College Isn’t For Girls (And Other Lies My Parents Told Me)

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on December 4, 2015.

It occurred to me that while I’ve mentioned how my sex determined what I learned in school I haven’t really mentioned how that translated into college.

This is actually a little complicated because my parents waffled quite a bit before settling on their decision. When we first started homeschooling my mother’s plan (with no input from me) was for me to go to the local vocational school and double major in cosmetology and culinary arts. Neither of these were things I was interested in and actively tried to make that known, not that anyone cared.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my family it’s that my preferences don’t matter unless they line up with exactly what they want from me, their idea of who I should be trumps the truth of my existence every time – but that’s besides the point.

This was solidly the plan until I was about 8 or so (give or take because the concept of time is a blur). I think part of what they learned in the cult (or maybe it was the one ATI seminar they went to) was that it’s not appropriate for women to go to college. Some people think this but still send their daughters to college to get, I kid you not, an M.R.S. degree. The thought being, college will turn women into evil feminists who aren’t submissive and tell them things that are directly contrary to god’s plan (get married, have babies, homeschool)!

This goes right along with courtship, staying under the father’s head/umbrella/authority until married, and using the in-between highschool and marriage time to learn how to take care of your family. I’m not entirely sure where they got all this, but they did. Anyway, at some point they came to me and said that I wouldn’t be doing college, because god said it’s not good for girls to go to college – and college isn’t going to prepare you to be a helpmeet and mother anyway. This didn’t bother me because my cosmetology and culinary arts future looked bleak to my very young self who was neither into adding more cooking into their life or painting other people’s nails.

I think my family was surprised at how well I took it because they’d been building it up in their head. But anyway. College was out of the question for several years and I kept living my life free of the worry of having to cook and do makeup for college.

Then I discovered politics, speech and debate, and Patrick Henry College.

I wanted more than anything in the world to go to PHC, and since it was a homeschool college and very much daughters-under-their-father’s-authority operating school…I probably wouldn’t have to worry about turning into an evil feminist.

Whether or not I could go to PHC seemed like it changed by the day, but I was several years out so I figured they’d come around.

They almost did – after they decided to break Alex and I up (because courtship = parents control all the things) they encouraged me to apply to PHC, sort of as a bribe – like the money and car they offered. I jumped at the opportunity to go to the college I dreamed of and get out of my parents house. I filled out the application and went through all the steps, got my pastor to write a letter of recommendation and all I needed to do was have my parents sign the waiver.

They refused.

They said they changed their mind, they couldn’t support it, they didn’t want to be responsible for me financially (and my living at home not allowed or able to get a job was what? or right, indentured servitude), and most importantly, college isn’t for girls. I’m going to be a wife and mother after all, I don’t need any further education. My consumer math and ability to read, write, and recite their interpretation of scripture back to them was all I would need and college wasn’t going to help me be a better submissive wife.

And like that, it was over.

After we got married I started applying to a school that did distance learning and was marginally less conservative. It involved re-writing my transcript (which is still a mess) and being a private school hot for Dave Ramsey, financially it wasn’t feasible. I was accepted but it just didn’t happen. I was still trying to navigate what being a Wife looked like and panicking that having a summer job meant I would have an affair (because women in the workforce have affairs, that’s why they have to be keepers at home) – the lies my parents ingrained into me were still so very very strong.

This is why getting accepted to a community college and taking the catch-up/pre-college course is so huge to me.

I’m finally at a place where I can break that jar and decide what I want to do.

Image copyright 2014 Kierstyn King.
Image copyright 2014 Kierstyn King.

A Creeping Sense of Distance: Nastia’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Nastia” is a pseudonym.

I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do with my life. “I want to be on obstetrician,” I would tell anyone who would listen. At three years old, it was baffling to me that at least half the adults I met had no idea what that was. “It’s a doctor who delivers babies!” I would tell them, “Like Daddy!” The profession runs in my family. My grandfather and great-grandfather were both OB/GYNs, and my great-grandmother was a midwife. And yet, I have never felt pressured by others to take up the “family business.” It is purely my decision to pursue this path.

I had a rather unusual upbringing in this way. I come from a conservative evangelical family, but my parents are well-educated and open-minded, and they wanted nothing more than for me to be happy and successful.

While for many, “homeschooling” has an emphasis on the “home,” my parents put the emphasis on “school.”

That I was going to college was not up for debate; every step we took was made with the goal of stretching my mind, teaching me how to reason, preparing me for a lifetime of learning and a professional career. At the same time, they pushed me to pursue my own passions and dreams. I had a say in my own curriculum and was allowed to explore any subject I found interesting. While this may sound like an undisciplined teaching style, it kept me at least two grades ahead of my age in every subject and taught me to be self-motivated and proactive about my education.

That mindset was the best thing that I could have learned in preparation for higher education. At age sixteen, I entered community college through an early-entrance program in my state. This program allows students to complete their junior and senior years of high school through the college for free. My parents were hugely relieved that I would be able to earn my high school diploma and get real transcripts before applying to university.

I loved college. My transition was the easiest it could possibly have been. I excelled in my classes and quickly accumulated a diverse and quirky group of friends. Sure, college was a lot of work. I was taking twenty-one credits every quarter in order to finish all the pre-med requirements and earn an Associate’s Degree in Chemistry. There were ups and downs, sleepless nights, and failed experiments. But I had expected that, and my time management skills, self-discipline, and eagerness to learn benefited me enormously. Through diligence, the entire endeavor was highly successful. My confidence and enthusiasm soared.

But I soon found that going to school wasn’t the hardest part.

That came when I had to deal with the backlash of my (and my parents’) academic choices from a variety of different people.

The first came from my aunt, with whom I’ve never gotten along. A vehement socialist (and incidentally, a community college English teacher), she is viciously anti-homeschool, and it was clear from the beginning that she wanted me to fail in college to prove a point to my parents. When it was obvious that I was succeeding, she tried to tear me down emotionally, telling me that I was going to get sick because I was working too hard, that I had a mental disorder causing me to be a workaholic, and that success in school wasn’t worth my time because there was no way I could be successful in the real world.

