Centre College is blessed with a number of single-sex organizations, living experiments in gender differences of all kinds. My student Taylor developed some interesting observations on how power is distributed through the offices of Greek organizations. In both kinds of organizations, when the officers work as expected, the whole organization really does function. I will quote from Taylor's edited observations on offices and officers today. Tomorrow I will share some of her findings on Greek elections.
"We talked in class about the differences between fraternity and sorority officer hierarchies and I thought that the differences were really striking. Because not only are the men's officers more hierarchical, their offices aren't taken as seriously.
In my sorority, each person is slated into a position that suits her personality and she is expected to perform her tasks to the best of her ability. For example, I am the Secretary and that means at any sorority function I have to take attendance and if people don't come, I deal with the repercussions. So, I go to all of the meetings and keep up with people. I take my job really seriously and so do all of the other officers. If anyone has a question about attendance, they come to me. If I have a question about rush, I ask the rush chair. If I have a question about an event, I ask the events chair. It's more like everyone really knows their areas and we ask each other and work together. The only person that has any true upper-hand is the president.
With men, it's way different. My boyfriend is the Secretary for his fraternity. Not only does he not have to go to anything, no one else is held responsible for not going to something. Occasionally, there will be one big event at which all the members must be in attendance and if they're not there then [her boyfriend] has to fine them but most of the time they don't pay. And the other officers don't take their jobs seriously at all. The only person who is truly accountable for anything in the whole fraternity is the president. It's really unnerving to me because I don't know how they get anything accomplished.
Anyway, I guess the point is that the sororities and fraternities are organized differently. For us, the president does have a slightly elevated position but everyone else in an office knows that they have a specialty and are expected to perform at that task. Since women in leadership tend to want to avoid making hierarchies, it makes sense. It's a very level playing field where no officer feels less important. We rule very much by consensus and no one makes any decisions without the input of the other sisters. But for men, the president literally holds all the power. He, of course, has been voted into that position and so everyone recognizes his power but none of the officers wield the same authority that he does. They never make group decisions and rarely even have meetings to talk about decisions. But, the president makes all the decisions and somehow things get accomplished."
A thoughtful female correspondent, after reading the above, wrote:
The sorority offices call for results AND getting the results within relationships. That's why sororities are real preparation for chick power. In school settings, you can feel the women who have done that Greek thing making things move. (Would actually be a darned good scientific study: relative sorority participation of women in various education positions.)