Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Do We Always Blame the Sororities?

Why Do We Always Blame the Sororities?
Examining the Kappa Delta “Homeless Party” Incident 
& Societal Reactions Through a Feminist Lens

Jezebel article and photographs

Terrible IU Tweet...more on this below!

Jezebel, a Gawker Media website that identifies itself as a blog for “gossip, culture, fashion, and sex for the contemporary woman” ran the story “Indiana Sorority Girls Attend Totally Cute Homeless-Themed Party” regarding Indiana University Kappa Delta sorority members dressing up like homeless people wearing offensive sign-age, including “Why lie? It's for BOOZE. Homeless need $ and prayers." "Will Twerk…" and "Give me a nickel and I'll tickle your pickle."

Since the story ran, media attention and organizational scrutiny has been placed upon the IU Kappa Delta students. As it should, quite honestly. Their actions were insensitive, lacking in awareness, and childish. I mean, hey, if you want to wear flannel dirty clothing, host a Grunge Themed party and tease your hair like Courtney Love! Don’t play down your privilege & mock a population of marginalized persons.

But here’s the thing: The media coverage and community discussions regarding the incident make it clear that we live in a patriarchal society.

“Patriarchal society?!” you say. “But that has nothing to do with some stupid sorority decision! Crazy feminist!!! ” 
Rabble! Rabble! Rabble!

Sigh. If that’s what you think, I’m about to drop some knowledge on you. If you’re already down and just interested in the perspective of a feminist student affairs graduate student who previously worked in social services and want to learn more about this issue, you might find this interesting.

#1: The party was hosted by a FRATERNITY. Yo Media! Why is this not being mentioned?
As reported by the IDS, Kappa Delta (ΚΔ) sorority was paired with Sigma Pi (ΣΠ) fraternity this week – it is a policy within the Panhellenic Council & Interfraternity Council to pair up their fraternities and sororities during Little 500 weekend in order to increase accountability, safety, and build community. We can see in the pictures posted in the Jezebel article that there is clearly a sigma sign (Σ) and a partial letter that resembles Pi (Π). This information leads me to infer that this party had members of Sigma Pi present and may have even been hosted at their house.

The original photo posted on Jezebel with the Sigma Pi logo pasted underneath it. Look similar?

I’m not trying to vilify Sigma Pi here. But I am asking that the media and community place as much responsibility on the fraternity.

You see, we have a problem within the university community, both at IU and nationwide, with terrible party themes. For this party, the “themes are often selected through collaboration between the sorority and fraternity, it’s not clear who actually chose the theme” (Smith, 2013, para. 7).

And yet most media outlets are running with the story that focuses on the sorority. Jezebel’s Katie J.M. Baker started the avalanche when she chose to only focus on the sorority. Granted, she was working through a tipster, but c’mon…the Greek letters in the photo are NOT Kappa Delta (ΚΔ). Even if her tipster didn’t provide that information, it should have been noticed that there's another part to the story, like, ummmm, who hosted it.

But it wasn’t noticed. And it got worse from there, like a twisted game of Telephone.

Numerous other outlets posted that it was Kappa Delta that hosted the sorority (not “attended” like the original Jezebel post), or even if they didn’t cite ownership, they only focused on the sorority women in their article.


So why don’t we only focus on the women? Sure, the photographs were only of women – but let’s wonder why the photographer even only took photos of women. Women are hypersexualized, especially sorority women thanks to the endless themes of ‘slutty sorority girls’ (thanks pop culture – for more on this topic read the academic article “Don’t Be aWhore, That’s Not Ladylike”). Photos of attractive young women dressed in disparaging themes? Sold! Amirite??!!

In the patriarchial society of the United States, where men hold the dominant roles and influence how the systematic discrimination of women, this is what media coverage on a Greek-affiliated ‘homeless party’ looks like.

Women should be docile, chaste, and nurturing members of society. Therefore, to have photographs displaying insensitive activity (what?!?! But women are supposed to be the caregivers!) and attractive feminine forms that are writing sexual innuendos on cardboard (“tickle your pickle”), all of a sudden society feels even better about scorning these perpetrators of insensitivity.

This situation too eerily reminds me of how sexual assaults and rapes are treated on college campuses and throughout society. Sure, it’s not date rape, it’s “she led him on”. Or, let’s aww’ over the sadness of a key male athletic player being ‘kicked’ off a school team and then blame the ‘slutty’ girl he raped (Steubenville, anyone?).

