Girls Gone Extreme

I admit it. Some of what happened I did to myself. I took what my parents taught me and ran with it, embracing Christian Patriarchy and all that it included almost more than they did. My like-minded friends and I pushed each other to be more extreme. I embraced it, all of it, with all of my being. It came to define me, who I was, and what I wanted for my life. It shaped how I saw the world, how I saw myself, my dreams, hopes, and everything about me. I wish with all my heart I hadn’t thrown myself into it like this, but I did.

Not knowing anything about popular culture became a matter of pride. Being different became a matter of pride. Only wearing handmade dresses was similar. Not wearing makeup made me feel somehow more holy, more godly. Embracing the concept of male authority and female submission made to the extreme made me better than other people. Staring blankly when someone made a popular culture reference meant that I was less worldly than them. Being a second mother to my siblings, disciplining, raising, and schooling them meant I was following what God wanted, and that I was better than all those empty-minded worldly girls. I proudly ran in the opposite direction from my best interests and I never looked back. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t complain about anything about how my parents raised me, because I am as much to blame for the things I regret as they are.

But am I to blame? Maybe. But I have to remind myself that my parents are the ones who taught me to think this way in the first place. They taught me that kids in public schools are worldly, and that we needed to be different, set apart. They taught me about male authority and female submission, and expected me to serve as a second mother to my siblings. All I really did was believe these things they taught me and take them to their natural conclusion. What else did I really know? I tried to be just what they, and God, wanted, and then some. I tried to be everything they wanted to be, and I found purpose and belonging through embracing these patriarchal beliefs wholesale. How was this anything but a natural reaction to the way my parents were raising me and what they were teaching me? Sometimes I wonder, though. Did I possibly help push my parents further into the world of Christian Patriarchy through my avid devotion to it? Am I partly to blame for that?

Regardless of the problems I brought on myself, and possibly my family as well, by my devotion to the beliefs of Christian Patriarchy, my friends only helped to cement this process. They were all girls like me, raised in similar households with similar beliefs, and we together drove each other more extreme in our quest for holiness. We thought about wearing headcoverings, even though our families didn’t. We liked the idea of having a home church, though our parents never tried it. And more than that, we discussed whether girls should perhaps stay home from college. In fact, even though my parents expected me to go to college and always had, some of my friends almost talked me out of going. I concluded in the end that my friend was right, that girls shouldn’t go to college, but that I still needed to do what my parents expected of me and make the best of it.

And now I have to wonder, what was I thinking? I wish so much that I had questioned. Why is it that some girls make all those beliefs theirs like I did, and others never really buy it? I envy those girls, girls who knew it was crazy from the get go. I wish I had questioned these things my parents taught me, questioned them rather than imbibing them wholesale. I wish I had asked to be involved in things outside of my insular world, that I searched out friends who had different beliefs, that I had read popular novels instead of Elsie Dinsmore. I wish that I had at least tried to be normal. If I had tried, maybe I wouldn’t experience quite so much cultural disconnection as I did. And maybe my transition to the normal world would have gone more smoothly.

Because I had so embraced their beliefs, my parents never expected me to question or leave. When I did both they were utterly shocked. I think it went worse for me because I had tried so hard before to be everything they wanted and even more. I think that if I hadn’t been so lockstep behind their beliefs, even taking them further than they themselves did, my parents might have been more understanding when I began to change my mind on these issues. I’m not saying it would have been perfect – it wouldn’t have. I just think that surely, surely it would have been easier and less huge and dramatic than it was. Surely their disappointment would have been less. And so, I place some of the blame for what happened on myself even as I wish that it had been different.

There is something here I really don’t understand. Why do some girls embrace Christian Patriarchy wholeheartedly and others see through it right from the beginning? Why do some girls make it their entire identities while others long for the change to get away? What makes the difference?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Lola

    I wonder if it's little more than a personality thing. Some girls don't necessarily "see through it" as you say, but more of chafe under it and feel restricted by it, where as others find it comforting, or at least not as restrictive as it really is. It makes me wonder what it would have been like for you in a different situation, going to a public school and what not, because plenty of kids will find ways to make themselves different or go to the extreme of their interests. You might just naturally be one of those people who throws themselves wholeheartedly into what ever you're doing or interested in at the time, and that thing just happened to be Christian Patriarchy. If you had been raised more secularly, it might have been an activity like an instrument or a club or a specific sub culture (Libby Anne, the goth kid) and totally committed. You probably wouldn't have really rebelled or questioned your upbringing, but one of the girls who immediately saw through the Christian Patriarchy and rebelled against their parents regardless. That's how my sister and my brother are, where as I am much more like you. I was kind of "nerdy" and always would find something to latch onto that I thought was interesting and follow it through to its logical or extreme ending. My sister and brother rebelled against different aspects of our very non restrictive, non patriarchy upbringing (he liked to complain about the droll existence of the suburban upper middle class, she liked to try to shock our parents). I always think that if we had been brought up in your environment, I would have fully committed to the ideas of Patriarchy, because it would have been interesting and accessible, where as my brother particularly would have seen through the bullshit and made a beeline the minute he turned 18.

