Question 3: In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?
Not really. If we were boys, we were not supposed to have anything to do with girls. If we were girls, we had nothing to do with boys. That was pretty much it. Of course, as I alluded to before, the girls’ wardrobe was much stricter than the boys and in the later years, the boys were able to wear t-shirts and shorts in public whereas the girls never switched from skirts, coo-lats, and dresses. We also all played the same sports. There were really no restrictions there.
When it came to modesty in the home, we were all required to walk around naked – a lot. We became very used to seeing one another with no clothes on. According to my mother, even though Bill Gothard told us in his Basic Seminar that we were never supposed to see one another naked, as a family, she maintained that we were supposed to exhibit self-control and not look at everyone. Everything I learned about puberty, breastfeeding, the aging body, hair in certain places, and everything to do with the human body, I learned from my lack of self-control.
I was a huge tomboy when I was younger. I loved sports and physical challenges. I had a really short haircut, my favorite color was blue, and I thought girls’ interests (such as dolls and clothes) were boring. I think that frightened my mom a lot, because as I approached my teens, she suddenly started telling me I looked like a boy and tried to shame me for playing rough with the boys. She was always trying to get me to be more ladylike; apparently there are a lot of things that ladies don’t do.
My sister didn’t need any coaching; she took naturally to wearing cute dresses, having tea parties, and making crafts. I tried really hard, but I just never was able to enjoy sewing and cooking, and my mom eventually moved on to teaching these skills to the eager daughters of other homeschooling families, which really made me feel like the odd one out. And as I watched my brother leave for his many outdoor adventures with other boys, I felt cheated and limited, having been born a girl.
My family actually had a good amount of flexibility. We girls were allowed to wear pants if we chose, and to romp outside like the boys. That said, we girls were expected to be more compassionate, gentle tongued, and sweet spirited while the boys were expected to exhibit more leadership and initiative. We didn’t always fit those roles – actually, I fit the second MUCH better than the first – but those were the character qualities my parents tried to bring out in us. Oh, and we girls were expected to be “graceful” and “ladylike.” Again, never my strong point!
Girls were expected to wear modest, feminine clothes. The only way to be feminine was wearing skirts and dresses all the time. Pants weren’t allowed – the smaller girls would sometimes wear pants for certain occasions, such as physical activity in the garden, but they’d still wear a skirt over it. Once you were older, about 8 or 10 years old, so shortly before you hit puberty, there were no pants to wear under your skirts anymore. If you couldn’t do something in a skirt without showing skin, you weren’t supposed to do it. Sitting on a swing or climbing trees and things like that were impossible once you were too old.
The boys likewise were expected to wear “manly” things – long pants and a nice shirt. Feminine colors, pinks or pastels for example, weren’t manly enough so they had hardly any clothes in that color. The pants of course enabled the boys to play certain games and do certain things us girls couldn’t do in our skirts – like I said, climbing trees for example.
On the other hand, girls were expected to play with dolls when they were small, but not for too long. After all, we had plenty of real babies to play with. The girls were expected to help in the house, “play house”, sort of, so they would be kept busy, learn skills they’d need and at the same time feel as if they were playing.
The most obvious thing was modesty. The boys could do just about whatever they wanted and could go shirtless or pee in the woods, but we girls were told to cover up, sit like ladies, and to wear shorts under our skirts if we were going to be active. The boys were also permitted a wider radius from the house for bike rides than the girls were.
My brothers got in big trouble for fighting with their sisters, they were supposed to be respectful to all women at all times. We had to wait for one of our brothers to open the door for us or help us into the car or carry something heavy for us, he usually got in trouble if he forgot. Girls were required to dress modestly, long dresses and skirts. Girls were not supposed to laugh or talk loudly, and we were strongly discouraged or banned from participation in sports or aerobics.
