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.
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.
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.
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.
So, Robert Knight, an extremely conservative writer for Townhalland whose articles occasionally appear in publications like the Washington Times, wrote an article last Tuesday called “Homeschooled Girls vs. Feminists.” Since the article spends most of its time talking about grown women, I have to admit to some mild annoyance to the persistent infantilization of women in conservative circles.
College-aged females are women, thank you.
My real problem with his article, however, is the false dichotomy he frames in the title and then argues in the piece itself. Just a quick review: a false dichotomy, also known as the false dilemma, is an attempt to reduce a complex, nuanced argument down to two separate, extreme positions. This type of argument is probably more familiar to people as “black and white thinking.” Knight’s article is an excellent example of how fundamentalists approach almost any issue– it’s us against them. Good, godly, homeschooled “girls” (grr) verses those big, bad, bra-burning, man-hating feminists.
See Robert Knight, and “Overhere” (who was commenting on a secular homeschooling forum). In these sorts of discussions, feminists get painted inaccurately, and motivations are attributed to us that fall right in line with the anti-feminist rhetoric that’s existed for decades. We’re just selfish. We think homeschooling means signing ourselves into a “concentration camp” (which, granted, that comparison comes from The Feminine Mystique…).
Which is, le sigh, not true.
But, I’d like to address how Knight sets up this dichotomy in his article. He’s responding to an article I can’t read, “Feminism’s Worst Nightmare: Educated Women,” by Lou Markos for The City (published by Houston Baptist University), but giving the somewhat paranoid nature of most of his writing, I’m going to assume that this essay is pretty typical fare, and probably falls inside CBMW and CWA -type arguments, which Knight seems to share.
Knight shares Markos’ presentation of the “homeschooled girl”:
They possess a razor-sharp wit with which they can cut pretentious people (especially males) down to size, but they rarely use this skill, and only when they are sorely provoked …
They have a firm knowledge of the Bible, but they (unlike my biblically-literate male students) don’t engage in forensic debates over minor theological points of controversy; they will, however, step in if the boys get too contentious or triumphalist …
Home-schooled girls have wonderfully synthetic and creative minds that make connections across disciplines … they are gifted in the arts; almost all of them can sing and most play instruments and draw. …
They have not bought in to the lies of our modern consumerist state: that is to say, they do not judge their value and worth on the basis of power, wealth, or job status.
There are some pretty specific attitudes that Markos (and now Knight) are praising.
These young women are quiet and submissive, meek and gentle– they rarely react, and only when “sorely provoked.”
They understand what their place is when it comes to the Bible; they always let men lead discussions and refuse to become involved in discussing theology or become a part of a debate– they only lovingly point out that a debate has become “contentious.” They know better than to think they can engage with men on theological issues.
They pursue stereotypically feminine talents.
They find their value in the patriarchal attitudes of being a mother, wife, and homemaker and see employment as inconsequential.
And, apparently, feminists are engaged in the “real war on women” because we have some sort of campaign to encourage promiscuity and convince women not to ever, ever get married. Which is a pretty typical conservative phrasing of feminist arguments– they take the sex-positive, anti-shame, you-can-get-married-when-you-want-to-who-you-want narratives of feminism and completely flip them upside down.
Feminists also supposedly scream a lot about how there’s no differences between men and women and about how much we hate femininity and feminine women:
They have the wit and discernment to perceive that the feminist is finally a greater threat than the male chauvinist: for whereas the chauvinist demeans femininity, the feminist dismisses it altogether as a social construct that has no essential grounding in our God-created soul. It’s no wonder feminists hate the feminine Sarah Palin with white-hot intensity.
I would like to actually address this issue, because it’s something that as a feminist I bump into a lot, and I think it’s the essential disagreement between egalitarians and complementarians. Feminists and egalitarians both assert that while biological factors exist (besides the obvious reproductive differences, there’s also different skeletal and muscular structures), that substantial and essentialdifferences don’t. Men and women are both created with the imago dei, both receive spiritual gifts, and both can serve in equal roles. Egalitarians recognize the variety and complexity of all people, and are uncomfortable with dividing that variety according to patriarchal stereotypes.
