It's undeniable that a lot of currents events and news stories are not exactly uplifting. In truth, while there is much to be hopeful for, there is a lot wrong with the world. There are many courses of actions to take in response to the unpleasant reality covered by news reporting corporations and an unfortunate popular response is this: turn away and change the conversation. The real criticism here is that there seems to be a societal need for "trash" news for some reason. Perhaps to cope? To distract? To diffuse the heaviness in the news? Sierra goes into this more:
When I first saw the Alpha Phi chapter at the University of Alabama’s recruitment video pop up on my news feed, I figured it was posted by some guy in a frat I went to college with or by an Alpha Phi I’d met during my undergrad. I went to a fairly Greek school, so my timeline being flooded with recruitment videos is nothing out of the ordinary. But when I discovered this clip was not from a Facebook friend, but rather ABC News, I was a little confused.
Here is the video:
It seems pretty standard: pretty girls throwing glitter, laughing, mugging for the camera, gyrating in slow motion. But this particular recruitment video, for whatever reason, has stood out enough to warrant significant backlash. Alpha Phi’s seemingly harmless, fairly standard sorority recruitment video has gone viral after an op-ed was written criticizing it’s lack of diversity and blatant “anti-feminist” message. As expected, media outlets are eating this story up. The entire internet has bandwagoned and is now on a death mission to take down the University of Alabama’s Alpha Phi chapter for being “worse for women than Donald Trump.” The author claims that these thin, done up, blonde women — with barely a brunette between them — are an anti-feminist cult that is single-handedly responsible for all the racism and sexism in this country, and that we should treat them as such. In other news, I’ve pretty much lost faith in America’s ability to ever progress — because if THIS stupid video is the issue worthy of rampant attention and long-winded critique, then we’ve all lost. To put it as simply as possible: why the fuck are we talking about the implications of a sorority recruitment video?
When I read AL.com’s article, all I could think of was all the other things people could have read about instead, like police brutality or mass incarceration or maybe the fact that you don’t need to go to a sorority in Alabama to see discrimination. Why do people give a single shit about a rush video when unarmed black men are being gunned down by the police? Why are we claiming these women as the downfall of feminism when we have ten men running for president of the United States who don’t believe in abortion even if it involves rape or the death of the mother? Why are we spending our precious time being angry at these girls for making a music video when there are people in our Senate doing everything they can to defund Planned Parenthood? And why do so many people fail to see that this video is all part of a grand distraction?
In many ways, America is finally catching on. There is an intersectional revolution happening. Gay marriage is legal. Trans* issues are finally getting attention. Our broken criminal justice system is being exposed for the crooked and backwards institution it is. It seems we’re no longer sitting silent as the world around us continues to implode. And because of this, people in power: the media, the wealthy and those who profit off of racism and sexism and classism are terrified. So what can they do about it? Well, in the words of Donald Draper: if you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.
And change the conversation they have.
The media wants you to get angry at the University of Alabama. They want you to be distracted by the shiny viral video so you don’t look at the news stories about the 17 trans* women who have been murdered this year in America. They want you to get angry at a bunch of harmless women instead of holding our politicians accountable for trying to defund the single greatest form of accessible family planning in the United States. They want you to blame a glossy video for our country’s discrimination instead of taking a good hard look at the men behind the curtain. They want you to critique their short shorts and dye jobs instead of our lack of mandated maternity leave. They want you to call these women anti-feminists so real anti-feminism (sexist advertising, the wage gap, Donald Trump’s entire existence) can tiptoe right by you. Every second you and I spend harassing Alpha Phi for their slow-motion lake jumps is one less second we are spending organizing against the racist, sexist and classist systems all around us.
Having a collegiate organization that’s made up of 100% white people is not very progressive, and I’m sure this sorority chapter isn’t the intellectual hub of progressive and inclusionary thought. Are these women anti-feminist? I bet some of them are. Are these women racists? Some of them, probably, because racists are around anywhere you go. But even with this considered, are these women worthy of the internet’s undying rage? Absolutely not. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d kind of expect that a university in a state which still holds segregated proms would maybe be a little behind in the whole “21st century” thing. In fact, I’d be surprised if University of Alabama’s Greek life had any resemblance to the diverse, inclusive Greek life I witnessed during my undergrad. And lastly, I wasn’t very surprised at this video because there are literally a thousand other videos on YouTube of sororities doing the exact same thing:
Here’s another one.
And here’s a third one. This is actually a bid day video, not a recruitment video, but it’s absolutely mesmerizing:
Changing the conversation is a timeless tactic that has been used over and over again to prevent us from placing responsibility on the real causes of sexism, racism, classism and the like. It is easier now than ever to use smoke and mirrors to prevent people from realizing that maybe the long-existing institutional racism of a university whose Greek chapters were only desegregated LAST YEAR is only news because the media knows it will distract us. Maybe we need to come to terms with the fact that we are more comfortable with ignoring the big issues and marinating in our own version of progressiveness by sharing an article that delves deep into the world of women dancing in slow motion. And while we have been busy patting ourselves on the back for being good feminists or strong abolitionists by calling out a sorority chapter, two more states have defunded planned parenthood and five trans* women of color have been killed — just last week. Maybe we should talk about that instead.
Alpha Phi can keep their blondes and their inflatable swans. They don’t bother me and they shouldn’t bother you. There are bigger battles to fight.
Sierra O'Mara Schwartz is a writer and graphic artist living in Brooklyn, New York. She likes to draw portraits, play with her cats, and write about the subjects people feel weird talking about. You can check out her art on her website, sierrraomaraschwartz.com and follow her on Instagram @sierramargaret.