Fear of Flying Nuns - a feminist defense of a 1960s girlhood TV hero

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Title: Fear of Flying Nuns - a feminist defense of a 1960s girlhood TV hero
Creator: Melody C
Date(s): 03 December 2008
Medium: online
Fandom: The Flying Nun
External Links: Fear of Flying Nuns - a feminist defense of a 1960s girlhood TV hero; archive link
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Fear of Flying Nuns - a feminist defense of a 1960s girlhood TV hero is a 2008 essay by Melody C. It was posted to OpEdNews.com.

Some Topics Discussed


I wish someone would tell me what it is that is inherently sillier about a flying nun than a flying Kansas farmboy. I really would like to know.

The latest TV incarnation of the flying farmboy myth, Smallville, has had patches of bad scripts, shaky storylines and woefully flat acting yet it's embraced as serious TV fiction worthy of mythic Superman stature. The Flying Nun TV show, though burdened by sometimes extremely sappy and simplistic themes, boasted a couple of wonderful comic lead actors (Sally Field and the late, great Alejandro Rey) to say nothing of a strong supporting cast and mainly funny scripts. Yet recently it was proclaimed the "worst TV show of all time". Not just A Worst but The Worst.

I liked Smallville but I am here to admit before the world that I loved the Flying Nun. I'm not Catholic -- I don't even believe in god -- but as a young girl I watched it devoutly as did many women my age who are now too close for comfort to fifty. When the series was released on DVD, I purchased it (in a plain brown wrapper of course) and smuggled it home (living room drapes safely drawn) to enjoy it all over again.

While re-watching it, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop ... to discover the thing that would make it evident to me why the series I had loved was "so bad".

The one element that clearly sets The Flying Nun apart is that its lead character is female.

And Sister Bertrille was no "owned woman" like the female lead in I Dream of Jeannie (constantly clad in provocative attire while she refers to her male companion as "master"). Or a housewife who was regularly "ordered" to do things by her husband as was Samantha on Bewitched. Sister Bertrille (whose "real name" was Elsie Ethrington) was not a nun but a novice and therefore not yet "married to Christ". The only man in her life was her companion of choice (the wonderfully harassed while continually love struck Carlos Ramirez). Her life was her own. Her career was her choice. She owed her gift of flight to no one but destiny.

Quite simply, The Flying Nun is a sweet, lovely allegory for personal empowerment (especially for little girls ... and for those of us who occasionally aspire to think like them). I've now begun to wonder if – perhaps -- that is what threatens many people about the entire series. Most of its modern critics seem to be male. It seems like the myths of young boys have always outranked the dreams of little girls in terms of popular culture memes. And women have allowed it to stay that way.

But while women may fly we may only fly "so high". We are forever trapped by Virginia Woolf's "Angel in the House". The Church wouldn't "go there"; the network couldn't "go there". The very possibility that Elsie might have had her religious life AND Carlos was unthinkable ... unless one was a free-thinking, hormone-fired young girl.

With it all, am I just seeing patterns in the chaos of my own nack standards for popular entertainment? Am I reaching? Do I need a life? Well, yes, but that's beside the point.

I think what it came down to was, for many little girls who loved "The Flying Nun", they hadn't yet learned that their lives were circumscribed ... their choices limited. And perhaps that is the reason so many women fondly remember our days of watching the Flying Nun. Those were the days when we still believed we could fly.