Over the holiday weekend my brother and I went to visit some of our family at their cabin in Heber Springs. After dinner, all of the cousins went outside to get a fire started; doing this meant chopping up a fallen tree. Once all of the wood had been cut, I immediately went over to help. As I picked up a log, my brother and both of my cousins yelled, “PUT THAT DOWN!” and I immediately became confused because all I was trying to do was help. When I asked why, they said that I was a girl and didn’t need to do any manual labor, “that’s what men are for”. I tried to tell them that I really didn’t mind but they just were not having any of it! It drove me crazy just sitting by, watching someone else do work that I was fully capable of doing.
This incident got me thinking about gender roles in the South and how even today woman are viewed as delicate creatures, incapable of doing things for themselves. I definitely can’t say that I have never played into this negative stereotype, because sometimes it is just down right convenient. However, I realize that by doing so I am perpetuating something that can be really detrimental. Historically women have been treated as property, as people who are incapable of taking care of themselves. While many people in the South place a large importance on chivalry, I feel that maybe we should reexamine this practice.
Just because I am a woman does not mean that I am incapable of opening a door for myself or having a job to support a family, for that matter. Many young women in the South are brought up to be a perfect lady and housewife. Not that there is anything at all wrong with being a full time mother, because that is no easy task. But I feel that young women should want more for their lives, because they are capable of more. Women are taught from a young age not to make waves, to be quiet and not to be too opinionated. The book, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg addresses this issue and offers ways for women to succeed in their careers. It has sparked a movement in many professional communities that encourages women to “lean in” to their careers , because a woman is just as capable of being the CEO of a fortune 500 company as a man.
I think it is imperative that women, especially in the South, realize that we are capable of so much more than being the “perfect housewife”, that our opinions matter, and that we most certainly do not need a man to define us. Women need to be instilled with the knowledge that we can do absolutely anything a man can do. I believe that this knowledge starts with the realization that maybe chivalry should just be dead. When young women start to realize that they have the power to do things on their own, they will then have the confidence to pursue more challenging careers.