FLDS Freaks and Geeks

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.


  1. This is really funny, Kevin, and I’m glad you posted it. Carolyn Jessop rubs me the wrong way every time she shows up on TV these days, so I doubt I would have enjoyed it half as much reading it directly from her. But seeing it through your eyes was funny!

    In my high school, the in group were “soshes” (“sosh” as in “social”). I have no idea what they called the rest of us.

  2. sister blah 2 says:

    Wow. What a “don’t know whether to laugh or cry” post!

  3. Thomas Parkin says:

    Stoners, Jocks and Cowboys, for us, mostly. We had too small a HS to have a real contingent of Geeks. I’d have been Geek-compatable. I was a Stoner, Geek-compatable. Bother Freak and Geek! Although I never touched drugs, in HS. It was the hair, described by my Biology teacher as “the Atomic Holocaust”, that earned me a Stoner designation.

    This was pretty cute. I’d like to read some stories about FLDS Stoners. Maybe if we got some good FLDS Stoners stories circulating, people would relax and leave those poor folks alone.


  4. Just how reliable is Carolyn Jessop as a source? Her little “I don’t give a f*** what the parents think” jewel, uttered shortly after the YFZ raid, gives me the impression that she may be just a tad bitter.

  5. Thank you Kevin. I enjoyed this peek into the FLDS culture. Funny I know a few LDS women like that. Fun to think back on my HS years. My HS (late 70’s) had many divisions: Ropers ( cowboys/girls from Draper), Stoners ( no explanation needed here), Jocks and Cheerleaders (same), Drama Queens ( could be males or females), Audio Visual Nerds ( true geeks), Honor Society (smart kids). Me, I was just a normal ordinary kid like most of the student body.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t know, JimD. I’m reading the book with a grain of salt. But it is pretty interesting so far.

  7. I’m just totally freaking out at the idea of marrying any of my high-school classmate’s fathers! Ewwwww!

  8. Hm. Trying to figure out what to think. Definitely some advantages to attending a public high school having only 40 kids in it. Not enough to have cliques much. Enough for rumors to fly when a 13 year old married her newly widowed stepfather. Marriage very young was common and expected (to be a girl unmarried by 18 was truly an oddity). Not in western mountains but eastern. There are days I just don’t get what the hype over the FLDS is about, because values and expectations vary so much by culture that it is impossible to say there is any one national culture that we’re all supposed to adhere to.

  9. I read “Fascinating Womanhood” about 13 years ago. Interesting read. Sure, some of it was laughable in this day and age and I couldn’t possibly agree with it, but there were bits here and there that I thought were insightful and applicable.

  10. I knew a lot of girls in high school who acted like ditzes, and the boys—and male teachers—ate it up.

    When I see the women on the TV show Beauty and the Geek acting like ditzes, I know it’s an act. Their behavior’s been reinforced their whole lives, yes, and probably second nature to them, but it’s still an act.

    As for cliques at my high school, it was straight out of the Breakfast Club (or any other John Hughes movie). I was the punk/basketcase girl. I even had a teacher tell me I reminded her of that character. “You remind me of the basketcase girl.”

  11. #7 – Tracy, didn’t you ever see Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure? (“Sorry, Missy – I mean Mom.”)

    I am sure there is much truth in Carolyn Jessop’s statements, but I also am a bit skeptical of her objectivity and honesty. Some of her more recent claims seem to be much more hyperbolic and unbelievable than her initial statements.

    Having said that, this post is fascinating. Thanks, Kevin.

  12. Randall says:

    When I was 14 I moved back to Utah after a 3 year stay in Dallas. I was shocked how all my previous female elementary school classmates had dimmed rather than brightened since I left. It took me a few months to realize that they were still smarter than me, but in Utah girls didn’t want to show it. Thank heaven it was only a phase and they eventually blossomed again in time to go to college, graduate, and then not do anything with their education. As far as I can tell, at least 100 of my female Mormon cohort graduated from college, but only 2 went on to complete a graduate degree.

    Me, I was a nerd them and am thrilled to be a nerd now.

  13. In my High School, the categories were stoners, jocks & cheerleaders, brains, music/theatre people with some light crossover going on in each of the categories.