That hurt, but as my relationship with her had always been a bit antagonistic, I turned it into a motivating factor. My goal became proving her wrong.

The pushback I received from homeschooled families in my church was much less motivating and much more painful. This didn’t really start until I applied and was accepted into a highly-ranked university, directly into the competitive Bio-engineering program.

In the view of many mothers especially, that was the point where I sold out, where I gave up my soul.

Going to community college, where I was living at home and going to school in a smaller, more job-like environment was acceptable. Entering university, where I would be in a co-ed dormitory with non-Christian students and exposing my mind to science and philosophy, was the equivalent of surrendering the battle for my soul. And it was difficult and depressing to deal with that because I was and still am very much a Christian.

The strange thing about it was that the criticism was never overt – it was a vague sum of micro-agressions, a creeping feeling of distance and disapproval that built up over time and poisoned my (albeit not-close) friendships with many homeschoolers in my church. I have a hard time pointing to clear examples, because the gradual alienation was caused by attitudes more than words or actions. I’m not even sure why I felt so hurt by it; I had never felt like I was a part of the “Christian Homeschool Culture.” My closest friends were actually homeschooled kids I met through music, not through my church. I never went to co-ops or conventions, never used A Beka or Bob Jones; I was always an outsider looking in on a culture that was as foreign to me as was the culture of public school. All the same, I had never felt so isolated as I did when I went to university.

I guess I had expected those I had always considered “my people” to be more accepting of me, even proud of me. That was the myth I had told myself growing up – that the homeschooling families in my church were “my people,” even though I was always outside their cliques, and that the reason I was always ahead of them academically was because I was simply smarter or my parents were better teachers. I was naïve; I thought we had similar lifestyles and values. And now here I was, succeeding in the world, spreading my light in the darkness. Isn’t that what those same families had taught me in Sunday School? That I didn’t even have to necessarily talk about Christ all the time – I just had to let my actions speak for themselves? I thought my honest and hard-won success, my healthy friendships, and my clean lifestyle made me a godly example. Instead, I was dismissed. People didn’t talk to me, or would abruptly end conversations when they heard what university I was at or what I was studying.

Previously-friendly parents would look at me critically and tell me things like, “Well, that’s not what God has in store for my daughter.”

That I was in STEM made it even worse, it seemed.

My parents were not immune to this stigma, and I think one of the most telling instances was when my mother was asked to speak at a monthly “Homeschool Moms’ Night,” when the subject of discussion was “Homeschooling Through High School and What Comes Next.” It was run by a sweet lady who has a very different homeschooling approach than my family does. Still, she wanted to showcase the range of options available to parents of younger kids.

Each of five women gave a speech, and then other moms were told to strike up a conversation with whoever seemed to match their own philosophy. Out of forty people, my mom had one person who wanted to talk to her, a woman from Hong Kong who didn’t like the state of American schools and was relieved that homeschooling could provide a more rigorous and comprehensive path. The other moms completely ignored her. I remember the rejection in her voice as she recounted the story to me. These were people she considered friends, but they completely dismissed her when she spoke passionately about helping her children make the most of their talents and aspirations.

After this, a small piece of a baffling puzzle fell into place for me.

Maybe my mother’s goal was not shared by others the way I had always assumed. Maybe the reason that nearly all the homeschooled girls my age were not going to college was something more than the fact that they just weren’t “ready” or weren’t “book-smart people.” Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the few who were pursuing higher education were going to community colleges or the tiny local Christian university aligned with our denomination; nobody was going to a secular university or anywhere out of state. It wasn’t an isolated instance that a girl decided to take up babysitting instead of going to college – it was widespread. It became normal to see friends drop out of college before taking a single class, or decide to live at home rather than stay in the dormitory; “she’s scared,” was always the chuckled explanation. It was commonplace to hear about another girl whose main goal of going to a barely-accredited Christian school was to find a husband and become a homeschooling mother.

This is an institutional problem, I realized.

It is still not clear to me whether parents are actively discouraging college for their daughters in particular, or whether the daughters are internalizing the idea that education would corrupt their hearts and minds and distract them from their duty of being wives and mothers. It had never occurred to me that this type of pressuring was occurring, as this is not the mindset of the majority of (non-homeschooling) people in my church. It is certainly not the doctrine that my well-educated and highly-rational pastor holds to. Yet, as I learn more about fundamentalism and about the situations of particular families, I am starting to put the pieces together. Talking with my mom now, there’s a reason that I was never put into co-ops and never used typical homeschooling resources. She realized what this sect was about long ago and tried to shield me from it.

For this reason – strangely – going to university broadened my perspective in yet another way; by putting me firmly on the outside, it gave me a clearer picture of the culture that surrounded me growing up, and an appreciation for how masterfully my parents handled my education. I will be eternally grateful for the unique opportunity they created for me and the generous support they constantly offered (and still offer) in continuing my education.

As for improving the cultural environment for college-bound homeschoolers, I’m not entirely sure what needs to be done, nor what one individual can possibly do. I realize that not everyone is cut out for higher education, and respect the right of families to pursue their own homeschooling path. However, the fact that I am an anomaly in my engineering school (because I was homeschooled) and an anomaly in my homeschool cohort (because I am an engineer) is very telling about the dichotomy that has grown between the academic and Christian communities.

It’s not a healthy divide, as the mistrust between the two groups makes understanding and progress extraordinarily difficult.

I’ve also grown to see that despite the opinions of many in the Christian homeschooling community, gender equality has not been achieved.

“Equal but different” is not good enough; there is still much work that needs to be done in providing the same education and career opportunities to women as are provided to men.

