I Am Learning To Love Myself: Mara’s Story, Part One

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

Part One

I grew up the oldest of nine children just barely inside the perimeter of Atlanta, GA. My earliest memory is my father coming in and telling my mother that Clinton had just won the presidency. My mother had been a teacher by profession before deciding to homeschool us. She had grown up in the middle of downtown Atlanta and had been bullied in school. She told us stories of spending most of her lunch break hiding in a bathroom stall and didn’t want us to have the same experience.

I remember sitting next to her and her teaching me to read and doing math with me. We didn’t have much money then, and she would get what school books she could second hand. For this reason, she helped me complete a 5th grade math book in the first grade and I was so proud of being able to tell my friends I was in 5th grade in math. Because there were so many children, she would give us assignments – 30 math problems at the end of the chapter, write this a paper on this subject, finish the assignment at the end of the grammar book, bible, and memorize this verse. Then we would go read the chapter, teach ourselves, and come back to her if we couldn’t figure something out on our own. We were supposed to finish by 12:30 if we wanted dessert after dinner, but if we finished before then, we were free to play. After we ate lunch, we would do an art or craft and music (everyone in my family plays at least one instrument). Once we completed a school book, we would go to the next grade.

I used to get so confused when anyone asked me what grade I was in. (Well, 6th grade in math, 4th grade in grammar, and 5th grade in writing!)

If we finished future days school work, she would give us a coupon for a “free day” in which we could redeem at any time and meant we didn’t have to complete any school on that day. We did school through the summer so we could afford to take more days off during the school year and my mom assigned each of us a day of the week called our “helper day” in which we would cook the meal of the day (mine was bread for the week and pizza for the day), complete a chore, and do our laundry with our assigned child if applicable. The day following our helper days was our “computer day” in which we could do Oregon Trail, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, type our verse, and play Math Blasters instead of school.

My mother felt it was important for us to be well rounded and would call local public and private schools to see if we could participate in some of their activities. For this reason, we would either do some kind of sport all of us could do with either local groups she found or with schools. My mom took us to a few homeschool groups, I’m not sure why we never joined – either they charged a fee we couldn’t afford or my mom thought the women there were too cliquey and judgmental (based on the home-school program they used).

At this point in time, my father was in the marine reserves and would frequently travel for both work and the marines. I remember him and my mother arguing occasionally, but they waited until we were asleep and kept it to themselves. We ended up moving outside the perimeter, and went to several churches that my mother never felt were the right fit.

One day, through the big-family-connection (that sixth sense big, homeschooling families have that allows them to instantly know if someone else is a big, homeschooling family when they meet in public), my mom met a family that was part of a 1 Cor 14 home church and immediately fell in love with this type of church. They believed in “letting God decide how many children you have” a.k.a. no birth control. They also believed there women should have long hair “as a covering” while praying, they believed that women should submit to men and that men should love their wives. They believed in church discipline for anyone in “rebellion” to God’s will, and that women should “keep silent” in church. They also believed strongly that a woman should not teach a man anything and I remember being told time and time again, that I had to phrase anything I said to a man in such a way that he couldn’t learn anything from what I said.

Shortly after he finished the reserves and began working from home, I remember quite vividly at the age of 12 after about a year and half at this house church, being sat down in the living room with the current 6 brothers and sisters (2 weren’t yet born) and being told by my dad that mom was in rebellion and that the church was bad and wrong because he had had a disagreement with them over doctrine. My dad had been a sergeant in the marines and was every bit the stereotype.

I remember everyone in that room crying after a couple of hours of him repeating this again and again. I learned that day what the doctrine of Calvinism was. My great-aunt who had become my mother’s mother lived next door at that time and I remember going next door and seeing my mother crying. She told us she wasn’t in rebellion, that she was supposed to be under God’s authority when anything her husband told her conflicted with God. She said that the church is supposed to be run in the way 1 Cor 14 describes (no pastor, all the men talk, no women speaking) and because that little paragraph ends with “ If anyone among you think that he is a prophet, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (v. 37), that going anywhere with a pastor would be a sin. We were told to stand up for our mother and go tell dad the truth.

For the next 9 years, we lived in a constant state of arguing. My dad would begin by dropping some remarks to my mother who would be all-too-happy to pick anything up and start an argument, which would lead to doctrine and a shouting match about our rebellion. The sister next to me and I would draw our father’s attention to us while the other one physically pushed my mother out the door to go cool down. She would go next door and fall apart crying and asking us if what she should do and if she should divorce our father. She would make hundreds of plans that fell apart by the next day and would ask anyone she could get a hold of to “help.” Every time we met someone new, within 5 minutes she would be talking about how abused she was at home and asking them to help.

My parents loved to get children on their side, because if they had a child, they could use them to hurt the other spouse.

The girls went with my mother and the boys went with my father. For a reward, my dad would take my brothers out for ice cream and movies and give them gifts to stay on his side and then taunt us asking if we were sure we didn’t want to come with him. I remember my dad having my brothers tape some of his rants on me – another debate on Calvinism – so that he could rewind it and play it to me in case I accidentally admitted to something that meant I believed in predestination and consequently his authority.

