Patriarchy in Homeschool Culture

Patriarchy in Homeschool Culture May 14, 2014
This is what “The Patriarchy” looks like in my head

by Samantha Field cross posted from her blog Defeating the Dragons

I grew up in a subculture of evangelical Christianity that’s known as “Christian Patriarchy,” which is what the people who preach and teach this “lifestyle” un-ironically call it. I was also peripherally a part of the Quiverful and Stay-at-Home-Daughters movements, which are all separate things. A family can be Quiverful without preaching Christian Patriarchy or requiring daughters to remain at home until marriage, for example.

However, that’s not what I’m going to be talking about today.

One of the ex-fundamentalist Christian feminism blogs that I read is Wine & Marble, by Hännah Ettinger. She wrote one of my favorite posts on sex, and I highly recommend her as a writer. Yesterday, her sister, Clare, wrote the fantastically-titled post “Fuck the Patriarchy,” about how she was kicked out of her “Homeschool Prom.” It went viral today, showing up on Gawker, Fark, Cosmo, Jezebel, American Conservative, NYPost, and it should be up at the Daily mail and HuffPo pretty soon.

I was curious to see how each of these sites would handle a story about a homeschool prom, so I followed her story all over the internet, and, of course, ended up in the comment sections. Most were your standard internet outrage, but there were some people questioning the validity of her story (because of course there were). It was interesting to me that a bunch of different men thought that Clare was lying or exaggerating supposedly because men who were “ogling” her wouldn’t have asked her to leave.

It actually took me a second to figure out the rationale behind that, because it seemed so obvious that of course they would ask her to leave if they were “tempted” by the “strange woman” who was “dressed like a harlot” (not saying that she was, just that they thought she was). To me, asking Clare to leave was the entire reason why they were there. When Clare said these men were “chaperones,” that was instantly what I assumed.

However, to these (male) commenters, it seemed counter-intuitive that any man would ask a woman they thought sexually attractive to vacate the premises. If they found Clare attractive, why admit to enjoying the show– or asking the show to leave?

That’s one form of patriarchy, all on its own; implicit in many of those comments was the belief that women exist for the sexual gratification of men, and that men will compulsively ogle women they find sexually attractive, that “boys will be boys.”

However, what the chaperones did in pointing Clare out to the “Mrs. D” of the original article was another, more archaic form of patriarchy: the form of patriarchy where men are the guardians of honor– both of their own, and of “their” women. I’m not sure what the homeschooling culture is like in Richmond (not much like mine, if they have a prom), but at least some of the people in that community are probably familiar with books like Beautiful Girlhood:

One day a handsome young gentleman alighted from a train … As he paced the platform, he soon attracted the attention of a young girl. She watched him flirtatiously out of the corner of her eye, coughed a little, and laughed merrily and a bit loudly with a group of her acquaintances; but at first he paid no attention …

At last he noticed, turned, and came directly to her, while her foolish little heart was all in a flutter at her success …

“My dear girl, he said, tipping his hat, “have you a mother at home?”

“Why, yes,” the girl stammered.

“Then go to her and tell you to keep you with her until you learn how you ought to behave in a public place,” and saying this he turned and left her in confusion and shame. It was a hard rebuke; but this man had told her only what every pure-minded man and woman was thinking. Girls can hardly afford to call down upon themselves such severe criticism. (130-31)

Things like this are the subtext at events like “Homeschool Proms” that are chaperoned by conservative Christian homeschooling fathers. When those men saw Clare in a theme-appropriate dress, looking like a woman and enjoying the evening with her friends, what they saw was a “foolish girl” who deserved the “harsh rebuke” of being escorted out by security.

In this culture, it is the sacred duty of every man to police the actions of every woman. Women are not to be trusted with decision making, let alone gifted the ability to make up their own mind on what they want to wear to their Senior Prom. If a man in this culture even notices a woman sexually, it’s a problem, and she deserves to be confronted and chastised because of it.

