Thursday, 6 May 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Free To Be Me

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am an American university student, and I was in a sorority all of last year. It was awful. I was told that I needed to be like everyone else--to be more "upbeat", to get a tan, and (eek!)to straighten my curly hair. I also despised the disgusting fraternity parties that we went to, having to see my "sisters" drunk and devoid of self-respect.

I read your blog a lot and I loved the messages you send to girls everywhere. Your blog helped me to stay strong when other people said I was weird or not "cool" enough.

The end of the story is that I quit my sorority in a flash and instead began to play [musical instrument] and sing with the [choir]. (I have so much time, now that I am not muddled with sorority events!) I have made so many friends just being myself and I even managed to find the most wonderful boyfriend who loves me for who I am :)

So thank you. I really admire you!

Free To Be Me

Dear Free to be Me,

I read your message after I answered Fed Ex's questionnaire about how I packed my china and crystal, and it cheered me right up. It made my day.

Sororities and fraternities raise money for charity, I believe, and so they cannot be totally useless. But what I do find useless is a culture of drunkenness and misogyny. Fraternities and "women's fraternities" in Toronto don't have the outrageous reputation of frats in the USA, but it was bad enough decades ago that the University of Toronto, for example, expelled them. The frat houses remain, though, and the frat parties are still reputed to be very crazy. I actually went to one, and I thought it was lame. There wasn't really anyone to talk to. The whole point seemed to get drunk, and I knew better than to get drunk in a frat house.

What I want to write about is the Death of Cool. Let's all bring about the Death of Cool. Cool is not our friend. Cool promises us happiness and then makes us unhappy. Like plastic surgery. Have you looked, really looked, at some movie starlets' faces recently? Shudder, shudder, shudder.

Anything that helps us to be our best selves, the best selves God wishes us to be, is good. Anything that makes us despair of ourselves is bad. Being told that we have to fix up ourselves externally to fit in is humiliating and wrong. It is not the same thing as legitimate fraternal correction, like being asked to be kinder to the people we date. (In hindsight, I was not very nice to a number of Nice Catholic Boys in college, and now I'm sorry.)

People create strange value systems, and people unthinkingly follow them for a long time without question. "Cool" things include drugs, frats, highly paid but unsatisfying work, white collar "status", brand-name universities, celebrity culture, sex-without-strings, "Choice", looking-like-a-porn-star, tans and even (in Britain) getting-pregnant-so-I-can-get-my-own-flat.

But if we are rooted in reality we see that:

drugs are dangerous to our health and safety and support criminal systems

fraternities treat women like sex trophies

unsatisfying work makes us miserable

white collar "status" blinds us to the worth of blue collar workers (who, incidentally, often are the better businessmen)

brand-name universities teach the same things as state schools at three times (or more) the price, and beware of the Catholic ones who would crucify Our Lord all over again if it would increase their brand-name status

celebrities are often deeply unhappy, imprudent and "protected" from reality

sex-without-strings is a myth

"Choice" is a mental construct simultaneously defending and ignoring the destruction of human life and dividing (for example) Americans from sea to sea

looking-like-a-porn-star shocks respectable people and is degrading

tanning rapidly ages your skin, puts you at grave risk of cancer and makes you look like a stripper

getting-pregnant-so-I-can-get-my-own-flat degrades human life and has helped destroy both family and community life

Anyway, I am happy thinking about you with your non-straightened curly hair playing [musical instrument] and hanging with your choir, your new friends and your wonderful boyfriend. If I really had anything to do with that, I'm very glad indeed.

Grace and peace,


Pedantic Classicist said...

This was a *really* good one, Seraphic. That whole "people create strange value systems" thing has been VERY much on my mind at late, as I study and teach at one of the biggest "brand-name" universities in the US--one that produces plenty of victims (I think) of "highly paid but unsatisfying work." I really feel for the poor little undergrads, often buying into a system just based on the "brand-name" and then getting swept away with the seedier aspects of the college's culture. Everyone is fixed on getting ahead, getting a good job, working and playing as hard as everyone else (faster and faster on the hamster wheel), and some people crack under the pressure and/or fall into really unhealthy habits (alcoholism, ritalin, red bull!) to keep up. But meanwhile, the system rolls inexorably onward, inhumanely crushing those who can't hack it. I sometimes wonder if many systems have minds of their own after a while, possibly due to daemonic influence. (What do you think of this? Have you ever read Walter Wink's books on the "Powers"?)

So, despite not being a philosophy teacher, I try to do anything I can to get the students to consider that the system may not be all-that-there-is-to-live-for. Even if it's just forcing students to read Seneca's "On the Brevity of Life"! Would that I could refer them here, Seraphic!

Time to grade finals! Peace, all.

IA_ said...

I just want to say so many people don't know how great curly hair is. I was sad the day my girlfriend returned from her barber's with straightened hair.

fifi said...

I would be willing to bet that not a few former sorority sisters are looking on enviously as this lovely young lady lives out the truth of her unique identity and totally rocks it!

Madame Lefty said...

Just got your book! So far, so good.