The NSA must have taken tips from my father. Nothing in our house was private.

There were key logs on all the computers, and he could watch the screen from his computer at any time. We found hidden cameras in the living room and, god-forbid you write something on paper. My mother used to journal in French before she met my dad and I remember my dad translating all her journals to use against her. If my dad found anything you had written in secret he would use it against my mother. Any failure on my part was a weapon against her. If she found anything, she would use it to guilt us and to help keep us on her side and taking care of her. I developed a secret code — a short-hand cipher — so that I could have thoughts that everyone couldn’t spy on and I only I could read.

It drove my parents crazy, but I survived.

Part Two >

 

What “Christian Patriarchy” Is

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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 February 19, 2012.

In a nutshell, Christian Patriarchy is the belief that God has ordained a specific family order, and that this family order must be followed. The husband leads, the wife submits, and the children obey.

There are two important aspects about Christian Patriarchy. The first is the belief in the importance of male headship or authority, and the second is the belief that men and women have vastly different roles to play. A third issue involves the role of children.

Male Authority

Christian Patriarchy holds that women must always be under male authority (or headship). A woman is never to be independent of male authority. First, she is under her father’s authority, and then under her husband’s authority.

(A widow would be under her son’s authority, or, if she had no sons or her sons were young, she would return to her father’s authority. If is not possibles possible, some argue that widow should place herself under the authority of a church elder or pastor.)

Many evangelicals use the rhetoric of “male headship” but see it as merely spiritual or figurative. For Christian Patriarchy, though, being under male authority includes obedience. This obedience is absolute; a woman is only excused from obeying if her male authority orders her to do something illegal and immoral (some dispute this, and argue that she is still required to obey, but that God won’t hold her accountable for any sins she commits at the order of her male authority).

I Corinthians 11:3 – But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

Under Christian Patriarchy, the framework in this verse is extended to women in general. Every woman has a male authority, and that male authority looks to Christ as his authority. A woman is to obey her male authority, whether it is her father, husband, brother, or son, and he in turn is to obey Christ. By obeying her male authority, a woman is obeying God. This is seen as the natural and God-given order. 

Separate Roles

Christian Patriarchy holds that men are to provide and protect and women are to care for the home and the children. This is seen as the divine order for the family. The idea is that the two sexes are equal, but that they have different roles to play. Both roles are highly important, and neither sex can fulfill the role of the other. Men and women are simply different.

The man’s role is to hold a career and provide for his family, to protect his family, and to represent his family to the world in politics and in the church. The woman’s role is to bear children and raise them, to cook and keep house, and to support her husband, building him up as a man through her affirmation and obedience.

Hard core followers of Christian Patriarchy hold that women are never to work outside of the home in any capacity – even if their families desperately need the money. Yet just as with Quiverfull, there are plenty of families who are influenced by the ideas of Christian Patriarchy without being completely hard core. These families most often hold that married women, or married women with children, should not hold jobs outside of the home, and that it’s not women’s place to have “careers.”

Children 

Under Christian Patriarchy, all children are expected to offer their parents absolute obedience while they are minors. No disobedience is accepted, and children are taught that obeying their parents is obeying God, because God has placed them under their parents’ authority.

Daughters remain under their father’s authority until married to a man he approves of, generally through a parent-guided courtship. While under her father’s authority, it is the daughter’s duty to obey him and accept his will for her as God’s will. Many in the Christian Patriarchy movement reject college for girls, and the Stay At Home Daughter movement is growing.

Sons are under their father’s authority until they become men. The point at which this occurs isn’t so clear, but it definitely occurs sometime between when they turn eighteen and when they marry. Once he becomes a man, a son no longer need to be under male authority, and he becomes the male authority for his wife and children.

Some families in Christian Patriarchy have trouble completely letting go of their sons, however, and there is in some circles the idea that even an adult son should be obedient to, or at least highly respective of, his father’s desire. This is where you get Geoff Botkin’s 200 Year Plan (also known as Multigenerational Faithfulness).

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember about Christian Patriarchy is its emphasis on a hierarchical family order, which it regards as the natural order ordained by God. Men and women have different roles to play, the man as protector and provider and the woman as nurturer and homemaker. Women are always under male authority; daughters are to obey their fathers and wives are to obey their husbands. When everyone fulfills the role God has created for them, the family prospers.

The things I find most troubling about Christian Patriarchy are its emphasis on women offering absolute obedience to their male authorities – when you think about it, there is nothing really to differentiate this from slavery – and its emphasis on strict gender roles, which classes people by their sex rather than by their talents, interests, or abilities. Christian Patriarchy fails to recognize the huge diversity within each gender, and pushes people into prescribed slots based on their genitals rather than seeing people as individuals first.

