Racism, classism, and sexism: Wrapped up with a stark white bow

I am writing about this here for two reasons.

1) I feel the need to rant about this properly.

2) While I do not care in the least if I offend anyone who reads this with any regularity, I do care if I offend family, simply because I must live and interact with them on a regular basis and don’t want to hear about it. I feel pretty safe here as no one I know actually reads this thing anyway.

Anyway, back to the point…Cotillions. Yes, cotillions. I discovered today that this antiquated process still takes place. From the limited research into these events I have established that this occurs predominately in the South and most often in places that seem to readily embrace Southern traditions gone by the way side in every other area of the world. Much like Ale81 and Moonpies.

This is what I have managed to glean from the “National League of Junior Cotillions” website (yes, there really is such a thing), this seems to be a sort of schooling in etiquette. While no longer touted as the mating ground it once was, cotillion culture does appear to maintain many of its roots. When I say this, it is (despite the fact you can not actually hear it as this is in print) with dripping sarcasm.


This “ism” is quite clear by simply beholding the photos on the afore-mentioned website. While examining each and every photo provided I took note of a glaring omission. Namely, color. Among the photos I noted only two with persons of color. One was a very young African-American child amongst a parade of small caucasian ones. I also will point out that I use the word caucasian with some measure of drippy tone as well. The reason is that, if my guess is correct, they are less caucasian and more Anglophile. Rather creepy, really. The second picture was one of a mayor who was signing some sort of proclamation. He and some of his staff were African-American. None of the children, mind you. Only those who worked for the city in question.


In addition to the issues of race, are those of class. Again, while I can not readily prove this, the impression of the website is that these are predominately upper middle class people who feel the need to display their wealth (or at least their illusion there of). I sincerely do not get this. As if the cars they drive, clothing they wear, neighborhoods in which they reside, and general attitudes do not display this enough, they must also join an elite group (outside of the country club) which accentuates this even further. How often do we see this anywhere else? I know that I do love walking around, proudly wearing my Goodwill labels and often brag about my lack of funds and need to “rob Peter to pay Paul” as the saying goes. As an aside, I must add, Peter is getting pretty pissed off at this whole arrangement.


As is true to the style of the upper middle class old South, the young women in these photos looked starved but adequately glimmering in their virgin white attire. The women/girls only, that is. Not to say that there are no young men in these photos, only that they are attired in fabulous black suits and tuxes, so as to set off their Manly state of wealth (women, you see are sex objects, while men are success objects). So, I point out that this sexism is not one-sided. Girls must be “meek” (it actually says that on the website) and boys must present their wealth adequately through their attire and manners.

All this can be yours! Well, as long as you happen to be an upper class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, that is.

9 Responses to “Racism, classism, and sexism: Wrapped up with a stark white bow”

  1. 1 Libba
    June 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Right on! I saw a feed on Facebook of someone’s daughter having a cotillion. My first that was WTF? This was, indeed, where the southern traditions are still embraced (Louisville, KY). I’m so glad to be away from that. Thanks for calling it out for what it is.

  2. October 10, 2011 at 1:26 am

    And this is any skin off your ass how?

    Who cares if rich white people want to do cotillions? Doesn’t bother me how other people spend their money.

    • October 10, 2011 at 3:40 am

      Part of the reason this bothers me is the basis behind it (as mentioned above). The history involves the parading around of girls like cattle to be snapped up by the highest bidder. It’s disgusting. Secondly, the distinct lack of diversity is disturbing. Can someone choose to surround themselves with homogeneity? Of course, but I would never recommend it. Last but not least, this is my blog and what skins my ass is what I write about.

      Thank you for taking the time to visit, read, and leave comment. Come back anytime.

  3. October 10, 2011 at 4:28 am

    “Last but not least, this is my blog and what skins my ass is what I write about.”

    Valid point, my friend.

    And here I must apologize…back over on my blog you refrained from profanity because you were not sure what level was allowed. And awkward little me just went ahead and cursed on yours. I promise I was reaised better, even though I don’t act it sometimes.

    Thanks for the nice welcome. : )

  4. October 12, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Don’t know why, but you motivated me to think about this for a long time. Maybe because cotillions don’t bother me nearly as much as they do you. Don’t get me wrong. Like you, I dislike ostentatious displays of wealth. Also, I appreciate that you recognize that both young men and women seem to be objectified by these events. Seems very fair-minded of you. Still, I think where I disapprove of your disapproval is in the interpretation of the whole event. Even I tend to characterize cotillions as a “display of wealth.” But I think I may be gravely mistaken by that. When I visit the Met Museum of Art in NYC, do I first see it as a display of wealth? No, but I could. It took great wealth to build and maintain, but wealth is not the purpose of the Met. The purpose is the celebration of beauty, specifically of art. Some people I know are scandalized by what they see as ostentatious wealth when they view the Vatican or any number of cathedrals. However, as a Catholic who personally knows some of the people who helped build and maintain beautiful churches in parts of Latin America, I know that to see them this way is to completely miss the point. These churches are built by people, some very poor, who want to glorify the Divine in beauty. Beautiful art, stonework and woodcarving costs money, but money is not the point.

