Tag Archives: girls

Making and wearing “mums”: Texan high schoolers’ expression of school spirit

Text:

AC: “In Texas, there’s this tradition where, it usually happens around Prom or Homecoming or a major dance, and it’s usually a thing with girls who get together and they make this “mum.” It’s kind of similar to a corsage except it’s like a giant ribbon, and you can put anything on it. Like a tiny sequin to a giant teddy bear or stuffed animal. It’s usually made with the colors of the school and has letters and motifs and stuff like that. People go really crazy for it. You can make it for yourself, but sometimes you can make it for your friends and give it to them the day of the game or something like that.”

Context:

The informant is a 20-year-old college student from Texas. AC said that the tradition of making and wearing mums was very popular among mostly girls at her high school and around Texas in general. She described the process of making mums as an ornate crafting project which girls would often do in groups for fun. Because their creation from scratch is so time consuming, some people also buy their mums. AC said that many girls made their own mums, but some girls made them for their friends as a platonic gesture of friendship. Most girls pinned them to their clothes, but if the mum was particularly big or if a girl received multiple, some people would pin them to their backpacks or just carry them around. She said that it is traditional for girls to carry their mums around with them all day on the days of big sports matches or school dances, and interprets them as an expression of school spirit.

Analysis:

I think that the tradition of making and wearing mums is a way to show school spirit, like wearing school colors or making posters cheering on athletes at sports games. For some people, the amount of care which goes into the creation of these items shows that they take pride in their school and see it as part of who they are. The accessories are a vehicle for expressing one’s taste and personality, where the items people choose to decorate them speak to the person’s identity. People can use symbols to signify their belonging to groups such as sports teams, but also to convey things such as their religious beliefs (with symbols like the cross), or to show their social status. Merely wearing one shows a sense of connectedness with the community, both with individual’s peers and with the previous generations who attended the school and partook in the tradition. I imagine that some people participate just to be a part of the social ritual and fit in. Wearing a mum can identify someone as a member of the in-group, whereas not wearing one can indicate that a person is in the out-group. Regardless of people’s motivations for participating, wearing and making a mum identifies individuals as members of a group, creating a common experience and tradition which people from a certain school, or Texans generally, can bond over.

It’s interesting that girls make mums for one another as expressions of platonic endearments. I think that this kind of homosocial celebration is rare in co-ed schools, where often extravagant practices like “promposals” can demonstrate a culture of heteronormativity. I imagine that the practice of giving a friend a mum is normalized because it is traditional. Still, social tension could erupt from this practice. I would expect that girls compete over whose mum is the best. Moreover, it can reinforce or reflect social hierarchies, since a girl receiving many mums indicates her popularity.

Campfire song: ‘A Boy took a Girl in a Little Canoe’

Text:

NP: “We sang this song at campfires once a week. It was a traditional thing that they would do every week since the camp started in 1924. And the whole thing is that we would sing the same songs every year that the girls had always sang.”

The song:

Well, a boy took a girl in a little canoe with the moon shining all around

And as he applied his paddle

You couldn’t even hear a sound

So, they talked, and they talked till the moon grew dim

He said you better kiss me or get out and swim

So, whatcha gonna do in a little canoe with the moon shining all around?

Well, a boy took a girl in a little canoe with the moon shining all around

And as he applied his paddle

You couldn’t even hear a sound

So they talked, and they talked till the moon grew dim

He said you better kiss me or get out and swim

So, whatcha gonna do in a little canoe with the moon shining all a—

Boys paddling all a—

Girls swimming all around?

Get out and swim!

Context:

The informant is my sister. She is a 22-year-old college student from New York City who attended a girls’ summer camp in Kent, Connecticut from ages 12 to 15. Though she thinks this song sends an archaic message, promoting gender stereotypes and heteronormativity, she remembers singing the song fondly. NP remembers feeling a sense of safety during these weekly congregations at the campfire, which fostered a sense of connection between her and the other girls.

