Popular culture is all around us; whether we are watching television, listening to music, or reading social media, we can’t escape it. Take a second and think about how much exposure you have had today. How many times have you picked up your phone today and gone on any social media apps? Whether intentional or not, we are exposed to it every day. Popular culture has an influential impact on our thoughts and ideas about society that affects each and every one of us in some kind of way. Even though most identities are represented inpopular culture in many different ways, southern women are misrepresented through movies, television shows, and journal articles that lead to people developing false stereotypes and views towards not only southern women, but identities in general.
The Power of Popular Culture
Media manipulates the lenses in which we view society without us even realizing it. More often than not, our ideas are shaped by what is presented to us from the media rather than from our own thoughts and beliefs. Many of us fall prey to popular culture by conforming to the social norms that are represented. These looks, behaviors, and ideas that depict pop culture become a manifestation of what people want to be. We have an array of images that pop into our heads when thinking about certain identities, looks, and concepts. The media has attempted to represent almost every idea, action, and look out there in some way, shape, or form. However, many of those identities are misrepresented, or in some cases, there is a lack of representation. Many of us are unable to have exposure to different cultures or identities, and as a result, we obtain our perceptions through pop culture. When analyzed, the media is often talked about in a negative way, but it should not always be considered something to stray from. Popular culture can allow us, when given accurate representations and information, to gain insight into cultures and human experiences we do not have the opportunities or access to. The ability to instantly subject ourselves to multiple media platforms is at our fingertips every day. This makes me think about whether we are overexposing ourselves, but either way, we have to be careful with believing the false realities and misconceptions that popular culture often creates.
Identities in Media
All of us possess many different identities that are commonly represented in popular culture. The identities we use to describe ourselves are based on categories we are exposed to and led to believe at an early age in our lives through popular culture. Even though an identity defines who a person is, it is not represented by only a few key characteristics. One does not have to fit those certain traits and molds the media creates to be considered socially acceptable. The media tends to only focus on a few token traits which are commonly the most exaggerated cases. For instance, women from the south have different stigmas and stereotypes that surround them, leading people to believe they are a an entirely different category of women. In actuality, they are regular everyday humans that have been categorized by popular culture. The media groups so many identities, such as this one, into unrealistic, stereotypical representations that do not portray the general identity. Because of this, many are led to believe these misconceptions.
Southern Belles versus Redneck Women
What do you picture when you think of a typical southern woman? Do you think of a girl holding up a fish she just caught or do you think of a woman in sophisticated clothing sitting around a fancy table with their friends? When most people think of southern women, they often think of a typical traditional southern belle- a classy, pretentious, white woman in a big hat and hoop skirt-or they think of a redneck country girl in daisy dukes, cowboy boots, and camouflage. However, despite the social class standings, the most common stereotype that both sides share is being racist and caucasian.
Most people’s perceptions of southern women, especially those located on the west coast, obtain their views primarily from popular culture commonly through movies and television shows. For the stereotype of traditional southern women, I found that the movie The Help, which is based off of the original novel, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, provides a good representation for southern women during the civil rights period.
The Caucasian southern women are seen as classy, rich, proper, racist, and snobby. They are too preoccupied with what everyone thinks and making sure they are at the top of their class. The movie focused on how caucasian southern women act and treat others, especially their African American maids. The women do not practice what they preach and treat their maids as if they are inhuman and extremely inferior to them. The Caucasian women in the film dressed classy, always wearing sophisticated outfits and jewelry. Their hair was always done and were always presented in a high-class way. They were often seen in a relaxed setting with their friends out for brunch or tea. They had little duties to attain to because their maids fulfilled all of their responsibilities, including caretaking and cooking.
Granted the movie takes place in a historical setting, the people viewing it can be influenced to perceive that this is how southern women are in today’s society. The media today represents southern caucasian women as those who are still attached to their history and stick to their traditional beliefs and ways of life, when in actuality it is the opposite and most have progressed to different values.
I can’t speak for all southern women, but the majority are not racist, like the women in the movie they do not have African American maids, and they are not all snobby rich women focused on hierarchy.
On the other hand, the majority of people think of rednecks when it comes to southern women. Most picture hillbillies with missing teeth and bad hygiene riding four wheelers and trucks through the mud. Others also picture the country girls holding fish in their hands, shooting guns, wearing short shorts, cowboy boots, and camouflage. They are represented as entirely different kinds of human with the automatic assumption of being politically conservative and uneducated.
