Editor’s Note: See Jane Write now publishes personal essays by writers who identify as women, non-binary folks, and our allies. Learn more here.
By: Tina Bausinger
But who cares about Southern women?
I paused. Was this really a question? It seemed to be.
I’m reading an email sent from the dean of my graduate school, who is also my instructor. I’m working on my topic for my doctorate studies, and it includes southern women’s voices. Is it possible he’s being serious? Is it possible I must explain that yes, people care about Southern women?
This question I continue to answer two years later.
I have to pose my thesis based on how southern women in higher education, which is difficult because we are so much more than students. But this is how I must begin.
My argument begins: “Women who were born and raised within the borders of the rural South are a special breed. These women face multiple obstacles in their educational journey because the influence of the patriarchal nature of Southern culture is often in the background. This research will explore the role of the intersectionality of this patriarchal and often racist nature of the rural South alongside the impact of white evangelical Christianity politics and its possible barriers to rural Southern woman student’s desire for higher education.”
Of course, I must bring in “expert sources,” because although my experiences as a Southern woman are valid, they are not academic.
So I reference Beck, Frandsen, and Randall’s compilation Southern Culture: An Introduction (2012), which states that rural women originating from “The Bible Belt” have fought fiercely for the opportunity to attend college. Southern women seeking higher education must fight against gender roles and a culture that uses religion and tradition to sustain their position in the home and discourage educational pursuits. Beck, Frandsen, and Randall’s argument discusses how rural life in the South is defined by religious patriarchal control — centered on the American family with Dad at the helm and daughter at the bottom.
The study declares: “The duality in Southern culture was also…a conflict between honor and patriarchy on the one hand and evangelical religion on the other.”
I know this is how I will need to frame my argument, but I’m upset that I must make a case for Southern women because it seems as if we are always dismissed. It seems as if we always must insist that space is made for us. Our voices are often muted, even in our beloved South—maybe particularly in our beloved South—and we grow weary.
I want to talk about the culture: that the education of the Southern woman begins early. We are taught to be seen and not heard. We are reminded as children to always be “good girls.” What is a good girl?
We are taught how to cook—and depending on our setting—how to cook on a budget. We are taught to add small amounts of bacon to our pinto beans to give them flavor. We are taught the right way to bake cornbread, Grandma’s way, and to add butter while it’s still hot.
We’re taught other things, too. Like how to always listen to the men in our lives: our fathers, our husbands—even our pastors. That their word is law. That their word is BIBLICAL and that if we want to be GoodChristianWomen this is what’s required.
We’re taught that to be a feminist is akin to heresy.
We are taught to be LADIES. We sit with our knees crossed and we don’t leave the house without makeup and we go to church on Sundays but not without bringing a covered dish for the potluck after.
My writing comes fast and furiously as if my fingers have been dying for the chance to say…
We are taught the stories of our grandmother and we wonder why some things are still the same 40 years later but we are not supposed to ask too many questions because that means we are DIFFICULT and a Southern woman is nothing if not friendly.
We are taught it’s our job to make others comfortable, especially men, and that it’s rude to say no when you can say yes but what if you’re not even asked and something uncomfortable happens but we don’t talk about what’s uncomfortable because that’s negative and someone might say something bad about a family member so let’s just zip those lips and think on “better things” because what’s in the past is in the past…
But what if it isn’t in the past and how do we reconcile our pasts with our present and how do we make sure we matter and that yes, the land and our kin are important but not over our own mental health but let’s not talk about being depressed because being sad means maybe you are not happy with your life and maybe you are not close enough to Jesus and how do we really feel about Jesus and God and the Southern Baptist Convention but what if I secretly don’t feel like a Christian anymore how can I tell my family because then they will likely cut me off because that’s what the Bible says…
But instead: I work on my dissertation and I stick to the issue of rural Southern women in higher education because that’s all I am really allowed to talk about, and at least, for once, I am given a small amount of voice.
I will take this chance. After all, it’s not often I’m given the opportunity.
Tina Bausinger (Ed.D. Candidate) is a dual-credit adjunct professor at Southwest Texas College in Uvalde, Texas. Her work centers on rural Southern women students and their struggles in the Academy.