February 24, 2007

Ignorant Sluts, But Thin?

DePauw University is located in rural Indiana and is one of those colleges where fraternities and sororities still reign supreme. The Delta Zeta sorority wasn't big enough to suit the national organization, which sent representatives of whatever the Politburo of a sorority might be.

The New York Times reports that they interviewed all the girls, and evicted all but twelve, apparently the skinniest and most conventionally attractive of the bunch. Six of the twelve quit in disgust. This part of the story is particularly funny-macabre:

A few days after the interviews, national representatives took over the house to hold a recruiting event. They asked most members to stay upstairs in their rooms. To welcome freshmen downstairs, they assembled a meet-and-greet team that included several of the women eventually asked to stay in the sorority, along with some slender women invited from the sorority’s chapter at Indiana University, Ms. Holloway said.

“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized. I said, ‘This calls for a little joke.’ ”

Ms. Holloway put on a wig and some John Lennon rose-colored glasses, burst through the front door during the recruitment event, and skipped around singing “Ooooh! Delta Zeta!” and other chants.

The face of one of the national representatives, she recalled, “was like I’d run over her puppy with my car.”

I haven't posted this to debate the merits of the Greek system.

What I find disturbing is the emphasis on being skinny: ("The 23 members [evicted] included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits.") This is a ridiculous obsession fed both by the media and the medical profession. I've known plenty of women whose fathers rejected them saying they were too fat. Aside from the fact that some of these women weren't fat at all, this kind of behavior to a girl seems incredibly cruel.

Yes, obesity can be a problem. Lack of fitness is much worse, although I doubt the sorority enforcers cared about that. Be skinny, dress fashionably, attract the right boys. Forget about kindness, honor, brains, understanding, talent.

Erin Swisshelm, who quit, has an idea of what's important in young women:
“I had a sister I could go to a bar with if I had boy problems,” said Erin Swisshelm, a junior biochemistry major who withdrew from the sorority in October. “I had a sister I could talk about religion with. I had a sister I could be nerdy about science with. That’s why I liked Delta Zeta, because I had all these amazing women around me.”
I'm not at all a fan of feminism as it is expressed on most campuses or by its national figures, but as a father of girls I find this sequence of events sickening and outrageous.

The President of the University, Robert Bottoms, has expressed concern, according to the Times, in the predictable vague, cautious presidential manner. If my code is right, you can click on his name to email him. His email address is: bbottoms@depauw.edu. Be polite, or don't write.

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