    So it is with cotillions, I think, though I’ve never been to one. I suspect it is a celebration of the beautiful fruit of good families; that is, the young sons and daughters of families that have not failed or fallen apart. A reminder that in times past the beauty of un-jaded youth was glorified without apology. And lets not say that all such beauty was bought by suppression of the masses, because I know that there have been times, precious few, granted, when such fairytale beauty existed in just and well-managed cultures and kingdoms: perhaps present day Lichtenstein or a thousand years ago during the reigns of King Saint Louis IX and his mother Blanche of Castile. I agree that wealth is almost always ill-gotten these days and such events are frequently corrupted by bad intentions and crassness, but can you blame people for wanting to live the fairy-tale? Even for a day? I never will, because I will never be rich, but I have a hard time be-grudging it.

    • October 12, 2011 at 2:21 am

      I do see your point. I disagree with it, but I understand where you are coming from. I guess part of it with me is summed up in a Julia Sugarbaker quote from the show ‘Designing Women’: “Manners are supposed to make people comfortable. They were intended so that people understood what was expected of them. People today though…They use them as some sort of designation that they are better than others. If Emily Post was alive, she’d drop dead.”

      And I might add that this was written in response to someone I know putting children ‘in cotillion’ to teach them etiquette and manners. For the most part, I get frequent comments on the manners of my children. They hold doors for people (not women, mind,…people), say please and thank you, yes ma’am and yes sir, they offer to carry things for others, their elders in particular, they offer to help with dishes when they eat at someone’s house, they ask to be excused from the table. Cotillion didn’t do that. I did.

      And I’m glad I made you think 🙂 You are welcome any time.

  5. January 23, 2015 at 5:57 am

    Hi I know this is old but I would like to comment as a 15 year old who is enrolled in cotillion.

    Three things:
    1) in my experience we don’t discriminate against race it’s just the people who enroll are majorly white. ( I am a teaching assistant)
    2) there is sexism
    3) most of the other people I’ve met enrolled in cotillion are enrolled not to display wealth but to learn dancing and formal manners

    I am a teaching assistant and despite its flaws the program means well. I’ve worked with children of all races and I’ve done one on one lessons with mentally disabled children to help them function better in society.
    The sexism is sugar coated and I roll my eyes and brush it off. Cotillion does have cookie cutter role for women that I disagree with but the learning of formal skills can be extremely useful. It teaches basic dancing, formal table manners, interview manner, and much more. My instructor goes on and on about integrity and truly she means well. She just has very conservative views about women which in the grand scheme of things she hardly mentions. Maybe cotillion is a lot different in other areas but in my experience it’s is mostly good.

  6. January 24, 2015 at 5:09 am


    I sincerely hope that you come back and read this at some point. First, I would like to address a glaring issue for which I don’t mean to scold, only to correct for future reference. “Mentally disable children” is an offensive term. The child may be “developmentally delayed” or they may be “mentally ill”, but please do not refer to them as mentally disabled. As I work in community mental health, and more specifically with children, this is a sticking point for me and I hope you take this to heart.

    Secondly, I think you may have missed the point. You do in fact have more white children that enroll than children of color. Think about this: Why? What do you think are the reasons that fewer children of color enroll in the program? Is it because children of color don’t want to learn manners? Probably not. Children of color can certainly “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am” with the best of them. So why then, are their numbers fewer?

    Third, why do people who are in a lower socio-economic bracket need to know which side of the plate the knife goes on? (I do know the answer, btw, even without cotillion.) Why would they need to know what is the proper side from which to be served? When to wear white gloves or black? Those of us in the working class do not use these skills. Ever. UNLESS we are at the table with a higher SES peer and we don’t want to feel as though we are lesser people. Have you ever seen pretty woman? Despite the money, it wasn’t until she became that status that she was accepted. She was not the princess until she could play the part. (And this is admittedly part of the reason I love Sofia the First so much.)

    You recognize the sexism, and that is good, but don’t let the sugar coating hide it. As part of the system yourself, YOU are the one who can change it. YOU can encourage the use of color, not just white. You can encourage spending less on the ball gowns and using that money in a more productive manner, such as feeding the homeless or providing clothing to a local family resource center. You have that power in your hands. Use your privilege to change a life, or at least a moment, and take that pride to heart more than knowing how to fold your napkin.

    Thank you, dear. You are the future of our women and being open to understanding and recognizing where change needs to happen gives me hope for our future generations. ❤

  7. January 27, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Interesting article.

    I’m still a bit unclear about cotillions and what determines who attends.

    I became curious due to watching Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil. Great movie. So…. Not only wealthy whites hold them….
    Looks like it’s Wealthy whoever. ….
    Just looked interesting. …

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