The Knight in Shining Armor

I am no longer surprised when I meet a woman raised in the same quiverfull Christian homeschooling culture as I who grew up to leave it all and yet still married young. There are a number of reasons for this, including habit and familial expectation. But I want to focus on a few common themes I’ve noticed in these situations, and the way these themes come together to create what I call the knight in shining armor phenomenon.

First, its important to bear in mind that one part of the entire Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy belief system is that even adult daughters must obey their fathers, because their fathers are their male authorities until they marry. Upon marriage, we become, in our parents’ eyes, under the authority of our husbands. When the questioning starts and is immediately followed by blowback and the expectation that we will obey, it isno wonder that some of us respond by grasping at that which is most sure—that if our father is no longer our male authority, after all, our parents will have to stop (or so we hope, at least). Marriage suddenly becomes the gate to freedom.

Recently Caleigh of Profligate Truth showed me a wedding picture. “You guys look so happy,” I told her. “We are happy because we were finally free,” she replied. Free, of course, from her father. Then, a few days later, I told another quiverfull daughter that, subconsciously, my parents’ beliefs about adult daughters and male authority played some role in my decision to marry when I did. Her response surprised me, though it shouldn’t have: “I married young for the same reason. It was the only way my parents would leave me alone.”

But there are additional factors as well. For one thing, it is not uncommon for quiverfull daughters for there to be a significant other involved in the process of leaving, and the result is often a desperate clinging together in the face of adversity. This can result in increased intimacy and attachment—after all, if a questioning quiverfull daughter’s significant other sticks by her through all of the crap her parents put her through, holding her hand and letting her cry on his shoulder, he has proven himself more than a fair weather friend. It’s also helpful to have a companion, especially when starting from a position of what is often great ignorance of naïveté about the world, and possibly losing ones friends and support systems from growing up. Also, having grown up expecting to marry early, doing so feels natural and has no stigma attached. None of these reasons are bad things.

Unfortunately, as a result of a number of the above factors, some of us may be tempted to see our husbands as our knightly defenders, standing and facing our dragon-like fathers or dungeon-like situations. Here is how Heather of Becoming Worldly put it:

We also saw it through a fairy tale lens, the rescuer, the knight in shining armor. It took my until about a year and a half ago to realize I rescued myself, I just picked [name excerpted] to be my companion in it and gave him all the credit. That was one area where this stuff, these teaching really f*cked with me and I see it now.

I was seeking out a knight in shining armor when all I needed was me to rescue me. I was fed a lie that I needed a romantic love relationship to make the rescue come true when it could have happened many ways.

It’s true. It is only too easy, especially when we are raised on romantic ideas of courtly love, for us quiverfull daughters to view our significant others as knights in shining armor come to rescue us. But this obscures the fact that only we can truly rescue ourselves, and that in reality we are the ones slaying metaphorical dragons when we finally say “no” and refuse to follow the play books our parents wrote for us and shoved in our hands.

For a time I did see Sean as a sort of knight in shining armor, but I eventually had to acknowledge that he was, like everyone else, flawed and imperfect. Yet our relationship actually improved when I took off the rose colored glasses and unrealistic expectations, and at the same time really believed in myself, gaining confidence as a person. See, the knight in shining armor/damsel in distress model is not a good foundation for a healthy and strong relationship. After all, in that framework knights are portrayed as flawless and damsels as helpless even though neither is true.

In other words, the reasons that many ex-quiverfull daughters marry young,while not all bad in and of themselves, often form a veritable breeding ground for a knight in shining armor/damsel in distress view of the relationship. This is something we quiverfull daughters need to be aware of and work against.

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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.

  • Kellen

    I weep for the Quiverfull lesbians.

  • Christine

    I think that there may also be less negative reasons – even if you’ve rejected your ‘marry young because it’s better to marry than to burn’ upbringing, you’re still going to have internalized an attitude that it’s ok to marry ‘young’, as opposed to the dominant cultural narrative. I say ‘young’, because anything under 25 is considered too young for marriage by a fairly large and vocal percentage of the population. You’re also more likely to be adults, rather than still in extended adolescence, because you weren’t given a chance to be teenagers at all. My mothers friends were pretty equally divided between those who were shocked that I was getting married so ‘young’ and those who didn’t care (23 – and remember that lots of people graduate university at 21, there are people who are done their Master’s by 23). The ones who were shocked didn’t know me, the ones who were happy for her did. So obviously the expectation of how old to marry is somewhat based on an expectation that people in their early twenties are basically still teenagers.

    I’m really glad that you and Sean are making things work so well, given all the baggage that your parents dumped on you.

