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

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

2.3 3
by Vendela Vida

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an attempt to investigate the rituals that help American girls develop their adult identities, Vida, a graduate of the Columbia University M.F.A. program, infiltrates a sorority, attends a Wiccan Sabbath and observes Las Vegas drive-through weddings, among other events. Unfortunately, the terms of her study are loosely defined (how does each ritual lead to adulthood? What distinguishes the child from the woman?), and, despite the vast body of work on adolescent behavior and the author's interviews with hundreds of girls, the book lacks sociological rigor. For example, Vida compares debutantes, young brides and gang girls without carefully considering their differences in class and race, presenting them as similar because they all yearn for a stronger sense of community. Given her subjects' age range (13 to 18) and how widely their personal circumstances vary, it is difficult to believe that they are all trying to make a dramatic leap into adulthood. Although the young women she interviews make many surprising and self-aware remarks, Vida tries too hard to portray her subjects as searching for meaning. After describing the significance of a girl's 15th birthday (quinceanera) in Cuban culture, she writes of a teenager who had photos taken but couldn't afford the large traditional party: "This is, after all, a place and an environment where pictures mean more than the truth, where a day in a young woman's life is special because photographs are taken of her various poses." While the segments on each group of girls might work as magazine pieces, taken as a whole, they don't quite coalesce. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
What do gang drivebys, sorority rush week, and Wicca circles have in common? They represent a few of the elaborate rituals practiced by girls and young women as they select their path from childhood to adulthood. By taking part in these initiations, they are entering a community of acceptance with privileges and responsibilities otherwise unknown to them. Twentyfiveyear old Vida investigates firsthand by participating in these and other initiations including the traditional Hispanic quinceañeras (similar to a "sweet sixteen" party), debutante balls, and early marriages. What develops is an intimate, sometimes kind and sometimes judgmental portrait of experiences that define community for different groups in different ways. Vida's style is personal, witty, and wrythe ultimate insider playing an outsider. While going undercover and posing as a sorority sister wannabe, she finds herself hoping to be selected by her toppick Greek house. By choosing to interview girl members when researching female gang life, the author lets their stories and experiences take the place of her own infiltration. Vida does an excellent job of tying these various experiences to the common theme of longing to belong and be accepted. Though this book is marketed for adults, the readership most invested in the topic are young adult women aged fifteen to twenty. Once they are helped to discover it, they will keep this work circulating and talked about. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 1999, St. Martins, Ages 16 to Adult, 192p, $19.95. Reviewer: Katie O'Dell Madison
Library Journal
It's been proposed that one of the reasons young people in this country have difficulty making the transition to responsible adulthood is that there are no well-defined rites of passage. But, as nature abhors a vacuum, groups of teenage girls have created their own rituals to signify leaving their childhoods behind. Vida, 27, traveled across the country and spoke with hundreds of young women age 15 and up about identity and initiation rituals. She participated "undercover" in a sorority rush at UCLA and took part in a Latin American quincenera celebration in Miami. With a "you-are-there" approach, Vida allows the reader to experience the majesty of a debutante ball, the pride of a gang initiation, the solemnity of a Wiccan ceremony, and the high hopes of a Las Vegas drive-through bride. While the book is interesting solely as a travel piece, it also offers a sociological perspective on an individual's need for affiliation, connection, and community. Recommended for all libraries, particularly YA sections.--Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A close-up look at some of the rituals open to adolescent girls in America.

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Chapter One

Rush: Sorority Sisters

It'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 theenduring 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—all 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 been reading a lot of James and Nabokov with all their musings on doppelgangers, 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 while only 35 percent of the university's student body is Caucasian (40 percent is Asian; 18 percent is African American), the Greek system is a reservoir of whiteness. Asian and African American sororities do exist at UCLA, but students wishing to join them don't go through the official Pan-Hellenic rush.

    I'm still wishing I had picked a first name that was more amenable to the picnic game when it's my turn. I haven't thought of anything better, and I'm craving chocolate, so I say, "My name is Katie and for the picnic I'll bring a Kit Kat." Thankfully, no sorority sisters who can report me are present (at least the Rho Chis aren't supposed to report anything), and I view this as a sort of practice Social Aptitude Test and make a mental note to study up on my nonfattening K foods. Does Special K count? I wonder.

