Circular Cruises/Southern Women and Feminism

From Eccentric Flower

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Southern Women and Feminism

17 May 1997

Remember that all generalizations are false, including this one. I'm going to make a few generalizations now - everyone stay calm and no one will be hurt.

Feminism, like most political movements, is about mainly about people getting what they want.

Once upon a time, there were women in the South who already knew how to get everything they wanted from life, and often did.

They were called "southern belles."

- - -

Southern belles are dying out. To exist, they need a spouse able to support the entire household alone, and those are getting harder to find. But their heyday was still going in the sixties and seventies, when the feminist movement was making huge waves everywhere else in the country ... and the typical northern feminist interpreted its failure to make headway in the South as backwardness on our part.

This was a mistaken conclusion.

The southern belle image had many faults: vanity, a narrow role model, an overemphasis on the material, promotion of certain surface stereotypes, et cetera.

But the traditional southern belle had a core of iron. She was perfectly willing to look, on the surface, like a blushing flower who deferred to the decision of her husband on all matters.

She was willing to make this sacrifice because she knew, and her husband knew also, that their household was actually a matriarchy and that she was firmly in charge.

The cosmetics, the surface image, didn't matter to her. In the South everyone has a public face and a private one. Which, I admit, is a slightly twisted way of doing business.

There were, and are, a lot of real Scarlett O'Hara types in the South. Which is great for empowerment, but not so good for mental health. The feminists, in my mind, frequently object to the wrong issues. Rather than worry about the number of visible southern women in high places, they should worry about the number who are quietly going Faulkner-psychotic.

- - -

Fortunately, as noted, the old-school southern belle is dying out. The new regime is generally less deceptive with men; less likely to be trapped in an unwanted passive-agressive relationship, and more likely to be in a genuine partnership.

Women are being encouraged to learn other things besides the narrow range that used to be prescribed for them.

On the other hand, women in the South are now having to work harder to get where they want to go. Partially because they're learning to ask for more.

- - -

Don't fault southern women for being slow to like feminism. Feminism in this country, even to this day, involves a fight. Southern women had the easy road available to them: marry a successful professional and instantly become the queen of your castle. Momma did it. Grandmomma did it.

You can't blame someone for wanting to take the low road under those circumstances, even if they were hurting themselves and their image in the process. The lure was just too good.

- - -

I don't know any southern belles of my generation. The sororities on my campus were the closest descendants, and they bothered me. I avoided them. I think now that maybe they were devolved; what had once been a lipsticked front with a core of iron had had its core removed. There was no there there. Only leftovers.

I have, however, seen southern belle behaviors arise at odd times in the most unexpected people. Like a survival instinct.

So though this is a generalization, and all generalizations are false, I pass it along anyway:

Remember in the future, when dealing with a woman from the South, that no matter how politically correct she is and no matter how many rallies she attends, deep inside her there is a southern belle waiting to be let out.

Stay out of the way when it happens.

Copyright © May 1997. All rights reserved.

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