Sisterhood Can Be Powerful

Illustration by Monica.
Illustration by Monica.

People who know me usually do a double-take when I tell them that I’m in a sorority. (It’s been years since I graduated from college, but with many sororities and fraternities, once you’re in, you’re a member for life—hence the present tense.) Most of my friends in New York are people I’ve met through activist and creative circles, and I think that when they hear “sorority,” the image in their minds is that stereotype that probably exists only in movies and fear-mongering articles in newspapers and magazines: a narrow-minded, materialistic, binge-drinking Mean Girl cult.They can’t imagine that someone like me—a sober, independent feminist—could ever have participated in Greek life. But my sorority, and many others I admire, have been on the frontline of important fights for racial and gender justice. I often wonder if sororities are judged as shallow and without principle or power because they’re for women, and exist in a world that loves to blame women for cyberbullying, rape culture, and every other ill in society.

Most sororities (roughly equivalent to “corporations” in Europe) share a few guiding principles: a commitment to the idea of camaraderie by affiliation, and a goal of creating a collective college experience for women who pledge to uphold specific values. But each sorority has its own mission, traditions, and culture, and every chapter of a single sorority is its own ecosystem, as individual as the people within it. There are sororities working on social justice, civil rights, and volunteerism; sororities devoted to specific religions; pre-med and pre-law sororities; and sororities organized around specific cultures. Mine, a historically African-American sorority, belonged to this last type. it was one of the so-called Divine Nine, a group of letter organizations with long, rich histories. I joined because its legacy of community service appealed to me. Three of my biggest feminist role models—my grandmother, my mother, and my aunt—are members, and I wanted to strengthen my connections to them. My 93-year-old grandmother’s stories about Alpha Kappa Alpha involved meaningful public service and deep, lifelong friendships with other women. I wanted to experience that stuff for myself.

Just because I’ll take any excuse to watch this again, here are some of my sorority sisters from the Howard University AKA chapter stepping and repping like queens:

Are some of you college-bound Rookies considering joining a sorority? If so, you probably have a lot of questions. It turns out I’m the only staff member here who ever joined a letter organization, so I told the others to post their questions about Greek life in our staff Facebook group, and I’d answer them the best I could. Sorority life isn’t right for everyone, but it can provide a real sense of family. I’m just saying don’t totally count it out if you havent’ really thought about it yet. I figure you probably have some of the same questions and assumptions our staffers did, so hopefully you’ll find it useful to go through a few of them together. This was, as you’ll see, an informal conversation and it certainly doesn’t answer everything—if you still have questions, ask ’em in the comments!

JAMIA: So, ladies, tell me what you think of sororities. Full disclosure: I’m a triple-legacy Alpha Kappa Alpha. My mom, my grandma, and my aunt are in the same sorority. But even though I love AKA, I had a lot of mixed feelings about joining a formal sisterhood.

TAVI: As a college-bound Rook, sororities have not crossed my mind once—mostly because I’m actively pursuing schools with ZERO community. TBH, I don’t think I could even handle DORM life. I have no interest in brownie nights with your RA or whatever.

JAMIA: Have you seen Spike Lee’s movie School Daze? It’s a musical drama focused on the African-American Greek system. You should check it out. There’s a caricature of the black Greek pajama-party trope, but it’s very different from the Legally Blonde/Scream/House Bunny PJ-party stereotype.

Like any organization or family, we’re not perfect–but my sorority is focused on service and community advancement. You have to have really good grades to get in and be committed to stewardship. We also have a legacy of political engagement and dedication to women’s rights. My fave famous AKAs include Maya Angelou, Jada Pinkett, Michelle Obama, Mae Jamison (the first black woman to travel in space), and Eleanor Roosevelt.

What do you think contributed to your mindset about sororities in general? Media? Friends? Exposure to older sisters and their friends?

