The Girls Next Door

By Lauren Barbagallo | Boston Magazine |

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


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