Saturday, July 05, 2008

Book: Pledged

We had this book laying around waiting for Terri's Amazon store and I thought it looked like a good travel book, so I picked it up. Secret life of sororities? Sign me up!

Author Alexandra Robbins went slightly undercover to get the real story on modern sorority girls (prohibited from doing an official investigation after a nation-wide media ban following MTV's Sorority Life show, she 'befriended' some sorority girls on one particular campus and followed their lives. This part is somewhat unclear.). Since she was not able to actually live in a sorority, I'm not sure if she got the 'real' story, but the girls whom she 'followed' revealed plenty.

Frankly, this book was kind of dumb (obvious joke: isn't that to be expected?). It wasn't very well written. It was fragmented, clumsy, poorly organized and not very compelling. It reminded me of the Ghost Hunting book, in that the sentences sort of lay where they fell, slap, thud. I did not feel as though I got any sort of narrative structure about the girls lives -- I got random snapshots of events, with not-very-compelling dialogue (clearly reconstructed), that kind of went nowhere. Ostensibly, the author was concentrating on four particular girls from one campus, from two sororities. However, since she also included many OTHER girls' stories, some from other schools, some from other sororities, it got kind of confusing. All the girls ran together in my mind and since there was no actual structure or storyline (the book sort of followed the sorority school year, but that was it for structure), it became very muddy. Also, since the girls' dialogue consisted of sentences such as, "Well, I mean, I guess it wasn't very nice to ignore her, but she just wasn't very Alpha Rho, you know?", I have to admit that I didn't pay very much attention to the bare minimum of structure that there was.

So, aside from the poor writing, the content was vaguely amusing. And yes, indeed, my suspicions were confirmed. Modern sororities are (in the book) hotbeds of 'mean girls', groupthink, eating disorders, manhunts, binge drinking, intense peer pressure, hypersexualized behavior, date rape, family money and materialism. There are also some genuinely nice girls (who all fall victim to these bad influences one time or another).

There was also quite a bit of history about sororities and Greek organizations, which was sort of interesting, but not really (to me). The author came to the conclusion that rather than being 'service' organizations, sororities are really actually just social groups (that you have to pay to belong to). Um, duh? (she did make the point that nontraditional and African-American sororities are more service-oriented and far less focused on member's looks and money). Frankly, they sound sort of awful.

I went to college at Oregon State University. While there were sororities and fraternities on campus, and 'Greek Row' was well-known to all, they hardly made a blip on my radar, other than to register annoyance at the overabundance of god-awful 'frat boys' on campus. I briefly considered 'rushing' my freshman year, just to see what it was like (with no intention of actually joining a sorority), but I think I would have lasted one hour, perhaps, in the process. I remember girls rushing on campus doing scavenger hunts or wearing stupid clothing, and shuddering (in my thrift-shop clothes and Doc Martens), glad that I didn't do that. I don't know what I was thinking, anyway, everything about me is SO FAR from Greek that I seriously would have self-selected out in a matter of minutes.

I had two direct experiences with Greek life. The first was when I had a sorority girl for a lab partner. She was sort of nice, but barely spoke to me (instead yelling across the class to her sisters, or being absent from our table completely), and she was only in class for about two weeks before she dropped the class. I remember thinking, "OK, here's your chance to counteract the sorority girl stereotype." Sadly, this didn't happen.

The other was the one party at a frat house that I went to. It was just about the worst kind of stereotypical frat party possible. Some friends that had a band were playing in the house basement, so I went to see their show. Literally, people were flinging open bottles of beer around their heads so beer was showering down on us all. It was crowded and stinky, with drunken girls draped over testosterone-and-beer-fueled frat boys. I went upstairs briefly to find a bathroom and passed by at least two rooms where I am pretty sure some kind of non-consensual activity was happening (because the girls were passed out). I was completely disgusted by the whole scene and left after about an hour.

While I do wish that I had lived on campus for a little while (I lived at home for the first year, and off-campus after that), I'm pretty glad I had nothing to do with Greek Row. I slunk through college nearly undetected (I loved school but kind of hated my whole college experience, which is a shame) and I'll take that anytime rather than be subjected to what this book described.

However, if you were involved in Greek life, or had experiences with it, it may be interesting to compare your experiences to what she describes in the book. Don't go looking for a gripping read, though.


Alex said...

Oooh... I'm glad the blog is back!

I went to a women's college which didn't have sororities, but was a strange mix of sorority type behavior and grass roots feminism. I met some girls there that were pure evil, and contrasting those experiences with all the feminist-based education was very odd. But, calling on that education, I pose the question: how much of the "mean girl" archetype is socially constructed, and a result of gaining power the only way women are allowed to do it -- through the beauty myth and through competing with other women?

Kate said...

Oh, unfortunate - I was vaguely interested in this book, but will definitely stay away. Thanks for the warning.

I was not a sorority girl but my sister (biological) was - yet she was about as far from the stereotype as possible. I was also involved in a professional fraternity that was a bit more service and profession oriented, and that was a good experience. I also have a very close friend who was a sorority member as a legacy. I tend to think that the sorority experience is what you choose if you have a strong enough mind and personality to choose your path - but again, speaking as a person who never pledged. I'm curious if any sorority members reading this can comment on their experience.