SUZY: I was one of the first in my family to go to university, and I never really considered joining a sorority. But I have a lot of friends who did, and whose college choices rested on the sororities they joined. It seems that sororities come with huge networking and career advantages, especially the ones with bigger financial endowments. And there’s obviously the sisterly-bond aspect, and the nice community service stuff they do. I have even heard of a feminist sorority that organized Take Back the Night in my hometown. But then there’s also the unbearable straightness of it all–I’ve heard stories of compulsory dating between sororities and fraternities. Are there queer/bi/lesbian sororities?

JAMIA: Yes, there are LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly sororities; here’s a list of some of them. It’s true that there are major benefits that come from having an international network.I have met and developed relationships with mentors in different professional environments because of a shared sorority connection. I list my sorority affiliation on my résumé because we are service-oriented and known for our commitment to achievement. I’ve also heard of sororities organizing Take Back the Night events, and I think it is so important, especially considering the drinking culture that is associated with Greek life at some schools. Lots of people assume that all sororities are conservative, but I’ve found them to be great resources for volunteers, because their members need to fulfill community-service hours and are eager to host events that align with their values. During the last election, the Divine Nine came together to create a political action committee to raise money for their chosen elected officials and to support voter education. I’ve always viewed my involvement as being a part of a loving sisterhood, but also a smart, strategic network of influencers who are coming together to make sure people of color have political, social, and cultural recognition.

DANIELLE: That is SO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from what I thought sororities were about. I never thought about joining, because sororities always seemed to be infused with a class status that I could never attain. I always thought of sororities as rich-people groups. Plus, OMG the RULES. Don’t some of them have rules for how you can wear your hair and what nylons you can wear on your legs?

JAMIA: Yes, I think some of them do, and I agree with you about the rules. I agree about the rules. I never got any flak for wearing my hair natural, but I did have to wear specific colors and fancy clothing for ceremonies and special gatherings.

Financial privilege piece does play a part in this. My grandma helped me with my dues when I joined my sorority, and she helped me pay for proper garments for my initiation. That’s the kind of thing that alienates people and makes people view sororities as elitist, and it needs to change. Do you think you would have found any value in joining if those roadblocks didn’t exist, or if the groups seemed more inclusive?

DANIELLE: I would totally be interested if not for those roadblocks, because I love the idea of sisterhood, and of women supporting each other. And there is nothing wrong with the networking aspect of sororities and frats, either—I just wish it weren’t so divided by obvious things like class, race, geography, and historical connections. It just doesn’t seem very inviting, you know?

JULIANNE: I never joined a sorority because I did not go to college, nor did anyone in my immediate family. Sororities were really valued in my high school, though, for their social benefits, and everyone seemed to aspire to join one in college—but I none of that ever meant much to me. School Daze definitely helped deepen my knowledge, though, of sororities/fraternities at historically black universities, as did Stomp the Yard, aka the BEST MOVIE EVER. One thing I will say I still somewhat regret about not having cone to college is that it took me so much longer [than most people] to meet people and build a network of friends. (The internet is my sorority now? Ha!)

GABBY: I am skeeved out by the sororities at my school, because when I hear people describe them they just sound like highly organized cliques. People will say things like “Oh, she’s in the one for rich, hot girls,” or “That’s the sorority for the girls who couldn’t get into the other sororities,” and I’m just like, EW, WHAT? ARE WE ACTUALLY CHARACTERIZING PEOPLE LIKE WE’RE ON AN ABC FAMILY DRAMA?

JAMIA: I’m guilty of generalizing based on the reputations of different Greek groups. I remember calling the Sigma Delta Taus at my college “Spending Daddy’s Trillions” because they were known for having money and being party girls. My sorority colors are pink and green, and some of the haters used to call us “pink skin, green eyes” because the stereotypical AKA is light-skinned with light eyes and a privileged background.

GABRIELLE: Also, I go to a women’s college, and that’s already all SISTERHOOD on its own, so the idea of joining a sorority has never really occurred to me.

