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An Overlooked Double Standard

By Stephanie G. Franklin

Frats throw parties and sororities don’t. It’s a simple fact of life that college students tend to take for granted without even realizing it. “That’s just the way things are” is a stubborn defense, and we often accept things because we’re used to them, not because they’re right.

But give it more than two seconds of thought and it’s hard to think of a non-sexist justification for this state of affairs. In fact, not only do sororities tend not to throw parties, they are actually not allowed to: While fraternities are fairly free to do what they want, every sorority’s national organization prohibits all alcohol in sorority houses at all times. It’s a rarely discussed double standard that has huge implications for campus life nationwide.

National sorority organizations should overturn their unconditional bans on alcohol in order to make campus social scenes safer and more egalitarian. When only men can throw parties, men control the most popular—and the most dangerous—social spaces. It’s arguably the most fundamental underpinning of campus rape culture. Even well-intentioned (which is an assumption that can’t be universally granted) men still get to feel safer on their own turf, don’t have to meet someone else’s standards to score invites to parties, and get to have control over what their social spaces look like, while women do not. And while rape is not just a male-on-female crime, it’s very likely that having some parties controlled by women would reduce the risk of sexual assault.

Further, even independent of its consequences, the very existence of this double standard demeans collegiate women. We tell men that they are adults able to make their own decisions, while we tell women that they must be held to a separate standard of respectable, ladylike behavior. My sorority is not even allowed to host a wine and cheese event in our space. Meanwhile, my friends in fraternities can throw huge parties whenever they please.

There’s absolutely no reasonable justification for this unequal treatment, and it feels just as antiquated and unfair as it should. It’s like being told your brother is allowed to go out at night without a chaperone because boys will be boys, but you’re not because you’re a well-behaved young lady.

There’s a small movement to fight this double standard, and I think it’s a great one. The Sigma Delta sorority at Dartmouth, for example, is able to host parties with alcohol because it does not have a national affiliation, allowing women to feel safer at parties with female bartenders and women manning the doors. Yet the change lacks widespread support, particularly within Greek organizations. National sorority organizations tend to ban alcohol to get lower insurance rates, or because they argue that women don’t want to live in a place with rowdy parties.

I get these arguments to an extent. But ultimately, particularly in the context of sadly already-expensive dues, something that has the potential to keep women safer is worth the added cost. If women don’t want to throw rowdy parties, they certainly don’t have to, but they should at least be allowed to make the choice for themselves.

The only objection I find mildly convincing is the argument that introducing more alcohol is not the way to make Greek life safer, and that if double standards are the problem, we should instead ban alcohol in frats. But that’s a far more unrealistic and overreaching solution: Some might see it as an unfortunate reality, but it is nonetheless true that many college students will drink no matter what.

I’m all for taking certain steps to combat problems with alcohol in Greek life, such as having sober members present to monitor parties or banning punch. But an all-out ban on alcohol, even for closed events, raises the same problems as an insistence on abstinence-only sex education. We know students are going to drink, so let’s instead try to make that drinking as safe as possible.

While I’m a member of a sorority at Harvard and have had an incredibly positive experience, I understand that Greek life more generally receives a lot of valid criticism. But so long as Greek life exists in its current form, it might as well exist without blatant double standards.

Stephanie G. Franklin '16, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Dunster House.

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