by Libby Anne
The woman of God is joyful and seeks companionship with those who share the same vision. For the daughter who has embraced the beauty of Christian girlhood, the richest friendships begin within her family, where she learns to love and honor, and first learns the joy of belonging to another.
I had a lot of friends growing up, and they definitely all shared my vision. In fact, they were all exactly like me! All of my friends were white, middle class, and homeschooled, and they all shared the same religious beliefs that my parents did. This was because I only ever met other children my age at church or in a Christian homeschool co-op, and I only ever got to see a friend frequently if our parents were also friends and our families got together regularly. Thus my friends were generally the children of my parents’ friends.
All of my friends were girls. This was probably largely a result of the strange coincidence that none of my parents’ friends had sons my age, but it was likely also furthered by the strong belief in different roles for boys and girls. I also think that the concern that if I knew a boy, I might somehow end up falling in love with him or kissing him or something, against my parents’ wishes, contributed to my not ever going out of my way to seek friendship with any boys my age. And in reality, I would not have know what to do with a guy friend if I had had one. After all, guys do not generally have tea parties, play with dollhouses, cook, or sew. Regardless of the reasons behind it, the fact that I only had girlfriends meant that eventually, when I went to college, I had to figure out how to deal with guys my age from scratch.
My friends and I often discussed our beliefs, but because we were in agreement on all the particulars the result was that we simply moved ourselves further and further into Christian Patriarchy. We were all devoted believers, and our discussions made us only more fervent. Head coverings, skirts only, staying at home rather than going to college – it was all on the table. It was like we had somehow tied our worth to our level of devotion, so the more devoted we could prove ourselves, the more holy we would be. Because of this, several of my friends almost talked me into staying home and not going to college. I admitted to them that they were right, we as girls shouldn’t go to college and should instead spend those years serving others. Yet at the same time I had to reconcile this new-found realization with my parents’ strong assumption that I would go to college. In the end, my parents expectation won out over doubts that had built up in my mind, largely planted there by my friends.
I was, of course, also friends with my siblings. We had some really good times together, whether going on long hikes or building forts or swimming in a nearby pond. My sisters and I used to stay up way past our bedtimes whispering to each other in our beds in the dark. In high school, I started to get to know my mother more, and we also became friends of a sort. We would stay up late folding laundry and eating ice cream, or go shopping together.
Looking back, I don’t think it was healthy that all my friends were just like me. I never had a friend who was black, or Jewish, or poor, or even a friend who dated. I never had a friend who was different from me in the slightest. On the most basic level, this is highly problematic when living in a country as diverse as the United States.
Yet there was also a larger problem. Only knowing people who were just like me resulted in a stigmatization of “the other.” I had never known someone who believed differently than I did, but I nevertheless believed that they were all wrong, unhappy, and lost. When I thought of the quintessential American family, two kids, public school, TV, and all, I felt almost a revulsion along with a sense of foreignness and dangerousness. Anyone not like me was entirely foreign, wrong, and distasteful. This stigmatization of “the other” meant that I had no idea how to relate to, or even understand, the vast majority of Americans. When I attended college I had to figure out how to relate to those different from me, because I had no idea how.
In addition, because my friends all believed the way I did, they simply affirmed my beliefs, just as I did theirs, without real discussion or consideration. We did not have the tools to really think through any of the things we had been taught because none of us had ever thought of challenging them. If we had had friends who did not share our beliefs, we could have had opportunities to really think our beliefs through and test them. As it was, we did not, and when we went further into Christian Patriarchy in our beliefs, we only found ourselves affirmed. While I never saw it happen, I would guess that had one of my friends questioned the beliefs in which we were raised, she would have been ostracized or shunned. In this way, we helped to maintain and strengthen each other’s beliefs without ever having to really think them through.