Heteronormative sororities exclude gender-nonconforming students

Greek traditions are steeped in heteronormativity—the social rituals, the expectations of interactions with the opposite gender and expectations of dresses, heels and make-up. Though I fall somewhere in the middle of the suit-dress dichotomy, I know that I am not the first lesbian to rule out joining any sororities—even before college started—as a result of these expectations. But if I wanted to join a sorority and I were a butch woman whose primary formalwear were suits, where would this leave me?

I don’t mean to single out sororities—I address sororities because they codify what is to be worn at certain times and events. More systemically, women are affected by the strict yet open-ended nature of formalwear; men’s formalwear is far more lenient.

I think sororities offer excellent opportunities for women with regards to both friendship and service. But I think that sororities being more superficially heteronormative is a result of the ridiculous, constant and contradictory demands placed on women. While I am sympathetic to this, it is not an excuse.

I would like to know how sororities would feel about a potential rush wearing a suit or tie to a formal event. How mandatory are heels, dresses and make-up? If different attire would make you uncomfortable, examine why that is. I am primarily asking about whether sororities are OK with women who do not look straight.

It’s not a surprise that Greek life is traditionally exclusionary. According to Harvard University’s Implicit Bias Project, the quick decisions made about people during rush week are often based on stereotypes and implicit bias. Applied to Greek life, these heuristics are probably why some groups are unintentionally exclusionary to gender non-conforming women.

You can go to Safe Zone Trainings, avoid homophobic jokes and openly support the LGBTQ+ community, but if you want your sorority to be intentionally diverse and inclusive, you need to reconsider whether your group’s norms and traditions allows for gender non-conformity.

Letting go of some exclusionary traditions does not entail the end of Greek life. Though Greek life might be overwhelmingly accepting of diversity, groups and individuals, they—perhaps unintentionally—perpetuate the homophobia implicit in certain traditions. There are unspoken party “ratios” that exclude lesbians, commoditize straight women and place bisexual and pansexual women somewhere in-between.

Giving up traditions from which you benefit from is admittedly uncomfortable. But sororities—especially those that are well-known and respected—could pave the way for other sororities by choosing to value diversity and inclusion. Sororities offer incredible opportunities that ought to be available to anyone who is interested.

Do not wait to be a change agent until another sorority starts admitting gender non-conforming women—as a few on our campus have already done. Do not wait for a butch woman to come to you and wonder whether or not she will be immediately excluded on the basis of her appearance—no one wants to be on either side of that.

If diversity is important to you, examine your organization’s held biases that have excluded gender non-conforming women in the past. Then, send an active and clear message during rushing, a message stronger than “non-mandatory:” that you are accepting and supporting of all women, including those who don’t dress in traditionally feminine ways.