It’s a Ya-Ya Sisterhood Thing

I have a confession to make.

I was in a sorority.

I’m not ashamed, but it’s not something I brag about either. To be clear, there was no hazing at my school. I didn’t have to get up on a table in my underwear and let upperclassmen circle my fat. Instead they bought me teddy bears and candy and sent frat boys to do G-rated strip teases to “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

Still, by the time I was a senior, my interest in being a sorority girl had waned. Significantly. And when I first graduated I was downright embarrassed by it. That personal tidbit would slip out and people would say “You? Really? You don’t seem the sorority type.” To which I would say thank you, because it was clear from their tone that what they meant was “you don’t seem the bitchy exclusive Mean Girls type.”

Now that I’m far enough removed from college, I kinda think the whole thing was just silly. The memories make me laugh, but you wont find me writing checks to the alumni organizations that seem entirely unable to lose my home address.

Last week a woman my age told me that, in effort to make new friends, she joined the Junior League. Everything I know about the Junior League comes from The Help, in which their portrayal is, let’s just say, less than stellar. However, according to their mission, The Junior League is about “women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.” The new member I was talking to couldn’t stop raving—she’d met tons of people and had a social event every night of the week. It was an adult sorority.

And what about the Red Hat Society? Damon Wayans (yes, that Damon Wayans) has a novel out today, Red Hats, about a woman who joined the “enormous nurturing network of women approaching 50 or beyond, who are joining red-gloved hands and spreading the joy and companionship we find within and among the chapters.”

Even though I was in a sorority then, I can’t imagine joining one now. The Junior League—despite its noble aims—kind of gives me the creeps. Maybe because of The Help, or maybe because the thought of going through anything like rush again makes me want to gouge my eye out. And The Red Hat Society makes me think of someone’s kooky Aunt Sylvia. But they both sound like pretty surefire ways to make friends. Likely the lifelong kind.

What are your thoughts on these types of organizations? Would you ever join one? Do you already belong? Do you have similar reservations, or am I being too judgy?


Filed under The Old Days

32 responses to “It’s a Ya-Ya Sisterhood Thing

  1. JenD

    Wow! I’m still reeling from learning that DamanWayans is also an author…is there no end to his talent?

    I’m with you on the issue of “club-joining” but mostly because I usually am the odd duck in any given crowd. I find most of these types of social organizations make little room for those of us who think a little bit differently. That said, should I ever find a group for misfits, I’d probably join in a hot NY minute!

  2. I was also in a sorority (Delta Gamma). When people find out, they are always surprised. I definitely went through a phase where I didn’t think I’d made the right decision (like around rush when I thought – what the hell am I doing?), but all in all, I am glad I was in the sorority. It’s where I met the girls who are all my best friends. If I ever have a daughter, though, I don’t know that I will encourage her to do Greek life. If she wants to – great. If she doesn’t – great.

    One of my good friends is in Jr League and has encouraged me to join but I just don’t know if I can do it… it sounds like a huge time commitment. After 3 years of balancing full-time work and grad school in the evenings, I am sort of cautious of committing to things that take up alot of my week nights/week ends… I know they do great work in the community, but I just don’t think it would be a good fit for me…

  3. Ha! Laughing, as usual, at your post. I was in a sorority – also the non-hazing, completely benign and friendly kind. I made some of the best friends of my life and am thankful for my experience there.

    BUT… since then, I have not been able to stomach any kind of women’s organization, like Junior League. I attempted to join “the league” (as it is referred to by members) in hopes of making some friends, but had to drop out. Just couldn’t do it. I felt like I was rushing all over again, and that was fine when I was 18, but it’s not at all fine now. I felt like I was being sized up all the time. Not to mention that the time commitment is worse than any hazing! 😉 Since the main focus of Jr. League is volunteerism/philanthropy, I decided to volunteer on my own (although I can’t say I’ve done a stellar job of that, either).

  4. Becky

    What can I say – I am from the south, and joining a sorority was kind of expected. I transferred colleges, though, two years through. There wasn’t a chapter of my sorority at the new college, so my interest died a slow death. It was fun while it lasted, but I am in agreement with you, Rachel, on the outlook of soroity life.

