Monday, June 30, 2008

df. Sister (n.)


As fraternity (sorority) women, we use this word often without truly understanding its meaning. It's like saying "I love you" now a days. You may as well say "I cheese sandwich you," since it contains about as much meaning as the word "love" does considering how lightly and free of care people tend to throw around the word. Having no sisters by birth myself, I joined the "sisterhood" knowing very little about what to expect. I guess I assumed that since I was joining as an "adult," or almost an adult, at least, there would be less "sibling rivalry" to endure than I experienced during my childhood with an older brother. I was wrong.

It's truly amazing. When I was little, Stephen and I used to fight about everything. It became the only way we knew how to communicate with one another. "I call the front seat!", "No! I want to hold the remote!", "I'm older, so I have seniority and I get to pick first." These are all lines that were used interspersed with flailing arms and legs throwing punches and kicks in an effort to get the other to "Stop touching me!" Even now, when we've matured and learned to interact with one another in a civil manner, that old habit is revived occasionally. Maybe one day we will laugh about all the stupid arguments, fights, and pulling of hair that occurred. For now, we're still in the exit-stage.

I never had a sister before I joined Delta Gamma. So what did I expect? I expected less abusive behavior, less malice, fewer irrational arguments, and less rivalry than I'd had as a child with an older, somewhat rough boy as my only sibling. What did I get? Something very different than what I expected. Sure, we're not tearing each others' hair out, nor are we yelling at each other nor are we throwing punches. It's like I've said before: girls fight differently. We scheme, we gossip, we spread rumors that can ruin our sisters' reputations for college careers and beyond. We are "adults". Yet, we still have rivalry. We love each other, yet our closeness sometimes serves as the tipping point to push us over the edge and lash out at one another.

One of the terrible and great things about a family is that no matter what you do or have had done to you to or by a member of your family, they must love you and you them. You are stuck with them forever, and in good or bad times, they will be with you, even should the sight of them make you physically sick. Doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? This is one of those concepts to which I have some opposition. Some people I know would disagree with this brief description of how a family should treat its members and what the dynamics within a family should be like. I have heard people denounce their families and run away, never to speak to certain family members again. It is devastating to watch. Like demons in The Golden Compass, being torn from their children, it is a bond which should never be broken, yet some people find breaking that bond an attractive course of action. To me, one's family holds the key to one's soul.

How does this translate into how I treat my fraternity "family" and how I view my "sisters"? Delta Gamma is a beautiful organization, with "stellar" (to use a sister's favorite word) goals and ideals. The women who are selected to join this organization make it or break it. Upon pledging, these women choose to become a family. Not the kind of family that comes from birth, but a new kind of family; one that brings all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences together to learn from one another and love one another with that same sort of infinite determinacy as we do our blood relatives. We become a family for life when we are initiated into the fraternity, and make a choice to take on the responsibilities of a real family network. Because we have chosen this, it should not be an obligation, but rather a desire to be with one another and love one another as sisters.

Why do I think this ideal image of what our sisterhood should be doesn't always pan out? Part of it, I believe, is our sheer numbers. There are so many of us that cliques tend to emerge. A small rivalry between two sisters does not end there; it spreads like wildfire through the chapter until we have two groups of sisters. You're either for her or against her. If you choose to abstain, you are alienated and participate less in "family" activities in an attempt to avoid dealing with the conflict and being forced to pick a "team". Perhaps the way to break this tendency is to do some educating within the chapter concerning conflict resolution; to build up womens' self-esteem and assertiveness so that they can resolve problems on a one-to-one basis calmly and rationally, without involving the whole chapter in a brutal whisper war that goes on for months.

Anyone know a good conflict resolution specialist?

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