This by nature cannot be a policy issue, but a cultural reform. Parents must be honest with themselves when examining their daughters’ goals, and provide the necessary mental and emotional support for whatever path they are drawn to. It’s not logical to assume that a woman’s only contribution should be in the home, nor is it Biblical.

I’m not sure yet what it will take to bridge that chasm between Christians and academia, or the division between girls’ aspirations and their parents’ ideals. I’m not sure yet what it will take to change homeschoolers’ minds about science, higher education, and a woman’s place in both.

However, as a problem-solver by nature, rest assured that I will be trying, and I hope that some of you may join me.

What Fundamentalism Taught Me About Being a Good Mom: Evie’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Evie” is a pseudonym.

After becoming a new mom, I have been realizing how many bad mom- good mom rules have been thoroughly ingrained into my being because of my fundamentalist upbringing – whether intentionally or unintentionally. While some of these are complete foolishness, I can see the love but misunderstanding that many of these started with.

Yes, I have taken many of them to the extreme to emphasize my point- but I feel like many of the beliefs were extreme, and although very few people actually stated them verbatim the undercurrent of the messages was definitely present. This realization led me to compile the list below.

I’d love to hear what others remember and realized.

GOOD MOM

Looked good/attractive – did not cause her husband to have an affair/use porn
• Always responsive and available for her husband
• Soft, submissive, gentle
• Cooked from scratch as close to nature as possible (i.e. garden, grind wheat for bread)
• Kept house clean
• Dutifully taught kids’ school. If she didn’t know the subject she was teaching, spent her time reading ahead to learn it.
Only needed college education so that she could teach her children better – [and, really, is that a good investment of money?]
• Didn’t spend money on herself or her family [all the way down to groceries] so that she didn’t stress her husband – the sole breadwinner.
• Didn’t cost anything and, instead, found a way to make money while staying at home.
• Got up early and went to bed late to take care of her family.
• Quietly agreed with everything
• Never missed church
Only had one emotion – joy
• Just a tiny bit less intelligent than her husband and never “rubbed it in” [accidentally let it slip that she might know something]
• Did not run for any leadership position – unless it was only females
Was careful to phrase everything she said so that she didn’t accidentally teach a man anything

BAD MOM

• Made her children eat “unhealthy” [not home cooked] because she was lazy.
• Let her body go
• Looked overly feminine
Sent her children to organizations where they would be abused or indoctrinated (i.e. daycare, regular church)
• Did not properly protect her children and let them get abused
• Allowed their daughters to get raped
• Spent money on “expensive” [new/ good quality] clothes.
Was too busy to take “care” [always be in the physical presence] of her children
• Had a dirty house
• Was confident and competent in the workplace
• Worked for any other reason other than her husband left her or died [in which case she would be pitied]
• Had an opinion on anything other than the appropriate church doctrine
• Disagreed
Had personal boundaries
• Became exhausted (because she wasn’t trusting God” – who will give you the strength you need to do what He [aka the men and/or church] needed you to do)
Struggled with depression or mental illness
• Was smarter in anything than her husband
• Sought intelligence (although this was ok as long as she didn’t learn more about anything than husband because this would be prideful)

An Isolated Victim In A Red Dress: Alyssa’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

Alyssa Murphy blogs at Hurricane Girl Strikes Again.

In hindsight, the problem was timing.

By autumn 2008, my life was in freefall. A year previously, my family had switched from a homeschool co-op we’d been in for six years and liked to a closer one because my mother wasn’t allowed to drive at that point courtesy of a needlessly paranoid and perfectionistic neurologist. The new co-op was decidedly more conservative and populated by, for the most part, people I’d known since I was a little bug and never gotten on with.

Still not that scary compared to some of the stories I’ve seen since then, but there were a few new rules, the main one being that I was not allowed to discuss what I was reading with anyone.

Ever. Under any circumstances known to humankind.

I’d taught myself to read when I was three. For most of my childhood this was the established reason that myself and my two younger siblings were homeschooled – because gifted programs are nonexistent in southeast Indiana, and my parents, both of whom have advanced degrees in the sciences, thought they could do better. And, for the most part, this arrangement worked. I was more interested in books than people, and I’m sure most of the people we interacted with when I was smaller thought I was a little odd, but I was at least harmless. I liked history books and other things that even the worst of the homeschool mothers couldn’t have too many kittens about, and I was quiet. Odd, but harmless.

This changed when I was ten or eleven and stumbled across the wonderful world of the teen section at the library. My tastes leaned decidedly towards sci-fi and fantasy, but I picked up a particular “realistic” book that had a vague sex scene early on and my mother flipped out. Instead of her usual passive-aggressive way of dealing with anything that might ruin her public image, she drew the line.

Anything I brought home from the library had to be approved by her, and she had a gift for finding the worst scene in anything that looked interesting and making me feel like it was my fault for accidentally picking that stuff up.

This went on for a few years and made absolutely no one happy, but it eased her victim complex so we continued.

Then autumn 2007 happened. As mentioned above, we switched co-ops. And in a fantastic bit of bad timing, that was the exact same time my mother finally decided that I read too fast for her to keep up with. (I had a lot of free time on my hands, no social activities or friends, and one of the libraries we went to didn’t have a limit on how many books you could check out. It was an absolutely perfect storm.) So, suddenly stuck in an environment I already didn’t belong in, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted… so long as I didn’t tell anyone at co-op about it, because my mother’s public image would suffer if I did.

Unfortunately for me – and by extension everyone who had to deal with me during that era – this all happened at the same time that YA dystopias were just beginning to become a trendy thing. The teen section at the main library we went to (which did have an item limit, but we went weekly and I read fast) was a wonderland for a lost girl in need of reassurance that she was not alone, and I stumbled across several of the early trilogies of that genre and found a certain resonance.