    Poor Deborah, though. At well over two hundred and fifty pounds and wearing what resembles a mud-colored muumuu more than a Sorority Sister Sundress, she pipes up with considerable confidence, "My name is Deborah and for our picnic I'm going to pack Doritos." Her test run does not bode well for her. I can imagine a sorority sister looking at her and thinking, fat, dandruff, glasses, and I feel bad that she's not going to get what she thinks she wants.

One of the first houses Group 10 goes to is Kappa Kappa Gamma, reputed to have all the pretty girls, cocaine parties, and strict bulimia regimens for its members who are failed anorexics. Our Rho Chis escort us to the bottom of the house's brick steps and we wait until the party officially starts. Up and down Hilgard—the street where all the sororities are lined up like pastel-painted, front lawn-mowed, floral-pattern draped, Martha Stewart-esque suburban homes—the other groups are similarly clustered, waiting for the doors of sisterhood to open.

    At the appointed time, the president and rush chair come out and welcome us to Kappa Kappa Gamma. They are both blond, and the bright sun reflecting off their heads makes it look like they're wearing crowns. I'm not the only one to note what a vision they are; one fellow rushee standing near me lets out an "Oh my God!" as though some nonminor deities have just appeared to her in person.

    I get in line with the other rushees in my group and shake hands with the president and the rush chair at the door. I say, "Hi, I'm Katie," and they say, "Welcome to Kappa Kappa Gamma, Katie." Then another girl greets me, gets me a glass of water with a semicircular slice of lemon wedged onto the rim, and walks me to a table in the house's garden where yet another girl is sitting. She introduces us, and before leaving me, takes my calling card. On the first day I have ten calling cards (one for each party) that my Rho Chis have given me and on which I've written "Katie Wintersen" and my rush ID number.

    The girl at the table is named Tina and she starts the conversation by asking where I'm from, what year I am, why I transferred, what I think of L.A., and what my major is. After three minutes another sister comes over and squats near us—actually, it's more like a curtsey—and Tina introduces us to each other. "Julie, this is Katie. Katie was just telling me that she wants to be an English major." "Oh really!" Julie says, as though this is very exciting. "Katie," Tina says, "I'm going to leave you now to talk with Julie but it was nice meeting you." Julie then talks to me about my major, where I'm from, what year I am, why I transferred, and what I think of L.A. After three minutes with Julie, Alyssa comes over and asks what we're talking about.

    The banality of these conversations with the sorority sisters isn't entirely their fault. Sorority sisters actually have to attend "conversation skills workshops" at which they are trained in how to make a rushee feel comfortable and instructed not to ask any potentially embarrassing or emotional questions. Emotional questions include anything about the rushee's home (she might get homesick) or anything about her boyfriend (a Kappa Kappa Gamma at Northwestern told me that conflicts have been known to arise when a sister asks a rushee who her boyfriend is, only to discover that they're both dating the same guy). But just as striking as the similarity of all their conversational initiatives is the uniformity of their appearances: With the hollowed cheeks of Modigliani women, all the Kappas seem to share the same hairstyle, dress, diet, earrings, perfume, and toenail polish, not to mention an equal amount of sun-kissed freckles sprinkled on the bridges of their small noses, some of which are surely rhinoplastic. I get the feeling that, unlike their highly honed, interchangeable small talk, no extensive workshopping or training is necessary to ensure their physical homogeneity.

    The game of greet-judge-pass-the-rushee continues until I sit down for a longer conversation with Ashley, a tall sophomore who has pink glitter on her face and in the valley of the V created by the neckline of a thin pink T-shirt designed to show off her ample chest. She asks if I have any questions for her, and so I ask what she likes about Kappa.

    "I like that we can be really silly together. I mean, we like partying, but there's also school. But you're seeing us at our most sophisticated side, I mean, we're talking and everything."

    Someone announces that the entertainment is about to begin.

    "Oh my God," Ashley says. "Aren't you excited?"

