INTRODUCTION: What does it mean to be raised a Southern woman?
As a current high school senior that grew up in the small town of Columbus, Georgia, southern ideals have always permeated my understanding of the world. When we started off our GOA Gender Studies class by creating what we’ve noticed about the places where we had grown up and those “unwritten rules,” I came up with the following:
Top Ten Unwritten Rules for a Girl in the South
- Get set up in cotillion as soon as you’re born. This is the first step, you will need this foundation for all other steps.
- Cross your legs, fix your hair, never finish your plate.
- Be at church every single Sunday, sitting up straight, in a parched dress.
- Keep your hair long. And natural colored.
- Let boys do everything for you. Not limited to paying, holding open doors, pulling out chairs. And also, take their name.
- If you do decide to go to college, your main goal is to find a husband.
- Family is the utmost priority, be prepared to drop everything in your life for your future kids.
- Never talk back or have dissident opinions.
- Only ever date white boys. Also, your father must approve.
- Okay, now that you have finished ingraining this all in your mind, you’re ready to face the debutante test. Remember to sip politely at your wine, and only act tipsy enough to flirt. Maybe you’ll prove to be good enough for a husband.
These were drawn from the expectations and normalized lives I have seen around me. I wrote down things as I was sitting in study hall and chatting with other Southern girls about what we’ve been condition to expect out of life here. A simple Pinterest search of “Southern girls” can easily yield the following:
As I took this Gender Studies class, we looked at how childhood dictated by a gender binary can affect people growing up. We looked into many examples of how hurtful gendered upbringing can be on males.
Masculinity has become a socially constructed way for boys to adhere to harmful standards. Hegemonic and toxic masculinity teaches them to repress emotions to maintain stoicness, channel aggression and violence as ways of expression, and to objectify and dominate women.
Meanwhile, women are raised in subjugation that is designed to align with the men. They are taught that their emotions are weak, to submit, to be docile and fragile and timid and meek. So I wanted to look into how this double standards affect women as they grow older. Does it affect their futures, careers, and relationships? Is their success limited compared to men?
GOAL: To raise awareness of the gendered upbringing and how it negatively skews female lives in their futures. Then, to start conversations on how allies can overturn this foundation.
SOME FACTS: How does that affect us as we grow up?
Southern Women in Office
These studies from Social Science Quarterly show that women are less likely to win office in rural places in the positions of like Sherriff, Cororner, Attorney, Executive. It seems like women are okay in that “secretary” position but it was hard for them to get elected to positions that connoted aggression, medical knowledge, or authority.
Role of Gender in Domestic Housework
This study uses the task of domestic housework as a tool to exaggerate gender differentiation. Additionally, the question is raised and we ask “what genders specific actions?” There seems to be a separation of tasks that are “masculine” versus tasks that are “feminine.” Overall, there is an obvious disparity between working and housework, as it seems that men work much more and women housework much more.
Historical Timeline of Gendered Upbringing in the South
The Journal of Southern History goes as far to say that the words “political,” “honor,” and “agency” have different meanings in the South versus other places because of gendered connotations. It examines how the hold on gender roles plays into household dynamics, identifying the white male as the sole claimer of “mastery.” However, when studying close up what has happened, this source takes into account the way that women have kept households together best as the head, especially during Civil War times. It shifts focus to how grooming is different based on gender. Young women are raised to be docile and subservient and to “embody self-denial.” Young men are trained in independence. Historically, there have been traditions of raising men and women differently.
WHAT DID PEOPLE THINK? Interviews with the Humans of Iron Bank
I also went downtown to a local coffee shop, a hub in Columbus that’s always bustling with different people of all different kinds, and asked for their input.
Dee and Kayla
Dee, 5th year at Emory, Sociology/Classical Civilization, 21
“The gender binary was really apparent. I was always told to sit like a lady with my legs crossed. If I didn’t wear earrings I looked boyish. I had to wear dresses and pink. So my gender display was very apparent, and you could like tell I was a girl.”
“Going to Brookstone, there were a lot of housewives. Which is fine, like, do what you want. But a lot of the girls I went to high school with had that same idea. Of like, yeah I’ll grow up and I’love go to college.. but eventually I wanna get married I wanna have kids. But growing up in a lower SES, I’ve always had to work to put myself through it. I’ve never had the foresight of, oh, I’m gonna be able to stay at home and take care of kids. It’s always been, oh, you always gotta work.”
Kayla, just graduated from CSU, English, 23
“My dad was a pastor so it was always very clear, like, gender roles, you’re a girl you wear dresses. I got my years pierced when I was a baby. So how you express your ‘female gender’ was already place on me at birth.”
