30 January 2007

Soror horror

Every once in a while, I learn something that makes it hurt to be human. Something so horrible that I want to crawl back into the primordial ooze and just wait for humanity to evolve for another couple million years before I emerge again.

Guess what? Today was one of those days? (How did you know?)

I was innocently minding my own business, reading about Momma K's efforts to get her Jazzercise teaching certificate over at Petroville. In the middle of her post, she said, apropos of feeling picked on: "I felt like a sorority pledge in a game of Circle the Fat."

"Huh," I thought, never having been a sorority pledge. "What's that?"

Then in the comments section, someone said: "You made me laugh so hard…especially at the Circle Fat thing. Been there, done that. Don’t want to go there every again."

Curious, I googled it. I got to a review of a book called "Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities," by Alexandra Robbins that was published in The American Spectator.

I read about circle the fat: "to lay on a floor blindfolded and naked while snickering fraternity brothers "circle the fat" areas of your body that "need work" with permanent marker... "

I almost threw up. I sat there staring at my monitor for the longest time, hard put to move or blink or even continue thinking, because my brain had contracted in a painful, charlie-horse like spasm after reading that phrase.

Why would ANYONE involved think this is ok? Why would a young woman agree to such humiliation? Why would any young man with one ounce of kindness or morality take part? What kind of people are we raising?

I am not normally overly moral or a prudish scold, but come on. This is so wrong on so many levels that it just ties my heart in knots to learn about it. I didn't think that much could shock me anymore, but this shocks me and pains me and brings me great despair.

It's not out of an exaggerated sense of propriety, either. It is more a deep sadness that these young people have so little concept of their own value as people that they would all take part in this. It seems that they believe they are a collection of soulless parts that can ridicule and be ridiculed with no lasting damage. Hey, it's all in good fun, right?

I spoke with a young American Muslim woman who wore the hijab one time. She said: "You assume that dressing like this takes away my power. In my mind, it gives me power, because I decide who sees me and under what circumstances."

I had never thought of it that way before. I don't think veiling women is necessarily a solution to women being exploited and to them opening themselves to humiliation. But at least the Muslim woman had thought about it, which seems to be more than these young women have done.

PS - I don't know if this is the type of thing Momma K was talking about. I didn't ask her. She may have experienced some kind of girl-on-girl cruelty of a similar sort. In any case, I don't think that pointing out other people's flaws, especially in a group-think situation, is often productive or healthy.


Chase said...

Wow. The line about Hijab is quite a powerful one. So beautifully stated!

Mr Stapler said...

That's why I wear the full Spiderman suit at all times. I get the power!

First comment: that's why it's called "hazing." If it were fun, everyone would be doing it.

Second comment: I have much less respect for a person if I find out they were ever in a frat or sorority. [Delta House excepted]

Third comment: We don't get to have any schadenfreude here? Not any? Not even one teaspoon? If I can't feel vicarious pleasure at the humiliation of some coddled, rich mugwumpette, then when can I?

Nite all.

Holly Capote said...

It's a sick sad world. It makes me want to be Daria.

MommaK said...

I was never in a sorority but I remember hearing the hazing stories as a senior in high school. Yes, it's sick.

I'm sorry my post caused you to be horrified. I sometimes have that unfortunate side effect ;-)

jonniker said...

I've had a post brewing re: my horrific sorority experience for a long time. While Circle the Fat never happened - and truthfully, having been entrenched in sororities, I don't actually think it is true - lots of other things that resembled it did, including a "fake" circle the fat designed to terrify people.

Mr. Stapler: I don't think it's fair to immediately lose respect for someone for being in a fraternity or sorority. I *hated* mine and quit and denounced the whole thing as a giant mistake made when I was 19. Lots of people probably did it for lots of different reasons - not all of which include the culture of elitism that they often represent. And god, when people make the decision to join, THEY ARE SO YOUNG. I was NINETEEN. And a moron, apparently, but it's not a decision I ever would have made as an adult, and I think a lot of people feel that way.

Further, not all fraternities and sororities fit the stereotype (oh, mine did, MINE DID), I later learned.

TB said...

I think it's about getting caught up in wanting to belong... it's why sororities and fraternities haze to put the new members through something in order to make their membership mean something.

I'm not condoning it, personally I was never a member of a sorority so maybe I have it wrong. It makes no sense to me in the same way that military boot camp makes no sense. Why let yourself be denigrated by anyone? There is no membership to any group that would be important enough to me to allow myself to be treated that way.

mamatulip said...

Wow. I've never even heard of anything like that. I'm really kind of...numb after reading about that.

SUEB0B said...

I'm really, really hoping it is an urban myth. I checked Snopes and they don't have anything.

Elizabeth said...

That's why the only Sorority I joined was the Professional Music Honorary for Women. We had no hazing of any kind, unless you count having to stand up and sing in the dining room.

Andrea said...

I actually have that book and read a few pages. I was sickened. I was coming off another depressing book and really didn't want to read Pledged right then, so I put it back on my shelf for a later day. Now I'm burning with desire to pick it back up and see what else there is that it says.

