Courtship, Part 1: Eroding Girls’ Self Confidence

When I was in high school, I looked forward to the day when I would take part in a parent-guided courtship. It’s what I wanted. The idea that I could go out myself and find my own spouse was incomprehensible to me. In fact, I even said that I would be open to an arranged marriage. More than that, there was even a point where I wanted an arranged marriage. Why, you ask? Let me explain.

The idea that adult daughters should obey their fathers – an idea central to Christian Patriarchy – is sometimes minimized by pointing out that no one can force an adult daughter to obey her father – she’s an adult, after all. In other words, this can’t be a problem because an adult daughter, in American society, can always simply say “no” and choose not to obey her father.

What is sometimes left out of the picture, though, is why adult daughters in Christian patriarchy – the ones who don’t leave, that is – choose to obey their fathers. There are two reasons. First, they are taught that they cannot trust themselves or their own feelings and desires, and second, they are taught to idolize their father and see him as infinitely trustworthy and as God’s representative and spokesperson to them on earth.

I was taught that my feelings could easily lead me astray. I was taught not to trust them. I was taught that guys would try to manipulate me, and that I must be on guard against them. I was taught not to trust guys, since all they were interested in was sex. I was not to trust how I felt about a guy, because I could be “blinded by love.”

Essentially, I was taught that I could not trust my own judgement when it came to choosing a mate. If I chose my husband myself, I would almost certainly choose wrong, being blinded by love and falling prey to men’s manipulation and desire to get in my pants, or, err, up my skirt. The result was that I was 100% sure that if I chose my own spouse disaster would strike, my life would be ruined, and I would be stuck with an abusive husband.

How, then, could I find a mate?

I was taught that my father was my spiritual authority on earth. I was taught that God could speak to me through him, and that it was my duty as a daughter under authority to obey my father, even as an (unmarried) adult. I was taught that it was my father’s duty to protect me, and that without his protection I was vulnerable to the evils of the world.

Trusting my father came easily. He was a very involved father and was always there for me. He was very well educated and extremely well read. He seemed to know something about everything. He was hard working and a wonderful provider, and invested an incredible amount of time and energy into our family. He was charismatic, the sort of man people naturally look up to. Believing that I could trust him to protect me – and to wisely choose a spouse for me – was really only natural.

In the end, it’s really no wonder I was open to an arranged marriage.

My father, though, was not open to arranging a marriage for me. I think part of him was afraid of choosing wrongly, and the rest of him wanted me to have some say in choosing my spouse. And so, rather than either dating or an arranged marriage, I grew up expecting the staple relationship method of the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements – a parent-guided courtship. And by parent, I mean father.

Ideally, a young man would become interested in me and approach my father. At this point, he would essentially court my father as my father got to know him, mentor him, and learn about his beliefs. If the young man passed my father’s scrutiny, he would be given permission to court me, if I assented. This “courting” would always take place in the presence of family or a designated chaperone. My father would watch the relationship progress and intervene or end it if he felt things were going awry. Eventually the young man would approach my father and ask for my hand in marriage, and if granted permission, would then ask me to marry him.

In some ways, at least in theory, the parent-guided courtship offered a sort of middle ground. My father would thoroughly vet any prospective husband and make sure our relationship progressed healthily, but I would also have the ability to say “no” if I did not want to court a given young man, and also to call off the relationship at any time. In a sense, I would be choosing my own spouse out of a carefully vetted pool of young men who were in a sense guaranteed - through my father’s careful scrutiny – to be upstanding young men.

Thus while I knew that I could never trust myself to safely choose my own husband, I was told that if I followed the rules of a parent-guided courtship I would be kept safe from making a disastrous decision because my father would have the judgement and clear head to evaluate prospective husbands while I would not.

I cannot begin to explain how safe this made me feel, and how protected. I pitied girls whose fathers did not involve themselves, instead leaving their daughters to choose husbands on their own – vulnerable to exploitation, unprotected from manipulation, and open to being blinded by love and led to make a mistake that would haunt them the rest of their lives.

If my experience is any guide, this is why so many daughters of Christian Patriarchy openly and willingly and even eagerly embrace the practice of the parent-guided courtship. It’s really the perfect recipe: erode girls’ self confidence by teaching them that their own attempts to chose a husband will end in disaster, lead girls to place their faith in their fathers by teaching them that their father has been placed on earth by God to protect them, and then watch as these girls react with enthusiasm to the idea of a parent-guided courtship.

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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.