Last week I wrote about Louis Markos’ article, “Why Homeschool Girls Are Feminism’s Worst Nightmare.” Today I want to highlight three comments by other “homeschool girls” like myself. I thought these three comments were particularly insightful, and did not want them to be simply buried in that comment thread.
First comes Lasselanta’s comment.
I have met Dr. Markos once or twice. He is engaging, lively, and a good speaker, and his students enjoy his classes. He also frequently falls into the lamentable mistake of caricaturing and then mocking his intellectual opponents (all too easy to do in general, and much easier for me to see in others than myself, so…). He isn’t a full-fledged fundamentalist, as far as I can tell (not with the fringe beliefs about stay-at home daughters, no higher education for women, or child marriage, etc.)
That said, as a woman who was homeschooled, I find his article distasteful and disturbing. I would want him to know two things at least:
1) Part of what is so attractive about college students is the fact that many of them haven’t had enough experience to fully test their beliefs yet, and this is particularly true of most homeschooled female college students. This mostly-rosy view of the world is an acceptable place to be at 18, and doesn’t mean they don’t have anything true to say. However, Dr. Markos also needs to talk to homeschooled alumni who are in their 30s… 40s… 50s… (do those exist?) before he draws conclusions about the system of beliefs they hold about gender. Can those beliefs stand up to life? Are they robust enough to explain the adult world as experienced? This is not a sufficient truth test in itself, but it is an important one to consider, and he hasn’t.
2) He incompletely understands both the content and the effects of the beliefs about motherhood he praises. He adds the caveat that “not all of them plan to be stay-at-home moms”– but in the world where I grew up, at least, “putting your children first” was code for “you MUST stay at home with them full time, and preferably homeschool them yourself, or you are a bad mom.” (Other homeschooled alum—is this widespread, or just me?) He indirectly supports this later: “And they desire to do this, not because they do not think they can contribute to the business world, but because they consider motherhood a high and noble calling.” Implied (if not by Dr. Markos, then by the world he is praising): motherhood is the highest calling you can have, and nothing else you could do could ever measure up to it, and it is in opposition to “the business world.”
This belief is patently untrue even within Dr. Markos’ worldview (which I mostly share—the core Christianity, not the gender essentialism): the Bible teaches no such thing about motherhood. This belief also (surprise!) doesn’t hold up to life. I know about that from the infertility angle (conclusion of syllogism: my life doesn’t matter), but I suspect there are mothers out there hurting from this rhetoric too, either because they can’t live up to it, or because they are apparently living up to it and still miserable.
To answer Lasselanta’s question, yes, the idea that if you’re not a stay at home mother you are a bad mom is very widespread in the Christian homeschool culture we grew up in.
Reader Hattie then responded:
Hey, Lasselanta! Glad to see another homeschooled woman responding to Dr. Markos’ less-than-flattering love note. In fact, I think I’ll write him back too.
Dear Mr. Markos,
Your views on “those wise and witty homeschool girls” are premature at BEST.
See, I used to be one of those very girls (or aren’t they women yet?) You would have looked fondly on me: Although I enjoyed logic and philosophy and great books and ginormous arguments, I didn’t really have any dreams for a CAREER. No, I was content with my skirts, my femininity, and the eventual likelihood of marriage-and-must-stay-at-home-with-the-kids. That is, I THOUGHT I was “content”. I know I was told that I should be.
But, maybe I wasn’t.
Because I eventually rejected my Quiverfull marriage proposal, and got a (traditionally masculine!) job to pay off my student loan debts.
One fine day (several years after graduation), instead of thumbing through my still-beloved Jane Austen, I picked up BETTY FRIEDAN. Mr. Markos, you may say what you like about how we homeschool girls are feminism’s worst nightmare, that we disprove all the false stereotypes about stay-at-home moms, etc. Just keep in mind one little thing: THE REVERSE IS ALSO TRUE. I was shocked, upon reading “The Feminine Mystique”, to find that the feminism I’d been so proud to despise during my college years had been nothing more than a caricature.Or was I really that shocked? I think even then, I wondered if there was “more”.
At any rate: Friedan wasn’t advocating most of what I’d been taught about feminism: That we need to cut our hair and become unattractive as women, or suddenly start behaving in a mannish fashion, or that we have to ditch spouse and kids in order to find “fulfillment”.
She was all about WOMEN LEADING FULL LIVES.
I am a homeschooler. And I approve this message.
I do agree with you on one point, however: You stated that formerly homeschooled women are similar to the the characters in Jane Austen’s books. Like Anne, in “Persuasion”, who admitted: “We live at home, quiet, confined…” Mr. Markos, I AGREE with you that many homeschool girls, myself included, came from just such a life. What I question is whether that’s always good thing. Naivete and vulnerability is not always that helpful to young ladies. Since you are a reader, I recommend “Predators, Prey and Other Kinfolk: Growing up in Polygamy”, by Dorothy Allred.
It is very easy for YOU to take lightly these women’s decisions to eschew the business world/anything else for the “high and noble calling” for marriage and motherhood. That is because somebody like you hasn’t an INKLING of just what it would take to get out.
And you know what the REALLY scary thing is, Mr. Markos?
Ten years ago, when I was an 18-year-old skirt-wearer, I would have agreed with every word you said. ; )
That last line of Hattie’s is so, so true. Ten years ago (0r so) as an 18-year-old skirt-wearer myself, I would also have agreed with every word of Louis Markos’ article.
Finally comes this comment by Levedi:
Oh there’s just so much wrong with this man’s article, I don’t know where to start! And if I start, I won’t wind down for hours.
I’m an alumna (why yes dear sir, I DO know my Latin genders) of Christian homeschooling. I could make biscuits and pie dough from scratch without a recipe by age 12, sewed quilts, did Bible study and did in fact speak like a Jane Austen character (when I wasn’t trying to speak like a Renaissance person). I was woefully awkward, my peers thought I was a complete dork and a snob—it turns out that delicate hauteur doesn’t translate well to modern America.
Men like this guy thought I was fantastic and wanted me to marry their sons. They were absolutely certain that I was the perfect wife, but that said a lot more about their weird fantasies of femininity and marriage than it did about my reality. Somehow, thank God, my innate stubbornness led me to become the authentic person I am, rather than continue trying to be a china doll in a prairie dress. That’s what Marko really wants and that’s what he’s seeing in his female students.
The real women aren’t even on his radar and they’ve been carefully trained not to be on his radar. The kind of women he’s describing would never, ever tell a male professor what they think of sex or assert their own leadership in intellectual arguments where he could hear them. So he doesn’t really know at all what these women think.
I teach at an evangelical Christian university and because I’m female the graduates of conservative homeschooling often end up in my office, using up my tissues, telling me what’s really going on inside them. It’s a lot messier, a lot more human, a lot more wounded, and usually a TON more beautiful than Markos ever dreams of.
I could have written Levedi’s comment myself, and I applaud her work with other graduates of conservative homeschooling. They are lucky to have someone they can come to who truly and fully understands what they are going through. I did not have that as an undergraduate myself, and I can tell you right now that it would have made a world of difference if I had.
Hattie does not clarify her current religious beliefs, but Lesselanta identifies as Christian and Levedi works at an evangelical Christian university. I think it is well worth pointing out that it’s not just former homeschool girls turned “apostates” that realize and reject the harm done to them by highly gendered ideas and currents of the conservative Christian homeschool subculture.