JENNY: I always had really really, really negative ideas about sororities, and I judged peeps who were active in Greek life at Stanford harshly. I feel bad about that now, because I know there are some cool-ass sisters who did sororities (e.g., Jamia) and I know there were some cool service-oriented frats and sororities. Also, at Stanford there was this one sorority that was notorious for only having HOT Asian girls, and I felt some kind of weird shadow anxiety about that…

JAMIA: Do you think the anxiety came from feeling alienated or creeped out by it? Did it make you feel like you had to either join or else really make an effort to distance yourself?

JENNY: I think I felt both alienated from Greek life and superior to it, because there was an Asian sorority at Stanford of Christian girls who wore high heels and worked out and went on vacations with their boyfriends. Because I’m Asian, I felt like strangers expected me to be like those girls, on the inside we couldn’t have been less alike. They were, like, bio majors who thought art and music were weird and pointless. And If I’m being honest, I felt like somehow the fact that the sorority was all Asian made it seem like their sisterhood had something to do with YELLOW PRIDE, which was something I was struggling with and trying to understand in a vastly different, way more politicized way at the time. But when I look back on all this now, I think, who the fuck cares if these girls just wanted to hang out with other Christian Asian girls? Why does having pride in your heritage mean you gotta be political? Why should sorority silliness only be available to white girls?

JAMIA: I’ve felt similar feelings of alienation and judgment about formalized groups of black women with different interests from mine for the same reasons—god forbid anyone think I’m ONE OF THEM. (As though there’s ever really a “them.”)

GABRIELLE: I am very intrigued and jealous of a the concept I’ve heard some sororities do, of “bigs and littles”—big sisters and little sisters.

JAMIA: I love bigs and littles too. When I was in all-girls high school—which at times felt like a sorority, what with its traditions, songs, and rituals—I looked up to my “old girl” and spoiled and nurtured my “new girls.” I still take my new girl Jenny out to lunch whenever she is in New York City.

GABBY: I want a mentor figure to surprise me with a Costco-size bag of candy and a customized sweatshirt!

JAMIA: Gabby, I’ll be your Rookie big and send you care packages. We need to design a Rookie crest or coat-of-arms. What are our official colors and signature gemstone? #importantlogistics

DANIELLE: The Rookie colors are GLITTER, and the coat of arms should be the head of a wolf screaming arrows out of its mouth. ♦

Saturday Links: WondaGurl the Wonder Girl Edition


Ebony “WondaGurl” Oshunrinde is a 16-year-old Nigerian-Canadian record producer who started teaching herself to make hip-hop beats when she was nine, after she saw a video of Timbaland and Jay-Z making music together (maybe this one, from Jay’s “retirement” movie Fade to Black?). Fast-forward to this week, and now it’s WondaGurl who’s making the Jay-Z beats. She co-produced the song “Crown” on the just-released Jay-Z album Magna Carta Holy Grail, and the beat—full of snarling bass and a sample of the reggae artist Sizzla—is one of the best on the record. Obviously, this is a big deal to her—she told the Toronto Star that “usually that doesn’t happen to 16-year-olds”—but let’s face it, she’s an old pro at this: Last year, she was the only girl competing in Toronto’s “Battle of the BeatMakers,” and she won the entire thing. WondaGurl skyped into MTV this week to discuss making the Jay-Z beat, and it’s so cool how chill and professional she seems to be about everything.


The mysterious Prince is on the cover of V magazine looking AMAZING. (THAT FACIAL HAIR)! In the accompanying interview, which is partially excerpted on the magazine’s website, he hates on cell phones, compares his music to a “galaxy,” and lists the artists he likes to listen to most, all of which are women, thankyouverymuch.

Apparently, every year in Finland someone makes a new song that promotes contraception to teens! This year’s, by the Finnish rapper Cheek, is a chart-topper and totally weird. The lyrics (based on what I read about them at This is Fake DIY; I don’t speak Finnish) are slightly slutshame-y, which is off-putting and kills the message for me, but go Finland!


