So You Think You Aren’t A Feminist? Think Again.

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The word “feminist” sometimes frightens people. It really shouldn’t. Sometimes people automatically link the word with the more extreme examples coming from the Third Wave Feminists of the 1980s. The picture black and white photos of Hilary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, their faces full of rage–angry women who seemed to hate men while striving for some kind of lesbian utopia where men were relegated to lives on the sidelines serving us.

This is not true for all of us. I love men, I do! Especially the four men I’m closest to–my hubby, my kid and my nephew and, oh yes–Jesus.  So don’t lump us all in with these radicals. I’m not. I am, however, radical for Jesus.

While some of these women did come across as men-haters, I think that their abrasiveness was less militant and more frustration from the ages-long suppression of their ideas and voice. One such feminist I’ve come to admire from this period is Gloria Anzaldúa. I studied her writings, and was particularly struck by her books This Bridge Called My Back and Borderlands. 

When I began reading Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, I initially thought it interesting reading but not so relevant to me. What do I have in common with women who live on the border, in no man’s land, with no real place to call home? What connection do I have with their struggle? It sounds like a bloody, hard-fought fight, and one that is not nearly over. Even their version of God and heaven excludes them. I have a home. I have a family. I have an education and history. My God accepts me, and even longs for me.

Still, I sometimes felt the discord between feminism and Christianity. How could I be both Christian and feminist? Was this possible?

Yes. Sarah Bessey, in her book Jesus Feminist, writes:

At the core, feminism simply consists of the radical notion that women are people, too. Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance— not greater than, but certainly not less than— to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. 4 Several years ago, when I began to refer to myself as a feminist, a few Christians raised their eyebrows and asked, “What kind of feminist exactly?” Off the top of my head, I laughed and said, “Oh, a Jesus feminist!” It stuck, in a cheeky sort of way, and now I call myself a Jesus feminist because to me, the qualifier means I am a feminist precisely because of my lifelong commitment to Jesus and his Way.

Does Jesus, at any point, tell women to shut up? Does he shame them, discard them, tell them to find their place?

Not really.

In fact, Jesus is kind of a feminist Himself.

On the “Other” Southerner: Jim Goad’s Redneck Manifesto and Reverse Discrimination in the Classroom

borderlands

The idea of Middle-Class Studies becomes even more prominent in the late 1990s. Writers like Lynn Bloom, in her article “Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise” began disclosing their middle-class roots in an effort to focus on the “number of major aspects of social class that freshman composition addresses…that will make them good citizens of the academic (and larger) community, and viable candidates for good jobs upon graduation” (655). She discusses how “middle-class standards” sometimes cause discrimination in the classroom. With the beginning of middle-class studies we also begin to see work regarding working-class studies, which becomes more important to the study of the southerner in the classroom. Again, class is important, because the young, rich sorority girl attending Ole Miss encounters different problems from the working-class mother attending the University of Arkansas.

Soon after, Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats came on the scene, demanding respect for his kind, and discussing how Southerners are “Othered”. While tracing the history of poor whites to the beginning of American culture, he insists that all Caucasians not be lumped together into one group, and that poor white southerners should not be punished for the sins of their richer forefathers.

This reminds me again of Borderlands where Anzaldúa writes, “The dominant white culture is killing us slowly with its ignorance. By taking away our self-determination, it has made us weak and empty” (108). While searching for release from her own discrimination, Anzaldúa makes the mistake of pooling all of white culture into one neat box, when clearly we are more than just one heritage. Such mixing inhibits Southern women like me when searching for our identity. I don’t fit into a nice tidy box.

Jim Goad, author The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats, explains:

The stereotypes [of the South and Southerners] aren’t new, just more persistently cruel of late. The Dumb White Bumpkin has always been a stock figure in the American dramatis personae. But fifty years ago the depictions tended toward the benign and comical, from Li’l Abner to Ma and Pa Kettle” (Goad 16).

Goad’s acknowledgement of negative Southern stereotypes such as Li’l Abner pales in comparison with some of the female counterparts on popular television programs.

Goad notes that since the days of the “Beverly Hillbillies,” the stereotypes have gravitated to more dangerous and fearsome (Goad 5). Goad mentions movies such as Deliverance portray poor whites as social deviants who should be avoided, not just generally but at all times (8). If a student is poor and white, from a working class family (as well as from the South), what are the identifiers that spring to mind? By allowing poor whites to be ridiculed, the separation or alienation within the classroom is inevitable. Goad explains:

Referring to “white trash” name calling “What should I call the nontrashy Caucasians? White Gold? The Valuable People? The true profiteers of white imperialism? These are the same class of folks who create negative media images of white trash, the writers who use “redneck” as an adjective. They disparage white trash much as one insults an embarrassingly drunken relative. And in so doing, they shunt nonwhite resentment away from themselves and toward white trash” (32).

Goad’s idea of estrangement of poor whites from their own race is the most significant sort of alienation. Why should they be accepted within the composition classroom, a place where students are taught to communicate for academia, if they are sometimes rejected from their own racial domicile? He continues, “Even within their own race, people seem to need an “other.” It appears impossible for societies to conceive of an “us” without an antagonistic and constantly threatening “them” (32). Within societies, even in a smaller scope like the university setting, the concept of othering and alienation exists.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Redneck-Manifesto-Hillbillies-Scapegoats/dp/0684838648/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401739515&sr=8-1&keywords=redneck+manifesto

Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto

Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto

 

On Silencing, Southern Accents and Speaking Your Story

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“Let us listen for those who have been silenced. Let us honour those who have been devalued. Let us say, Enough! with abuse, abandonment, diminishing and hiding. Let us not rest until every person is free and equal. Let us be women who Love.” From Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women.