  • Anonymous

    I have a theory about why some girls see through it from the start. I grew up in a small town with a heavy competitive, perfectionist pressure on everybody (but especially children) where appearances were all, and if you didn't measure up, you were ostracized. Almost everybody I know who saw it for what it was for some reason couldn't fit themselves into the picture of ideal child/parent. In my case, it was severe illness, which the town saw as my fault, but for others, it was things like depression (my child doesn't have it, don't say such things), dyslexia(where will all those lovely reading awards come from!), ADD, burnout, or even just a problem saying the wrong things at the wrong time. Being on the wrong side of the perfectionist divide made rebels very quickly. You were the perfect daughter, and it was easy for you. For others, there was something that made it impossible for them to get that admiration you got from your parents, and so they could see through it.

  • Hannah Thomas

    When you look at the environment that you were brought up in? What would happen if you went the other direction?I think it is only natural that we model what our parents model – and ask us to model.I remember asking questions as a child. I was told I should be ashamed of that way of thinking.What does a child do with such a comment? They shut up, and be ashamed. They don't know why, but they do. You also learn what types of questions will be acceptable, and which will not.As a child? I shut up, but I still had questions. I just figured I was bad, because those questions were there. I didn't know why I had those questions, but I knew I should be ashamed.Its like that character in South Park, "Don't question my authority!"Things change when you mature in ways you are allowed to. Maybe your college experience was that trigger. When I went out in the work force, and found that people would answer my questions? When they didn't feel there was anything to be ashamed of when asking? The bubble popped.The more extreme within the bubble – they are they love it. You are more acceptable than ever. I guess it has its advantages, but it is also stifling. I much prefer the air of freedom.

  • Libby Anne

    Lola – I agree, I think personally does play a role. Anonymous – Interesting. I definitely fit the perfect mode!Hannah T. – Yes, college was the trigger for me. All the questions I had never thought of asking suddenly ballooned up right in front of me. And I absolutely think that part of what was going on was that embracing these views was beneficial to me. I was praised and lauded. I write about this here:

  • Naomi

    Your paragraph beginning, "And now I have to wonder, what was I thinking? …" so well echoes my own reflections. And to make matters worse (more confusing?) is when people I had once considered so much less spiritual than myself now post all these hyper-spiritual Facebook status updates. Wait a sec–what happened here? It's mental whiplash!On a side note, I have to say how much I appreciate your consistent, quality blogging! As a grad student/mother/wife myself, I know how thinly spread your time must be. Blogging is something I've had to weed out to make room for other things, to my regret. How do you do it all?

  • Libby Anne

    Naomi – Aw, thanks! As to how I have the time, first, it's summer and so my schedule is a little more relaxed. Second, I have tons of ideas of things to blog about because I just started. And third, I'm a pretty fast writer as I do it all the time in my field anyway, so writing blog posts doesn't take long. Oh, and also, the research I am doing for my academic life keeps prompting thoughts that translate well into blog posts (such as the As American As Apple Pie post). But in the end, I don't think I can keep this pace up forever! Next semester is going to be really busy…I may only update once or twice a week during that time. But I think I'll keep it up, because I find writing it all out there rather cathartic.

  • Stephanie

    I really enjoy your blog. I grew up similarly, and although I remained Christian, I can sure identify with this post. It was years after I married before I began to see how ridiculous and damaging this life was. I scratch my head and wonder why I didn't see it sooner. Part of it truly is personality. I was very passive by nature, very easily "trained" with "consistency." I learned before I was 1 year old not to question or displease my parents. I went through a time as a preteen when I chafed a bit against their authority, but once I threw myself wholeheartedly into the lifestyle and the level of submission it required, I didn't look back…For a very long time. The thing is that I was living a fairy tale. I believed what I was told, but that didn't reflect reality.

  • bluebleakember

    I think I had to sort of "split" to make the whole system work. Part of me went along with it, sincerely and enthusiastically enough, because it did provide a sense of purpose and belonging as you mentioned, and a framework that made me feel safe. Another part of me loved reading about the philosophy of religion, family dynamics, psychology, etc. I could analyze my little subculture with a detached eye even as I remained within it. Is this weird?Now that I've been married for a couple years the "split" is widening and becoming problematic as well as silly, so I'm trying to synthesize as best I can. Ha. I'm not really a rebel or given to extremes. I just try to survive and maintain my faith and important relationships as best I can.

