I was reading-here during a rare lull at work (shhh!) the Feministing site, and they had a post all about the resurgence of debutante balls. I had hoped this insulting tradition had gone the way of wearing hats and white gloves, and slips. I hate slips. Though full slips make me think of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, so they are kind of sexy, but only if that's all one is wearing.
I digress. Debutante balls seem stubbornly resistant to social change, and are still largely segregated, class-based affairs that are meant to put adolescent girls on the marriage market.
All right...let's all shudder and gag. EWWWW. Marriage and market, two words that should never, ever, be paired.
Despite having a rather forward-thinking set of parents, I, um, kinda, participated in one of these extra special events as a junior deb-a yellow dressed, hoop-skirted, silk-flower crowned attendant to one of the debutantes when I was thirteen. It remains one of the top ten most humiliating experiences of my life thus far. My mother loaned me out-yes, I said LOANED ME OUT! Me, her precious only daughter, to one of her closest friends who was childless, and wished to participate in the damned thing her sorority was partially sponsoring. It meant so much to her my mother couldn't say no. I had a very bad feeling about this. But what could I do? My mother had already committed me. I would look like a rude brat throwing a tantrum if I refused now. My mom knew I wouldn't like to give that impression. Trapped, trapped...
The experience actually met...and surpassed my incredibly low expectations. There were classes, practice sessions, to prepare one for ridiculous, regressive, sexist public humiliation. It was somewhere around the ninth level of Hell, the one Dante claimed was circling Satan's scrotum. Yeah, that sounds like the place. The old women, and very queeny old men who fussed over us, and dressed us...I didn't know people like this even existed. My pediatrician had looked at my body with less scrutiny. They turned us around like we were little deaf things, never registering what they were saying as they clucked over everything. I was apparently too tall for most of the boys, but if I wore flats my feet would look too big, and duck-like. They thought I had webbed toes?? Apparently, I frowned too much as well, that was going to cause deep wrinkles in the future. (Well, fuck you, it didn't.)
I held my tongue, it was difficult, but I did it. I was a child who had been on the whole, approved of, and told that I was special, and wonderful and beautiful. No one had ever spoken to me, or about me where I could overhear in this manner. Thank God, I'm of a temperament where I get angry about stuff like this and consider the source, and do not absorb it.
The waltz lessons, and posture, curtsying, and fucking white gloves! I came home after one of these sessions and told my mother she had earned a place in Hell for putting me through this. At least Purgatory.
I like attention as much as the next extroverted Leo, but there was something creepy about this focus on our adolescent sexuality, and dressing us up like china dolls, watching us dance with equally uncomfortable boys. After it was all over, and I managed not to trip down the curving staircase into the ballroom, though I did mess up a couple of dance steps. I found my parents. My dad took the crown of flowers off my head, and mussed my hair, looking at my mother like she was Lucy Ricardo. I was not doing this again when I was old enough to wear the white dress. She nodded, and was uncharacteristically quiet the whole ride home.
This is no rite of passage. I can't imagine the reasoning that goes into putting your children through this. Girls are bombarded with so many images that give them the message that their looks and sexuality are what advance them in life...shame on Gen X for continuing this so-called tradition.