SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Margaret Shalley
On The Outside, Looking In

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of timesÖit was August of 1976, the bicentennial year and the last few months of the Gerald Ford administration.  It was the dawning of the age of disco, and the requisite platform shoes, super shiny lip gloss, apricot eye shadow and ìBabeî perfume by Fabergeí.  The U.S. was just starting to come out of the energy crunch and subsequent recession of the early ë70ís, a period in which the ìhavesî fared much better than the ìhave nots.î

 While weíre on the borderland of economic class, letís think about the places where it was easy to hide oneís status:  a convent, a nudist colony, a monastery, or a private school.  The common denominator among all of them is mode of dress, which in all of these places would pretty much be homogenous.  Letís take a look at the last option, where students wear uniforms in order to make it harder to determine economic status.   This worked to some extent as a disguise, except on those occasions where the dress code was lifted, and then it was obvious to see who came from a family of ìhavesî and who came from a family of ìhave nots.î

 Hereís a story of such an occasion that occurred in this time period of the mid-70ís, to someone you may recognize or maybe you know someone like her.  First, letís set the stage -- imagine a Catholic high school on picture day, chattering voices of students echoing down long hallways.  Everybodyís decked out in their Sunday best, excited at being released from the regulation uniform for one day.

Down the hall walks the protagonist of our story, a freshman girl who came from a lower-economic class family.  Weíll call her ìJaneî (as in Plain).  Jane is walking up a set of stairs to her next class, with the magnified sounds of the other students echoing up the rather dim stairwell behind her.  Sheís not wearing any makeup and her hair is not styled.  Sheís wearing white dress shoes with the chunky heels she wore just a few months prior to her eighth grade graduation, cleaned and polished so they looked almost brand new.  The shoes match the white two-piece dress with a tiny floral pattern and mandarin collar and cap sleeves Jane borrowed from a neighbor because her family did not have money for new clothes.  Sheís trying hard to blend in and be inconspicuous, hoping no one notices that sheís not wearing the latest ìinî styles.

 No such luck, because for every girl of modest means who feels like she doesnít fit in, thereís the stereotypical  (and usually insecure) ìrich bitch,î who feels it is her duty to ostracize those who she considers to be ìoutsiders.î Enter our antagonist, ìTiffany,î whoís pretty, popular, impeccably made up, wearing a pair of those platform shoes that were all the rage, and who could also be considered a ìPrincess.î  Tiffany is walking down the hall with her clique of other popular and pretty girls when she notices Jane walking up the stairs, someone whom she recognized from grade school, and who was a ìdudî even back then.  Trying to impress her new friends, Tiffany started ragging on what Jane was wearing and made making catty comments about it.

 Unfortunately, Tiffany, with the astuteness that only comes from being extremely fashion-conscious, realized Janeís shoes were not fashionably ìin.î Not only were they not ìin,î they were also the same ones she had worn to their grade school
 graduation!  So, to score points with her clique as well as to stroke her own insecurity, Tiffany exclaimed, quite scandalously, ìJane, are those your eighth grade graduation shoes?î  And everyone in her clingy, bitchy and equally affluent clique, as well as other students in the hallway laughed, their laughter echoing loudly up the stairwell.  Tiffany knew it was a very mean thing to do but it made her look cool to her friends, and the enjoyment they received from witnessing the horrified look on Janeís face was worth it.  Our antagonist had scored a point for the economic upper class, at Janeís expense.

 Jane felt mortified at the remark, especially since it was intentionally said loud enough for everyone else to hear it.  She just wanted to crawl somewhere and die of embarrassment and shame in her ìoldî pair of shoes.  Girls as a rule can be so mean to each other (especially in high school), and Tiffany sent a major blow to Janeís self-esteem.  Although similar instances had occurred during Janeís Catholic grade school years to make her realize she was different, a remark like that coming from someone such as Tiffany, in front of their peers, just drove it all home.  This time, it was those little white shoes that were the catalysts for this incident that made Jane painfully aware that she was ìdifferentî and that would also turn out to be a  ìbadgeî of her economic status.

 What makes this story interesting and especially cruel is that Tiffany, though from a more affluent family, is Hispanic just like Jane.  So, apparently, the borderland of class crosses and transcends even the borderland of race.  In any case, the above-mentioned story is an example of amusement at someone elseís humiliation due to their economic status.

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