The Reluctant Rebel: Gemma’s Story, Part Three

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Gemma” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

< Part Two

Part Three: Sophomore Year

I had apparently made enough “progress” by the following fall semester, my sophomore year, that I was allowed to return to a wing with my friends and my old RA. However, it wasn’t long before I came to the definitive conclusion that Dean Wilson was an evil man by watching how he “counseled” one of my roommates who was dealing with a serious personal issue. He engaged in some of the most blatant, disgusting, misogynistic victim-blaming I have ever heard come out of a man’s mouth, and left my roommate even more grief-stricken and overwhelmed than she had been before.

Somehow it was easier to see the evil clearly when it was being inflicted on someone else.

That year, my RA and another popular student wrote a petition to the administration for the loosening of some of the more restrictive rules, especially regarding the interaction of male and female students. This petition was actually relatively successful, and in the aftermath it seemed like people could breathe again. I remember going to an off-campus basketball game shortly after this and seeing girls and guys in the bleachers, rubbing shoulders and leaning back against each other’s knees—just like normal college kids would do. It made me happy—my friends and I acted like this in high school. It seemed normal and familiar.

I also remember, in the time between the delivery of the petition and the administration’s positive response, my RA hiding—literally hiding—in her dorm room, ducking from the view of the window, or sitting in the hallway trying to breathe and slow her rapid heart beat. She had done the right thing, but she was terrified of Dean Wilson, and of the nameless atmosphere of fear we were all drowning in. She laughed at the absurdity of her “hiding,” but the feeling was real and we all knew it.

Academically, the school was living up to its reputation. In fact, I think one of the reasons the student life issues were so important to everyone is that we had so little chance to socialize as it was. Most of our time was spent studying, trying to conquer the unconquerable mountain of work we were assigned. My classes were extremely difficult, but very rewarding. Most of the professors seemed genuinely to enjoy their students. Some would routinely hold court in the dining hall between and after classes, answering questions, doling out advice, mostly just joking around or facilitating lighthearted debates.

But there was a growing split between the administration and the Office of Student Life, on the one hand, and the academic side of the school, on the other. We started to articulate it even then to outsiders who asked: the education here is great, but the culture is oppressive. Dean Wilson took it personally that the professors—and let’s face it, many of the students—were smarter than he was. He and his favored students started ruminating on the pride of intellectualism, the vanity of worldly philosophy, and the greater goodness of purity of heart and devotion to Scripture. It was spoken of as an either/or dilemma—smart, prideful, sinful people vs. lowly, humble, pure people.

It was around this time that several friends and I had started a campus group called the Alexis de Tocqueville Society. We semi-regularly published a journal of academic writing, book, music, and movie reviews, and opinion pieces. We also hosted guest lecturers on a variety of topics, from international relations to medieval literature to film criticism. Our stated mission was to further intellectual dialogue on campus. It was definitely an intellectually-focused club, but our mission was to serve the campus as a whole, not to show off. But ATS attracted the “wrong” kind of students, and it wasn’t long before “ATS” became a byword for “troublemakers.” We embodied that “intellectual elitism” Dean Wilson hated so much, and the administration began to view us with suspicion.

I now recognize this anti-intellectualism and many other of Dean Wilson’s teachings in what has been written recently about Bill Gothard and other authoritarian homeschool leaders.

For instance, Dean Wilson repeatedly admonished us not to take up another person’s offense—a teaching so bizarre and idiosyncratic I recognized it immediately when it appeared recently on the Recovering Grace website. Another example is this page from the ATI Basic Seminar textbook. Again, I discovered this only recently, but was shocked to see how neatly it summed up so much of what the students branded as “rebels” endured from our fellow students and from Student Life and the administration:

Basic Seminar Page

I know these teachings seem commonplace to those who grew up in systems like these. You have to imagine how bewildering and alienating these judgmental attitudes seemed to those of us who literally had no context to understand how we were being perceived, or why. I didn’t go into college wanting to be a rebel. I was a good, homeschooled, Christian girl. I memorized Scripture by the chapter, volunteered at AWANA, and played praise songs on the piano. I’d never even had a boyfriend before college. But at PHC, just by living my (good) life and being myself, I was branded a “rebel.” It was like there was this invisible line I was constantly crossing, which everyone could see except me. The only people who made sense to me were the other “rebels.” After a while, it just got psychologically demoralizing. I don’t even know what you people want from me, so fine, I’m a “rebel.”

Dean Wilson was a strong adherent of Doug Wilson and the Pearls. In our weekly small-group wing chapels, we were given writings from Wilson and the Pearls to study and discuss.

Here, for example, is the actual handout we studied in one wing chapel, probably during the 2003-2004 school year. The name and book title are mysteriously missing, but anyone familiar with the material can recognize it as a page straight out of Debi Pearl’s Created To Be His Help Meet.


From what I’ve heard, the men were indoctrinated with these materials even more than the women. It wasn’t like everyone on campus necessarily accepted these things at face value—in my wing of relatively fashion-forward women, I remember us all kind of giggling at one piece of Doug Wilson’s that condemned high heels. But even if everyone didn’t accept them, the presence of these writings and teachings added to the overall atmosphere. Now, it entered the minds of everyone that girls who wore high heels were sluttier than girls who didn’t. Now, wearing heels meant something it hadn’t meant before.

Mike Farris has recently distanced himself from people like Gothard, Phillips, Wilson, and other extremists and has claimed that he rejects their teachings. I think it is true that he, personally, does not hold to many of their more extreme beliefs.

But he allowed these extreme views to circulate on his campus with a stamp of official approval.

He allowed his hand-picked Dean of Student Life and this dean’s favorite, very conservative students to dominate the campus culture with their extremism. He should have known this was going on. If he knew, he never said anything.

