It has been a month since I returned home to Tennessee and I quickly remembered what it means to be a Tennessean and why I loved being a Volunteer. People say good morning and actually, mean it. I still remember the psychology professor from New York that told us how it freaked her out when she first came here. In Tennessee, people make eye contact just because it is considered polite to make eye contact when you say hello and to acknowledge even a stranger when you pass them. And, it isn’t uncommon to have a 10-minute conversation in the grocery store with a total stranger. Men still hold the door and will hold it while you climb the steps as if they have all the time in the world. Plumbers, electricians, and all the workers that have been so helpful with the old home I bought quickly treat me with greater caution when I give them the “my daddy taught me…” when it comes to home repairs. The look on their faces say, she may have lost part of the accent, but she didn’t forget how to fix things.
I love being a powerful woman, but I also love wielding the Southern lady.
I learned how much the South has changed. There was a time when a new woman in a university or corporate gym may have been considered a spouse. Yesterday, an older gentleman in the gym assumed I was in a leadership position. I’m sure part of it was the dress I was wearing that clearly gave me away, but still, I remember a time when people would see me in uniform and ask me if I was a stewardess instead of recognizing me as an officer.
I was dressed for success, but a Southern man didn’t assume whose wife I might be and that is progress.
It is nice to see that the Southern ladies have made great progress in the advocacy of women’s rights and equality. After all, a true Southern lady does not stay long in the company of those that cannot respect her. I am grateful to all the female academics, graduate students, and professional women that have worked so hard for equality. I have seen these women every day and they are doing the things that impressed me as a student so many years ago. They take their mission seriously and they take it to the streets. Almost everyone I happen to have met at the university has told me about their work with the homeless, or in an underserved clinic, or with children who were born into poverty, or their mission trips to serve the poor and spread the Word. Yes, it means something to be a Volunteer and that calling to step up lives here.
This leads me to my thought of the day. We can be polite to others and accept the intention of good manners with graciousness. The woman behind the counter that calls me dear is not being disrespectful nor is the plumber that does the same if their intent is to be polite. Communication is not only the words we choose to use, but the tone with which we use them, and the body language when we are talking. Holding a door doesn’t say I am less than a man. In fact, it is meant to show respect even if in doing so it acknowledges a role that is often linked to gender or age.
I’m glad to be home and happy that I am being reminded on a daily basis that there is much to love about the South. It is nice to slow down and remember that I should never be too busy to greet a stranger with kindness and get to know them. I am a feminist, a Christian, and a Southern lady and I love it that in Tennessee I can be all of those things!