AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
Natalia Medina, Kelsey Puknys,
Bolu Omotoba, Denise Ruiz, Adina Gray
This project was completed for pedagogical purposes for an undergraduate sociology course at
University of Chicago. While we are sharing results from our mini-project with the public,
it is important that readers understand these are NOT findings from a human subjects research
project intended to contribute to generalizable knowledge.
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Even though the University of Chicago is considered to be a liberal school, Greek life on campus remains a conservative fixture, with sororities catering to heterosexual women and reinforcing traditional gender roles for women and men (Mitchell). Students on campus have criticized sororities for their relationships to fraternities and their complicity to their action (Marcus and Tantawy). Additionally, they perpetuate classism and racism (Marcus, Nguyen, and Tantawy). The abolish Greek life movement is trending all over the country (Marcus and Nguyen).
Sororities market themselves as an organization to empower women, but also as a social organization that parties with fraternities. We decided to study the sorority rush process, which is where sororities work to attract potential members and eventually choose who will be in their organization, through the lens of gender and sexuality and hegemonic femininity.
What types of performances of hegemonic and pariah femininity are reinforced or marginalized through the rushing process in sororities at UChicago?
We hypothesized that the sorority rush process caters to women that present hegemonic femininity and punishes presentations of femininity that don’t fit into the narrow definition of hegemonic femininity.
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Analyzing our literature review sources provided rich insight on the findings we had throughout our research. A main theme of these included the celebration of hegemonic femininities, and the discouragement of any others, including pariah femininities. Our sources also included analysis on the treatment of lesbians and LGBTQ+ people in the rush process, and how they are discriminated against. Specifically, in “An exploratory study of the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual fraternity and sorority nembers revisted” by Douglas Case and Grahaeme Hesp, there was an astounding statistic on greek life members need to hide sexualities: 50% of queer men and 33% of women felt that keeping sexualities private would enhance their experiences in greek life. This fear of being outed serves to illustrate how toxic membership can be on the experiences of LGBTQ+ greek life members, which we will discuss in detail.
Finally, our last big theme discovered in literature review was the prevalence of gender conformity and impact of these femininities in sororities on body image. Surveys performed and discussed in “Gender conformity, self objectification, and body image for sorority and nonsorority women” by David Adams uncovered how sorority members feel about gender roles, body image, objectified body consciousness, and feedback on physical appearance. All of our sources created an overview of femininity, sexuality, and gender ideals which can be applied to sorority rush.
Our methodological approach to this research project was surveying participants, through online surveys and virtual interviews. Specifically, we surveyed those associated with the sororities at UChicago, hoping to interview at least one person associated with each. These can be both current members of the sororities, previous members, or those who have gone through the rushing process without choosing a sorority. Participants were sent an online survey and could volunteer to be interviewed as well at the end of the survey. We chose to do surveys because we wanted to hear participants of the Rush process own perceptions of the process. This is because they are most familiar with the process, having undergone it personally, and so they will be able to report any details of the process that may be unknown to an outsider. We can also understand the effect the rush process has on participants’ perceptions of ideals, identity, and femininity by asking them about their personal emotions and experiences of the process. However, we also allowed them to elect to have these responses be anonymous, as current members of a sorority may be more comfortable sharing information in this way, and others may feel more comfortable given personal responses anonymously.
We also conducted interviews with those who volunteered to participate. This way we could get more detailed responses about their experience. We asked about what questions and decisions go into the selection process, their thoughts about it, and the emotions they underwent. We then transcribed said interviews, compiled answers, and analyze our data in order to reach a conclusion on how the traditions of Greek life generally affect the students of UChicago and if they promote certain ideals about femininity.
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Data collection and analysis
We conducted a survey including 32 questions asking about the overall rush experience, including perceived values, gender expectations, as well as norms and rules such as dress codes. We also asked about what participants looked for in a potential member, and why they chose someone to become a member. There were an additional five optional questions with which participants could introduce themselves and volunteer to be interviewed as well. Overall, we received 34 responses. We then conducted 6 interviews, ranging from 15 to 40 minutes, asking each participant questions involving four themes, including what they perceived the ideal sorority member to be, how a prospective new member may be treated if they do not fit this image of the ideal member, what the participant would change about the rush process, and whether they though the process was worth it.
