Realizing Our Place
Real Southern Women in a Mythologized Land
An examination of the role myths of southern womanhood play in real women's lives in the Mississippi Delta
What does it mean to be from somewhere? Does place seep into one's very being like roots making their way through rich soil, shaping a sense of self? In particular, what does it mean to be from a place with a storied past, one mythologized as the very best and worst of our nation? Such questions inspired Catherine Egley Waggoner and Laura Egley Taylor, sisters and Delta expatriates themselves, to embark on a trail of conversations through the Mississippi Delta.
Meeting in evocative settings from kitchens and beauty parlors to screened-in porches with fifty-one women--black, Chinese, Lebanese, and white; elderly and young; rich and poor; bisexual and straight--the authors trace the extent to which the historical dimensions of southern womanhood like submissiveness, purity, piety, and domesticity are visible in contemporary Delta women's everyday enactments. Waggoner and Taylor argue that these women do not simply embrace or reject such dimensions, but instead creatively tweak stereotypes in such a way that skillfully legitimizes their authenticity.
Blending academic analysis with colorful excerpts of Delta women's words and including over one hundred striking photographs, Waggoner and Taylor provide an insightful peek into the lives of real southern women living in a deeply mythologized land.
The stories of the women in Realizing Our Place are as richly textured as the Mississippi Delta clay from which they emerge. Spanning multiple generations of women across race, class, and sexuality, this book underscores the notion that southernness is gendered and performed--both of which have material consequences. As two 'expatriate' sisters living outside the Mississippi Delta, Waggoner and Taylor's return home to collect these stories opens up a portal not only into the multidimensionality of southern women's lives, but also of the South as a real and imagined place.- E. Patrick Johnson, author of Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South