    "Sure," I say, and sit up straighter and try to look wide-eyed.

    The entertainment at Kappa features a girl less attractive than the other sisters, dressed up as a Loser-Looking Rushee who's just arrived at UCLA and wants to join Kappa. (I wonder if the choice to have her play the part was a deliberate one.) She watches the Kappa sisters dance to "YMCA" and "Celebration," but when she tries to dance with the best of them she's laughed at. She perseveres, however, and after shedding her glasses and bookbag and literally following the other girls' footsteps throughout the "I Will Survive" number she, too, is given a pink scarf and made into a Kappa. The pink scarf is tied around the rushee's neck in the style of the Pink Ladies in Grease. The allusion to this elitist group is not accidental.

    The entertainment emphasizes two things: (1) humiliation is part of the rush process, and (2) Toni. Toni is the president of Kappa Kappa Gaamma and she looks as though before doing dance performances here she was on Beverly Hills, 90210. She's thin, blond, large-breasted, and is never not smiling. She's also never not dancing. Just when you think she's burned out from kicking her long legs up in the air like a Rockette and has retreated off stage for good she improbably returns for the next song in a new outfit, her legs kicking even higher.

    All the sisters are cheering Toni on, but Ashley is the most enthusiastic of them all. She's clapping to the music and screaming "Go, Toni" and "Shake it, Toni." I look around to see if the other rushees are clapping or shouting; they're not. I'm momentarily relieved by this and feel my lack of enthusiasm is excusable. But then, upon scanning the garden a second time, I notice that there's a reason the other rushees aren't clapping or screaming: They've been mesmerized by this potent display of sexuality and sorority spirit. I can see it in their eyes, which look like they've been dappled with Kappa Glitter.

    When the dance performance is (finally) over, Ashley says, "Did you like it?"

    "Yeah," I say. I know that I haven't exhibited the proper enthusiasm. But Ashley, possibly softened by the rushee's plight she just witnessed in the show, gives me one more chance. She looks around at all her sisters and says, "This morning was such a trip. You should have seen us. We were all running around listening to music and going through each other's drawers and closets getting dressed together. I helped make the decision that everyone should wear bright colors." Ashley brings her hands to her heart, and squeals (yes, she squeals), "I just love colors. Colors make me so happy. What's your favorite color?"

    "Excuse me?" I say. I'm surprised to still be surprised by the strangeness of being in an environment where the reflective/refractive properties of light can be loved ... and where that love/nonlove is judged.

    She gives me a never-mind-I-shouldn't-have-asked look. Sternly silent, she walks me to the entryway I came through, which is now dark with flashing lights—the desired effect is that it's like a model's runway, the flashes those of cameras snapping away. Maybe there really are cameras, I think. Maybe pictures are being taken of all the rushees so the sisters can evaluate each girl individually later on. I imagine all the Kappas sitting around a slide show of these candid photos, alternately waving pom-poms for girls they like and throwing lard at the ones they don't.

    On either side of the makeshift catwalk Kappas are lined up and they're all saying good-bye. And there's Toni—again, and in a new outfit!—at the front door. I have no idea how she's made it there from the stage through the traffic jam of rushees and sisters so quickly—maybe there's an underground passageway? She's not even breathing heavily.

    Before I know it, I've made it outside where it's light and calm. I feel dizzy from the experience.

One of our next parties is at Delta Delta Delta. At the set time, like a bird shooting out of the door of a cuckoo clock, the Tri-Delt rush chair and president exit their house as one, holding hands. They say how excited all the girls are to meet us, and welcome us in "without further ado." Once inside, it's greet-judge-pass all over again ... until I meet Kim. Kim is a beautiful funkily-dressed black Tri-Delt (the first funkily-dressed, not to mention black woman I've seen during rush) whose bookshelf—which I see when she takes me on a house tour---is not to be believed. Unlike bookshelves at other sororities that seem to serve as no more than display cases for teddy bears holding UCLA banners and photos of smiling sorority sisters with gold-embossed captions saying "Sisters" or "Best Friends," Kim's bookshelf houses an impressive collection of Scandinavian literature. So Kim and I talk Laxness and Lagerkvist, Hamsun and Ibsen, and I think/dream/hallucinate that maybe sororities still have a trace of the literary society in them. Not even members of my mother's Swedish Women's Group with all their eating of lutfisk and dancing around midsummer poles have ever discussed Lagerkvist with me.