So yes, feminists actually believe that “femininity” is a social construct that has little grounding in biological sex– men, women, and trans* persons can have traits and attitudes reflective of socially constructed “feminine” and “masculine” traits. Knight isn’t wrong here.
However, what Knight believes is that there is absolutely a fundamental difference between men and women– and it’s doubtful if he recognizes the legitimacy of trans* persons (which would be an attitude he shared with some). He believes that this difference is a part of our “God-created soul” and arguing any differently is akin to arguing against God and his Holy, Inspired, Infallible, Inerrant Word (instead of just a traditional interpretation of it).
It’s interesting to note that Knight spends so much of his article recognizing women he describes in terms of Proverbs 31– as “strong” and, at many points, very capable and intelligent. I think it’s possible that if Knight could engage with feminism, he’d realize that the feminism he’s portrayed here is nothing more than a straw man. I think the views he’s expressed here are sexist, but they come from this conservative preaching-at-the-choir that’s happened for decades now. Organizations like CBMW and CWA have spent a long time telling Christians what feminism is and what feminists do, and it’s gotten to the point that many Christians accept these portrayals without analysis or research.
Feminists don’t hate men.
Feminists want a world where gender privilege no longer exists, where people are treated the same regardless of their sex or gender identity, where women and trans* persons are no longer oppressed by violent systems. That’s it, really.
You know those moments where you step back from something and you’re not even sure what you just read? I’m having one of those moments, because I just stumbled upon Louis Markos’ article, “Why Homeschooled Girls Are Feminism’s Worst Nightmare.” Speaking as a homeschooled girl and a feminist, let’s see what Louis has to say, shall we?
I have become famous (or infamous) at my university for my ability to spot immediately a homeschooled girl, at least the kind of homeschooled girl who majors in the Humanities (English, Writing, History, Philosophy, Christianity, Art, Music) or who joins an Honors college devoted to a classical Christian curriculum. What is my method for spotting such literary homeschooled girls? If when I speak to a freshman girl I feel that I am speaking (literally) to a character out of a Jane Austen novel, then I know that she was homeschooled. (To date, my success rate is about 85%).
I . . . feel . . . objectified? I am no one’s specimen.
I’m also slightly disturbed by his equation of “homeschool girl” with “Christian homeschool girl,” and not just that but “super conservative Christian homeschool girl.” I’ve met secular homeschool girls who were complete tomboys. Actually, strike that, I’ve met spades of super conservative Christian homeschool girls who were tomboys—and then were taught, over the years, to repress it. But for many of us—most of us, probably—it didn’t work. I never fit the perfect feminine ideal, and I knew it. I was always too loud, or too clumsy, or too forward. Actually, I’m feeling more erased than objectified at the moment. Or maybe both.
Speaking of years, why is Louis calling these college students “girls”? I get that to a professor undergraduates can look increasingly young, but this isn’t an article about children, it’s an article about women. When I hear the term “homeschool girl,” I don’t think of a grown woman, I think of a twelve year old in braids. Perhaps Louis thinks young adult female homeschool alumni—which is what he’s really talking about—need to be forever infantilized as “homeschool girls.” But why he would infantalize individuals he is claiming are a threat to feminism—unless he thinks the real threat to feminism is for women to never grow up—is beyond me.
On the surface, the link between the homeschooled girl and Elizabeth Bennet is part educational and part linguistic. Most homeschooled girls—henceforth, I will be focusing on the literary type—spend a great deal of their time reading great books, especially eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels. They therefore possess a much higher level of diction and understand the finer rules of etiquette. They value good conversation and are able to participate in it without succumbing to arrogance or false modesty.
First off, do you know why we spend so much time reading great books? It’s often because our math and science education is given comparatively less time and emphasis—and because we don’t have a lot of time with friends. Second, we learn these “finer rules of etiquette” because we are quite literally taught them (Charm Course anyone?), as though our parents have a grand plan for sending us back in time two centuries. These things are not coincidental.
