History in Review
The Secret Life of Sororities
By Alexandra Robbins.
(Hyperion: 2005. Pg. 384.)
Reviewed by Laura Hortz Stanton - September 6, 2006
Sororities are organizations that are often surrounded with an air of mystery. Urban myths about secret sorority rituals and activities are often told and the image of a "typical" sorority woman is often seen on television and in books. In her book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities Alexandra Robbins' goal is to uncover the secrets and give a perspective on national sororities.
Before I delve too far into my thoughts on this book, I will admit my bias. I am a member of a sorority. I was active for half of my college career, enjoy my current alumnae status, and am proud of my connection to the national organization. I didn't join the organization to drink or to meet fraternity boys but rather because I like the concept of a sisterhood, ritual, and shared experiences. Now that I've stated my bias, I will say that I think that the author of this book also had a bias before she began writing this book. Robbins began writing about National Panhellenic sororities with preconceived notions and stereotypes about sorority women and the agenda of the organizations.
In Pledged, Robbins' objective was to tell readers about what it was like for women inside sororities through interviews, research, and historical perspectives. However, due to unfavorable press in recent years, the author was denied access to the sorority chapters by their national offices. So, in order to gain access to the sororities, Robbins went undercover as an undergraduate. She befriended four women, who knew she was writing the book, that allowed her to infiltrate their organizations. Through the points of the four women, Amy, Viki, Caitlin, and Sabrina, the author has written her interpretation of an academic year in a sorority house. The readers follow the women through their experiences with recruitment period (rush), organizational politics, arguments, parties, and boyfriends. The portrait that is developed is less than flattering and reflects standard stereotypes that sororities promote drunkenness, self-image problems, and social conformity. The anecdotal stories from the sorority women are often augmented with Robbins' background research.
While the experiences of the women in the book are not fabricated, they give only one perspective on the sorority experience. From the limited experiences of her sources, Robbins has formed mass generalizations. She has failed to realize in her book that sororities, and the women that make up their memberships, vary from campus to campus. What is standard within one chapter may be unheard of in another. The author holds up the four women and the sororities that she observed, as representatives for the entire Greek system. While her book reflects the Greek system on one college campus, it does not mirror every chapter across the nation or accurately portray the over three million women that are currently active sorority members.
Robbins has some interesting and valid observations throughout the book and reading the points of view of the sorority women is informative. The book offers a perspective on sorority life but readers shouldn't read Pledged expecting any insight to or revelations about the Greek system.
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A sweeping overview of the history of women's intimate apparel in the twentieth century.
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