    I did join a woman’s group two years ago that my mother and aunt belong to – it’s in support of women’s education (the group owns a two year college in MO), and there isn’t the time commitments as the Jr. League (opted not to join that one). While I am one of the youngest members of the group, it nice to know that there are a group of women around the world I can call for assistance if needed….

    However, there isn’t the bond of “instant sisterhood” that a sorority demands – and while I am friendly with the ladies in the group, there has been no connection outside of group events. I am ok with that, even though it would have been nice to have found a good friend. But it is all for a good cause (example: recently awarded a $3000 grant to a single mom returning to school) and very little time on my part.

  5. hmmm. I was not in a sorority, and at my college, the sororities struck me as very conformist. And, there WAS public hazing. I know that this is not the case everywhere, but seeing how the sorority members behaved at my school really turned me off to the whole thing. Plus, I had a couple of friends who pledged and then suddenly “weren’t allowed” to talk to me for a time because “you’re not in my house.” That HURT. So I am probably a little biased against the Greek system.

    An acquaintance recently was talking about the Red Hat Society, and man, I wish there were something like that for women in their 30s! How fun would it be to be a member of a group where eccentricity was not only tolerated, but encouraged!

    As for the Junior League…. I had to cover their events occasionally when I worked for a newspaper in the suburbs and, well, they seemed a little bit Stepford. Maybe it’s different in the city. I am with you, though — it kind of gives me the creeps.

  6. Beth

    I was also in a sorority and was always luke warm on the experience. I am grateful for the handful of friends (and that I had parties planned for me) I had from the experience but i think women leading women in a social setting is a recipe for disaster. It’s inevitable that things are going to get nasty. And why voluntarily put yourself in that situation?

  7. Alex F.

    Hi Rachel!

    So… My grandmother and mother were members of Junior League for years. I was encouraged to join but feared white gloves and tea cups. But, after having a very hard time meeting interesting, fun, successful women in DC, I joined the Washington DC JL. More recently, I transferred to the Brooklyn Junior League when I moved back to NYC. I had positive, fun experiences in both groups and met some wonderful and interesting women in both groups.

    Every JL is different – the personality of the group depends on the city it’s in – and I’ve found I enjoy the women in the Brooklyn JL definitely fit my style more. I was in the VERY small minority of brunette Democrats in the Washington JL and found most of the women to be young, blond Republicans who went to Old Miss and worked in PR. (Am I allowed to be annoyed by the blond/brunette distinction? Not sure that’s appropriate…) The DC JL wasn’t what I was looking for but I did manage to scope out some women with similar interests. The Brooklyn JL, on the other hand, is made up of a diverse and dynamic group of women who inspire me.

    JL can be great because the women are typically interested in social service and giving back to your local community. Who doesn’t like making a friend with a good heart? But make sure you do careful screening of the JL group in your city: consider the personality of the group before joining. I wonder what the Chicago JL is like…

    xo, alex fiorillo

  8. Anita

    We don’t have sororities in Ireland so the whole concept just seems bizarre to me!
    We do have volunteering though. I don’t know about the Jr League but I highly recommend finding a cause you’re passionate about and volunteering for that! You’ll get a kick out of helping others, it’s a great way to meet people with similar interests and a lot of people volunteer on their own so you don’t have that awkward feeling that everyone else already knows eachother.

  9. I was not part of a sorority and always thought it was a little weird. But I have also heard great stories about friendship and support in sororities, so I would never 100% exclude joining something like that as an adult. You just never know. My main problem is that I want to wear jeans everywhere, so if I feel the need to dress up more than that, I will never join. 😉

  10. Like you, I was in a sorority in college. Like you, I was happy to shed that identifying feature once I graduated (though, I still have some amazing friends from that time in my life). I also have post-college friends who got involved in the Junior League.

    Here’s the thing. The Junior League does some commendable things regarding charity and the community. But, the fact is, it is seemingly a group of post-sorority women clinging to the need to feel accepted in such a community. My argument is there are plenty of other ways to get involved in your community without needing to organize expansive and fancy galas costing attendees hundreds or even thousands of dollars to attend. I’d much rather see that money go straight to the organizations that need it.

