When I heard about Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities I knew I had to read it. The Fraternity and Sorority system was a huge part of URI. While I drank their free beer (it was college after all), I hated the system and the conformity it seemed to generate. At the time, it amazed me how quickly information about Sororities spread to even people as remote and nerdy as myself. I heard that the Alpha Zetas and the Delta Zetas had the hot but stuck-up girls. I heard they hazed their pledged by circling their "problem areas" with black markers. I heard about naked streaking and bulimia. So, as a curious outsider, I wanted to find out how much of this was true.
It turns out, a lot. First, it's difficult to group all Sororities together - the multicultural and multi-gender Sororities are a different animal altogether. Still, the Sororities of legend and disrepute - who value materialism, conformity, cattiness, and unwavering loyalty above all else - are very common. Especially in the South, it turns out, where 75% of some colleges are Greek and many parents enroll their teens in "prep classes" that focus exclusively on getting into Sororities.
It was very difficult for me to separate the "good" Sororities from the bad while reading this book. The bad ones were so bad it seemed that they have tainted the word Sorority for me pretty thoroughly. The Sororities described by this uncover reporter for the New York Times expected all their girls to look alike, down to straightened hair and "the right" accessories. These images are honed and enforced by Nationals, the governing body usually led by alumni 40 or more years older than the girls they govern. These elder statesmen push for "traditional" values in their pledges, including moral uprightness and community service, much of which is just lip service. Often, the decision to exclude blacks from some Sororities and Fraternities also comes at the National level, which is one of the reasons why black and other minority Greek houses sprung into being.
At many Sororities, sisters are expected to make most or all meetings and are fined for missing them for any reason, including class or family functions. It seems that if a Sorority has a house, materialism becomes part of daily life, as sisters must seek out pledges to fill the rooms and pay bills. Often, pledges are screened for expensive clothing or rich parents, since that means they will be able to pay dues.
The book did describe some bonding experiences that made Sororities worth it for some of the girls. But for many others, sisters were expected to compete against each other for the affections of Fraternities, experience date rape at an alarming rate (more than 1/3 of Sorority sisters are sexually assaulted) and are expected to sacrifice friends, family and education for their House at all times. I highly recommend the book, even though it was extremely saddening to read.