The debutante tradition originated during the seventeenth century in order to recognize the coming of age amongst the wealthy. Young women were presented to the European court. The tradition has become a part of affluent Southern American culture (Knudsen 1968). While it may seem to be a harmless celebration to some, the practice is rooted in a sense of opulence, social superiority and inequality.
I personally am contemplating the decision to participate in the debutante tradition. After all, the ball is a fun celebration amongst family and friends. However, as I look at the process objectively I recognize the culture of privilege and the elitism it perpetuates. I am from Charlotte, North Carolina, a city rich in social tradition where social status matters amongst the Lulu Lemon-wearing, yoga-going, gossiping moms. Women network with other women to be asked to join one of the two debutante clubs to prove their social worth. Memberships in churches, country clubs, supper clubs, as well as the private schools one’s children attend (or an occasional reputable public school), distinguish the separate social circles of each of the two clubs. Girls are ‘put up’ [i] in a debutante club automatically if their mother, or grandmother is a member. Although the members of the club are anonymous to the outsider, on the day the debutante class ‘comes out,’ [ii] the participants’ names are listed in the newspaper. The affluent class is therefore presented to the whole city. Continue reading ““Coming Out” Among Southern Elite”