    I read Fascinating Womanhood in HS with a good friend. We’d act out the little scenes from the book (guess which group we were in) and laugh. My favorite was the FW rules of fighting. Sure you could get your way, but you needed to say things like “you big, hairy brute” while pounding feebly on his chest instead of “you pitiful loser” while cutting him off without a snuggle. I can’t even imagine growing up in a home where FW would be considered a handbook to live by. It’s a book of ridiculous extremes worthy of infinite mockery.

    I heard an interview with Ms. Jessop on our local station last week and she said she felt heart-broken about the situation because those mothers in Texas were her sisters, but that unless the children were removed they would become involved in horrible situations of their own. She sounded pretty normal, considering. But even so I can’t even imagine sounding so calm if my sisters’ kids were placed in foster care. I’d be flipping out, not helping the abductors.

  14. Fun post, Kevin. I haven’t read the book. My only exposure to it was hearing Jessop read a chapter of it via Fora.tv. If her retelling is accurate, it says really creepy things about the FLDS group. She talks about fleeing from the compound and a small army of men in trucks swarming the places she was staying, only minutes after she left.

    I have a natural distrust of bitter former members of any group, given our experience with former Mormons. Even so…

  15. Mark IV says:

    In German, nuss means nut.

  16. My high school in CT had the “rahs” (cheerleaders), jocks, and “heads” (potheads), and honor society.

    You know, as much as they “Yearn for Zion”, isolate themselves, withdraw from human society, avoid outsiders, “bleed the beast”, etc. in the end they’re just human slobs like the rest of us. Vulnerable to the same failings, fears, insecurities, and potential for evil as any of us.

    In contrast to some of the sympathetic libertarian leanings of some commenters on this post, I disagree that we should let them alone to just do their thing. Their polygamy is not some relativistic lifestyle choice based on a culturally-based world view. This is the same old story of human control and tyranny versus individual freedom and choice.

    And why does anything remotely connected to human sexuality seem to get a free pass from the liberalati? Women subjected mind and body to patriarchal authoritarianism versus non-traditional sexual arrangments–ooh, what’s a conflicted modern liberal to think?

    Honesty, openness and shining the light of day on the dark side of human nature is what helps put the check on all of us other slobs. Why should they be any different? Because they’re more righteous??

  17. Randall says:

    Excellent questions Homer,

    I agree with you that the FLDS definitely need sunshine disinfectant (see previous post) to tamper down their abuses. I shudder at the thought of one of my daughters being raised in their compound.

    Where they get my sympathies is in watching how the state of Texas completely over-played their hand. There was absolutely 0 due process before their temple was raided and 400 kids were stripped from their parents. They were mocked and destroyed in the court of public opinion, and when they go to the actual court, the only evidence the state has provided was 1 picture of their disgraced prophet kissing a minor.

    I do believe there was a fair amount of abuse going on there, but it should have been handled on a case-by-case basis. Now, it seems that it was precipitated by a crank caller and over half the pregnant minors they’re protecting our actually over 18.

    The state court made the right call.

    And, the BOM had it right, this is one more blow to the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war. Go Captain Moroni!

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Susan M., good point about Beauty and the Geek. I don’t watch it regularly, but as soon as you said it’s an act that rang true with me.

  19. Somewhat OT, but a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a good ole boy trucker who has lived his whole life in the northeast US. He surprised me by bringing up the FLDS fiasco and being on their side. He is not mormon; he is just a citizen who feels that what Texas did was not only wrong but dangerous to the rest of us.

  20. John Hamer says:

    Homer — Tyranny, patriarchy, and sexism are not banned from religion. People are allowed to subject themselves to the dictates of their religious leaders, and religious leaders are allowed to teach any doctrine that non-members would label bigotry (racism, sexism, homophobia), so long as they are not inciting violence or promoting other enforced crimes. (And I make the distinction of “enforced” because polygamy itself is one of the many practices that are banned by defunct legislation that is neither enforced nor enforceable.)

    You can argue that girls raised in sexist religions aren’t equipped to decide for themselves when they turn 18. The problem is that the state isn’t equipped to decide what level of tyranny, patriarchy, and sexism is impermissible. The LDS Church is certainly guilty in practice of all three, albeit to a much lesser extent than the FLDS Church. But how should the state decide the difference?

    The state needs to confine itself to the prosecution of concrete crimes: child abuse, under-age marriage, spousal abuse, tax evasion, and welfare fraud. It can’t concern itself with abstractions like tyranny, patriarchy, and sexism.

