On the one hand, the Appalachian woman before was frequently the central figure in travel accounts and fiction production. Antebellum female travelers considered Appalachian women to be "little better than beautiful savages" who did not "appear to possess much mind. Because she is observed by outsiders doing "man" manual labors, she is depicted as a "menial victim of toil" to be pitied. On the other hand, numerous historical and social science narratives were constructed between and by writers who engaged in the "the dialectics of mentions and silences" to formulate a theory about the nature of women's roles in patriarchal Appalachian families.
Compelled by commitment to a "conscious ideology," they constructed a homogeneous, reductionist image of the "typical mountain woman" by recording only those "facts" or those untested assumptions which were "thinkable" or "possible" within the separate spheres model of families. In order to shape that history for public consumption by possible donors between the early s and the s, ministers and missionaries privileged the notion that the Appalachian mother was so broken by her household and by her backward community that she needed to be saved by church projects funded by contributions from external philanthropists.
The caricature of the mountain woman as victimized, self-sacrificing wife and mother was more palatable for external public consumption by middle-class readers than was a more complex analysis of her active income-earning or activism outside the home, so northern periodicals further distorted and popularized this shadow view of Appalachian women. According to Horace Kephart, the Appalachian woman "has her kingdom within the house. According to Jacquelyn Dowd Hall:.
The mountain women who people nineteenth-century travel accounts, novels, and social surveys tend to be drudges who married young and aged early, burdened by frequent pregnancies and good-for-nothing men.
Cornbread Nation 3
Alongside that predominant image is another: the promiscuous mountain girl, responsible for the supposed high rate of illegitimacy in the region. From the s through the s, journalists, social scientists, and social workers established the "separate spheres" ideology as conventional wisdom through the publication of numerous ethnographies about Appalachian communities, and it is striking that so many of these sexist analyses were written by women. Most of these exaggerated works emphasize exotic alien characteristics to stimulate popular consumption,.
Almost all the writers grounded family life and work in strictly gender-segregated arenas, restricted passive women to their households, and erased or selectively silenced all details about their lives that would have made them more than uni-dimensional sideshows. These ethnographies also selectively erased all ethnic and class differences among women, in order to generate images of white women who lacked the kinds of white middle-class character traits needed to avoid poverty. As the War on Poverty drew national attention to Appalachian poverty in the s, a new generation of ethnographies emphasized the "physical separateness between the sexes" and l mythologized that all the region's women were confined to a "feminine world" in which they "subordinated their desires to those of men.
With a yellow journalistic pen that fired off repeated hyperboles, nurse Rena Gazaway captures the typical image of women that was offered by the ethnographies and magazine articles that appeared before when she claims that pregnancy is "the only role" considered appropriate for females, that "promiscuity is commonplace," and that the residents "are unconcerned about soaring birth rates.
The defects in their communal organization have made them insecure, incomplete, and inconsequential; the high price of their circumscribed intercourse with the outside world manifests itself in distorted physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. To titillate her readers, she inserts absurd details about the licentiousness of Appalachian females, observing that their "immorality causes the outer world to catch its pious breath. If a young girl consents to sexual intercourse, her legal age does not hinder its consummation.
Sexual appetites develop as prematurely as the sixth year of life in some of the precocious females.
The Sisterhood Band
Even though they offer no empirical evidence to support the stereotype that "women's roles were more clearly confined to the home," this worn-out myth has routinely been reiterated by regional scholars over the last two decades. The earliest critique that I can find which addresses the historical distortion of Appalachian women is the "Special Women's Issue" of Mountain Life and Work , and regional female scholars are still resounding this concern in the contemporary era.
The task of analyzing the work and family life of antebellum females might be simpler if Appalachian women were totally absent from history, for then we could begin with a blank slate. However, the journey toward a meaningful analysis of Appalachian women is made more difficult by the need to overcome the burden of a century of outdated social Darwinist assumptions about their character flaws and about their debilitating isolation in the separate sphere of their homes. For surveys of Appalachian women in fiction before , see Collins, "Nineteenth Century Fiction," pp.
