The Girls Next Door
WHEN "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES of South Boston” hit YouTube last October, the spoof depicting five fake Southie girls fighting, fawning over Marky Mark’s cousin, and drinking their way through a Red Sox game went viral. News stations built segments around it, and co-creator Lucia Aniello (a Hadley native) promised to make another episode. Then everyone moved on. Everyone, but Southie.
A group of women published a comeback on a community blog called Caught in Southie, but quickly found themselves hitting up against 40 years of history. As a result of the neighborhood’s frequent appearance in movies and other media, Southie has become the place people think of as quintessential Boston — the accent, the sports fanaticism, the criminal underbelly, all concentrated below the Summer Street Bridge. Along with Charlestown and Dorchester, Southie is portrayed as a cautionary tale, embodied by a myopic worldview that you have to overcome and escape before it drags you down. See: Good Will Hunting.
And for a while, that’s been okay, even a point of pride for a place where residency is a birthright, not a parking sticker. There’s a certain authenticity forged through shared suffering, a feeling that projects and pubs are more genuine than condos and coffee shops.
Except now the neighborhood won’t stop gentrifying. Also changing is the way we perceive that storied-to-the-point-of-mythical past. “The Real Housewives of South Boston” is this moment of transition revealed, especially in the people who rose to defend their neighborhood. One such woman, Maureen Dahill, a lifelong Southie resident, fashion stylist, and mother of three, co-edits the website Caught in Southie. In the YouTube parody, she saw the same “out-of-control, crazy women” that lit up newscasts during the ’70s busing riots.
Through her blog, Dahill launched a PR campaign for the neighborhood, presenting five professional women as modern, upstanding alternatives to the “uneducated and trashy” stereotype. Her attempt to set the record straight, though, quickly backfired when a commenter questioned why these women were qualified to represent Southie, given that two of them were non-natives.
This raises two questions: What is Southie’s identity today, and who’s the right person to represent it? If not someone like Dahill, who by all accounts is a local girl made good (and without needing to flee to do so), then who?
While Southie’s gritty past remains burned into the minds of old-timers, new residents don’t quite know what to do with it. On one hand, it’s an important, if ugly, piece of history; on the other hand, it’s owned by a different generation of South Boston. In the end, no one ever talks about the hard-working, straight-ahead folks that residents most identify with, anyway. For Southie, it’s become a choice of caricatures: criminal, boor, and, now, the cursed gentrifier.
Photo courtesy of Chris Westlund