Behind The Mask: Why We Join Patriarchy & Mask Our True Selves

Behind The Mask: Why We Join Patriarchy & Mask Our True Selves March 18, 2014

by Suzanne Titkemeyer cross posted from her blog True Love Doesn’t Rape

Have you ever asked yourself exactly how women get into fundamentalist-patriarchy Christianity and why they stay? What emotional payoff are they getting? What drives the desire to completely immerse oneself into a system that devalues you as a human? Giving up all autonomy for the sake of male rule?

Or are they really submissive or is it just a facade to cover up what’s really going on inside? Seeing Michelle Duggar last week confirmed everything I’d been thinking about the submissive mask many women wear in Dominionism while actually being in charge of the family AND the husband. Lip service and control behind the scenes

Back in my days attempting to be a fully submissive wife and a perfect Christian mother I observed an odd trend, the deeper into fundamentalist religion a family was, the more it seemed that the wife/mother of the family was the one spearheading the journey into the more radical territory. The men seemed to trail behind their wives, not nearly as spiritually committed but eventually seizing upon the extreme beliefs of their wives.

Why the push of women to drag their husbands into radical evangelical-fundamentalist territory with all of its rules, legalism and bondage? Because behind the masks of Good Christian Submissive Wife they’re actually in control.

Are they aware of this? Actively aware? No. But in the their subconscious, the unexamined parts of their mind is where this thought pattern that leads to fundamentalism to control what she cannot cope with lurks.

Vyckie Garrison and I have talked many times about the drive to plunge families and husbands into the most radical forms of Christianity. Here’s what she thinks.

My theory is that when the man is not much of a leader and he is slacking, leaving his wife to carry most of the burden of keeping the family together … the wife, who is stuck with him because God hates divorce, starts looking for ways to get the bum to step up to the plate … It is indirect control of the man … a weird psychological mind game in which she, by her submission and obedience, she is controlling God who has promised to make something beautiful of her marriage.

She knows she can’t change her husband, so she gets on the good side of the One who can change him. Of course, the man has to already have some controlling tendencies himself. I’ve noticed that men who are inherently egalitarian, when they encounter patriarchal teachings of headship/submission, are not at all interested. They want a partner, not a Stepford wife.

And patriarchy is the perfect way for them to feel big and brave. The wives have the idea that what they need is an ego-boost, but self-esteem is anti-Christian, so they go for the whole “head of the home” thing instead. It is very twisted.

While I agree with Vyckie on everything she’s said above I have to go a bit further. It’s not only those in bad marriages or married to someone not engaged with being a good husband, but it’s also those women that have untreated psychological issues, perhaps an addiction or an unhealthy tendency. For example, someone like Michelle Duggar.

Michelle has already come out and admitted she struggled with bulimia as a teen. A popular cheerleader with a secret condition. Bulimia is controlling one of the few things you can. It’s an addiction and it’s a control issue. In “Growing Up Duggar” Michelle says she was able to stop her bulimia merely by having a teenaged Jim Bob as her accountability partner.

I call fiddlesticks on that. Most of the time anyone with an addiction and/or control issues is not just able to ‘walk away’ from them unscathed without doing some serious in depth work on themselves with a trained professional. What happens is the addiction/control issue merely gets transferred to something else. Like to religion. To family. To every aspect of life.

That’s my big take away from the book signing, seeing Michelle Duggar simperingly ask permission from Jim Bob to get up and speak, going ahead and speaking after his mild ‘approval’. It was almost a rote occurrence if body language is anything to go by. I’ve noticed on their show and other media outlets that Jim Bob says that Michelle is the one that decides when their family is finished and have noticed that he seems to be a genial go-along kind of a guy, not a ‘leader’ That fits with the pattern Vyckie has come up with.

Michelle is just like all the rest of us who’ve found ourselves in that mask of subservience while trying to control it all behind the scenes. Look at the chore charts, the ATI homeschooling, the keeping everyone home unpolluted by the outside world, the constant pushing of her life choices in front of a television audience and tell me she’s not dealing with significant control issues. She’s transferred whatever it was that started her on the road to bulimia onto religion as a form of control.

Being seen as a submissive Christian wife is one of the greatest covers for being the controlling one behind the scenes. Look at the types of men that there are in Biblical patriarchy, either very sort of mild-mannered or controlling, with both types eventually becoming more controlling themselves as time goes on.

