Christian Patriarchy and Emotional Incest

Libby Anne has a fascinating and troubling series on emotional incest and how Christian patriarchy actively cultivates it. The whole thing is must read. Here are a few key selections:

First, from part 1:

I’ve been hesitant to write about emotional incest for two reasons: First, it’s too easy for people to think “emotional incest” implies a sexual relationship when it doesn’t, and second, I’ve had some experience with it and drudging that up can be painful…

Emotional incest is essentially when the relationship between a parent and child becomes like that between two spouses, except that given the immaturity of the child the relationship is one-sided and the parent feeds off the child emotionally while the child ends up feeling responsible for the well-being of the parent.

From part 2:

Vision Forum teaches that adult daughters are to stay at home until they marry. More than that, it teaches that they are under their father’s authority just as they will after marriage be under their husband’s authority, and that well they remain at home it is their duty to adopt their father’s “vision” in place of their own and serve as “helpmeets in training” to their father in preparation for serving as “helpmeets” to their future husbands.

The possibilities for emotional incest become obvious. In fact, like I said, emotional incest is practically mandated. Adult daughters are to subsume their identities in loving, adoring, and serving their father, and they are to make his vision, his hopes, and his dreams their vision, their hopes, and their dreams. The father in turn is to guide his adoring daughter to maturity in preparation for handing her off to an approved suitor…Given all this, it would appear that the teachings of Vision Forum and the Botkins essentially mandate father/daughter emotional incest.

Libby Anne builds part 3 primarily around another article called Princesses, Princes, Daughters, and Dads: Against Emotional Incest by Hugo Schwyzer. Schwyzer is a father vigilant about letting “daddy’s little girl” feelings turning into emotionally incestuous ones and describes how the temptation to do so arises:

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen men play their daughters against their wives, mistakenly believing that the way in which their daughters see them (as heroic and perfect) is the way that their spouses ought to as well. If a man hasn’t done his “work”, he may find himself looking at his daughter, gazing up at him with adoration, and he may start (resentfully) to contrast his girl’s fierce and uncomplicated devotion with the somewhat less enthusiastic reception he may be getting from his overworked and exhausted wife. In most cases, this doesn’t mean the papa will turn to his daughter sexually, … [b]ut he may find himself relying more and more on the affirmation he gets from his adoring baby girl.

…a great many dads (and it wasn’t until I became a father to a baby girl myself that I realized how common this was) start to rely more and more on the simple intensity of their daughter’s love rather than doing the much more difficult work to remain connected with their wives. I’m certainly not saying every father of a daughter does this, but it is common — and if you ask the mothers of daughters, as I have, you’ll hear plenty of anecdotes about this.

Plenty of daughters grow up with a sense that they are somehow responsible for taking care of their fathers emotionally, for being the good and understanding woman in his life (as opposed to the mother/wife figure, who is invariably cast as judgmental and cold.) To do this to a daughter is child abuse, and I am determined not only not to do it myself, but to be bolder at calling out other fathers of daughters when I see the signs of what can only be called emotional incest.

Finally, in part 4 Libby Anne will bravely opens up about the extremely personal and painful subject of her own experience with emotional incest.

Your Thoughts?

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For whatever it is worth in assessing the value of his thoughts on this issue, Happiestsadist in the comments reminds me of Schwyzer’s terrible past, which included attempting to murder an ex-girlfriend and had sex with students before having a conversion to feminism. I remembered his story but hadn’t remembered his name before posting.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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