Content Note: Corporal Punishment
In Chapter 10, women other than Ma exist and she even gets to talk to some. Notably Aunt Lotty.
Once Aunt Lotty came to spend the day. That morning Laura had to stand still a long time while Ma unwound her hair from the cloth strings and combed it into long curls. Mary was all ready, sitting primly on a chair, with her golden curls shining and her china-blue dress fresh and crisp.
Laura liked her own red dress. But Ma pulled her hair dreadfully, and it was brown instead of golden, so that no one noticed it. Everyone noticed and admired Mary’s.
“There!” Ma said at last. “Your hair is curled beautifully, and Lotty is coming. Run meet her, both of you, and ask her which she likes best, brown curls or golden curls.”
Laura and Mary ran out of the door and down the path, for Aunt Lotty was already at the gate. Aunt Lotty was a big girl, much taller than Mary. Her dress was a beautiful pink and she was swinging a pink sunbonnet by one string.
“Which do you like best, Aunt Lotty,” Mary asked, “brown curls, or golden curls?” Ma had told them to ask that, and Mary was a very good little girl who always did exactly as she was told.
Laura waited to hear what Aunt Lotty would say, and she felt miserable.
“I like both kinds best,” Aunt Lotty said, smiling. She took Laura and Mary by the hand, one on either side, and they danced along to the door where Ma stood.
I kind of harbor a hope that Aunt Lotty gave Ma a LOOK through all this, like WHAT THE HELL, WOMAN, but who can say. After Aunt Lotty leaves, Mary and Laura are tired and cranky and over-stimulated (liberal propaganda, I know!) and while doing their chores, Mary says that golden hair is prettier than brown, and Aunt Lotty therefore likes her best. So Laura slaps her. And Pa whips Laura.
I wonder where she learned that physical violence was an appropriate response to bad behavior?
“You remember,” Pa said, “I told you girls you must never strike each other.”
Laura began, “But Mary said—”
“That makes no difference,” said Pa. “It is what I say that you must mind.”
Then he took down a strap from the wall, he whipped Laura with the strap.
And here's a thing: It doesn't matter to me if Pa never hit Laura again. She may well have internalized the lesson and been a good girl from here on out and never warranted another whipping. Or he may have had a come-to-Dr.-Spock moment and realized that he needed to stop all the whipping. Or he may have gone right on whipping them and Laura and Rose edited it out of their rosy childrens' book. I don't know. I only mildly care.
He whipped a three- or possibly four-year-old. For slapping her sister, yes. But more accurately, for modeling common behavior that was normalized to her.
Her bedtime stories are about people being struck. Her yearly birthdays are marked by being (ceremoniously) struck. More stories later will revolve around someone being struck or needing to be struck. LAURA HAS BEEN TAUGHT THAT STRIKING IS ACCEPTABLE CULTURAL BEHAVIOR. So when her mother -- a major authority figure in her life -- instigates a sibling rivalry between Laura and her sister, and when her sister latches onto the rivalry and tells Laura that she's unlovable and will never be as cherished as her sister, Laura struck. She struck because that is what she had been taught, for all three years of her life, to do.
So her father struck her. Not because striking is wrong, but because Laura lacks the authority to strike. If she wants to strike, she needs to churn out her own kids and strike them. But in the meantime, she's fair game for being struck.