neighbors 2

The surprising feminism of ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’

On the surface, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising looks to be a carbon copy of its predecessor, with women fighting for their proverbial right to party. And to be fair, it was exactly that.  Underneath the prank wars, however, lies a mission to actually advocate for safe spaces for women and educate men about their bullshit.

Neighbors 2 tells the tale of a couple, Mac (Seth Rogan) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne), trying to sell their house and move to the suburbs to begin the next phase of their life. They have already bought a new house, but are in the 30 day escrow period on their new place. It is in this period of time that a new sorority, Kappa Nu moves into the old fraternity house next door, completely throwing a wrench into their plans.

The founding sisters of Kappa Nu, Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) strive to create a place where sorority women can throw their own parties and have fun safely on their own terms. The National Panhellenic Council (NPC), which governs the overwhelming number of sororities on college campuses, has a policy that no parties are to happen in sorority houses or on sorority property. This policy leads sororities to depend on fraternity parties for large social experiences, and those parties are not exactly designed to create feelings of welcoming and safety according to Shelby, Beth, and Nora.

It seems simple, trivial even, but the core argument of the film is that if partying is part of the American collegiate experience, then women should be able to participate in that without fear of sexual assault and the influence of toxic masculinity. To strike back against this culture, the Kappa Nu women enlist the help of former fraternity president and Radner nemesis Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) to show them the ropes of running an organization as they strike out on their own.

The Kappa Nu house becomes a destination for many women at their nameless school. They throw parties where people dress up as feminist icons (including three versions of Hillary Clinton and a beer granting Oprah), don’t worry about make up or their outfits, and generally have a fucking good time. The core of their mission is to not depend on the social hierarchy controlled by fraternities, opting to focus on finding belonging with one another. Nearly everything these women do focuses on creating and sustaining a safer space for their sisterhood. Aside from a brief mention of Beth’s long running relationship (“Like Cory and Topanga”), there is no mention of romance, or needing to hook up. There is no judgement of appearance from other sisters, something which plagues conversations about actual sororities. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with wanting to have sex and wear make up, but it is the way these things are enforced within fraternities and sororities that create toxic and damaging cultures. Kappa Nu intentionally strives to not do that.

I did not enter the theater expecting to find a film anywhere close to embracing feminism. I have come to appreciate Seth Rogan movies (Superbad, Knocked Up, The Night Before, etc.), but describing them as a paragon of feminism would be laughable. There is no shortage of bro comedy – or “bromedy” – films, and that fact alone kind of made me want to hate it. I’m tired of the same stories being told, and I expected Neighbors 2 to be another movie that I’d already seen.

What makes Neighbors 2 relatively feminist is not that the film is about a sorority partying. It is the fact that this bromedy inserts a few well-placed jokes and character development to speak directly to its intended audience about their own bullshit.

In a particularly poignant scene, Teddy (Efron) asks the three Kappa Nu founders why they want to create a sorority where can party when they can just go to frat parties. After telling him that those parties are pretty sexist, he begins to rattle off themed parties that include women (CEOs and Office Hoes, pimps and hoes etc), when a look of realization crosses his face. He then, actually acknowledges that they’re right.

Having worked on a college campus with students who both attend and throw parties like the ones mentioned above, that moment is rare. Most students practice some serious mental gymnastics to rationalize their various isms, usually in the defense of fun. What I think is most important about the scene, however, is not that it happened, but knowing that it wasn’t directed at me.

Neighbors 2 is not a film for critical feminists. This is a film for the guys who run fraternities, who throw the parties, the Teddy Sanders of the world, if you will. In that sense, Seth Rogan just joined the fight to make campuses a better place.

That is not to say that Neighbors 2 is perfect. It certainly is not, and no film is. I would have loved more people of color and more queer people (as I always do). There are also a few uncomfortable jokes about Jewish people, a staple in Seth Rogan films. And in addition to that, focusing on college campuses implies a certain amount of privilege in and of itself.

Even with those grains of salt, however, Neighbors 2 does a pretty great job of educating its target audience by explicitly centering the experiences of the women of Kappa Nu. In doing so, it becomes the first film of its kind, which is pretty cool to say the least.

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Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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