In the pages I read, I didn't cross the Circle the Fat hazing ritual, but there were a couple others. Oh yes.

Makes me glad I didn't join a sorority in college, but I had a very good friend who did and I think she enjoyed it. Her Sisters seemed like nice girls, too, so I wonder if her sorority fit the stereotype. I guess some of the girls in it may have, but the ones I met seemed nice and normal. They were pleasant and funny. As with anything, I would imagine there are degrees of the bad.

Christina said...

Oh, it's true, and it did happen. Not to me, thank goodness. I joined a sorority in college, but the worst thing we ever had to do as pledges was memorize the Greek alphabet.

My sorority always joked that we were the sorority for young women who never thought they'd be in a sorority. We weren't hugely popular (probably because we didn't haze), but we were a very close knit group.

And sorority hazing at my school was nothing - you should have seen what they did to the frat pledges.

Jessica said...

I think we are raising ANOTHER generation of callous, cruel, and spoiled young people - but that could could be entire blog on its own.

Don't forget - fat is that last thing that is "acceptable" to make fun of. It is not OK to pick on, belittle, humiliate - or even POINT OUT - a person because of a "difference," - except when it comes to fat. Fat people, and ESPECIALLY FAT WOMEN, are fair game.

And while I'm not lying naked on a board while they do it, people "circle my fat" almost every day. My boyfriend cirlces it when he raises an eyebrow at my food selection in a restaurant; the waitress/waiter circles it when they bring me a Diet Coke instead of the regular Coke I ordered; the person who remarks "Oh! REALLY!?" when I mention that I am a hardcore hiker and kayaker circles it; even EMS circles it when they don't carry anything above a size 12 (the thought being that an active woman is a THIN woman).

These kids are doing what comes naturally to us in this culture.

Someone once told me that I would be considered beautiful in Hawaii - I think I'll go live there.

Anonymous said...

Most of the hazing animal house stuff about sororities was from the 70's/80's. I was in one 93 to 97 and like the previous post said, the worst thing we had to do was memorize the greek alphabet. Maybe we were in the same one ? :) The national sorority leaders punish chapters that haze severely nowadays (usually by closing them) exactly because those stupid old stories scare fine people like yourself away. I am forever grateful I joined mine but I can see it's not for everyone.

Heather B. said...

Oh yeah, I've heard of this. Not at my school nor with any sorority that I would have pledged but it definitely happens a lot. Which is sad for the girls and just pathetic in general.

Heather B. said...

Oh and I forgot to mention that this also happens in HIGH SCHOOL as well...

Suzanne said...

God, that reminds me why I want to move into a cave and throw rocks at people as they pass by. May I recommend an alternative book? Anything written by Carl Hiasson is funny, has poetic justice, and great characters.

mothergoosemouse said...

I echo much of what Jonniker said. I did write a post about my own sorority experience, and while there was some hazing, "circle the fat" was not part of it. I've heard of it before, but never having been conducted by fraternity members. That's jaw-dropping.

In fact, the hazing what not what bothered me about the experience - I could take that in stride and laugh at the sisters who took it seriously. What I couldn't stomach was the pressure to conform, even in a sorority like mine that was supposed to be free of all that garbage.

wordgirl said...

Men have used physical power to dominate their otherwise worthy female opponents since time began. It is the ONLY reason they find themselves in places of power more times than women. Women, however, use emotional abuse and passive-aggression to push threatening women out of their way. If a male bully wants something you've got, he just takes it by force. If a woman wants what you've got she'll say: "Gosh...I really like that bracelet you're wearing. If you were really my friend, you'd let me wear it."

Let's say that bracelet was a gift from your grandmother. An antique and your grandmother is dead. You don't want to share such a treasure, but if you don't you'll be branded as a bad friend. If you do give it to her, you risk losing it.

The girlfriend gets to say something that limits how you'll be able to respond honestly without being a bad person...and then she walks away while you beat yourself up.

We really are smarter...and a lot meaner when we want to be.

gingajoy said...

i have never heard of that either, but holy shit and FUCK. (thank god I don't have daughters...and no son of mine will pledge a frat like that and get away with it. grrr)

i like your comment about the hijab--very provokative.

kerrianne said...

Ditto what Jonniker said. Thankfully I steered clear of such nasty sororities in college, but I was in one; I was also nineteen at the time. And, thankfully, the girls were mostly awesome. Rather than circle anything, we went back to the kitchen for seconds. And thirds.

Holly Capote said...

Jessica, I was moved by your post, but whereas you remind us of how fat is circled in many ways, I remind you that in many states, Americans have codified and continue to codify discrimination against queer citizens. There isn't an out queer kid who hasn't had "Faggot!" hissed at them in a hallway.

Heather said...

I know a girl who did that as part of joining a sorority - I was horrified when she told me about it. Luckily where I went to university there was only one sorority there, and it wasn't popular.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why people care so much about this. It's just some marker. If you're dumb enough to do it anyway, then you probably have no self-esteem in the first place. Why should I care that some retard wants to lie naked and let people circle their fat?

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