Being born into the sisterhood of Southern women bestows blessings on a baby girl that she will enjoy for her lifetime. After watching Steel Magnolias for the millionth time I was reminded of several things that an outsider could learn about Southern womanhood from watching this fantastic film and the things I want my daughters to know about the amazing and unique culture to which they belong. These are characteristics that they’ll learn to appreciate about other Southern women and over time (hopefully) exhibit themselves if we raise them right.
Little girls, take note:
1) We Feed People and Do It Well- No matter the occasion people need to eat, and in feeding them we nourish their souls as well as their bodies. Wherever there’s a funeral, you’ll find Southern women bringing in platters and casseroles to feed the masses, and if someone’s having surgery or is dealing with sickness, Southern women not only seek to take care of an ailing person but those surrounding her as well. Ouiser and Clairee’ grocery shop for Drum Eatenton (when Shelby and M’Lynn were undergoing the kidney removal and transplant) as a “gesture” and argue over how many cans of baked beans he needs. They know what their friends want and are ready to meet those needs. Take care of your friends.
2) We Like to Look Our Best- Putting on fresh clothes and doing our best to look pretty can make us feel better, inside and out. In the midst of stressful times it’s a good idea to do small things to beautify ourselves, like when Shelby asks Truvy for a manicure after having her hair chopped off in preparation for the kidney transplant. We try to look presentable even if we are only going to the grocery store or hanging around the house on a Saturday, and sometimes a seemingly unnecessary beauty treatment can be a much-needed balm during trying times. Take care of yourself and smile. A lot.
3) Girlfriends are Way More Important than You Think- Men play many important roles in our lives, but true female friends become our lifelong rocks of security. There are many experiences that only females go through, and while we can describe them to men, they will never be able to fully understand them on the same level. You need other trusted females in your life with which to vent, cry, and solve the world’s problems. Women are traditionally considered the gentler sex, but in times of devastating emotional circumstances, they are the ones who stand the longest… with the help of our female friends. Think of M’Lynn after Shelby’s funeral talking to her friends, describing her husband and Shelby’s husband giving up and going home as Shelby lay unconscious in the ICU. We’re able to help each other laugh during the hard times and crack each other up with off-color remarks. Ladies also tend to live longer than men, so if you don’t have many female friends you might want to remedy that. Visit a nursing home if you don’t believe me.
4) Eccentricity is Our Signature Color- The late great Dixie Carter once said that we (as Southerners) don’t hide our crazy relatives deep in the house, we sit them on the front porch and parade them around. Southerners embrace the simple fact that we do things differently, and we’re not ashamed to flaunt it. Our differences are what make us interesting, and Southern ladies are ANYTHING but boring. Clairee’ regales the details of her seemingly picture-perfect family’s fall from grace as if she were talking about the weather. We all have flaws, we all have quirks, and no one’s family is perfect, no matter how things appear on the surface. Be proud of who you are.
5) We Love the Land and Making Things Beautiful- Scarlett O’Hara’s father told her that “Land is the only thing that lasts”, and we know it’s true. Being from the South means coming from a society with deep roots in agriculture due to the long growing seasons. By keeping rose gardens or tending massive vegetable gardens we are both honoring our heritage and preserving the beauty of the land we love for all posterity. Our home soil is part of our identity, and we love to see it flourish. Think about Ouiser when she throws bags of her home-grown tomatoes to her friends to take home with them, and when asked why she grew them if she hated them, she said “Because I’m an old southern woman and we’re supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don’t ask me those questions. I don’t know why, I don’t make the rules!” Learn to grow things and enjoy the benefits of your labor. Share it with others.
These lessons and pieces of advice are ones I hope they and all daughters of the South will take to heart. Being a Southern woman isn’t a defunct cliché; it’s a lifestyle that benefits and beautifies the places we live and the people we love. Especially those we , as Clairee’ said, “love more than our luggage”.
What lessons have you learned from Steel Magnolias? Come talk to us over on the Herd Management Facebook Page about your day, your kids, how much you laughed when Clairee’ tried to get M’lynn to punch Ouiser in the face at Shelby’s funeral… whatever! We’re always around.