The vast, vast majority of Christians do not hold to the teachings of Christian Patriarchy. In fact, many Christians actively fight against these ideas, arguing that they represent a fallen order of mankind and that Christ has ordained equality between the genders. However, it should be noted that even as some Christians fight these ideas others are unknowingly influenced by them, and that is what makes understanding the ideas behind Christian Patriarchy all the more important.

Teenagers Taking Over the World: Kierstyn King’s Thoughts

Teenagers Taking Over the World: Kierstyn King’s Thoughts

Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.

NCFCA and TeenPact were ideologically very similar to me — in some ways, almost extensions of each other. That could be because I was in NCFCA before TeenPact and a lot of the things I learned in NCFCA, TeenPact also tried to teach and hone.

I was 13 when I started NCFCA, and I stopped shortly after I was 15. I was in a debate club in SW FL (region 8!) and I never made it out of the preliminaries. I participated in persuasive, extemporaneous, oratorical, and occasionally impromptu speech, and Team Policy debate. My team was one of the few girl/girl teams.

Because I never got far, I didn’t experience as much craziness from mothers in other clubs. I remember ballots that had me in tears – one tournament I did an oratorical speech, which was Patrick Henry’s speech, and one of the judges wrote down (among other things) that my voice was too girly (because the ankle length skirt didn’t give it away?). This bothered me because it was like the judge wasn’t even listening, and wrote down something that I could not modify or fix, that was completely ridiculous and missing the point.

I had a lot of notes about my performance as opposed to content, though I don’t have any of my ballots to go back to. I remember being frustrated with most of them, because they were so unhelpful and had nothing to do with being a better debater, just, looking or preforming better. There were so many useless comments that I think actually a lot of us stopped reading them. Helpful commentary was so rare that when I found one, I was thrilled. Actually, I think I put it somewhere special at the time.

I wore clothes that were too big, too old, and I felt like a dark little blob in order to maintain professionalism and adhere to the dress code. I always wore skirts because it was easier that way, and because my clothes were larger than they needed to be, I flew under the radar for mothers enforcing dress codes.

There were rumors about why my partner and I didn’t make it to regionals one year: like maybe the judges voted for the boy/boy team because they were boys even though we had done better. I don’t know if it’s founded (though I wouldn’t be surprised) because my parents and the other parents didn’t get along (and my parents like to make things up).

I loved meeting people at NCFCA, and learning how to argue without feeling personally affronted, or personally offending other people. I learned how to think there, and my club itself, was fantastic. After my parents split the club, I was still able to maintain friendships and I realized that this is how life should work. I learned to value tact.

My parents made my experience in NCFCA horrible. They “learned” how to debate, held real life to NCFCA rules and decided that they disagreed with how the other parents were running the club and essentially split it in half. It was miserable as parents pitted against parents and all of us kids were stuck in the middle, powerless.

The club my parents started, was the club that holds the most similarities to TeenPact. Because, it was in the club my parents made, where gender roles were enforced. I “co-lead” the debate team/club with one of the boys. I had to essentially go along with whatever he wanted and let him make all the calls even though he was less motivated. My parents went to great lengths to insure “male headship”. Much like the girl talks at TeenPact.

They had extremely conservative by-laws. Girls who were more liberal, though never directly stated, were seen as trouble – which I think is why they made sure that only the girls they trusted were in leadership positions with/under boys. In hopes that the more liberal girls would follow the example and become less “loud”.

My mom taught (under male authority) in a very…task-master-like way (she made any speech and debate event/meeting miserable, even in the old club – it became so bad my first year that I told her dad needed to pick me up instead, because he wouldn’t berate me the entire way home). When she was starting the new club she essentially told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was failing, and she was going to fix it (because she obviously wasn’t being hard enough on me?).

After a summer full of her “training” (which felt more like bootcamp) she started teaching the club itself, in a very similar way: very critical, and perfectionistic. I don’t know how the other parents felt, I think that the best thing my parents did for that club was move 3 months after they founded it.

In November, we moved to Atlanta-ish, and I joined a club close to me. I met my first best friend there, and was involved for the rest of the season – I was almost 15. When the season ended in the spring (when I was 15) my parents took me aside and told me “you’re not getting better at this, you’re not going anywhere, it’s obvious that this isn’t meant for you.” I was devastated, because this cut off my only social outlet in a place that I hated living. Which is besides the point, but it hurt so much that I feel it’s worth mentioning.

Really, the biggest comparisons that can be made between NCFCA and TeenPact are that their goals and values are the same. Their goal is to create thinkers to think the way they want them to think. They lure parents like mine, to indoctrinate people to think the way they want them to think. They want to create articulate teenagers to take over the world, they want simultaneously, for women to learn that their place is under men, and never above. That women need to hide their shape, still, and yet remain professional – in their skirts, unless you’re just doing speech, then slacks are permitted. But if you’re taking on (potentially) men in debate? Skirts-only for you, missy! I think this is a subtle way of enforcing the women-are-less idea that pervades so much of this subculture.

The thing that neither of these organizations count on, is their former students actually doing what they were taught to do – think for themselves.