As the relationship changes and the wife carries the family deeper into fundamentalism, the wife shifts her control methods, seeking to make the man think he’s in control when it’s really just her manipulating him. Everyone ends up forced into unnatural roles, stuck in an existence that is dissonant to their actual feelings. It’s usually too late by then, the man likes being in the tin plated dicator role and the wife has discovered it takes an enormous amount of hard work and effort to keep the entire fake show running.

And why do people try to control everything in their path? Because they are afraid. Fear drives all of this.

Comments open below

Read everything by Suzanne!

Suzanne is an empty nester lives near Washington DC with her husband, cats and various rescue birds. She works at a residential treatment center for children and is also the administrator of NLQ. Was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 7 years ago. Her blogs are True Love Doesn’t Rape and Seeking The Light

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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  • Nea

    I wonder if this is why Debi Pearl is so bitter. She expected to secretly wear the pants and married an abusive guy who thinks he’s a wrathful god instead.

  • tulips

    This is the general pattern I’ve observed as well. Some of the men were raised in the culture and so have their own beliefs/convictions but by amazing coincidence it only very rarely seems to translate into actual leadership involving being the person to plan, pave the road, and assume responsibility for outcomes. Generally speaking…and this is a broad brush of biased observation…the men in the culture are less responsible, less competent, less driven, less aware, less invested, and less involved in their own lives than the average random adults the look down their noses at. Combine this with the cultural ideal of Superwoman to the Nth power and it really makes sense for women who are *coughs*… let’s say command women… to experience searing frustration at being subordinate to a non leader or to a leader going in a direction they don’t want to go. Divorce is O-U-T so what’s left? Control indirectly.

  • Bodhisvaha

    Women being the eminence grise is a long tradition, especially for the wives of powerful men. I got the impression from at least some historical fiction (and what used to be contemporary) that it was expected that women had indirect clout through manipulation, most especially of husbands and fathers. It’s the obvious answer when you put together sex appeal, people skills, and the question “how can I work the existing system?”

    I’m not saying that it’s good for people, or the right way to run a society, or anything like that. What I am saying is that a gigantic oppression needs some kind of pressure relief valve to keep going long-term, and few societies are so rich that they can afford to really truly throw away the labour of up to half the population. Instead all that labour gets directed into certain accepted channels and then devalued, in exchange for *some* kind of reward. The reward has to be real enough to entice, even if it’s a worse deal than what the oppressor gets. The shadow power of influencing and manipulating men, and the less covert power network of socializing and marriage that used to be largely women’s domain, both must have served as relief valves where women could exercise power. Women were paid in a living plus influence, and on the higher tiers, luxuries and leisure. The better you were at your job and supporting your man, the better your living got, generally speaking.

    While in theory the man running the show would have had authority, on a daily basis many of them trusted their in-house housekeeping and socializing expert, the wife, to manage that part of the business of living, because it was in their mutual interest to help each other. If the husband did well, the wife did well. Now, almost every pillar of this system is compromised, so of course it doesn’t work reliably anymore, except in a few pockets where enough of the foundations are stable.

  • gimpi1

    ” What happens is the addiction/control issue merely gets transferred to something else. Like to religion. To family. To every aspect of life.”

    Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

    The extreme need for control is what drives much of fundamentalist religion, in my view. These are people who are terrified of an open-ended, uncertain, nuanced, changing world. In other words, reality. By in effect moving to a rigid, certain, black-and-white, unchanging world, they manage their fear. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t content to simply move themselves. They insist on dragging the rest of us into the unreal world they have created.

    I, for one, don’t want to go.

  • Edie Moore McGee

    Yesssssss! You broke the code! I’ve noticed this myself: the women are the primary enforcers, but the exception of Preacherman. My own mother did this. She underestimated my dad, though. My dad had a strong personal relationship with the Lord and was a good man through and through. He didn’t buy the BS, though, which kept them from getting in too deep.

  • Edie Moore McGee

    “but with the exception ….”

  • This is a great and insightful article. The only thing that makes me slightly reluctant to recommend it whole-heartedly elsewhere is the title: “…Why We Join Christianity…” This is not about joining Christianity but about joining patriarchy. Thousands of people join *Christianity* for other reasons than control, I being one of them.