“In high school, my curfew was always really strict. Like you had to be home by eleven, you can’t go out with your friends super late. My brother, they never asked him any questions. He could go on trips with his friends out of the state. He just had way more freedom than my sister and I did. Like, us being females, my parents were much more protective of us growing up.”
sophomore at Columbus High School
“Especially with my little brother, because he’s so much more outgoing than I am, they treated him differently personality wise… He got away with more stuff, like going outside and playing in the yard, going out with the boys, that sort of thing. And sometimes I had to stay inside. But I think my parents tried to not differentiate too much with gender that way. I feel like I’ve been treated differently between my brother and I.”
“I actually grew up in Portland, Oregon. You have so much nature, and then you have the city. It was a good mix. And especially, with the gender thing, growing up in a more liberal city helped with that, helping it not be so different. I’ve noticed, living here, parents raise their guy kids differently than their girls kids. Just allowing guys to do certain things girls can’t. Girls have an earlier curfew. Or guys are allowed to go out to more places by themselves.”
“At my school I’ve noticed both guys and girls wanna be doctors and stuff. I don’t think success is really differentiated by gender as much, but I also think it’s my school. Everyone is pushing towards, ‘Oh, you wanna do something big.’ I haven’t seen that much differentiation.”
“My mother definitely encouraged the equality between girls and guys. Like, I should be strong and confident and true to myself. And I can be a little girly sometimes and a little masculine sometimes and that’s okay. When I was younger, she let me choose my clothes, if I wanted to wear pants, that was fine, if I wanted to wear a dress! So she didn’t really push the binary on me. And I’ve grown up sort of a tomboy, and sometimes I’ll wear skirts and stuff like that.”
sophomore at Chattahoochee Valley Community College, majoring in finance
“Guys aren’t really supposed to feel anything, and that is very aggravating. A man is taught to repress, and women are taught to talk all the time, and men aren’t. I got older, and now I have a girlfriend, and we talk about things, and she’s all feminist, and we talk about feelings. It’s not a big deal anymore, I’m out of the household, I don’t have to believe in that stuff anymore.”
“I lived in North Carolina for nine years. I’ve been to other countries, and it’s the same everywhere. People just have an expectation for the man to take care of the family, not talk about feelings, to be the tough macho guy, and in America it’s getting a lot less worse. There’s more of progressive spots, like California, New York, your extra west and northeast. I would say, it’s just like anything in the South, it’s going to be here a lot longer than anywhere else. Like marijuana being legalized or anything else like that. It’s going to be here and a lot longer than anywhere else.”
“A man, in order to be successful, in society’s view, would be that he provides for his family and he is filling the table, has a roof over their head. And the woman, this is not what I believe, but society would kind of see, however the kids act represent how good the mother is. And if the kids are cussing and running around the table, you know, the mother gets looked at. But with everything we have now with kids to go to daycare and after school programs and everything that’s made possible I feel like it’s more of an excuse now for someone to say, ‘society has held me back.’ I really find that to be ridiculous in 2018.”
“Yes and no. So my girlfriend works at The Posh Peach (chic clothing store). I can’t get a job there because I’m a guy. And I’m not gay, either. If I tried to get a job they wouldn’t let me. And down at Country’s, I couldn’t get a job, because waiter, they want a girl, that’s what they want, they’re trying to present something. In the same sense, my degree is finance. And I would say if I were to walk in as a grown man with a suit on they would probably have more respect for what I say than a woman. It goes both ways and I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. It’s fine in some ways to be better at some things. That’s just kind of how it is, and maybe that’s the society in me.”
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an argument, but sometimes the right person will be quieter, just because he’s not as loud as the stupid person. Whenever two drunk people argue is a great example, because the loud person always wins. And you know how we were talking about women talking about their emotions. They’re good at it, men aren’t. I personally am very bad at it. Women know how to express exactly what they’re thinking. I think when it comes to anything women are better talkers because they do it more. I don’t think it’s the [cause for them to be underrepresented in career fields].”
senior at Brookstone School, planning on majoring in International Studies
“The biggest affect of gender roles I’ve seen in my life is my father and how he was expected to be the breadwinner of the family. And so my entire life he has worked.. he was never present, especially in my developing years. And because of that, now that I’m older, we don’t have a relationship. And I have what people call ‘Daddy Issues’ because even though he was a present father he was never there. Babysitters taught me how to ride a bike, you know. And I blame gender roles for that, because even now, he feels like the only way to be a man, to be accepted into society, is to fill this role if breadwinner.”
