Yesterday I was exceptionally annoyed by this first-person essay in the New York Times (registration required). Every week, the Modern Love column grates like fingernails on a chalkboard. After reading it I usually beat my head against the wall for a few minutes and feel much better. In the case of “My Sorority Pledge? I Swore Off Sisterhood,” I’m worried that the prolonged head-beating required would be bad for the wall.
Twenty-some years ago, the author, Kelly Valen, was raped at a fraternity party. As a result, she has a deep distrust of … women. Yes, women! She’s fine with men because the rapist was blackballed from his fraternity. “The men in my drama acknowledged wrongdoing, apologized, showed remorse. Punishment, however minor, was meted out,” she says.
What really hurt Kelly was not the rape or the slap on the wrist that the rapist got. The worst part was when her sorority sisters blamed her for the rape and, she says, bringing “shame upon them all.” Of the guys, she says, “To be sure, their violence and misogynistic rituals stole my innocence and triggered the demons of shame and repression that shackle me still. Yet their actions, however crude and criminal, ultimately hurt me far less than the judgments, connivance and betrayal of women.” Eventually, she says, the sorority expelled her on a trumped-up charge of bad dancing (seriously!).
Her description of the sorority sisters’ behavior is loathsome, but not surprising to those of us who don’t care for Greek life. I’m sure some of you peeps had fabulous sorority experiences. If you found the perfect sisterhood, made friends for life and have lots of sorority-related charity work under your belt, I’m thrilled. I don’t deny that it’s possible, so don’t get up my ass. But the dark side of Greek life, and of any organizations that deemphasize individual rights in favor of the “common good,” is groupthink, hazing and the exclusion of outsiders, rebels and accidental troublemakers. Feel free to reread Lord of the Flies.
Anyway, what really got me in Kelly’s essay was this passage, “…I’ve found my fears about women’s covert competition and aggression to be frequently validated: the gossip, the comparisons, the withering critiques of career and mothering choices. We women swim in shark-infested waters of our own design. Often we don’t have a clue where we stand with one another — socially, as mothers, as colleagues — because we’re at once allies and foes.”
Kelly, Kelly, Kelly. First of all, get some therapy! Secondly, open your eyes and you will find that men too are “at once allies and foes.” Women and men are good and bad! You know, human! That’s why it’s best to judge people as individuals rather than as genders, races, religions, nationalities, etc. And how obtuse do you have to be to write “I’ve found my fears about women’s covert competition and aggression to be frequently validated” and not recognize it as a self-fulfilling prophecy? Why should I do anything to make your life easier when you’re hostile, distrustful and unappreciative? If you hate me on principle, do you think I’m going to give you advice and support? The essay itself fulfills the prophecy. As sorry as I am for what Kelly went through, I don’t like her. Why should I? She isn’t kindly disposed towards me.
It’s not like I haven’t experienced undermining and backstabbing. As some of you may remember, my business partner died of secret breast cancer. She also withheld the names of manufacturers and vendors that were key to the business. Luckily, after her death, both men and women offered me contacts that helped me keep the business going. I would especially like to thank the talented Thomas Kurilla and the beautiful and brilliant Elizabeth Morton, who both came to my rescue. I would also like to thank the Academy, Marty Scorsese and my hairdresser. I love you guys! Oh, shizz, wrong speech! Anyway, I recently passed along some vendor names to another jewelry designer. A female jewelry designer. Yes, a woman who could be considered my competitor. And she gave me some great info in return. Positive things can happen but you have to be willing to help your good fortune along.
And getting back to Kelly, here’s food for thought: she has three daughters. Good luck, little womyns! You’ll need it!