I recently did a project for my Women’s Literature class, analyzing how women in Appalachia are treated and the services that are available to them in terms of motherhood, domestic abuse, rape, and poverty. The results were disheartening, but at the end I realized that the women of this region possess a profound resilience that enables them to – in the least – survive.
Steeped in my own family history, this project was important and near to my heart. I feel more connected to my family and to my roots and took some pretty okay pictures to represent the negatives and the one overwhelming positive of life for women in Appalachia. I also wrote a short story, which you are all welcome to read if you so desire.
My friend Isabella did me a huge service by being invested in this project. Here, poverty is displayed, as seen by the ripped tights she wears in this shot. Also, this quilt was made by my great-grandmother, so it is especially important to me and to the message of the photos. We decided to utilize it in representing femininity, here showing that women in Appalachia try to repress it, laying on it rather than owning it.
This shot is meant to display the issue of domestic abuse which plagues women in this region of the country.
Rape – and sexual violence in general – is an endemic in Appalachia, which we tried to highlight in this shot by the tights wrapped around the woman’s ankles.
Ultimately, the biggest struggle for women in Appalachia is motherhood, which is a role sometimes taken willingly and sometimes not. Funding for single/young mothers in Appalachia is next to nonexistent, a disservice done to them and the generation of children that they raise.
Here is the ultimate product of women in this region: resilience. And power. And the ability to take on bullshit with a straight face and a strong mind. Rather than lying upon femininity and cursing it, the women of Appalachia own it and use it to their advantage, in spite of (and because of) their circumstances.
*If you’ve read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, you can see where my inspiration for this shot comes from. The very last page of the novel shows Janie, the protagonist of the story, wrapping the horizon around her shoulders and owning her femininity, her voice, and her mind. That’s the kind of strength I wanted to come across in this shot, and I’d say Isabella did a damn fine job of following through.*
Now, here’s the short story to accompany these photos if you so choose to read it:
The Broken Woman
The Broken Woman wakes, her face pressed firmly into the fibers of the floor. A dull ache in her stomach brings to life a memory of ripped tights and sharp pain. It begins first in her physical body, then her spirit. She resents the blossoming of her chest, her hips, her stomach. Who had given these things to her, cursed her with the fragility of her person?
Early memories often come into view when least wanted; her mother’s gaunt, bruised face, feigning a smile, a thimble flipped upside down on a white lace cloth beside her. Never did a day go by the thimble was right side up, and for some unthinkable reason, this struck the Broken Woman with a force nearly as palpable as blunted knuckles.
Ripped tights. A seed she had never asked for, a weed she did not want.
She, lying on the floor, dreamt of spirits, although she remained very much awake. They stroked her face, bruised like her mother’s, and spoke softly, whispering in her ears.
“Do not let this destroy you.”
Oh, but it would. It would tear her apart, split her straight down the middle, breaking the Broken Woman down. But what was left to break?
A weed emerged through cracked wood and overtook her, weaved itself through her hair, around her wrists, pinned her to the floor.
But here were the spirits, soft smiles floating down into her chest, gently peeling back the weed, freeing her. They cradled the Broken Woman until she could stand on her own dirt-crusted feet. They held her tentatively, as mothers teach their children to walk. With excited faces, they prompted her forward.
She shed the ripped tights strangling her ankles, felt a warmth and power rush into her core. The weed cried out, angry to have lost her. The Broken Woman glanced over her shoulder, saw the gray thing squirming on the floor, begging her to lie back down; demanding it.
The frantic voices of the spirits urged her on, prompted her to follow them to a bright patch where the moon overtook the sky. She lifted her feet, dragged them across the ground and into the warm spotlight the moon shed, just for her. It seemed to stretch in front of the stars, moving so close she felt she could have lassoed it to her heart, stood on it and proclaimed herself a woman sewn back together.
A final look at the blackened wood where she had lain only moments before revealed the weed had grown into a bright white flower, tall and seemingly immovable. A spotlight shone on it as well.
The spirits stood behind her, firm and gentle all at once. They placed their hands on her shoulders, easing her forward. A voice she recognized, words formed as though spoken through a feigned smile, was close in her ear.
“The Broken Woman will break no more.”
Thanks for reading if you stuck through to the end. Awareness of women’s social issues is so incredibly important, as women across the country are brutalized and repressed every day. Somehow, we’ve chosen to turn a blind eye to it.
Preachy, I know. Sorry guys. It’s important though!
Have good days, y’all.