“She was only the Dean of Men’s Daughter,
With an IQ of twenty-three,
But the things that we college boys taught her
Could’ve earned her some sort of degree.”
Where’d you get that song?
University of Maryland!
So you learned that in college.
Who’d you learn it from?
I don’t know, some college boys. Some graduate student. In engineering.
This is a folksong that most kids at the University of Maryland presumably learn, from other, older students. It suggests school pride in being raunchy and sexually active, and there’s also a clear dynamic of gender roles embedded in the joke. The girl is either naive or provocative, but it’s the boys that show her the ropes and supposedly “corrupt” her. She is also obviously dumb, if she has such a low IQ. The fact that she’s the Dean’s daughter makes her a catch, because she’s highly unattainable and in a sense, off-limits, as well as perhaps easily corruptible because of her ‘stupidity’. Or maybe she’s dumb but attractive, so the boys don’t care. The fact that she’s the dean’s daughter makes her low intelligence funny. So this suggests the boys at U of Maryland can get away with things, and can persuade or manipulate even the most unattainable girls. They can have their fun and still stay out of trouble with the administration.
Well Dan and Mary Smith told me that. He said “What’s the tenth girl?” And I said “I don’t know, what’s the tenth girl?” And he said “Nine out of ten girls are pretty, and the tenth one goes to Michigan.” I guess the girls in Michigan are pretty plain! But, Michigan was a hard school to get into, and you had to be very smart, so it was probably very smart girls but very plain. They told me that in ’76. When we were working at USC together. David’s wife went to Michigan!
(The names above have been changed for confidentiality purposes). This joke has two dynamics to it – a gender differentiation, or a commentary on girls made by boys, as well as a school rivalry component. The informant and his friend who told the joke to him both worked at the University of Southern California, and had a lot of pride and spirit for the school. The friend’s wife went to Michigan – which adds yet another level of humor to the joke, because the joke was told presumably by her as well. At the very least she seems to have been present whenever Dan told the joke. While this is a jab at her appearance (although it could be untrue or unwarranted) it is clearly in a spirit of fun, and relies on stereotyping and blason populaire to make its point and be humorous. The two men clearly respect Mary, and her husband probably finds her attractive, so it seems this joke is told (at least by these specific two men) in a spirit of school rivalry more than anything else. Especially because USC has a reputation or stereotype of attracting a very attractive, but perhaps not as intelligent, female student population.
“So the Buns Up Game is a game that I played in middle school and they’re still playing it at my school. And so the object of the game is to never get your buns hit with the tennis ball, and so the game is played against a wall and someone throws the tennis ball at the wall and the other person has to catch it with one hand. And it can bounce once or not at all. If you miss it with one hand, then the person who threw it can then grab the ball and you have to run to the wall and touch the wall with your hands before the person grabs the ball and chucks it at your butt. And that’s why it’s called Buns Up.”
The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up that she has observed taking place among her students now. She learned this game, “in . . . Lubbock, Texas. I learned to play it outside because we had a lot of cement and a blank wall. Mostly the boys played it, but some of the girls that were more courageous would play it also. At my school right now there’s a blacktop and it’s mostly the first graders that are playing it, instead of like the middle schoolers that used to play it.”
When I asked her why thinks people play this game, she said, “Well, because it’s a skill to be able to catch, eye-hand coordination with one hand, the ball that’s about the size of a baseball or a tennis ball. Plus it’s fun to throw the ball at people if they, and it, well it makes people feel bad if they, I mean it makes people feel good if they have more skill than the other player. Plus it’s reflexes and yeah, you get to actually take mean action on people, I guess.” When I asked her what she thinks this game means, it became clear that the informant did not think much of this game. She said, “I think it means that it’s an easy game to play with a ball and a wall. Like, you don’t have . . . I mean, it takes very little equipment and only two people and, with a city, if you don’t have a field or grass it’s a game you can play in the street.”
I tend to agree with the informant that the main reason this game is played is that it requires little explanation and little equipment to play. It is easy to start and stop, can be played in many different locations, and is challenging enough to be entertaining. I there’s a little more to the meaning behind the game though, based solely on its name. Because this game is generally played by middle school kids, it seems like there is something to the fact that part of the game is throwing a ball at another person’s butt. At this age, this action might seem particularly taboo. It is also interesting, then, that Buns Up is somewhat gendered, with only a few girls taking part, and that my mother was one of these girls. This game provides an outlet for children to be silly and active, while subtly crossing established social boundaries.
