The Role of Gender in Cultivating a Literacy and Cultural Identity in Appalachia

Appalachian women are subject to female gender roles within the region, which shape and constrain their literacy practices and identity. My work seeks to understand how gender roles in Appalachia influence, contribute to, and cultivate literacy practices, as well as the literacy and cultural identity of women in the region. The development of women’s literacy practices in Appalachia has offered women avenues of connection, as well as functioned to enhance their own cultural voice and foster a sense of empowerment. However, the adoption of literacy has also allowed for the repositioning of women within their society, moving them out of their home and beyond their traditional role as caretaker, threatening the dominant position of men with the Appalachian family structure. By employing and investigating the work of various scholars, such as Anita Puckett, Katherine Sohn, and Kim Donehower, I examine how women navigate literacy within their lives and how literacy reshapes women’s worldview and their mountain identity. Knowledge concerning the communicative pathways demonstrated by mountain women promotes an awareness of how Appalachian women meaningfully participate within the dynamics of their family and community by utilizing their own cultural language. I discuss how gender lends itself to the invention of literacy practices which serve women, affording an often newfound sense of personal agency. Moreover, I highlight how the cultivation of literacy for mountain women has reshaped their sense of self, enhancing their Appalachian identity and revealing ways to empower themselves and their community, as well as adopt an understanding of the value inherent within their often stigmatized culture and language. Along with contributing to the work of Appalachian compositionists and scholars, my paper will expose how the development of knowledge concerning gender in the region creates opportunity for an appreciation of Appalachian rhetoric, as well as an appreciation for the role of women within Appalachia as vital participants in serving, changing, and empowering their own community and the region itself.