Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Drive-bys, and Other Initiations

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9780312263287: Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Drive-bys, and Other Initiations

In a fascinating look at how young women are coming of age in America, Vendela Vida explores a variety of rituals that girls have adapted or created in order to leave their childhoods behind. Vida doesn't just observe the rituals, she actively participates in them, going as far as spending a week at UCLA to experience rush―she emerges a Tri-Delt. She also goes to Miami to learn about the "quince" (the Latin American celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday), to Houston to take part in a debutante ball, to Los Angeles and San Francisco to talk to female gang members, to Salem, Massachusetts, to interview a coven of witches, and to Las Vegas to watch young brides take the plunge―some of them in drive-through wedding chapels. With humor, insight, and illuminating detail, she explores girls' struggles to forge an identity and secure a sense of belonging through various rituals―rituals that they embrace without necessarily understanding the comforts they seek or the repercussions of their often all-too-adult choices.

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About the Author:

Vendela Vida graduated from Middlebury College and received her MFA at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Jane, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn. Girls on the Verge is her first book.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

  PART ONEFamily ApprovedCHAPTER ONERush: Sorority SistersIt’s the first day of sorority rush at UCLA and things are going smoothly. I’m in a sorority house chatting with a group of sisters when my fellow rushees and I are herded into the sorority’s back room for a slide show. The back room has a ceiling full of brightly colored helium balloons, their ribbons curling like fusilli pasta, and more sorority sisters for us rushees to meet, among them a most unwelcome surprise: Nancy.Now evidently a sorority sister, Nancy is a girl my little sister grew up with and I recognize her immediately. Standing about ten feet away, she looks right at me and I’m positive a loud air-raid like siren is going to go off, the kind of warning signal sororities must surely have on hand to alert sisters than an impostor is in their midst. I hide my face behind my hair and stick my chest out in her direction so she can see my name tag, which bears the name Katie Wintersen, an alias. Like a lighthouse’s beam, Nancy’s eyes pan the room, and then cross back again, without stopping on any one rushee’s face in particular. So I’m safe, for now at least.The reason for all of the above—the fear, the alias, my relief at not being recognized—is that I am not a legitimate rush candidate. In fact, I’m not even a UCLA student, but a twenty-six-year-old college graduate who has never been in a sorority. The New England liberal arts college I attended didn’t even have sororities. By taking part in this ritual undergone by thousands of college women each year, I’m hoping to better understand the enduring appeal of sororities and to experience what it’s like to rush.Going to college has always struck me as the quintessential American experience—that is, of officially leaving behind what you once were and starting over somewhere else. Yet I’ve never understood why people who have just arrived at college would renounce their freedom by joining a fraternity or sorority so early in the game. Because rush usually starts before classes do, most students have found their frat or sorority before they’ve even determined their first semester class schedule.This wasn’t always the case. In their original incarnation (the first sorority was founded in 1851 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia), sororities were open literary societies. Would-be members didn’t have to go through the rush process, and girls could belong to more than one sorority at a time. In 1902 sororities came together to form a national organization, the Pan-Hellenic, and it was then determined that girls could “pledge” no more than one sorority; soon after “the entertainment of rushees for a short period before the day of formal invitation,” i.e., rush, was made official. Over the years the process of joining a sorority has become more rigorous and cutthroat as sororities have become strictly social in nature. This process seems to be based on so little (looks, musical taste, boys known/dated/slept with) and established in such a short period, (rush lasts one week) and yet sorority bonds often endure a lifetime.I decided to find out for myself what distinguished a sister in one sorority from that of another, and what each sister’s everlasting fealty to her chosen sorority was really about. I chose to rush at UCLA because its rush is known for being particularly superficial—rumors of invisible scales existing beneath the thresholds of each house to weigh entering rushees have been going around for years—and particularly severe: Unlike most schools, it’s possible to rush UCLA and not get into any sorority.