To analyze the data, we looked at the percentages of various responses to multiple choice questions created through the Google Surveys software. Through this, we could see the percentage of participants who felt similar ways about the rush process, in order to decide the process’ dominant effect on participants. We also read through individual written responses of the survey, and coded them for various common themes in order to make sense of them and draw conclusions. We were able to collect bivariate statistics between the ideal feminine sorority member that participants described, and whether the potential new member was seen by others involved in the process as worthy of joining the sorority based on if she had these qualities. For the interviews, we transcribed each interview through the otter.ai program in order to analyze them more effectively. A team of us each read all of the interview transcripts and coded them for different themes. We then put these themes together and decided on the most common themes that each participant addressed in relation to femininity ideals in the rush process. deciding on five overall – deviations from the norm of hegemonic femininity, how sorority ideals are internalized, the ideal member, how sorority ideals are internalized, diversity, and sorority relationships to fraternities. We organized responses by these themes to create our argument. Overall, we found that 57% of participants felt gender expectations were upheld by the rush process, and that 53.3% felt that they were not able to consistently genuinely present themselves during rush because of the pressure to uphold these expectations.
Our main findings fall under these three categories: sorority ideals and the few deviations from them, diversity, and sorority relationships to fraternities. All of the women that we interviewed said that the University of Chicago sorority rush process upholds hegemonic femininity through their official language, dress code, criteria for new members, and their values as an organization.
Survey respondents and interviewees reported that anyone deviating from traditional hegemonic femininity in the rush process was quite rare. Panhellenic council gives potential new members a dress code for the rush process with varying levels of formality to the last day which is ‘brunch with grandma’. The sorority women who participate in rush wear the same colored dress and same colored heels for the process. One participant reported that even a sorority that is considered less traditionally feminine and sportier conformed to these rigid ideals of femininity in their dress code throughout the process. Panhellenic council also advises that PNM’s stay away from the controversial five B’s which are Biden (politics), Bible (religion), boys, booze, and bucks (money) because these topics fall outside of ‘polite society’.
One of our findings about diversity is the difficulty for nonwhite women to pass as traditionally feminine in rush. One interview participant spoke about how sororities often would take in a couple of token women of color who also eventually serve as default spokespeople for the multicultural groups within the sorority.
Many of our survey respondents who were still involved in Greek life were hopeful that they could reform the rush process itself and address the harm that sororities have done by increasing their support for multicultural student groups and rethinking their relationships to fraternities. Sorority relationships to fraternities reproduce the issues of hegemonic femininity they are competing for status from fraternities. We find a tension between sororities branding themselves as an empowering organization for women and a party organization. Parties are a key reason for women to join sororities, yet their relationship to fraternities makes them complicit in the harm fraternities perpetuate (sexual violence, racism, homophobia, hazing) and gives them undue influence in the rush process.
Together, our findings all point to the exclusivity of sororities and the perpetuation of hegemonic ideals that isolate all women, who do not fit the narrow definition of accepted womanhood, during the rush process in sororities at the University of Chicago.
Case, Douglas N.; Hesp, Grahaeme A.; and Eberly, Charles G., “An exploratory study of the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual fraternity and sorority members revisited” (2005). Faculty Research & Creative Activity. 3.
David Francis Adams, Erica Behrens, Lianne Gann & Eva Schoen., “ Gender conformity, self-objectification, and body image for sorority and nonsorority women: A closer look”. Journal of American College Health, vol. 65, no. 2, 2017, pp. 139-147, DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2016.1264406
Gorga, Allison and Amy L. Stone. “Containing pariah femininities: Lesbians in the sorority rush process.” Sexualities, vol. 17, no. 3, 2014, pp. 348-364.
Hamilton, Laura T., et al. “Hegemonic Femininities and Intersectional Domination.” Sociological Theory, vol. 37, no. 4, Dec. 2019, pp. 315–341, doi:10.1177/0735275119888248.
Marcus, Ezra. “The War on Frats.” The New York Times, 1 Aug. 2020
Messerschmidt, James W., and Michael A. Messner. 2018. “Hegemonic, Nonhegemonic, and ‘New’ Masculinities.” Pp. 35–56 in Gender Reckonings: New Social Theory and Research, edited by J. W. Messerschmidt, P. Yancey Martin, M. A. Messner, and R. Connell. New York: New York University Press.
Mitchell, Catherine. “The Sorority Body-Image Problem.” The Atlantic, 4 Oct. 2013,
Nguyen, Terry. “Why it’s so difficult to abolish sororities and fraternities.” Vox, 29 Sept. 2020
Tantawy, Aly. “Former Panhellenic presidents call for abolishing Greek life at U. of C.” Hyde Park Herald, 8 Sept. 2020