Oh Daughters of Fundamentalism, Take Upon Yourselves the Cloak of Self-Deception
I recently witnessed a young girl who is struggling a bit who expressed that she was a bit unhappy with her life, being told that she just needs to take it one day at a time, and be happy with it. To me it is shameful to express to a child or a teenager that their discomfort or unhappiness with a difficult situation stems from their own inability to cope. What message is being given to girls when they are told that although they are not the creators of the bad situation, they must be the authors of the solution, but the solution must only be to swallow their feelings and smile.
This is a relatively common comment made to daughters in conservative families. The basic idea stems from the idea if you are unhappy with your life, it is important to change your attitude about your life. Girls are not taught that they can cause change in their own lives. Of course this serves the purpose of preventing girls from making plans to get out. If they are responsible for their own happiness, and they do not get to make their own choices, fundamentalism is able to produce a new generation of women who not only do not fight back and fall in line with whatever rules and tasks are assigned to them, in the ideal scenario they will actually start to enjoy the fact that they are fulfilling their purpose, and own their own oppression.
This is a very difficult concept to understand if you did not grow up in patriarchy. How can women not only agree and allow themselves to be oppressed, but also seem to be happy and flourish in their own oppression? How can women become party to their own oppression, and in fact add their own restrictions to their own activities and assign themselves even more responsibility for the physical and mental well-being of the men around them? Because they are taught to believe it.
They believe that women are created to complement their husbands. They believe that any unhappiness they experience is selfish and sinful. They in fact quench their own desires and resentment at being treated as chattel, and tell themselves they enjoy it. Today I had the misfortune of reading the story of a young woman who was picked up from work by her husband with an entourage of other people to celebrate her last day of work. There was a banner on the car stating that she was free at 27, but her exit interview read that her new employer was her husband, and she would be a house wife from then on.
Teenaged girls in quiverfull families are taught that their purpose it to serve as a daughter, and then as a wife and mother. They try to fulfill their purpose in life by working hard, taking care of younger siblings, and generally not trying to rock the boat. They do not ask for things that they want or need, they do not tell their parents if they are pain, and they do not ask questions about their futures or their bodies. I can tell you that there are probably many teenaged girls right now that are suffering from severe menstrual cramps or low energy due to health problems, that will not say anything because they do not want to cause shame to their families by not being a strong contributor to the family.
These girls are trotted out at family and church gatherings to showcase their homemaking and child-rearing skills. To fail at cooking a dish or to not be able to handle several children at a time would be an unbearable humiliation. No self-respecting girl would allow that happen, and after a girl has put all of her time and effort into being a homemaker and mother for a few years, she is taught to take pride in it, and also starts to take pride on her own. After all, how many girls of 13 are capable of running a household of 8 or 10 or more on their own. How many girls can feed a dozen people with very few ingredients? How many can juggle a house cleaning and cooking a dinner and calming a crying infant and changing a toddler at the same time?
Untold numbers of innocent teenagers are living this life every day, and they take pride in their ability. They put their own desires away and learn to run a family that isn’t even theirs to keep. They are encouraged to compare their accomplishments with other girls, and on a church day they will go to their mothers and offer to take care of the babies for their mothers. They plan for their own happy families and wash laundry and cook meals and put band aids on babies. They change diapers and administer assembly line baths to dirty children. They make beds and clean up toys and wipe noses and do not go to school. They teach phonics and math and sewing and read the Bible to little children and make sure they listen to the parts about obeying your parents and making sure you do not think bad thoughts.
They tell themselves that this is what they want and that they can’t wait to have their own families and carry on god’s plan. And now they will grow up and teach their own baby girls to serve men and god. To deceive themselves.