False Dichotomies: “Homeschooled Girls vs. Feminists”

False Dichotomies: “Homeschooled Girls vs. Feminists” January 5, 2014

by Samantha Fields cross posted from her blog Defeating the Dragons

So, Robert Knight, an extremely conservative writer for Townhall and whose articles occasionally appear in publications like the Washington Times, wrote an article last Tuesday called “Homeschooled Girls vs. Feminists.” Since the article spends most of its time talking about grown women, I have to admit to some mild annoyance to the persistent infantilization of women in conservative circles. College-aged females are women, thank you.

My real problem with his article, however, is the false dichotomy he frames in the title and then argues in the piece itself. Just a quick review: a false dichotomy, also known as the false dilemma, is an attempt to reduce a complex, nuanced argument down to two separate, extreme positions. This type of argument is probably more familiar to people as “black and white thinking.” Knight’s article is an excellent example of how fundamentalists approach almost any issue– it’s us against them. Good, godly, homeschooled “girls” (grr) verses those big, bad, bra-burning, man-hating feminists.

First of all, I’m a homeschooled graduate and a feminist. My existence flies in the face of Knight’s argument. Also, there has not been any backlash against homeschooling led by feminists. If a feminist figure says anything at all, it’s to comment on the sexist attitude in religious homeschooling culture. Also, the feminist who said that, Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, homeschooled her children and published that article in Home Education Magazine. The only people who really seem to be saying that feminists oppose homeschooling are homeschoolers. In fact, there are many feminists who choose to homeschool– women like Sara Schmidt. And Suki Wessling.

But it’s not an uncommon reaction for homeschooling advocates to point at people like me who want to see common-sense policies introduced and start shouting “you’re all a bunch of feminists!” See Robert Knight, and “Overhere” (who was commenting on a secular homeschooling forum). In these sorts of discussions, feminists get painted inaccurately, and motivations are attributed to us that fall right in line with the anti-feminist rhetoric that’s existed for decades. We’re just selfish. We think homeschooling means signing ourselves into a “concentration camp” (which, granted, that comparison comes from The Feminine Mystique…).

Which is, le sigh, not true.

But, I’d like to address how Knight sets up this dichotomy in his article. He’s responding to an article I can’t read, “Feminism’s Worst Nightmare: Educated Women,” by Lou Markos for The City (published by Houston Baptist University), but giving the somewhat paranoid nature of most of his writing, I’m going to assume that this essay is pretty typical fare, and probably falls inside CBMW and CWA -type arguments, which Knight seems to share.

Knight shares Markos’ presentation of the “homeschooled girl”:

They possess a razor-sharp wit with which they can cut pretentious people (especially males) down to size, but they rarely use this skill, and only when they are sorely provoked …

They have a firm knowledge of the Bible, but they (unlike my biblically-literate male students) don’t engage in forensic debates over minor theological points of controversy; they will, however, step in if the boys get too contentious or triumphalist …

Home-schooled girls have wonderfully synthetic and creative minds that make connections across disciplines … they are gifted in the arts; almost all of them can sing and most play instruments and draw. …

They have not bought in to the lies of our modern consumerist state: that is to say, they do not judge their value and worth on the basis of power, wealth, or job status.

There are some pretty specific attitudes that Markos (and now Knight) are praising.

  • These young women are quiet and submissive, meek and gentle– they rarely react, and only when “sorely provoked.”
  • They understand what their place is when it comes to the Bible; they always let men lead discussions and refuse to become involved in discussing theology or become a part of a debate– they only lovingly point out that a debate has become “contentious.” They know better than to think they can engage with men on theological issues.
  • They pursue stereotypically feminine talents.
  • They find their value in the patriarchal attitudes of being a mother, wife, and homemaker and see employment as inconsequential.

Knight follows this up with talking about how Jane Austen and Downton Abbey are so popular– which he attributes to these works as not catering to “politically correct feminist lenses.” All that claim does is demonstrate a rather astonishing lack of historical awareness of either the Regency Era or WWI-era Britain. Trying to appropriate Jane Austen as some sort of anti-feminist figure is ridiculous. I’m not overly familiar with Downton Abbey, but many of my friends love it for explicitly feminist reasons.

And, apparently, feminists are engaged in the “real war on women” because we have some sort of campaign to encourage promiscuity and convince women not to ever, ever get married. Which is a pretty typical conservative phrasing of feminist arguments– they take the sex-positive, anti-shame, you-can-get-married-when-you-want-to-who-you-want narratives of feminism and completely flip them upside down.

Feminists also supposedly scream a lot about how there’s no differences between men and women and about how much we hate femininity and feminine women:

They have the wit and discernment to perceive that the feminist is finally a greater threat than the male chauvinist: for whereas the chauvinist demeans femininity, the feminist dismisses it altogether as a social construct that has no essential grounding in our God-created soul. It’s no wonder feminists hate the feminine Sarah Palin with white-hot intensity.

I would like to actually address this issue, because it’s something that as a feminist I bump into a lot, and I think it’s the essential disagreement between egalitarians and complementarians. Feminists and egalitarians both assert that while biological factors exist (besides the obvious reproductive differences, there’s also different skeletal and muscular structures), that substantial and essential differences don’t. Men and women are both created with the imago dei, both receive spiritual gifts, and both can serve in equal roles. Egalitarians recognize the variety and complexity of all people, and are uncomfortable with dividing that variety according to patriarchal stereotypes.