I really like these portraits by the Spanish photographer Jon Uriarte, posted this week at Feature Shoot, of guys wearing their girlfriends’ clothes in the places they live with their girlfriends. This is not because I’m interested in the photographer’s supposed intent to make “images that [show] not only the equality of balance in heterosexual relationships, but also the feeling of confusion the male may be experiencing with this change.” I couldn’t give a shit less about anyone’s confusing feelings re: equality. I’m actually interested in these pictures because I think a lot of the dudes are KILLIN’ IT in their girlfriends’ clothes. The fact that the men are looking good—real good—in women’s clothing gives us a nice opportunity to stop and think about how stupid it is that clothing is so gendered in the first place. I mean, that red ruffled playsuit? Dude is rocking it so hard I don’t want to see anyone else in it. Bearded guy in his girlfriend’s black high-waisted skirt and knee-high boots? That should be your new uniform, sir. Fuck what boys are “supposed” to wear. You look amazing, BBs.


I am a HUGE fan of jokes that take forever to pay off, so this teacher who wore the same outfit for school picture day 40 YEARS IN A ROW is number one right now in the book of GREAT IDEAS.

I played many games of Mouse Trap as a kid, and have always thought that Rube Goldberg machines (devices that use chain reactions or other complicated processes to achieve something that seems really simple) are fascinating. I generally do NOT care about commercials, but thanks to the combination of engineering and dogs, my favorite things on the planet, I have watched this puppy-powered Goldberg machine clip about 95 times since yesterday.



I watched the animated series King of the Hill religiously with my dad for years and years, but the A.V. Club’s list of 10 episodes that made King Of The Hill one of the most human cartoons ever made me appreciate how relevant it still is, three years after its 13-year run ended. If you never got around to watching the cartoon, the article is a great intro—especially to some of Bobby Hill’s finer moments. I still go back occasionally and fawn over Bobby; Bobby is the best. (People at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences seem to think so, too, because, as the A.V. Club points out in the article, the “And They Call It Bobby Love” episode won the show’s only Emmy.)


Some months ago, an email from an unnamed sorority president at the University of Maryland was leaked to Gawker, and it supplied me with enough insults for the rest of my high school career and also for my career as a professional asshole. (Seriously, I’m sure we will all see some version of “cunt punt” in the next season of Veep.) In any case, now the email writer gives dating advice! See the madness here.


And on Buzzfeed, photos of teenagers at school in 1969, like the one above, are making me feel like I’m doing summer all wrong!
Suzy X.

Rachel Jeantel, 19, has been making headlines as the star witness in the ongoing case against George Zimmerman, who is on trial for murder after killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida last year. Jeantel was the last person in contact with Martin before his death, and her testimony has proven to be one of the most—if not the most—crucial in the case so far. And as if Zimmerman’s attorney didn’t bully her enough on the stand, people on social media and in the regular media have ripped Jeantel apart for her appearance, the way she talks, and her (understandably!) emotional responses to questions about her friend’s death (Amy Rose wrote about this in more detail last Saturday). Jeantel hasn’t been able to respond to any of the criticism because she’s under subpoena, which means she can’t talk publicly about anything related to the case. But this week, Black America Web posted the transcript of a heartbreaking interview commentator Roland Martin conducted with Jeantel’s attorney Rod Vereen that provides some insight into her close friendship with Martin, who Vereen says was one of the few guys who didn’t tease her. In a case that SHOULD focus on what happened on one night alone, it seems totally unnecessary that Jeantel—and Martin—should be so heavily scrutinized. Vereen helped bring the discourse back down to earth.


On Tuesday, Strife TV posted this video of the all-girl, Paris-based dance crew Zamounda Crew showing off their bonkers moves in subway stations, city parks, and THE SNOW. They not only make it look like the easiest thing in the world, which is 100 percent an illusion, but also the most fun (100 percent true—as far as I can tell). ♦