As part of the first-ever Feminist Week, students gathered Wednesday night to discuss ways to increase awareness of feminism and its relation to greek life on campus.
The discussion, “Peeling Back the Letters,” was sponsored by the Women’s Center in an effort to bring together members of the greek and independent communities to encourage universal acceptance of feminism.
“The purpose of this event is to increase the visibility of feminism on campus, but also to cultivate the already existing community,” said sophomore Sunhay You, a Women’s Center intern. “We want this to be a community building and networking effort.”
You said the idea for the discussion and Feminist Week as a whole stemmed from a perceived lack of feminist outlets on campus. Although different student groups regularly discuss women’s issues—including the Center for Race Relations and the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life—You felt there was no specific outlet for feminism or collective effort on part of the University to address this issue.
During the discussion, participants were asked to stand in a semicircle and step forward if they agreed with various statements such as, “I think men and women are equal,” “I feel shy calling myself a feminist” and “I felt discriminated at a greek event because of my gender.” The participants also discussed common stereotypes associated with feminism such as masculinity, lesbianism and having extreme beliefs.
A large portion of the meeting focused on how greek life affects perceptions of feminism on campus and how these views have evolved over time. Junior Nathalie Herrand, president of the Greek Women’s Initiative and of Omega Phi Beta, said fraternities and sororities are often perceived as misogynistic institutions due to their unequal power dynamics—particularly in the social sphere.
“Before I was greek, I wouldn’t have said that I was a feminist,” Herrand said, adding that she now views herself as one because of her involvement in her sorority. “So it’s interesting to hear that being in a sorority and being a feminist is like an oxymoron.”
Senior Becki Feinglos, former president of Delta Gamma sorority, added that events like progressive parties have enhanced the misogynistic perception of fraternities, as in the past, women were encouraged to provide sexual favors to new fraternity recruits. Feinglos said Panhellenic Association sororities effectively combatted this negative image in creating a petition to eliminate progressives—which resulted in the cancellation of many of these parties earlier in the semester.
“I considered myself a very empowered female in coming to Duke,” Feinglos said. “[But] I think that the Greek scene in some way pushed me down as a feminist and I had to rediscover myself.”
Despite some negative stereotypes, participants emphasized that many sororities were fundamentally founded on feminist ideals and sisterhood.
Freshman Flora Muglia, a Baldwin Scholar and member of Alpha Phi, discussed how her sorority originated as one of the first women’s fraternities, but added that historical roots often fail to translate to the present.
“In the past, the sorority was strong in the feminist concept, but in actuality its not,” Muglia said. “It can be kind of scary in a sorority to say you are a feminist.”
The members of the discussion also specifically discussed the ways in which Interfraternity Council organizations have affected women’s roles on campus, especially in relation to freshmen students and social relations. Participants referenced the two emails sent last semester by members of Sigma Nu fraternity and Alpha Delta Phi, the off-campus fraternity.
“I think a lot of fraternities on campus emphasize hook-up culture, which is misogynistic and degrading to women,” said sophomore Simon Ho. “Duke’s hook-up culture is nationally famous. I think it would be different if so much of the social scene was not dominated by fraternities.”
This article has been modified to reflect that Becki Feinglos is the former president of Delta Gamma sorority and Nathalie Herrand is the current president of Omega Phi Beta. The caption has also been changed to accurately reflect the event. The Chronicle regrets these errors.
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