Rural America is struggling. My hometown of Cortland, New York once boasted numerous factories—Brockway, Smith Corona, and Rubbermaid—which have all left. The Marietta Corporation and SUNY Cortland are the area's major remaining employers. When I visit my family for a weekend I inevitably run into the odd urban traveler stopping by for a few days. They remark on the "simplicity" and "honesty" of rural life. It would be the perfect place to raise children, they say. I return a taut smile. I can't explain the fetishization of rural people and their lives to these strangers, and why their words sound so condescending. But I really want to.
If these well-meaning tourists fail to notice the challenges of living in a small town with high unemployment rates and few safety nets for the poor, social critics ignore rural America entirely. At Slate, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and other prestigious outlets, the commentary about women revolves around the supposed new brand of Superwomen: highly educated, upper to middle class, and ambivalent about marriage and babies.
Rural women face a different set of challenges than these Superwomen. It's less likely rural women's mothers received an education beyond high school. There's a smaller chance their mothers received a master's degree. Often, their schools don't offer the same educational value as schools in suburban areas, making their college applications less palatable to good state schools, much less Ivy League schools. The models of success aren't there, and if they are, the pathways to success are limited, and require that they leave the region.