I also had the luck of finding one of those “if you liked this, read that” lists for that subcategory. Because this was just slightly before publishers realized they could make a lot of money off of stories of teenage girls in very bad situations, a lot of the books on the list were older both in publication date and age of characters. As desperate as I was for relatable role models, I was interested enough to not care, and I read the classics. Orwell’s 1984 was good but not quite my interest level. I read Huxley’s Brave New World a little later in this project and to this day am unsure why that one is considered a classic. And then I found it, the holy grail of post-apocs and realistic nightmare fuel – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

I read somewhere a few years later that the true test of whether a dystopian novel is good is how much it scares you. In general, I’m not scared of much, and there’s very little in fiction that can bother me.

The Handmaid’s Tale bothered me because the future it describes – one of religious totalitarianism and the full repression of women – sounded an awful lot like the world most of the people I knew wanted to live in.

I wasn’t a particularly rebellious kid. I knew how to follow the rules of the world I existed, or at least say the right things to not get attention. But I didn’t belong there. Maybe I never did, I don’t know, but it took the right “outside” book at the right time to make me wake up.

That world is still my worst nightmare (or at least an even tie with being buried alive), but I knew too many people who would’ve wanted it or something like it, and seven years later, I’m still feeling the aftershocks.

I guess that’s when I started fighting back – because I was one of the lucky ones. I woke up early. I did not want to exist in that hell.

I still have a voice, and I don’t want to be an isolated victim in a red dress.

How I Will Redeem My Past: Elisheba’s Thoughts

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Charlotte Astrid.

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Elisheba” is a pseudonym. 

I am understanding why it’s so hard for me to deal with my body, why I’m so hard on myself.

I’ve been on a diet or been strongly encouraged to be on one or felt like I should be on one since I was 12 or 13. I was a little heavy but I was also a kid. Being told that men are visually stimulated and wouldn’t want to marry if you if you were overweight or that you won’t get the best guy, when you are 14 is crushing. Especially when you are raised to believe that marriage is the best, most honorable career a women can have and that everything else is second best.

Now that I am in my 20s, looking back I believe that those 2 messages are two of the most damaging things you could instill in a teenage girl, 1) you are only valuable if are slender and meet society’s “standard” of attractiveness. Don’t teenage girls have enough struggles with that thinking? Why would you reinforce that? 2) Marriage (living your life in complete submission to someone else) is the only way that you will feel fulfilled and be happy. Anything else is society deceiving you into thinking that you are happy. You become one of those poor, blinded, confused women. Again, how is this a good healthy, thing to tell anyone, let alone a teenage girl? She is not and will not be a complete person or her life will not be complete person until she find a man that she can totally lose herself in.

Isn’t that exactly the opposite of the message that we want to send?

As a young teenage girl, I heard these things. I believed them. I also believed that I was messed up because I wanted to have a career before I got married, if I got married (and that was a big if). I also believed I wasn’t attractive because of my weight and that I was ruining my future everyday I didn’t diet, everyday I didn’t lose a pound.

The past year, I’ve been trying to change my thinking patterns. I am not messed up or broken, because I want a career. I deserve to feel pretty and attractive even though I am the heaviest I have ever been (thank you birth control and stress).

It is not an easy change. I’m not anywhere close to being done. I still feel guilty sometimes that I’m not dieting. I count calories in my head all the time. I think I about throwing up anytime I think I ate too much. Sometimes I do. I still believe that an attractive, good guy won’t glance my way twice and if they do, they must be a perv or really desperate, because, I would never be someone’s first choice.

Even now, when I feel pretty good about how I look, it’s such a fragile, delicate, feeling that is so easily crushed. Some people in my life (who I dearly love) still can only see the flaws, if a neckline is slightly low, if my hair isn’t a color they think is good, if something isn’t totally flattering. Some days it makes me cry, some days I couldn’t care less what they think.

If I ever have daughters or young girls in my life, I will make sure they know that they are worth so much more than something to pretty to look at and to be married off so that they can lose themselves in oblivion. I will make sure they know they can do anything and be anything if they work hard and are dedicated. They will know that people do care about more than just looks and that each person is beautiful in their own incredible way.

This is how I will redeem my past and my childhood, by providing hope for the future generation. 

The Impact of Parental Values and Opinions on Educational Outcomes

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Our Lady of Disgrace. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Our Lady of Disgrace. Image links to source.

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 December 17, 2014.

The impact of attitudes towards education, especially higher education, and its impact on adult life, has recently come up in discussion in the home school survivor community. We all have different experiences and heard variations of different messages while growing up in homeschooling families. Here is my experience:

My parents didn’t place much value on education. We were homeschooled in a way, meaning we were at home and some effort was made to buy books and teach lessons. But the underlying organization and structure wasn’t there, and they didn’t have the motivation or follow through to make it happen. We received a relatively decent education in the first few grades, I assume; we learned to read and do basic math in those years. But no one received any education past about grade 6-8, depending on the subject.

They taught that you didn’t need college or university to succeed in life. They said that because we were homeschooled, we were special, and people would understand that and recognize the extraordinary intelligence we were gifted with, without needing a diploma to prove it. They talked about the bullying and abuses that were perpetrated by public school and high school teachers. My mother described at length times that she was publicly humiliated in class by her teachers, and how she could not stand the public schools and that they were protecting us from those abuses.

As a girl though, there were really no plans for me to have a future at all.

Other than vague mentions of a husband and kids in my future, it wasn’t discussed. Even the emphasis on me needing to be able to cook, clean, and help raise my siblings was mainly openly rooted in my parents’ need for my help, and it was not even masked as ‘training for the future’ except to outsiders (conservative fundamentalist outsiders). Oddly, sometimes when I talked about wanting a career, it wasn’t really shot down, and my parents told me to trust their education system and I would get where I wanted. They brought back the line that I was incredibly smart and special, and that satisfied me and I believed it.

My brothers were told they could  have any career they wanted, without college. They were told that someone would hire them or they could have their own businesses, all without college or even finishing high school. They said that years of education was part of the new age government control system and we needed to break free.

