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A Response To Jezebel’s Claim That Sigma Chi Derby Days Is Sexist

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Get comfortable, America. Maybe stretch the legs a bit and kick up the loafers. We’re going to have a talk. This isn’t your grandfather’s typical happy-go-lucky J. Parks piece. This is one that’s serious in tone. Goddammit.

Unpopular opinion time: I typically genuinely enjoy reading Jezebel, and in particular, their articles concerning Greek life. No need to get your ears checked; that thunderous raucous you hear is indeed thousands of people furiously closing their internet tabs and hurling their laptops at the pledge who’s unfortunate enough to be closest in proximity, all while loudly proclaiming “fuck TFM Intern and Steve Holt for letting this site turn to shit.”

For those ten people still reading, I stand by what I said: I like Jezebel. Can’t get enough of it. The irreverent live chats during presidential debates. The pointing out how partisan hacks are misrepresenting heavily-doctored videos to take away funding from an organization that provides the pills necessary to keep all of our college years free from bastard children that come out of the womb wearing PFGs. The scorching hot updates of my girl T-Swift’s dating life. What can I say — I’m a big ol’ Jezzie slut.

I especially enjoy reading Jezebel’s often-venomous takedowns of the thing that was nearest and dearest to my heart during my college years: Greek life. Even when their content borders on libelous hit pieces (hello, last year’s University of Virginia scandal coverage! – still waiting on that apology addressed to the chapter), I still go out of my way to read them, because it’s good to be familiar with, and more importantly try to understand, as many viewpoints as possible. That’s what we as educated human beings are supposed to do. At the very least, it makes for great hate reading, but more importantly, anyone who only rails lines of masturbatory self-affirmation is a goddamn idiot.

And you know what? The shitty truth is that sites like Jezebel DO do a good job of calling Greeks out on our bullshit. We deserve to get called out on the dangers of overly-zealous hazing, our horrid track record on membership diversity and racial/socioeconomic awareness, and a sexual misconduct and assault epidemic that all too often leads us to collectively and defensively retreat back into our hazement corners and shut our lips about it in the name of “protecting the chapter,” instead of speaking out, let alone taking measures to improve more substantive than blaming the pledges.

HOWEVER, just like the Greek system needs to take a good, long look into the residue-covered mirror, there are times when the #EndFrats movement also needs to be called out on its heaping piles of bullshit being thrown at fraternities and sororities with all the accuracy of a Brandon Weeden downfield heave.

This week, Jezebel ran an article titled, “Welcome to Derby Days, the Most Spectacular Con in All of Frat Philanthropy” that was nothing short of a hit piece regarding what even the author acknowledges is a widely-successful philanthropy that has raised millions upon millions of dollars for cancer research: Sigma Chi’s Derby Days. DERBY DAYS. Who the fuck hates Derby Days?!?!

The Sparknotes version (do college kids still use Sparknotes? If not, sub in whatever crazy app it is you youths are using to put avoid studying until the last possible minute so that you don’t miss the final game of your parlay) of the article is essentially this: Derby Days reinforces misogyny by making the girls do all the philanthropic legwork and donating, as the boys sit idly by, presumably conspiring to throw rocks at the homeless and organizing next week’s Rapeandpillagepalooza (Terrible mixer name, by the way – way too dark).

Before the author gets to this brainbuster of a thesis (we’ll get to that shortly), she takes a quick detour in her introductory paragraphs to a magical place that I like to call OUTRAGE LAND, a wonderful 2015 internet utopia filled with jarring images meant to stir the anger of anyone and their aunt who sees the image thumbnails on social media, thus saving them from the agony of reading more than two paragraphs into a column before skipping right to the comment section to bless the world with takes so hot they could give Hellen Mirren in a bikini a run for her money. The author embeds pictures of two signs, both of which are probably written by sorority members:

“We never stop at third base,” one says, over an all-American MLB banner showing a woman playing dick-baseball in heels. “KKΓ<3 SΣX,” says the other banner, which features another sexy baseball player, 69 on her jersey, flanked by the words “It’s always a home run when a Kappa grabs the bat.” (KKΓ is Kappa Kappa Gamma, and ΣX is Sigma Chi.)

What do these mildly-funny (and that’s being charitable) signs have to do with the rest of her piece? Almost absolutely nothing. The author herself gives them a big “meh” and writes that they’re as “problematic as a truck-stop bumper sticker,” then quickly moves onto her larger point. It’s the prose equivalent of getting someone’s attention by ripping some hot Chipotle ass in an elevator, then asking the person standing next to you how the weather is looking. While she acknowledges (several paragraphs in) that the sororities themselves almost certainly created them, the damage has already been done — all anyone seeing this article in passing will ever think is “here go those damn frat boys again,” without the slightest hint of context, only MOAR OUTRAGE FUEL.

