This Friday sees the release of Neighbors, another movie about frats and sororities hoping to be the next Animal House. It's a fun movie, mixing the humor of Judd Apatow's disciples with everyone's favorite punching bag, Greek life.
As a woman in a sorority at USC, one of the country's top party schools, I enjoy watching movies about Greek life, but I'm always disappointed by the major things they get wrong. Yes, the parties are ridiculous, the music is loud, and the people are hot (and occasionally super shallow), but there's a lot more to going Greek than just that.
So, in honor of Neighbors' upcoming release, here's a primer on real Greek life and how Hollywood gets it wrong.
Fallacy 1: Fraternity and sorority presidents are dumb pretty people
Zac Efron plays the president of the fictional Delta Psi Beta, but there's no way he'd be elected president of a real fraternity. Being president of your sorority or fraternity is actually one of the least glamorous jobs ever. Examples of a typical president's duties include:
- Being legally responsible for every single person who comes to your chapter's parties
- Doing a lot of paperwork. Like, corporate amounts of paperwork - fraternities and sororities are huge national organizations, after all
- Holding the hair of the drunk girl as she pukes and cries, and then making sure she gets home safely
- Picking up the slack of everyone in the house who doesn't do their job correctly
- Going to meetings where you hear about all the scary things that are happening on your campus and nationwide related to sexual assault, binge drinking and hazing, and making sure that your chapter doesn't get its charter revoked for the same things
So while it's completely believable that Elle Woods would be a capable president of Delta Nu in Legally Blonde (and it shows why she's such a good lawyer), there's no way that Efron's Teddy, who is nothing more than a pretty face, would survive a whole year as his chapter's president.
Fallacy 2: Sororities can have boys/parties/alcohol inside the house
As much as I love watching The House Bunny (it's so fun to play "name that USC building"), there's one huge problem I have with it. A crucial part of the plot is the "Aztec Party" that Zeta Alpha Zeta sorority throws in their backyard, but that would never, ever happen, especially at a sorority whose charter is in danger of being revoked. Living in the sorority is, in a lot of ways, like the movies (there are only so many possible outcomes when there are 60 or more women living in the same house and going to all the same events together), but sororities are very strict on the whole no boys/alcohol/parties in the house rule.
Fallacy 3: Any guy can get into a frat party
At big schools like USC, there's a big obsession with "the ratio." Most frat guys are interested in keeping "the ratio" of girls to guys in their favor at their big parties (called "registereds," because they're registered with the university), so all girls are allowed into frat parties, but guys have to be on the guest list to get in. If you're not a brother of the house that's throwing the party, it's pretty hard to get into the party, unless you're really good friends with a guy in the house, or you're the social chair of your fraternity. So the odds that a middle aged man like Brian Huskey's character Bill in Neighbors could just walk into a big frat party? Pretty low.
Fallacy 4: The dean is the main person in charge of reprimanding Greeks
While a university's administration definitely plays a role in keeping the Greek community in line, the houses are also held accountable by a couple other groups: the campus Panhellenic or Interfraternal Council, which are comprised of students from the school's entire Greek community, and the sorority or fraternity's national organization (who will, in most cases, be stricter than the university). The national organization keeps track of things like every member's GPA, what the chapter GPA is, how many members they've recruited so far, and everything related to the smooth operation of the chapter. The national toes the line between wanting to keep their chapters active (which brings in more money and positive PR) and making sure that no one gets sued or bad publicity. So while a campus' dean like Animal House's Dean Wormer is powerful, the Greeks will face more serious repercussions from their national organization.
Fallacy 5: All sororities haze
Now, I wish I could say no sororities haze, but unfortunately I can't, as there have been documented examples. I can say, though, that most sororities don't haze. Those nightmarish foghorn and personal belittlement scenes from Sydney White? Just scenes, as far as I know. There are tons of anti-hazing rules that the sororities have to follow for their new members (formerly known as "pledges"), ranging from the obvious (don't require your new members to be awake all night) to the less-obvious (you can't have a scavenger hunt unless active members are also searching for the clues). It's hard to convince people that you don't haze, because everybody says they don't haze, regardless of whether or not that's true, but I can guarantee you that the my new member period was literally just being showered with love, compliments and gifts. No hazing necessary.
Regarding all the other stereotypes about Greek life... well, I plead the fifth.
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