Girls Interrupted: Second Act

Girls Interrupted: Second Act April 7, 2016

CindyFosterby Cindy Foster cross posted from her blog Finding Fundamental

In the first act of “Girls Interrupted” found here,  I wrote about one level of competition among the women that arose as a consequence of the belief that women were afflicted with some ‘spirit of misbehavior’ for which the men were obliged to control and correct.

This indoctrination produced impulse-driven needs for mothers to present worthier-daughters-than-the-rest to attract ministry-ambitious, bachelors.  It is no exaggeration to call it an all-out competition.
The winners were the mothers whose daughters snagged the sharpest ‘God-called, daddy/preacher-approved prize… a godly husband.

In addition to the Mothers With The Godliest, Available Daughters’ competition, more divisions of female competitiveness arose.
The most notable of which was the Most Humbly Spiritual.

There were certain of the women whose backgrounds were marred by divorce, non-Christian upbringing, promiscuity, non-Christian husbands and various other maligned liberal Christian and ‘unChristian’ behaviors and associations.

Some exhibited a general lack of Independent, fundamental Baptist knowledge of the Bible which also contributed to their assumed inferiority.

These women were discreetly treated as inauspicious ‘lesser-thans’.   No matter how carefully camouflaged, the stigma was acutely felt compelling these ‘lesser-thans’ to seek significance through hyper-spirituality.

But spiritual aspirations didn’t always make for enthusiasm in all the right places.

Perhaps as a subversive effort to preserve some semblance of self-respect, a few of these countered by pardoning themselves from attending some, if not all, the ladies’ events.

So, in order to remain in the race for Most Humbly Spiritual these would arm themselves with ‘spiritual’ reasons for their reluctance.

Some examples were:

* I need to be home for my husband

* I don’t want to be away from my children

* Women’s activities are frivolous

* My husband won’t let me go

* Women’s activities tend to provoke gossip

* Women’s activities promote cliques

* Too many responsibilities at home

Anytime there was an activity planned for the women, all were expected to participate if they were to avoid being confronted by The Elite Inner Circle (comprised exclusively of the preacher’s wife,  her best friend and myself) as to why they were absent or wanted to be absent.

Women who were not actively, enthusiastically involved in everything would also not be considered part of The Inner Circle ( the queen bee workers and typically unquestioning, dedicated followers ).

These are the women given (rather token) leadership roles since women were only ‘scripturally’ sanctioned to be Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, women’s leaders or musicians.

Digressing here….

Women were not even permitted to pray aloud in the presence of a man or men nor to witness to men on visitation.  Oh, yeah, and that became another rule:  women could not go door to door visiting unless a man escorted them so that if a male answered the door, a man would be there to do the witnessing.

Women were also not considered scripturally qualified in this church to teach boys over the age of 12!

So, it just followed that the women who were always present, always conforming, always working and always committed, ( The Elite Inner Circle and The Inner Circle ) would resent those who weren’t always so willing and present.

This meant, the Not So Willing women had to find some ‘claim to fame’ lest they be considered insignificant, rebellious, contentious, spiritually weak, immature or… God forbid… even LOST! Therefore, they would also feel the need to be identified as among The Most Humbly Spiritual class.  

At this point, one has to wonder how anyone could be so emotionally invested in such a dysfunctional mess!

I still wonder…

Baffling as it is though, even the brightest held on in degrees ranging from the deeply invested to the terminally entrenched!

What’s more, criticism of the Not So Willing and Most Humbly Spiritual bunch was most always acceptable and even welcomed. That’s how truly spiritual ladies showed love and loyalty for their church family as well as for Christ.  So blaring a contradiction, it is almost laughable if not so pathological…

Interestingly, there were others who were not so easily maneuvered.

Some were considered The Rejects.  These were the ones who just…weren’t liked.  There didn’t have to be a legitimate reason.  I liken these to the school girls who didn’t latch on, were socially awkward, weren’t pretty enough, weren’t charismatic enough….you get the picture…

Grown, immature women of The Inner Circle tended only to tolerate The Rejects, unless some skill the church could benefit from surfaced.

Such childish female behavior  will continue unmasked and usually unchecked in high-demand, spiritually abusive environments.

But, that is just what would be expected of silly women, right?  Perhaps pious men are getting just what they expect?

Granted, some were not liked because they were contentious people who just liked to cause trouble.  Of course, no one really cared to find out why a woman like this might be so contentious.  Reasons didn’t matter….

But there were some who were strong enough to resist being pushed to do things for which they did not agree.  These presented a whole different problem.  They were The Thinkers.

It was difficult knowing how to handle the ones who wouldn’t follow because they were savvy enough to question. On one hand they could be church’s greatest strengths for their intelligence but on the other, they could be the most obstinate ‘rabble-rousers’.

The leaders in a church like this were terrified of The Thinkers for fear that they would attract followers.

The Outsiders were those who mainly attended on Sundays, didn’t really conform to all the church beliefs, but didn’t really challenge them either. They were always there on Sundays, but didn’t make waves.

