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.

Window and Walls

I’m revisiting my days as a younger woman again here.  I’m thinking back to how I often formed walls, perhaps not consciously, to keep people out.

In a post I wrote recently I spoke about a time when my life seemed to be falling apart.  I’d dropped out of school, but had stayed living in the college town, amongst all my friends.  One day these friends were like family to me, but over time things seemed to change.  I felt people treating me differently.  I felt as if I’d have to walk a narrow line to keep their friendships.  If I paid my rent late, well it be the talk of the town.  Better not wear a tight skirt..your long time friend will tell someone else it makes her “uncomfortable” when you wear clothes like that.  Go to a party with your friends that are still attending college…meet new people, and feel as though you are being silently judged for dropping out.

At this time, my relationship with my family took a major hit as well.  Sometimes I wonder if that should have been the end, the first time they’d rejected me for not following the script they’d set out for my life.  My parents had a very old fashioned view of life.  They basically believed, even though I was of legal age, that I was not to be treated as a fully functioning adult because I’d been born a girl.  Does that sound crazy to does to me.  Surprisingly though there a lot of people out there who still believe such nonsense….and they even blog about it!  And they believe their brand of Christianity says this is the way to be.

So after that point, for many years in the future, to get along with my family I could only show them slivers of my life….my true self was locked up behind a wall.

It wasn’t just with my family that I started to close off though.  During this ordeal one of my friends told some half-truths to my parents.  That was just devastating to me.  I started closing off more.  The friend who’d blabbed to my parents…during this time I’d stayed quiet about how she’d cheated on her boyfriend(someone well-known to me)while he was out of the country and become pregnant with another man’s baby.  I wonder why I’d kept her secret all this time when she couldn’t be a loyal friend to me.

When I look back and think about the sorts of men I was always attracted to, they were always people who tended to be more quiet than loud.  Men(or boys) with a bit of mystery about them.  Never the class clown types.  I’m not sure why I always attracted to these types.  At this point in my life I do know that I would be just exhausted if I had married someone who couldn’t shut up.

These quiet, mysterious types of course always came with a drawback.  I’d always wanted someone who could open a window to my soul, to understand me…well of course because I was quiet and shy as well, I wanted someone else to do the heavy lifting.  Taking a risk to expose my true self to someone was scary.  Letting someone else see my dark sides…even scarier.  But I desperately wanted someone to open that window, and love me, dark sides and all.

Well even though it was perhaps a process, and the journey was far from complete on our wedding day, I think my husband and I do this for each other.  Love isn’t just about seeing the sweet sides, it is about acknowledging the bitter and sour elements in our partners as well.  Accepting that we’ve each made mistakes. Accepting our quirks, accepting our struggles as well as our victories.