About the Interviewed: Davey is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in English and LGBT Studies. His ethnic background hails from Spain. At the time of this interview, he was currently on leave at his home in Southern California. He is biologically male, but he identifies as gender-queer. Nonetheless, he prefers male pronouns. He is 20 years old.
My friend Davey moonlights as a Drag Performer. I asked if he could define what drag is.
Davey: “Well, everything is drag, that’s what RuPaul [drag icon] says. To most people, it’s just dudes dressing up as girls, which is like, kind-of what it is, but not really. It’s a statement on gender, it’s a statement on performing. People come to drag shows dressed as men, people come as women, people come as whatever the hell they want, that’s what drag is. It’s an illusory gender performance. Men and women both dress as things you can’t describe. Men become Queens, Women become Kings, some become things that you can’t describe.”
I asked him if he could describe what a performance is like.
Davey: “That depends on the queen. When I go out there, I lipsync to songs by Rihanna, Beyonce – I like to be fierce. Most queens lipsync, some don’t. Some actually sing live, if their voice is pretty enough. Those are the fishy queens.”
I asked Davey what “Fishy” means.
Davey: (laughs) “Oh lordy! It means vagina. The more fishy you are, the more you look like a real woman in dress and make-up. Some queens try really hard to be fishy. I don’t have the make-up, or the skills. Yet.”
We then talked about Davey’s personal experiences as a drag queen.
Davey: “Well for starters, I’ve never performed at one of the [drag] clubs. You have to be pretty much be top shit to get in these days. I’ve just done it for parties and things. Just for fun.”
I asked him if the pursuit of “fishiness” was about emulating a standard of beauty.
Davey: “Yeah, I mean, everybody wants to be a supermodel, but I just wanna have fun. I think that as a drag performer, we’re attracted to these images of grandeur and beauty, and some respond by mocking it and others try to become it. It all depends on how you interpret it. It’s art. It’s meant to be that way.”
Drag is a performance that plays with the notion of Gender in Western Society. Performances take the form of wild cabaret shows, that showcase vibrant individuals who dress in ways that denounce typical gender norms. Drag can either be a form of Male to Female impersonation, or it can be something crazy and hard to pinpoint. Davey defines drag as a visual art.
As an artist myself, I resonated with Davey’s final statement on gender performance – that art is meant to be multi-faceted. Even within cultures, the meaning of certain performances or pieces of folklore are heavily debated. Ultimately, it’s up to the audience to pick and choose which elements resonate the strongest within themselves.
Informant: “This is how you do it. Take a pin, needle, or wedding ring and attach it to a thread. Then you hold the dangling item over mom to be’s belly while she is lying down. If the needle or wedding ring swings in a circular motion, you will be having a girl. If it moves in a to and fro motion like a pendulum, you will be having a boy.”
Me: “Did you try it?”
Informant: “I did and it worked for me! But it’s just an old wives tale.”
Analysis: This is a very common thing to do when one is eager to know the gender of one’s baby. It was thought to originate in Italy, except instead of a wedding ring, they used needles on threads. Due to female roles back in time, needles and threads were more common in an expecting woman’s life than nowadays. Using the wedding ring as opposed to the thread was thought to originate in Ireland.
Pregnancy is one of those exciting events, and the gender prediction always arouses the curiosity of others. There are several “old wives tales” on predicting the gender of a baby, however some of them contradict each other. According to testimonials online, people will often end up with an even split of results -50% of the tests will predict a boy, and 50% will predict a girl. This suggests that there is little truth or evidence to support the effectiveness of the tests, which may be why the informant was skeptical to believe in it despite the fact that it worked for her.
If you see the reflection of a rainbow on the ground and cross over it, you would turn into the opposite gender.
My informant told me about this superstition when we were talking about the weird quirks that our mothers had. She told me that when she was a child, her mother had told her about this superstition. Hearing this, she would always avoid stepping over reflections of rainbows because she did not want to turn into a boy. When I asked her was her interpretation of this superstition, she told me that she thinks it derived from the belief that rainbows have magical qualities.
I do agree with my informant that this superstition has an association with the belief that rainbows are magical. However, at the same time, I definitely think there is a connection between this superstition and homosexuality. Currently, rainbows are commonly associated with the gay rights movement. This superstition seems to reflect a fear of becoming a member of the opposite sex and gaining the traits that are associated with the opposite gender. With this interpretation in mind, it is easy to see why the LGBT community has chosen the rainbow as a symbol to demonstrate their non-fear of crossing gender roles and stereotypes.