So yes, feminists actually believe that “femininity” is a social construct that has little grounding in biological sex–  men, women, and trans* persons can have traits and attitudes reflective of socially constructed “feminine” and “masculine” traits. Knight isn’t wrong here.

However, what Knight believes is that there is absolutely a fundamental difference between men and women– and it’s doubtful if he recognizes the legitimacy of trans* persons (which would be an attitude he shared with some). He believes that this difference is a part of our “God-created soul” and arguing any differently is akin to arguing against God and his Holy, Inspired, Infallible, Inerrant Word (instead of just a traditional interpretation of it).

It’s interesting to note that Knight spends so much of his article recognizing women he describes in terms of Proverbs 31– as “strong” and, at many points, very capable and intelligent. I think it’s possible that if Knight could engage with feminism, he’d realize that the feminism he’s portrayed here is nothing more than a straw man. I think the views he’s expressed here are sexist, but they come from this conservative preaching-at-the-choir that’s happened for decades now. Organizations like CBMW and CWA have spent a long time telling Christians what feminism is and what feminists do, and it’s gotten to the point that many Christians accept these portrayals without analysis or research.

Feminists don’t hate men.

Feminists want a world where gender privilege no longer exists, where people are treated the same regardless of their sex or gender identity, where women and trans* persons are no longer oppressed by violent systems. That’s it, really.

Comments open below

Read everything by Samantha!

Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverfull, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.

Samantha blogs at Defeating The Dragons and is a member of The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

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

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • aim2misbehave

    “They have a firm knowledge of the Bible, but they (unlike my
    biblically-literate male students) don’t engage in forensic debates over
    minor theological points of controversy; they will, however, step in if
    the boys get too contentious or triumphalist …”

    Although the “unlike my biblically-literate male students” line is really sexist in that it implies women are biblically illiterate, the kind of “forensic debate over minor theological points of controversy” thing is really different than just being able to explain what you believe and why. It’s this thing I keep running into, especially the “hipster” churcheswhere someone will start with a simple concept, then break out a $5 word that many
    of the Christians I know can’t understand, and when you ask for explanation of that term, they get all condescending and break out the $10 words and references to 200-year-old theological writings. Sooner or later you just give
    up because, unlike them, you don’t devote the majority of your free
    time to studying long-dead theologians almost nobody has ever heard of.

    And for the men, they most definitely see it as a “can’t engage with the men” thing – although they apply this to other groups, like non-Christians, Christians of other denominations, Christians in their same denomination, pretty much anyone they want to prove they’re better than.

    But the women? I’ve never, ever known one who’s even tried to get involved after seeing that play out once or twice. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t any, ever, but even the more traditional women I know refuse to get into those debates not because of gender roles, but because they, too, recognize it for what it is: A big pile of elitist bull excrement that only serves the purpose of making the men who are debating feel superior to other people.

  • Trollface McGee

    So, women should be smart, educated… but never use those talents because it will make men feel bad… that is extremely stupid.
    Also, Sarah Palin being the beacon of femininity? By their standards she fails the femininity test miserably. She’s quite outspoken (though lacking that razor-sharp wit), doesn’t demonstrate much knowledge of the Bible, the Constitution or much else, pursues stereotypically male hobbies (government, hunting), and is certainly much more than a homemaker.
    Why anyone would hate someone for being feminine… I have no idea. Then again I doubt Knight has ever had a discussion with a real feminist on any issue.

  • Debbie H

    Here’s the article in “The City” page 39.

    http://issuu.com/thecity/docs/the_city_fall_2013

  • angie

    so… have they watched Downton Abbey? Have they not noticed that in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is beloved for her outspoken and headstrong nature…. This is ridiculous

  • Oh, cool, thank you!

  • Brennan

    Honestly, as much as I’d like to impute bad motives to this guy, I don’t think he intended to imply that the “girls” were biblically-illiterate. If anything, I read it as trying to be complimentary (*all* of the “homeschool girls” supposedly have “a firm knowledge of the Bible,” as compared to only *some* of the male students). Of course, this doesn’t actually help the “girls” since (1) being put on a pedestal is just another form of erasure, and (2) he’ll be happy to discredit them as soon as they step outside of their tiny box by (for instance) actually trying to discuss scripture and say what they think.

  • Allison the Great

    The men in the Christian Patriarchal movement don’t seem to have very high self esteem. A common theme in all these quoting quiverful posts is that men are so fragile that if women make their own decisions and if we’re assertive and outspoken, we are undermining them as men. Men outside of this horrible extremist movement don’t feel that way. They like women who they can talk to and have intelligent debates with. Every guy I know has told me that they don’t want to marry some vapid girly robot who doesn’t wish to expand her mind or speak up. They want someone with whom they share common interests. They’ve told me they want a companion, not a housekeeper that bears their children.
    This obsession that fundamentalists have with what they think gender roles should be is very unhealthy. Our hobbies, career aspirations and personalties should not be based on which set of genitals we have. The idea that we should base everything we do in life upon what gender we are is absolutely preposterous!

  • $66283444

    Hmmm Markos’ presentation of the homeschooled girl describes me to a T…and I went to public school.

  • aim2misbehave

    Yeah, I ~think~ what he was trying to say was “the girls don’t get aggressive or try to outsmart the boys” because being aggressive/assertive and displaying intelligence are traits they put in the “masculine” gender box.

  • 0000

    I guess I don’t really exist then, I was homeschooled and am a self made feminist.