Nobler Womanhood: An Exploration of Sororities and Scripted Femininity

Bess Rowen


How did an organization founded to empower women in institutions of higher learning end up as a place where the most narrowly conservative female gender roles are encourage and performed? By looking at Kappa Alpha Theta, the first Greek letter fraternity known among women, a tale of secrecy gone awry comes into view. Theta's traditions and rituals, kept secret from the public, tell an entirely different story about the purpose of this institution than a Google search of the sorority's moniker does. I posit that this is due to the fact that these rituals and traditions are relics of another time, frozen in the past, while the secrecy behind this heritage has enabled an alternate tradition to arise where aesthetics, popularity, and heterosexuality replace official goals of scholarship, sisterhood, and loyalty. Using only the "secret" material that others have chosen to reveal along with my own embodied experience as a Theta sister, I look at the complex ways in which college sorority sisters negotiate the difference between the scripted tenants of sorority life behind closed doors and the expected stereotpye of a "sorority girl" - like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Using theories from sources as diverse as Judith Butler, Sigmund Freud, and various authors writing about sorority life, I try to work through the theoretical implications that are produced in the space between an embodied sorority experience and the mythical sorority girl stereotype that arises out of the ignorance bred by secrecy.


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