Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Sister Act: Sorority Rush as Feminine Performance

Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Sister Act: Sorority Rush as Feminine Performance

Article excerpt

Sorority Rush as Feminine Performance

The scene inside Fulton Chapel is almost enough to make you forget that it is two o'clock on a late August afternoon in Mississippi. Despite the sweltering heat, the melting humidity, and the lack of air conditioning, the atmosphere inside is not one of languidness, but of high anxiety. Here some 665 incoming female students are seated in groups of seventy. They are chattering, they are excited, they are nervous. It's the opening scene of sorority rush, and at the University of Mississippi--known by one and all as "Ole Miss" -- rush is serious business.(1)

In the next few days these young women (or girls, as they refer to themselves and each other) will submit to a process of evaluation that will determine the course of their social life for the next four years. For some, the stakes will be for life. But right now they're all equal--at least equally nervous--and they're checking out the competition.

If the air is filled with tension, the scene reveals nothing but composure and preparation. Here the rule is flawless skin; tasteful manicures; healthy, glossy hair that's just been trimmed, highlighted, deep-conditioned. All vision has been corrected. All hair is at least shoulder length. The clothing is "studied casual"--shorts, sundresses, new sandals. A few false eyelashes. Full makeup, professionally done.

Roaming the crowd are the rush counselors, those twenty-five knowledgeable rising seniors who have Oven up their sorority affiliations for the week to help guide and advise the new rushees. They hold meetings, say "yea" or "nay" to dresses, shepherd the rushees around from house to house. For them, this Convocation--the official opening of rush--is old hat. Dressed in Panhellenic T-shirts, khaki shorts, and cross-training shoes, they roam the auditorium with an air of purpose and self-assurance. Not for them the rushee's complete makeup incongruously paired with casual shorts and sandals. The counselors are wearing day makeup, tastefully blended. And they're hauling around enormous backpacks, which they'll soon use to carry the rushees' essentials from house to house.

A couple of hours later, we meet in the back of Brown dorm. The casual clothes of the afternoon have been replaced by demure, long, swingy sundresses (the small-town Tennessee girls); contemporary, short-sleeved suits (the Dallas girls); matching, slightly out-of-date pants suits (the Delta girls); and bright floral, Sixties popart sundresses (the Jackson girls). And everywhere, as if it had washed up in an Irish fide, a virtual sea of linen. Not linen-blend or "linen-like," but sure-enough, my-family-can-afford-it linen. Suit-weight and handkerchief. The genuine article. The shoe of the hour is chunky, brown or black, and generously strapped. The girls have stuffed their essentials--keys, lipstick, all manner of Clinique--in labeled, plastic bags, which will be schlepped up and down Sorority Row for them by the rush counselors.

Outside the Theta house, the rushees learn the pattern of the evening. Waiting in the stifling heat, they suddenly hear what sounds like war whoops and pounding coming from inside the front door. At the strike of five, the Thetas, two hundred strong, throw back the door and appear in formation, crowding the door from floor to sill with Theta faces, radiating Theta love, and singing a Theta song. Then they burst from the door, each calling a particular rushee's name: "Heather! Ashley! Brooke!" The Thetas are dressed in different shades of the same scoopnecked shift; together, they create a linen rainbow. Taking the rushees by the hand and scooting them indoors, the Thetas proceed to "rush" them--to woo them with party chatter and giant, unrelenting smiles--for exactly twenty minutes.

Inside the Theta house, it's cool and tasteful: apricot walls, country French antiques, floral arrangements in front of every gilt mirror, oriental rugs. …

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