  11. I am involved in the women’s group at my church and I really love it. We’re all in very similar places in life and luckily it’s not judgemental or stepford. I enjoy getting to know new women and find that when I open myself up I start to really care about them. I guess it’s about scoping out the organization to see if it’s a place where you would fit in.

    • Jen

      Oh, Annie, I so miss my women’s group from my old church back in my previous city! Even though I wasn’t “besties” with every single woman in the group, it was a great time, and very comforting in a way.

  12. I was never in a sorority, but understand why people choose to join. I am in a few book clubs right now and really enjoy the discussions over a common interest. As you get older, you gravitate toward friendships with people that you can relate to. In college, I think sororities are so appealing because it is an instant “friendship.”

  13. Jen

    I had a HUGE chip on my shoulder towards greeks in college, and I’ve spent much of my adulthood trying to be mature and understanding about it (instead of rolling my eyes and wondering why they had to BUY their friends… wait, there I go again; sorry, I was poor – it’s all jealousy).

    When I moved to my new city, I met a potential, sort-of friend (she’s married to one of my husband’s friends) who was in Junior League, and I thought, “Oh, maybe she’ll invite me to join since I’m new and all, and even though I don’t normally do that sort of thing, I will this time, in order to make some friends my own freaking age, damn college town.” But she never did. Not even when I casually showed interest. So I’m backing to rolling my eyes.

  14. I passed on the whole sorority thing in college. Our greek life on campus was known for crazy hazing rituals and just wasn’t really my thing. I was an RA in the soroity dorm for two years, it was really an eye opening experience.

    The junior league in my area is made up of women from old money, Republican families. Again, not my scene.

    I can volunteer within the community on my own. I’ve also pretty much embraced my loner tendancies.

    I’ve always sort of thought the Red Hat Society was fun — any time I seem them out and about they are celebrating their eccentric ways, standing out in a crowd and just seem like they are really enjoying themselves. I dont think I would ever join though.

  15. I didn’t do the sorority route in college–hi band nerd here!–but was always a little jealous of the friendship bonds that those girls had with like 30 other girls. It’s interesting to read so many comments of folks who were in sororities who are kind of lukewarm about them now, even if they have kept up with a few of the friendships.
    And the Junior League—I’ve thought about it, but honestly I’m not good in group situations on my own and am pretty positive I wouldn’t have anything in common with the local chapter, either in interests or income level! But the idea of a place to meet a lot of women at once in the hopes of making friends is tempting.

  16. OK, this response is full of more judgement that I typically will publically post, but I’m posting it anyway…

    I’ve never heard of Junior League, so I have no opinion on that.

    All of the sororities that I have had personal contact with have been exclusionary for superfical reasons and have really just been drinking clubs. I have no respect for social organizations that exclude based on height, weight, hair style or breast size (yup, seen it all), and I don’t have much respect for drinking just to get drunk. So….

    Red Hat: everything I have seen/read about them has been negative, in that they (according to accounts) act like teenagers stereotypically do: loud, messy, poor tippers. I don’t have much respect for that, either. It’s one thing to go out and have fun. It’s another to be rude.

    I suspect that if those organizations are as I percieve them to be, and those are ways that you are or would like to be, then they would be great. But really, beautiful/loud/drunk people don’t seem to have so much trouble finding friends, do they?

  17. Catie

    I am about your age, too (I think), was never in a sorority and don’t consider myself a joiner in the sense that I seek status from belonging to this group or that. But, I’ve been a Junior League member for five years. I live in a place where it is very difficult to meet people, so the only reason I joined was to make friends. It can be sorority-like, but you can chart your own path. You will definitely meet people and in a city like Chicago, I bet the League is big enough that you can make of it whatever you want. Most of the socializing I do now is with people I’ve come to know through the League.

  18. Was not in a sorority, though I was in a (coed) eating club … I joined the Junior League my first year out of college for only one reason – my mother’s best friend, for whom the JL had been REALLY important, had two sons (ie no second generation Leaguers) and was dying and asked me too. Hard to say no. I only lasted a year and didn’t love it, but I did meet a couple of women who are still in my life (not close friends, but friendly).

