Although this isn’t a PolySci or Government class, I think that during this tumultuous political era it is proving to be more and more difficult to discuss American girlhood and the role of women in our society without mentioning the current political climate. During the final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton this past Fall, our new president infamously referred to Clinton as a ‘nasty woman,’ which soon after became a slogan for her campaign. The two words have appeared all over social media, in promotional advertisements, and most recently, on protesters signs at the Women’s Marches in January. It is fascinating to look at how the term ‘girlhood’ can be studied not only in a context like this insult-turned-movement, but also in a context like Little House on the Prairie to see how the term has changed, but also stayed the same over time.
The question of how different girls experience girlhood and what exactly defines a young girl’s experience as a ‘girlhood’ is brought up in Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s essay in Keywords for Children’s Literature. While reading Little House on the Prairie, we saw that girlhood was primarily defined as a domestic experience that encouraged hard work, loyalty, and a strong sense of morals. Ma, Laura, and Mary spent long days working together for a common cause and forming a strong bond among themselves. Some people see the “Nasty Woman” slogan as an insulting and degrading way for young-ladies, who have a very similar girlhood experience as Laura did, to refer to themselves. But personally, I think that the Ingalls women would’ve been proud to call themselves Nasty Women. This slogan, that has fueled protests across the country, has given women a platform to speak up for what they believe in and stand united with their fellow sisters. Nasty has become a new code-word for strong, independent women who aren’t afraid to put in the work needed for a much-needed change—much like what the Ingalls women did on the prairie.
Although Ma, Laura, and Mary had an extremely different lifestyle and held some overtly racist mentalities that our 21st century Nasty Women would not share, the overall experience of girlhood and sisterhood is similar to that of our modern Nasty Women. It is difficult to know how the Ingalls women would feel about some of the current issues that our Nasty Women are fighting against, but my guess is that if they had been raised in the same era and had the same experiences of 21st century Nasty Women, they would proudly wear the label.
Here is a link to the original video clip of the debate during which the “Nasty Woman” slogan originated.