I recently read an interesting article about women in rural America. The piece, written by Casey Quinlan and published in The Atlantic, took a critical look at life in rural areas and the unique struggles women in those areas face, but ignored the many benefits of country life.
Having lived in rural, urban and suburban areas, I find I prefer rural in almost every way. I was born in a large metropolitan area but raised primarily in rural southwest Virginia. After college and several years of young adulthood in a larger city, I returned to the Tri-Cities a decade ago.
Johnson City combines a touch of urban flair with a small-town familiarity and rural sense of community; in many ways, we have the best of both worlds.
But you don’t have to venture too far out of the city to be in the country — the type of tiny, rural communities that define Americana.
Outsiders are often not privy to the struggles unique to the country and tend to think of rural life as an idyllic, real-life Mayberry.
Rural areas comprise approximately 90 percent of the United States even though around 85 percent of all Americans live in urban or suburban areas, meaning the average American is fairly removed from rural life.
The challenges rural women face can be quite different from their urban sisters — the women who garner a vast majority of press coverage. But being aware of the struggles is a first step in helping with them. Rural women have more limited access to higher education and rural schools are often lower performing than those in larger cities. They often do not have successful role models to follow or following in such footsteps requires them to leave their small town.
Jobs are limited in rural areas — that is one major reason many kids leave small towns for college and never return. Professional, white collar jobs are even harder to find.
If a woman is lucky enough to find a job in a small town, she is in dire straits if she’s laid off — there aren’t many other places to look for employment.
Women in rural areas typically marry earlier than women in larger cities. While there’s not necessarily a direct connection to age, they are also more likely to become victims of domestic abuse. Rural women have fewer resources at their disposal and are thus less likely to leave an abusive husband. Sadly, abusers often take advantage of the isolation of small towns.
Health care is a significant problem in rural areas. Access to good doctors and hospitals can be limited, particularly when it comes to specialists or needs such as cancer care. Research shows that rural women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage than urban or suburban women, largely because of gaps in health care and lack of resources.
Teen pregnancy rates are typically higher in rural areas, often leaving young women without the option to pursue an education beyond high school. Small towns usually don’t offer much for teens to do, which can lead to trouble — kids with nothing better to do may dabble in drugs, sex or vandalism. (Have you ever heard of an urban meth lab?)
On the flip side, however, it can be hard to get away with anything in a small town because everyone knows everyone and word travels fast.
Folks from rural areas can get a bad rap — they’re often characterized as uneducated, clueless and behind-the-times. It can be difficult to break those stereotypes regardless of their inaccuracy.
There are no easy fixes for the real problems of country life, but it’s important to remember that the negative statistics are balanced with definite benefits. The sense of community is unparalleled — growing up and then growing old with the same familiar faces is like having another family. Neighbors look out for each other and folks are friendly, polite and always have time to chat. The pace of life is slower and calmer.
I felt rather suffocated by my small town by the time I graduated from high school; going away to college was a welcome change. But after a decade away, I would’ve gladly returned to the tiny town that shaped, guided and nurtured me; it’s a great place to raise a family and a safe environment in which to grow up.
As a child, I was fortunate to have opportunities to see much of the country, but I wouldn’t trade my small town childhood for anything; I’m happy my kids have a similar opportunity to grow up with a sense of community and belonging, with all the intangible perks of small town life.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.