(Southern) Wedding Bells // Anna Vandevender
Photo Credit: Anna Vandevender
I am a West Virginia native who recently transplanted to Virginia; I have been counted among the Southern population for as long as I can recall and identify deeply with several of the traditions my heritage offers while simultaneously combatting some traditions and worldviews that do not embody who I am as a person and who I want to be as a psychologist. In my heart of hearts and on a good day when I am 5’3” rather than 5’2 ¾”, I am a “strong, independent Appalachian woman” as my sister would say. However, there is something about life transitions that can unsettle a person and can change the way he or she looks at everything they know.
I recently married my partner of seven years and would like to share with you what my journey as this “strong, independent Appalachian woman” from singlehood to engagement and finally to marriage has been like, as it has made me quite aware of how important feminism is to me personally and professionally. I grew up in a small, rural town watching Disney movies with my sisters, dreaming of who my Prince Charming would be and what he would look like. I met my now husband in college and we dated throughout the following years. During this time I wondered whether or not he was this idyllic embodiment of the white knight who would rescue me from all of the troubles and frustrations in my life, as our culture at large teaches girls and women that we need rescued rather than relying on our own independence. I was shocked to learn that this man who had stumbled into my life was not a white knight at all, instead he was a human being, with flaws and imperfections - just. like. me. No woodland animals singing, no birds carrying articles of clothing through the air to dress me. Instead there were conversations, some calm and collected, others heated and voices raised as we tried to understand what it was that each of us wanted from the other.
It turns out that we are both from the same cultural background, we are both from Appalachia and on a larger geographic scale we are from the South. We both had a working understanding of “the ways things worked” between a man and a woman who lived in the South; the only problem was it didn’t fit with the way that I work and subsequently the way that we as a couple work. I am stubbornly independent and don’t mind to argue when necessary in order to maintain this quality. My husband hails from a background where women are submissive, if not entirely subservient to men, typically there are no conversations in pursuit of shared understanding in this culture. Taking all of this into consideration as we prepared to make the ultimate commitment to one another, I was quite panicked and uncomfortable with how all of this was going to go. Would I be expected by my partner and his family to give up the work that I am doing as a graduate student and future psychologist in order to tend to his needs only? Would my husband understand if I kept my name as a professional; would it hurt his pride if I didn’t carry his last name in everything I do? And of course, the inevitable question when a woman begins talking about marriage, when are you going to have children?
Fortunately none of my fears for my marriage have become reality, I am still a graduate student, I am still known professionally by my maiden name, and we have no plans to have children in the near future. However, as I faced my fears through the months leading up to the wedding, I realized that so many of my peers from childhood and college face similar concerns without having the support of feminist women and men who encourage them to become all they can be. In fact, many of my peers are wives and mothers now, and describe themselves proudly as stay-at-home mothers. Although I share in their happiness if their situation does bring them joy, I also wonder if they were ever told there was more to being a woman, that we are capable of great things too. I find myself getting very angry when I encounter someone who views marriage as a business contract to provide a man with a housemaid and produce children, preferably males to carry on the family name. I want to tell these people that I am more than my uterus and my cleaning and cooking abilities. And to think of what a shame it would be if I never have children, what will I have done with my life? How do you politely flip-off tradition and educate someone in the same gesture? I haven’t mastered that gesture yet, but my hope is that through talking about who I am as a woman and teaching through example, men and women in my culture and differing backgrounds can learn the real value of a woman, as a person, rather than a baby-factory and servant.
So what is it that I want to tell women and girls, Southern and otherwise? Within you lives a strong, independent woman who deserves the opportunity to have conversations with your partner about what you want from your relationship with them. You deserve to have the power to make your own decisions, you deserve to say no, to say yes, to say not now. You are more than your uterus and your hands that can scrub dishes and fold laundry. Marriage does not have to be a business transaction, it can be a union of two souls who respect each other and value the other’s opinion and most importantly share a love that binds them against all odds. Marriage can be equality rather than patriarchy. Most of all, marriage does not have to be the loss of your freedom that is mourned for the remainder of your natural life. It can be accompanied by wedding bells that ring joyously as your adventures begin anew, hand in hand with your partner. This strong, independent Appalachian woman has learned to ask for what she wants and to put her foot down and she hopes that you will too as you seek out your own adventures.
Written by Anna Vandevender