From as early as I can remember, I wore dresses and skirts every day. I was always jealous of my brother because he could fit in out in public better than I could. My dad required the boys to tuck in their shirts and comb their hair, but for us girls the list was much longer. I was never allowed to have makeup of any kind, despite the fact that I had acne. I could never have hair hanging near my face. It had to be pulled straight back and if it wasn’t, my dad threatened to cut off the loose pieces. I was never allowed to play contact sports like football, and never allowed to have male friends. My brother was always pretty shy, but his social interactions were not nearly as closely monitored as mine.
Since my interactions with other boys and girls came mostly from other families in my church, I’ll answer this question as it pertains to them.
Boys wore pants. Girls wore skirts. Boys weren’t allowed to have hair past their ears. Girls weren’t allowed to cut their hair at all. Boys were expected to play rough games, climb trees and run around. Girls were supposed to sit quietly and talk to each other. Friendships across the sexes were heartily discouraged.
We went through a phase as a family where my father strongly encouraged the females of his clan to only wear skirts and dresses. Interestingly, my mother refused to capitulate on this one entirely, but we wore skirts/dresses for church services and maybe about half of the time, or more, around the house. I was not allowed to wear anything sleeveless, show any cleavage, or wear anything with a hem that came above my knee. And of course I was expected to be ladylike and domestic, whereas the boys were taught to be hardworking, independent, and strong. My brothers and I lived very different lives.
Question 4: In what ways were boys and girls in your family raised differently vocationally (i.e., the boys pushed toward careers and the girls pushed toward homemaking)? How did this play out as you came of age (apprenticeship, college, staying home, etc.)?
The girls were not allowed to go to college. Not until they escaped from the prison anyway. Also, for years, Mama hated the idea of college due to Bill Gothard’s ignorance, and forbade any of the boys to plan their secondary education. But, as we pushed and prodded, her position softened and we were able to go.
The path for the girls, from what I remember was only understood and never spoken about. They were in a prison with walls made of “biblical” rules, watching their brothers dance on the key that would free them.
For many conservative Christians, higher education is seen as suspect because of the supposed liberal bias of universities and professors. That was the case for my family as well. However, my parents were unusual in our CP/Q community because they believed that even a daughter should be educated enough to support herself if necessary. So they encouraged me to attend a very conservative Christian college such as Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or Moody Bible Institute. They advised me to choose an area of study that would allow me to supplement my future husband’s income by working from home after I had children.
Unfortunately, due to isolation, I had debilitating social anxiety at the time at graduated from high school; the thought of going to college terrified me. Even though I was extremely unhappy at home, I chose to continue living with my parents for a few years before enrolling at a local community college with my brother. After community college, my brother and I both left home for out-of-town universities. By the time my sister had grown, my family was no longer involved in the CP/Q movement.
Growing up, I never once thought of having a career. I assumed from the very beginning, as I was taught to assume, that I would be a wife, mother, and homemaker and nothing else. The boys in contrast were always expected to have careers, and to choose jobs they could use to support a family. It was just the expectation that was there. Now because my parents valued education, I was sent to college. They actually spoke of that being my “dowry,” a sort of gift to a future husband. However, the goal wasn’t for me to think of a career, and I didn’t. I chose the field of study I did because it would allow me to tutor homeschool students and in that way perhaps bring my family a little extra income on the side, NOT because I planned to have a career in it (which I absolutely didn’t).
Moving out, going to college? That wasn’t an option at all – at least for the girls. We were taught rather strictly that daughters stayed at home until their husband came along. My Dad told me terrifying stories of young women who left their parents to go to college and got involved in “worldly” things. These stories usually ended with the girl being a drug addicted prostitute who’s now in rehab (optionally, her bastard child had been given up for adoption). I imagined colleges to be places where people had group sex right in the classrooms. I couldn’t imagine anything good coming from there. Education wasn’t as important since I was supposed to be a stay at home wife and mother anyway. Even if I didn’t marry and my parents were to die, I could move in with some other P/QF family and help them as a sort of adopted daughter, no matter the age.