But the link goes far deeper than that. The Jane Austen connection only rests partly on the homeschooler’s ability to speak with eloquence and wit and to conduct herself with grace and charm. She resembles Elizabeth Bennet because she shares with all of Austen’s heroines a firm and rooted sense of herself as a female member of the human race.
Sigh. It is true that as a “homeschool girl” I learned to tie my identity closely in with my femaleness—and the fact that I was destined first and foremost to be a wife and mother. But honestly? All of this eloquence and wit and grace and charm is way over the top. Louis may be describing some ideal he has, but he is not describing the homeschool girls I grew up with. Although, to be honest, he’s doing a pretty good job of describing someone I’ve met as an adult—and she was a Christian school graduate, not a “homeschool girl.” We most of us were simply normal—though we did wish we could be what Louis describes, for that was the ideal constantly held out to us.
What I have found in my homeschooled students is what one used to find frequently in Catholic girls who attended parochial school. Such girls do not consider their femininity a limitation to be overcome or a weakness to be hidden, but something special and unique that must be nurtured and developed. The properly Catholic-educated girl of the past, like the homeschooled girl of today, is less likely than her peers to engage in pre-marital sex: not because she thinks sex is dirty or men are pigs, but because she views her own sexuality as a gift to be treasured by her and by her future husband.
You know, I actually think Louis is making a mistake in assuming that all feminists everywhere flee their “femininity.”
I don’t think this is true.
While many feminists are queer or prefer an androgynous look and affect or just don’t like gender boxes, plenty enjoy being feminine. But then, I think the problem here may be one of definitions. Louis seems to think that the true essence of being female is exhibiting innocence, being shy, demure, and untainted by the world. He seems unaware that femaleness can be something very different entirely, that it can also be fierce, and independent, and worldly. The fact that we do not exhibit our femaleness in the way that Louis wants us to does not mean that we do not have a firm and rooted sense of ourselves as female members of the human race, as he suggests in the end of his previous paragraph.
And as for the bit about premarital sex—I am pretty sure Louis has never been inside of the head of a woman raised in the purity culture that pervades conservative Christian homeschooling, so I don’t know how he could possibly insist that these “homeschool girls” he knows are truly at such peace with their sexuality.
Louis then turns to “other admirable qualities” of homeschool girls, offering a bullet point list that includes such gems as these:
They know what they believe and have a firm knowledge of the Bible, but they (unlike my biblically-literate male students) don’t engage in forensic debates over minor theological points of controversy; they will, however, step in if the boys get too contentious or triumphalist.
See actually, I and the other homeschool girls I knew spent scads of time engaging in forensic debates over minor theological points. What could be so fascinating as trying to bring out the nuance of a Greek word! (That is actually not sarcasm.) But in a world where so much was off limits, this was a way we could exercise our minds within the safety of our subculture.
Like the aristocratic ladies of the Old South, they are gifted in the arts; almost all of them can sing, and most play instruments and draw.
I can’t sing, I hated to play my instrument, and I couldn’t draw a stick figure. But I wished I could do all of those and well, because I knew feminine accomplishments were important if I wanted to attract a godly suitor.
They proudly identify themselves as daughters, sisters, and granddaughters, and aspire to be identified as wives, mothers, and grandmothers—a self-identification that enhances, rather than diminishes, their sense of themselves.
They desire to be helpmeets in the full biblical sense and to have their husbands trust in them and call them blessed; they desire as well to be mothers who will raise up godly children.
And this would be because this is all they know, and all they have been allowed to know. I know, I’ve been there. When you’ve never been allowed to dream other dreams, it can be surprising how universal your and your friends dreams all seem. How coincidental!
Though not all of them plan to be stay-at-home moms, they all make it clear that if they have children, they will put them first.
You know, I don’t think I have ever met a mom who doesn’t make it clear that she puts her children first. And it’s not just children—it’s family. Most people value family, whether the family the were born to or the family they create. Including feminists. Shocker, I know!