    • kisarita

      I think this is a very new development in our cultural, and most probably has to do with the increasing time it takes to develop a career, the need for increased schooling etc. In a nutshell its about how economics shapes culture. A generation ago it was common for people to marry fresh out of college and no one had to explain “why”

      • plunderb

        I think you have to be careful about comparing the current generation only to the generations that came of age in the mid-20th century. It’s true that we marry later now than people did in the 1950s and early 1960s, but those decades were themselves enormous deviations from historical norms. The average age at marriage was lower in 1960 than it was in 1760.

      • Red

        Even today, it definitely depends on where you live. I’m from the Midwest, and no one batted an eyelash when I got married at 22, 7 weeks after college graduation. I knew plenty of people who got married DURING college at age 20 or 21. Meanwhile, some of my friends from the East Coast couldn’t believe we were doing that. Geography is def a factor! :)

  • Mogg

    This was certainly what happened to my sister, who married very young, and what I was looking for in dating guys from outside our church – which was not Quiverfull, but taught headship/submission and courting. My sister did okay, in that her husband is a decent guy who did, in fact, stand up for my sister against a lot of resistance and disapproval from my parents, but they have some massive incompatibilities and they’ve had a hard time, particularly as my sister has grown up and changed quite a lot as she’s found herself.

    I was a bit different, in that I was far too tomboyish and unconventional in thinking to be considered suitable for any of the guys within the church, so I was automatically put in the category of “unmarriageable”, a label I believed in some sense for 15 years. I didn’t like any of the guys in the church and was scared of being married in that kind of headship/submission framework and being forced to play a role that wasn’t me, but that label still hurt and damaged me. I therefore dated some quite inappropriate guys from outside the church in some poorly reasoned, desperate theory that if I could get married then that was a “legitimate” reason not to go to that church anymore, and because I was “unmarriageable” I didn’t deserve a particularly good man. I was very fortunate not to get caught in a bad relationship on several occasions before I eventually realised I had to rescue myself; or perhaps I subconsciously realised that it was a poor idea and somehow managed to avoid committing to an obviously bad relationship until an excuse to get out presented. I am now with a wonderful man and we suit each other very well, but I seriously doubt we could have laid the foundations of the healthy relationship we have without sorting a lot of my own issues out first. That meant that this, which I think will be my permanent relationship/marriage, did not come along until my late thirties.

    This phenomenon, though, is not confined to Quiverfull daughters. For instance, I know of two women who married extremely young in order to escape completely non-religious, poverty-stricken dysfunctional single-mother family situations. One of those marriages has been extremely dysfunctional but hung together, often only by a thread, for decades, the other disintegrated after a lot of stress and emotional abuse on the part of the husband. Interestingly, all three of the marriages I describe were very young women marrying men anywhere between 5 and 10 years older – father figures, perhaps?

  • Hilary

    Libby, if you want to re-write the ‘knight in shinging armor’ script for yourself, or give a wonderful version to Sally, try these books by Tamora Pierce

    Welcome to a world of wonderful feminist fantasy.


    • Antigone10

      Oh, I completely support this. Tamora Pierce is a great author, (and awesome at Q and A’s to boot). The Song of the Lioness Quartet is a bit rough- her writing improves quite a lot afterwards, but it was just exciting to find an active heroine. Who pro-actively DOES stuff, instead of either is arm-candy, scenery, or just lets stuff happen to her.

    • Kit

      Also, I just have to say: Keladry of Mindelan is my hero. Whenever I feel discouraged or afraid, I think about her and calm down and think up solutions! :D

    • Firemind

      Hey, I’ll de-lurk to second the recommendation as well as add Wen Spencer to the list of awesome authors who subvert the standard. Especially check out her Elfhome series (also called the Tinker series after the protagonist). It begins with the highly intelligent protagonist rescuing her eventual love interest and gets more awesome from there.

    • Marianne

      Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been racking my brain for AGES trying to remember the name of these books (and the author.) I read them as a kid and loved them.

  • Tracey

    Another good story about a princess rescuing herself is The Paper Bag Princess. I read this to my one-year-old niece as her first story.

  • Carlos Cabanita

    There are patriarchs well outside religious fundamentalism. My first father-in-law, back in 1973, tried that authority transfer routine to me. And he was a lawyer, an opposition figure, an atheist and a communist. I answered him that upon marriage his daughter would not become mine, but an adult, She was no fragile flower either, she was a student leader. And the reason we had to marry young (21 for me, 20 for her, adulthood was at 21 in Portugal then) was a ridiculous one: no one would rent us a room unless we were married.

