Oh Daughters of Fundamentalism, Take Upon Yourselves the Cloak of Self-Deception

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on August 28, 2013.

I recently witnessed a young girl who is struggling a bit who expressed that she was a bit unhappy with her life, being told that she just needs to take it one day at a time, and be happy with it. To me it is shameful to express to a child or a teenager that their discomfort or unhappiness with a difficult situation stems from their own inability to cope. What message is being given to girls when they are told that although they are not the creators of the bad situation, they must be the authors of the solution, but the solution must only be to swallow their feelings and smile.

This is a relatively common comment made to daughters in conservative families. The basic idea stems from the idea if you are unhappy with your life, it is important to change your attitude about your life. Girls are not taught that they can cause change in their own lives. Of course this serves the purpose of preventing girls from making plans to get out. If they are responsible for their own happiness, and they do not get to make their own choices, fundamentalism is able to produce a new generation of women who not only do not fight back and fall in line with whatever rules and tasks are assigned to them, in the ideal scenario they will actually start to enjoy the fact that they are fulfilling their purpose, and own their own oppression.

This is a very difficult concept to understand if you did not grow up in patriarchy. How can women not only agree and allow themselves to be oppressed, but also seem to be happy and flourish in their own oppression? How can women become party to their own oppression, and in fact add their own restrictions to their own activities and assign themselves even more responsibility for the physical and mental well-being of the men around them? Because they are taught to believe it.

They believe that women are created to complement their husbands. They believe that any unhappiness they experience is selfish and sinful. They in fact quench their own desires and resentment at being treated as chattel, and tell themselves they enjoy it. Today I had the misfortune of reading the story of a young woman who was picked up from work by her husband with an entourage of other people to celebrate her last day of work. There was a banner on the car stating that she was free at 27, but her exit interview read that her new employer was her husband, and she would be a house wife from then on.

Teenaged girls in quiverfull families are taught that their purpose it to serve as a daughter, and then as a wife and mother. They try to fulfill their purpose in life by working hard, taking care of younger siblings, and generally not trying to rock the boat. They do not ask for things that they want or need, they do not tell their parents if they are pain, and they do not ask questions about their futures or their bodies. I can tell you that there are probably many teenaged girls right now that are suffering from severe menstrual cramps or low energy due to health problems, that will not say anything because they do not want to cause shame to their families by not being a strong contributor to the family.

These girls are trotted out at family and church gatherings to showcase their homemaking and child-rearing skills. To fail at cooking a dish or to not be able to handle several children at a time would be an unbearable humiliation. No self-respecting girl would allow that happen, and after a girl has put all of her time and effort into being a homemaker and mother for a few years, she is taught to take pride in it, and also starts to take pride on her own. After all, how many girls of 13 are capable of running a household of 8 or 10 or more on their own. How many girls can feed a dozen people with very few ingredients? How many can juggle a house cleaning and cooking a dinner and calming a crying infant and changing a toddler at the same time?

Untold numbers of innocent teenagers are living this life every day, and they take pride in their ability. They put their own desires away and learn to run a family that isn’t even theirs to keep. They are encouraged to compare their accomplishments with other girls, and on a church day they will go to their mothers and offer to take care of the babies for their mothers. They plan for their own happy families and wash laundry and cook meals and put band aids on babies. They change diapers and administer assembly line baths to dirty children. They make beds and clean up toys and wipe noses and do not go to school. They teach phonics and math and sewing and read the Bible to little children and make sure they listen to the parts about obeying your parents and making sure you do not think bad thoughts.

They tell themselves that this is what they want and that they can’t wait to have their own families and carry on god’s plan. And now they will grow up and teach their own baby girls to serve men and god. To deceive themselves.

17 thoughts on “Oh Daughters of Fundamentalism, Take Upon Yourselves the Cloak of Self-Deception

  1. Kristi-Joy Matovich April 17, 2014 / 11:03 am

    oh how much I want to just break down in tears. how I wish I could make parents understand what they are doing to their fantastic girls. how I wish those girls could feel real love.

    you have my tears, the greatest and only gift I have to give, sisters.


  2. Peggy Andrews April 17, 2014 / 11:28 am

    Guess what, it’s possible for a grandmother at age 79 to have PTSD. I started reading HA when I found that my 2 grandchildren had been homeschooled on a religious exemption. I now know how close I came to becoming a victim of fundamental indoctrination. I had no idea that people still raise their daughters this way. I moved away from my home the day I was 18 and never looked back. But for the grace of God some of these stories could have been my own. Will someone out these please tell me how to get through to my beautiful 18 year old granddaughter?


    • Angie April 17, 2014 / 2:21 pm

      All you can do is be there for her. You’re best bet is to love her and show her how she ought to be treated. Feed her mind and soul. Hopefully one day she will see the truth. The most important thing is for her to have that seed of strength


    • Sarah April 21, 2014 / 10:48 am

      I would say, take her out. Show her the world. Spend time with her. Take her to a community college to just audit a class together. Maybe pottery or something she would like and see as “useful”. getting out of the walls is the first step. Take her to a play. Teach her something. A musical instrument maybe if you know one. Tools and perspective are what she is missing. I have to say that I would have made very different choices with my life instead of getting married at 18 and pregnant at 19 if I had only had a little more support. One more person to say “just go to college and try it for a semester, you can always get married after college!” someone to say “Your trying to learn something new is not only good for you but also for all the people you encounter!” as it was, I had a younger brother who said all of that, but since he was younger I didn’t listen. A grandmother I would have listened to though.


  3. Ellynn April 17, 2014 / 10:09 pm

    Thanks for this.


  4. me April 19, 2014 / 8:11 am

    God help these girls if their reproductive organs do not work. Then the dark night of the soul (St John) looks like a walk in the park.


  5. The Moon is a Naked Banana May 1, 2014 / 4:55 am

    I recall an occasion when I was 12 and we went to a homeschooling conference. Naturally I was helping to look after my 5 younger siblings. My mum told me that someone had remarked to her that they were amazed that I was so helpful, and that – wait for it – I had a ‘lovely spirit.’ even at the time this really got to me. ‘Have I really become one of those?’ I thought, thinking of the more perfect homeschooling girls I knew, who I secretly disliked. It was one of the most humiliating and insulting comments of my life.


  6. Kelly October 13, 2014 / 9:41 pm

    Wow Sarah, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m just so sorry for you. You’ll probably delete this post, but I hope you read it before you do. I’m sorry that you think that being self centered will make you truly happy. I’m sorry that you even think that the elusive search for “happiness” will make you happy. It is true (for women as well as men) that serving others, living for others brings true fulfillment. And I’m sorry that you look down your nose at girls who truly love babies, and children, and cooking and all things domestic. I’m sad that you feel that girls that love those things are somehow less than…


    • Natalie October 18, 2014 / 9:00 am

      Sarah never once said any of that. That is a very huge leap you are taking. I’m so sorry, Kelly, that you are used to having your point of view silenced, to the point where you expect your comment to be deleted. I’m so sorry that you are unable to comprehend the message Sarah is portraying here. I’m so sorry, that your first response to anyone having an opinion that differs from yours, is to judge them, and talk down to them. So, so so sorry.


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