  • Astrin Ymris

    But the “power behind the throne” thing only works to the extent that the “king” allows it. There’s no recourse for a woman whose husband or father decides NOT to be indulgent– or who begins to read his own press releases and decides to withdraw his previous permissiveness. Or maybe falls in love with a younger, prettier woman and makes HER his new “eminence grise”.

  • $97346805

    Call me lazy, but isn’t it just easier to control one’s own life instead of manipulating others into adjusting their lives to suit one’s expectations? (I’m confused just typing that) It sounds so co-dependent.

  • Sandy

    Dabna, is because they love power and they get high on it. Insightful article, Suzanne. It is these women’s games that caused me to stay out of church.

  • tulips

    Yes! Unless…the social rules you have been indoctrinated with since infancy say that you aren’t allowed to and in fact you aren’t allowed to ~want~ to and either wanting or doing is evidence that you are an immoral “other”.

  • tulips

    Precisely, I couldn’t add a thing. You know…we never do really hear the end of the Esther story. Were we thinking the sexy Harem time came rolling to a halt? If not, she was certainly eventually unseated. If so, all of the other women were entirely without recourse.

  • stairway to heaven

    ”Christianity” falls under a big umbrella, some types more prone to spiritual abuse then others. The more prone to abuse the seemingly greater lack of acceptance of any other beliefs. Someone once pointed out to me that the ”evangelical” story is often filled with horror stories of broken lives, addictions, etc. and then sudden and immediate redemption. That however is not everyone’s story. My mothers life (for instance) was one filled with love, dedication, and a deep life long faith.

    The need to reinvent yourself is often a sign of self loathing or a real lack of self awareness at best. There are types of religions that prey on these sort of people under the guise of ”saving” them from something and in so doing drive them ever further away from self realization. How can one know God when one does not even know oneself?

  • $97346805

    I wasn’t raised QF, but I went through a couple of rough times with my family while expressing my individuality. I imagine it happens on some level in every family. I’m glad to say my family came around and realized I’m not screwing up my life simply because I’m not doing it their way. It’s a shame not everyone can say that.

  • tulips

    It is but so especially horrifying when considering what freedoms even people with familial conflict would take for granted ( I wasn’t raised QF either) are denied so totally including irrevocable decisions like marrying girls in their mid teens to much older men so that they have no education, likely no drivers license, have never held a position of employment, and have several children before they are even 20. Oppression on a whole different scale. Personal autonomy : Zero.

  • Astrin Ymris

    I was never part of this culture, so I don’t know. But things I’ve read on the site previously gave me the impression that most converts were raised “fundie lite”, so they would have absorbed the inhibitions about women being submissive (just not AS submissive as QF/CPM) from their childhood.

    Mind you, secular culture also embeds residual reservations about women being “bossy” and “demanding”. It’s more subtle than Vaughn Ohlman or Debi Pearl, but it’s there.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    ….and that is the danger as the relationship shifts and he starts exercising his new found dominance. Instead of being a weak man mostly disengaged from his responsibilities he might morph into a extra controlling.

  • $97346805

    You’re right. I remember all too well being called “bossy” as early as first grade, and it stung worse than any other name I was ever called. I used to think bossy meant unfeeling, cruel and heartless. In my thirties, I look around and see all the “non-bossy” girls struggling to make sense of the lives that make them unhappy. I don’t wish them ill will, but I wonder: Where would they be if they had been bossy, too? I had some tough times, but my decisions were my own, and that makes me satisfied.

    Besides, you can’t spell “bossy” without “boss.” lol

  • Nea

    These are people who are terrified of an open-ended, uncertain, nuanced, changing world

    Michael Pearl admits as much, although he doesn’t realize it. Look at his religious crisis in college when he had to deal with different Bible interpretations and therefore meanings.

  • Jewel

    Yes. i would wholeheartedly agree with this. In my own personal case it was both an attempt at control AND an attempt to get my weak, passive, yet emotionally and verbally abusive ex-husband to take more of a role instead of leaving everything to me. I felt like, “if I have to do everything, then I will do everything”. It was exhausting to say the least. It also backfired and made my already abusive ex more abusive. By the time I realized what was going on and made positive changes, it was too late to save our marriage. It’s been hard to come to term with the role I played in the demise of our marriage. It was easier to at first paint him as the “bad guy”. Although, yes, he was abusive, my passive-agressive nature and hyper-controlling actions made things even worse.