Miller, Wingless Flights , pp. For the mountain matriarch image in a novel, see Furman, Quare Woman ; for a critical view of this novel, see Leftwich, "Lucy Furman," pp.
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Trouillot, Silencing the Past , pp 53, For popular journalistic accounts, see Grattan, "Trouble in the Hills," pp. Kephart, Our Southern Highlanders , p. Campbell, Southern Highlanders , pp. Hall, "Disorderly Women," p. For a bibliography of pre publications, see Farr, Appalachian Women. For applied medical and social science accounts, see Hyland, "Fruitful Mountaineers," pp. For notions of cousin and incestuous marriages and segregated work roles, see Matthews, Neighbor and Kin , pp. For regional writers who accepted assumptions about separate spheres in their s and s work, see Eller, Miners, Millhands , p.
My parents fought hard to stay out of welfare, to stay together, and to teach us the value of work. At 43, I have always worked since I was 14, and have always associated these traits with working-class liberal values… and was quite surprised many election cycles ago to hear silver-spooned class enemies in the GOP pick that up. What did these bastards know about real work? But it also pains me to see the elites, especially the East Coast elites, take over the Democratic Party.
I even remember starting out as an undergrad and scholarship kid at UC San Diego, how I felt the sting of class. I felt disconnected culturally from the liberals. As with the folks of Appalachia I was a member of the Southern Baptist Church… it was a big military town , the defense of our neighborhoods was also paramount to us. What south San Diegans were seeing during the 90s was an entire generation deployed to guard oil fields in Iraq while the princelings of Kuwait lived it up in night clubs, and folks in Sacramento setting up laws that attack immigrants as a cheap shot to get elected.
Everything was fine at the border until these demagogues Republicans in this case started showing up in our town in staged photo-ops. Trump does have that appeal of at least pretending to listen to the broken and forgotten. But just as we were about to forget the vengeance we swore against those who hurt our town, Trump comes by and reopens all the wounds, reminding us that while we might hold some conservative values, Republicans will always see us as sub-human.
I do think dialog and empathy are something of a short supply in American politics today. The neoliberal policies and unfair trade pacts supported by both parties have been crushing our respective beloved hometowns. And we have a lot more in common than what these entrenched political entities say that we do.
I will look for your book. Luckily our mother was strong enough to help us make it out of the hole by excelling in her profession as a nurse. In Houston as you probably know there is a staggering number of people of every imaginable type, and my school years were spent among kids from every walk of life, of every ethnicity and persuasion you can imagine.
As an outsider myself, being gay and openly agnostic in an environment where neither was considered acceptable high school was in the late 90s , I can identify with the feeling of seeming hopelessness, isolation, and fear for the future that Mr Vance describes, though certainly on a different level and for different reasons. I also feel a greater understanding now of the appeal of Trump to certain strata within our society…along with a renewed sense of how dangerous he really is to all of us not to mention the rest of the world!
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Maybe we could all use a touch of that hillbilly idealism in our lives. Cheers for an excellent interview, and congratulations for gaining a new reader of the blue persuasion!
I could go on and on. Vance, though. What I find so hopeful about it is that someone has finally found a voice with which to talk substantively about an important economic and cultural issue, but without antagonizing the other side.
JDV identifies as a conservative, but his story challenges right-wing free-market pieties. What do you think, readers? Do you think the runaway success of Hillbilly Elegy , and the powerfully positive response from liberals to a book about class written by a conservative, bodes well for the possibility of constructive engagement around issues of class and poverty?
I believe, and so does J.
But there will never be a government program capable of compensating for the loss of stable family structures, the loss of community, the loss of a sense of moral agency, and the loss of a sense of meaning in the lives of the poor. From a Washington Post review of the book :. The wounds are partly self-inflicted. The working class, he argues, has lost its sense of agency and taste for hard work.
In one illuminating anecdote, he writes about his summer job at the local tile factory, lugging pound pallets around. A full-time employee could earn a salary well above the poverty line. That should have made the gig an easy sell. Bob was chronically late to work, when he showed up at all. He frequently took minute bathroom breaks.