USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘girls’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Softball Apparel Signs and Sexuality

Informant: “In high school playing softball there was this secret code to show if you were lesbian. I know how ridiculous that is now, but if you wore ribbons in your hair, it meant you weren’t. Every girl on the team would put ribbons in their hair because they didn’t want people thinking they were lesbian.”

Context: This collection of folklore was done while the informant was home from Boston. We spoke with the intent to collect this piece of folklore when prompted with what are the sorts of folklore found in softball. The informant played softball for 4 years in high school, but does not play in college currently.

Informant Analysis Transcript:

Collector: “Where did you first learn this, or from who?”

Informant: “I think I first heard about the whole ‘lesbians play softball’ in middle school. My mom would always tell me that. The whole ribbons thing I only heard in high school. I think people on the softball team told me and I just assumed that I might as well join in.”

Collector: “Why do you think this folklore is used in high school softball, or like, your analysis of it?

Informant: “Uhm, I don’t know. I guess in high school you care a lot about what other people think of you, especially if you are female. The idea of someone thinking you are lesbian when you are not if you play softball was just a fear that many girls had. The whole ribbon thing kind of gives a little piece of mind, like, ‘ok! I’m ready to play now, put me in coach’ *laughs*

Collector Analysis: I believe that there is a fear in high school in girls of being perceived wrongly by their classmates. The use of ribbons is integral to the analysis of this folk sign. Ribbons seem closely tied with femininity in American culture, where as most people assume lesbian culture to be more masculine. This is a generalization of course, but the stereotype that cisgendered girls would are more likely to wear ribbons in their hair as apposed to their gay counterparts allows for people to assume the sexual orientation of another without having to ask. Especially at a time in life where many people are still figuring out their sexual identity, the whole topic of gender is painted with strict contrast.

Childhood
Gestures
Humor
Musical
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Children Hand Sign Language about Sexuality

Collector’s Note: This child’s hand sign song has a particular hand motion that comes at the end of the first two sentences. It is followed by two more gestures within the second sentence after the word “this”. It is best to first read the song straight through and later refer to each sentence’s number and timing of hand motion while viewing the corresponding pictures in order.

“Good girls sit like this. (1)

Catholic girls sit like this. (2)

Girls who sit like this, (3)

get this, (4)

like this. (5) *snap* ”

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 3.13.11 PM

Context: This piece was collected at the childhood home of a friend of the collector from both elementary and middle school after speaking about their friendship as children.

Informant Analysis: While in elementary school around the age of 10, she remembers that girls would sing this song with the corresponding hand gestures to each other during recess. She said that it is “weird” to look back on that hand game since it seems to represent the sexual activity of women through stereotypes and body position. She recited the meaning as, “if you are a good girl, you keep your legs closed. If you are a Catholic girl, you really keep your legs closed by crossing them. If you are a bad girl, you sit with your legs apart, which for some reason means you will get d**k quicker? I mean, that is essentially what it says, but it says it politely.”

At the young age of when they preformed the hand game, she said that it was not necessarily considered to be sexual in nature, but more of a fun sign language you could teach other girls. She recalls that she never had seen a boy make the hand gesture and song while in elementary school, as it seemed to be like a secret code/handshake between girls. The informant was uncertain as to who taught her the game, but guessed that it was a friend. She also could not remember if this hand game was ever shared with adults, but believed it was probably not. Even though at the time they did not view the hand game as sexual, they did understand that if adults saw it, they would be punished, and they  “did not want to get in trouble.”

Collector Analysis: Being a participant in this folk gesture/song/game, there were a few key aspects that I had not noticed until interviewing the informant. It is easy to assume that this hand game is a way to teach young girls to suppress their sexuality with, what could be considered, the goal of having fewer teen pregnancies. This would imply that adults with knowledge of the effects of teen pregnancy would have to be the root of this piece. Another viewpoint is that the hand game is a way young girls teach each other about the image one presents to the world and it’s importance in not becoming promiscuous (perhaps an antecedent form of slut-shaming). However, I do not believe these interpretations to be the most nuanced if we take into account that the actual piece never mentions girls sitting with their legs open as being “bad” as the informant said.

We can also note that the hand game was played only between young girls. The explicit nature of the content may have something to do with why this piece is gender segregated. It could be that there may be a level of shame that perhaps young boys do not encounter as harshly with regard to their own sexual activity. However, there must be more to the gender segregated sharing of this piece since the young girls did not fully understand the meaning of the hand game at the time. Therefore, I argue that the gender segregated sharing could not only be the sexual shame that often occurs for women as they hit puberty. What the informant referred to as a secret code or handshake seems more probable a source to create the gender segregation. The hand game gives young girls, upon the sudden awareness of gender in elementary school, a way to form a group or friendship around gender commonality. Thus, the performance of the hand game would be an expression of being in the group by having intimate knowledge of their particular gestures.