Due to the chaos in my childhood home, both of my close in age brothers did not achieve more than an average of a grade 8 or 9 education. They have spent time as adults earning a GED, with various rates of success. They most certainly were not granted excellent careers on the basis of being special and homeschooled.

Because I attended high school against my parents’ wishes and also went to university, my story is different, however I can still speak to the impact of the anti-college attitude.

Because there was no direction in my life, with no real hopes and dreams, until I was 17, I didn’t see the point of pursuing much education at all. What line should be drawn on when to end the homeschooling process when the goal is not college? So I did not resist when my parents stopped making an effort to educate me. I did not advance at all academically between age 10 and age 12. I made some more progress at age 12, but once I was 13 or 14 their impact on my education was pretty much over. I continued to read Bob Jones textbooks until I was 15, and wrote down answers on my own, but it was for myself, no one checked them.

I did not complete a grade 8 education at that time. I was not taught math past grade 6 until I went to high school at age 17. I never had any intention of pursuing a high school education until the year I turned 17, although I had a vague plan to go to university. The year I turned 17, my grandparents told me that I wouldn’t be able to go to university without a secondary education.

So I went to school, and I struggled. I struggled with ambivalence, knowing that it wasn’t what my parents wanted me to do, and some doubt because of the message I had received that I was special and shouldn’t have to prove it. But the courses were hard and unlike my experience with the Bob Jones textbooks, guessing didn’t work, especially with math. I had two dear math teachers who did a phenomenal job, but it’s hard to describe the crushing feeling of inadequacy you experience when you find out at age 17 that the 14 year old students are more educated than you.

The ambivalence followed me into university. I was only at the highschool for two and a half years, not nearly long enough to reverse all the messages about how unnecessary higher education was. I still tried for a while to guess and at least prove to myself that I already knew everything and didn’t need to learn. Because I didn’t learn how to build and maintain a career from my parents, since they did not do this, I felt guilty about having that as a goal. I felt guilty because it somehow felt arrogant, and I still had some feelings of inadequacy. I felt guilty because I was also proud of myself and felt guilty about the pride. I was also a bit afraid, because people warned me that higher education corrupts; although they seemed just as worried about the high school being corrupting as they were about university.

I finished university, and it turns out I was quite academically inclined. But not special. I still needed to learn, and to do that I had to learn how to learn first. I think that some people who are believers in homeschooling might read this and think that I needed to learn how to learn to fit into the public school mold, but that is not what I mean. I was able to learn as much as my mother was able to teach me; basic reading, writing and arithmetic. I believe there is such a thing as academically successful homeschooling, and in those cases those students continue to learn how to learn as their ability to process increasingly more complex information progresses. When children are not taught how to learn, or when there are other circumstances that disrupt that process, such as abuse, their progress can become stalled.

Growing up with parents who have negative attitudes towards education can remove motivation from bright young students, when there is nothing to strive towards.

It can create confusion when students do decide to pursue education. And for those that internalize those messages, and do not pursue education, the cost is high. Without an education, it is hard to get jobs. Where I live, even Subway and McDonald’s ask that you either have a high school diploma or show that you are working on one. Getting into a trade can also be difficult, as most of the trades jobs eventually require you to get a “ticket” which means going to school, and if you haven’t learned how to learn and test, you won’t be able to succeed in the trade program either.

Although some workplaces look at experience, moving up in companies and getting promotions can be heavily based on education as well, meaning that even those with experience can stay in entry level positions (at entry level wages) because of lack of education. Saying that one was homeschooled will not get someone a job or a promotion, and if people have not excelled in the learning process and become critical and reflective thinkers, their people skills and self management will also suffer.

Even a girl who is raised in a conservative home and wants to be a homeschooling mother needs to know how to learn, and has to have learned enough to effectively homeschool her children. She needs to be reflective and a critical thinker in order to manage a home and a family, and to juggle the responsibilities of teaching and parenting effectively. She will need to be able to learn how to parent, and how to deal with it if a child has special needs.

The stakes are high, and an education holds more weight than just a piece of paper. 

Preventing Your Daughter from Going to College

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 1, 2014.

Pastor Karl Heitman recently wrote a blog post titled “2 Reasons Why My Daughter Will Not Go to College.

I pledged to myself that I will not sacrifice my daughter on *the altar of men* by sending her out of my home, care, and protection at age 18 just so that she can get a degree and achieve some worldly status. I will count those years as a precious time for my wife and me to prepare her for the wonderful task that’s ahead. The job of being a wife and mother is a high calling and I would argue is the most important job under the sun.

The first thing that occurred to me is that this isn’t Heitman’s decision, it’s his daughter Annalise’s decision (Annalise is only five at the moment). Whether Heitman likes it or not, when Annalise turns 18 she will be a legal adult and he will have no control over her decisions. Or will he?

Our current system of paying for college is messed up—including our financial aid system. If Heitman’s daughter wants to file a FAFSA to apply for financial aid, she will have to have a parent’s signature. If Heitman refuses to sign her FAFSA, Annalise is out of luck where financial aid is concerned—unless, of course, she can prove that she was abused. But I’ve seen that process, and it can be complicated, because you have to present supporting evidence. And besides, what if she isn’t abused, at least in any legal sense of the term?

But of course, even this presumes Annalise qualifies for financial aid. She might not. The general assumption is that when a young adult’s parents make too much money for her to qualify for financial aid, her parents will pitch in and help pay for her college. After all, the system is set up specifically to help young adults whose parentscan’t afford to pay for their college.

If Heitman makes enough money, Annalise may not qualify for financial aid.

So, Heitman could deprive Annalise of financial aid, and it’s possible that she might not qualify anyway. What then? It’s very unlikely that Annalise will have money to pay for college herself, especially given the rising expense. She might have a family member—an aunt or grandparent—who could help her out, but chances are her only other option would be a loan. And guess what? Someone has to cosign a loan. What if Heitman refuses to cosign a loan? Annalise might be able to find an uncle or cousin to cosign, but that’s uncertain.

