Southern and Strong

I know that I am a sharp lady, but I have been allowing myself for the past 29 years of my marriage to believe that my opinions are less, not as “right” as my ex-husband. No more. I choose to love myself, to take care of myself. I have made a pact with myself that I accept myself the way I am—all of me. I want very much to live authentically—to live boldly as I am—not pretend to be the model of what my mom taught me a Southern lady should be.

The very last words she said to me before she died from cancer in 2000 were to “take care of my husband,” although, he never took care of me in an emotional way, nor supported me or lifted me up. Nor, did I feel like that I was in a relationship with an equal partner. Well, in his mind we were partners because he provided financial stability and took care of the outside of the house while I took care of the children and the inside of the house. But, that way of living was not enough for me.

He loved me in his own way, but it was just not enough. My therapist taught me that it is okay to say, “he’s not enough.” There is a very real conditioning that goes on in Southern culture—I think that is changing with the younger generation. But, then at times I am not sure.

I feel that is one thing most all women have in common regardless of color. This idea that women are to be seen and not heard. That the man is to make decisions as the head of the household, that the ideal woman, especially a Southern woman, is to serve, to defer to the wishes of others, that somehow making herself less she is then revered.

Oddly, I find myself sometimes going along with this notion. In a recent job interview, I asked men my questions, but not the ladies who were clearly in supporting roles. After the interview ended, I thought what would have been impactful would have been to ask each of the 4 ladies on the panel what they thought the most challenging aspect of the position was as it related to each of their departments. Wow, right?

I made another pact with myself that the next time I am in the room with mixed sexes, I will make a cognizant effort to interact in meaningful way with the ladies in the room. I don’t fault myself for the very real fact that more men are in leadership roles than women; however, I will not knowingly dismiss the impact of recognizing the smart and important opinions of women in the room.

When a person is conditioned to look to men for guidance and leadership, it is sometimes hard to trust our inclinations and intuition as women. Are our decisions sound? The very fact that as a women I question my own leadership is testament to the torn fabric of my upbringing.

In most Southern homes, a woman is constantly taught that she is less. She is taught in most Southern churches that god, the father, is the creator of all things, that he alone has full knowledge of life and wisdom. She is taught that only men of one wife may be a leader in the church. She is taught that through her husband god speaks to the family and discerns his will. She is instructed to be silent, to be sweet, to serve without complaining. She is taught that Eve caused the downfall of man and therefore she deserves pain in child birth. She is taught (the men too) that she is no better than filthy rags before god, that only through god will she live a joyful, fulfilled life. That she is able to only accomplish things in life by god working through her. She is to take no praise for herself or for her accomplishments. There is no mention of the feminine aspect of the divine. The only recognition women get is that Mary gave birth to the man that would save the Earth. Then, her liberties are restrained, restricted and devalued.

When you are growing up in this propaganda, you believe it. You look to god for everything. You look to men for guidance. You begin to question yourself at a very young age. You believe you must live in this system for which you are not valued to live the “right” life, to be saved from damnation. Preachers put a spin on it that women are valued, but not in a way that gives women self-determination and self-confidence.

I was in the grocery store and heard a rather large man making fun of a women in a driving grocery cart. They seemed to be together. He was making fun of a remark she had made about apples of all things. He used humiliating sounds, the type of unintelligible sounds uttered when making fun of a disabled person or someone viewed as stupid. I know the feeling of being dismissed in this way. I wanted so much to turn to him and point out his actions, to ask him how he would feel if he was treated in that way? I wanted to give her a hug and tell her how valuable she is. Maybe I should have.

This post is turning into a rant, but I really want to encourage women to evaluate where you are in your relationships. Ask yourself, am I valued? Is my opinion listened to? I am heard? Do I have self confidence in myself as a strong woman, in my decisions? Does my church value my ability to lead in worship, to teach? Am I really a partner in my marriage, on equal footing?

And if the answer to any of these questions is no, how long are you going to put up with it? I did for most of my life, but now I choose to turn around— a red umbrella turned in the opposite direction in a sea of black umbrellas, a fish swimming downstream instead of upstream, swimming downstream on her way to the wide ocean—free!

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