When I arrive in the L.A. airport on a late September Sunday morning, I find myself ducking surfboards swung around like helicopter propellers by blond, tan boys. Quite a change from last night’s party in Manhattan where slow-moving, cigarette-smoking boys immodestly “summarized” at considerable length the plots and importance of their eternally in progress, self-defined Proustian novels, and jousted over interpretations of Joyce. But there’s no time to ponder this difference between boys on opposite coasts nor to attend to my lingering hangover; the information that I—or rather, Katie Wintersen—was faxed informs me I have to get to a Welcome Reception for all fall rushees that afternoon.In the LAX restroom I change from the all-black outfit I’m still wearing from the night before into a multicolored skirt and tank top (this is, after all, L.A.). I gloss my lips with pink—college girls are always wearing pink lipstick and always with a sheen of gloss—and practice smiling in front of the too-brightly-lit airport bathroom mirror. I almost don’t recognize my own reflection—in my preparation for rush week I’ve highlighted my hair (again, this is L.A.), lost a little weight (don’t think those rumors of invisible scales didn’t get to me) and there’s the sought-after Sorority Smile spreading across my face, straining my mouth muscles. I head off for the reception.The affair is held outside, on one of the student center’s terraces, and is attended by representatives from every sorority (they’re all wearing light blue T-shirts with the name of their sorority on the front) and girls who hope one day to be like the girls in the light blue T-shirts. Katie Wintersen mills around anxiously with the four hundred some girls in the latter category.It’s hot out, so I go to pour myself some punch at a refreshment table on the edge of the terrace. A mistake. When I turn around I see that in the brief time my back was turned groups have started to congeal, improbably tight cliques of girls heading in different directions—alt of which are away from me. I’m worried that my inability to besister from the outset will make me an outcast during rush.Feeling increasingly desperate, I walk over to the girl who’s standing closest to me. She looks friendly enough, so I say: “Does everyone tell you you look like Renée Zellweger?”“Oh my God!” she says. “That’s such a compliment.” She beams.Score. I feel like a sleazy fraternity brother on the late-night make.Her name is Robin and the thing is, she really does look like Renée Zellweger. Robin’s about my height—five six—and has below-the-shoulder straight blondish brown hair. Her dark blue eyes seem to take in everything around her without being the slightest bit distracted from our conversation. Her composure and lack of nervous gesturing make her seem more sophisticated than the other rushees who, at any given moment, are either shifting from one foot to the other, consulting a mirror stashed in their purses, or inserting or removing Care Free sugarless chewing gum.Robin asks why I transferred schools (I say I’m a junior transfer because trying to pass for a freshman when I’m twenty-six seems like a stretch) and I try out my bogus bio. “I grew up in New York,” I lie, “and then I went to Columbia, which was only blocks away from my parents.” I roll my eyes. “I’ve always wanted to live in L.A., and I figured college is a good time to experiment, like, living somewhere else.” (The frequent interjection of like was one of my primary exercises while practicing Sorority Speak during the days before rush.)“Plus,” I continue—lying has never been so easy—“my boyfriend of two years and I just broke up and it was a really bad breakup—we had all the same friends and everything and I realized I could either start over at Columbia, which would be a drag, or, like, start over somewhere else.”“That’s so brave of you, Katie,” Robin says. I smile. The reason I’ve made up the story about the break-up is because I know that love is the lingua franca of girls and, I imagine, especially of sorority sisters. Plus, I don’t want them to think the reason I switched schools was because of something in their minds much worse than heartbreak: not having many friends. The reason I claim to have transferred from Columbia is because, having gone to grad school there, I’m familiar with details about the college and its environs—i.e., local bars, its Greek system, and, should it come up, the course curriculum—details that make lying easier and less spurious sounding.When I ask Robin where she’s from she says, “You’ve probably never heard of it, but I’m from Pacifica.” Pacifica! I can’t believe it. Pacifica is a small town outside of San Francisco where I was raised until I was four, when my family moved into the city. Of course, I can’t tell Robin this and I feel a certain sorrow in not being able to reveal our shared roots.In part because I’ve taken on an alter ego myself, and in part because I feel an affinity for Robin, I find myself imagining she is the person I would have been had my family stayed in Pacifica. This identification with Robin makes me start to think that maybe rush is a reasonable—albeit hastened—approximation of how friendships naturally evolve. I chose to approach Robin on the basis of looks, vibe, and proximity—all superficial motivations, yes, but though only I know it, we have something substantial in common and she’s definitely a likable person. Maybe, I think, these sorority friendships only seem arbitrary.At the end of the reception I make my way over to the registration table. I fill out a sorority rush registration card, fabricating everything. Since I don’t know how many digits are in UCLA student ID numbers, I peer over another rushee’s shoulder, but she notices my glances and shields her form the way people do when they think you’re cheating. Nonetheless, I manage to determine how many numbers are in an ID, give the name of a New York high school many of my friends attended (Stuyvesant), and explain that I’ve transferred from Columbia, where, I claim, my activities included writing a men’s fashion column for the school paper.When turning in my form and forking over twenty dollars (thankfully I don’t have to write a check), I’m informed that the next day will be a long, ten-party day.“What should I wear?” I ask the girl with heavily waxed eyebrows who’s taken my money.“Well, be comfortable,” she says, “but wear what you want to rush in.” She smiles a conspiratorial Get it? smile that implies what she really means to say is, “Wear what you want to be judged and evaluated in, dress like your popularity/ happiness/ overall success while you’re at UCLA, and maybe the rest of your life, too, depends on it.”