Lastly, the game itself explicitly refers to girls while never mentioning the male gender except through a crude phallic symbol. To this extent, it is very much a childish thought to represent men only as their sexual organ while also only referring to it as “this” (perhaps taboo word). The game’s proliferation among girls occur by virtue of the excitement in referring to a taboo subject or word among children.

Contagious
Customs

Carving Initials into Tree Trunks

My informant is a childhood friend, and during a visit home she brought up a grade-school memory of carving initials into tree trunks. I remember doing this with her when we were very young and so I asked her to elaborate on the memory from her point of view.

Me: ” What was it that you carved into the tree trunks and when did you do this?”

KC: “Well, when I was in grade school so like third, fourth or fifth grade I suppose, at recess sometimes the girls, in a group, would get together no more than like three girls I guess, and get either a sharp stick or pen or pencil and pick a tree on the playground. On the tree they would carve their initials and under that, carve a plus sign and under that, they would carve the initials of their crush, so a boy they liked. Sometimes if the girl was really crafty they would carve a heart around those initials. It would supposed to be like, you had a crush on them and you were proving that you liked them or something, or maybe it would make them like you back or maybe like in the future you would date or something. It was all very innocent like super girlie and cute.”

Me: “Who did you learn this from and when?”

KC: “You know, I have absolutely no idea. I just remember doing it, because all the other girls did it and you did it as a group. I don’t remember being taught by like older girls or anything, just doing it and then maybe teaching it to other girls my age and getting a group together. It was kinda like a game I guess, something to do at recess. But, I do remember you could get in trouble for it, like not in trouble for the liking boys thing, but for vandalizing the tree or something like that.”

Analysis:

This is a sort of childhood game or maybe even a version of contagious magic as the little girls wanted their crushes to be reciprocated in the future. This is perhaps an example of gender roles being explored at a young age, as this is young girls in a group exploring naively the future of dating.  Girls are defining themselves as feminine as they perform this ritual of carving initials as they known they are expected to “like” boys in a romantic way some time in the future. They are naive and unaware of what that truly means, but at this age is when they are introduced to the idea of romantic relationships. Thus, this is playing at “liking” boys in the way they encounter in real life. Boys are no longer “icky” at this age and they mix a lot more and as they encounter the world around them and view dating and romantic relationships this is their way of understand it. It may also be a childlike version of contagious magic as usually the girl wants the person whose initials she has just carved to reciprocate the crush.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board”

This folklore was collected from my mother, who told me about a slumber party ritual she would do with her friends when she was younger. So, this would have taken place in the late 1970s, early 1980s.

“At slumber parties with pre-adolescent girls, there were a couple of stories, rituals that were passed on from generation to generation. One was a story that the group of 5-8 girls could lift one of the girls up over their heads by using only their fingertips. In order for this to work, all the girls in the group had to concentrate solely on the task at hand and chant ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ over and over. The girl who was subject to the lifting started off lying flat on her back on the floor. The other girls encircled the subject and puts their hands underneath her, touching only with their fingertips. As the chanting beings, the group attempts to lift the subject up off the floor until she is suspended above the heads of the others. If this was unsuccessful (as it always was), it was due to one or more members of the group lacking proper concentration or belief…. There was always the accompanying story that someone had succeeded before… or someone’s older sister had told the tale of a successful lift”

I had never heard of this sleepover game/ritual before, so it might be specific to the area/time period my mother grew up in. Or, perhaps it became less popular because it never worked. Another slumber party ritual my mother mentioned to me was the “Bloody Mary” chant, which is well-known (I heard about it from other kids when I was younger) so it was interesting that this wasn’t a familiar piece of folklore within my generation.

 

Game
Humor
Kinesthetic

“This is Buggy”

Context: The informant is an 11-year-old resident of Southern California, of Indo-Pakistani descent. She lives with two older siblings, parents, and grandparents and attends a public middle school in the South Bay area. She has close friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and the following narrative sequence is one she learned from one of these friends while she was still in elementary school.

Transcript of video:

“This is Buggy!

Buggy says hi!

Buggy can fly!

Yay for Buggy!

Oops, Buggy died.”

Analysis: The informant says she learned it only a couple years ago and remembered it because she “thought it was cool” and “kind of funny”. The informant relates that she enjoys many types of art, including drawing and painting, and often is in charge of making signs for events among her friend group, like yard sales and party invitations. So the personal appeal to a young artist or craftsperson is obvious.

