Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons. This piece was originally published on her own blog on May 13, 2014, and is reprinted with her permission.
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. [Recently], her sister, Clare, wrote the fantastically-titled post “Fuck the Patriarchy,” about how she was kicked out of her “Homeschool Prom.” It went viral, 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.
“Beautiful Girlhood”…now there’s a (quite unpleasant) throwback…