    In addition, I suffered from anorexia nervosa as an adolescent. It think it goes along with the anxiety and OCD problems that many women who fall into this movement deal with and try to assuage with religion. It doesn’t work.

  • gimpi1

    You’re right, NeaDods, I remember reading that about him. He fell into the King James Only trap out of his need to have some kind of perfect written rule-book that could never be questioned or changed.

    I’ve run into that with a few of the Young-Earth folks. They need Genesis to be literally true. Without an absolute ‘truth’ to hang their hats on, they feel unmoored and terrified. They truly don’t understand how anyone can function and make ethical decisions without an absolute authority to refer to. When I explain that I can make moral distinctions based on my own judgement weather my actions are helpful or harmful, they refuse to believe me. It must be a basic, hard-wiring difference.

    In these conversations, I feel like a MAC in a PC world. Different hardware. Different softwear. Oh, well, that’s what PDF is for, right?

  • Astrin Ymris

    Yes! There’s also the accusation of “thinking you’re something”– remember it? Actually having a sense of self-worth and confidence is SO unfeminine!

  • Indomable

    This makes me think of my mom in many ways. Dad was a psychopath, don’t get me wrong, but he didn’t care about church/homeschool/modesty etc. oh, he could talk the talk and pretend to be Mr. Godly, but we knew that in reality he would prefer us to be normal partying teens. Mom on the other hand, needed us to be perfect replicas of her idea of perfection. I think this obsession with control was rooted in her poor self esteem, and compounded by the idea that suffering earns us shiny jesus points. So not only did she have to micromanage our spirituality in order to look good in front of God, i think she subconsciously set herself up to be a martyr, because that was the only “biblically” acceptable way to feel good about herself.

    At least now i understand why she didn’t leave my dad. Taking control of your life is bad, suffering for Jesus is good. very twisted and sad to think about.

  • $97346805

    Yup, I remember that. This conversation just made me think of something. People in my family and community called names and made fun of each other, but if you ask them about it, they’d say something like, “I just wanted you to toughen up.” In my younger days, it was hurtful, but looking back now, it did toughen me up. I’ve gone toe-to-toe and held my own against men and wasn’t once afraid of their size, strength, stature or standing in the community. Of course, my family has stopped calling me names (I guess I finally made “something” of myself? lol), and I wouldn’t advocate such treatment (there is a serious lack of empathy and compassion in our world today and I find it sad), but their tactics, as strange as they may be, worked in a way. Unfortunately, a person who doesn’t have a level of self-confidence to begin with doesn’t fare so well.

  • Nea

    They truly don’t understand how anyone can function and make ethical decisions without an absolute authority to refer to.

    And that’s so incredibly sad. I honestly don’t feel that you can be a totally functioning adult without the ability to handle grey areas because like it or not, they’re going to happen.

    And it is a hardwiring difference. Let me recommend The Authoritarians to you, if you haven’t read it already. I also remember studies saying that children with certain personalities were more likely to gravitate to specific political parties when they grew up, but I’d have to look up the specifics of that.

  • gimpi1

    Thanks for the recommendation. I have read The Authoritarians. It was fascinating. I took the test, and almost scored in negative numbers. I think I was a “5” or so.

    I honestly don’t understand authoritarianism. That’s why I think that sort of behavior must be hard-wired. I believe that people with high authoritarian tendencies must be more likely to fall in with domination-based groups like patriarchal religions.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Changed the title. I was struggling for a name before I wrote it.

  • Joanie

    All of you have just made me extremely grateful that I am where I am, now, and no longer where I was…emotional abuse in a marriage literally swirls you into a cesspool of confusion and lack of worthiness. Wives who lose themselves, drowning in the insanity of it all, really cannot even begin to comprehend the reason for any connection with their Creator or the Christian faith. However the real truth is that God has such an abundant love for His Bride, and once we begin to see his mercy and grace for all of us-we begin to arise out of the ashes of control and harshness to become the valuable, cherished, worthy and well loved daughters of the soon coming King of Kings !!! To all of you I say, it is time to refocus. Eyes on Jesus !! He came to give us abundant life !! He has set us free !! He has forgiven us and made us righteous in Him !!!!No more shackles, gals !!! No more control !!! Soar !! Rejoice, you are free to fly !!!! Oh yes, and remember to forgive- so that you are no longer tied to the abuse. Forgiveness opens the door for the Lord to deal with the wrongs and your healing flows-deep into your hearts. Loving & living 4HisGlory now !!

