Not All Sororities Value Bikinis Over Brains
The University of Alabama’s Alphi Phi sorority’s Bid Day video featured members in bikinis, partying, and lots of big, blond hair.
First, there’s a bevy of hot, young women along the stairs, smiling invitingly and waving hello. They walk and open the door to a mansion filled to the brim with just as, if not more, objectively attractive ladies who manage to maintain their perfectly coiffed hair while they bounce up and down.
This isn’t the opening credits to the latest Bravo reality TV show—it’s too racially homogenous even for that—nor the start of a 14-year-old boy’s wet dream. It’s the University of Alabama’s Alphi Phi sorority’s Bid Day video.
The sorority has since removed the video, but not before it racked up more than 500,000 views and a kegger full of criticism.
Some of the public outrage appears to be directed toward the video’s “salacious” content, which is less a critique of sexual expression than the elevation of female sexiness above all else.
There are booty shots of girls sexily bounding up the dramatic mahogany staircases, peach-glossed lips blowing kisses at the camera, an unending row of barely legal ladies in bikinis and one-pieces that read “blessed” across the chest.
The combination of these images produced a supersaturation of the sorority girl fetish that seemed more tacky and irksome than sexy.
Viewers will have also failed to spot a textbook, calculator, or laptop, and there is no mention of academics. In fact, none of the Alpha Phi members actually speak in the video. The chapter has chosen to be voiceless, and lets their looks do the talking.
No wonder A.L. Bailey at AL.com took the women of Alpha Phi to task in an op-ed titled “’Bama Sorority Video Worse for Women Than Trump.” That proclamation is less hyperbolic than one would think.
“These young women, with all their flouncing and hair-flipping, are making it so terribly difficult for anyone to take them seriously, now or in the future. It lacks substance but boasts bodies,” she writes.
She scolds the chapter for eschewing academics and ideals, while questioning whether their desire to woo new members clouded their foresight and intellect so much that they actively chose to objectify themselves.
“Did they think they were selling the kind of sisterhood that looks out for all women? Or were they focused on having the hottest video in the popularity contest that is sorority recruitment? Were they satisfied with being perceived as selling a gorgeous party-girl, cookie-cutter commodity? Were they satisfied with being the commodity?”
Of course, there’s another problem with the video that even the horniest coed could see through the hazy fog of T&A: This was not the most diverse group of undergrads.
It’s hard not to be disturbed by the overwhelming whiteness of Alpha Phi—especially in light of the UA Crimson White 2013 exposé into certain sororities’ refusal to admit black women (Alpha Phi was not specifically featured in it.)
UA did release numbers on sorority recruitment, noting that of the 2,261 women who received bids, 214 were minorities—a 13 percent increase from the prior year. The press release also stated that “the number of African American students who received bids increased by 19 percent, to 25.”
UA can tout all the signs of improvement, but the viral Alpha Phi video validated impressions of the unbearable whiteness of Southern sorority culture.
The Crimson Tide turned bright red with embarrassment over Alpha Phi’s gratuitous display of bodacious babes doing pageant-perfect come-hither stares with nary a book or person of color in sight.
“This video is not reflective of UA’s expectations for student organizations to be responsible digital citizens. It is important for student organizations to remember what is posted on social media makes a difference, today and tomorrow, on how they are viewed and perceived,” Deborah Lane, associate vice president for University Relations, said last week in a statement.
All of these critiques of the Alpha Phi video are valid, but I am utterly shocked that people are shocked by this picture of sorority life. I have to ask: what have y’all been drinking (or smoking)?
Did you not watch Legally Blonde, or at least the opening scene? Did you ever peruse an episode of Greek? In the last three decades, have you visited a Division 1-sized college campus, especially in the South or the Midwest?
A colleague helpfully pulled examples of sorority videos that are variations on the same recipe of hot girls dancing around and partying hard without references to books, classes, or any of the other trappings of being at an academic institution.
While the University of Arizona’s Kappa Alpha Theta, University of Miami’s Delta Gamma, or Florida State’s Pi Beta Phi videos are not as extreme as UA’s Alpha’s, they play to the same fetishized image of the sorority girl as a playful bimbo who is game for anything her frat boy desires.
Many schools and sororities do not play to this stereotype. They exist to provide the sisterhood, support, and professional guidance that are sororities at their best. When I asked a friend who had been in a sorority at a Big Ten school, she said “I don't think I would have become as big a feminist as I am today if I hadn't joined."
But the Alpha Phi video—and others like it—show there is prominent contingency in sorority culture that places too heavy of an emphasis on physical appearances, partying, and antiquated conceptions for how a woman should be.
If the Alpha Phi video has woken the general public up from its sorority girl fantasy, then we should thank the women in the chapter. They didn’t create a Greek culture that elevates clubbing and looks above all else. They didn’t create the perception that sororities were training grounds for women in college to prepare for Real Housewives auditions.
America has been fetishizing the sorority girl for a while now. Search “sorority” on PornHub if you need proof. We’re coming out of our drunken stupor, and we need to deal with the hangover.