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.
I never thought I had very much of a southern accent until recently. Living in San Francisco this past summer was a huge learning experience for me and one of the many things that I learned was that I do, in fact, have a pretty prominent Southern accent. This was made known to me by almost every new person I met. I could not count on both of my hands and feet how many times I heard some form of the phrase, ” I love your accent, it’s so cute!” At first, I took these comments as compliments, and then it got old. The more I began to think about what these people were saying the more aggravated I got. I have heard this narrative from many other people in their descriptions of travels they have had outside of the South. Many people outside of the South view it almost like a child, as if we can not take care of ourselves and need to be cared for. Maybe it is silly, but I feel that by saying a person’s southern accent is cute, it is almost as if they are equating that person with being child-like. To me, this compliment became more and more of an insult every time I heard it. I would prefer to hear anything other than cute, when it comes to my southern accent.
This narrative speaks to a bigger problem in our society and that is the dumbing down of southern people in popular culture. More often than not you will hear about the South in some sort of negative light. Duck Dynasty for example, a show on A&E , is about a family who made their fortune off of selling duck calls. Instead of being portrayed as intelligent businessmen and women, they are portrayed as backwoods rednecks who do not have any sense. While the Robertson family has been able to expand their brand with this television show, I believe that it does them a great disservice. Another show that plays up to the “dumb Southern” stereotype is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a show about a family from the rural Georgia. If you have ever seen the show, you know exactly what I am talking about. This family seems to be completely uncivilized and just down right stupid. While the show is definitely entertaining, it only furthers the stereotype that southerners are slow and stupid. This stereotype is not all bad, there are many people out there who have been able to build their brand around the stereotype, however, the image of the south should also include its positive attributes.
Being Southern is something that I have always been proud of. I feel that as southerners we do ourselves a great disservice by just thanking people when they tell us we have cute accents. Granted I’m not quite sure what else we would say, but the point is that there needs to be more positive conversation about the amazing things that are happening in the South.
Recently I heard about an incident at the University of Alabama that seriously got my blood boiling. Allegations were made towards several of the school’s Panhellenic sororities , claiming that they were systematically excluding two African American women from becoming members. According to many accounts, these women were perfect candidates; having great grades, tons of high school involvement, and both came from very good families. Somehow though, these two women did not receive a bid (invitation) to any of the sixteen Panhellenic sororities on campus, making it incredibly obvious that they were excluded because of the color of their skin. As a member of one of the chapters targeted in these allegations, I almost feel responsible for the blatant racism that happened at The University of Alabama. When I first learned that my chapter, who I have always held to such a high standard and whose Purpose I try to live out everyday, was a part of this I was speechless. I became even more detested the more I thought about it. How is this type of racists exclusion still happening? I have seen how recruitment works, if the African American PNM (potential new member) was well liked by the women in the chapter her scores would have reflected that and with her GPA and high school involvement, it sounds to me that this girl would have been a shoe-in. According to various sources, the alumna tinkered with the girls’ scores to ensure that they would not be asked back the following night. My heart is broken for all of the women involved in this terrible incident. For the chapter members who obviously missed out on gaining an incredible new sister and who have been failed by the leaders of their respective organizations, my heart is broken. For the two amazing women who were not given a chance to become part a PanHellenic organization because of the color of their skin, my heart is broken. For the advisors and alumna who acted like complete baffoons and who are clearly blinded by undeserved hatred for people who are different, my heart is broken. I can only hope that swift and immediate action has been taken by the chapter’s national headquarters to somewhat remedy this situation, however I am not entirely certain how you could fix something like this. Involvement in a PanHellenic sorority is so much more than wearing letters and going to parties, it is about becoming a better woman and doing good in the world. It is supposed to be an environment that fosters love, sisterhood, morality, and justice. This incident not only makes the University of Alabama look bad, but it does a complete disservice to sorority women everywhere. I wish more than anything that I could say with confidence that Alabama chapter of my sorority was completely innocent, but I can not on my good conscious do that. Racism is still very alive in the south and its clear that it is not going anywhere anytime soon. I just hope that the two African American women that were involved do amazing things with their lives, make the women who excluded them feel like the idiots that they are.