Analysis:

I think that this song sends a simplistically feminist message. While one could interpret it as empowering or as an espousal of female courage and independence, since the girl in the story refuses to kiss the boy despite the unpleasant and possibly dangerous action she must take to avoid doing so, it also conveys sexist, heteronormative ideals. The song promotes gender stereotypes and, whether intentionally or not, problematic ideas about the value of female chastity. 

         Still, the song feeds into the atmosphere conjured by the campfire tradition, which can be seen as a celebration of girlhood and female community. I think that this environment is intended to make girls feel supported, empowered, and safe. With this weekly tradition, girls are free from the pressures of the male gaze and experience a sense of connection with the other campers as their voices blend. Moreover, the fact that these songs and the tradition of congregating at the campfire have such a long history connects current campers with previous generations of girls who attended the camp.

Friendship Bracelets as Folk Art

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (AT). 

AT: When I think friendship bracelets, I think of taking strands of embroidery floss, and you knot or braid them in these different patterns, and then when they’re like fully woven, you give them to your friends. The whole idea is you and your friends either make matching ones and swap them, or you can make different ones for each other. Part of the fun in that is picking the colors or patterns you think they’d like. 

LT: But either way you have to make them, and they have to be for the other person, right? 

AT: Yeah, you’re not supposed to make them for yourself… I mean maybe you can? Everyone I know always made them for other people… and honestly I’m sure you can buy them off Etsy or something, but the whole fun in it is the actual process of making them. 

Background:

AT is a 23-year-old female from Los Angeles. She first learned how to make friendship bracelets at a summer camp when she was six years old. Her favorite thing about making friendship bracelets growing up was exchanging them: “I loved how excited my friends would get when I gave them theirs, and I’d always feel really special when they’d give me mine… it was a way we could physically prove to each other that we liked each other I guess.” 

Context: 

AT is one of my relatives with whom I’m quarantining. This piece was collected in our living room as we were sitting on the couch. 

Thoughts:

American female friendships are often depicted in the media as being “catty” or fake, but I think that friendship bracelets show how pure they can be in real life. Having gone to an all girls high school, some of my strongest, most loyal relationships are the ones I have with my female friends. In the context of friendship bracelets, girls take it upon themselves at such a young age to learn special patterns and spend time making them for their friends. I still cherish having that experience with mine. When we all wore the same friendship bracelets, it felt like we were all wearing the same jersey, and we were on the same team. These bracelets are generally made by little girls who might not be eloquent enough to express their emotions accurately, and friendship bracelets are a beautiful way to nonverbally show your friends how much you care, knowing that they’ll understand and likely reciprocate. 

Lemonade, Crunchy Ice

Main Piece:

The informant recited a rhyme that she remembered from elementary school. 

“Lemonade (clap, clap, clap)

Crunchy ice (clap, clap, clap)

Sip it once (clap, clap, clap)

Sip it twice (clap, clap, clap)

Lemonade, crunchy ice, sip it, once sip it twice

Turn around, touch the ground

Freeze”

The informant explained after one girl said freeze you lost by being the first person to move, so the girls would stay frozen for as long as they could.

Background:

The informant explained that there were many rhymes that she and her classmates would turn into games. Having these rhymes memorized was seen as being really cool or made you more popular, according to the informant. This occurred at a public, co-ed elementary school in a suburb of the midwestern United States.

Context:

This game would be played between two girls. The informant explained they would normally play when they were waiting in line between classes or after recess to pass the time.

Thoughts:

Rhyming games like this one exist in many iterations all over globe but the emphasis on lemonade and ice in this rhyme seems particularly American. It also evolves into a competition by the end to make the game carry on beyond the words. School girls can use these rhymes to develop friendships and bond with one another. It creates a small community of girls that can all join in on something similar and play with one another in an organized fashion. This form of folklore holds significance in childhood and also evokes nostalgia for adults. The informant explaining this to me was an adult but recalled this rhyme with ease.


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.