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ESSAY Sister Act Sorority Rush as Feminine Performance by Elizabeth Boyd he 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, die atmosphere inside is not one of languidness, but of high anxiety. Here some 66 5 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 die 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 given 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 opposite: Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters during Rush Week at Ole Miss, 1996. Reprinted bypermission ofthe Memphis Commercial Appeal. 54 an air of purpose and self-assurance. Not for them the Rush is a rushee's complete makeup incongruously paired with ca- , · t sual shorts and sandals. The counselors are wearing day -* idencing the promise of the Lady. In the final analysis, ........................ rush comes down on the side of the Lady, for a Lady would never embarrass her sisters. It should come as no surprise that such stylized performance should reach its zenith at Ole Miss, where in recent years an extended public debate has raged over the university's symbols. The use and meaning of such contentious signs as die Confederate flag, the song "Dixie," and the university's planter-gendeman mascot, "Colonel Reb," continue to endure scrutiny, with opposing camps largely stalemated between claims of "tradition" and "heritage" on the one hand and "racism" and "backwardness" on the other. On a campus still haunted by the James Meredith integration "crisis" of 1962, social progress has been real, but it is also understood to be hard-won, and campus symbols, potentially explosive.3 When a chancellor-led campaign to improve perceptions ofthe university caused Confederate flags to all but disappear from the football stadium, that potent symbol migrated to the bodies of young women, who continued to sport it in the form of whole-flag wraparound skirts and Greek T-shirts incorporating the insignia . Officially "gone," but not forgotten, the flag never so much went away as it went underground, where in some circles it now enjoys the status ofrenegade booty: its visibility curtailed, its circulation improved, with femininity and die flag now explicitly, corporally linked. The flag controversy is just a single example ofwhat one critic calls "hidden in plain sight," the phenomenon ofsoutherners' inability—or refusal—to acknowledge the cultural mechanisms they see working clearly before them.4Many mechanisms that serve to maintain race and gender hierarchies, for example, do dieir work so seamlessly they rarely draw recognition, despite their public nature. So persuasive yet so pervasive, they are so much a part of the warp and weft of soudiern life (so "natural," so "traditional"), they largely go unnoticed by participants and observers alike. Perhaps least recognized of all are those rituals that shore...


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