A few days ago, I happened to see some new photos of fathers and daughters at purity balls by photographer David Magnusson from his book on the subject that will be available later this year. The portraits were featured on several online sites, but despite the “colorful” language of vulgarity in the commentary, this site shows more of the pictures in an easy-to-view format. Some of th look like the dads are getting ready to lead their girls off to the slaughter, or perhaps they were on their way to a funeral. Some of them actually remind me of a sick version of American Gothic, primarily because the poses don’t look anything like ones that I find appropriate for fathers and daughters. I also can’t get beyond why they all look so morbid in their expressions. ??? I’m also noted for my strong opinion about the depiction of such a ritual in Courageous, a Quiverfull Movement indoctrination film.
I started to reflect on my own relationship with my father. We didn’t need a special event to make me feel like I was the apple of his eye. We attended enough weddings as I was growing up and went out to a nice dinner here and there for me to understand what it was like for a man to treat me with great honor in such a setting. I watched how he treated the brides at those weddings, too. I watched how he treated women in general in everyday life. And as I would realize acutely into my first week of marriage about how one relates to their spouse, the most profound impression that my father made on me concerning how a woman should be treated came through his example of how he treated my mother every day. Setting a good example of how a good man should treat a woman of valor came through how he loved and cared for my mom. (And I watched him get better at it over time, too.) That example did not come through superficial behavior on a few special occasions when everyone read from the rule book that someone else wrote for them. I learned through how he lived his life every day.
Follow the Formula?
I think that more often than not, we humans fall into the trap of mistaking the map for the territory – part of the big problem of thinking (or lack thereof) in postmodernism. We mistake what we understand or what we wish was reality, and we make a fantasy out of it. The idealized, ivory tower version of what we hope for (the fantasy) may be truly wonderful and right and good, but it doesn’t translate over into real life. So we go through real life, pretending and creating a world that we can’t really achieve. We go through the motions like actors in a play. We live in the metaphor and the map instead of the territory itself. Then we put all of our energy into that map instead of the work before us. This becomes all the more problematic when the map doesn’t really match the territory at all.
Do I think that there is a place for men to be admonished to love their wives and their children? Absolutely. Can pledges help adults to resolve to be better people? Absolutely. I don’t take issue with that, and I don’t think that most of the trusting people who end up going to these purity balls are inappropriate with their daughters. But I don’t know that putting that much effort into a purity ball is the best way to accomplish these things. And I don’t know that “dressing up for dad” is all that healthy once a girl starts heading off into adulthood. I cringe at the idea of wearing a sexy, elegant dress for my father as some girls in the purity ball set wear. (Note the picture of the girl with the backless dress and the father/daughter kiss in this commentary.)
What about taking a daughter out with her family on her birthday every year or perhaps serving a formal meal at home when money is tight? Isn’t that just as good of an opportunity to demonstrate how a young woman should be honored? In Christian school, we had a graduation banquet that older students could attend – something that seemed to serve the same purpose as a prom. We also dressed up in formal dress for commencement which the whole school attended. It seemed that there were plenty of opportunities for nice events. It never seemed to me that communicating good behavior under such circumstances was that difficult.
Other Problems of Honorable Mention
I obviously don’t accept the idea (the map) that says that a daughter’s virginity belongs to her father. A father doesn’t answer for the sins of his daughter or his wife. A woman’s body is her own until she marries, though the New Testament does tell us that one’s body is shared by one’s spouse and one’s self after marriage – not as a possession but as a function of being “one flesh” (1 Cor 7). The idea that a father can actually do anything to preserve his daughter’s virtue is an illusion. What if someone has taken that girl’s virginity against her will, unbeknownst to that father? Statistics indicate that one in three or four girls has been sexually abused in some way before age eighteen. I’m grateful that this trend didn’t come along until I was well out of my parents’ home.
There is the obvious issue of asking a child to make a vow before they comprehend what it means. I suppose that none of us really understand vows in many ways, but asking a child to make one when they are very young brings up some ethical questions. This is different than encouraging a child to aspire to be honorable and to resist sin. I’m concerned about the problem of coercion at an event that is designed to promote conformity under pressure concerning things that may be better left as a private matter between a person and God. I don’t know that it does real harm to a person or whether it helps. Again, I don’t know that the best solution is a pledge or a covenant, especially when a six year old is asked to sign one. I’m more concerned about the bandwagon response than I am about whether the pledge is a result of a genuine desire.
Regarding some of these rituals in patriarchy, I often ask, “Why do they need a parade?” Do they really need a parade?
When I watched this documentary produced by the BBC, I took special notice to a father who said that he participated in the purity balls with two of his daughters because he had lived such a rough life and felt regret. (He and his girls first appear just after 22 minutes into the video.) He’d been promiscuous and talked about his regret over the children that he’d failed to father – and hoped to see his daughters avoid similar trouble.
And that comes back around to the problem of the focus on only young women as the guardians of purity. I don’t think that most of them who have sex before marriage are dating men who are two or three decades older than them. Most young people become infatuated with peers in or near their same age group. Though I understand that this father has teen daughters, if he feels regret over his actions as a young man, why does he not focus on talking to young men? Why is there not equal importance placed on the duty that fathers have to their sons when it comes to the discussion of purity?
The map is not the territory – and this map doesn’t match the territory, either.
A More Realistic Celebration of the Territory and the Metaphor
I also happened across this sweet montage of pictures yesterday and found it delightful. My husband and I enjoyed them, and he said that the photographer, Dave Engeldow, should quit his day job and take more pictures. (You can join his kickstarter campaign or just buy his book like I did.) These seemed more like the joy I shared with my own father, down to the silliness.
My dad, a surveyor, worked hard outside all day. Especially in the evening in the winter after being outside in the cold all day, he’d fall asleep soon after dinner. I used to dress him up, and sometimes I’d pile laundry on him and a basket to make it look like he’d fallen asleep folding clothes. It was a bit of role reversal in comparison with my history while looking at these photos, but I could clearly note how much this man delighted in his daughter. They are wonderful! I stole my favorite one and posted it below, along with his video. Enjoy!
Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.
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