That’s patriarchy. When we pick and choose who we hold accountable...and if you’re familiar with the U.S. Greek Sorority & Fraternity system you may even know of some experiences where the women are held to higher standards than men, and fraternities can often escape unscathed.

At least one person on Twitter seemed to get it:
Preach, sister.

Don’t Believe Me? Let’s See What Society is Saying.

To start us off, let’s take a look at a tweet from IU Student Legal Services, a campus law office funded by IU Student Fees:
My student activity fees pay for this crap?

….Really, SLS? A legal entity inciting sexual harassment? There are those who would consider this a funny way to mock the ladies of Kappa Delta. I, and many others would disagree. 
Looks like SLS needs a visit from Sexual Harassment Panda

This tweet uses the sexuality of the women involved as a means to mock them. It furthers the idea that the women involved are not human beings, but sexual objects that not only can be mocked, but deserve to be mocked. Stating “might be tougher than bar heels” immediately pulls together the idea that these sorority women are ‘drunk sluts’. Feminist critique acknowledges that high heels are a symbol of the hypersexualization of women; the sexual object, the ‘Whore’ figure of the Madonna-Whore complex. Adding the word ‘bar’ conjures up the image drunkenness, partying, and – thanks to patriarchy, pop culture, and many other aspects of society – the immediate conceptualization that these women are nothing better than ‘drunk sluts’ and thus it is open season on them. Yes, this phrase is never used in the tweet...but it doesn't need to be. We live in a society where coded language tells us the real story (Swim, Mallett, & Stangor, 2004)

(again, let’s forget that a fraternity was involved. Thanks again, Jezebel, for neglecting all the facts!) <--sarcasm.
Think Student Legal Services was offensive? Think I'm wrong? Click on the poll, found at the top of the sidebar on this blog

The comments from your average person are much worse. As expected, when a woman messes up, it becomes directly linked to her sexuality.

Interesting: There was a search result for a "Duane Sobecki" in Indianapolis on LinkedIn, but unsure if it is the same guy. I have not heard back from him yet to confirm or deny.

Fortunately, regardless of the lazy journalists, ill-informated, insensitive students, and other negative aspects of this issue, I have not lost faith. Why? Because Patton Oswalt said it best: "The good outnumber you, and we always will." For every mistake made, there is a student ready to make amends and learn from the process. For every mistake made, there are good people in university offices who will try to make the situation better. 

We're human and we're imperfect, but we never stop growing.

My  recommendations:
  • Media: Try learning journalism. You know, talking to people and reviewing photographs, undergoing critical thinking, asking smart questions, and trying to remember your privilege and biases. Remember that it takes two to tango – if the sorority was in “attendance” at a party, maybe you should consider asking who hosted it.
  • Sigma Pi Fraternity: If the IDS is correct, then your organization hosted or at least helped to host the party. Own up to it. Don’t leave the Kappa Delta sisters to deal with the mess you helped create. Instead of not offering a comment to the IDS, remember your values of “Develop character and leadership" and "Advance heightened moral awareness”.
  • Sexist People on Twitter: Go educate yourself on the concept of “Slut Shaming” and Sexism and stop being disgusting. Ain't nobody got time for you.
  • And finally, Kappa Delta…you made a mistake, but you’re owning up to it & plan to implement more education and service on the topic of homelessness. Mistakes happen, especially during college. I (and many others) appreciate that you’re working to fix this wrong and examine your privileges. I hope your organization serves as a force within the IU Greek Community to stop using racist and other discriminatory party themes as excuses to dress up. I know you can do it, that the entire Greek community can do so.
Questions? Comments? 
Write something in the comment section below or hit me up on Twitter. Let me know if you think this essay is way off base or just another example of sexism in Greek Life, higher education, the media, and society in general.

Personal Statement: For what it is worth, I am unaffiliated. I have many friends in the Greek system and recognize that it is a source of both positive and negative energy.

Broadening the Scope: Do you care about the situation in Bloomington for homeless residents? The Bloomington area currently faces a shortage of adequate shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. As of April 15th, 2013, the community is without a low-barrier shelter option for the first time in 3 years. A group of social workers and community members are trying to solve this issue. Please contact their organization, Ubunto Shelter, to volunteer and give.



News Articles Mentioned: (ain’t nobody got time for all that APA citation!)

Organizations Mentioned: