Southern Girl Academy: Movies

You’ve heard of art imitating life and vice versa, and when it comes to Southern women and the heroines that portray them, you couldn’t get a more accurate representation that what takes shape on the silver screen. Movies as they are more commonly known, and at one such point – talkies. But I digress. I could sit here and prattle on about the most iconic of all Southern movies– both old and new: like Driving Miss Daisy, Smokey and the Bandit, Ghosts of Mississippi, Sling Blade and True Grit (written by our own Charles Portis, thankyouverymuch.), but I won’t. Instead, I want to talk about the leading ladies in some key Southern films.

First, Southern women have the tendency to come across as frail. Let me assure you, this is a front. We Southern women are a strong bunch, both physically and mentally. Here are just a few lessons we can learn from the Southern ladies of the big screen.

How to get what you want: Gone With the Wind

The quintessential Southern lass: Scarlet O’Hara (played by the lovely Vivian Leigh)

Scarlet was driven and determined to get what she wanted, regardless of who stood in her way. And her prize was a man. And then money. But mostly a man. (Or a man with money) And a beautiful dress was a priority to help catch him. But when faced with no money, she went so far as to have one made from her mother’s drapes. That takes both initiative and brains. We Southern ladies are no dummies.

Taking matters into your own hands: Fried Green Tomatoes

How many times has someone done something to you and that little switch in your brain flipped? A calm, cool and collected Southern lady has a number of options, the first being to smile and coo an insult so sweetly that the recipient will be left questioning whether or not you intended to be mean. Another option is to smash into that car that cut you off and scream “Towanda!” at the top of your lungs.

Sometimes a lady has to take off her proverbial starched white gloves and put on the boxing gloves. Or in this case, the driving gloves.

This movie is a tale of friendship in both of the parallel stories being told. Women bonding over love lost, broken friendships and death. There’s even a surprise ending involving cannibalism. I’m not going to lie; we Southerners do love a good Bar-B-Q, but really? Southern ladies draw the line at eating people.

Grace under pressure: Steel Magnolias

Dealing with grief can be a bitter pill to swallow, but these ladies do so with grace, charm and a healthy dose of snark. As fragile as the magnolia blooms for which they are named, sometimes they seemed to be forged from steel. Although she was beside herself with grief over the untimely death of her daughter, M’Lynn moved forward and helped her son-in-law pick up the pieces and raise her grandson. And, in epic Southern fashion, a new child was born of a friend and named for the beloved lost daughter. Like most, we honor our family by having their names live on.

From grace and strength to poise under pressure to simply getting what you want, Southern ladies know best. So the next time you need a lesson on how to be a proper Southern lady, look no further than your DVD collection.

Kelli Marks rambles on her blog about her life with pups, her obsession with baking and this little habit of building houses. She likes it when you stop by. She also pokes fun at the mundane and ridiculous though a pseudo-alter ego at Kelli Hates.

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Southern Girl Academy: Music

Most define southern music as country music and most assume all southerners listen only to country music. While some do, I don’t listen to modern country at all and I’m not the only one.

For me and many other modern southern women indie folk music is more pleasing to the ears and socially acceptable than country music these days. This likely has something to do with the fact that modern country music tends to sound closer to Lady Gaga than Waylon Jennings. It has lost the soulful, story-telling harmonies and nostalgia of the past. However, any good southerner can appreciate the renaissance of this type of music by the likes of the Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Jamie Johnson.

I should mention, too, that I personally adore Lady Gaga. Any woman who is so confident to arrive anywhere in a meat dress or an egg has earned my respect.

Besides, southern ladies should have diverse taste in music so as not to seem simple.

Southern music is about nostalgia.

Susan Probasco, my darling and very sassy friend, who just so happens to be an anthropologist and expert on women from the delta had this to say when I asked her opinion:

Q: How do you define southern music?

Susan: “Authenticity is really the key. This is a problematic notion, but authentic or not, music that feels nostalgic seems to have great appeal for our generation. Nostalgia especially sells during hard economic times.”

Q: What’s an example of a nostalgic southern song?

Susan: “Walking After Midnight” by Patsy Cline and “Good Ole Boys Like Me” by Don Williams are both great. A nostalgic song can take you away from the stress of modern, everyday life to a simpler time. And a theme to nostalgia from classic country music can inspire current artists who aren’t necessarily southern, but whose works speak to the theme of nostalgia – Alison Krauss (IL), Keith Urban (AU) (IA), Deana Carter (WI), etc.”

Growing up I spent some time with my dad at his doublewide trailer on a dirt road in Southwest Little Rock. Daddy smoked Marlboro Lights, drank Budweiser and shot bottle rockets out of a Coke bottle year-round just for the fun of it. My sister and I rode three wheelers and played with the driveway gravel.

During the summer we spent our days at Nanny & Popo’s house. Some mornings we would play in the yard, which at the time felt huge, while Popo tended to his tomato plants. Other mornings we would stand on stools and bake sugar cookies with Nanny. In the afternoons we watched her “stories” (southern for soap operas).

In the late afternoon we would meet Maxine, Nanny’s across-the-street neighbor for a walk.