There’s two options available to men in these situations: either the girl is simply “silly” and telling her that her dress could cause “impure thoughts” is information she should be grateful for, and she should humbly leave in shame and humiliation– or, she is dressing provocatively on purpose, which makes her a “strange woman” who is “playing the harlot” and she definitely deserves to be confronted and removed. When Clare stood up for herself, that put her firmly into “strange woman playing the harlot” category.

It’s rape culture on steroids. It’s “she was asking for it” dressed up in Bible verses and cutesy Victorian language about knights and fair maidens.

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

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M Dolon Hickmon

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  • SAO

    The incident illustrated a common problem with dress codes, which is that how sexy something looks depends on the body wearing the clothes. Men are likely to find a pretty, lively, curvy, leggy blonde sexually attractive unless she is wearing a burqa.

    Claiming that the girl is at fault for causing impure thoughts is saying that it’s sinful for a woman to be too beautiful.

  • gimpi1

    I have many problems with the ideas that the actions of the chaperones at this homeschool prom displayed. The idea that men have the right to police the dress and behavior of women and girls. The idea that men and boys can’t control their thoughts or actions, but must be sheltered from any sights that might arouse them. The idea that authority must be obeyed without question. The idea that the responsibility for men’s lustful thoughts belongs to the women and girls they lust after. The central idea that those in authority have power without responsibility and those under authority have responsibility without power.

    Let’s hope that the young woman in question is seeing through this nonsense. They have no power over her that she does not give them. Personally I’d sue their pants off, then ding them for their immodesty.

  • Unless?

    Even if. Or, in some cases, BECAUSE she’s wearing a burqa.

  • Allison the Great

    So when a woman goes to an even that is supposed to be fun, she gets escorted out for having fun? I’m glad this girl stood up for herself. Those patriarchy people make me sick. No respect for women whatsoever.

  • Joy

    “No respect for women whatsoever.”

    I don’t believe that they think women deserve to be respected.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Like a lot of commentors on the blog, I wondered if the fact that she was a beautiful BLONDE girl with an African-American boyfriend was the REAL reason she was targeted for expulsion.

    I was surprised that a Christian homeschooling prom committee allowed dresses as short as “fingertip length” in the first place. At my prom in the early 80’s South, almost every girl wore floor-length dresses. There were a handful of girls in what we called “tea length gowns” (calf length), but they were the exception.

  • I think it’s because people mix up “respect” and “pedestaling”.
    I grew up Mormon, and the what I heard was “Of COURSE we respect women! We hold them in highest honor, because they are nurturing, and are wives and mothers; the most important job there is!”

  • SAO

    The set-up stuck me as a recipe for lustful thoughts. A bunch of men, with nothing to do and nothing to occupy their thoughts, standing around and watching teens dance. Of course they’re going to look at the pretty girls. Of course a stray sexual thought is going to cross their minds. It’s human nature.

  • Yay! I’m not the only one! *waves to the other raised-Mormon* As for the issue at hand… I have to think that people in these environments don’t seem to understand just what “respect” IS. It’s respect for an office, lip service to a role and a position, and absolutely nothing in regards to any individual. And Heaven have mercy on anyone who doesn’t look like everyone else. *rolls her eyes*

    Took me years to start untangling all the cross-communication I’d been raised with because of the altered vocabulary. “Love’s not Love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove…” Ever consider he was making a statement about the need for a common vocabulary in order to communicate?

  • Tonight at dinner, I was discussing this very thing with my 84 year old mother and my 90 year old father, who is in Stage 5 Alzheimer’s. Even he could follow the story and thought that the men were disgusting. I find the fact that the young woman was accused of ‘disturbing’ the purity of men the age of her parents to be terribly repulsive. It is also quite alarming. Granted, there are many instances of young women dating men old enough to be their fathers (and grandfathers). Normal humans, male and female, have impure thoughts. That’s the nature of the beast.

