by Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground
(This a follow up to Stop ‘Knowing’ What Anna Duggar Will Do)
I’m just a small blog, so don’t normally get that much disagreements voiced to my posts.
But my post on Anna Duggar, not surprisingly, created a lot of controversial (for the controversial comments, check the cross-post comment sections on Homeschoolers Anonymous and No Longer Quivering). In that post, I argued that we should leave Anna Duggar alone, and I maintained that we should stop calling her brainwashed. I asserted that she is a victim, and contended that we need to let her own her story. Several readers disagreed with me, arguing that she is famous, has hurt LGBT people, and therefore, does not deserve our pity. In this post, I will respond to these various objections because I think the discussion on how we should treat victims of abuse, including famous victims, is an important discussion that we should be having. So without further adieu, let me address some of the objections that were raised.
Reader: Are you defending Josh?
My response: Thanks for asking. No, what Josh did was evil. I am looking at this from the standpoint of the victims.
Reader: Anna Duggar chose to be on TV. She asked for the negative attention.
My Response: I think we should not shift the blame onto Anna. I doubt her husband or father-in-law ever gave her a choice to stay off TV. Her marriage was also essentially set up by her parents. However, I certainly do not claim that Anna couldn’t, perhaps, in theory have left the TV world on her own – we live in a free country, as they say. At the same time, I don’t think it is necessary and helpful to shift the blame onto Anna. The person at fault is Josh Duggar, as well as the fault of those who did not get Josh the proper help he needed when he first molested his sisters (i.e. his parents). To suggest that Anna did something to bring this negative attention upon herself is a form of victim blaming. This is about Josh, not Anna. Please, stop.
Reader: LGBT people are the marginalized people group, and in order to stand up for the LGBT people the Duggars’s hurt, we should not have sympathy for Anna who never once counteracted the way Josh delivered nothing but hate towards LGBT people.
My Response: It’s paradoxical that some readers are comfortable calling Anna brainwashed while arguing that she somehow had the know-how not just to care about LGBT people, but to publicly renounce what her husband was doing as well. Both LGBT individuals and victims of patriarchal abuse have had their voices suppressed. And that is exactly my point. Part of standing up for victims of abuse means allowing them to own their own stories. I am 100% against the hate that Josh and the Duggar family has directed towards LGBT people, and I am 100% for inclusion and equality. But our choice isn’t between standing up for LGBT people, or standing up for Anna. I stand with both LGBT people and with Anna Duggar.
Reader: But Anna was brainwashed. That is exactly what cults do.
My response: I think the conversation we need to be having is whether it is kind or fruitful to call victims of cults (or other toxic upbringings, whether or not it was religious fundamentalism) brainwashed. Aristotle once remarked that what makes people free is that they have a logos – i.e. that they can talk and communicate. His point is that no matter what the wealthy and ruling class wants to do to the poor, they can never, ever, take away their logos. The ruling class can take away their education, but they can’t take away their ability to talk. In the same manner, every victim of spiritual abuse, or spousal abuse, is still a person with a voice. Their voice may have be suppressed and marginalized. They may not be allowed to exercise their voice. Their thinking may be held captive by the patriarch of the family who tells them exactly what and how to think, and they may be locked up in a tower from which they can’t escape But each daughter of fundamentalism still has a logos, the ability to talk. Whether or not the definition of brainwashed accurately describes what daughters of fundamentalism have been through, I find the word problematic from the standpoint that I think it’s very crucial to recognize and affirm that a human being has a brain and a language, which makes them unique and special.
Further, I want to create a safe haven for all homeschool alumni. We create safe places by sharing our stories, listening to other’s stories, and giving those who are not ready to talk the space they need breathe. I don’t think that being famous somehow means that the victim doesn’t deserve space to heal. I also don’t think that calling other alumni brainwashed is a particularly effective way to invite others to come and dine with us.
Let me describe why I feel uncomfortable calling people brainwashed this way. Think about the evangelical Christians who often tell the gay person, “You are a sinner,” and “you need to repent.” Then the Christians wonder why the gay person doesn’t feel safe around them . Why would he feel safe around them? The Christians just called him a sinner. You all, it’s the same with victims of spiritual abuse. Calling me brainwashed would never have made me feel safe around you. If you want people to feel safe, stop telling them they are brainwashed and start showing them another way of living.
Rather than calling daughter’s of fundamentalism brainwashed, I think a more accurate way of stating the problem is that daughters of fundamentalism have been socially constructed in a way that their personal voice and agency is constrained by the patriarch and by their religion. I use the word social construction for a reason. We are all socially constructed in the sense that we are all molded and shaped by our upbringings and culture, but some of us were socially constructed such that we never realized that we had options, and I think we can call that tragic and abusive without resorting to calling the victim brainwashed.
My readers have correctly pointed out that I cannot expect tabloids and the media to show Anna sympathy. I’d like to expect differently, but my readers are correct nonetheless. But the various objections raised against my post illuminate that this isn’t a tabloid/media problem. The problem of not standing up for victims is actually our problem – literally, our problem.
Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules in disguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy. She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog
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