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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Southern Feminism

From Linnet, I got this link from the Nation that is sort of a temperature-taking of Southern womanhood. It's about as sad as you'd imagine, but I will say that things in the South are probably a bit more complicated than the writer, Ashley Sayeau, managed to capture in four pages. Of course, how could she? She gets across the most important things that people need to understand about women in the South--it sucks for women and women in the South have some remarkable perseverance.

I've often heard tales of strong Southern women. My own past is full of single women who, abandoned by the men in their lives, took extreme measures to care for their children, including a grandmother who sold blood to buy my father shoes. It seemed the South was full of brave and determined women who had never met one another--distracted by poverty, religion and loyalty to a land that hadn't done them any favors.

Of course, I live in Texas, a state that has more openness than most of the South. Along with our wretched sexism, Texas also has room for admiration of strong women that many other Southern states do not embrace so fully. Therefore, these strong women she speaks of are more likely to know each other and of each other. I think a lot of that has to do with the Western vs. the Southern tradition. The image of the pampered Southern white woman never completely gripped us, as much as our Junior Leaguers wish otherwise. We are less Scarlett O'Hara and more cowgirl in our imaginations.

Still, it's a nightmare of chivalry and bullshit. Being an outspoken feminist is considered incredibly rude, but being an outspoken sexist is often considered kind of cute. Sometimes I think a Texan was probably the first woman to say, "I'm not a feminist, but...." Because of this, it was easy for me to see that man-hating is a more common trait to women who disavow feminism than not. I never hear self-proclaimed feminists claim that all men are assholes, but I hear lots and lots of women who adamantly declare they aren't feminist say just that in exasperated tones. Not that I blame them, not really. It must be very frustrating to put up with sexist men and not have a way to articulate your problems using feminist language.

Many women I know who are neither self-proclaimed feminists nor man-haters are quiet feminists. They do their female duties, fill their gender roles, even vote Republican, but they will tell you, if asked, that they are pro-choice, support equal pay, and hope for much better for their daughters. I don't know what makes me sadder--women who have resorted to hating men to articulate their frustrations or those who almost seem to have quietly given in, even though they know on a certain level that things just aren't right.


Blogger Scott said...

Interesting article...thanks for posting the link! I do wish it had a more explicit exploration of the role of race and racism in shaping the identities and (feminist) political practice of both white and African American women in the South, though.


Blogger Barbara Preuninger said...

That article made me think there's a parallel with women affected by fundamentalist Islam. There's this internal struggle for women who want to stay true to their cultural identity, and feel like they're betraying their family/friends when they start to have feminist inclinations.

It seems like there's a call for sensitivity to the women in those cultures. When a place is labelled "backwards", it's almost like the people in it feel compelled to live up to that prophecy, and to embrace the identity foisted upon them! The women in those groups suffer for it, of course.

The other parallel, of course, is the fundamentalism. But I get the sense that fundamentalism (generally) arises from a sort of "underdog" mentality (justified or no). Maybe addressing the sense of vulnerability is the primary way of changing the fundamentalism.

Sorry if my thoughts seem random. I'm going to post this anyway...


Blogger Laura said...

I was born in Mississippi and raised in Tennessee, went to school in Tennessee. I know something about that gentile Southern woman. That's what I was supposed to be. Didn't work out that way. It was a weird existence that the culture itself was suppressing you. There was no one holding up signs saying, "Do not speak too loudly or have opinions!" But if you did, you were quietly pushed aside. You didn't get invited back to the party. I was talking to my mother (still in the south) and she said lots of people were upset by Teresa Heinz Kerry. I said, "That's because you all think that any woman who expresses an opinion is a bitch." She said, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I never thought about it." Odd. I'm going to read the article now. Just wanted to add a Southerner's point of view.


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