Our current college financing system presumes that parents—whether poor or rich—want their children to be able to go to college. It assumes that parents of young adults—and we’re talking anyone between 18 and 24—will help pay for their children’s college if they can afford it, and that those who can’t afford it will sign their children’s FAFSAs so that they can get financial aid. But these assumptions are not always accurate, and when they’re not, it’s the young adult who is left holding the bag.

Our economic system is set up such that some of the greatest financial burdens an individual will bear occur at the very beginning of adulthood. Unfortunately, when a young adult’s parents don’t help them out—by signing a FAFSA, helping out financially, or cosigning loans—their futures and options may be severely curtailed. Yes, there may be other options—various trades, attending community college while working—but some doors are simply closed.

What of Heitman’s plan for Annalise to spend her adult years as a wife and mother? The trouble is that during the years parents—usually mothers—spend as homemakers and caregivers, they aren’t accruing social security benefits, they don’t make money, and they don’t acquire career skills or work experience. Now yes, there are things that matter more than money. But the trouble is that, in the system we currently have, a mother who stays at home (and it is usually the mother) is incredibly dependent on her husband. She’s dependent not only in a current sense (financially) but also in a future sense (social security benefits) and in a sense that increases over time (as the gap on the resume widens).

This is especially true if a woman did not attend college or gain work experience before transitioning to life as a stay-at-home mother.

As for me, I was lucky. My parents taught me that my role in life was to be a wife and mother, and absolutely not to have a career, but they still sent me to college. They told me they wanted me to have a backup plan, and options available if I didn’t marry immediately or if my husband someday were to lose his job or die. They also said that college-educated men generally want to marry college-educated women, for the intellectual compatibility. In fact, they described the money they paid for my college as my “dowry.” Of course, college graduates marrying college graduates is likely more about social homogeneity than intellectual compatibility and college is not always necessary to ensure that a young woman is prepared to support herself.

But Heitman isn’t saying that he wants to prepare is daughter to support herself using avenues outside of college. He explicitly states that he doesn’t think his daughter should be prepared to support herself. I’d like to say that Heitman is unaware of just how dependent he plans to make his daughter on her future husband, but his words make it clear that that’s not true. He argues that it is right and natural for a woman to be dependent on her husband—and obedient to him. And of course, divorce is not seen as an option. A married woman is supposed to be shackled to her husband, for good or for bad.

And besides, what if Heitman’s daughter doesn’t marry straight out of high school, or until her thirties, or at all? What would Heitman have her do—live at home with him, waiting for her prince charming to appear?

Unfortunately, he answers this question with a resounding “yes.”

I’ve read a variety of commentary on Heitman’s article, and want to highlight this bit:

Better titled “Many numbered reasons your daughter will distance herself from you when she realizes she has been given free will and stops being afraid to use it.”

This father may not realize it, but his assumption that he can dictate his daughter’s life trajectory and make her adult decisions for her will likely come back to bite him in the end, especially if he deliberately sabotages her options. Again, I have watched this happen. I know young women who have found themselves in this position, with parents unwilling to sign a FAFSA or help out in any other way.

The young women generally make it through, with blood, sweat, and tears, but their relationships with their parents generally don’t.

Feeling Like A Girl: Femininity After Homeschooling, By Kay Fabe

Image source: http://kerbear88.deviantart.com/art/Femininity-207270064
Image source: http://kerbear88.deviantart.com/art/Femininity-207270064

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kay Fabe’s blog Post-Fundamentalist Fashion. It was originally published on May 31, 2014.

Pearl’s story the other day really resonated with me, and I know I’m not alone. I’m sure lots of you have had the same experience I had: after years of getting told that the “girly” outfits you wanted to wear were “immodest,” “revealing,” and “inappropriate”, you just gave up and went butch, with lots of baggy boy shorts and shapeless sweatsuits. (Which is fine if that’s what you’re into – but I know that look wasn’t me.) Wireless cloth bras, hand-me-down underwear and a ban on perfume, makeup and hair products probably played a part in your systematic de-feminization. Eventually – if your experience was like mine – you became so disconnected from your body that you hardly felt like a person anymore, let alone a girl. And that’s a tragedy.

It took some cataclysmic life events – a failed courtship, starting a business, moving out of my parents’ house and eventually out of state, and meeting a supportive partner – to give me some distance and perspective on my homeschool years. Along the way, by trial and error, I’ve slowly been figuring out how to become a girl again. At 26, I finally feel more at home in my skin. Here are some of the things that helped me – maybe they’ll help somebody else, too.

Read drag websites. I’m not even kidding. They’re full of helpful information on how to walk, talk, dress and act in order to “pass” as a female. Granted, some of it’s a little over the top – skip their make-up tips, for instance. But I remember how astonished I was when I discovered that somebody had actually written reams of detailed instructions for presenting as a lady. It felt like Christmas.

Reclaim the skirt. It took me the longest time to figure out that dresses are not a badge of shame! Big jean jumpers and long khaki skirts are not the only option. Skirts are supposed to make you feel pretty and sexy, and if they’re not doing that, then they’re not doing their job. Swishy maxi dresses, cute cocktail dresses and tailored pencil skirts are incredibly fun to wear. So are heels. They are designed to make your legs longer and that’s a GOOD thing!

Have some little signature “girly” thing that you do or wear all the time. Or more than one! For me, it was getting my ears pierced and always wearing earrings. Having a little pair of sparkly studs in your ears all the time really does make you feel more feminine. I gradually added in other things and now I always have on earrings, toenail polish, a silver ankle bracelet and a little bit of perfume. It makes me feel pretty.

