The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

August 23, 2015

The Stepford Sorority of Alpha Phi and Their Right to Freedom of Expression

When the University of Alabama recently banned a recruiting video for the sorority Alpha Phi, they did not do it on the grounds of obscenity; it was no more obscene than the movie it seemed to gently mimic, Legally Blonde.  They did not ban it because of explicit language.  Indeed, the women in the video were all mute.  The banned it because it demonstrates a truth about southern fraternity and sorority culture, a truth that did not make the university appear erudite or even remotely academic.  If all I knew about the University of Alabama came from that video, here is what I would glean:

  • That for some reason at this institution, white women like to wear white outfits and sit on beige couches in a big living room, laughing.
  • That for perhaps the same unknown reason, they need to blow glitter into the air when they get together.
  • That they have one black friend, and he’s on the football team.
  • That no one who has joined the sorority Alpha Phi has any cellulite.
  • That everyone in that sorority got the same spray-on tan to dance around on the football field.
  • That it’s hot in Alabama. Nobody wears very much clothing.
  • That students in Alpha Phi seem to have no textbooks or concern about study.
  • That the women of Alpha Phi seem eager to dance and hug.  They blow kisses as well as glitter, leaving one to wonder if they blow anything else.
  • The sorority has money.

white women in white laughing for no reason

Fraternities have gotten scrutinized lately for promoting a culture of rape. Rightly, there are cries of outrage against chants of, “no means yes, and yes means anal,” and against repeated cases of assault and rape taking place at frat parties.  If the white men (for they are overwhelmingly white men) of this so-called Greek system have absorbed an idea that sexual aggression is acceptable, in this video, we see the yang to that rape-culture yin.  Women in sororities have internalized the idea that they are rightly considered objects, that appearances matter much, much more than ideas, and that “pretty” is the highest aspiration of a young woman’s college career.  From this Greek factory of wild oats sown, one still sees a huge number of traditional outcomes, meaning those rapists marry the girls without cellulite or expressed ideas before grad school.  But the amount of sex, consensual or not, and the amount of sexual objectification would probably shock sweethearts of sigma chi of yore. Women on the campus of Ole Miss have had, I know personally, meetings where they have expressed uneasiness at the pressure they feel in sororities to “put out,” but to my knowledge, they haven’t organized any revolt against this pressure. Part of the problem is that sororities do things, almost everything, together, and this seems to imply that sexual consent feels within the walls of the sorority house like a group decision.

I submit that the University of Alabama had no reason to insist that the sorority Alpha Phi pull the video. It shows the truth. It is an honest expression of what these young women feel about themselves. They value looks over all.  They have no black female friends or friends who are white but somehow ethnic-looking. They don’t read books. They don’t have deep discussions. They are like Elle Woods’ sorority sisters: neither introspective nor troubled by world events.  They see themselves as characters rendered two-dimensionally. They are things, pretty things to adorn the world, in their own view.  If the university is upset by this, then they need to shut down fraternity and sorority row, not censor a non-obscene video that accurately depicts the worldview of many of their students and of many of their alumni donors. If they don’t like what the drone overhead shots reveal about the school, they need to shut down the football program and host poets influenced by Sylvia Plath, teach gender studies as a requirement, and raise expectations all around. These laughing Alpha Phi women with whitened smiles, they are not the problem, though they might diagnose the problem. The video is cute. They are cute. What is not cute is that some universities are more football rooters clubs than temples to learning.

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