DARE TO ASK: Are women in the South subservient?

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

I have not lived in the Deep South long and wonder if it is a Southern thing for a wife to wait hand and foot on her husband. Many husbands act like they cannot do a thing for themselves.

Margaret, 44, Albany, Ga.

Replies

My mother's side hails from South Carolina, and they consider themselves the furthest thing from "feminists." They think such women are likely Northerners and more secular than Southern women. This treatment stems more from deference and respect than from patronizing their men.

John, Jacksonville

My momma started out doting, but after my daddy took off she raised me that I didn't need a man to survive and that he can wait on his dang self. My first marriage didn't work out for that very reason. He was too traditional. One night at dinner his dad told me to get him more tea. I told him I didn't do that for his son so I wasn't doing it for him. There are still many young girls raised to be submissive.

Leslie, 28, Walnut Ridge, Ark.

I was once the Southern wife who waited on the husband hand and foot ... and got no respect in return. I am about to remarry, to a wonderful man. I am glad to have experienced this beforehand. Now I know how to appreciate a man willing to meet in the middle -- not stand on the sidelines and cheer me on for another glass of tea.

Jeannie, 25, Grenada, Miss.

Expert says

Man, this tea-on-demand thing seems to be the pinnacle of accommodation in the South. We wonder if Northern husbands at least have the sense to ask their wives for a beer before mentioning the driveway needs snow-blowing.

But really, Southern women tending to their hubbies isn't about losing self-respect, says Ronda Rich of Gainesville, Ga., author of What Southern Women Know (Perigee). It's about clinging to traditional hospitality, while being a tad shrewd.

"If there's equal give and take, there's absolutely nothing wrong with mending his socks. My mother gave my daddy coffee in bed every day, but he made sure the bills got paid and repaired the house."

And by treating a man well, "We get whatever we want. It's a subtle way of being head of the house."

Rich says she's amazed at women who see all this as degrading.

"It's not a compromise of my independence to do something nice for the man I love. If you had a houseguest who wanted a bowl of ice cream, you'd get it. It's part of our nurturing."

Is there a line in that Georgia clay?

"Well I don't kiss his muddy boots ... or pick up his dropped towels. That's lack of respect. You draw the line with men who don't give back."

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Include contact information.