The Daily Northwestern

Letter to the Editor: Disempowerment of women is not a framework for discussing personal inconvenience

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Fraternity and sorority life can be a torrid topic in college. The largely predominant Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association influence the social life for many NU students — even beyond the 2,000-plus students who are actually members of the Greek community. They provide a monopolized, attractive social experience for some Wildcats.

In a recent letter published in The Daily this week, Kristen VanTine describes her individual experiences in her sorority and the financial qualms she’s faced as a member. As the president of a human rights organization, a member of a Chicago activist group and full-time student, she “can barely make time to attend drawn-out sorority meetings.” VanTine also describes the fees her chapter charges for missing required meetings. While some sororities “justify” them on the grounds they support low-income students in Greek life, she argues the fines only further the gap between members of different socioeconomic statuses, ultimately saying “on an individual level, this has been what irks me about sorority life the most — having to be punished for following my dreams.”

The individual qualms of the author are admissible. As she says, maybe she simply wasn’t fit for Greek life. Rather than experience disempowerment, however, the writer “had no idea the time commitment that Greek life required.” Being involved in an abundance of extracurriculars, she experienced time management-related challenges that resulted in monetary fines. After the first fine, surely she would’ve been aware of the rules and regulations in her sorority chapter’s life. Even if they don’t charge members fees for absences, many other groups on campus require their members to attend meetings as well — it’s an expectation when participating in extracurriculars. At most, this is a time management issue, a personal problem.

But the author resourcing the framework of heterosexual, female disempowerment in likeness to time management struggles is atrociously unacceptable — nothing short of a reach. She began her letter discussing the numerous allegations from women of rape and sexual assault within IFC fraternities, a subject that requires sensitivity understanding that many women on college campuses are survivors. The significant amount of time dedicated to discussing these allegations created a framework that put sexual assault and being fined for missing meetings on the same level. The overuse of terms like “disempowerment” furthered the stretch in associating an individual issue with greater problems like the physical harm of women.

The real disempowerment of women in PHA and IFC life is being ignored. Disempowerment of women in Greek spaces occurs through the heteronormativity that leads to the exclusion of non-gender conforming individuals (which the author simply dedicated a “note” at the end of her letter to). Disempowerment of women works in the social exclusion of non-passing, non-white women in those spaces. The disempowerment of women is the fact the author felt comfortable enough with the existence of sexual assault and heteronormativity to participate in the space and then used these issues to highlight her personal time management problems.

Beyond two sentences at the end of her letter, the writer left all these harmful issues in PHA life unaddressed, but had a problem when she had to pay fees. That was what irked her the “the most.” Not the sexual assault fellow PHA members and other women experiences on campus. Not the blatant misogyny and misogynoir within Greek spaces. Not the inability for non-passing women of color to participate. No, it was the penalization members receive for missing meetings.

It is unacceptable to link the struggles, and deep scars, of others with self-incurred financial challenges faced for not making a meeting. “Disempowerment” is not a word used when a personal inconvenience is presented.

Her previously complacent behavior when attending sweaty, frat boy parties shows a lack of solidarity with women who are actually disempowered. The author’s letter and the reasons she highlights in explaining why she plans to deactivate from her chapter is nothing short of a harmful and enabling piece that devalues the real disempowerment of women in heteronormative and misogynistic spaces. The author instead grouped ideas and words together about women disempowerment, and used them at her own convenience. The actual disempowerment of women is not at her or any complacent individuals’ disposal to use to justify a lack of personal accountability.

Ahlaam Delange
Medill junior

 

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