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Pledged    by Alexandra Robbins order for
by Alexandra Robbins
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Hyperion, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

I did not attend college and therefore was not a sorority sister. After reading Pledged, I'm glad I wasn't. I would not have fared well. I didn't have the money to live the life of a sorority sister, nor the appearance necessary to claim a place. The cliques that seem to form in most of the houses would have been alien to me.

A conversation related by the author struck me. A sorority member and a sorority alumna were both guests at a wedding. '"Were you a Sigma with the bride?" "No, ma'am." The older woman seemed distressed as she asked what sorority the girl was in. "I was an EtaGam, ma'am."' The relief was palpable as the woman smiled an approval. That made the girl an acceptable association, EtaGam being considered one of the top sororities. But surely the young woman's worth was defined by more than being an EtaGam? I can only pick out some of the items that alarmed me; there were so many. Descriptions of the amount of alcohol consumed are frightening. Sexual promiscuity seems to have run rampant - to the extent, in one case, of arranging to have a girl who was a virgin by choice sexually used by frat brothers.

The whole rushing process is humiliating to my mind. Sorority sisters pick and choose their pledges by various criteria one of which might be what kind of pocketbook the girl carries, or her weight, hair color, or choice of clothes. The amount of money needed to be a sister and live in the sorority house must be beyond what most college students can afford. Sisters are expected to pay dues and have clothes for all the social happenings which can be several times a week and every weekend. The cost of the drinking alone must be outrageous. Although hazing has been outlawed on campuses, it still continues underground. Meant to tear down the pledge's confidence only to start building her up again, this practice has proven dangerous. In more than one case, hazing resulted in death.

Mothers and grandmothers of pledges get into the act at rush time by sending cakes, cupcakes, flowers, even pencils with the rushees' names on them. 'Iced letters on the baked goods read versions of: "Just remember my daughter Jane Smith."' I wonder how the rushees feel about their relatives are campaigning for them. Though white sororities claim to focus on philanthropy, Robbins tells us that often little is done for others. She goes on to say that black sororities spend a great deal of time and thought on helping others. It seems that segregation is alive and rampant in collegiate life. Apparently Blacks started their own groups when they realized they would not be accepted in white sororities. The black sororities appear, again according to this book, to have their feet on the ground and form lasting and rewarding relationships with their sisters.

This is a disturbing book. The author did most of her research by talking to four unidentified sorority sisters over a year's time. She tells us that 'Under the guise of propelling women forward, sororities also tug them backward with dress codes, male-centered activities, ideas of proper comportment and a subjugation of self to the group so that the constant contradictory pulls lead to a stagnancy that is slow to accept any change at all.' Pledged is well-written and hard to put down, and made me worry about my granddaughter, who will start college in the fall.

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