  • Rebecca Horne

    I’m not sure about it being hardwired. I mean, it definitely could be, but it’s hard to tell, when there’s so much teaching of “god’s way or hell” going on.

    I’ve tried explaining–and I’m not sure how well it works, since I’ve only done it in a blog post, and nobody responded– that it’s a shifting of priorities, of what “matters.” To a person steeped in what’s usually called moral objectivism, the only thing that matters is the opinion of an outside source.
    By my moral code, your feelings matter, and so do mine, and so does everybody else’s.

    The metaphor I’ve tried using is that people still go swimming and water skiing, or they decline, even though the ocean doesn’t care if they drown or have fun. Because who cares, really? *I* care if I drown or have fun. I care about whether people I love drown, and people I love care about whether I drown.

    And that’s the decision making process pretty much anybody takes, when they decide whether they want to swim, or let their children swim, or not. They don’t ask the ocean’s opinion. They look at the jellyfish count, and the rip tides, and the temperature, and they think about whether people will be benefit from the experience or get hurt, and they base their decision off of that.

    We just approach all of life that way. Because we know the universe doesn’t care, so that means people’s opinions count for something.

  • Tapati McDaniels

    That’s also what Fascinating Womanhood was all about, subtle manipulation using feminine wiles, sugarcoated with a layer of God talk.

  • Jonathan Rice

    OMG. Seriously, this is one of the most insightful essays I’ve read in ages. I agree 100%. I was never in the QF/Patriarchy movement but several friends and cousins were/are. Everything written here makes total sense. Which also makes it a disturbing read. You’ll probably get a lot of angry responses. But that’s ok. You’ve made people face themselves.

  • Jonathan Rice

    Your essay also reminds me of one of my theories as to why some women go QF. Being a male, I could be totally wrong. But I’ll put it out and see what comments I get. I think some women are burdened by guilt about prior alleged sexual transgressions (“alleged” because in most cases it’s probably false guilt foisted upon them by parental or religious authority figures). But real or not, the feeling of guilt is strong. Enter a QF promoter who tells the woman the whole spiel about making her reproductive system a living sacrifice, using the same body parts she once ‘sinned’ with as missionary tools to help build The Army of God, etc.

    Suddenly she has a made to order, body-part-specific means of doing penance. Every child born is another “fruit of repentance.” The more babies she has, the less guilt she feels.

    Like I said, I’m a guy; I don’t know what women feel. So if everyone thinks I’m wrong, I’m ok with that. But my first female QF friend (mother of 6) had spent several years as a high-end Vegas hooker before ‘getting saved.’ She immediately went extreme QF (Bill Gothard’s teachings and all the other rot). Every time she got pregnant, I thought she was just trying to assuage her guilt/shame. (I don’t even think she’d been guilty of anything to begin with, but she did; which is the important thing).

  • gimpi1

    I, personally, think hard-wiring is a strong probability, but you’re right, it’s difficult to be sure.

    I understand your simile, the way I’ve heard this expressed is,”You can turn on the water to bathe the baby or drown it, it makes no difference to the water.”

    I believe our morality should come from outcomes. If you do something that had a bad outcome, caused damage or harm, and you had any other choice, that action was immoral. If your actions had good outcomes, helped someone or made the world better, it was moral. If the outcome was neutral, it caused no damage, but made nothing better, the action was morally neutral in my view.

    That’s where a lot of religion loses me. Dietary rules, clothing rules, specified hours of prayer, sexual rules, rules regarding language, thought-crimes such as heresy, these rules not only don’t prevent harm, they actually cause it. The religious rules themselves are immoral. It’s hard to imagine a more immoral act than stoning a rape-victim for in an “honor’ killing or burning a heretic at the stake for a difference of religious belief.

    That’s why I view these legalistic and obsessive religions as dangerous. My reading of history indicates they can be very dangerous indeed.