat it here, but I will say I was never concered about those girls. I figured that if girls in those positions weren't smart enough to say "no" they deserved what they got. If my daughter went to the W today, I don't know how I'd feel about her joing a club, except that it seems better than the sorority alternative.