Oh Daughters of Fundamentalism, Take Upon Yourselves the Cloak of Self-Deception

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on August 28, 2013.

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.

17 comments

  • oh how much I want to just break down in tears. how I wish I could make parents understand what they are doing to their fantastic girls. how I wish those girls could feel real love.

    you have my tears, the greatest and only gift I have to give, sisters.

  • Guess what, it’s possible for a grandmother at age 79 to have PTSD. I started reading HA when I found that my 2 grandchildren had been homeschooled on a religious exemption. I now know how close I came to becoming a victim of fundamental indoctrination. I had no idea that people still raise their daughters this way. I moved away from my home the day I was 18 and never looked back. But for the grace of God some of these stories could have been my own. Will someone out these please tell me how to get through to my beautiful 18 year old granddaughter?

    • All you can do is be there for her. You’re best bet is to love her and show her how she ought to be treated. Feed her mind and soul. Hopefully one day she will see the truth. The most important thing is for her to have that seed of strength

    • I would say, take her out. Show her the world. Spend time with her. Take her to a community college to just audit a class together. Maybe pottery or something she would like and see as “useful”. getting out of the walls is the first step. Take her to a play. Teach her something. A musical instrument maybe if you know one. Tools and perspective are what she is missing. I have to say that I would have made very different choices with my life instead of getting married at 18 and pregnant at 19 if I had only had a little more support. One more person to say “just go to college and try it for a semester, you can always get married after college!” someone to say “Your trying to learn something new is not only good for you but also for all the people you encounter!” as it was, I had a younger brother who said all of that, but since he was younger I didn’t listen. A grandmother I would have listened to though.

  • Thanks for this.

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  • God help these girls if their reproductive organs do not work. Then the dark night of the soul (St John) looks like a walk in the park.

  • I recall an occasion when I was 12 and we went to a homeschooling conference. Naturally I was helping to look after my 5 younger siblings. My mum told me that someone had remarked to her that they were amazed that I was so helpful, and that – wait for it – I had a ‘lovely spirit.’ even at the time this really got to me. ‘Have I really become one of those?’ I thought, thinking of the more perfect homeschooling girls I knew, who I secretly disliked. It was one of the most humiliating and insulting comments of my life.

  • Pingback: How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 1 | Cynthia Jeub

  • Wow Sarah, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m just so sorry for you. You’ll probably delete this post, but I hope you read it before you do. I’m sorry that you think that being self centered will make you truly happy. I’m sorry that you even think that the elusive search for “happiness” will make you happy. It is true (for women as well as men) that serving others, living for others brings true fulfillment. And I’m sorry that you look down your nose at girls who truly love babies, and children, and cooking and all things domestic. I’m sad that you feel that girls that love those things are somehow less than…

    • Sarah never said a single one of those things.

    • Sarah never once said any of that. That is a very huge leap you are taking. I’m so sorry, Kelly, that you are used to having your point of view silenced, to the point where you expect your comment to be deleted. I’m so sorry that you are unable to comprehend the message Sarah is portraying here. I’m so sorry, that your first response to anyone having an opinion that differs from yours, is to judge them, and talk down to them. So, so so sorry.

    • Kelly, I genuinely hope that your comment was a “knee-jerk” response to a statement that was made early in Sarah’s post, one that kept you from fully reading her entire post. If it wasn’t, my heart aches for how narrowly you view the world. Sarah is in no way claiming that “being self-centered” will bring her or anyone else true happiness. Sarah, like many others who have written similar posts here or on different blogs, is simply stating that having babies and tending tirelessly to the domestic needs of others is NOT a woman’s ONLY purpose in life. She is advocating against girls being taught that the only thing about them that will ever matter is how many children she can give birth to and/or how well she can tend to the base needs of other human beings in an entirely domestic setting. You mention the fact that caring for others brings true fulfillment to a person’s life and you even go so far as to mention that this is true for both men and women, but you seem to have left out the fact that such service is not limited to how a mother cares for her family at home. A person can obtain the fulfillment you speak of by building houses for needy people, by helping develop public gardens for struggling inner-city residents to get fresh vegetables from, by helping with disaster recovery, through various community outreach programs, working with at-risk youths, helping improve foreign communities in other countries, working at the local animal shelter, being a teacher, becoming employed in the medical or hospice fields, becoming a veterinarian, or through hundreds of other avenues. Showing an elderly person who may not have any family that they still matter or helping a poverty-stricken family get fresh vegetables they otherwise may not be able to afford can be just as fulfilling as being a mother and homemaker.

      I am not trying to say that being a wife and mother, that loving that life-path, or aspiring for that life-path makes a woman or teenaged girl somehow less than one who does not. Neither was Sarah. If a teenaged girl is given that option among many others as possibilities in her life and the full support a parent can give regardless of if she’d like to be a stay-at-home mother or if she’d like to be a neurosurgeon, and she chooses to be a stay-at-home mom that is her right. She deserves just as much validation and support as the girl who decides to be a neurosurgeon.

      It is not that Sarah “looks down her nose” at girls who love domesticity. In fact, your very comment points to the same thing Sarah is advocating against. You talk about girls who “truly love” domesticity. A girl who is told that her ONLY option in life is to be a housewife and stay-at-home mom cannot claim to “truly love” it if she has made herself like it. That’s not to say that all girls who are raised in this lifestyle secretly hate all forms of domesticity, because I’m sure that some have thrived on this lifestyle. If they genuinely love it, that’s their right. If a young girl is raised to believe that she can be anything and she LOVES the thought of being a housewife and stay-at-home mom, there’s nothing wrong with her choice and she’s in no way “less than” others.

      The problem Sarah is trying to address is the idea that it is wrong and even sinful for a girl to be herself. Some girls don’t WANT to have 12 babies, homeschool all 12, be the primary caretaker of all 12 children with only her oldest daughters for help, and be the one completely in charge of cooking and cleaning. Some girls like kids well enough but HATE the thought of actually having their own babies. How can walking a path in life you despise lead you to fulfillment? More importantly, part of the lesson these girls are being taught when they’re told that it’s selfish to want anything else in life is that THEY don’t matter. The girls Sarah is talking about are being taught that anything but ignoring the crippling agony of migraines or severe menstrual cramps is sinful and selfish. The lesson that taking care of the wants of others (if you are an adult who is physically able to cook but you feel cooking is your wife’s job, having your wife cook for you fulfills a want, not a need) is more important than allowing your body to get the rest it needs is one of the most dangerous things these girls are being taught.

      Choosing not to be a housewife and stay-at-home mother is NOT a self-centered choice. It is not the only fulfilling path a woman can choose in life. I am personally at my happiest when working at a haunted attraction and I really don’t have much interest in having children. I get my fulfillment by caring for my friends and working on improving the attraction I work at. There is nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with a woman being a housewife and stay-at-home mother if that’s the life she wants to lead. The problem is a lack of choice and a lack of respect and support regardless of what choice is made. The problem is the lack of respect for who these girls are as individuals. The problem is that these girls are taught that there is something wrong with them if they cannot conform to the expectations of the adults around them, even if the cost of conformity is their quality of live or their lives themselves.

  • Pingback: How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 3 | Cynthia Jeub

  • Pingback: How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 1 | Homeschoolers Anonymous

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