Thoughts on Femininity and Nellie Oleson

I had another blog before this one, which I deleted.  The blog was largely focused on religion and gender roles.  Some of these thoughts have probably appeared other places in this blog.  Because I was raised in a household which promoted a rather narrow view of femininity these topics are sometimes on my mind.

Some people seem to have the belief that women who identify strongly with traditional gender roles are just better people all around compared to their less feminine counterparts.

The woman who puts on a veneer of femininity or has the physical attributes that are considered to be the most feminine is considered to be a better “book” just based on its cover.  My sister and my mother have always been better than I at projecting a veneer of culturally approved femininity.  They are both smaller than me, and have better raw material as far as looks.

At some point in my life, I realized I had trouble fitting in to what others thought feminine beauty and feminine behavior should be.  Growing up, for a long time, I was always among the tallest of my classmates, boys and girls.  Eventually I stopped growing so fast, and many of the boys grew taller than me.  By this point I had already been given the message that small = feminine.  Plus I had my dad’s broad shoulders so that didn’t help.  I remember for a while being about 13 and wanting to shrink in to myself, and would often slouch.  At that point I was put on a diet by my parents….my shape was rearranging and I think it must have disturbed them.  At the time I weighed less than the midpoint of my ideal body weight range.  If you want to make sure a girl is going to have a fucked up view  of controlling her weight, do what my parents did.  Expect it to backfire.

I have often struggled with social awkwardness and being shy.  My mother and sister didn’t have these same struggles.  They could speak in honeyed tones with strangers if the situation called for it.  The private versions of my mother and sister were something else all together.  Swear words, raised voices and insults you could never dream of.

Do you know the TV character Nellie Oleson, from the TV series Little House on the Prairie, somewhat based on a series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder?  I loved the books, and often watched the TV series.  When I was older I started rewatching the TV series, and didn’t love it quite so much, as I don’t think it stayed true to the books.

Anyway Nellie was an awesome character.  She was the daughter of a couple who owned the town’s mercantile.  Her snooty mother Harriet made sure Nellie was always dressed in the finest clothes.  Nellie’s blonde hair was neatly curled with lovely ribbons.  In Harriet’s eyes, Nellie was far more cultured and refined compared to the Ingalls girls who wore simpler clothes and came from a family that wasn’t as wealthy.  The character of Laura Ingalls was a bit of a  tomboy.  Harriet tended to look down upon many of the families in the town of Walnut Grove, including the Ingalls family.

If you’ve seen the show you’ll know that Nellie was a straight up brat. Nellie and Laura often did not get along. Her fine clothes and neatly done hair provided a contrast for Nellie’s character.  The character of Laura was also imperfect, but in the end Laura always had a better heart.  So the cover doesn’t always match the book inside.

1 thought on “Thoughts on Femininity and Nellie Oleson”

  1. Nice post, Kate. You make a good point about culturally acceptable women. I was always a tomboy, but luckily I had a dad who thought that was my right, so my mom had to listen to him express repeatedly that girls can be exactly what they want to be. Some dads get it😊

    Liked by 1 person

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