Practice showing a different bit of skin at a time. I remember the first time I tried to walk outside my apartment in shorts and a tank top, “cold turkey.” Bad idea  – I felt completely naked. After a while, I figured out that I could ease into it if I only uncovered one area at a time. If I had on shorts, I wore a big, loose t-shirt. I paired tank tops with long cargo shorts or capris. Eventually, I just got used to having various parts of me out in the sunshine and I didn’t mind anymore. (Shocker – nobody ogled me and drooled with lust, either.)

Go and get an actual bra fitting at Victoria’s Secret. And then get some lovely lingerie that fits. I am ashamed to say that I could not actually make myself do this until I was 25 years old. They’re totally nice. All you do is lift your arms, and they run a tape around your bust and tell you what size you are, and then give you some sample bras to go try on in the fitting room. It’s not embarrassing at all… nothing like bra shopping for “appropriate” underwear with your mother. (P.S.: You may be surprised by your bra size! For years and years, I assumed I was an A or a B cup, and figured bras were supposed to squash me in and feel uncomfortable. Guess what? I’m a D.)

Have bottles of nice stuff in your shower, and use them. I wish someone had told me that I needed to put SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER in my hair, and use SHOWER GEL and BODY BUTTER on the rest of me. (When I was a kid, we used this weird organic shampoo/soap called “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap” where every square inch of the label was covered with manic stream-of-consciousness meanderings in TINY print. It was an entertaining reading experience but as far as soap went, it wasn’t awesome.) The Warm Vanilla Sugar stuff from Bath and Body Works is awesome, though. So is the Moonlight Path (lavender) and the Japanese Cherry Blossom.

Drink wine in the bathtub and listen to jazz. It completely makes you feel like a movie star.

Dance all by yourself. Put on your favorite music and move with it. Learn to feel the evil jungle beat that kills all the plants. Feel how your body is all connected together, how it’s a physical, material being, how it moves through space, how it responds so beautifully to touch and sound. You are designed to be a beautiful, corporeal person, not a disconnected intelligence trapped in a useless body.

That’s really the most important thing: You are beautiful. You just need to know it, and feel it, and own it.

Why Feminist Homeschoolers Are a Fatuous Professor’s Worst Nightmare: Teresa’s Thoughts

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Teresa would like to give a shout-out to Libby Anne and all the people who comment on her blog. She reads Love Joy Feminism every day. 

Let us leave out, for the moment, this gullible prof’s extreme shortsightedness, when it comes to the longevity of the average college student’s views on life.

I take issue with this man’s definition of feminism.  He is straw-manning those with whom he disagrees.  Dismissing the commonsensical idea that feminism might have something to do with “equal pay for equal work,” Dr. Markos declares that “academic feminism rests on the fiercely-held belief that there are no essential differences between the sexes.”

Dr. Markos, I must tell you: as one of the homeschool girls you praised for being capable of challenging your “masculine view of the world” (your words sir, not mine) I would appreciate it if you refrained from telling me how to be a feminist.

To me, it sounds as if you are delineating a certain caricature of feminism I grew up with: that to be a feminist means being mannish.  And unlovely. 

Is this honest, professor?

I wonder what you would say, Dr. Markos, if one of those doted-on homeschool graduates informed you that the ideas you’d praised her for disowning, had never been adequately or honestly presented to her in the first place?  

Suppose one of them ventured to admit that there was actually something to this idea of leading a rich and full life.  That there was value in the idea of women being capable of independence, and of courage.

Would you admire the dear girl less, Dr. Markos?  My idea is that you would quickly prop up your flattened straw-man:  “My dear young lady, pray remember that a feminist hates being a woman and longs to be a man!  Consider how unattractive feminism will make you to men!  To ME!”

Feminism was born to save us from such.

You praise us because we resemble Jane Austen’s characters.

And yet, if there is one thing that all of Jane Austen’s heroines had in common, it is the fact that they were completely dominated (though not necessarily fooled) by what Betty Friedan would one day call the “feminine mystique”.

If you are an admirer of this system, I do not think you stand with Jane Austen.

What I find in Pride and Prejudice, alongside the sparkling narrative, is a nagging problem (a precursor to “the problem that has no name”.)  It is well fleshed out in the part where Charlotte Lucas decides to marry a guy she isn’t crazy about:

Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.

I hope you would agree, Dr. Markos, that the circumstances that created Charlotte’s situation are not good.  Self-preservation should be an option for women regardless of whether marriage is on the table.

So much for Charlotte Lucas.  But, what if the core problem isn’t just Charlotte’s?  Suppose it extends to every woman, young and old, that lives in a world like the one in that book?

Let’s take a look at Elizabeth Bennet, whose youth and beauty enabled her to reach the pinnacle of success (in such a system): marrying a wealthy guy she actually likes.

Surely you, and I, and most Austen fans, have occasionally wondered…

Now what?  What does she do with the rest of her life?

But Austen avoids the question.  She stops the book.

It’s as if she knows there is no answer. 

Dr. Markos, I would argue that Betty Friedan gave us that answer.  Or, at least, fresh hope that we would find one (since the answer is surely different for every human being, in every age.) Betty Friedan asked us a question eternally asked by people who resemble Elizabeth Bennet, post-marriage...  people who had gotten the husband they wanted, but still felt the need to do something with the rest of their lives:

Each suburban wife struggles with it alone.  As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffered Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– “Is this all?”

Dr. Markos… I am a former homeschooled girl who decided that it isn’t.  

This isn’t all.  

One last thing I think you and I need to address:

Feminists, whose view of the world is far more masculine than my own, do not like homeschooled girls, for such girls explode all the vicious and untrue stereotypes that feminists have been propagating for the last several decades.

Careful there, professor.

The stereotype you explode may be your own.

The Ideal Homeschool Girl

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Faith Beauchemin’s blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It was originally published on January 29, 2014.

