Kimberly P. Yow

Kimberly P. Yow

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I joined a sorority for community. Here’s why we need to protect spaces just for women

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Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority leadership has revoked the membership of two prominent alumnae this week, after more than 50 years of sisterhood and service. Their crime? Standing up for women — specifically the young women in KKG’s University of Wyoming chapter who are suing to keep biological males out of their sorority. 

Patsy Levang and Cheryl Tuck-Smith got kicked out of KKG for advocating that the sorority hold to its own bylaws, which limit membership to “women.” Sadly, KKG is suffering from the broader cultural confusion around sex and gender — confusion that will harm women and rob the next generation of the benefits of single-sex organizations and environments.

Personally, I never planned to become a “sorority girl,” and didn’t initially see the value of Greek Life. But in my case, I started to open my mind when, after my freshman year, I still felt lost in a proverbial “big pond” after growing up in a small town. 

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I suspected that joining a sorority — and particularly living in a sorority house — would help me find a close-knit community. My university offered precious few single-sex housing options, meaning that when I lived on campus I was surrounded by both women and men. 

The guys in my dorm buildings were respectful enough, but I could tell that 18-year-old men and women living in close quarters was a recipe for disaster. Although this went unspoken, the students in coed housing felt pressure to act a certain way to impress members of the opposite sex. We kept our doors closed a lot of the time, for privacy, which didn’t foster a friendly vibe.

Incredibly, I lucked into the re-launch of a new chapter of Phi Mu sorority on my campus. Our charter chapter attracted a lot of girls like me: Greek-skeptical but desiring to “make campus smaller.” 

As I got to know more sorority women from my chapter and across campus, I learned that many of them shared my motivation for membership: community with other women. I also learned that sorority membership was more diverse than stereotypes depict.

Sororities include women of various races, sizes and socioeconomic backgrounds. The only things that all sorority members had in common were that we were all students at the same university, and we were all women. 

I moved into the Phi Mu house as quickly as I could, and spent two years living there. We had our own dining room and meal plan, and various common spaces in the house both downstairs (where visitors were always welcome) and upstairs (sisters only).

We could only bring a male guest upstairs on moving day. Even then we had to shout “Man on the floor!” — which was kind of comical for us, but also practical… it was a warning to cover up if you happened to be “indecent.”

Of course, the prohibition on men upstairs was not followed 100% of the time, but it was truly taboo for a man to be upstairs in the bedroom/bathroom areas.

This female-only environment was very freeing. I could be myself at our sorority house, without any pretense. My sisters and I bonded during chapter meetings, study hours, social events and charitable fundraising events.

Four of my bridesmaids were Phi Mu sisters. To this day, they are some of my best friends. 

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I can’t imagine what my sorority experience would have been like if my chapter had been open to men, even those who identify as women. There’s no question about it: Including men inevitably and fundamentally changes the mission and experience of sorority life.

Sororities were founded during a time — the 1800s — when women were excluded from many opportunities. Our founders understood that our shared biological sex and experiences as women serve as a starting point for sorority sisterhood. Although much has changed for women in our society, the reality of biological sex differences has not.

Sorority women, and all women, deserve the basic right to safety and privacy, and the presence of males can threaten that right. But female-only environments are about more. They’re about the communities and bonds that women form when it’s “just us girls.” Similarly, men and boys should be free to join all-male organizations if they choose, and can reap similar benefits.

The Kappa plaintiffs deserve the same opportunities I had — the opportunities they were promised — to participate in a women-only community. Patsy Levang and Cheryl Tuck-Smith rightly stood up for them. In ousting these alumnae, KKG leadership has broken faith with more than the word “woman,” but with sisterhood itself.

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