Southern Belle?

A friend of mine on Facebook, whose very interesting blog I enjoy reading, posted an opinion article from Garden & Gun magazine yesterday, “Southern Women: A new generation of women who are redefining the Southern Belle.” The article harkened to many general assumptions people make about the South in general, and especially the stereotypical “Southern Belle.” The author, Allison Glock, was most definitely defending her position that being a Southern woman has certain behavioral and societal expectations even for the modern woman.

This is not one of them...

I agreed with her idea that

Southern women … are leashed to history. For better or worse, we are forever entangled in and infused by a miasma of mercy and cruelty, order and chaos, cornpone and cornball, a potent mix that leaves us wise, morbid, good-humored, God-fearing, outspoken and immutable.

I thought this was a clever way to begin her article, putting her perspective… well, into perspective for readers. This article has a comic tone, but a serious point that all true Southern women will agree with. I don’t know if I can call myself a “Southern woman” per se. I was born in Georgia and my family moved to the Midwest for a few years before coming back to Tennessee.  While I’ve spent the majority of my life in the south, my very matriarchal family has a somewhat cosmopolitan attitude about life. We don’t necessarily ascribe to the notion that we’re “Southern Belles.” In fact, people used to call me a “Georgia Peach” because of my birthplace, and I never understood it because, until now, I’d never even remembered living in Georgia. How could I have possibly been a product of the south?

Anyway, Glock goes on to say that Southern women care about the way they look more than women from other places in the nation, that they’re more polite (writing out their thank-you notes), all of which can be attributed more to “self-respect” than vanity. This is all fine and well in my book, since this is a feature story and not a real report of anything other than her opinion.

The bigger the dress, the belle-ier you were...

What really gets me is her sudden and quite un-Southern-Belle-like negative descriptions of women who live anywhere other than in the South. She contends that Southern women are caretakers, implying that women from non-Southern states most definitely are not:

I have lived in the North off and on for fifteen years. In all that time, only once did another woman prepare me a home-cooked meal (and she was from Florida). I recently visited Tennessee for one week and was fed by no fewer than three women, one of whom baked homemade cupcakes in two different flavors because she remembered I loved them.

It seems to me as though she just doesn’t have very good friends, or maybe she wasn’t a terribly good friend to those who could have potentially cooked for her. For being a woman of “self-respect” and class, she sure does like to put other women down.

In Terms of Endearment, a dying Debra Winger visits a friend in New York and is immediately bewildered by the alternately indifferent and aggressive way the women relate to each other.

“Why do they act like that?” Winger asks a friend, genuinely confused. Why indeed.

This seems like a catty addition not meant to encourage or show how Southern women are polite and kind, but to buy in to another stereotype that probably doesn’t need more emphasis placed on it. Not all people in New York are rude. Not all non-Southerners are catty bitches that attack and put each other down. I think, as women, we shouldn’t sequester certain groups of females as better at being nice to each other, but instead try to encourage all women to support each other instead of create divisions within our gender.

I won’t even bother to go into her perpetuation of the 1950s housewife archetype with her commentary on “the Baby Thing.” Or how Southern women have to carry “the incontrovertible knowledge of man’s violence and limitations” as if other women are completely unaware or not carrying similar burdens of their own.

While I enjoyed the beginning of the piece, the more I read, the angrier it made me. It seems to me this “Southern Belle” that Glock proposes isn’t an alive and well person that exists in everyday Southern states, but a dying breed that Glock is trying to cling to as the South gets more and more progressive and, dare I say it, accepting of people who aren’t from the South or don’t follow its stranglingly strict social mores. While it’s fine to express your opinion about how you think living in the South made you a better woman, wife, mother, etc. I think it’s pretty detrimental to your argument to imply that women from anywhere else aren’t as fit as you to do the same.


One thought on “Southern Belle?

  1. I enjoyed the article, as well, but have to agree with your points, small town girl. Ms. Glock isn’t really redefining anything, is she? Not all Southern belles are that traditional! It was a fun read but not so much a true picture of our complexity. I actually read the article in preparation/inspiration for writing an article on the joys of counseling, being Southern, and the importance of transcending gender roles, among other things!

    Happy New Year’s Eve! :~)

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