I’m Not Laughing: A Response to Rebecca Martinson’s E-mail to her Delta Gamma “Sisters”

Yesterday afternoon Gawker posted a story entitled, “The Most Deranged Sorority Girl Email You Will Ever Read” (full text of the letter is posted below). The gist: a member on the executive board of Delta Gamma’s University of Maryland chapter wrote an expletive filled, verbally abusive email to her entire sorority (but is presumably directed at newer, younger members) airing her unsolicited opinions about members’ recent behaviors and actions at a variety of social events. Gawker (flippantly?) chose to describe it as: “…one of the most passionate denunciations of F*CKING AWKWARD AND BORING-ness ever committed to words.” In addition to the absurd number of times that the f-word is used (to the point where you almost stop seeing it), the explicit threats made by this sorority member, using incredibly illustrative language, are nothing short of concerning. For me, more alarming than the letter itself are the responses to the letter (left in the ‘comments’ sections of Gawker, The Huffington Post, and Hollywood Gossip), the majority of which have proclaimed sheer entertainment, celebrated her “way with words,” and expressed wanting to date and marry her.

Some people have expressed to me that they think the letter is so ridiculous that it must be a joke. If it is or not, the content of this letter is unacceptable to me. So why are so many reactions to this piece ones of amusement and praise? I can’t help but think that it might have something to do with the fact that we do not take organizations like sororities seriously and that because it’s a girl-on-girl ‘attack,’ it is being chalked up less as a form of hazing and verbal assault and more as a “cat fight”-esque scenario. And I have to wonder, if these kinds of ‘threats’ were made by a man towards a woman, or by a person of color towards a white person, and the email went viral, how would this conversation differ? What kinds of comments would we find at the bottom of these webpages?

The term “Greek life” is clichéd, and yet remains a hot-button topic: it is the main focus or at least part of the storyline of most college-related films, where “being Greek” is exaggerated, glorified, made fun of. And when we hear about fraternities and sororities in more mainstream media outlets like the news, it is oftentimes unfortunately in regards to acts of hazing that have gone too far (e.g. a member dies as a result of excessive alcohol consumption during pledging).

frathazing

from: coed.com

sororityhazing

from collegecandy.com

While there is an ever-present media frenzy when something tragic happens within a fraternity or sorority, and there is more of a panicked feeling amongst college and university administrators and staff, college students and members of Greek Life continue to regard such instances as isolated and pledging as “normal.” In a response to a fraternity pledging incident at Boston University on the website, CoEd.com, a student writes:

Students in college are supposed to learn. Everyone loves to talk about how much learning goes on outside of the classroom, so why can’t learning be done in an off-campus house with hot sauce, duct tape, and underwear?

Greek Life has been glorified in other ways, namely in popular culture, which has no doubt had an impact on how society regards fraternities and sororities: as an integral part of the “college experience,” a rite of passage, a group of organizations that is not often taken seriously. I’m thinking of movies like Animal House, Revenge of the NerdsLegally Blonde, Van Wilder; as well as a TV show on ABC Family, Greek. I’m arguing that we as a society have become largely desensitized to the images and messages portrayed about Greek organizations in pop culture and, as a result, find pieces like the one posted below humorous instead of problematic.

There are a few aspects of “Greek Life” that are important to acknowledge before we proceed. Although they are not the main focus of the letter nor my response, they are necessary to help us situate the content and tone of the letter within larger social and cultural contexts:

  • The typical demographics of fraternity and sorority members that we see represented in news stories and in pop culture texts (there are incredibly strong, long-standing networks of Greek organizations for students of color, born out of Historically Black Colleges & Universities, across the country. I want to acknowledge them and also make clear that I am talking about ‘Greek Life’ and fraternities and sororities as they are represented and talked about in mainstream culture and media: predominantly white, upper-middle class, heteronormative, etc.);
  • The social and cultural capital (read: popularity) believed to be gained from joining a Greek organization, and the pressures of feeling like being Greek is the only way to have a social life in college;
  • The hypersexualization of both males and females seen in pledging activities and social events (from talent shows to parties)
  • The incredibly racist, classist, and sexist party themes that have become incredibly normalized on college campuses: Ghetto Fabulous, White Trash, Golf Pros & Tennis Hoes, CEOs and Corporate Hoes (“hoe” rhymes with a lot, so that’s convenient…), Anything But Clothes (ABC), etc.
ABCcondomcostume