  21. Hamer–

    All we can manage in this polygamist social conundrum is a feeble faith-based “live and let live”? Because tyranny, over-bearing patriarchy, and oppressive sexism are too complicated for modern humans to address? The dominating theme of the American Revolution and the subsequent attempts at a revolutionary new form of government was carefully finding the balance between securing individual rights against the inevitable tyranny of the state, the elite aristocracy, and even the popular majority.

    Your argument also sounds like the same one big business or politicians use to justify their own unethical and ultimately socially harmful beliefs–well, it’s not illegal, or it’s not enforceable, or no one really got hurt, after all, no one forced that old lady to invest her social security in my Florida swampland. If we’re only concerned with me, me, me, and what we can get away with, we’re no better or no more righteous than those who act in their self-interest without the pretense of religious principles.

    And “Yearning for Zion” doesn’t mean creating some “sweet” isolated super authoritarian state where everyone is forced, coerced, oppressed, scared, threatened, extorted, (supply your own minced word here) to comply with perfection. It doesn’t matter if someone chooses to subjugate their own free will–it still isn’t right. We who believe in freedom should fight slavery and tyranny in every form.

    Ultimately, the task for us is to live in an uncertain world at the mercy of random and sometimes irrational individual choices and still find that peace from finding and following God’s will from our own free will. And then finding Zion where it really exists–in the Pure in Heart.

    Sure it’s difficult, and we’re certainly not the first to give it a try, but in order to fulfill the promise other generations have made to us as they struggled with these issues, we must also roll up our sleeves and get a little dirty. Arguing that the state (in other words “We the People”) are incapable of finding that balance between anarchy and tyranny implies that we have no business governing ourselves. And arguing that politically and socially we are unable to draw the line around sexism, patriarchy, exploitation and abuse of the vulnerable abdicates to the Beast the most precious gift we have–the ability to know and choose right from wrong. In our system the state (again, We the People) is more than an administrative office to dole out welfare checks and enforce conventional traffic laws. Through it we also create and govern our highest ideals. We are most certainly concerned with such abstractions as freedom, rights, tyranny, patriarchy, matriarchy, sexism, racism, etc. and must never end our vigilance. Que viva la Revolucion!

  22. Randall,

    Thanks for your comments. I had to finish my last polemic, but I wanted to agree with your legal assessments. I also think Texas overplayed it’s legal hand, which doesn’t surprise me. Most Texans would agree and say, “well, that’s just Texas!”. After all, GW came from Texas, and a little due process protection isn’t going to get in the way of a good crusade.

    I think we’ve all watched enough “Law and Order” to know that those protections are sometimes the only thing keeping the Beast at bay. That said, Even if they should have moved more carefully in
    Texas, they still did something, and that’s a start.

  23. #22 – “Even if they should have moved more carefully in
    Texas, they still did something, and that’s a start.”

    Homer, this is going to sound flippant, but it’s a serious question – given the above quote:

    Wouldn’t it have been much simpler and less harmful to the children if the State simply had removed all the married men, taken them to an isolated place and shot them? That’s “doing something” – and if it doesn’t matter what they do, it would have put an end to the abuse happening at the ranch. It’s a start – then they could have “reprogrammed” the women and kids.

  24. John Hamer says:

    Homer — I’m not sure what your policy suggestion is.

    If you’re talking about enforcing anti-polygamy statutes, I say, by all means, let’s have a test case. Just as with Reynolds vs. United States, let’s get a willing polygamist family from the Centennial Park group, arrest the husband solely for practicing plural marriage, and take the case to the Supreme Court. Even with the current activist, right-wing court, that will almost certainly have the effect of striking down anti-polygamy legislation and decriminalizing polygamy.

    The problem is not whether sexism is good, bad, or complex. The problem is crafting a just policy proposal to address sexism. Shall we remove children from LDS (and many other) households to prevent them from being raised in what is inarguably a sexist environment (i.e., one with prescribed gender roles that bar a class of individuals from leadership positions solely on the basis of their sex)? That’s not only impossibly expensive, it’s harmful, unjust, and counterproductive.

    By singling out an unpopular minority (FLDS Church members) for practicing something in a more extreme way than what more mainstream groups are practicing in a less extreme way, you seem to be fighting your revolution on particularly unfair and unjust grounds. If you want to use the state to oppose polygamy, you need to have more clearcut reasons than fighting tyranny and sexism.

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