HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Nikki” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.
< Part One
I was raised in a fundamentalist homeschooling family.
To say my parents were patriarchal is an understatement. My father once sent me this article from Rushdooney’s Chalcedon Foundation to explain why I couldn’t choose my own husband. For those who don’t care to click through, the article’s thesis is summarized by this quote: “As strange as it may sound, in the peculiar relationship of the father and daughter, God, as it were, takes a back seat. God has created a hierarchy such that the daughter is directly answerable to her father, and her father then answers to God.”
Needless to say, I was grateful to get out.
I chose PHC because it was 1000 miles away from my parents. I was young and naïve—homeschooling in the hands of controlling, fundamentalist parents has that effect. I had no idea at the time that I could have applied to other schools. PHC also seemed safe. I had attended PHC’s constitutional law camp a few years before (I know, I know, homeschool nerd). The campus was small and not intimidating. And being around other, conservative Christians meant I would be able to trust everyone around me—or so I thought. PHC just seemed right.
It’s been almost eight years since I first stepped foot on that campus as a new student. Now I’m hated by the administration and have been told by Dean Corbitt that I’m not fit to speak to freshmen.
But in August 2006, I wanted nothing more than to be at PHC and to belong.
The first few weeks were a lot like summer camp. We were the class of 2010, the redemption class, the first students to arrive post-Schism. (Yes, we really did name the faculty’s dramatic departure the year before after the famous church split in the 11th century. Homeschool nerds.) Everything seemed hopeful. It was a new beginning for everyone. Of course, that didn’t last long.
At the time, PHC was cursed by something called an ASE or an “all student e-mail.” Sometimes, ASE wars would erupt, and our inboxes would be flooded with the (rarely witty) back and forth between our fellow students. One such war started shortly after the beginning of the semester. An older male student emailed this link to the entire school, thinking it a marvelous joke. For those who don’t want to watch the video, one of the punch lines is that over-education in women leads to “ugliness, premature aging, and beard growth.”
Unfortunately, sexist banter and jokes are common at PHC. A year or two ago they were still sending out “girl-friend applications” to incoming freshmen, a form that compared getting a girl friend to signing up for extracurricular activities. “Make me a sandwich” and barefoot and pregnant jokes are ubiquitous. Not that sexism is extinct in the rest of American society—far from it. But sexist jokes at PHC have an especially cruel edge because as much as people claim it is all in fun, in PHC’s culture women are expected to marry and stay home with their children, men are expected to be providers, women are expected to be submissive and to obey their husbands, and men are expected to be the leaders in the home.
The majority position at PHC is that a woman can have a career only if it does not interfere with or limit her primary purpose, which is to be a wife and mother.
Complementarianism, the idea that men and women have distinct roles and that women must submit to their husbands, is taught in PHC theology classes as fact. Until recently, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology served as the primary textbook in that class—for those who don’t know Grudem, he co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and devotes much of his academic work to combating Christian feminism. It is also not a coincidence that the past two Faith and Reason lectures (school-wide, mandatory lectures held each semester to highlight the work of a Christian thinker) were anti-feminist screeds damning both birth control and domestic violence laws.
Sexist jokes are damaging in any environment—at PHC they are a maddening reminder that some people think it’s funny to mock women’s ambitions, abilities, and experiences in a place where many women had to fight their families to even come to college and where even more must fight for the freedom to choose their own husbands (or wives, let’s not forget there are queer students at PHC).
But let’s return to that ASE. At the time, I was rooming with two of the more liberal women on campus—by which I mean we were all moderate Republicans. The video and the universally positive reaction it elicited enraged us. One roommate and I decided to fire back—with our own ASE.
It was really quite tame, in hindsight. We were impertinent freshmen who told older students they weren’t nearly as funny as they thought they were. Shots were fired both ways. There was no cursing, no name-calling, and probably way too much Christianese. But we had dared to stand up to older students in front of the entire school.
It doesn’t take much to mark you as one of them at PHC. And by “them,” I mean the vague and nebulous group of “bad kids” we were warned not to join. RAs told us about them. “Stay away from those seniors,” “That person is a bad influence,” “That group will ruin your reputation,” you get the idea. Few ever explained to me what these people had done to earn the red letter sewn onto their clothes. When there wasn’t an older student taking you under their wing to steer you away, there were still feelings and whisperings. You got to a certain point where you just knew, based on how the good kids behaved and the subtle changes in conversation, who was in and who was out.
It would be years before I realized that most of those “bad” upperclassmen were just as boring as I was my senior year, kids just trying to keep their heads down, finish their assignments, and get out. But young, impressionable, freshman me wanted none of that—I wanted to be good. I wanted to be one of the well-liked RAs who seemed so on top of everything. I didn’t think that fighting back about that video would be the first tick mark on my record.
A week later two, older male students stuck a pig’s head on a stake, pounded the stake into the ground outside our first-floor dorm window, and attached a note to it: “Thus to all feminazis.”
They were never caught. No one even looked for them. There was no investigation. The administration never interviewed me or either of my roommates. At a school where Student Life seeks to know everything about everyone’s business, this incident was simply unimportant, and the entire thing was shrugged off. It would be years before one of the perpetrators came forward to tell me what he’d done—not to apologize, but to reminisce about an “awesome joke,” one of the great “unsolved pranks of PHC.”
It wasn’t funny to us.
I was so ashamed. I never even told my parents. I was afraid of what they would do to me, since I was obviously advocating for “feminist” (and therefore evil) things while away at school. I never sought help from the administration, believing instinctively that they would take the perpetrators’ side. I never even told my professors, even though I would form close relationships with many of them. I buried the incident so deeply, I had to go back to old gchat records to verify it happened—there comes a point where it just sounds too outrageous to have ever happened to me. And there it was. September 25, 2006.
I know it’s hard to comprehend, but we were so naïve, so sheltered, so ignorant about the world, we didn’t even realize the gravity of what had happened to us. I didn’t understand that I had the right to express my opinion and not fear reprisal for it. It seemed to be just another example of “boys will be boys,” a comeuppance for my temerity.
Whatever it was, I mark this incident as the first time I realized everything at PHC was not as it appeared.
To be continued.