Anything But Clothes Party, wearing condoms from: collegepartyguru.com

But the purpose of this post is to talk about the letter at hand [that I’m certain will be blasting through the interwebs for the next few days] as well as the reactions that the letter has gotten just in the last few hours, which to me are almost more troubling than the letter itself. Below is the letter (text retrieved from Gawker, who used “Julia” as a pseudonym. Since the release of the letter, the girl’s real name has been released: Rebecca Martinson; and I have put the ‘most important’ phrases of the letter in bold so as not to miss them):

_____________________

If you just opened this like I told you to, tie yourself down to whatever chair you’re sitting in, because this email is going to be a rough fucking ride.
For those of you that have your heads stuck under rocks, which apparently is the majority of this chapter, we have been FUCKING UP in terms of night time events and general social interactions with Sigma Nu. I’ve been getting texts on texts about people LITERALLY being so fucking AWKWARD and so fucking BORING. If you’re reading this right now and saying to yourself “But oh em gee Julia, I’ve been having so much fun with my sisters this week!”, then punch yourself in the face right now so that I don’t have to fucking find you on campus to do it myself.

I do not give a flying fuck, and Sigma Nu does not give a flying fuck, about how much you fucking love to talk to your sisters. You have 361 days out of the fucking year to talk to sisters, and this week is NOT, I fucking repeat NOT ONE OF THEM. This week is about fostering relationships in the greek community, and that’s not fucking possible if you’re going to stand around and talk to each other and not our matchup. Newsflash you stupid cocks: FRATS DON’T LIKE BORING SORORITIES. Oh wait, DOUBLE FUCKING NEWSFLASH: SIGMA NU IS NOT GOING TO WANT TO HANG OUT WITH US IF WE FUCKING SUCK, which by the way in case you’re an idiot and need it spelled out for you, WE FUCKING SUCK SO FAR. This also applies to you little shits that have talked openly about post gaming at a different frat IN FRONT OF SIGMA NU BROTHERS. Are you people fucking retarded? That’s not a rhetorical question, I LITERALLY want you to email me back telling me if you’re mentally slow so I can make sure you don’t go to anymore night time events. If Sigma Nu openly said “Yeah we’re gonna invite Zeta over”, would you be happy? WOULD YOU? No you wouldn’t, so WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU DO IT TO THEM?? IN FRONT OF THEM?!! First of all, you SHOULDN’T be post gaming at other frats, I don’t give a FUCK if your boyfriend is in it, if your brother is in it, or if your entire family is in that frat. YOU DON’T GO. YOU. DON’T. GO. And you ESPECIALLY do fucking NOT convince other girls to leave with you.

“But Julia!”, you say in a whiny little bitch voice to your computer screen as you read this email, “I’ve been cheering on our teams at all the sports, doesn’t that count for something?” NO YOU STUPID FUCKING ASS HATS, IT FUCKING DOESN’T. DO YOU WANNA KNOW FUCKING WHY?!! IT DOESN’T COUNT BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN FUCKING UP AT SOBER FUCKING EVENTS TOO. I’ve not only gotten texts about people being fucking WEIRD at sports (for example, being stupid shits and saying stuff like “durr what’s kickball?” is not fucking funny), but I’ve gotten texts about people actually cheering for the opposing team. The opposing. Fucking. Team. ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID?!! I don’t give a SHIT about sportsmanship, YOU CHEER FOR OUR GODDAMN TEAM AND NOT THE OTHER ONE, HAVE YOU NEVER BEEN TO A SPORTS GAME? ARE YOU FUCKING BLIND? Or are you just so fucking dense about what it means to make people like you that you think being a good little supporter of the greek community is going to make our matchup happy? Well it’s time someone told you, NO ONE FUCKING LIKES THAT, ESPECIALLY OUR FUCKING MATCHUP. I will fucking cunt punt the next person I hear about doing something like that, and I don’t give a fuck if you SOR me, I WILL FUCKING ASSAULT YOU.