  19. I was in a sorority. And whenever I think about it, I ask myself, “What the hell??” I was (and am) so very much not that type of person (and I feel like I can say accurately that there is a sorority “type” since I experienced it firsthand). Yes, I made a few really good friends. But I also alienated a few other good friends and picked up way too much self-esteem and personal appearance baggage that has taken me years to come to grips with. Worth it? I still don’t know. And Junior League? No way.


    To each her own.

  20. Erin

    Ok so I am def in the minority here. I was in a sorority in college (Kappa Kappa Gamma and no hazing was allowed) as was my mother. Though we choose to rush different sororities our experiences have been very similar. I remember my mom told me once when I was younger that when she moved to New Orleans (where I grew up) she was very thankful to have other people to relate to even if it was just on a “superficial” level. So when I moved to Nashville for Med school I did the same thing. I also knew no one here, and haven’t really clicked with others at my school, so I was hoping to maybe make some friends this way. While in college I made a few friends in my sorority but none that I keep in touch with on a regular basis. I also veered away from them my senior year (due to internships, Premed, cheerleading, etc.) so I don’t know if I truly gave being in a sorority the chance it deserved.
    My alumni chapter has a young alumnus group that does bimonthly outings (such as happy hour, movies, pottery making, etc.) I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but to me I enjoy going to these events (when I can). I found that most people have very similar things to say about being in the sorority in college and am glad not to be there anymore. But it is cool to hear about the events and things they have at the different schools. I know that each sorority has a different reputation on each campus, but I truly feel like I somehow relate to these girls. Now it is by no means the ya-ya sisterhood, since I have only been to 3 events, but I have found others that live near me and have invited them out for yogurt (yay me).
    In New Orleans and other cities there is an organization like the Junior League called The Links. The Links is and African American version of the Junior League so to speak. My mother has been a member for over 10 years and she loves it. She doesn’t get involved with the drama but she really enjoys the community service aspect. I think it’s also just an excuse for her to get out of the house and to relate to other women of her age and similar “goals in life” as it were. Will I eventually be a member of the Links or the Junior league…maybe. I think it depends on your city, your personality, and your time commitment. Though now, I am enjoying being a young alumnus.

  21. Lisa Z

    HAHA! I thought about joining Junior League or trying to. One of my friends in San Francisco is a JLer, she is a sweetheart, is Latina like me and is going to be a new mom, (that just reminds me, due date this month!) (yes I hate calling (from yesterday’s post)!). I expressed my interest to a co-worker in Chicago (she is also a JLer) and she informed me that it is very exclusive but that she would introduce me in Chicago. I don’t know that I would fit in but I do love giving back to the community. I am open to JL and other clubs.

  22. Exclusivity in any form bothers me. Junior Leaguers do wonderful things in their communities, and sororities occasionally do as well, but if voluntarism is truly the focus why must these clubs operate by only allowing in a select group of women? It’s a mystery to me.

    At any rate, I do know that feeling “on trial” for any purpose makes me want to cry. I have to admire women who go through pledging or membership processes with total confidence.

  23. I have a good friend that joined a frat, and at first I was repulsed. The drinking and the d-bag-ish-ness? It didn’t seem like him. But he said it was mainly so that he could network, and you yourself pointed out the study that says that people who are popular and have more friends make the most money in life.

    And not just networking with current members, as frats do have volunteer work requirements and other required activities, but also potential with alumni. It never hurts to have something on your resume that catches your future boss’ eye.

  24. Marie

    I joined the Junior League to make friends when I first moved to the city I now live in. I credit the JL with introducing me to one of my close friends. While we didn’t become close during my brief time as a member, we did meet through another venue shortly after and because we knew each other already we gravitated to each other. (I hope that makes sense) The same thing happened with another friend of mine. She met a girl at JL, then again somewhere else. Because they knew each other they started hanging out more than they probably would have otherwise.

    I’m not a fan of the JL, but I think it is a great way to meet people/network even if you only join for a year or two.