There are many misrepresentations of rednecks in general throughout popular culture. I think the best misrepresentation of southern women is exemplified in the song, Redneck Woman by Gretchen Wilson. If you are not a fan of country music, especially more traditional styles, you have most likely not heard this song. This song would not likely appear on the popular country radio stations that are local to this area. In the music video, Gretchen Wilson stars as herself, representing redneck women. She is a caucasian female that contradicts the traditional southern way of life throughout the entire song with her more laid back, rustic ways. Gretchen refers to herself as a “redneck woman, I ain’t no high class broad” and through the use of different examples, such as “buying clothes at Walmart half-priced rather than Victoria’s Secret” and “rather drink beer all day than champagne” people are able to understand more about the culture she is describing, such as going the cheap route when purchasing items (2004). The video displays women on four-wheelers riding through mud puddles in the woods, residing in trailer parks, and hanging out at bars dancing and drinking lots of beer. The women are wearing cowboy boots, and camouflage, showing that they can be the outdoor type but also clean themselves up when the time comes. Many southern girls participate in a lot of these activities, but more as hobbies, not ways of life. They like to hunt and fish, but they also like to get dressed up and keep themselves maintained and classy.
When young kids are growing up, especially in today’s society, they are glued to television shows, movies, and music to pass their time. Songs are very powerful sources that allow people to gain insight of the culture. Little girls who listen to these songs of how southern women are supposed to be influences their behaviors and mindsets, according to the mold they believe they have to fill. Most country songs played on the radio sing about women, alcohol, dirt roads, trucks, and being rebellious. Some people are not fond of traditional southern music, and country music today has evolved with more of a pop-style to it. This draws more people in due to its mainstream effect exposing more people to southern ways of life.
I found this particular song and the music video revealing of how the majority stereotype southern women. However, as I mentioned before, the traits used to classify them are more of hobbies that southern women enjoy in their free time and they do not define everything they are. This representation is an extreme version of the southern identity, but is one of the most common examples seen in popular culture. There are southern women that are defined by these traits, but it is not a good representation of southern women or southerners as a whole. I believe that there are people that fall under these characteristics all over the world, not just in the south.
Usually, there are extreme and unique cases that stand out and are represented in popular culture that contribute to the general stereotypes people know of. A few extreme examples of rednecks in general that I considered were Honey Boo-Boo, Party Down South, and Duck Dynasty, which are all reality tv shows about southern families and or individuals living in the south.
Southern women possess a combination of different traits that originate from the sources and characteristics I described above. In the reality television show, Southern Charm, the southern lifestyle is represented with a mixture of traditional and redneck aspects. The show follows the lives of eight adults that live in Charleston, South Carolina whom are all living the modern southern life. The best representation of a southern woman is seen through the character, Cameran. She is educated with high standards and morals while being proper and elegant. However, she also knows how to have a fun time and enjoys going out into the woods to go hunting or fishing. Throughout the show, the southern ways of life are exhibited and we are exposed to all the different aspects of the culture. This show is different compared to the extreme cases, providing the most accurate representation in media.
While maybe not as exciting or popular, we get a lot of detailed information from the articles we read. In particular to southern women, the article Southern Belle or Southern Hell?, the effect of southern culture on young women is explained through personal experiences (Bridget, 2013). The article discusses this mold that these young women are expected to fit in; must be classy, ladylike, graceful, and everything else that screams southern. These molds were created by men during the civil war era when the traditional Old South lifestyle was popular. The article, The Southern Woman: A History of Rebellion, Passion and Betrayal in “Gone with the Wind” and “Caballero: A Historical Novel” analyzes the gender roles, identity, and culture of southern women (Vela, et al. , 2012). Their behaviors are still represented today, but with modification, just like with most identities. Southern women have become more independent, educated, and more represented in the workforce. In the article, Magnolias Grow in Dirt: The Bawdy Lore of Southern Women, numerous stories are told about southern women that go against everything they were taught to be (Green, 1977). They do break the rules and have fun in their free time, because well, they are normal human beings too.
Overall, there is not one-way southern women are represented, but rather a combination of traits. Many people are led to believe there are only certain characteristics and identities that southern women display. I believe this is true for most identities that are misrepresented in popular culture. However, in this case, a woman is not southern just because she looks or acts the part, it comes from within. You can wear cowboy boots and be classy in any region of the world, but it comes down to the values you possess and how you display yourself stems from the way in which you were raised. So just because some popular culture represents southern women as trashy hillbillies, racists, caucasian, preppy snobs, or confederate flag waving Trump supporters, this is not the case for the general group.