When the 1970s wound down to a close, feminist scholarship bloomed anew. Women who had previously felt unheard began making a lot of noise. Gloria Anzaldúa’s works Borderlands: The New Mestiza, “Speaking in Tongues” A Letter to Third World Women Writers” and This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color brought the plight of the displaced Chicana to the forefront.

Speaking to her hermanas, Anzaldúa implemented her viewpoint as both a lower-class Chicana and an academic to issue her battle cry against discrimination of those who “live on the border” (165). Anzaldúa’s works, which include academic essays and poetry, encourage women to write in any way they know how, reminding the reader that she need not be a scholar to put her words to paper and that her voice, uneducated or not, is both important and necessary.

This applies to women today as much as it did then. The voices of women and other marginalized people need to find the freedom that writing affords us. Your voice, your message, is important and deserves to be heard, regardless if I agree or not. We must teach our daughters, our nieces, our mothers how to speak their minds and refuse the silence. This is our calling and one of our our highest privileges of service.

Like Anzaldúa’s Mestiza who lives on the border between the United States and Mexico, I believe those of us who comfortably speak with a Southern accent within the university classroom find ourselves alienated and often judged. By referencing Anzaldúa’s work with the Other, Borderlands can be interpreted as a guide to the Southern working-class woman with an accent might experience when she attempts to return to college to learn academic speak and writing.

Anzaldúa’s work as a whole spoke to me on a personal basis, but specifically her goal to “break down dualities that serve to imprison women” (Anzaldúa 5). Speaking more figuratively than literarily, I felt that I was experiencing a kind of duality while I looked for my identity as both academic and reformed hillbilly. Shifting identity is a common theme within Anzaldúa’s work, and the New Mestiza never feels on solid ground, because she “migrates between knowing herself” and not knowing (7). While I love being a student and writing, a part of me feels as if I am being silenced when I must leave behind my native words, my native voice. Anzaldúa quotes Ray Gwyn Smith: “Who is to say that robbing a people of its language is less violent than war?” While academic work does not technically erase all traces of my dialect, the goal is there to do so.

So speak your voice, tell your story. We, your sisters, wait to hear your message. How will we know you if you do not share?

Southern Accents: Breaking the Tradition of Silence

Me and Mom circa 1975

Me and Mom circa 1975

“If you want to really hurt me, talk bad about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity–I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself…I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of my existing. I will have my voice…I will have my serpent’s tongue–my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.” ~Gloria Anzaldua.

“There is nothing like the abjection of self to show that all abjection is in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded.” ~ Julia Kristeva

After reading Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands as well as Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror for my graduate level classes, I began exploring the idea of abjection and “othering” of foreigners. After some research with these and other feminist writers, it occurred to me that some of these same discriminations could also apply to Southern student attending college for the first time, most especially older students who have been a part of the workforce and are attempting to change occupations through the gateway of education. This short creative piece is a reflection of that experience.

Whispered Accents

So many times, when a new acquaintance finds out I am from Arkansas, the first thing she will say is, “Oh! You don’t have an Arkansas accent. How is that?”

The reason I don’t have an Arkansas accent (or what non-Arkansas perceive as one) is years of conscious effort to suppress it. If I say, “Y’all” or drop my “g’s” at the end of a word, or otherwise use language that causes spell check to disapprove, it somehow makes me feel guilty. It is because of this suppression that my children also have no accent.

I have, in the past, felt pride in this accomplishment, patting myself on the back that they do not have to struggle as I have had to in order to keep that part of my voice suppressed.

To have an Arkansas accent, a hillbilly way of talking, implies ignorance, poverty and other unpleasant stereotypes I have worked so hard to rip myself from. See, here, and here, are the scars that still bleed from the tearing.

It is so farfetched to see the connection from women who live on the border, between two worlds, to the scarcity of my own childhood where silence was often necessary? Where, to talk of college and seeking an education was viewed as self-serving or arrogant, too good for the life of my parents and their parents? I did not have toe right words to explain that seeking an education was by no means a personal slight, but an aching thirst that could not be quenched in any other way.

I too live on the border.

I have learned the right words to speak, to write. I have learned the words academia expects. But why are these words better than the ones inside me? Who decides, and why must I concede to their judgement? Why must I choose between the language of my peers and the words of my heritage?
I refuse.

For me, for my children, I will teach them the old words, the ancient stories that I have hidden from them. I realize now that I was not helping them by silencing them the way I had been silenced. I will tell them the stories and legends of who we are and where we came from. I will try to salvage their pride in their roots. Because the words I use are blended and diverse as the blood that runs through my veins.

My dialect, the words I know deep down inside the hidden places descended from the settlers who first braved the harsh Arkansas winters. Their words are a mix of Cherokee, Irish, Scottish, German and Chickasaw.

They are the words of the hard-working pioneers who settled the land; that rocky, unforgiving wild place called Arkansas.

My words are the suffering of the Cherokees mourning their dead.

My words are the fatigue of soldiers on watch at sunrise.

My words are the screams of my grandmothers in childbirth.

My words are the whispers of the moonshiners.

My words are the preacher’s pleas for repentance.

My words are the sinner’s tears of salvation.

My words are the sharecropper’s curses.

My words are myself.

I will teach my children the truth: these words are not shameful. For my mother, who was silenced, I will teach them.

And I (we) will no longer be ashamed.