This past Friday, a major uproar was caused by an opinion piece posted on AL.com about a sorority recruitment video made by the University of Alabama’s Alpha Phi. Spoiler alert: the opinion in this opinion piece was not a positive one. The writer of the piece, A.L. Bailey called the video, “all so racially and aesthetically homogeneous and forced, so hyper-feminine, so reductive and objectifying, so Stepford Wives: College Edition.”
The recruitment video, which had over 500,000 views on YouTube, was taken down after being criticized for depicting an extreme lack of diversity and objectifying women. The sorority also took down its Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr pages following the backlash.
I became interested in this story mostly because I was surprised by all the attention this one video was getting. Having recently graduated from a college where Greek life ruled the social world, I have seen countless videos just like this one. Though I wasn’t in a sorority myself, I had many friends who were, and every year these girls would post their sorority’s recruitment videos on Facebook and share them like crazy. I almost always watched them because they are purely entertaining. I’m a little reluctant to admit it, but I certainly rolled my eyes at the frolicking, laughed at the handholding, and shuddered at the thought of having to dance around in matching outfits with a bunch of other young women for a video that hundreds would see. I definitely thought the whole concept was silly, but these recruitment videos rarely made me angry in the way this writer expressed. To me, these videos were a very real representation of what being in a sorority is, and I had already made a decision to not be part of that world so why let it make me mad?
The controversy surrounding this particular video, however, caused me to reconsider my feelings about what was being presented, and let me tell you, these feelings are complex.
The opinion piece by Bailey starts off, “Remember all those bikini-clad, sashaying, glitter-blowing, and spontaneous piggyback-riding days of college? Me either. But according to a new video, it’s a whirlwind of glitter and girl-on-girl piggyback rides at the University of Alabama’s Alpha Phi house.” When I read that I thought, “Hmm well no. I don’t remember those days, but I think that’s just because I wasn’t in a sorority.” From the outside looking in, this is precisely what being in a sorority seemed to be about, especially in the South. And that, among a few other reasons, was precisely why I hadn’t been in one. But just because these girls look silly, why is the video such a negative thing?
I realized that this video is simply trying to advertise something, and it reflects the same issues I get mad about daily in regards to advertising in the real world. The ads we see on TV, in magazines, and on billboards have the same issues this video has and those ads have been the subject of countless angry discussions. The lack of diversity and objectification of women in advertising is something so many of us want to see changed. If I’m mad about a Dolce & Gabbana ad, then I should probably be mad about a sorority recruitment video that exhibits the same offenses.
I suspect that many of my friends who are or were in a sorority might take serious offense to my objections to these videos. I’ve heard it a million times that sororities are about more that parties and piggyback rides. They insist that the most important parts of Greek life are philanthropy and building bonds, but that’s not what many of these videos are presenting. If you want people to stop criticizing Greek life, start actively working to present what you think it’s truly about and why it’s an important part of the university system. Think about the type of attention you’re garnering from videos like this one.
Despite having thought through the deeper implications of videos like this one, part of me still finds it hard to agree with Bailey’s declaration that the video is “worse for women than Donald Trump.” But, again, I think that’s the appeal of this story. There was so much controversy surrounding the video because there are hundreds of takes on it and many opinions to consider. So let’s continue the conversation. What do you think?