  • Jenna

    Great post. I really identify with this, even not coming from your kind of background. I came from pretty mainstream Christianity (public school, girls go to college, you can go on dates if you set physical boundaries, etc) but being the nerdy overachiever, I took things to the extreme. I read all the teen Focus on the Family publications and every book I could find in the Christian bookstore about becoming a godly woman and I took on a lot of these beliefs without necessarily being told I had to. I got very sucked into my identity being based on becoming the best christian ever.One example of the trouble this got me into was a pretty abusive relationship my first year of christian college with a guy who probably did come from a patriarchy kind of background. I knew that women needed to submit their will and give up control. Unfortunately I didn't have the official patriarchy rules to know that you didn't have to start "obeying" until you got married and that you can't be forced to "sin." Sigh. Luckily it didn't last long.I don't know what it is about some personalities that react different than others. My brother started "rebelling" when he was 13. I waited to disappoint my parents until I was 22. I have two very young siblings so the verdict is still out on them.

  • Young Mom

    I had no way out, no where to go, no one to go to, and no exposure to anything but my parents beliefs. Becoming submissive and mindless was the only way to cope with the depression. It was kind of a survival mechanism. I found ways to be devout and excited about it all, because then I didn't have to think about the disfunction.

  • Bethany

    Excellent post! It's a rather fascinating question, why do some people seem to take to patriarchy and others just don't. Graduate thesis, anyone? :DJust the other day a friend asked me what, exactly, I find intriguing about patriocentricity, because there's obviously something keeping me worrying about it. I had to say I really didn't know. Lola, I really identify with what you said, specifically 'I was kind of "nerdy" and always would find something to latch onto that I thought was interesting and follow it through to its logical or extreme ending.' Yes!!I was definitely a person prone to leaping whole-heartedly into things [horses, gardening, making bobbin lace, raising chickens, making movies, FIRST Robotics]. I never liked patriarchy, hated it in fact, but I think my all-or-nothing attitude was involved in the fact that I believed it for a long while. I keep finding accounts from women who say they still struggle with the hold patriocentricity has on them. It seems to be a characteristic of the life style..anybody want to hazard a guess as to why? I wonder why this one particular narrow lifestyle completely infiltrates a person's mind and soul, in so many cases.

  • Libby Anne

    Bethany – "I keep finding accounts from women who say they still struggle with the hold patriocentricity has on them."I think part of it is that old thought patterns die hard. If I don't want to have sex and my husband does, something inside me tells me I should have sex with him anyway because "that's all men think about" and "if you don't fulfill your wifely duties he might look elsewhere." I know the old thought pattern is wrong, so I don't act on it. But it's still there. It's the same with everything else – the old thought patterns say that I'm the one who should be cleaning the house, cooking, and caring for our daughter, that I should be supporting my husband's career and sacrificing my own, that if I'm assertive in my marriage I'm being a controlling woman and making my husband effeminate, etc. This is how my brain was trained to think, and it's how I thought for two decades. How do I change that? It certainly doesn't happen in a year, or even five. LOL, I guess I'll have to get back to you on that when I finally beat it…

  • Cherí

    I just found your blog, and I can identify wholeheartedly; I come from a very similar background. I look forward to reading your past posts!Anyway, related to this post: Now that I've left that mindset, I have a tendency to look back on myself and think that I was wholeheartedly absorbed in the movement. I suppose that's me reinterpreting my past, because while I did unquestioningly believe much of the fundamentalism I was fed, now and then a memory will strike me, and I will realize I was a rebel at heart even then. Granted, a rebel confined within boundaries and walls I couldn't escape, but the fires were smouldering. (I played DC talk's "colored people" on repeat as a protest to my dad's subtle racism; at one point I decided I wanted to be a pastor, and was offended when my mom suggested that our church might not let me because I was a woman) When I remember these things, I am surprised to see glimpses of the clarity I had forgotten I possessed back then. Because I have made my separation from my old thought patterns so distinct, I forget that I am still partly the same person I was then. We're always reinterpreting our past, rewriting our story. Maybe we never completely bought into it with our whole souls to begin with…