  • Beleaguered Knight

    Hi Princess, it’s me, Knight. At first I was elated and honored to be your hero. I possessed the fortitude, character, strength, and wherewithal to sweep you off your feet and pull you up, out of the lion’s den, beyond arm’s reach of your oppressive matriarch slavemaster and you adored me for it. We didn’t have anything in common, our worldviews were worlds apart, we had no goals and no support network, but we were FREE!!!! FREE!!!! FREE AT LAST!!!! That was all that mattered. Period. End of story……. or not…

    Turns out the euphoric thrill of emancipation, like all chemical reactions in the brain, have a shelf life, and after some time, when the dopamine runs out, as a great songwriter once wrote, “the thrill is gone.” And when the relationship is built on the thrill, well, the relationship tends to go too… to pieces.

    Long story short: I’m the knight who thought I was doing a noble deed by “freeing her,” only to find out in the process of freeing her, I incarcerated myself, and us, and woke up one morning 5 years after our wedding day with the weight of the world on my shoulders.

    Of course I couldn’t bear it. I caved. She caved. We caved. We separated and reconciled NINE times. 22 years later, our marriage is still in tact, and better than it has ever been, but not on the part of our own efforts to rescue each other or ourselves. We’re still standing for one reason and one reason only.

    Bottom line: the knight phenomenon is just as bad for the guy as it is the girl. I know firsthand. No man should ever be expected to be anyone’s savior. Same with women who set out to change men. Humankind was not designed to SAVE one another, nor can we save ourselves. There is only ONE way to true, fully liberated freedom, and that is through the one and the only Savior of mankind, Jesus. There is no other way. I’m 46 and I’m here to tell you I have tried EVERY way and I certain He is the way, the truth and the life, and without Him there is nothing but slavery and darkness.


    • M

      I’m glad your life is better. I’m glad you and your spouse both escaped an abusive situation(?) and managed to learn how to be free, individual people.

      I must respectfully disagree with you about Jesus, and I think your message would be much stronger without the religion bits. There’s no need to add proselytizing to every message, and it makes people like me want to recoil from everything you’re saying, even if the overall message (knighthood is no picnic either) is positive.

    • Paige

      I disagree with your view of humans being unable to save themselves or each other. I think people are very good at it in fact although it is hard work. Just some simple examples, doctors, nurses and councillors.

  • Beleaguered Knight

    PS: when I referred to “matriarch” I was referring to my wife’s mother. Growing up, her stepfather was totally laissez faire. Her mother as an autocrat. Well, I should qualify that. Her stepfather was laissez faire until the day my wife said she was moving out. He went ballistic and evidently– according to his counselor–every repressed Vietnam war pain he ever had came exploding out like a volcano and I was the fist one he wanted to take it out on. Lucky me!!! Being a knight is sooooooo overrated :/

  • Cristi

    I married right after graduating college at 21. I would have married earlier if my boyfriend would have agreed. It was the only “acceptable” way to move out of the house. I had been trying to get out for 3+ years but I didn’t have the courage on my own and all of my “mentors” (read: parents’ friends) strongly recommended against living on my own. I look back and wish I had the courage to do it on my own. I wish I hadn’t relied on this crutch of getting married. I wish I had found a way to be happy with myself before I got married. Twelve years on, I’m still working on being strong enough to be my own person without simply being a “married woman”. For a long time I carried around hurt when my knight in shining armor didn’t match up with my expectations, because I was raised to believe I needed to pour everything into “marriage” (instead of being a person, everything should be about a couple), and sadly even with that hurt it, I was ok with it because it was better than what my parents offered me. Luckily, I have a very supportive spouse who has pushed and encouraged me to be my own person and has stuck with me through the bumps of trying to figure this out.

  • Red

    I’ve noticed that within patriarchal families, there can be a rather tortured relationship with the idea of marrying young (not always, but frequently enough for me to have noticed it). On the one hand, marrying young is technically seen as a noble thing; after all, a woman’s highest calling is marriage and motherhood, and the goal of marriage is to produce tons of kids, so you need to start early! On the other hand, though, when the reality of marrying off daughters actually comes, parents can become reluctant to deem anyone good enough for their kids, resulting in girls who are marrying later than their parents originally “said” they wanted them to marry. Just look at Elizabeth and Anna Sofia Botkin, for instance. Or, for that matter, my family friends, who said they wanted all their daughters to marry really young, and then weeded out potential mates so fiercely that the youngest marriage any of their girls had was in her mid-20s.

  • Caleigh

    (thanks for the mention, Libby!)

    I often say that my husband “saved” me from my dad, but he is not my savior. It was through his care though that I found peace, rest, and unconditional love. I married young because that was the only way I could leave the house, and in some ways I regret it, because I have had to learn how to be my own person along with figuring out how to be a wife to my husband. I don’t regret it though, especially because of how much fun and crazy experiences my husband and I have together. :-)