You probably think of the South as the land of deb balls, MRS degrees, and sorority recruitment on crack (I can confirm the rumor about rush consultants and 5,576,043 letters of recommendation). But when you really get to know the brains underneath our big hair, I think you’ll find some serious girl power.
No one ever called me a southern belle until I came to North Carolina, which I thought was in the South but quickly ended up feeling like a state above the Mason Dixon Line. And though I remain positive that no one meant any real offense, it sometimes felt like a derogatory term to me. My home state, Texas, still remains infamous for its somewhat regressive traditions, its inability to turn purple or blue on the political map, and its constant battles with organizations like Planned Parenthood. These tendencies result in unattractive female stereotypes and some serious judgment towards the women that live there, and it’s often hard to defy the criticism.
But one of the truths that few realize about Texas and the rest of the South is that we have some real, badass women and a different kind of feminism that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. So, in true Southern style, I would like to explain myself through an exploration of country music.
Yes, the typical video from this genre usually features a bunch of women that look like Lyla Garrity in bikini tops and daisy duke jeans on the back of a ski boat with cheap beer in one hand and an American flag in the other. I’m sure many of you also think of Jessica Simpson washing an old car (and herself) with suds and sponges in a barn—super creative for a country music video!
But while her appearance in Dukes of Hazard and the infamous “Chicken of the Sea” scene on her reality show will probably contribute little to the fight for equal rights, I would urge you to look at the work of pretty much every other female country artist as evidence of the strong feminism present in the minds of so many southern women.
More specifically, I’m referring to Kellie Pickler, Kacey Musgraves, Shania Twain, the Pistol Annies, and Ashton Shepherd, women who both strut it out in their cowboy boots but would never hesitate to dig their spurs into your heart if you cross them. They write and sing about sticking to their guns (which often becomes literal, as many of them probably own one) and leaving their small hometowns to pursue their own careers and big city dreams. What could be more independent and powerful than that?
I will admit that the average male country artist may often act in a sexist manner (no, Luke Bryan, I will not shake it for you), and this genre still exhibits signs of anti-intellectualism and nostalgia for a more traditional past. It’s certainly not perfect. But the only reason that male singer keeps crooning about all that alcohol and debauchery is because some boss ass Southern girl left him for a better life. For every broken country man, there’s often a strong country woman who refused to settle for less than she deserved, and that’s what few yankees understand.
As my friends from home would quickly attest, I never liked wearing boots or cowboy hats, and I cheered for every other sports team besides the Texas Longhorns. I fell very short of being a great Texan, but when I hear a Dixie Chicks song or see Carrie Underwood live, I still feel very proud to have grown up in the South.
It takes a lot of strength to reconcile traditional femininity and a desire for independence, and, in my somewhat biased opinion, southern women provide the best example of how to execute this combination.
Like all women, feminism can never be described as just one thing. So whether or not you burn bras or just really want a lacy one to wear under your sundress, your personal version of feminism still counts. It may sometimes appear pinker, girlier, or sweeter (like our tea), but even if you can’t subscribe to this particular brand, you have to admit that, at its core, it demonstrates the same inherent beliefs. Women can be as rough and tough as they want to be, and there’s not much that anyone else can do about it.
So ya’ll can call a girl a southern belle all you want, but just know she’ll probably kick your yankee ass.
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