The Southern Woman, Imposter Syndrome and Self-Censorship

Lippi-Green’s writings, English With an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States expresses the importance of studying dialect, not only for academic purposes, but also as a means to further equality within American culture. Discussing language variation as both a geographic and social identity marker, Lippi-Green looks at dialect discrimination not only in the workplace but also within American pop culture and the judicial system. By exposing these specific prejudices within the United States, Lippi-Green aspires to make the same strides for language as “others have done for race and gender” (Preston, Introduction).

Another powerful work regarding silencing within the composition classroom is Sandra Gardner’s piece. Of her experiences as aworking-class woman in the academy, the author, now a composition instructor, explains:

“I was also unprepared for the marginality and estrangement I would feel as my “dream” came true. These feelings initially surfaced during college and only intensified as I moved up the educational hierarchy. Thus, the more “successful” I became, the more marginal I felt” (Gardner 60).

            Such a student experiencing feelings of inadequacy may often lead to a deeper problem of self-repression. After fighting so hard to both learn the language of academia and to at least portray the guise of assimilation, women with working-class roots (especially those with poor Southern roots) often feel it necessary to repress their own voice in order to maintain their newly found “status.”

              One teacher explains, “My dreams often play out the dilemma I face coming from a working-class background and now, late in life, finding myself in a middle-class enemy camp of academia” (Langston 60). As a professor in a university setting, the Southern academic might never fully abandon the feeling of alienation, that of “outsider.” Referring back to the Oxford English Dictionary’s example of “inhibition of emotion” as well as the notion of an audience remains objective and does not identify with the actors” is clearly displayed in this context (OED). While the student may on the surface be accepted by her peers, she may never feel like one of the actors on the academic stage. I still struggle in this area–I believe I will suffer from imposter syndrome all my life.

Valerie Miner, in her essay “Writing and Teaching With Class” clarifies: “Self-censorship in working-class art exacerbates the effect of outside censorship. You think you are a poor writer. You think you are crazy for wanting to describe such people, your people. Self and outside censorship make you aware that class denial is seamed into the American cultural psyche” (Miner 76). The notion of self-censorship as a result of alienation is widely recognized in female students from working-class roots in the classroom, especially when attempting creative works in composition. Add the additional southern drawl and the effect multiplies. Miner clarifies “The very content—descriptions of waitresses and secretaries and construction workers—is passing family codes to middle-class outsiders” (77). The worries of betrayal or desertion mentioned by Miner can be deep-seated fears, especially for the southern female student.