Editor’s note: In the months leading up to the 2017 “Big Berks” conference (the triennial Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities, which will be hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, USA, on June 1-4, 2017) , we will be highlighting research on rural women that will be presented at that conference. This week, we share another abstract from a session focused on rural women, “The Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture,” that will include several members of the Rural Women’s Studies Association.
Gender, Rurality and Imaginary for National and Commercial Purposes,
with special emphasis on the Netherlands from 1870s onwards.
Dr Margreet van der Burg, Wageningen University
My interest for the portrayal of rural life and culture has been awakened by researching the late 19 C worries about the extinction of long lived national cultures in many European countries. Though, the attempts to preserve these cultures as being essential to a nation’s culture, have also reinforced the objectification and stereotyping of rural cultures. They are largely deprived from being part or voice in a dynamic historical process.
In my work so far I showed how this objectification turned into stereotyping and images that were eagerly used for branding and packaging of national pride, national inclusiveness, purity and innocence, cleanliness, harmony – with nature. When showing rural people, esp. in farm sceneries and /or (extended) farm families, the imaginary is often symbolically associated with well-respected virtues such as reliability, and used for both national and commercial purposes. Although some campaigns also focused on gaining the support of rural people, most are symbolically oriented to getting the goodwill of foreign or urban inhabitants who are supposed to value the packaged meanings of rurality without being part of these rural cultures themselves. This applies also to ‘others’ gendered meanings. Ruralism still directly affects rural women and men when encountering urban biased stereotypes in their lives.
In my work I systemized the set of features in rural iconography often used; what mismatches between the actual portrayal and reality seem to be most powerful in various cultural contexts and how their symbolic meanings are culturally connected to the various techniques applied. I am working on identifying various forms and intersecting hierarchies of meaningful misrepresentations and connecting these to how they are exploited in various systematic ways over time. In my contribution I will present this work in progress with illustrations from especially Dutch origin.
Other presentations as part of the “Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture” session will include:
- Leah Tookey, Putting Women in a Man’s World
- Cynthia Prescott, Pioneer Mothers and the All-American Family
- Frank Garro, “Flawed Portraits: Ma Kettle and Misleading Representations of Rural Women on the Silver Screen” (see related post)
- Margaret Weber, The Man in the Grey Frayed Hat: The Beverly Hillbillies and Rural Masculinity on the Small Screen (see related post)
- Renee M. Laegreid, Cowgirls and the Discourses of Patriarchy and Feminism in Country/Western Music (stay tuned to our blog for her abstract)
- Pamela C. Edwards, Fostering a Feminist Counterculture: Women’s Space, Technology, and Ecology, 1970s-1990s