Sororities and Stereotypes: Shifting the Narrative

Writer: Rachel Stein

Graphic Design and Photography: Jazzy Wan

 

A photo of UBC's Vancouver Campus


On June 11, 2021, ThePlug Vancouver, a media outlet for UBC students, published a video titled “Sorority Girls Share Their Juiciest Greek Life Secrets | Unplugged.” In the video, which was posted to Instagram and YouTube, UBC sorority members were asked questions ranging from “Would you rather be a frat brother?” to “Would you hook up with someone that has already been with a sorority sister?” Not surprisingly, the video was flooded with comments upset at the blatantly sexist questions. Six days later, the video was removed from both platforms; not as a result of ThePlug team learning from their mistakes and understanding the harm that these sexist stereotypes can cause, but because of continued “harassment” towards the people involved with the video.


After deleting the video, ThePlug released a statement detailing the thought process behind the video and its subsequent removal. “The questions asked in the video were not intended to perpetuate any sorority girl stereotype, but rather, we were asking our participants about aspects of their individual lived experiences as women from sororities.”


Haniyah Syed, a third-year student and sorority member at UBC, saw through this statement and had commented her disapproval on the original Instagram post prior to it being taken down. “I think that anyone who watched this video would be able to tell there wasn’t any positive outcome, in terms of painting the image of a sorority girl coming out of this video, they didn’t make the effort to address all the philanthropy that’s done, they didn’t address all the academic initiatives that take place, they didn’t try to talk about all the incredible women. ... In this video, they willingly made these questions so that the girls would answer them in a certain way, and it’s hard for me to think that it wasn’t an intentional direction.”



“It’s important that sorority women are well represented. It’s human nature: if people think of you a certain way … you’re going to start believing it. These stereotypes are very discouraging and inhibiting to women in general,” stated Syed.


Despite the outpouring of comments explaining why the video was harmful, ThePlug doubled down and instead questioned the backlash they received. “This video, and what followed online, opens up a larger conversation about why sorority members are barred, discouraged, and silenced from discussing partying, drinking, sex, etc. … If it's to protect them from possible assault/harm, then why are we equating silence to self-defense? If it's about playing to harmful stereotypes, then we ask why is talking about these topics considered negative?”


“So many girls were saying, ‘this makes me so uncomfortable, this is disturbing me,’ and The Plug, which is a male-dominated organization, was just refusing to listen to these voices,” said Syed. “If a video is very obviously controversial and it’s causing a lot of discomfort and disturbance, then as an organization you need to take the steps to make sure that your audience is not going to feel a certain way at your hands. How the entire situation was dealt with was just so terrible. … It took six days [and like 300 people complaining] for this video to get taken down.”


Fraternity members, of which the founder of ThePlug is one, have a crucial role in helping to break or perpetuate these stereotypes: “They can talk about how amazing girls are, and how we are doing all these things that are right for UBC. What’s important is that when they close their frat house doors, they are talking about women the exact same way. ” Additionally, UBC itself helps maintain the power imbalance between sororities and fraternities as only the latter have their own houses on campus. “...as long as we don’t have our own houses, we are going to keep going to the guys, right? And we are never going to be separate from them and they are always going to be able to have the upper hand and be responsible for our endangerment,” stated Syed.


Syed discussed how long women in sororities have been working to move past these harmful narratives and contribute to society’s and their own wellbeing. “I feel like as long as our individual organizations are taking the steps to change, then everyone one day can feel differently about us as well. Because it is our responsibility. And that’s why we care, that’s why we don’t want people to feel that we are this way. That’s why we are mad about that video. Because we have taken so long to change this idea of what girls from sororities are like. That’s why we’ve worked for so long to better ourselves and better our own organizations, and for all of this to be wiped away by a guy who thinks that he can just … paint these images of women, it’s not good for us.“


Beyond Greek organizations themselves, it is extremely important to recognize that everyone plays a role in maintaining and validating these damaging stereotypes and everyone can make an effort to unlearn such narratives. “I think it’s not just sorority women, it’s every woman at UBC, we all collectively have to make it clear that women are just as capable, just as diligent and vocal as men are, and I really hope more girls can stick up for things they believe in. I think that this is a very big responsibility among every single person regardless of your gender identity, everyone has a role to play in abolishing negative stereotypes about the people that you are surrounded with. I feel like as long as our individual organizations are taking the steps to change, then everyone one day can feel differently about us as well. Because it is our responsibility. And that’s why we care, ” concluded Syed.

 

In addition to our interview with Syed, we also referenced this article on The Ubyssey that you may find of interest for further reading.


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