Boys were raised to be hard working providers for a family. College was something that was encouraged, but not necessary. My Dad always believed that you could make good money and support a large family as long as you were a hard worker. The boys were also encouraged to grow up and make money rather early in life, in order to find a wife and get married. If you don’t have a job, you can’t get married, so finding something that would pay was elementary for any man. Missions were encouraged but my brothers were too young to do much of that before I left. My oldest brother is getting married soon, so I suppose he won’t be doing any traveling.
As I mentioned before, we were all somewhat pushed to go to college. The girls were expected to know how to keep a house and cook and care for babies, however. The boys learned some of those skills as well, but not in any deliberate fashion. Motherhood was upheld (for the girls) as being the highest calling, so the encouragement for girls in college is not so much for career-building purposes, but for educational benefit (we were raised to assume we’d eventually be stay-at-home moms). The boys are encouraged to pursue their interests and passions in college, but there’s more concern for them to have a plan for how their degree will pay off later.
Boys were strongly encouraged to get into a business of their own. Being an entrepreneur was definitely seen as the best career. My parents did not think that college was that important (my Dad called a degree a “piece of paper”), they often talked about apprenticeship for the boys with some excitement. For girls, college was not needed at all. It would only put ideas of a career in our head and distract us from our true calling as a wife and mother. My parents ranged from strongly discouraging to outright banning further education for girls. We were expected to learn how to be a submissive and fruitful wife by practicing serving our father and pleasing him. Studying any topic that they felt wouldn’t fit well with a future of childbearing was discouraged or banned. For example, music was something you could do even while very pregnant or caring for a small baby, sports was not. Therefore music was encouraged, and sports were not.
I always knew that I was never going to go to college. My dad ridiculed higher education as a form of worldly indoctrination, unsuitable for emotional and vulnerable women. It was understood that we girls would stay at home until marriage to be mother’s helpers. My father served as a young man, so my brother assimilated to that goal. My father was very tough on my brother about his school work. He pushed him into higher and higher math and ridiculed him for lagging behind. There was zero emphasis put on education for me. My dad always said I only needed to learn enough math to teach my children. I always wanted to be a singer and perform in musicals, but my aspirations of musical theatre were strongly condemned. My voice would be used to serve God, and that was all.
Since my interactions with other boys and girls came mostly from other families in my church, I’ll answer this question as it pertains to them.
Boys were raised to gain a skill to support a family. More education than that was frowned upon. Girls were taught that they could grow up either to be mothers or at-home caretakers for their aging parents. The result was that boys were encouraged to pursue their studies and get good grades, and when girls mentioned their academic achievements they were told not to lose sight of their “highest calling.” Girls were frequently forbidden to go to college, and if they did, they took courses like photography and music so as to “edify” their future families.
I always wanted to get a job and be independent. I didn’t want to get married or have children. Older women in the church frowned upon this and aggressively promoted materials and activities like Beautiful Girlhood, Above Rubies, sewing circles, babysitting, etc. One woman went so far as to tell me that I needed to get over my anorexia because if I didn’t gain any fat, I wouldn’t be able to have babies. I told her that was just what I was hoping, and I’m pretty sure I made it onto several “prayer lists” later that day.
My father felt strongly that since a woman was created to be a helpmeet to a man and a keeper at home, it made no sense to prepare her for life in the way one would prepare a son. Thus I never had a job outside the home, career training of any kind, college, etc. Instead I helped my mother out around the house, did odd jobs for my father (bookkeeping, etc.) and read in my spare time. My brother chose not to go to college of his own volition, but he held a variety of jobs and apprenticeship positions throughout his teen years and early twenties, and so was able to gain some skills and experience that have enabled him to get by in life at the very least.
Strangely, in spite of the fact that so many opportunities were closed to me, my father blamed me for not showing more initiative and becoming a “Proverbs 31 woman.” I felt like a disappointment to him in spite of the fact that I was doing nearly everything he wanted. It still wasn’t good enough. Apparently I had to recreate the socio-economic system of an ancient civilization as well, and proceed to make myself a success within it if I wanted to be perfect.
Comments open below
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce