Little House on the Prairie Syndrome

by V

Not pictured: famine, starvation, disease, poverty, redundancy and death.

I’ve noticed a very interesting phenomenon among many women from conservative or very religious backgrounds — or both, as they often go hand-in-hand. I like to call it the “Little House on the Prairie Syndrome.”

Why call it that? These ladies long for the “good old days” when women were seen as having just two places in the world — the kitchen and the bedroom.

I don’t see what’s so great about that, but honestly if that’s what pops your cork, go for it. For the sufferers of this syndrome, however, this doesn’t seem to be enough. They know their ways are most natural — and any self-respecting, non-delusional woman would agree.

Fortunately for us, society has moved on. And these women can only complain about the evils of the feminist movement as the start of Armageddon. I’m being melodramatic, I hope. But it’s hard to come away from their blogs thinking differently, whether they express these views outright or not.

So why should we care? Women lived like this before feminism. Why can’t we go back to the past?

It’s because these women want something that doesn’t exist. Their go-tos on the past — movies, TV, and books — often glamorize history by leaving out the disgusting minutiae of a woman’s daily drudgery. There has never been an epoch in our history where women did not work. Women have always been professionals. Even the Proverbs woman helped her husband take goods to the market. Since prehistory, there have been female gossips, adulterers, virgins, sluts, geniuses and even rulers. Either this history was suppressed or forgotten, but it has not made it into the movies.

Women like Laura Wood, Lady Lydia, and Jennie Chancey would like to force you to live a lifestyle even they can’t manage. They forget that this was their choice to make. They’d resent it, too, if they were pressured into living differently.

Lets talk about one of the shows set in those ‘simpler times.’ The Little House on the Prairie was a television show based on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her life. The show follows Laura from a young age  into adulthood and marriage. Although Laura was a tomboy as a child, gender roles in the show and books were very fixed. Christianity was the only religion portrayed in the show and all of the characters were religious. I can think of at least one episode that heavily implies that Laura Ingalls actually met God, and that he guided her. She was a young girl at the time, and she ran away from home,  asking God to bring back her deceased baby brother and take her life instead. She was convinced her father would be happier with two daughters and one son, rather than three daughters and no son.

The show did depict many of the hardships and tribulations that the pioneers went through, don’t get me wrong. There were deaths, crop failures leading to both food and money shortages, harsh winters and bouts of sickness. Yet, it was still like a version of The Brady Bunch without the moderately wealthy, successful family and spoiled kids. Everything was neatly wrapped up by the end of the episode (although I’ll admit it sometimes took two episodes).

The hardship of the women was neatly glossed over. Childbirth happened, but was never shown to the audience. Most of their problems  was seen through the eyes of children or men, particularly Laura and her father, Charles. Laura’s mother didn’t have much of a role most of the time. Charles was the family member most upset by financial problems, so everyone worried about him. Even during terrible events like the death of a baby, Charles was the one everyone worried about. Charles was the decision-maker, and his wife deferred to him. All the women were apparently quite content with this, they never made waves about it. There was the occasional over-bearing woman with her whipped husband (like the Olesons with their nasty daughter Nelly), but most of the women knew their place in society and stayed there. Even Mrs. Oleson knew where the line was, and though she often danced up to and on the line itself, she rarely overstepped it. When she did, her husband would always take action and put her in her place.

The women did the housework and the cooking. Conveniently, nobody mentioned much about how they took baths back then, or how often. Or the methods and frequency with which laundry was washed and dried. Or about outhouses and the maintenance thereof. Nobody mentioned a grown woman who did not want a husband to take care of her and provide for her. Near the ending of the show, when Laura was grown up and married, the show finally showed a slight deviation when it depicted her writing the books. She was working outside the home at the time, and when she was at home writing she didn’t have time for chores that most women were expected to attend to above all else. Laura and her husband did have issues because of this, but it occurred near the end of the show and was never really explored as much as it could’ve been.

The Little House on the Prairie was often difficult and sad, but many problems were overlooked or excluded. Each episode was resolved neatly. Even the show’s accuracies were somehow distorted during the course of an episode.  In the absence of the whole truth, yearning for that way of life dismisses the incredible hardships of the pioneer existence.

And, unlike on television, precious few 1950’s housewives in the United States actually wore heels and pearls while cleaning. The actresses on these shows never had a smudge of dust on them or had a hair fall out of place–while they had a team of makeup artists to groom them.

The issue is not about what conservative women choose for themselves. It’s about wanting to make their choice ours. It’s about wanting us to make a choice even these ladies might not have wanted had that life been forced on them.

Ignorant people are the ones that say that if you live like this, you’re sending women back to the Dark Ages. Ignorant people believe feminism was about thrusting women from their homes and forcing them into the workplace. Feminism has never been about that. It is about choice. If you want to be a real-life June Clever, go for it.

That’s your prerogative.

If you want to choose to be the first female president or the first scientist to discover a cure for AIDS, then go for it! But, nobody should force you into either life choice. That’s choice.