On Monday morning, rush officially begins. Classes don’t start until Thursday, so for three days rush is a full-time job, or rather, a full-time audition. This year’s UCLA rush theme is “Come As You Are.” Glancing around at orientation I note that the rushees are all smarter than to show up au naturel. Dressed in trendy patterned miniskirts and spaghetti-strapped tank tops, or little sundresses and heels, and with every strand of hair blow-dried, they look as though they’re headed for a night of dates that entail drinking and dancing rather than a day of house tours. Strange when you consider that no boys are present at rush and that during rush week rushees are prohibited from going to fraternity parties (sorority sisters who have been elected as “advisors” to the rushees frequent the frat parties to ensure rushees don’t violate this rule). Not so strange when you realize that female attractiveness to males is a primary consideration in sorority rush. The rushees are primped so that they will look like the kind of girls boys like, and therefore the sisters will select them because this will bring benefits to the house: Attractive rushees improve, or at least maintain, the sorority’s gene pool, and therefore its reputation as well.At check-in I am given a name tag and a rush identification number (390). The 430 rushees are divided into ten groups that rotate among ten sorority houses. On the first day we will go to ten thirty-five-minute parties, one at each of the houses. I’m in Group 10 with all the other rushees whose last names fall at the end of the alphabet. All groups have two group leaders, or Rho Chis as they’re called. (The Chi is pronounced with a hard K sound, as in the Greek.) My group leaders are named Claire and Celerie, and they’re members of sororities, but they’re not allowed to tell us which ones they’re in because they are supposed to be impartial and not influence our decisions. (When visiting the houses I see that each sorority has taped black paper over photographs of some of their members. At first, I think this means that the person who appears in the picture has dropped out, died, or gone obese, but I later learn that the purpose of the paper is to veil which Rho Chis are members of which sorority.)Rho Chis are the bearers of bad news—they call and comfort rushees if they’re not invited to join any sororities. Theirs are the shoulders we are supposed to cry on if we don’t get invited back to our favorite house. Like the best-prepared camp counselors, Rho Chis carry emergency kits with them at all times. Their kits include tampons, mints, Band-Aids (all the brand new high-heeled shoes leave the rushees with multiple blisters), and nail polish (to halt a run in a rushee’s stocking). This last item seems particularly anachronistic, a leftover from a time when bare legs were considered improper, a time before bare legs were a valuable asset in flaunting minimal fat content and a good tan. Only one girl in Group 10 is wearing stockings, I notice, and she must notice this too, because after only ten minutes she’s excused herself to go to the restroom and returns with newly exposed limbs.Before we head off for our first party, Claire and Celerie have us play a name game of the variety you play in camp when you’re seven. The particular name game we’re forced to play is one in which the group pretends we’re all going on a picnic and we each pack an item that starts with the same first letter as our name. Example: Claire’s going on a picnic and she’s packing cheese; Celerie’s going on a picnic and she’s packing celery.Even an innocuous-seeming exercise like the picnic game makes it clear who’s going to get into a sorority and who’s not. (Lesson: Nothing in rush is innocuous.) A girl with hay-colored hair who looks like she could be on a milk commercial announces, “My name is Hillary and I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to pack hummus.” We’re sitting on stairs in front of a lecture hall and fellow rushees on the stairs below and above me murmur, “That’s so healthy,” as though (a) what’s really cool about Hillary is that she’s a health freak, and (b) we’re actually going on a picnic.Next, a girl whose lip gloss seems to reflect the morning sun says, “My name is Carol and I’m going to pack kumquats.” Her shiny lips smile such an I’m-proud-of-myself-for-saying-something-original smile that I don’t have the heart to voice my opinion that her answer should be disqualified on the basis of poor orthography. (Lesson Number 2: Rush brings out a competitive edge in people.)Unlike the other rushees, I have the disadvantage of not having played this game with the same name since childhood. The reason I chose the alias Katie is two-fold: (1) I’ve always wanted a name people could pronounce without being instructed three times, and (2) a friend of mine who lives in L.A. is named Katie and said I could list her voice-mail number (which has an outgoing message saying “Hi, this is Katie ...”) as my own. Wintersen I chose because it sounded sufficiently nonethnic, which, considering the homogeneity in the sorority system, may have turned out to be a good choice. Ethnically speaking, UCLA is a diverse school. Yet w...