The glorious and unashamed femininity that radiates from my homeschooled students is a beautiful thing that at times brings me close to tears. These young women will give all they have to nurture the children God puts in their care and to make their home a humane and creative place where faith, hope, and love can thrive and bear fruit. And they desire to do this, not because they do not think they can contribute to the business world, but because they consider motherhood a high and noble calling.
Oh good grief.
Try to imagine, for a moment, that you are told from early childhood that your role in life is to be a wife and mother, and that women who are so selfish as to have careers—or even want them—will live lives of pain and sorrow in rebellion against God’s plan for their lives.
Try to imagine, for a moment, that you are taught form early childhood that wives must submit to husbands, and daughters to fathers, that women are to always be under male headship and authority—and that the woman who steps out from under her male head has stepped into danger and will likely come to untimely end.
Try to imagine, for a moment, that you live in a world where finding a godly husband to support and care for you and your future children overshadows every other thought from age twelve on, and where you are told that you must attract a husband through your feminine skills—your cooking, your sewing, your sweet voice, your delicate beauty.
Try to imagine, for a moment, a world where any male characteristics or attributes you may exhibit are fretted over by your mother and the other mothers, where you are put in ballet and put through etiquette classes, where you are told to mind your posture, lower your voice, and not be so rowdy, or who will want to marry you?
Try to imagine, for a moment, a world where your virginity is your most precious asset, where losing it risk utter ruin, where even a stray dalliance that comes to no more than talk can sully your reputation, where bringing your virginity to your wedding day is the most important thing you can do for your husband.
That, gentle readers, is what it is like to grow up female in the super conservative Christian circles of the homeschool world.
And do you know what I just realized? That is also what it was like to grow up in the world of Louis’s beloved Jane Austen. And now I’m not sure what to think.
I read Jane Austen’s books as a girl because they were some of the most steamy love stories available to me that were also approved reading. I read the scenes where Darcy proposes over and over. I reveled in Elizabeth’s wit—a wit that pushed the boundaries, but was careful not to digress so much as to bring censure. I wanted to be a character in one of Austen’s books—but then, I really didn’t. That was the ideal were were taught to aspire to, but even then I could see that women got a raw deal. You see, I read Austen’s other books as well—Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey—and I knew that on some level these were tragedies in the dress of romantic comedy. Perhaps, in some sense, it was Jane Austen who set me on my first step toward feminism.
I’m not going to finish going through Louis’s article. You can read the rest yourself, if you like. I want to finish, I think, on a slightly more somber note. Louis is wrong in his monolithizing of homeschool girls—and he seems unaware that many of us “homeschool girls” join the dark side and proudly take up the title “feminist”—but he is right that this is the ideal so many homeschooled girls are raised to embrace. It is the ideal I wanted—and yet somehow internally resisted. It was an ideal I was unable to obtain, and for years, that tortured me. But no longer.
Being a feminist is not about rejecting family, or rejecting compassion for others.
In fact, I would argue that feminism is very often a fulfillment of both. For me, feminism is the revealing of my inner self, a self that is fierce and somehow calm—a self I tried to hide for so long as a girl. For me, feminism is about unhindered compassion, global interconnectedness, and created community. It is about righting wrongs and asking questions. It is about separating who I am as a woman from the toxic messages of passivity and submission. It is about releasing myself to the wind, and finding myself again. It is about being loud, and being deathly quiet. It is about building new families and forming new relationships—families built on undemanding love and relationships built on honest trust.
It is about a storm, and a calm.
And it is beautiful—more beautiful than that “homeschool girl” ideal I strove for so unsuccessfully for so many years.
My best memories from high school involve dressing up in suits, sorting through philosophy books and shopping for office supplies for the next speech tournament. It was a dignified, serious existence.
And then there’s this photo — which I will get to.
A lot of this post may seem like it focuses on my parents more than homeschooling per se. However, from what I have seen the homeschooling experience is made or broken by the parents doing the homeschooling. Homeschooling was a lifestyle for our family. Everything — every experience, every family friend, every activity we did and book we read was all centered around my parents work homeschooling us. And they did that work with passion and care.
