07 July 2008

Alexandra Robbins, Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities

This book sat on my shelf for quite some time. Three years ago, one of my summer camp colleagues read it, and since I taught at a school where Greek Life dominated the social life of the University, the book intrigued me. I always enjoy reading "pop sociology" books, so when I saw this on the shelf at my local used book store in Tucson, I picked it up, knowing it would likely sit on my shelf for quite some time. I picked it up right after I finished my exam, since after reading the top 100 of English/American/World literature, I was ready for some lighter reading.

I have to say that Pledged did not disappoint. Robbins is an astute observer of the community of sorority girls that she becomes a part of and observes as the material for her book. Robbins has the obvious advantage over most writers wanting to observe college age women (Tom Wolfe's research for I Am Charlotte Simmons comes to mind here), because she looks like one and seems to "pass" fairly successfully in a community that prides itself on exclusivity. The girls seem to really open up to Robbins and reveal some of the less appealing (read: totally scandalous) aspects of sorority life.

I agree with some of the critics of the book that Robbins is generalizing all sorority life into a haze of drunken hookups, bulimia, and cattiness. She does point to the philanthropic goals of Greek organizations, but emphasizes that these goals are lost amongst all of the date dashes and in-fighting that really dominate the lives of the members. I think that this is certainly overdone. Many young women that I know/have known became involved in Greek Life as a way to make a niche for themselves and to participate in a group (part of that being participation in charity organizations and in leadership roles). I also think that there are likely big differences between sororities at large state schools and those at private liberal arts schools that are largely overlooked in the book along with differences between individual sororities (not to mention individual members).

Robbins points out some really interesting aspects of this world in her discussion of the socioeconomic and racial dimensions of Greek Life and really sheds light on some of the more unacceptably outdated aspects of the system. Much criticism of the Greeks focuses on the treatment of women and ignores the larger picture of oppression in determining who becomes and insider in the organization.

Bottom Line: This is a good read, and although some of the examples are sensationalized, it is entertaining and informative. I would recommend the book to anyone who has a (perhaps shameful) fascination with the beautiful people in the world (aka reads "Us" magazine), or anyone who can relate to the lengths that people will go to be a part of a group. I hope to read Robbin's most recent book The Overachievers, which addresses another group of "insiders" and also another group (middle and high school honors students) that I work with.

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