These women have the incredible good fortune to live in a time and society that affords women choices and allows them to make up their own minds. The story changes when that ability is taken away.

There is a difference between choosing a lifestyle and forcing it down someone else’s throat. Conservative women won’t realize what they’ve signed up for until it’s too late. I hope they never find out what it’s really like. While their ignorance is annoying, I like that they’re afforded the bliss of that ignorance, even if they never truly wake up.

There were deaths, crop failures leading to both food and money shortages, harsh winter and bouts of sickness.

7 Comments to “Little House on the Prairie Syndrome”

  1. What an excellent post. I couldn’t have said it better myself. There’s not really much to say except that I’m glad you said this, because for every argument they have we have a better one. Listen; if they think there are natural consequences to our not obeying so-called “natural” rules, then that’s fine. But I’ll pay them later, thanks. I like the opportunities I have now — I’m grateful for them and I respect them. And I will resent the hell out of anybody who tries to take it away from me.

    • Thanks! And yeah, if I’m not hurting anybody else, I don’t really feel its anyone else’s job to police my life for me. :p I’m a big girl now, I can do that for myself. If someone doesn’t agree with my choice…well that’s fine, they don’t have to. But, that doesn’t change that its my choice to make and not theirs. :p

  2. Why does “choice” always get misconstrued as “You MUST do it our way!”

    Dictionaries, people. They exist for a reason.

  3. You hit the nail on the head— I know exactly what you mean.
    When faced with the complications of the present, some people look back to the past with starry eyes.

    I read the book version of “Little House on the Prarie” in elementary school, and now I remember why I didn’t like it. Bleak times!

  4. I am very much a left-wing, liberal who has no tolerance for the values and beliefs of right-wing religious conservatives. So much of the time they appear judgemental and simplistic in their point-of-view. However, I feel your portrayal of Little House on the Prairie of completely over-simplified and incorrect as well. If you’ve had the opportunity to recently view all 10 seasons in the series (preparing for a Pioneer Days project with my child, and spending many months doing so) as I have, you would know that the acceptance of different cultures, (dis)abilities and religions was reinforced in multiple episodes. “Ma/Caroline” had a great deal of authority in the home, albiet she often had a soft-spoken and polite way of expressing herself. However, she was able to work up an incredible temper, aimed at women or men. Laura, in her marriage, was quite strong-willed, and I actually love for my 8-year-old daughter to see what an amazing little spitfire she is, as well as see the love and MUTUAL respect Caroline and Charles show for each other. The series promotes women working, even when they’re married. There were several times when both Caroline and Laura financially supported their families, and Mrs. Oleson was quite the entreprenuer. I think that naming this “Syndrome” as you have, and describing it with half-truths & mis-truths about the series is unfair, and very inaccurate. I suggest you take a gander at even a handful of episodes and see how wrong you are.

    • Thank you for your reply to my post. I love long replies! 🙂

      I have seen this show, from beginning to end. But, this is honestly my point about this. People have this idea that everything is hunky dory in that time period. Society wasn’t accurately portrayed in that show, nor were the hardships. Although they went through many terrible hardships, what was focused on was emotion rather than anything else for the most part. To be believable they had to show the physical hardships, and they were hard, but they weren’t accurate much of the time.

      The way women were treated in this show and the way women REALLY were treated in that time period are completely two different things. The way women were VIEWED by society in the show and the way women were TRULY viewed by society in that time period are two completely different things. That’s why it’s fiction. That’s why it’s family-friendly. That’s why many people from all walks of life can sit down and enjoy the show, no matter (many times) what they believe.

      Many people have this view of that time period that it really is the way they saw things on Little House on the Prairie. It wasn’t. Going back to that time period, as many right-wing, traditionalist women talk as if they wish would happen, is nonsense. They are envisioning things straight from an episode of Little House on the Prairie.

      This show gives us a very nice glimpse of life back then, but it’s sugar-coated (even in the worst hardships, like the death of Laura’s baby brother, for one example). There are many facets to the show that give us a look at life back then, but it is just like looking at a picture. You get an idea of it, but you don’t really get much more than the idea.

      That’s what Little House on the Prairie Syndrome is. It’s taking a television show and affording it more merit than it was designed to have in the first place, and assigning it a true and accurate depiction of life at that time period “when things were simpler” that just isn’t real. Deluding oneself into thinking that this is an accurate and true depiction of time back then is silly and whimsical at best. And that is what many right-wing, traditionalist women seem to be doing when they pine for a time “when things were simpler.”

  5. I agree with EmmaLove Bug. I think you would be more accurate if you called it the June Cleaver or Donna Reed Syndrome. Having just read the Little House book series, I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to the attitude you described. By the way, I am a very liberal, married woman who works and has a mutual relationship with her husband, and I like my life just fine as it is. However, I do like period movies and shows. I don’t think that makes me anti-feminist.

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