Monday, August 27, 2007

Appalachian Women's Week

I've been very kindly invited to guest blog this week by Jill Filipovic over on Femimiste.

I’ll be using this opportunity to write about a subject very dear to me, Appalachian women.

One of the problems and one of the blessings that I’ve faced in the gathering of my stories has been that they are, for the most part gathered from women. This is because I am a woman myself, and there are still very strict rules regarding how women and men interact in this culture. I owe a huge debt to Friend Scott, who has been able to gather stories from the men folk that they might not tell to me.

I think what has consistently struck me about the Appalachian women is their tenacity and strength. These women are not feminists. They would be insulted to be called such. But at their core is a resolve and a resourcefulness that we could learn much from. They are action-based and dynamic. The adversity they face in their day to day living is staggering at times to the outsider. Much has been made of their poverty and lack of education by scholars and many people have difficulty seeing beyond this deficit. I will say to you that there are different kinds of wealth in this world and different kinds of “smart”.

I was talking to my friend one day and she was telling me about the Vista volunteers who came up here in droves during the 1960’s. They came here to teach people various life skills.

“So what did they show you?” I asked.

“Well, they showed us how to make mattresses, can and built outhouses.”

I thought about this for a minute.

“Ummm…but didn’t y’all already know how to do that? I mean, you’ve been living up here forever!” I said.

She smiled at me gently. “Oh yes. We knew how to do that.”

Talk about teaching your grandma how to suck eggs.

Another curious example of this was the teaching of “Forestry” in the schools here. They taught kids how to recognize and name different trees. This is a culture that lives in a forest environment. I have yet to meet a ten year old who couldn’t tell the difference between a red and “piss” oak.

So, there is indeed a paternalistic attitude that has been directed at the Appalachian people from the outside for quite a long time. It’s very easy to fall back on these stereotypes, unfortunately.

I’m hoping during this week to show from a women’s perspective how women deal with real life and hardship here. I’ll be alternately entertaining with fiction pieces based on some of the stories I’ve gathered about Appalachian women. If there is a story here, there will be an essay over on Feministe. You’ll have to go there to read the companion article.

As per usual...I'll be writing from the seat of my pants.


...Plus...I love their header...cause I was once a little girl with a big gun. And I'm all about girls with guns.

9 Comments:

  1. Chris said...
    Rosie, is it still true that Appalachia has a relatively high poverty rate?
    Disgruntled Ladye said...
    I came over here by the way of Feministe. I had to check out your writings on the women of the Appalachians.

    I come from a long line of Appalachian settlers. Much of my family still lives in rural Tennesse in conditions many people, my husband included, find difficult to comprehend.

    I look forward to reading more. But now you've got me wanting to re-read Christy.
    Sue Doe said...
    Oh honey,

    Real feminists think for themselves.

    That's the real freedom.
    Shades of Blue said...
    Fascinating!
    Hobo Stripper said...
    I found you by way of Feministe, too. I love your style and the beauty and contrast in your writing. And I love the dulcimer in the background (I play one).
    Rosie said...
    Chris, to the outsider there is a great deal of poverty. Jobs are scarce and primarily industrial or manual labor jobs. I would like to point out that they don't see themselves as being particularly impoverished. We have more problems with other social issues like prescription opiate abuse.

    Welcome, Feministe visitors!
    Maridmitch said...
    What are the rules governing conduct between men and women, Rosie?
    Rosie said...
    Hey Maridmitch! Good to hear from you again. The rules are a bit complicated, and I know most of them from the point of view of a single woman who wishes to remain single. That is very weird up here. After you get to know everyone, they relax a bit. But you don't want to talk directly to another woman's husband unless you know them as a couple quite well. Sitting on the same piece of furniture...like a really long big couch...as a man without a chaperone present will most likely be taken as an invitation for him to take liberties. A single woman must be cautious of accepting large gifts...like a bear haunch, since that could be an indication of his serious intentions. Depending on what church you attend, there are different rules regarding the separation of the sexes in the congregation, whether women are allowed to speak or such. If you want to maintain a good "reputation" as a "good" woman...and that is something I do try to do...you don't invite men into your house without a chaperone. (Friend Scott being the exception...though everyone still is very hopeful that we will settle down into wedded bliss and are not at all bashful about saying that to both of us) Sitting on the porch is accepted. And they do tend to judge you by the company you keep. Some people are more reputable than others.
    Maridmitch said...
    Thanks, Rosie. I've been a lurker, but check and read your blog daily. We were out your way in June in conjunction with ChristyFest and noticed Big Creek Market had reopened. My husband and I've stopped there several times for a cold soda on a hot day!
    I hope you can stay out in the Old Fifteenth and not have to sell your property. The Old Fifteenth a special place to me.

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