As an adolescent girl, growing up under William Branham’s Message of the Hour, I stood poised before a great fall. Sometimes I felt a cold breeze rising from the pit in front of me. I knew that against my will I was edging closer, and would someday have no choice but to jump in. But I looked frantically for an outlet or a bridge, digging in my heels against the edges of the pit. The name of the abyss was womanhood.
I was taught that the Bible recognized three classes of people: men, women, and children. In God’s plan for the family, authority descended directly in that order. Men obeyed God, women obeyed men, and children obeyed all three. For those living within this scheme, God’s blessings were assured, but stepping out of line meant incurring a curse.
As I reached puberty, I became acutely aware that I was leaving one class for another. I was transitioning from childhood to womanhood, and the latter was not a class I wanted to join. As a child, I was never specially commanded to obey my male friends. I could assert myself if they tried to act “bossy,” and a parent would rebuke the offender. We were all equals as children; we all had to obey our parents. None of us had the right to order one another around. This was a short-lived world of equality, however. When my breasts began to bud at nine years old, I angrily flattened them with a tight sports bra, disgusted by the reminder of what I was to become. I wore that flat swath of spandex all the time, even to bed, although I sometimes endured shooting chest pains as my lungs struggled against the constriction. I set my jaw in disappointment, warding off the tears when my period arrived at age 11. I didn’t want to be a woman.
Women in my church had one purpose: the “highest calling” to which we could aspire was indeed our only acceptable calling. At our best, we could be “jewels” in the crowns of our husbands – pretty, docile objects men cherished and admired for their beauty. We were to be keepers at home, obedient to our husbands, clothed modestly with “shamefacedness and sobriety,” forever repaying Eve’s debt with the agonies of childbirth. William Branham taught that men and women were placed on equal footing before the fall, but also that Eve’s sin was a natural consequence of her creation as a “by-product” of Adam. She was defective from the start: not even a part of the original Creation, Branham said. Before the fall of Lucifer and his angels, God had allowed him to design one facet of the universe, the only thing He hadn’t already created: the woman’s body.