Co-Ed Brothers of the Alpha Phi Omega

Upon learning that my female cousin had been made an official brother of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, my grandfather wrote in an email: “I would think you would make a better sister.”

I confess I had the same thought. My cousin wrote, “That would make more sense but since it’s co-ed we are all brothers.”

After reading my cousin’s response, I was spurred to do some research. Though the official site says nothing about gender terminology, the Alpha Phi Omega Wikipedia page touts the same information my cousin provided:

The fraternity was opened fully to women in 1976. All members are called “Brothers,” regardless of gender. The Fraternity views “Brothers” as a gender-neutral term.

Gender neutral term? Something smells fishy. I would understand if historically a single sex group calls each other one thing than it would make sense to continue calling everyone the same thing after the opposite sex has been added to the mix, but Tau Beta Sigma, a similar co-educational sorority with female history, calls its members “sisters and brothers.”

To me, calling “brother” a gender neutral term reeks of the ancient linguistic trend of referring to all of humanity with the word “man” or “mankind,” as if men are a sufficient default with which to define the entire race. Talk about outdated.

This is clearly a double standard. Why are women okay being called “brother” when a man would never submit to being called “sister?” And what implications do these labels promote?

What about males and females who identify as another* gender? How do they play into the mix? Would YOU be willing to be called “brother” as a woman or “sister” as a man?

*Updated November 25, 2014. Thank you, PTA, for reminding me there is no gender binary.

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5 responses to “Co-Ed Brothers of the Alpha Phi Omega

  1. “Why are women okay being called “brother” when a man would never submit to being called “sister?””

    The fact that you use the word “submit” in the first place is the exact problem and reason it’s okay for women to be called brothers in the fraternity but not okay for men to be called sisters. Women are considered the inferior gender. When a woman becomes more masculine, it is considered a step up on the social ladder, so being called “brother”–ignoring 3rd wave feminism–is also a step up. However, that also means that if a man becomes more feminine, it is considered a step down. He is giving up his superiority if he allows himself to be called “sister”.

    • I think the point you are making is one that many upon reflection can agree with, but many men and even women are not openly admitting this phenomenon anymore—they are trying to move past it and say we live in a post-sexist era. One of my objectives with this post is to make people realize and become more aware of the small ways this dynamic still plays out in real life, even in the new age where women are supposedly equal.

  2. As a male alumnus of a co-ed fraternity, I have to reluctantly agree with your assessment of the inequality of the relative worth of the sibling terms. Upon reflection, I wouldn’t want to be called a sister in a group, and although I’m not entirely satisfied with what that says about me, it’s true nonetheless.

    I will say this, though: My chapter calls both male and female members brothers, and I think there’s a good reason for this. Before the fraternity became co-ed, it had a program where the girlfriends and wives of the brothers could become sisters of the fraternity. They had sister pins and sister composites, but the sisters were explicitly not full members of the fraternity. When we began to allow women to join the fraternity itself, we called them brothers to make it clear that they were the equals of the male brothers.

    That’s all to say, I see “brother” as a title, rather than a description of a sibling relationship – indeed, I’d say the term “brother” is used in a way that isn’t quite intuitive specifically to distinguish it from a description of a sibling relationship.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  3. Generally related to the way that the Fraternity went co-ed. Period when many chapters had little sister groups, and the women who wanted full membership (with the chapters that were doing it opposed to the National bylaws) made them brothers. This continued on through full equality of the fraternity and from then on.

    In the Philippines where the sister affiliate groups were brought together and eventually raised to being an equal (yet still slightly separate) part of the organization, the female members are sisters. In the philippines it is Alpha Phi Omega International fraternity and sorority.

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