  25. The Damon Wayans book sounds good, i saw the interview on regis, so interesting.

  26. Johanna

    My school didn’t have a Greek system, but my high school bff went to a large state school and wound up joining a sorority, I think to make the large school seem a little smaller and more manageable.

    Her first two years with the sorority seemed great, and I started to think that all my associations with sororities were inaccurate…but then by the third year everything went horribly awry and it became drama central.

    My impression of the Greek system is that it’s one big party, and as long as you’re in the mood to party, everybody’s welcoming and happy to have you around. As soon as you’re not in a partying place though – personal problems, you’re broke, or you need to focus on school, or whatever – the friendship well dries up, because no one wants you to interrupt their high.

    My sister recently started college, and she considered joining, but she stopped because, in her words: “it’s all a lie. If they said, you join and you get to live and party with a bunch of girls your age, then I would be all for it, but they keep telling me it’s like suddenly getting a hundred best friends. They wouldn’t be my best friends, I’ve only just met them.”

    I don’t think they’re either good or bad, and I’ve been told that different sororities have different atmospheres, but at the end of the day, I don’t think you should be allowed to call it sisterhood if you have to put in an application to get in.

  27. i was a non-traditional (that’s the nice way of saying older) college student, and joined a sorority at 30. yes, that’s right. 30. being that much older than my ‘sisters’ makes me vaguely aunt (that’s the nice way of saying mom) like to them… and i like it. it’s a sweet way to be a part of something bigger.

  28. I went to a big school in an urban location where sororities and fraternities were, at best, very low volume background noise. The handful of people I knew who joined them were athletic recruits (sorry for sweeping generalizations, but it’s true).

    So, in college, joining a sorority held little, if any, allure.

    I recently went to a JL info meeting because, like many of you in the comments, I live in an area where I’ve had a really hard time meeting people. I went with fairly low expectations. I assumed that there would be a sorority vibe (there wasn’t) and that the scope of the volunteering would be limited to luncheons and writing checks but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    I have a few friends in other cities who are active in their local chapters, and that definitely pushed me to go. (FWIW, the chapter near me doesn’t require a letter of recommendation from another member or anything, so it felt a little less intimidating.)

  29. scorpiosity

    The sorority I joined in college was full of girls like me – not the *sorority type* – so I liked it while it lasted. I say while it lasted because we were so anti-stereotype that our chapter folded after my first two years. Lots of political machinations behind that one and a long story for another time. Nevertheless, I met girls that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and we have become life-long friends, even though not quite BFFs. There isn’t much alumnae activity in my area so I don’t network with other members not from my chapter. Most of the the ladies I initiated with are morethanalittle bitter toward the national organization. I don’t think I would consider joining a JL (even if I could wrangle an invite) because I don’t like to volunteer for anything. (Like you said-lay it all on the table here, right?) I might consider being a red hat once I get to crazyoldlady age. That, at least, sounds like a blast!

  30. Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  31. Liz

    Ok, I have one HS girlfriend that joined a sorority in college; otherwise, my total knowledge comes from Legally Blonde. I don’t think she is still in touch with anyone she was in the sorority with, other than maybe FB, but I know she enjoyed the experience.

    My entire JL experience is based on the Julia Roberts movie “Something to Talk About”. (If you haven’t seen it, you should rent it!) Catty, not very supportive – but it was a movie. No personal experience to report on.

    My JL? The barn. Rebecca, you’re expected to wear jeans! 😉 Seriously, I volunteer for a horse rescue society, am a volunteer humane investigator for my state, and have been taking riding lessons for two years (basically so I don’t fall off). I’m not headed to any Olympics anytime soon, but I have met some of my very good friends through horses. Now, there is p-l-e-n-t-y of drama available at some barns – enough to give a sorority a decent run for its money; fortunately, my barn manager does. not. do. drama. Period. And if I’m running late for my lesson, I still go – and just brush a few horses while chatting with the barn manager. She is the best therapist evah – and a total bargain at $40 for an hour.

    And when something happens to one of the people at the barn – bam! We are ALL over it. Food, taking care of each other’s horses, helping out at the barn, pitching in – you name it. Responsibility + friendship = win-win. 🙂

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