Our family had a concrete business, so at noon all the men would come over for lunch.  These weren’t fancy times, but they were good times. Music that reminds me of this is good for my soul.

I remember driving around with daddy in his truck listening to country music. This was the early 80s and country was country. Sometimes he would put me in his lap and let me drive. I cherish these memories. Daddy is gone now. He died when I was in the eighth grade. My sister and I never lived with our parents. We were raised by grandparents (she in Chicago and I in Little Rock) because we were born to teenagers who just simply weren’t ready to be parents. It happened. We don’t talk about it.

High school is awkward for every teenager, not just those of us raised by grandparents. Music helped me survive. Any time I put in a tape of the Oakridge Boys I could bring my daddy back.

These days I’ve moved on. Southern women must always move on. We must not dwell or dawdle in the past, but it is good to remember. My taste in music has changed, but I still appreciate anything with soul, harmonies and a nostalgic story. It just sounds different these days.
Southern Rules about Music:

  • Always have music on somewhere in the background – turn it up if you are home alone and cleaning, turn it down if your Nana stops by
  • Familiarize yourself with Pandora and use it. Generally, I have no idea who sings what, but I do know there are a couple of artists I really like. Pandora does the rest for me.
  • Learn something about your favorite artists. The gift of conversation sets southern women apart. Even if you have no idea who Cee Lo Green is, be prepared to tell an interesting story about Lucinda Williams or whomever you are into at the moment.
  • Go to a concert on occasion. This is just for fun, but it will also give you something worthwhile to talk about later.
  • Appreciate the classics: Hank Williams, JR. (You should know that he is commonly referred to a Bocephus by true southerners. It’s the equivalent of ancient Christians drawing a fish in the sand. You either know or you don’t), Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard should give you somewhere to start.
  • Be Diverse in Music – Just because you are southern does not mean you only listen to country music.  Like what you like and own it. Being southern also means being confident in your eccentricities.

Pandora Suggestions for the Modern Southern Woman:

  • Lucinda Williams (daughter of poet and Arkansas resident Miller Williams)
  • Lucero (Favorite lyric: “Prettiest little girl I ever saw, standin’ on the banks of the Arkansas”) or Old Crow Medicine Show
  • The Band Perry or Lady Antebellum
  • The Indigo Girls
  • Any of the aforementioned classics (Waylon, Hank, Willie, Jerry Jeff, Merle)
  • Adele (she’s not southern, but that girl’s got soul)

Stephanie McCratic received a good Christian upbringing. She will use it against you at will and to her advantage. Raised in Little Rock, she now lives in a small town in Northwest Arkansas with her husband Steve. Her 17-month-old daughter Charlie is quite advanced.

Southern Girl Academy: Books

The South’s greatest export is not cotton. It’s great literature. Stories practically drip from our trees like so much Spanish moss. Sure, those who weren’t raised right might make jokes about Southern illiteracy, but anyone who’s been here knows Southerners are storytellers. We can’t tell you what happened yesterday without weaving in an epic narrative of good and evil, joy and pain, heroes and villains. You may be waiting for us to just get to the point already, but we’re engaging in what just might be our national pastime. And who can blame us? We’re surrounded by a cast of rather colorful characters!

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor

One of the South’s best writers, Flannery O’Connor, was once asked why Southern literature is so full of freaks. (Obviously, she was the right person to ask, as her work features stolen wooden legs, serial killers, street corner prophets, hermaphrodites, and a guy in a gorilla suit.) Miss O’Connor responded: “Whenever I am asked why Southern writers particularly have this penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” One of the great benefits of a region in which there is still some concept of being “raised right” is that the freaks stand right out. And freaks make for excellent reading.

More than anything, even its freakish characters, Southern literature is deeply rooted in the South as a place. The South may as well be an unconscious character in most Southern fiction. As Flannery O’Connor wrote, “If you’re a writer and the South is what you know, then it’s what you’ll write about and how you judge it will depend on how you judge yourself. It’s perhaps good and necessary to get away from it physically for a while, but this is by no means to escape it.”

Some writers, like William Faulkner, seem haunted by the ghosts of slavery and the Civil War, which float through his stream of consciousness prose like specters. Others, like O’Connor, are concerned with the religion of the South, which, as anyone asked where they go to church on a first meeting can attest, is pervasive here. And others, like Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird explore particularly Southern issues of race and prejudice (though this is not to say that racism and prejudice are not problems elsewhere).  None of these works would even be possible written by non-Southerners.

To be a true Southern Girl is to be proud of our region’s rich literary heritage. You can’t grow up here and not be steeped in story. You can’t be from here and not be proud to call folks like Kate Chopin, Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Cormac McCarthy, Maya Angelou, Walker Percy, Alice Walker, and Tennessee Williams fellow Southerners. All Southern girls must do their reading, and for extra Southern Girl Academy credit, field trips can be arranged to such holy places as Oxford, Mississippi, where William Faulkner lived and wrote; Piggot, Arkansas, where Ernest Hemingway wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms; and Andalusia Farm, where Flannery O’Connor lived for most of her life.

Sarah Orsborn is a real life debutante, born and raised in the South. She blogs at The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo, and is studying to be an English professor, to pass on her love of Southern literature to future generations.