A Little Bit of Backstory
My homeschooling experience had its ups and downs. I loved the ups: Choir tours (all by my-middle school-self!) with my co-op friends; Highschool trips to Europe to visit the historical sights I’d studied for years; Family weekends at the Scottish Festival; Learning beekeeping… The ups were largely thanks to an amazing peer group that I adored and a good relationship with my parents and siblings.
The downs were mostly usual issues; teen angst, and the occasional tousle with my parents. I never felt like I really fit in with the more conservative majority of our social/church circle. My parents were alright with that. They never really fit in with them either. My parents were reformed, but they rejected heavy handed theology that sidelined women or centralized church authority to squash dissent and learning. Because of this we found ourselves moving often from church to church, even though my parents desire was to be active, participating members of a stable church community.
My family wasn’t perfect. A couple members of my extended family vehemently, sometimes explosively, disagreed with my father’s relatively liberal interpretation of “biblical patriarchy”. My mother, an educator and a passionate advocate of higher education for girls, was sidelined more than once from homeschool conventions for that perspective. My relationship with my father was sometimes rocky, but he has been more than willing to invest time in working through those issues with me.
Today, I value our relationship more than ever.
When my parents’ marriage ended three years ago, I was confronted with a mountain of baggage that was compounded last summer when my mother suddenly passed away to cancer. Now I’m left picking up pieces while building a life for myself in California, and I’m struck by the rich silver lining to all my drama.
My family wasn’t perfect.
But for all its imperfections I think that they got a lot of things right.
My parents home schooled me K-12, not because they thought they had discovered the perfect formula for parenting, but because they loved me and my brother and sister, and wanted to give us the very best of everything. And in the process they gave me, a lot of tools I treasure now that I’m on my own.
And that brings me to explaining the picture at the beginning.
I was a speaker/debater for all of highschool and I loved it. My biggest challenges, and best friends growing up were found there. One of the debate camps I helped coach had a ninja debater theme. Needless to say it was awesome. I believe that this is a carefully staged photo illustrating the mesmerizing power of effective criteria. Through homeschooling my parents inadvertently passed along a plethora of moments like this filled with possibility, wonder and hope, which I have only just begun to mine.
They have helped me sort the other wounds that I have received in the normal course of life.
School in your PJ’s?
Similar to many of you reading this, my education was largely custom built. Both of my parents were college educated, lifetime scholars with a passion for knowledge. My mother worked to bring education to life for us on a daily basis early on so we’d catch the passion too. History lessons about Egypt tied into real-life biology lessons as we dissected and mummified a frog – which we then placed for display in the handmade sarcophagi we’d done in the art lesson that day.
What kid wouldn’t like that?
Or in highschool we volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their new space exhibit, getting cutting edge lectures from NASA/NOAA scientists and then running cool experiments on a daily basis for the museum patrons. School was a wonderful time for me and my parents did a good job of teaching me not only tons of information, but how to find it and how to love the search for knowledge.
My mother was the primary teacher, but as we got into highschool years my dad took over languages and History. A Russian linguist for many years, he taught me Russian for high school language studies. Now I have a degree in Russian and endless cocktail conversation about my semester abroad in Russia to accompany it.
We also were not limited to classes taught by my parents.
From very early on me and my siblings were involved in classes taught by outside tutors whether it was in a co-op setting early on, or a community college setting later in our schooling career. All three of us graduated highschool with at least a full year worth of credits from the local community college. Those classes were especially helpful for areas that my parent’s weren’t so prepared to teach like upper level math or chemistry.
Silver Screen Dreams
While many of my peers were limited in their consumption of media, my parents encouraged an active dialogue on just about any topic. I remember the awe in my friend’s eyes (and the horror in her mother’s) as 12-year-old me happily announced at lunch one day that I had seen The Matrix the other night.
Granted, my parents watched it with us and they had remote-edited a couple of scenes they didn’t think were totally appropriate.
