Mississippi has created a culture which glorifies women, especially white women. As a young white woman here, I’ve grown up surrounded by the idea of Southern Belles and ladies. At age nine, my grandfather offered to send me to finishing school in North Carolina for several weeks one summer.
While I grew up around working women, I still heard people on the radio speak about women’s roles and the reason they needed to stay home. My mom always worked, but I still stayed with my grandmother before I went to school. I got confused growing up; my aunts prayed over dinner almost as often as my grandfather, but they didn’t pray in church.
I got used to contradictory messages. Women were more prone to sin—a matter of gender, thanks to Eve—and more easily convinced by deception. However I simultaneously heard that women are better suited to simpler positions of work because they were more virtuous and shouldn’t be poisoned by the outside world. Like a messed up gender studies class, I learned about strange false dichotomies as a fact of life.
When at my most religious, I decided I would convert to Methodism or something similar and become a preacher. I thought I would best serve the world through preaching the Gospel. Later, I turned my eyes toward mission work thinking, “Well, with this I save souls and lives—they can both be important.” Eventually I tried to convince my partner to become a preacher; I thought I’d be the ideal preacher’s wife. He respectfully, but firmly, said “No, thanks.”
I fought with my gender for a while. I pushed for my partner to fit the Christian normative model for relationships. I wanted him to be more forceful, steer our relationship in a Godly way. I wanted to learn submissiveness and be a good future bride and woman. Something in our make-up led us away from the path. Despite whatever goals I had, I’m more comfortable as the leader, the big spoon, while he supports my goals.
For a while, I felt like a failure. I thought if I just tried harder I could become more feminine and dedicated to the ideals that I read about so often. I wanted to want certain things: to be a stay –at-home mom, to be the dedicated wife, to love and put God first and foremost in my life. I failed at desiring these things. I stopped fighting my desires which increasingly led me away from domesticated life. My partner didn’t want me to become a domestic super-wife; that’d mean he’d have to be a leading super-husband.
Beyond my failures of desire, the fiber of my being detracted from the good nature of a Southern woman. I identified as bisexual, I cared “far too much about all that sexist stuff” (in my mother’s opinion), and I spread #dontshoot instead of #IamDarrenWilson.
Every once in a while, I get a wild hair and decide that I’m going to be ultra-feminine with beautiful hair and nails and make-up. That I’m going to dress up and be pretty. Now, rather than focusing on my failures as a Southern woman, I focus on what I like for me. I wear lipstick that’s too dark with eyes that are too bright, I wear my hair up and down and clipped and whatever. I’m more genuinely myself than ever before.
I just had to give up on being the Godly, Southern woman I had been told to be.