    I talk with Kim until it's time for the Delta Delta Delta slide show. The main purpose of the sororities' slide shows is to showcase the sisters' popularity among fraternity boys. By the time the slide show starts, you've met some of the girls in the house, and ostensibly you've been sizing each other up. But because rushees can't go to fraternity parties during rush week (the sisters aren't allowed to go to frat parties during rush week, either, which may account for some of their excessive energy), rushees don't get a chance to see the sisters being hugged/courted/liquored up by the fraternity boys. So the not-so-subliminal message of Tri-Delt's slide show, which features cute boys dancing with Tri-Delt girls at date parties, kissing their Tri-Delt girlfriends at mixers, and boys pinning Tri-Delt sisters (pinning is a Greek ritual between a fraternity brother and a sorority sister that signifies that the couple will soon be engaged) is this: The right boys (i.e., good-looking, cool-dressing, openly affectionate members of "good" fraternities) like Delta Delta Delta girls.

    I have to say it's effective. I find myself slipping into my role as Katie Wintersen who has just broken up with her long-term boyfriend and is on the rebound. Maybe, I think, if I become a Tri-Delt I'll go out with these alpha males as well. Not only that, but I'll get Tri-Delt sweatshirts to authenticate and advertise my membership to everyone around me and a social calendar that includes bid day, pledge night, dad's day, and semiformals. It's not a social calendar alone I covet, but the social calendar of a group. All serious groups have their own calendars, just as religions do, and the true sign of belonging to a group, I've decided, is that you plan the rest of your life around the group's events.

    At the end of the slide show the girls form a semicircle around all the seated rushees, lock hands, and sing along with the 10,000 Maniacs' "These Are Days." They keep singing, a cappella, even after the song is over, and suddenly I feel hope swelling up like a balloon around Katie Wintersen's recently broken heart. Friends to break into song with, days to remember—what could be better medicine for the lovelorn, or for those whose first time it is away from home, for anyone? UCLA already feels smaller, less foreign. If I make it through sorority rush, I think, I will have a place to live, a full social calendar, and a hundred-plus friends—sisters, no less. All within a week. Life has never been so easy.

    At the end of the long day of parties, Group 10 reconvenes with our Rho Chis, who instruct us in filling out our preference slips. We are to put down our top seven choices—my top choice is unquestionably Tri-Delt—and when the houses put down their top choices of rushees, the computer will determine a schedule for the next day. The omnipotent computer is ominously referred to as "the scantron." Whenever the word scantron is mentioned during rush week even the most composed of rushees can be seen chomping on their French-manicured nails.


Meet 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.
Vendela Vida graduated from Middlebury College and received her MFA at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Jane, and other publications. She is the author of Girls on the Verge, And Now You Can Go, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, and The Lovers. She lives in the Bay Area.

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Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Gang Drive Bys, and Other Initiations 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Old book id say. Dont read it if its an old book. Things have changed alot in the past thirteen or whatever years. Waste of time or money read a different book. Tweniefirst century people gosh.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While the topic was interesting, and I enjoyed the scope of it, I found the writer far too judgemental and elitist. In fact I had a hard time finishing the book due to the writers voice. She thinks too much of herself and too little of her topic, from the start of each section you can tell that she has already made a judgement, and only thinks to question it in the last paragraph of each section. While I agreed with her on her views of many sections, she should have approached each topic fairly and with an open mind to explore all the aspects. Instead she offers close minded interpretations on a variety of interesting rites and rituals. It's too bad these topics didn't recieve the respect and thouroughness that they deserved.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Vida's book was an in-depth look at our culture and the rites of passage for young women.The most interesting part of the book was Vida's undercover role during sorority rush at UCLA...she proves a point about these groups in a real and fair way. She makes the reader think twice about stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding young women who partake in such rites of passage.