Yeah, I don’t remember like all the things she talked about but, just the one point I remember was how she redefined the behavior and the egg – conception. Because we’re always taught in school that like – the common knowledge or whatever is that the egg is passively waiting, doing nothing and the sperm like actively compete to enter the egg. I mean, it follows gender stereotypes of women being passive and men being active and men competing to get the girl or whatever, you know. It’s stupid. So she redefined it that by saying that actually the egg opens, which is an action. The egg opens for the sperm it wants to contribute it genes. (laughs) Well, I think that’s pretty cool. And the she used that as like an analogy for our relationships and choice in relationships. It makes it really clear, that story among many, how well-ingrained those beliefs about what women are like and what men are like. It’s so unconscious. Everyone’s just like, ‘oh yeah, well the sperm compete to enter the egg. I mean, everyone knows that.’ People don’t even think about how that’s conforming to gender stereotypes. And also, people think that the idea that sperm are competing to enter the egg – people think of that as biological fact. It’s like accepted as science. Which makes it unequivocal. Whereas actually, it’s an interpretation and it’s a gendered interpretation. She was drawing our attention to that. I learned this at a full moon ritual put on by Mujeres de Maize in Los Angeles.
My informant is pretty explanatory on the significance of this conception story. I found it particularly meaningful because it does challenge what we are typically taught about the most quintessence examples of how biological femaleness and maleness interact. This retelling dismisses the concept of women naturally being submissive or being supposed to act submissive. It’s surprising how concepts like that become so ingrained within us without us even being consciously aware of them, which was why I, and other women as well, found the story so eye-opening and empowering at the same time.
Debbie Cook and Linda Richter
March 11, 2012
Folklore Type: Folk Belief
Informant Bio: Debbie is my cousin and Linda is her mother and my aunt. Debbie grew up in Kingwood her whole life. She was a teacher for elementary and middle school, but will soon be a stay at home mom. Linda was a stay at home mom. They both are incredibly sarcastic and humorous. Debbie just had a baby.
Context: I had flown home for Spring Break the evening before we drove almost an hour to my Aunt Linda and Uncle Frank’s to see Carey, Debbie, and their new baby Ashley. As Ashley was amusing herself with some suspended toys, I asked Debbie what some of the things she got told when she was pregnant were.
D: Everybody at work; older women, in the elevator, strangers, would tell us all this stupid stuff. They said she was going to be a girl cause I was craving sweets instead of the savory. Girls ride high; boys ride low. There’s supposedly a test with a ring and a string and if it turns a certain way it determines the sex.
A. L: Women lose a part of their brain for every child they have.
Informant Analysis: They both saw the different beliefs as kind of stupid and untrue. People were just trying to be a part of what was going on.
Analysis: I think the part about people trying to be a part of Debbie’s pregnancy and interacting is probably true. The things that were said had a lot to do with figuring out the sex of the baby, and women losing their sanity while pregnant. Pregnancy is really hard. Debbie was especially sick. I think women like having the connection of giving birth with each other, and talking about those sayings or those experiences is a way to welcome a new member to the crazy mommy club.
Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California
ANTH 333m Spring 2012
After my younger sister and I were born, my mother wanted to know how tall we were going to be as adults. My family is rather short so she was worried that we would have the same fate and not be very tall. Her cousin was supposedly able to predict the adult height of a child. All he needed to know was their length at a particular age, which was 5 months for girls and 8 months for boys. My mother gave him all the information that he needed. From his predictions he concluded that I was to be five foot three inches as and adult, and my sister was going to be five foot one inch as an adult. These estimates were extremely accurate. I am now five foot three and one half inches tall at age 18. My sister is only fifteen and she is five feet. She will most likely grow that extra inch that he predicted.
Not only did my moms cousin have these beliefs and make these types of predictions about children after they were born, but also during the prenatal stages. He predicted that my mother was going to have a girl both times she was pregnant. When my mother was pregnant, according to her cousin she was caring the baby weight in the front, verses in the legs, hips, and bottom. If the mother is carrying the baby weight in the front is means that she will have baby girls. Conversely, if the mother has gained her baby weight in the legs, hips, and bottom, she will have a baby boy.
We will never know if my mothers cousins tricks and beliefs in knowing the adult height of a baby, and the gender of the fetus really work or if it was just a lucky guess. However, my mom will swear by his words till this day.