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See the Oppression Inherent in the System: The Alabama Sorority Video Outrage

So we can thank this video for the latest race and gender campus mini-tempest:

It’s a recruiting video for a University of Alabama sorority, and it just might be the least-Ivy-League-feminist five minutes ever posted on the internet. It went semi-viral after a writer for AL.com called it “worse for women than Donald Trump.” Her case:

It’s a parade of white girls and blonde hair dye, coordinated clothing, bikinis and daisy dukes, glitter and kisses, bouncing bodies, euphoric hand-holding and hugging, gratuitous booty shots, and matching aviator sunglasses. It’s all so racially and aesthetically homogeneous and forced, so hyper-feminine, so reductive and objectifying, so Stepford Wives: College Edition. It’s all so … unempowering.

The University seemed to agree, penning its own condemnation:

This video is not reflective of UA’s expectations for student organizations to be responsible digital citizens,” Deborah Lane, the associate vice president for university relations said in a statement. “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.

I have three thoughts. First, what’s “unempowering” is the notion that these women aren’t autonomous enough to decide for themselves the life they enjoy or the image they choose to present. No men were demanding they do this video. Indeed, the audience is obviously like-minded women — people looking for exactly the social experience depicted on the video. It’s no wonder so few women describe themselves as “feminist” if that means joining a movement that’s going to crush other women online if they choose to project a “hyper-feminine” image. 

Second, it’s more than a little disturbing to see an arm of the state determining that a frivolous little video depicting exactly zero unlawful or irresponsible behavior doesn’t comport with its definition of a “responsible digital citizen.” I know that Alabama is making an aggressive move for the South’s most academically gifted students (a number of friends have kids there on generous academic scholarships), and those kids are the least likely to find this video appealing, but Alabama has to know that condemning this video only serves to highlight it — ensuring that it will be seen by exactly the kinds of kids it is trying to attract, the media-savvy nerds who track the news and dominate the standardized tests. 

Third, none of my comments above should be construed as an endorsement of contemporary SEC Greek life, which is often consumed by the Thursday (sometimes Wednesday) through Sunday (sometimes Monday) party culture. Far from being the last bastion of southern classical culture that its critics imagine, it is all-too-often the home of the yeeeeehaw! and wooooohooo! of the increasingly expensive five-year college rave. Not every sorority or fraternity is guilty — and even the hard partiers are not necessarily outliers on their own party-consumed campuses — but parents beware. You’re often paying top dollar to send your children to an alcohol-soaked version of Disneyland, where their hands will hold a red solo cup far more often than a laptop, iPad, or textbook. 

Universities walk a hypocritical line — doing their best to cultivate a scholarly image while knowing full well that thousands of their students party more than they study. Sure, they try to attract the top performers, but it’s the mediocre student (and professional keg-stander) who pays the bills. Alabama’s embarrassed because one its sororities was caught telling the truth about their college experience – that it has a lot to do with fun and not much to do with education. 

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