But the fact remained that I was raised in a really rich creative environment. Movies were a part of my life from early on (I literally can’t remember I time I didn’t have all of the original Star Wars movies memorized). Natural next steps for me were interests in living out these movies somehow.
What started as imagination and play acting turned into a real passion for acting, writing and producing for both film and theater. My parents were delighted with my creative talents and encouraged my theatrical tendencies wherever they could, even though I know my mother in particular was a little worried about what might happen to me were I ever to pursue them professionally. As I grew however, she was willing to work through those concerns as I demonstrated that I was thoughtfully investing in my God given talents.
She knew she had to let her girl fly and she was willing to make that sacrifice even if it meant that she was a little uncomfortable.
That willingness on her part, to let me try things that scared her, was key in building a relationship that allowed me to actually grow up — not just get older under her watch. T
hanks to her encouragement early on I’ve had the tools and the courage to step out on my own now and go beyond just being a productive member of society. I’m chasing dreams out here in California and hopefully you’ll be reading my name in the credits of your favorite summer flick someday soon.
Learning to Speak My Mind
My parents also encouraged debate. But long before the competitive bug bit me, I remember my parents hosting “Soirees” at our house after church; potluck food, and a grab bag of topics to discuss ranging from literature to politics to science. I loved them and felt so grown up when I was included at 11 years old in the adult discussions. We’d invite the most interesting people we could find. My Dad often would actually seek out people with odd views just to have them over so we could have an interesting discussion. “All opinions are welcome here. If you have a problem with that, you can leave.” That was his rule.
Looking back, the group was mostly varying shades of conservative and the occasional communist friend of Daddy’s from the Tattered Cover Bookstore where he worked. (They liked us because we were all a little bit different. He liked them because they knew about Russia — his deepest passion in life.)
But while the opinions weren’t that diverse, those afternoons ingrained in me early on that everyone deserves a voice. Even if you think you don’t agree with them.
That attitude served me well as I emerged from the homeschooling community into a liberal college where I encountered people with actual differences in opinion. They weren’t scary to me. They were just different people – with opinions of their own. And since I knew how to listen, it didn’t take me long to figure out that “the world,” as many christian worldview apologists like to call it, is just made up of people like me; People who have passions, who have loved ones, who have been hurt, who have dreams.
And when the debate is over and the ideas are put to bed, you should still be able to sit down with them over a lovely meal and ask them how their kids are doing.
One of the Boys
I was kind of odd in our circle of girls, because I never got the romantic fascination with marriage and boys and Mr. Darcy. Frankly, if you ask me even now he’d have made a really boring husband.
But, that meant that after about 9 years old, a giant chunk of my good friends growing up were boys. Even in college they were often the most interesting (drama-free) people around. I’m sure that there were mothers who thought that was odd or inappropriate, but my parents were fine with it. They were great guys and I’m proud to say that I’m still good friends with many of them even after almost a decade in some cases and marriage in others.
I love them like brothers — totally inappropriate brothers who would let me rough house with them, who would play stupid games with me, who would match my banter word for word, who would take me swing dancing and who would talk theology, politics, video games and movies with me till dawn. I am deeply grateful for those guys in my life because I truly believe that without them I might not have been able to process the Daddy issues which are inevitable for any girl whose parents divorce.
In those friendships my parents gave me a piece of the external security net that has kept me grounded as I begin to live life as an independent adult.
Learning to Say, “No”
My parents’ marriage was far from perfect.
But, with all their issues, they were a rock of help for several families struggling with abuse. They worked so hard to provide a harbor in the storm. My dad partnered with other men to help mentor a few of the fathers who were struggling. My mother hosted bible studies and invited single moms over to learn how to make jams or study child development. They even included us kids in a limited fashion, asking us (never forcing us) to watch the young toddlers while my parents had coffee or dinner with one or both parents.
I was never really privy to details and for that I am grateful.
