Women in general and southern women in particular spend their lives juggling many roles, there is a perfume ad from my childhood that illustrates this paradox beautifully. It went something like this “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man, cause I’m a woman . . . ” I got the message loud and clear, being a woman means being all things at almost all times. Quite a tall order. In iconic movies like Steel Magnolias, the portrayal of women is women of strength and determination, this is not a characterization or a presentation of an ideal, it is truly how most of the southern women I am blessed to know are.
We pride ourselves on our strength, our ability to take what comes our way with grace and finesse. You do not want to impede a southern girl on a mission, especially if that mission involves protecting one of her loved ones. We are fiercely loyal to those we love. A southern woman when faced with a problem will come up with a plan A, B and C in a matter of minutes, something will fix this! We pour out care on others through casseroles, pumpkin bread and small tokens to cheer up those in need. No matter if they are family, friends or just neighbors. There is no task too menial we won’t cheerfully take on if it will lessen the burden of our loved ones. So now I am guessing you are thinking what is the paradox?
The crown in the picture above should be a clue. Deep down despite the fact that we are capable, strong women, we long to be truly feminine. We swoon over monograms. We love to get dressed up and be taken out on the town. We long for that officer and a gentleman to sweep us off our feet in a grand romantic gesture. We expect our men to open doors and love to feel taken care of. While flowers and other romantic gestures are nice, what we really need is to know our man has our back. We want to know he will catch us when we fall, dry our tears and be a shoulder to lean on. To hold our hands on romantic walks, in moments of crisis, at prayer and everything in between. We want him to recognize our strength but also see the vulnerable heart that lies beneath. We want a man to above all protect us, respect us and treasure us.
So while at face value this seems paradoxical with the strong, intelligent modern woman, I would suggest it is like two sides to the same coin or like multi-facets in a fiery diamond. I have spent more of my days presenting myself as the determined woman who can handle anything, but I must admit my vulnerable heart needs to be treasured. That does not make me weak or fickle, it just makes me a complicated southern girl who will give you my all in strength and my all in softness.
It is this that has made me realize my character Addie, the heroine of my trilogy is actually more like me than I thought. When I first created her, I did not see many traits in common, besides a determined spirit. However Addie like me has spent most of her life focused on the strength, and so many of her loved ones have come to depend on that. But with circumstances that have forced her to examine her life and reinvent herself, she has come to realize she needs the softness equally as much, yet that has her completely in a tailspin of vulnerability. Addie will have to take great risk to her heart, but I think she’ll find it worth it, at worst she will grow to trust herself to give her heart to someone. Incidentally this is not something we have in common, I would say when I give my heart it is completely. This of course makes me much more vulnerable than my capable, independent, strong public persona would indicate. But it also means that if I love you, I love you plain and simple and with all I have. I don’t just mean romantic love, but all kinds. So what if Addie can learn to do this what could it mean for her and those she loves? At best Addie will gain people in her life she can give fierce loyalty and who will allow her to indulge in her softer side. And isn’t that what all of us southern women want? Strength and softness that is what makes a southern woman a true treasure for anyone who opens up their hearts to her.