  • Catherine

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • DJ Pomegranate

    I'm a little late to this party, but I have to join. Libby Anne, I just discovered your blog and I am reading it voraciously. I come from a fairly "mainstream" fundamentalist background, not as extreme as yours, but I can definitely recognize the themes and thought processes. I am now…not that anymore. Still a Christian, totally liberal. Some of the things you write are wonderful to read, like a sip of water.Anyway, my thought is on Bethany's comment: "I keep finding accounts from women who say they still struggle with the hold patriocentricity has on them." I really think that a lot of this has to do with the psychology of abuse. I'm not a psychology expert by any means, but I was once in a long-term dating relationship with a man (who, come to think of it, was quite patriarchal in his own right) where I constantly felt belittled and questioned. It was subtle, but it was there, and it was constant. I broke up with the dude when I realized that I, a confident, smart, pretty, and independent woman had changed her WHOLE lifestyle because of this relationship. I had stopped drinking tea(!!), wearing makeup, and pursuing my hobbies (which were totally innocent: poetry and fashion!) I constantly second guessed my actions, everything from big financial decisions down to what I ate for dinner. Now I'm in a fantastic, healthy relationship and I look back and think, "What was I thinking?" When I hear about the effect of Christian Patriarchy on women, I recognize the same emotions I went through during and after this relationship. Undermining someone's self-confidence doesn't happen suddenly and it isn't fixed suddenly. Even in my current happy, egalitarian relationship I find myself having occasional moments of panic: "What will he say when he finds out that…?!?" It's leftover fear from my previous relationship. If a two-year dating relationship can affect my self-confidence that much, HOW MUCH MORE can an entire patriarchal culture?! Keep up the good work.

  • kolibri

    Your story and writing definitely resonates with me. I have had a similar upbringing.I think that it is a natural stage of intellectual and emotional development to enter an idealistic period in the teens and twenties. For some it is a stronger drive than for others. Throughout history, despots and charismatic leaders have used this to recruit cannon fodder. I think the patriarchy/dominionist/fundamentalist religion leaders are no different –Problem is, as a woman one gets immersed in this idealistic phase, but by the time she grows to be more objective, circumspect, and critical, she is STUCK, in a domineering marriage with a bunch of young kids.A few fortunate ones marry men who also begin to question and are open to a different journey. Still others, like us, find our ways out. Every time I visit my family, or read from people of similar beliefs, I feel thankful that I escaped. Though it is a process — things we are raised with are deeply ingrained and insidious.

  • nude0007

    I wanna know why christian girls still had sex and didn't seem to give it a second thought. (guys too) I was traumatized and mortified by the fear of committing that sin. Ruined my life. That's why I advocate open relationships. I think we should be able to enjoy sex with anyone. It is healthy and good.

  • Anonymous

    I'm a little late to this party too but I figured I'd give my two cents. This was totally 100% me and I still look back at myself (I'm 26 now) and kinda shake my head and think "What the heck was wrong with me?" But I sincerely thought I was doing the right thing. I was trying so hard to be "perfect"-for God, for my parents, for my friends. The consequences were pretty brutal as they turned into some pretty bitter self-hatred once I hit college.

  • Nenya

    Even later comment–thank you for posting this, it's amazing. I was one of the "good girls" too (in my non-Quiverfull spiritually abusive childhood), and most of the things I've read from the point of view of survivors have been by people who *were* rebels and *did* "see through it" early on. I didn't; I wasn't always happy, but I tried so bloody hard and gave myself totally over to it, and for the most part I did okay and fit in. My brother was wearing black and playing hockey and (gasp!!) listening to contemporary Christian music when he was 13, but when my parents decided to leave our group I seriously considered staying behind. (I am SO GLAD that I didn't. OMG.)The only thing that I can think for why some of us bought into it was that it must have met some needs we had–to be accepted as a good person, maybe? To *not* be the rebels that were so demonized? (I saw so many other people be written off as lost causes, and who wants all of that dumped on their head? Especially when they are 15?) So, yeah, thank you for writing this. :-) *hugs*

  • Froborr

    Sorry to comment so long after the post, but I found this through your newly created Christian Patriarchy tab, which I’ve been reading through intermittently all day during my Internet breaks. (Because if smokers get smoking breaks, I should get breaks to feed *my* addiction, dangit!)

    Anyway, this really resonated with me, even though our upbringings could not have been more opposite (my parents were secular Jews and, if anything, excessively permissive bordering on neglectful). However, I had many of the same attitudes about pop culture because I was a geek–it was beneath me, it was a point of pride that I didn’t know who popular actors were, the names of the local sports teams, the difference between alternative rock and grunge rock, and so on.

    So, since I experienced much the same thing in a very different culture, I agree with the suggestion that it is probably a personality thing, with maybe a hint of typical youthful self-satisfied superiority thrown in.