What does being a “Southern lady” mean in today’s South?
The Gone with the Wind sort of Southern lady, dressed in layers upon layers of petticoats and bustles, never really existed. While there might be some instances, it is an idealized image from Hollywood created to tell a tale. Even still, there’s a part of that variety of prim woman who can get rough and dirty and be helpless all at the same time wrapped in up in every modern Southern lady.
So what makes up the modern Southern lady? What makes her tick?
The most obvious thing is that she is proud to be Southern and, when outside of the South, is easily recognizable as such. Be it a Southern cadence, over use of the word “ya’ll,” or just looking like one, a Southern lady is noticeable and memorable. Being a Southern lady, which is all tied up is class, economic, and social issues, is not to be confused with a Southern gal, girl, or other diminutives. We should never confuse the two types for fear of offending the Southern lady.
Traditionally part of the gentrified class, the Southern lady has an affinity for stylish clothing and shoes, often wearing ensembles that may be considered “flashy” in less colorful locales. She decorates her home in a similar fashion, using color and flowers often as centerpieces in her designs. Seasonal changes are obligatory, specifically for holidays. Even if she is employed, she is a homemaker extraordinaire: she cares for her children and husband with devotion, loving (almost) every moment unconditionally. Our Southern lady is their best cheerleader from the sidelines, bruise kisser, and cook. Be sure to notice that while she on the sidelines cheering, she is a constructor of perfection in smallest details to keep it all working as she sees fit.
Gracious, she never complains about her own problems, except to her dear, dear friends, but discussing the neighbor’s is always encouraged. Gossip is a part of daily life in the South and quite second nature to the Southern lady. Yet despite craving gossip and being forever curious about the state of others’ lives, the Southern lady is sly in her carefully determined pecking order, conforming to society yet pushing it at the same time.
This curiosity can often lead to general crabbiness in old age, as well as conversations that the listener would be happy to avoid, so Southern ladies would do well to remember to keep gossip within reins.
Despite her girly tendencies, our Southern lady can whoop and holler with the boys. However, she will only get down and dirty when necessary. If stranded on the side of an often traveled road, she will appear helpless to entice aid. And even though she is most often seen in heels, it would not be shocking to see her barefoot in the garden or sipping a beer on the porch covered in mud with her dogs.
But with all this knowledge and independence, she can be stubborn to a point and can be easily agitated when things do not go her way. It is best not to cross a Southern lady to avoid the hell fire she can create. She will fix her problems but will first get others to do it for her, not out of laziness but out of a complex yet strict set of social manners.
Whether in frayed jean shorts of a dress and heels, our Southern lady weathers it all with an overstated grace, especially when she coos, “Aw honey, bless your heart” which any non-Southern would constantly know was a completely misleading statement.