The author then dives into the meat (sorry to all the vegetarians I have offended) of her argument: Fraternity philanthropies, particularly Sigma Chi’s Derby Days, are one long “con” that dupes women into doing all the work as the fraternities do nothing.

In general, frat philanthropy operates on a sort of indulgence system, in which the boys host one or two large party-centric fundraisers per semester and thus earn permission to carry on as they like. And they always draw on the community; frat fundraisers mostly rope in the wealth and effort of the rest of the Greek system (or the Greek system’s parents). What’s notable about Derby Days—the almost laudable con of it—is that Sigma Chi has figured out a way to earn an enormous institutional remission by getting thousands and thousands of sorority women to do all the work.

Bull. Fucking. Shit.

Take it from someone who has organized Derby Days in the past. That week of the sorority girls doing horrible things like donating blood, playing tug-of-war and powder puff, competing in lip-sync contests and the like is a mere drop in the bucket of the months and months and months of planning, organizing, and fundraising going on behind the scenes. Getting donations from all around the local business community, preparing the house to withstand hundreds of people for a week straight, and otherwise busting your ass to make sure things run without a hitch is a semester-long task. That shit doesn’t happen overnight. There’s no magical philanthropy fairy flying by and sprinkling charity dust all over the lawn.

The misrepresentation gets worse. After dropping in a casual quote from The Atlantic about how Derby Days, by “making” women compete in song and dance routines, reinforces the notion that #fratboyz only see women as sexual objects striving for their acceptance (because, Jezebel), the author drops in this gem:

Derby Days is Sadie Hawkins-y philanthropic sharecropping, in which Sigma Chi asks all the sororities to raise money under Sigma Chi’s name and compete for Sigma Chi’s approval. Girls are named “Sigma Chi Sweethearts” and “Derby Darlings.” Better now than in 1965, when the girls wore paper bags on their heads.

The whole “LOOK AT THESE FUTURE SCUMBAG CEO FRAT BOYS TREAT THE WOMEN THEY PRETEND TO RESPECT LIKE EASILY-MANIPULATABLE PLAYTHINGS” schtick might hold a candle if it weren’t for the fact that — and this is my biggest gripe with this illogical diatribe — that sororities do the same Exact. Fucking. Thing. when they throw philanthropies. Delta Gamma’s Anchor Splash is the exact same as Derby Days, but with the genders flipped — the girls coach and judge the boy participants’ various contests, like synchronized swimming and the “AnchorMan” swimsuit contest. The only difference between the two is that the boobs and dicks are switched.

It’s a philanthropy. The invitees donate to participate. The hosts in the fraternity ALSO donate a shit ton out of pocket, non-dues money to participate. Then, the hosts throwing the event, regardless of gender, coach and judge as the invitees participate. Why? Because it keeps things organized. This isn’t Nam. There are rules, and someone has to oversee those rules for everything to run smoothly. It also ensures that all the guests are in contact with the hosts so that everyone can have a good time establishing future relationships within the community while raising a TON of money for a noble cause.

Oh yeah, the cause. In the case of Derby Days, it’s raising money for organizations that aid cancer research, particularly children. The girls participate in the boys’ events. The boys participate in the girls’ events. Er’rybody love er’rybody. But who gives a flying fuck about people of both genders attending each other’s philanthropy events with similar structures, when OH MY GOD THE MENZ ARE FORCING THE WOMENZ INTO SUBSERVIENT ROLES ONE GAME OF TOUCH FOOTBALL AT A TIME.

Look. I don’t know what this rant means. It’s probably an incoherent rambling mess. I doubt I have a single person still reading. But if there’s one thing I hate in this world, it’s Walmart Wolverines. And if there’s a second thing I hate in this world, it’s people spewing unfounded, misrepresenting bullshit into the ether that skips past reason and goes straight to fiery logic diarrhea. Greek life deserves its criticisms, but at least base those criticisms in reality when you’re making them. If you’re going to write a hit piece on something that is loved by thousands and has raised millions for an amazing cause, at least do it without turning a blind eye to what’s going on in the real world: people of both genders being treated equally as they participate in each other’s events, trying to make a positive difference in the world.

And maybe next time when you want to find an (incredibly unfounded) excuse to be outraged, instead just crack open a cold one and have some fun. We sure are. All of us. Regardless of gender.

[via Jezebel]

Image via Twitter

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J Parks Caldwell

J. Parks Caldwell is a senior contributing writer for Total Frat Move, Rowdy Gentleman, and Post Grad Problems. He frequently blesses the rains down in Africa.

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