I think the general appeal here is similar: the fact that with a few simple drawings and letters, an entire story can be told with little effort. The idea that there are just enough fingers on a person’s hand to write “T-H-I-S” on the knuckles, and then fold different fingers to show different words, must be appealing to kids who are just starting to appreciate the difficulties of both language and tactile crafts such as beading, painting, or cursive handwriting. The simple story is also humorous and a common enough occurrence: trying to save a little bug only to find that you unfortunately don’t know your own strength; or simply the humor of seeing something that causes many small children, especially girls, some anxiety–“creepy crawlies”–being put out in such a messy and unceremonious manner helps them cope with those anxieties indirectly while not being called out as a “scaredy cat” or a “sissy”.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Childhood
Customs
Kinesthetic

Alley Murderer

Item:

Informant: “Mhmm the murderer would come back and  jump out and kill the girl if she walked down the alleyway.”

Me: “Wait didn’t the murder occur, like, several decades earlier?”

There is an alleyway that school kids, including the informant, passed by every day coming home from school. The alley was a very convenient shortcut to get home. However, it was told among the kids that years before, a girl walked down the alley and was then murdered. The murderer got away. Now, only boys walk down the alleyway, and all the girls avoid it. They say that if a girl walks down the alleyway, the murderer will jump out and kill her too. So, instead of taking the shortcut, girls would walk about an extra 5 minutes around the large block and meet up on the other side.

 

Context:

The informant recalls this being an occurrence common in early middle school. The murder apparently took place several decades beforehand and the criminal got away. The boys didn’t pay much attention to the story because it was assumed that only girls would be targeted. He said that as they got older, it was talked about less, but the girls still avoided the alley.

 

Analysis:

The concept of a specific place, especially a route, being associated with death or murder is really interesting in this context. Kids at any point in elementary through middle school are beginning to deal with the realities of both death and violent crime. By creating a story (or perhaps propagating a fact) around the alley, they’ve drawn a connection between murder and a specific location and scenario: the alley, a girl, an un-captured murderer. To a certain extent, it’s an example of boys and girls segregating at the early stages of puberty. Perhaps it’s a rare opportunity to have just the boys talking in one place and the girls talking in another for 5 minutes after a day of school. Even more so, it’s almost an empowering way for kids to deal with death. By the girls avoiding the alley, they are effectively cheating what they associate with being killed. And for the boys, it’s almost a courageous act because they are confident they won’t be the victims, so they take the convenient route. It’s also worth noting that for something that happens on a daily basis, 5 minutes extra on a walk is sort of inconvenient. The story was obviously taken seriously enough to convince girls they should take the long way home.

general
Legends
Myths

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary

When my informant was little, she had heard about the legend of Bloody Mary. At her elementary school, one of the girl’s bathrooms was supposedly haunted by the ghost of Bloody Mary and those who were brave enough could go in, turn the lights off and then spin around three times yelling out her name. If they did this correctly they would see Bloody Mary dressed in white in front of them in the mirror.

Bloody Mary is a classic folklore figure amongst youths. I know that I had heard about Bloody Mary when I was in grade school as well and my friends and I would all go into the bathroom together to try to see her. Although the true origins of Bloody Mary are unknown, the story my informant had heard was where a woman named Mary had committed suicide because one of her children was stolen from her. All of the stories involving Mary, however, seem to be associated with children and childbirth, which is possibly why she is “Bloody” Mary. Like we discussed in class, mostly girls knew about this myth, especially since Bloody Mary resided in the girls’ bathroom.

general

Your Boob is Showing aka Somebody’s Thinking of You

An oicotype of the folk belief that “Somebody’s thinking of you” when the clasp and pendant of your necklace touch, the phrase which is usually said/signified by a person who isn’t wearing the necklace.

As told verbatim by informant:

“Yeah, people have that thing where the clasp of your necklace and the pendant touch each other and they say ‘Somebody’s thinking of you.’ ‘Your boob is showing, someone’s thinking of you’—my mom always tells me that. I always think I have a nip-slip or something. (laughing) She says it in front of people too. It’s more like now when I see it I think ‘Who’s thinking of me?’ It’s like ‘Who would’ve done that?’ She def brings it up. She says it to get my attention more I guess. Like when I tell my friends ‘Hey, your boob is showing’ they don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think I tend to say that so that they’ll look down themselves to find out someone’s thinking of them.”

This little dite is a legitimate folk belief to my informant. The forwardness of her mother’s version is humorous to say the least. Of course this belief/dite is something my informant knows to be subjective to girls and from the reference to “boobs” probably has its origin among pubescent girls. Naturally, this is a time when having someone think of you, especially romantically, comes into the forefront of young girl’s minds. In this case though, the sheer fact that my informant’s mother has her special signifying dite always reminds my informant of her. Since she’s picked up saying this dite, she consciously allows the person who’s “being thought of” the simple pleasure of finding out that someone’s thinking of them for themselves. To my informant, it’s a real thing, and even at age 20 she enjoys thinking about who might have her on their mind.

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