‘Tis the season of door chants, walk-outs, and datebooks. Huh? You might ask, but to a sorority woman this can only mean one thing: the start of formal recruitment. As a member of a sorority, I have heard it all. People might say we “buy our friends,” but I just see that as evidence of misunderstanding. My fellow sorority members are not just girls I live and hang out with, they are my sisters. Some families are traditional, others unconventional. Some are small, others quite large. My family happens to consist of over one hundred women who share the bond of sisterhood, the bond of a sorority.
Cultural evolutionists would probably not be accepting of the idea of sororities as a family unit. “Armchair anthropologists” do not conduct any sort of fieldwork, but merely compare cultures based on a biased evolutionary scale and their own ethnocentric viewpoints. The most traditional view of “family” in Western culture includes two parents (likely a mom and a dad) and perhaps siblings. A cultural evolutionist who works in the realm of academia would probably see sorority life as less civilized in terms of evolutionary development. Many would place it as barbaric on a developmental timeline based on the popular perception of sorority girls as ditzy, promiscuous party girls. This ethnocentrism means they would be judging the sorority culture based on their own standards regardless of how much truth this opinion actually holds.
Interpretive/Symbolic anthropologists like Clifford Geertz, on the other hand, would approach sorority life from an interpretive angle. From the outside, a sorority woman’s obsession with her Greek letters (i.e. on multiple occasions I have sat down in class to realize I am sporting a t-shirt, bracelet, and water bottle all with my sorority’s letters) can seem obnoxious or flashy, but from the “emic” approach it is much more meaningful. My letters allow me to show how proud I am to be a part of the sorority family. A sorority woman’s letters or colors or flower or crest are all symbols of sisterhood and of a bond that is far from superficial. If one of my sisters were to put one hand up with her thumb out, I would know that she was not trying to high five or wave at me; I would know that she wants me to signal back with the hand gesture that forms one of our sorority’s icons. This action is guided by our specific sorority culture as it has a shared interpretation within our group. Sorority women are incredibly honored to represent something bigger than themselves, and as such often make it very public.
Family can be looked at through many different lenses. Sorority membership is just one aspect of what family may mean to someone. It can be very personal, very public, and very baffling. While anthropology attempts to make sense of sorority culture within society, there will always be infinite variation in these explanations.
– Avery D.