Have you ever heard someone say something wildly unkind? Maybe they were talking about someone’s weight or looks in a supremely hurtful way. Did it make you cringe inside? I know someone that would casually make hurtful comments about peoples’ weight and it always stopped me in my tracks. I would take exception and try to push back, but this friend didn’t want to budge. I moved on, knowing I couldn’t bring about the slightest bit of enlightenment.
Now, meet Alex Purdy. Purdy says she heard a cacophony of superficial negative comments about women while she was in a sorority at Syracuse University. She left the sorority and made a 3-minute video speaking out against the lack of compassion she witnessed. More than 138,000 people have watched.
Purdy says she wanted to join a sorority to make lifelong friends and meet women that would empower each other. What she says she saw instead was an “overwhelming lack of compassion for one another.” She says the underlying theme was that the sisters should could care more about what other people think of them and focus on what they look like.
Purdy recounts hearing one sister say, “We don’t want any FUPAs in the house.” (For the uninitiated, FUPA = Fat Upper Pussy Area) She says she was also told to “dress slutty” at the sorority’s next formal to help ensure the group’s popularity with fraternity brothers. She says she often saw the victims of these verbal attacks hurt, devastated and crying. Purdy’s takeaway? “No one should be made to question their self worth if they don’t look a certain way.”
The Bethesda, Maryland native says making the video is one of the toughest things she’s ever done. I interviewed Purdy by phone and she told me why it was so important to do, “I want it to be constructive and people to take away something from it.”
Purdy’s stance has been covered by the Today Show, USA Today, Cosmopolitan magazine and a host of local blogs and newspapers. She says ever since her video started making waves, she’s heard from many women on Facebook who have shared similar tales, thanking her for speaking out. She says that just proves that this is an area that can be improved. She also says, “…but I knew that deciding to address it and talk about some of the hurt would make some people hurt.”
Purdy doesn’t name the sorority she left, and she says she’s not doing this to get back at anyone.
I asked the Syracuse senior how she made the decision to speak out and stand up for what she believed, in. The 21-year-old says she initially had doubt, but “I knew that a lot of my reasons for doubting it were fear-based. I tried to keep that in check. What are they gonna say, how many people might not like me after this. I thought about it and to me, it’s worth it. My true friends support it.”
How does Purdy feel about the video’s reach? “I’ve always been told there is power in one voice and you can make an impact but I never put it to the test. It’s been most challenging. I never tried to stand up in such a full-force, guns-a-blazing way. But, in speaking up for this, I’m also speaking up for others who are hurting. Purdy used the hashtag #sororityrevamp.”
Purdy readily admits that not every sorority or every sorority member goes through what she did. However, she says she can’t keep up with her Facebook inbox. “I’ve been getting messages from tons of people I’ve never met before, form California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, all telling similar stories, some of them 5 paragraphs long, and they share how grateful they are that this is getting talked about. I feel so grateful to get to hear them open up.”
Purdy admits she has received some negative feedback, but the bulk of it has been positive. “I think that it still is polarizing and I know there is some tension on campus. I don’t want to cause anyone internal anger. Some people do feel really strongly about it. I try to let any anxiety about what they are thinking go, and just remember why I did it.”
To those who think this is not a big deal, Purdy puts the power of hurtful words in perspective, “Our time here is limited. To live according to someone else’s terms is I think a mild form of oppression. You’re being to some degree less than what you could be. To be true to yourself and find out what that means to you is how you can find happiness. That’s why I had to make this video. It’s bigger than sororities. It’s how we treat each other.”