There were the Not-a-Clues who just went along with whatever they were told. They accepted things at face-value because they didn’t know enough about what to believe to question anything. These women were given sufficient grace until such a time as was determined they had enough time to ‘get with the program’.  At that time, they were prodded enough that they either ‘got with the program’ or left altogether–depending on just how clueless they really were….

The Rebels were the ones who liked to question everything, even if there was nothing to question.  They would rebel just for the sake of rebelling.  I am not even sure why these women would want to stay in such a church.  Could it be because there was so much to stimulate their rebellion?

For ALL classes who were not among The Inner Elite and to some degree, The Inner Circle women, there were many behind-scene-secrets of which they were not privy. We were the ones who believed that it was perfectly within our ‘realm of discernment’ to discuss all the people problems of the church (code for gossip). Gossip was preached against regularly as among the most evil of evils, but it was the ‘duty’ of the leadership to discuss (gossip) about the problem people in the church.

And there was plenty of problem people in every class to talk about.

That church thrived on drama. Maybe, it was because there was little else for the home-bound women to do that made them feel alive.

Of course, there was no actual categorizing of women into the classes.  I just made up these categories as I observed the various ways these women were affected by such high demands and according to their individual personalities. This solely for the sake of better understanding for those interested but who have never experienced a church dynamic like this.

I want to point out also that there was some over-lap between the classes and those I’ve placed in one category often advanced to another the more entrenched they became and the more the demands increased. Some became more ‘ambitious’.  Others left altogether.

So, a sketchy order from top down would look like this: (just for fun)

1. The Inner Elite Circle
2. The Inner Circle
3. The Most Humbly Spiritual
4. The Outsiders
5. The Rebels
6. The Not-A-Clues
7. The Rejects

The Inner Elite Circle was impenetrable, but one could appear in more than one category and one could always graduate to The Inner Circle once ambition was born and cunningness bloomed.

As I wrote before, the worst of it was the trickle-down effect it had on the younger girls—particularly the daughters. The daughters would naturally take up the cause of their mothers, whether they agreed with their mothers or not, which naturally caused a great deal of tension between them.

It is such a shame.

I believe these girls really wanted to have meaningful, lasting friendships and they should have but with their mothers always at odds, how could they?

No wonder so many have walked away…..

much interrupted.

