The “Little Sister” in the Frat HouseJanuary 3, 2007
Here’s the diary I wrote at Daily Kos that sparked such frantic reactions from the Frat Boys, including the Mighty Kos himself, and their loyal female “support staff”. It was so controversial that it was deemed a “troll diary” and I was eventually banned from the site.
I post it here in the hopes that we can have a more reasonable, intelligent discussion of the issues.
When my husband was in surgical residency, I met many wives of doctors. One who became a friend was a charming, talkative young woman who enjoyed throwing parties. They were always great parties. She was very intelligent and had a witty, wisecracky sense of humor. She was also physically attractive – small, but athletic and at the same time curvaceous. In a previous era, she might have been on a calendar. Her husband was Dullsville. The only subject he liked to talk about was the new toys he had just acquired, or was thinking of acquiring: stereo systems, cars, motorbikes, etc. But his wife (I’ll call her Sally) had more interests. She read a fair amount and had a degree in literature from a big Midwestern university. She was interested in art, foreign films, and fashion photography, so she and I had a lot to talk about.
One night at one of her parties, after we had all had a few martinis, Sally told me that she had been a stripper. She said she had done it for a lark after college. She said it was fun having such power over men. Many of them wanted to talk with her after she came off stage and tell her all their problems, and she would listen. They’d tell her how beautiful she was, and then give her big tips. So she looked at it as a kind of therapy for them, and nice for her. I said, well, OK, that makes some sense. It reminded me a bit of Carl Hiaasen’s novel Strip Tease, except that this woman’s family was quite well-off and she certainly wasn’t doing it for the money.
Later, at a different gathering, I heard her telling someone else this story. And then, over time, I heard it recycled back to me by others – “Did you know that Sally was a stripper??” So I came to realize that this was, to Sally, such an important part of her identity that she had to tell a lot of people about it. Somehow the fact that she had had a job where men paid her for being beautiful and “sexy” validated her beauty, and hence her being. I guess it wasn’t surprising that she ended up marrying a guy who was so obsessed with toys.
None of that bothered me much, in a feminist context, until she told me about her experiences being a “Little Sister” in a frat house at the big university. I had never heard of such a thing – I went to a women’s college where we didn’t even have sororities. She explained to me how the Little Sisters would help with the social agenda for the frat, setting up the parties and cleaning up after them, etc. Then she told me about how one day she decided that the frat house bathrooms were too incredibly filthy, so she went out and got a bunch of cleaning products, put on her rubber gloves, and went in and started scrubbing away. Nobody had cleaned them in years so there was quite an accumulation of, well, what accumulates in frathouse bathrooms. She worked and worked and worked until she started feeling a little strange, and then she got up and staggered out of the bathroom and fainted and fell down the stairs.
Apparently she had been overcome by the fumes of all the different types of cleansers she had been using.
She told me how wonderful the frat boys were while reviving her and taking her to the infirmary, and how grateful they were that she had taken on the job of cleaning the bathrooms.
The British have a good word, “gobsmacked”, that describes my reaction to this story. In American terms: I was completely stunned. My jaw dropped. I was speechless.
It was an epiphany for me. I began to think about why women would choose that identity of being second-class citizens in a male power structure when they had an alternative. I also thought of it in relation to the stripper story. Is getting attention from, and catering to, men really the most important thing for some women? If so, can they truly be feminists?
The “Little Sister in the Frat House” image has come to me often while reading DKos. Since last year, when I suggested women’s issues to Gina as a topic for Yearly Kos and heard vague and conflicting responses from her – and then, after YKos, when there was a panel of some sort about feminism, but it hardly rated a mention afterwards, and none at all from the Front Pagers – I’ve been worried that feminists here are backing off and allowing their concerns to be subsumed into the “Bigger Picture”. I’m worried that feminists are yet again – as many of them were in the ’60s – allowing themselves to be the watercarriers, the coffee-makers, the toilet-scrubbers, the “support staff”, the cheerleaders, the strippers and sex toys to the Big Boys who are really the movers and shakers and the ones getting their ideas across. Time and again I hear responses to the effect of: “Yes, yes, we’re going to pay attention to your ideas and your issues when we get in power, but right now we have to focus on getting our people elected.” Can you get me another coffee, and by the way – nice tits!
How much are we women willing to give up in order to get attention from the Big Boys in power? How much of our identity is connected to our sense of our attractiveness to men? Do we even have a real identity separate from men and the way they perceive us? Are we tools/toys for them, or do they think of us as equals and fight on our side for our acceptance as equals in society? These are all questions that come up when I think about the Little Sister in the frat house.
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Another story about my friend:
She and a few other wives of MDs had a “book group”. She invited me to it once. I can’t remember what book we were supposed to be discussing (I think it was something by Michael Chabon). I said I couldn’t go because I hadn’t read the book. She said, “Oh, that doesn’t matter!”
When I showed up, the ladies were energetically cocktailing. Eventually someone brought up the book. Nobody had read more than 100 pages of it. So they quickly segued into gossip. This was boring because I didn’t know anyone they were discussing. Then they went on to discuss things they would have done to themselves as soon as they had enough money to get cosmetic surgery. They went around the circle getting everyone’s contributions in turn. Instead of a book discussion club, it had become a “cosmetic surgery discussion club”. When they got to me, I said I didn’t want to have anything done. I received a barrage of glares. My friend said, “What do you mean – do you think you’re perfect?”
That, too, was an eye-opener for me.
— H.R.H. Supervixen