But in light of the little I did know, my mother made sure that my sister and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we never had to stand for abuse whether it was verbal, physical or emotional. It was an especially important lesson to her because of the systematic abuse we observed all around us which was justified under the label of “biblical patriarchal theology.” When seeking help from many churches for their own marriage issues the constant refrain aimed at my mother seemed to be, “If you would just submit better to your husband, your marriage would be fixed.”
With this useless advice ringing in her ears, within our conservative circle there was no one able to help until it was too late.
When my brother was a senior in high school, my sister was finishing her last year of college and I was doing my first year of internships post-college, my parents finally ended their marriage. They had sacrificed much to try to make a home that was healthy for me and my siblings. And when they finally ended their marriage I was witness to another step they were taking, at least in part, for us kids; they had the courage — even in the face of the social stigma in the church against divorces — to walk away from the marriage so that they themselves could heal. Many people would see this result as a total failure. But as I watched both of my parents wrestle through that time, I saw two people emerge with an even greater capacity for grace and forgiveness than ever before.
The divorce was not a failure.
It was the first step towards healing and restoration.
Hindsight, Always 20/20
The area that I look back on with the most pause is just how much I held my parents up as perfect — especially my mother. They were responsible for introducing me to the most fascinating ideas, the most wonderful people and for sheltering me from as much of the junk theology as they could. So their opinion of me, their blessing, their respect was something that I not only wanted, but it was something that I needed on a deep and very unhealthy level.
This was something I didn’t fully register until recent years.
As I hit the later years of high school and throughout my college years I found my opinions shifting as I experienced the world without parental filters. I knew the filters they had applied had been applied in love, but they were filters never the less. My experiences began to show me that perhaps my parents aren’t infallible after all. Especially spending as much time as I did with the theater department at my school my perspective on LGBT issues, sex, drugs, alcohol, democrats, republicans, “world view”…. all of it was shifting in light of my new experiences —
And the thing that tore me up was that I felt I had no tools for telling anyone from my family.
At school I was one person, and at home I became expert at active listening, passive questions, sidestepping issues, or sometimes just lying to avoid telling my parents I’d come to a different conclusion than they had.
The internal dissonance didn’t really come to a head until I met the love of my life. His name is Dylan. We met in Stage Combat learning to sword fight. It was awesome. And really quickly we became fast friends. He was the adventure I’d always hoped for in the moments when I dropped my usual “one-of-the-guys” act. He was kind and smart, better read than anyone I knew, a professional athlete, on a full ride scholarship for acting and passionate about making a positive impact through politics.
But he was also a Democrat, a former player with the ladies, and I had no idea where he really stood on the spectrum of religion but I knew it wasn’t nearly “christian” enough.
I was terrified to bring him home.
I didn’t even tell my family I was dating him for about a month. I knew in my heart that our relationship was healthy, that I was growing and that I trusted him with my life even with our differences. The fact that our friendship was based on a choice to be invested in each other rather than a checklist of intellectual compatibility was freeing. But my parents didn’t know how to handle him. They were shocked by my choice because for about 7 years I’d been hiding behind my silent nods.
They didn’t know me anymore because I had stopped letting them in for fear of losing them.
I had to learn to speak again.
And this is the juncture at which I find myself today. My mother passed away last summer, so I never got to finish letting her back in. But my father and I are watching our relationship slowly heal. I still have the need for approval of people I respect — but I think that’s more me than any homeschooling-bred need for perfection. And I’ve finally been able to be honest about my choices — choices that I make on a daily basis using so many of the tools that my homeschooling experience gave me. I would never give back that experience. The glue that held it all together and kept my parents from being dysfunctional task masters, or chronic busy bodies with a messiah complex was that they loved us kids and wanted the world for us. And they sought every day to live out a faith that convicted them to serve, love and empower.
That is perhaps the greatest example that they left me.
And while I now no longer really identify as a conservative as they did, I carry that passion of theirs with me. And I carry a faith that I have inherited but have also grown to own as mine. In many ways I’m still the crazy kid in the photograph: Obviously not totally put together, but self possessed enough to fake it till I make it — and wise enough to love the journey along the way.
For that, I have my parents and my time homeschooling to thank.