There’s a sick little article floating around the homeschool/ex-homeschool blogosphere right now.  It’s basically one college professor’s gross fetish fantasy about “homeschool girls” (meaning, his formerly homeschooled students who are actually presumably grown women).  He likes them so much because they’re so feminine (“just like a Jane Austen character,” he says repeatedly, leading me to wonder how drastically this English professor has misread Austen and other groundbreaking female writers) and not like those ugly mean selfish feminists.

My most creepy-crawly feeling while reading the article came from the total objectification and dehumanization of women who have been homeschooled.

Mr. Markos, you revel in interactions with homeschooled women because homeschooled women were brought up specifically to please men like you. What goes on behind the scenes to craft that “glorious and unashamed femininity”?  You see the finished product, a woman poured into the mold of a conservative Victorian ideal and seemingly content there (“enthusiastic”, you say, and I am trying to remember any of the legions of homeschool girls I’ve ever known who was truly enthusiastic about performing any part of traditional femininity that was not already rooted in her own personality).  You don’t see how many girls are brainwashed, shamed, abused on a daily basis before they are finally broken down to the point where they can be thus remade.

You would admire my sewing skills, but you would never know about that winter day when me and all my homeschool girl friends were stuck inside learning to quilt while our brothers played in the snow.  You wouldn’t know how badly I longed to be outside, sledding and throwing snowballs, instead of inside learning the traditional feminine arts.

Performing traditional Victorian femininity can be fun….
Performing traditional Victorian femininity can be fun….

You might be impressed that I can draw, until you learned that most of my drawing was used to illustrate a fantasy universe that was populated by women having adventures, going on quests, fighting battles side by side with men.  Or used to illustrate my Star Wars fanfic, where I piloted a space ship and spied for the Rebels.  Or used to design dresses not to be sewn by me, but as part of a secret dream to move to New York City and be a fashion designer.

You’d have praised my “razor-sharp wit” when it was parroting Ann Coulter or whatever I’d learned at church that week, but now that I use it to eviscerate folks like you, it is “marred and twisted by the politics of identity and victimization.”  (And see here you set yourself up to win against all critics, because if I argue that our original identities, pre-brainwashing, are not like the “femininity” you describe, I am now playing the victim card and am therefore “unfeminine” and undeserving of your time).

You might not know, Mr. Markos, anything real about these formerly homeschooled women you interact with.  

Because do you know what we learn above all?  We learn to hide.  

We learn that our real selves are not acceptable.  Anything within us that does not fit into the mold doesn’t necessarily go away, we just have learned not to show it to authority figures or, many times, to potential suitors.  Those in authority over us are the ones enforcing the “ideal girl” model, so the quickest way to avoid punishment and shaming is to perform femininity as we have been taught to.  Because we aren’t taught to be feminine.  Where someone falls on or off the gender spectrum is, I believe, something that is found on one’s own, inside, not something that is taught (gender does not really make sense in my head, but I think that’s probably a side effect of growing up with such strict gender roles).  A person can learn to perform gender traits that have no real resonance with who they are.

And wouldn’t you?  If you were constantly under threat, continually told that god, your parents, and your future husband (who is The Most Important Person You’ll Ever Meet) would all hate you and shun you and turn up their noses in disgust at you if you didn’t fit this particular mold, wouldn’t you force yourself to fit it?  If you were constantly told that “this is what a good woman is,” by everyone around you, wouldn’t you think that you were the problem, that you were a thing to be fixed?

You don’t know these “homeschool girls” you’re talking about, Mr. Markos.  

You don’t know the actual story of their lives, possibly because the real world of homeschool women is kept very segregated from the world of men.  And you don’t know how many of them will join me and my friends in the feminist camp before too long.

…but then, swinging on a vine across a chasm to escape Stormtroopers is pretty fun too.
…but then, swinging on a vine across a chasm to escape Stormtroopers is pretty fun too.

So stop fetishizing my pain.  

It is distressing to see you and so many other Christian men drooling over a neo-Victorian mold of “femininity” (that you label it “Austen-esque” just adds insult to injury).  Drooling selfishly over the idea of a woman whose only purpose in life is to keep your home and to keep you happy.  Drooling over the thought of a woman whose only thought is to please and serve you and maybe oh-ha-ha-ha take you down a peg or two if you are being too “bombastic” but only because she respects you so much.

Women who fit the classic “feminine” mold aren’t less human than women who don’t.  I have never, and will never, think so.  But you’re not saying your personal romantic/sexual preference is women who are quietly intelligent and skilled in the arts.  Many people have romantic/sexual preferences, and that’s completely acceptable.  What’s not acceptable is generalizing your personal and oh-so-weirdly-specific preference and turning it into what everyone born with a particular genital configuration “should be.”  You’re saying that all women, in order to be true women, in order to be truly “feminine” (feminists, you say, are more “masculine” than even you! *gasp*) have to be like this.  And you’re looking at homeschooled women, who were brought up in a culture that thinks like you do, and praising them for being, as you think, monolithically “feminine.”  That perception is not true, not fair to homeschooled women, and insofar as it does bear resemblance to reality, is because of cultural pressures and religious threats, not because of any innate “feminine” qualities.

I’ve seen too many women (and too many people who were assigned female at birth but, surprise, aren’t female, because yes Mr. Markos gender is not the same thing as what you consider biological sex, and conflating the two as you do causes untold damage), myself, my friends, my sister, unspeakably harmed and psychologically and physically abused all for the sake of fitting into that false ideal mold.  I’ve seen peoples’ vibrant personalities little by little give way, squashed into the mold.  I’ve seen other friends who weren’t brought up this way torture themselves, briefly, to go from independent woman to some Christian boy’s submissive ideal, and fortunately escape before any lasting harm was done.

Any man who marries a woman because she fits the “ideal homeschool girl” mold is only perpetuating oppression.  And maybe that’s why they all think feminists are “mean”:

Because we’ll never stop calling you out on this.

Mr. Markos, you can go home and rub one out to Lizzy Bennett as many times as you want, but please stop reducing real human beings to nonconsensual players in your little fetish game.