    I am an opera freak. One of my favorite sites is Barihunks, which features the gratuitous exploitation of really good looking baritones (I am a baritone junkie) in various stages of dress. Heck, I don’t even have ‘impure’ thoughts about 90% of them. They’re just really good to listen too and to look at, so what’s the problem? Am I sinning because I think that these guys are hot? I don’t think so. Then again, I’m not a parent, and I’m not chaperoning their senior prom! When these so-called ‘godly’ men – and the women who worship them, are incapable of separating the two, there is something wrong – with them. Normal, mature, well-adjusted men and women are not going to get all hot and bothered about a 18 year old schoolgirl, unless they want to be the subject of a lurid novel.

    All of your points are right on. There is something though, that also needs to be addressed. When a man – and the women who worship them – are all hot and bothered by a young, vivacious, and attractive 18 year old, something is wrong with them. It goes far beyond religion, and may lie at the heart of the problem. For one thing, a person who is psychologically stable is not going to be pulled into a cult, where they become followers. One thing I’ve noticed about so many of these men is their lack of maturity and their apparent lack of a goodly amount of testosterone. There is a heck of a lot going on here, and it goes far beyond religion.

    I guess I think of two words, also the tittle of an appropriate television series: Arrested Development.

  • gimpi1

    I agree, SAO. It’s just normal human nature. That human nature only becomes problematic when you regard it as a profound sin. When you equate casual sexual thoughts as sinful lust, when you are taught to feel guilty for such stray thoughts, you become hostile to the innocent teenagers that aroused them. Suddenly, a bunch of happy teenage girls swaying to music at a dance become evil, seductive sirens, out to destroy men’s lives. You want to see them punished and shamed.

    Purity culture is toxic to both men and women. It makes women ashamed of simply being women, having curves, being attractive to men. It causes them to fear and distrust their own feelings, to believe they don’t have a sex-drive It makes men ashamed of simply being men, being attracted to women. It tells them they can’t control their sex-drive. It makes them angry at a world that seems to be full of images designed to tempt them into sin. Everyone winds up neurotic.

    Does anyone know why some people think this is a good thing?

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I was wondering about the racism aspect as well, particularly because, well, Richmond is in the south, and my own personal experiences seeing what I would call covert racism many times in the central Virginia area. “We’re not racist, but..” sort of thing, You’ve think that in 2014 fifty years after the civil rights movement that racism would not be a problem, but it lingers still. Look at some of what the Pearls and Nancy Campbell have said, they have admitted that QF is to keep non-whites and/or non-Christians from out-breeding white Christians and taking over the nation. The Evangelical world is one place where racism is alive and well.

  • Astrin Ymris

    I’ve noticed that in any online debate on reproductive rights which goes on long enough, the fear of white people being “outbred” by people of color and/or Muslims comes up, whether it’s stated outright or not.

    Another meme that’ll show up is how scandalous it is that not enough healthy white newborns are being “produced” for the adoption market to “meet America’s needs”, which “forces” parents to “import” babies from overseas.

    Since I’ve learned more about the seamy underside of the adoption industry, I’ve learned that a lot of private adoption agencies are owned by fundgelical organizations with a mandate to place children in True Christian™ homes. Even if organized as non-profits, the executive compensation is often VERY cushy.

    Money and babies– that’s 90% of the Religious Right’s platform in a nutshell.

  • Hi! 😀
    And I know what you mean. Untangling myself (and my self worth) from Mormon standards is almost a full time job=still!

  • Joy

    If you go to the “Fuck the Patriarchy” post linked in this article and then read the update, you will find that Clare’s boyfriend says this “I don’t feel race played a part in all that happened Saturday night. I strongly believe they did not know we were together until the situation had already escalated.” Link can be found here:

  • Astrin Ymris

    Ah. Thanks for the update.

  • With respect to that passage from Beautiful Girlhood, I suspect no actual Victorians were harmed in the writing of it. A true Victorian young lady would have known to at once summon the conductor, point out the offender to him, and say, “This person, although unknown to me, has seen fit to accost me and insult both my mother and myself. I trust you will be able to protect me from his advances through the rest of our journey.”

  • Jewel

    Catholicism falls into that trap as well.