The Deliberate Spread of Misinformation

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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 14, 2013.

When my siblings and I were children, my parents deliberately misinformed us about the world.

I am still not sure what the overall goal was. Some of it makes sense. The ideological nonsense that contributed to psychological control makes sense, such as the misinformation about lust, reproduction, and consequences, but some of it really doesn’t make sense.

Why were we misinformed about the healthiness of foods? Why were we misinformed about women’s periods? Why were we misinformed about the lactose content of butter? My parents also gave us this information in a way that made us afraid to double check, and there was certainly no ability to find out correct information and take it back to our parents. As isolated as we already were, there was always the fear that we could be isolated further if our lifestyle allowed for too much knowledge seeking.

My parents taught us some strange theories about food, which I believe contributed to a lot of food and weight issues in our family. They told us that calories were a lie, and that potatoes and rice were vegetables. They didn’t teach us to have a treat or two and then healthy food, to make choices. They didn’t teach us that you could have a certain amount and maintain, lose or gain weight. They taught us that when food was available to eat it. There was always food, but sometimes it was just rice, for breakfast lunch and supper. So when there was tasty food available, we really wanted it. We weren’t taught moderation and we were taught that there was only ever starvation or overindulgence.

For the purpose of this writing I finally did some quick googling about lactose in milk. It doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then, no one in my family is lactose intolerant. But my parents told us that butter didn’t have any lactose but margarine does. This, as I learned today, is very outdated (50 years or more), because margarine is now normally prepared to be lactose free, and butter is often ‘enhanced’ with other dairy products. Pure butterfat is lactose free, but that is very difficult to achieve.

My mother had the female reproductive talk with me when I was younger than nine years old. I think I was eight, but she denies this, but I remember the house. I then promptly forgot until I thought I was bleeding to death when I was 11. She then reminded me what it was but didn’t give any more information so I thought I would bleed forever. Miraculously it stopped, so I thought I was gone forever. Then it came back and I had to ask again, and she was annoyed and made fun of me. I decided then not to ask any more questions. I learned about human anatomy from a health textbook, which my parents provided on the grounds that I wouldn’t look at that section. I did.

My parents taught us that everyone outside our circle wanted to harm us.

They taught us that foster parents are bad people and that social workers want to hurt children. They taught us that non-religious children are mean and selfish and would steal our stuff. It was only after going to high school that I learned that non-fundamentalist teens are great people. Sure they aren’t perfect, but they really don’t judge other non-perfect teens either.

My parents taught us that strangers are dangerous. Not like most parents do, but to the extent that I have to catch myself to not view all other drivers on the road as evil people who will hit me if they want to, for example. They taught us that if there is a way for other people to hurt us, they will.

They taught us that we were a lower tier of person than others. This is a complex issue, because they also taught that we were better than others because of the fundamental beliefs. I think this was more about guiding us to have low self-esteems. They taught us to let others walk first and butt ahead of us and choose last and give in, in all areas of life. It was hard to change this mindset and take my right of way and walk boldly through a grocery store.

They taught us that spending money on something that you do not need to the point of failing health or death is wrong. This extended from food to shoes to glasses. I was given a pair of glasses when I was nine, at which point I learned that stars are real (I thought people were lying about seeing stars in the sky) and stores in the mall have signs above them so you know which store it is – I thought people guessed and I couldn’t see in, and I never had the courage to ask what I was missing. My next pair of glasses came when I was 15. After there were about six of us I don’t think my parents ever bought shoes or clothes, not even from second hand, instead depending on other families to give us their cast off underwear and shoes and other items.

These are just some of the ways we were misled about daily life, not to mention the religion-based untruths. Further to the idea of not buying items that weren’t life preserving, we were taught that desiring things was wrong, and that god would judge us for jealousy if we wished for more of anything or asked for what we saw other children receive.

My parents taught us that girls were able to evoke some kind of sinful feeling in men, and so we needed to be very careful about how we dressed, stood, walked, and sat, or we would answer before god one day about what thoughts went through the minds of men in our lives.

My parents taught us that girls weren’t as valuable to parents as boys were, because boys could grow up to be powerful successful people one day, unlike girls. They taught us that the women’s role was to support the men in whatever the men wanted to do, and we weren’t supposed to have any dreams of our own because it would hinder the goals of our future husbands.

I know that at this point I have been able to gather knowledge and counteract the misinformation I received, but I still have siblings in that home that are receiving a similar level of false information.

I took it upon myself to give some information to my siblings, especially regarding female health, because there was a real worry that misinformation could cause harm. And I thought my sisters should know that tampons didn’t take your virginity. Lying to your children like this should be criminal.

3 comments

  • Interesting what you say about going crazy eating treat foods when they were available. I had a lot of food allergies as a child, so there was a lot of food I couldn’t have. (I didn’t eat chocolate until I was 12) . Now that I can have whatever I want, I often eat more than I should because I feel like this is my only chance. The wonderful thing about independent life is that you know you can go to the shops whenever you want and buy whatever you want. Denying children the occasional treat is only setting them up to go overboard when they are able to. This isn’t teaching self control. Human beings are human beings who like stuff, and no amount of teaching or indoctrination can change that.

  • It is criminal! It’s called psychological abuse! It’s amazing you managed to get out. I’m sure your younger siblings are very glad to have you.

  • Sounds like your parents had some mental health issues. I’m glad you got out. I suppose you were all homeschooled, and the authorities were never alerted to the fact that your parents didn’t give you what you needed–clothing, proper food, glasses, etc.. It’s hard to believe there are parents like that out there, but it’s true. May we all be vigilant when we see children when we are out and about. We never know what goes on behind closed doors.

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