I was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. When I decided to attend a university outside of the South I expected to have a lot of questions from professors and other students, but I was anticipating that I would be the one to be experiencing culture shock. In general when I tell people where I am from there are three types of reactions. The first being astonishment, “Wow that’s amazing, what made you want to come East and live so far away from your family?” For some reason everyone is always expecting some kind of grand justification for why I moved, which I don’t have. I’m from Alabama not a communist nation, we still have free will to come and go as we please. Secondly there is the ever popular statement “If you’re from Alabama, where’s your accent?” In truth, I am not native to the South. I was born in California and moved to Alabama when I was in elementary school where I stayed until I finished high school, so it was almost impossible to develop an accent. Although, just because you live in a certain region of the United States doesn’t guarantee that you will have an accent; after all not everyone from New Jersey speaks like the cast members of The Sopranos right? Thirdly, and the most interesting, are those who meet me with a barrage of curiosity. I’ve heard every statement in the book from “So your life is just like Sweet Home Alabama”, to “You must live in a tiny, cute Southern town.” This is completely true, just like how everyone in Pennsylvania is Amish and rides around on a horse and buggy. I live in one of the biggest cities in my state, it’s nowhere near the beach, people wear shoes, all houses have indoor plumbing, and it is not inhabited by backwoods hillbillies.
I have come to understand that people are enamored by things they don’t understand, which is why my life is assumed to be far more exotic than it really is. At first I didn’t really understand why people would presume that my home was like the setting of a cheesy romantic comedy. However, I began to realize that although people don’t necessarily believe that Hollywood is 100% factual, when they haven’t been to a certain region of the world or known anyone who lives a certain lifestyle the only knowledge that they do have comes from books, TV, and film. Movies are notorious for presenting Southerners as dimwitted simpletons, and Southern women as over-dramatic weaklings who begin their husband-hunting quests at the age of 12. From Gone with the Wind to Fried Green Tomatoes, there is a precedent that viewers have come to expect when they picture The South. Due to popular culture the South is no longer just a region of the U.S., but an icon of American culture and values. Current TV hits like Hart of Dixie and GCB (Good Christian Bitches) aren’t helping our case either. I’ve only seen one episode of both shows but the use of petty and annoying women in both casts left me dreaming for the day that producers stop peddling these ridiculous clichés of life in the South.
With the picture that hundreds of authors and directors have painted of Southerners I really can’t blame people for being uninformed. Alabama isn’t the only state surrounded by myths. New York is probably the most infamous, and I have to say that I was highly disappointed when I saw that no one was dressed like the cast of Sex and the City. Even though I am guilty of typecasting states myself, I could not escape the irritation that I felt every time someone asked a silly question about my home. Now don’t get me wrong I have no problem answering people’s questions, as I am curious about other people’s experiences as well. Most people just believe that the South holds an old time American charm, the trouble comes when people start making fun of the South. Alabama is like my annoying baby sibling; I can make fun of them all I want, but when an outsider does they better be ready to fight.
Although it doesn’t happen very often, it is possible to portray southern women without being a rerun of overused stereotypes, and author Lee Smith has perfected this craft. She creates novels, set in the south, that feature dimensional characters. She is quoted with stating, “The biggest myth about Southern women is that we are frail types, fainting on our sofas…nobody where I grew up ever acted like that. We were about as fragile as coal trucks.” Just as Smith proclaims, I am not weak nor have I ever fainted due to shock or dismay. My family raised me to be a belle, as every Southern woman is. This may seem contradictory to everything else that I’ve said, but the Southern belle isn’t a myth. However, the definition of what makes a belle has gotten slightly misconstrued. You don’t need a huge derby hat or a frilly dress to be a belle. She is a woman who has a mind of her own, with the ability to be progressive while still respecting traditions; as well as an individual who can take care of herself and allows gentlemen to open her doors out of respect, not necessity. I do not tend to get attached to places, but rather people and I when I am away I miss being surrounded by my fellow belles.