Anyone who has managed to survive an American high school has experienced the cliquish divides that exist in that setting, probably best represented by the classic TV series Freaks and Geeks. In my high school in the mid-70s the correlative terms were Billies and Brains, but whatever the terms these sorts of class distinctions are simply ubiquitous in the American high school setting. Which raises the question: Do such distinctions exist in the more homogenous FLDS version of high school?
The book displays at MHA are always a major temptation, but I don’t have much shelf space available anymore, so I was pretty good and only bought one book: Carolyn Jessop’s Escape. I’ve only started it, but I got a kick out of one chapter that is relevant to this question.
Carolyn recounts how at school registration one fall she saw them: a long line of girls walking two by two, seemingly without end. They were all sisters. They were in very frilly dresses, with sleeves, bodices and necklines trimmed with yards and yards of lace, as if they were those crocheted dolls that cover Kleenex boxes. But they all wore big blue boys’ sports shoes. They made it clear that they were superior and would vaporize anyone who crossed them. They were Merril Jessop’s daughters.
This was Carolyn’s first introduction to nusses and wanna be nusses. Nusses? Such girls tried to be so superior and pious, that the other girls took to calling them righteousnesses. The term was too long and unwieldy, so it was quickly shortened to the terminal abbreviation nusses. For their part the nusses called the other girls hoods. So among the girls at this FLDS high school the analog to freaks and geeks was hoods and nusses.
The nusses tripped over themselves with femininity. They didn’t walk, they pranced on tiptoe. They spoke only in soft, girly voices. Their laughter was subdued and modest. Their all purpose refrain was “Oh for heaven’s sake!” Carolyn’s view (a hood she) was that their piety was precious to them but fundamentally fake. By the end of the first week of classes Carolyn realized for the first time that she was embarrassed to be a woman.
She couldn’t stand it anymore and asked her friends what made them act that way. They just laughed and said two words: Fascinating Womanhood. They lent her the book and told her to read it over the weekend. It was all about how to manipulate men, and it was the handbook of the nusses. Her friends assured her the book was a scream, so she read it.
The book started all about how men liked women who made them feel like manly men. They didn’t like women who intimidated them. She could understand the basic concept; no one wants to feel inferior.
But as she kept reading the book got more and more ridiculous. How to pout perfectly when your husband tells you no. How to stand, how to pucker in anger, how to stomp your foot in an adorable and feminine way.
One of the most important keys was acting stupid. A key example was installing a Dixie cup dispenser. The husband asks the wife if she needs help, and she refuses, insisting she can manage this itsy bitty job herself. She pretends to read the instructions carefully and then installs the thing upside down. Full of pride, she shows her husband what she managed to do. When the husband explains the thing is upside down, the wife acts shocked and disappointed. She should have asked her husband to do it in the first place, praising his talents and manly abilities.
So she and her friends started inventing nuss jokes, such as: Did you hear the one about the really stupid nuss? She hung the Dixie cup dispenser right side up!
There was a clear social divide at school between the nusses and the hoods. Little did Carolyn know that within a year she would be forced to marry the father of the key group of nusses, thus becoming one of their mothers.
So yes, even in FLDS land high schools have their petty social divisions. The FLDS version of freaks and geeks.