Daughter of the Patriarchy, epilogue: What does leaving fundamentalism look like?

leavingchurch

by Sierra Occasionally, I get asked whether or not I ever actually left my old fundamentalist church. My story on No Longer Quivering followed my journey up to the first year of college. I’ve wrestled with how to explain what happened in a proper narrative form, because the circumstances [Read more...]

Emotional Incest: The Mama’s Boy and the Other Woman

by Sierra

I have already written about the ways that growing up in fundamentalist-evangelical culture made me especially vulnerable to covert incest from my father. There is a flip side to the father-daughter craze in Christian patriarchy, though. I am here to bring you two stories: and one of them isn’t about me!

In what would have been my high school years, a miracle happened. Sven, my best friend from my early childhood, came back to my church. We were fourteen. We had been estranged for about three years while his family lived in another state. But we quickly reconnected (not least due to my idealistic hopes that we could pick up where we left off, and some aggressive book-lending). But the stakes were so much higher now.

Sven’s mother had all but declared me a slut at seven years old, a fact I’ve alluded to several times as it was formative for my conception of myself (in a quite negative way that required overcoming later). But now that we actually had secondary sex characteristics, my apparent sluttitude was all the more threatening. Who knew what debaucheries my round, pimpled face might concoct? Meanwhile, I dreamed that Sven would take me away somewhere to live in childless bliss in the mountains. In retrospect, Sven could hardly have taken me across his driveway without asking his mother’s permission. But who is better at sustaining ill-fated wishes than a lonely fourteen-year-old?

Full Post

[Read more...]

Emotional Incest: The Junior Wife

[Editors' note: At the time of writing, Libby Anne and Sierra were unaware of the controversy surrounding Hugo Schwyzer. The discussion of his critique of emotional incest is not an endorsement of Schwyzer by NLQ.]
by Sierra

Libby Anne has begun a series on Emotional Incest at Love, Joy, Feminism. In her latest post, she also links Hugo Schwyzer’s striking analysis of the problems with the “Daddy’s Girl” myth and princess culture. The following is my attempt to confirm and add more perspectives to the issue they are bringing to light.

As a child of a believer and a nonbeliever, I walked a confusing and sometimes torturous line between the prescriptions of my church and the realities of a divided household. Additionally, I was the only child, and female. For the first couple of years after my mother joined our fundamentalist church (while my age was still in the single digits), we basked in fellowship and preoccupied ourselves with the joys of home. Fundamentalist culture is extremely good at fostering an environment that feels like shelter, with clearly-defined expectations and an emphasis on the “simple life” – about which I’ll write more later. So for the early years, I happily did my homeschool lessons, read books, played outside, and ran to the door yelling “Dad’s home!” whenever his pickup truck began the descent of our long rural driveway.

Then puberty hit like a bombshell.

Full Post

[Read more...]

Daughter of the Patriarchy: Admissions

by Sierra

“When I was your age, my parents wouldn’t send me to college,” my mother was telling me. “I had to work my way through on my own. I don’t want you to have to stop. I will do everything I can to help you keep going to school. Your education is the most important thing to me.”

We stood in the kitchen, a printed letter lying on the counter between us. It was not good news.

I glanced up at my mother with a strained smile. I knew that if wishes could be cashed at the bank, I’d be writing my admissions essay to an ivy-coated castle. Instead, I was trying to find a way to pay the bill from my last semester of community college in time to register for fall classes. It was already August.

My work at Wal-Mart paid eight-fifty an hour: better than all the other work options for teenagers in the area. My schedule was already as close to full-time as it could be without requiring the company to offer me benefits. My hands were tied: I could take another part-time job, but when would I go to school? It was all I could do to keep our car paid for and insured while my mother handled the rent and utilities. College tuition had slipped between more pressing matters like food and transportation, and dragging it back to current status again would not be easy.

Still, I was grateful to have a mother who dared to disagree with the life track laid out before me. A Catholic turned evangelical, my mother was a radical believer in forging new paths. She had, after all, followed her heart out of her family’s religion when I was still a toddler. Going to college was my chance to discover what God had in store for me as an individual, she thought. I knew already that beliefs like these made my mother an outsider, a liberal and a radical in my church of stay-at-home daughters and unremitting parental supervision. What I did not yet know was how short and how tight the bonds were that held my friends.

“Why don’t you fill out your FAFSA?” my mother suggested. “Maybe you can get grants or student loans. They might offer you more if you apply to a four-year school. Let’s drive around and look for a college where you can transfer your credits.

I loved Rowling College on sight. The sprawling green lawn, ancient shady oaks and dark grey stone of its oldest building washed over me in a wave of color and charm. “It looks like a little Harvard,” I told my mother breathlessly. A more culturally adept young woman might have said it looked like Hogwarts.

The admissions counselor radiated warmth and hope. She beamed at my community college transcripts. No, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have SATs, she said. My grades proved that I could handle introductory classes. I felt a bubble of excitement rising in my throat, and firmly swallowed it. I would assume that this all was beyond my grasp, I decided. If it proved true, I would be pleasantly surprised. If it didn’t, I would not allow myself to feel the disappointment. I can go back to college later, I reasoned. There is a manager position opening at my store.

Full post …

[Read more...]

Throwing Out the Moral GPS

by Sierra

Growing up in fundamentalism was like living with a moral GPS navigator installed in my head. Every decision was mapped out already; all I needed to do was listen to the voice telling me where to go. Sometimes I could stop and look at the map. Most of the time I was looking ahead, trying to live, listening and following directions as best I could.

The GPS gave me directions for living: Read the Bible and pray every day. Obey your parents. Be respectful of elders.

Those directions made sense. They were there to help me get where I wanted to go: straight ahead. There were no twists and turns yet.

Then the directions got a little stranger: Listen to one of Branham’s sermons every day. Wear long skirts. Be modest. Grow out your hair. Throw away worldly music. Throw away makeup. Look down on public-schooled kids. Don’t watch TV.

The GPS gave me directions for my relationship with my parents: Ignore your father’s rage and violence. Win him to Christ by silence. Submit to him as your earthly head until you are married. Follow the chain of command.

It gave me directions for relationships with boys: Don’t touch. Don’t laugh too much. Don’t be alone with them. Don’t give away pieces of your heart. Wait for God to bring you your husband.

It gave me directions for lifetime ambition: Your greatest calling is to be a wife and mother. Choose a vocation you can pursue at home, while raising children. Learn to cook and sew. Don’t venture out into the world.

The cacophony of advice was deafening. More troubling still, I felt a tug, a conflict in my soul. There was something wrong with the directions.

“Turn right.” They said. “Turn right. Turn right. Turn right.”

Full post …

[Read more...]