“Ohhh Julia, I’m now crying because your email has made me oh so so sad”. Well good. If this email applies to you in any way, meaning if you are a little asswipe that stands in the corners at night or if you’re a weird shit that does weird shit during the day, this following message is for you:

DO NOT GO TO TONIGHT’S EVENT.

I’m not fucking kidding. Don’t go. Seriously, if you have done ANYTHING I’ve mentioned in this email and have some rare disease where you’re unable to NOT do these things, then you are HORRIBLE, I repeat, HORRIBLE PR FOR THIS CHAPTER. I would rather have 40 girls that are fun, talk to boys, and not fucking awkward than 80 that are fucking faggots. If you are one of the people that have told me “Oh nooo boo hoo I can’t talk to boys I’m too sober”, then I pity you because I don’t know how you got this far in life, and with that in mind don’t fucking show up unless you’re going to stop being a goddamn cock block for our chapter. Seriously. I swear to fucking God if I see anyone being a goddamn boner at tonight’s event, I will tell you to leave even if you’re sober. I’m not even kidding. Try me.

And for those of you who are offended at this email, I would apologize but I really don’t give a fuck. Go fuck yourself.

_____________________

Yea…so, take a minute. Let this sink in. Then continue reading.

Apparently, a lot of people have found “Julia’s” word choices and sarcastically authoritative tone to be hilarious.* I personally don’t understand that. Martinson uses homophobic, sexist, and mental disability slurs to insult the members of her sorority. She threatens to hurt them physically and encourages them to hurt themselves throughout the piece. It is only weeks since the story about the abusive Rutgers Basketball coaches broke–a group of male coaches who were caught on video physically and verbally abusing their players–the story was in the news for days, coaches were fired and fined, people were in an uproar (rightfully so); so why would we not apply the same standards to this kind of language and behavior? I don’t think someone has to be physically harmed in order for it to constitute “hazing,” “harassment,” or “abuse.”  Let’s just think a little more critically about the weight that these words carry.

*Below are just a few of readers’ comments from Gawker and Huffington Post:

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 2.56.53 PM Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 2.56.08 PM   Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 3.04.14 PM

I have seen maybe two or three comments that have been somewhat critical or displeased with the content of the letter. The best one that I have found is in the form of a “vlog” (video log), in which Kelsey Cook does a dramatic reading of the letter while inserting bits and pieces of biting critique throughout. It is not necessarily a ‘critical analysis’ in the more traditional and academic sense (kind of what I’m trying to do here), but it is not meant to be; it’s meant to be satirical, flippant, and fighting media with counter-media (and I dig that).

So, is it me? Am I being too sensitive? Is this even real? Whether this is a joke or not, what isn’t funny is thinking about every girl at the receiving end of that email. I’m troubled to think about girls who thought it was funny and I’m troubled to think about girls who thought it was serious. It is messages like this that can very quickly and easily diminish positive self-concepts (esteem, efficacy, awareness), healthy relationships, notions of community. This is not just about upholding the mission of a sorority (which all call for “sisterhood,” commitment, philanthropic service, etc); it’s about creating and sustaining safe spaces, both physical and emotional, on college campuses (and in all schools, really).

I’ll end here with a few broad questions that I’m left asking and would really love to hear your feedback/thoughts/comments: What do we do about something like this? What needs to be done that is not being done on college campuses? What kind of conversations do we need to be having? How can we work to change these narratives?