For reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, a promotional video for a University of Alabama sorority that depicts the girls dancing in bikinis—and doing other stereotypical sorority stuff—provoked an internet backlash against its supposedly anti-feminist content. But that's not all: the backlash itself has also earned its own backlash.
As you might have guessed, Donald Trump is somehow involved.
The video, which was taken down Monday, was intended as a recruitment tool for Alabama's Alpha Phi chapter. It emphasized the girls' aesthetic beauty, eager smiles, love of good times, and penchant for blowing glitter from the palms of their hands in whimsical fashion.
This drew the ire of al.com's A.L. Bailey, who scornfully decried the video as "worse for women than Donald Trump." She wrote:
Remember all those bikini-clad, sashaying, glitter-blowing, and spontaneous piggyback-riding days of college? Me either. But according to a new video, it's a whirlwind of glitter and girl-on-girl piggyback rides at the University of Alabama's Alpha Phi house.
No, it's not a slick Playboy Playmate or Girls Gone Wild video. It's a sorority recruiting tool gaining on 500,000 views in its first week on YouTube. It's a parade of white girls and blonde hair dye, coordinated clothing, bikinis and daisy dukes, glitter and kisses, bouncing bodies, euphoric hand-holding and hugging, gratuitous booty shots, and matching aviator sunglasses. It's all so racially and aesthetically homogeneous and forced, so hyper-feminine, so reductive and objectifying, so Stepford Wives: College Edition. It's all so … unempowering.
Are they recruiting a diverse and talented group of young women embarking on a college education? Upon first or even fifth glance, probably not. Hormonal college-aged guys? Most assuredly yes. Older, male YouTube creepers? A resounding yes.
Like the many other videos of its ilk found online for sororities far and wide, it's supposed to work as a sales tool to draw in potential new members (PNMs). But unlike many other videos, Alpha Phi's video stands out in the "beauty and bounce" category and in its production value. Yes, sororities are known for being pretty and flirty; they aren't bastions of feminist ideologies. But perhaps they shouldn't completely sabotage them either.
Just last week during the GOP debate, Megyn Kelly of Fox News called out Donald Trump for dismissing women with misogynous insults. Mere hours later, he proved her point by taking to Twitter to call her a "bimbo." He also proved the point that women, in 2015, must still work diligently to be taken seriously. The continued fight for equal pay, the prevalence of women not being in charge of their own healthcare issues, and the ever-increasing number of women who are still coming out against Bill Cosby after decades of fearful silence show that we are not yet taken seriously.
I agree that Trump's statements about women are gross and demeaning. But isn't Bailey doing a similar thing here? Telling a group of girls that everything they do must showcase their intellectual and non-aesthetic capabilities strikes me as at least a little insulting and paternalistic. The Alpha Phi girls don't really deserve to be burdened with the enormous pressure to behave in a manner that at all times meets the approval of armchair feminists on the internet.
National Review's Katherine Timpf defended the video's existence in a debate on Fox & Friends, asserting: "I don't know how this is national news. I mean, if you don't like it, you don't have to join that sorority."
Her debate opponent, Carrie Sheffield, agreed that it was silly to attack the video but nevertheless maintained that Greek life in general is a pox on college campuses. "Greek life is associated with binge drinking, sexually reckless behavior, smoking," she said. "We have to ask ourselves as taxpayers… do we want to subsidize party life?"
I'm all for de-subsidizing the entire higher education project in general, but Sheffield's specific criticisms of Greek life are overblown. Yes, more sexual assaults take place at fraternities, but fraternity members also do more volunteer work and are more likely to graduate than non-fraternity members. And while it varies from campus to campus, binge drinking and sexual assault are not exclusively Greek life problems—and indeed, on some campuses, a strong Greek presence can even mitigate these negative social tendencies.
Shutting down fraternities (as some in the media have advocated), and banning sorority girls from going out at night (as some national Greek organizations have done), are bad solutions to the problems on campuses. These approaches infantilize students without doing anything to address the real issues. If universities want to confront irresponsible alcohol use and its ill effects—increased sexual assault among them—ideally they should experiment with more lenient drinking policies. It's a real shame the federal government won't let them. (Maybe President Trump could do something about that.)
But in the meantime, let's see the Alpha Psi recruitment video for what it is: a vaguely tongue-in-cheek goof-off session, not some kind of anti-woman manifesto.