Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Southern accents and attraction

A post over at The Jaded Hippy has some interesting thoughts on racism in sexual attraction:

In a racist, sexist society can our sexual attractions ever be value neutral? Is it REALLY just a "preference" when white people aren't attracted to people of other races?

My conclusion? No, not really.

Knowing what I know now about society, social indoctrination, whiteness, etc. I can no longer think it's a coincidence that white men tend to be the ones I find most sexually attractive.

This post made me consider my own pattern of attraction (which is not particularly static), specifically my fondness of Southern accents. It's something that I've recently but intensely developed, and it poses an odd contradiction: it's not exactly race-based, but it is a response to my identification with the patriarchy and my need to fit in to the (shallow) South, where I recently came to live.

In focusing part of my attraction on speech patterns, I'm regurgitating the dominant paradigm of my current surroundings: men around me and the man I'm with speak this way. Southern accents are reinforced as positive and desirable, a mark of masculinity and honesty:

And I can't any longer ignore that these traits also, though not tied to skin color (what most commonly think of as THE racial indicator) are most certainly tied to dominant narratives about "real men" and that those narratives are strongly informed by whiteness.

However, it's not as simple as this problematic identification. A Southern accent is a disempowering feature: it causes the speaker to be seen as uneducated, unintelligent, and dull-witted. One study found that a Southern accent increased a job applicant's chances of being passed over or paid less. A few years ago, I held this view - it was one thing that I didn't particularly like about my partner (whose Southern accent is very strong) upon getting to know him. This was not a reflection of J, but a reflection of my more recent life in the Midwest: as I am now conditioned by the patriarchy to appreciate Southern accents, I was then conditioned to reject them.

(There's also the question of the blue-collar exotic, but I won't get into that here.)

It's kind of a moot point. Since I'm happy in my relationship with an accented man, I'm not going to try to make any shifts. But I'll certainly be a little more critical the next time I'm watching Lost and become entranced by Sawyer.


  1. You know RMJ, I've never met your man. Perhaps this should be rectified at some near future date. And I agree with you about the Southern accents. They are my fav.

  2. So this post made me think a lot as well, about the level of social consciousness I have in my attraction.

    Even within local accents (Baltimore) there is that sort of social division, and I know I have unconscious preferences there.

    I must say, after SWVA living, I developed an attraction to southern accents for sure.

    I didn't really like Sawyer until about season 3. I still love Jack, even in his moments of douchery. Desmond, now there's an accent I am a fan of.

  3. It's really strange how deeply these supposedly simple things can run sometimes. Although Australian accents don't really have the same regional variation as they seem to in the US, I can kind of understand what you mean by this. In my very first year of university, I had a female professor from Alabama who'd gained most of her academic qualifications in Southern universities. However, when she was studying for her PhD in a northen institution, she said that she had a lot of trouble getting people to take her seriously because of her accent. And we're talking about an obviously intelligent, high-achieving woman, here! She eventually taught herself to speak in a more 'neutral' accent, and found that it was so much easier. My response to her story was a big fat ??? That kind of stuff just doesn't happen in Australia. Then again, we're not so good with our record on discrimination in SO many other areas...

    And, irrationally, I totally agree with you about Southern accents... Nothing wrong there!


  4. Michelle: You should! Are you ever in VA?

    Carmen (and thisgirl): The stratification of accents is interesting - J's accent is actually not of Roanoke, it's more of Appalachian origin. Your comments made me think of My Fair Lady, where Rex Harrison is able to tell within a couple of blocks where she was from in London...

    thisgirl: Accent discrimination is odd, isn't it? It's not as bad here as it is in the UK, I don't think.

  5. " One study found that a Southern accent hurt a job applicant's chances of being passed over or paid less."

    I suspect the verb should be "increased" but that was because my first thought was "Hey, if a Southern accent hurts your chances of being passed over, maybe I could fake one!"

  6. Ha! Thanks for the heads up, I'll change that.

  7. A great observation RMJ. I'm born and bred Californian and I hate to admit that the Western bias towards Southern accents runs deep in my socialization. I do have a more difficult time taking people who speak that way seriously.

    And I do think that's another piece, a very specifically classist and racist piece, of kyriarchal ideals.

    It's really interesting, you're the second person who has had similar thoughts to mine, but specifically looking at different aspects. I feel like there's a lot of us with interest in social justice who are turning inward and dissecting how our upbringing has influenced us right now. :)

    Thanks for linking so I could read!

  8. whatshername: Thanks for commenting! As I said in the post, I definitely had the same attitude at the outset of my current relationship - very strongly, actually. It's funny how things change...

  9. Having been born and raised in Alabama I know a thing or two about southern accents. I know, for instance, that they can be particularly popular with the ladies in other regions of the country (case and point: your post/comments). I also know when to turn my accent up to "Matthew McConaughey" in order to charm my way into someone's good graces. I don't mind if people think me simple because of the way that I speak. As a matter of fact it can really come in handy.


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