“I read somewhere that white men over the age of 60 are the most likely to kill themselves. And I blame gender roles for that. These men have been told their whole lives that if they do XYZ, if they are breadwinners, if they go out into the world and do this, then they are men. And once they reach that age, that’s robbed from them.”
“I was raised in a very Southern Baptist community. ‘Modest is hottest,’ ‘you’re a flower, and if you let anyone damage that flower it’s a reflection of your self-worth.’ And even though I know it’s not all true, it’s a hard thing to unlearn when you’ve been raised with it. And because my mother and father are both believers, they are strong believers in ‘The male is the religious leader of the household, and so the woman is subservient.’ Which is something I try to bring up with my mom and challenge. But she says, ‘I love him and so I will respect him.’ But my definition of respect is different. My respect is equal ground. No subservience.”
“Honestly in my life I’ve never had a dream or an ambition. Always in the back of my head my parents were like, ‘Oh, you can always get married.’ And it was like oh I don’t have to succeed because I have this backup plan. But no guy is like, ‘Oh, if I flunk out of medical school I’ll just marry an engineer or something.’ That’s just usually a funny conversation girls have.”
“You throw out the word ‘pansexual’ or ‘non-binary’ and a lot of people in the South just close their ears. Immediately write it off. And… I think it has a lot to do with religion. Just old fashioned pride. The South has a lot of pride. Very stolid in how we were and our traditions. Change just comes slower.”
“I think thirty years from now we’re gonna have a generation of empowered women. And it’s gonna be marvelous. And I believe we will be properly represented. We’re slowly dismantling the idea that women are inferior. And that’s what separates us from animals. We can say, ‘Yeah, I’m not as physically strong as you, but mentally we are on the same plane. Cognitively, I am in no way inferior. My brain has more plasticity than yours. My corpus collosum is larger, what are you gonna do? Fight me.’”
- Intersectionality almost felt like a spur to go the extra mile. It was uplifting to see women use their socioeconomic background and different cultural upbringings as a reason to “make it.” It was the typical “you gotta work twice as hard to have them just see you as equals” that comes with being the disadvantaged class, race, or gender. Yet we saw women instilled with work ethics that were self-motivated and, in a world where everyone was on equal footing, would have passed others.
- The man seemed almost blind to how staggeringly privileged his “disadvantages” were compared to women. He cognitively processed that in acquiring professional white-collar jobs, he would be prioritized over a woman candidate. Yet, he thought that was comparable to his inability to work at a female-demographic clothing store.
- It was interesting to see the high schoolers already so cognizant of how their upbringing had affected the way they were today. It goes to show how aware kids can readily become of the way that they were raised. They processed the power dynamic between the man and the woman in their parents’ marriage, the double standards given to them versus a brother, and how tightly guarded and protected and innocently indoctrinated they were.
- There seemed to be a common consensus that things were more old-fashioned in the South. The Bible Belt and old Christian traditions had an accepted interpretation of the woman being in subjugation. Women were expected to be pure, pretty, perfect flowers. The South is also more staid in its traditions, and is expected to be the last to progress.
AS AN ALLY: What can a man do to help?
This is an agenda for how men can work within religious contexts to overturn the stereotype of submissive women being “good Christian women.” It asks the men to reinterpret the scriptures so that verses cannot be continually misused to support patriarchy and discrimination. It also charges men with the responsibility to ensure that women are afforded equal opportunity for positions within the church.
COMMENT: How else can you be an ally?
On the Padlet below, please be sure to leave your own ideas for how YOU can help dismantle the sexist upbringing of Southern girls.
SURVEY: What do you think?
- Do you think there is a gendered differentiation between the way boys and girls are raised?
- Is it more or less obvious in the South?
- Is it important to change?
- How are some ways you think we can?
- GO UP TO THE PADLET AND ADD YOUR IDEAS!!!
READ MORE: Works Cited
Lublin, David, and Sarah E. Brewer. “The Continuing Dominance of Traditional Gender Roles in Southern Elections.” Social Science Quarterly, vol. 84, no. 2, 2003, pp. 379–396. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42955876.
Hornsby-Gutting, Angela M. “Manning the Region: New Approaches to Gender in the South.” The Journal of Southern History, vol. 75, no. 3, 2009, pp. 663–676. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27779031.
Schneider, Daniel. “Gender Deviance and Household Work: The Role of Occupation.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 117, no. 4, 2012, pp. 1029–1072. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/662649.
Thulani Ndlazi. “Men in Church Institutions and Religious Organisations the Role of Christian Men in Transforming Gender Relations and Ensuring Gender Equality.” Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, no. 61, 2004, pp. 62–65. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4066602.