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Descrizione libro St. Martins Press-3pl, 2000. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. In a fascinating look at how young women are coming of age in America, Vendela Vida explores a variety of rituals that girls have adapted or created in order to leave their childhoods behind. Vida doesn t just observe the rituals, she actively participates in them, going as far as spending a week at UCLA to experience rush--she emerges a Tri-Delt. She also goes to Miami to learn about the quince (the Latin American celebration of a girl s fifteenth birthday), to Houston to take part in a debutante ball, to Los Angeles and San Francisco to talk to female gang members, to Salem, Massachusetts, to interview a coven of witches, and to Las Vegas to watch young brides take the plunge--some of them in drive-through wedding chapels. With humor, insight, and illuminating detail, she explores girls struggles to forge an identity and secure a sense of belonging through various rituals--rituals that they embrace without necessarily understanding the comforts they seek or the repercussions of their often all-too-adult choices. Codice libro della libreria APC9780312263287

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Descrizione libro St. Martins Press-3pl, 2000. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.In a fascinating look at how young women are coming of age in America, Vendela Vida explores a variety of rituals that girls have adapted or created in order to leave their childhoods behind. Vida doesn t just observe the rituals, she actively participates in them, going as far as spending a week at UCLA to experience rush--she emerges a Tri-Delt. She also goes to Miami to learn about the quince (the Latin American celebration of a girl s fifteenth birthday), to Houston to take part in a debutante ball, to Los Angeles and San Francisco to talk to female gang members, to Salem, Massachusetts, to interview a coven of witches, and to Las Vegas to watch young brides take the plunge--some of them in drive-through wedding chapels. With humor, insight, and illuminating detail, she explores girls struggles to forge an identity and secure a sense of belonging through various rituals--rituals that they embrace without necessarily understanding the comforts they seek or the repercussions of their often all-too-adult choices. Codice libro della libreria APC9780312263287

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Descrizione libro St. Martins Press-3pl, 2000. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. In a fascinating look at how young women are coming of age in America, Vendela Vida explores a variety of rituals that girls have adapted or created in order to leave their childhoods behind. Vida doesn t just observe the rituals, she actively participates in them, going as far as spending a week at UCLA to experience rush--she emerges a Tri-Delt. She also goes to Miami to learn about the quince (the Latin American celebration of a girl s fifteenth birthday), to Houston to take part in a debutante ball, to Los Angeles and San Francisco to talk to female gang members, to Salem, Massachusetts, to interview a coven of witches, and to Las Vegas to watch young brides take the plunge--some of them in drive-through wedding chapels. With humor, insight, and illuminating detail, she explores girls struggles to forge an identity and secure a sense of belonging through various rituals--rituals that they embrace without necessarily understanding the comforts they seek or the repercussions of their often all-too-adult choices. Codice libro della libreria BZE9780312263287

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Descrizione libro St. Martin's Griffin. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. 192 pages. Dimensions: 8.3in. x 5.4in. x 0.6in.In a fascinating look at how young women are coming of age in America, Vendela Vida explores a variety of rituals that girls have adapted or created in order to leave their childhoods behind. Vida doesnt just observe the rituals, she actively participates in them, going as far as spending a week at UCLA to experience rushshe emerges a Tri-Delt. She also goes to Miami to learn about the quince (the Latin American celebration of a girls fifteenth birthday), to Houston to take part in a debutante ball, to Los Angeles and San Francisco to talk to female gang members, to Salem, Massachusetts, to interview a coven of witches, and to Las Vegas to watch young brides take the plungesome of them in drive-through wedding chapels. With humor, insight, and illuminating detail, she explores girls struggles to forge an identity and secure a sense of belonging through various ritualsrituals that they embrace without necessarily understanding the comforts they seek or the repercussions of their often all-too-adult choices. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Codice libro della libreria 9780312263287

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