Personally, I was raised in the south and portray some of the traits represented in the media, but not all. I am caucasian and do own cowboy boots, drive a truck, and occasionally I like to fish and shoot guns. However, this does not make me racist and uneducated as it is often portrayed and assumed. I do possess some characteristics of a redneck, but I can also be a sophisticated and elegant southern belle. I wear pearls and often have monogrammed accessories, but I am not focused on social class nor am I dependent on men and others to fulfill my responsibilities. Just because southern women like me possess some traits, such as the ones analyzed, does not mean they represent all of the stereotypes nor can these ideas be generalized to a whole group or identity.
Throughout the term, I learned a lot about popular culture and how it plays a significant role in our lives. In particular, I found the week about the influence of advertisements one of the most educational and applicable to our everyday lives. The article by Rushkoff, revealed how intricate and subliminal advertisements can be while illustrating how society has begun to materialistically define ourselves based on what we possess through his examples of purchases and investments (2000). Advertisers know all the tricks and trades to influence people to buy certain products and convey important messages. We are surrounded by ads and I think it is important to be able to dissect ads and identify the purpose, audience, biases, and other parts as mentioned in the Deconstructing an Advertisement article (2005). Whenever I watch ads now, I pay more attention to all of the details and parts of the ads I would normally overlook.
Additionally, many of us stay updated with current events through news sources. Today, there is an ever growing amount of fake news popping up on the internet and on news channels. I think being able to analyze news sources and articles is a very important and a necessary skill in our society. Week 6 made me realize how easy it is to be tricked by the news and I always need to be skeptical of the information I find or hear about. The article, News: Balance Bias with Critical Questions, helped me consider questions to ask when encountering any kind of media (Hynds, n.d.). Before, I never thought much about the source I was retrieving my information from, I only looked for the answer I searched for. Now, I analyze the source before reading the article to help determine the credibility of the source and whether I can trust the information. Many of us are easily tricked by the news and it is important for us to gain these skills to make more educated decisions and acquire accurate information.
By learning about these concepts, I am able to use the skills I have acquired to examine news articles and advertisements in media to determine any biases or incongruities. I can use these techniques in other classes when conducting research or searching for information. When out and about in my daily life, I can also apply these concepts when reading or watching advertisements and analyzing popular culture in general.
Barnathan, M. , Columbus, C. , Green, B. , Lunsford, S. (Producers), & Taylor, T. (Director). (2011). The Help [Motion Picture]. United States: Dreamworks Studios. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1454029/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt
Bridget, C. (2013). Southern Belle or Southern Hell? Women’s Media Center. Retrieved from http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/southern-belle-or-southern-hell
Green, R. (1977). Magnolias Grow in Dirt: The Bawdy Lore of Southern Women. The Radical Teacher, (6), 26-31.
Hynds, P. (n.d.). News: Balance Bias with Critical Questions. Retrieved from http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/news-balance-bias-critical-questions
Rich, J. & Wilson, G. (2004). Redneck Women [Recorded by Gretchen Wilson]. On Here for the Party [CD]. Los Angeles, California: Epic Records. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82dDnv9zeLs
Rushkoff, D. (n.d.). A Brand By Any Other Name-How Marketers Outsmart Our Media-Savvy Children. Retrieved 2000, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/rushkoff/brand.html
Smith, W. (Creator), & Garcia, P. , Mckinnon, B. (Directors). (2013). Southern Charm[Television Series]. Charleston, South Carolina: Haymaker. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2815522/?ref_=nv_sr_1
Vela, J., Miles, Caroline, McMahon, Marci, & Nuss, Melynda. (2012). The Southern Woman: A History of Rebellion, Passion and Betrayal in “Gone with the Wind” and “Caballero: A Historical Novel”, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
Cameran eubanks [digital image]. Retrieved from https://lovelace-media.imgix.net/getty/518605936.jpg
Cameran eubanks southern charm[digital image]. Retrieved fromhttps://static1.squarespace.com/static/55485da1e4b070e824121f7d/t/5704ccea45bf21f7ce 2cfa54/1459932501892/southern-charm-cameran-eubanks?format=500w
Gretchen wilson [digital image]. Retrieved from http://img.gactv.com/GAC/2007/08/13/gretchenwilson23_v_e.jpg
How to act like a true southern belle. [digital image]. Retrieved from https://i.pinimg.com/originals/7d/d5/22/7dd52297b93e19bbf6fba53caccc9edf.jpg
Steel magnolias [digital image]. Retrieved from https://i.pinimg.com/originals/97/e9/7f/97e97fe82a02bb5a6aa73eafd05a60a4.jpg
***other memes were made personally from an app called Meme Generator.