Misfit and Misbehaving

by Elouise

It’s the early 1950s. I’m about 11 years old. I’ve just taken my assigned seat in my 6th grade classroom at a private church school. I look around the room and it hits me in the eyes.

All but three girls are wearing matching white skirts with a bold flower pattern around the hem of each skirt. The flower pattern is in five rainbow colors with not one, but two skirts in each color. My two best girlfriends are wearing blue flowered skirts.

Our teacher, clearly caught off guard, says there must have been a fire sale on this particular pattern. The skirts are homemade. Obviously this was a planned event.

I’m mortified. Why didn’t I know about this? My mother is one of the best seamstresses around, and could have whipped one up for me. I try to make it OK in my mind. Especially since only three girls in the class aren’t wearing the uniform. The other two are the least popular girls in the class. Surely there was a mistake.

My two best girlfriends try to make it OK. I wasn’t left out because they didn’t like me. It was because the club had decided there could only be pairs, and I was the odd girl out. Besides, I was at least a year younger than they.

Which wasn’t the full story. Along with the other two misfits, I was a scholarship student. My parents couldn’t afford to pay tuition. It didn’t matter that I was bright, intelligent, interesting, faithful, truthful or any of that.

Things got worse during recess. The club had designated certain parts of the public park (a lovely downtown square in Savannah, Georgia) as their special places. They had rules about who could play with whom during the first part of recess, and where they would meet for regular club meetings during recess.

The following day was a ‘regular’ day which meant the club didn’t wear skirt uniforms to class. My friends talked the club into letting me join as a substitute club member. I would have to have a blue-flowered skirt. However, I could take part in activities in the park only if one of my two friends was absent that day. And I would have to vote the way my friend would have voted. That way the voting wouldn’t be off-balance.

Long story short: My mother agreed to make a skirt, but couldn’t find the same flower pattern. I wore my painfully obvious substitute skirt once or twice before the club disbanded.

In the end, this episode wasn’t about how smart, friendly or truthful I was. It was about white money and white family history. Which is to say the white Protestant pecking order and the subservient pedigree of white hens.

What I now understand:

  • It’s important to divide white women from each other as early as possible.
  • This will serve the goals of white male supremacy.
  • The tactics of divide and conquer are cheap, easy and effective in almost any setting.

Tomorrow is the beginning of Women’s History Month. I wonder how willing I am to refuse being divided in order to change history?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 February 2018
1950s young teen fashion images found at pinterest.com