Sisterhood is powerful — unless it is accompanied by back-stabbing rivalry and hazing. I am learning, having lived down South for some months now, that sororities have an enduring influence — often discouraging free thought and encouraging with every turn more and more group think.
Perhaps living in a house with other young women, wearing the same haircut, attending numerous mixers with group-think boys in order to “snag” one, and engaging in the occasional community service as a substitute for real political engagement sounds more appealing than the bohemian and often solitary intellectual and artistic pursuits in which I have engaged ever since I saw the B-52s perform on Saturday Night Live and started dressing (back then, not now) New Wave and spiking my hair up (again, now I wear my hair unspiked). I was never cut out for sorority life of any kind, at least until now.
One of the advantages of sorority life is an instant and institutionalized circle of friends. I am a stranger here, and I find myself alone too much of the time. When I have managed to snag an invitation somewhere, I feel like a pledge about to be blackballed. My haircut is just not standard issue, and neither is the worldview under it. I have been thusfar utterly NOKD — Not our kind, dear.
This all changed when I went to the Mississippi Writers Guild conference and met my Dixie Doppelganger — Lauretta Hannon. There I met a sister of a sorority I would LOVE to join — the one that has been occupied by women like Politico Molly Ivins, Comedienne Brett Butler, and the shockingly frank and original girl gone wild Rosemary Daniell — that of incredibly funny and iconoclastic Southern women. Let me call them the Ha-Ha sisterhood. No, because it’s a form of political subversion, not just empty laughter, the sharp collection of words these women have written, let me call them the Southern sorority of Sassy Omega.
We Northerners, Lauretta discussed in brief during her lecture at the conference, have the misconception that women down here are either manipulative and archly feminine a la Scarlett O’Hara or Super-cheerleader Republican Femmebots. In fact, there is another breed of woman down here who dances between the expectations of ladylike behavior and subversive liberation. They are funny in ways that men down here find a bit intimidating, unless they themselves are really, really cool. They are sexually and politically demanding. They are not generally mean. They are, however, stubborn.
The Southern sorority of Sassy Omega would appreciate my manicure and bodacious blondeur. However, they would love it more that I’m funny and naughty and smart. I am pledging this Sorority. I am willing to be hazed if necessary. Please, oh sisters, please, invite me to the next tea dance!
Lauretta is about my age, spent time in Europe, as I did, and she, too, coped with her family’s dysfunction with bad 1980s hair dos. Later, like I did, she became a writer, publishing and promoting the bejeezus out of an autobiographical book of humor and pathos entitled The Cracker Queen. Lauretta is wickedly funny — called by one magazine “the funniest woman in Georgia.” While I’m beginning to believe that being the funniest woman in Georgia, given the general lack of irony present at most Greek Life functions, may be easier than being the funniest woman in Brooklyn, where unladylike funniness is generally encouraged, I nonetheless see this as quite an accomplishment.
Here’s a photo or two of her from back then, and I think she looks marvelous.
Okay, the hair is NOT spiky, but today, she has short, stylishly feathered hair that COULD be spiked, and today, my hair looks enough like her hair in Amsterdam, that — well — it sort of fits the matching haircut paradigm for sorority conformity, despite the time warp.
What is definitely in conformity is the sense of humor. She is, as some would say up North, a pissah. She’s not a little bit funny — she’s hugely so. She made me laugh so hard I almost fell off my chair. I apparently have made her laugh, too.
I tried to scan in my photo just now of my bad hair days from Paris, not spiky so much as bright red and frizzy, with my white leather bomber jacket and my absurd combat boots, but my scanner is not cooperating. Just take it from me — I am also stocked up on silly photos from the same continent and era.
Lauretta looks like this now:
If she looks hilarious, well, she is. She tells her stories about her completely redneck and utterly provincial childhood in small-town Georgia in such a way that she makes the poignant absolutely side-splititngly comic.
Her stories, in the oral tradition of the Southern tall tale, are at least as much about the spoken word as about the page, but that said, run, don’t walk to your local independent bookseller and buy at least twelve copies of The Cracker Queen (2010, Gotham). Make my sorority sister rich so she’ll let me wear identical dresses with her at the cotillion — and then we can take our husbands, doubtless both brothers from the fraternity of Messy Mu Delta, out on the dance floor and give each other the thumbs-up and the okay sign over their shoulders during the foxtrot.
Lauretta and I laughed a lot at the conference at each other’s comments, and she impressed me to no end when she told me she was having lunch at a snooty tea salon with Rosemary Daniell before the end of the month, that they intended to “defile the temple” of Southern smug womanhood that this institution constituted with its cucumber sandwiches and sweet tea.
I have asked her for absurdly precise details about the lunch. She has, much to my great honor, promised to include me in the conversation — at this point, possibly given this blog entry, preceded by the comment, “I have this odd Yankee stalking me,” but I’m hopeful they may just let me decorate the float with them this year for homecoming. I can crumple tissue paper with the best of them.
I am pledging. I am baking cookies. I am hoping they will let me clean their peau de soie heels with my toothbrush, then give me a Sassy Omega pin in a ceremony involving a rubber chicken and some Jack Daniels.
I am ready, girls. I am desperately ready.