Part 1

~~~~~~~

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Cindy Foster blogs at Finding Fundamental

Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 36 years.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • KarenH

    Wow, that kind of explains the last church I attended, where the ladies didn’t really have much to do with me until they learned I have a fairly well equipped sewing room, and suddenly they had all kinds of projects they wanted to give me stewardship over. Especially teaching their (rather universally) disinterested daughters how to sew.

    They were none too pleased to be informed that my sewing room was equipped as my hobby room, that I had no intentions of turning it into a money making venture for the church and that while I would be delighted to come to THEIR homes to teach their daughters to sew on machines they bought and equipped, I was not inviting half a dozen surly daughters to come play with my very expensive computerized sewing machines.

  • Desiladygamer

    Good for you for keeping boundaries on your home and hobbies. The daughters aren’t even interested in sewing. Were they being pushed to sew because that’s what ladies do or just for basic skills?

  • Abigail Smith

    LOL at “giving stewardship over”…a masked way of saying “we are going to take advantage of you”….I hate those kind of “veiled” things, such as calling it “ministering” to someone when it’s really MEDDLING in their business…

    My mother had a sewing business when I was young, but she never taught us to sew. (we were not homeschoolers) I always felt lost because I didn’t know how and somehow it was a badge of honor to be able to sew, but I actually hate sewing…or forcing myself to try to like it….I admire people like you who are skilled and gifted hobbyists, but it’s not for everyone and shouldn’t be forced on anyone….

  • Cindy Foster

    Aw, KarenH, still makes me sad to remember the ladies like you who came through, who were genuinely kind-hearted, wanting to help but only the ones with certain skills were accepted. They used them. I know some eventually came to see through the facade and were deeply hurt.

    Hypocrisy became a learned skill in itself, that is, to the ones who needed to be accepted. I admire your strength and ability to refuse to be baited…

  • Cindy Foster

    Neither should disciplines such as piano, certain academic studies, sports or the many other parent-desired skills so often abused. Kids should be allowed the space to discover and follow their own inclinations. To force them to practice any activity for which they are not naturally talented usually has an adverse and opposite effect.

  • Abigail Smith

    Yes! Totally the opposite effect. I felt intense pressure to have my children take violin lessons…my oldest liked it, my second preferred piano, so I let her switch. My third has autism and no inclination for music performance…my other three are not at all interested in music lessons either…I don’t force that. I laugh now, because the violin teacher (her mother was my “friend” who introduced me to QF) had a sister who played harp. I felt pressure to have one of my daughters take up harp, prodded on by the “angelic” picture of the Botkin and Phillips girls strumming their harps in Vision Forum catalogs..but thankfully I’m way too practical…too hard to find a harp and too expensive (my friend’s cost $20,000) and too cumbersome to transport and I wasn’t going to force my daughters into something they didn’t want to do.

  • AuntKaylea

    I was, and will always be a Thinker. (I noticed they did not make the final list!)

    I cannot tell how many times I was told that my curiousity/thinking was a problem. “you think too much”, etc.

    This also made me think back on an experience in seminary where I participated in a ministry development coaching experience pilot program before they started charging people to participate. There was a pastoral “mentor” assigned to give feedback/walk through a tool about life direction, who just did not show up at all for my final session because the independent firm that had done a personality profile of all the participants had given feedback which went into detail about me being a natural leader. The entire session of feedback was supposed to be centered around that, and he looked at it, and decided it was not true because I was female, so he simply did not show up to the appointment without explaining anything at all to me.

    It’s interesting, the longer I am on the site, the more I realize how many experiences in my past were just completely flawed.

  • Cindy Foster

    Well, AuntKaylea! You certainly out-thought me! I made a mistake leaving The Thinker category off the list!! But I can’t decide where I would have put it now….Most real thinkers would not stay long enough to make the list, but, then there were a few who stayed anyway for relationship reasons. So, I guess they would be at the bottom since no one at the top would even consider including them. Too threatening? It’s all so silly anyway, but very real.

    Thanks for pointing it out! I will correct it on my blog.

    Perhaps your mentor from seminary was more threatened by your being a leader and female than dismissive? It would figure….

  • AuntKaylea

    I found it more amusing than anything – along the lines of “no wonder I never felt like I fit in.” – I am an INTJ (strong in every preference) on the Myers-Briggs – and have gone through nearly all of my life feeling like I speak a different language than almost everyone else – so I gravitate towards contexts where I know and understand the social rules. (even if I don’t endorse them). I stayed much longer than I should have because I believed that never feeling at home was my lot in life – that it was because I was somehow not feminine enough, and flawed in how I was wired. Not trusting my own perspective was deeply ingrained for me.

    And maybe the coach felt threatened. I’m not sure. Thank you for asking this, and being a catalyst for me to reconsider him rather than just me in that equation.

    When I asked about his absence, those in charge informed me that he decided the analysis was not useful as I could not lead in a ministry context due to my gender. At the time it was another experience in the “I’m fundamentally flawed as a female” column.

    So it was more like “Thinker” was not available to “godly women” and therefore, I was functionally a “Reject”, trained from birth to basically seek to please people within the church context. Not a good emotional script at all for me.

    I’m not sure I believe that the catalyst is always male insecurity for men endorsing patriarchy. I’m going to have to chew on that one for a bit.

    -Kay

  • Victoria

    A fellow INTJ! I am also strong in every preference as well. I cannot begin to describe how difficult it was to have this personality type in the church growing up.

    It sounds like we have had some very similar experiences. I have been kicked out of a few Sunday School classes and youth group and told that I was “manly, and absolutely terrifying” (despite looking girly and being quite small) by an older male teacher because I asked too many questions and constantly dissected everything that was presented to me.

    In many instances, I was really just trying to understand the logic behind what was being taught and not trying to cause trouble. It gave my mother no end of grief because she was told she had to rein me in and that I was “rebellious.” My father is another INTJ, so he kind of understood me a little better. I think he liked having someone to debate with where we didn’t automatically question each other’s salvation because we had questions and concerns.

    The distance between me and others at church was pretty consistent with my experiences everywhere else in life too, so I didn’t think much of it-like you said.

  • Cindy Foster

    Kay, It sounds like you have a good handle on who you are and are proud of it. Good for you!

    I was a “Thinker-wanna-be” who was much too afraid of being considered a “Reject”, especially in the church context. This had been my experience all through public school but as an adult, I had hoped that the church led by family members would be different…..Truth is, it was worse so I became a people-pleaser to avoid rejection.

    I agree with your assessment that patriarchy was a culprit as well as male insecurity (likely nurtured by the expectations of patriarchy beliefs).

  • TLC

    Reject here. (Waves hello.) I was in that most despised category: divorced single woman. Oh, and I had to work to support myself and my son — couldn’t stay home.

    One of the many reasons I left fundagelical churches was that I never found the “church family” I wanted. I gradually figured out that the reason I had such a hard time making friends was that I was a “temptation.” The married women and men were being taught that they should hang out only with other married couples to “avoid temptation.” (As if married people can’t cheat on their spouses!) Therefore, by walking into a house with a married man in it, I immediately became a “temptation” that could entice him to adultery — even if I didn’t see him or speak to him. I was there, and that was enough.

    My response to that is this: If you think that my entering into the presence of your husband tempts him to adultery, you have a lot more problems in your marriage that me coming over to your house.

    It took several years to put this picture together. Once assembled, so many other pieces clicked into place as well.

    I will never, ever return to any place that treats me as “less than” simply because I don’t have a ring on my finger and a man at my side.