And Mike Farris had no qualms about saying something when he thought something needed to be said! Once, a student wrote an article for the student newspaper with the Slate-esque headline of “Why Bono Is A Better Christian Than You.” This piece prompted Farris to respond with an entire chapel sermon on why cursing is bad and demonstrates that one is not a true Christian. Afterward, he spoke jovially with the author of the article, slapping him on the back in a “no harm, no foul” kind of way. But not surprisingly, this response had a chilling effect on the further publication of controversial pieces in campus newspapers.

Another time, Farris got wind that some students had been dabbling in libertarianism. This prompted another chapel sermon, a fiery one in which he denounced libertarians as no better than child molesters.

So it’s not like he ever hesitated to address campus trends that bothered him, publicly and personally.

My best guess is that Mike Farris and Paul Wilson personally benefitted from a campus culture of total submission to authority. Many ultra-conservative students came from backgrounds that said parents, pastors, and government must be obeyed without question and respected without complaint. Questions and complaints were no better than defiance, and defiance of authority was an unforgivable sin. It was very easy for these students to add “college administrators” to that list of unquestionable authorities.

Knowing what I know now, I can see where that mindset comes from. At the time, I thought I was surrounded by a bizarre species of human who spoke some kind of foreign code. At least, I never could seem to get through to them with normal English words, or logic, or questions like Where in the Bible does it say it is evil to question a college administrator? And many of them—especially the young men—didn’t even seem capable of looking me in the face when I talked, or acknowledging anything I had to say. I think Farris tacitly (and Wilson explicitly) approved of this state of affairs, because it gave them power and control over the student body.

That, or he just didn’t know that his students were being forced to study patriarchalist writers and imbibe cultic teachings under the guise of not only administrative, but religious authority—but he really, really should have known.

One final example of the split between the academic and student-life cultures on campus came towards the end of my sophomore year. A reporter from the New York Times, David Kirkpatrick, came to visit the campus for a story he was writing. Reporters were on campus all the time. PHC was huge media bait during its first few years in existence, and the administration was only too happy to show us off to the world. At first, it was kind of fun to interact with reporters, but after a while, you just feel like a specimen being examined. I guess it never occurred to the administrators that it’s actually really hard to pay attention in class when there’s a massive camera in your face. The students joked about campus being a “fishbowl,” a double reference to the utter lack of privacy within and the constant prying eyes from without.

At any rate, when David Kirkpatrick arrived, he came to visit my class. I was taking a course called “Modernity, Post-modernity, and Society,” a political theory elective intentionally modeled on a graduate-level, seminar-style course. We were reading and discussing Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition on the day Mr. Kirkpatrick sat in on our class. At the end of the class, he complimented the students and the professor on the level of engagement with text we had displayed. He himself had read The Human Condition—in graduate school—and he noted that we had handled the text as well as any of his graduate classmates had.

I was, of course, pleased with the compliment—but even more pleased that this reporter from the New York Times had seen the good side of PHC, the academic side, before encountering whatever weirdness he was sure to find if he hung around long enough.

And it didn’t take long at all. By the time I got to lunch, he was in the dining hall, surrounded by a table full of girls in long prairie skirts. The article led with a photo of students walking on campus, noting that students “may show affection publicly only by holding hands while walking”—one of the more arcane rules from the rulebook.

There was no mention of Arendt or graduate-style seminar courses.

Part Four >

“To the Ladies of Patrick Henry College”: A 2006 Email from 2 Male PHC Students

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The following was submitted by a PHC graduate who wishes to remain anonymous.

Trigger warning: slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and abuse apologisms.

If you need some extra content for your series, you might be interested in publishing this lovely piece of misogynistic bullcrap.

This email was sent to all PHC students by two male students on March 15, 2006. As you can see from the first paragraphs, this was not the first email of its kind. In fact, the all-student email function was routinely used for purposes of “exhorting” fellow students over various moral matters, although not usually to quite this length and degree.


[Redacted 1] and [Redacted 2], to the Ladies of Patrick Henry College:

The purpose of this e-mail is to encourage and exhort you. This is something we as brothers in Christ should always be doing. We do not mean to judge or to condemn—that is not our place—but for some of you, this e-mail will also attempt to offer correction. That too is a good and appropriate thing, but it is easy for us to be judgmental or prideful, seeking to correct with the wrong spirit or from the wrong motives. We are very aware of the dangers, and of how far we ourselves fall short of the mark. Nevertheless, prayerfully, in brokenness and humility, we offer this e-mail for your edification in Christ Jesus.

The matter in question is Modesty.

Two years ago, [Redacted 2] sent out a long e-mail entitled “Love, Lust, License, and Liberty (Ball).” It addressed a lot of the questions we will speak of here. However, it was rambly, and although we don’t claim by any means to completely understand the subject now, we’re quite certain we understood it a good bit less then.

Further, there are three factors making this a particularly apropos time for such a discussion. First (as with [Redacted 2]’s epistle), there is a Liberty Ball coming, and the ladies are purchasing lovely dresses. Second, the weather is getting warmer, which tends to make modesty a much more immediate concern. Third—based partly on the first two reasons—several persons of both sexes have encouraged us to address the subject.

Thus, another e-mail.

The Nature of Modesty

Far too frequently, we talk about and make emphatic statements about “modesty” without defining what we’re talking about. So, first of all, a definition. Although he has since taken it in other directions, this definition was originally formulated by Dr. Hake.

Gentleness as a masculine virtue may be defined as “Perfect Strength under Perfect Control.” In a complementary way, Modesty as a feminine virtue is defined here as “Perfect Beauty under Perfect Control.”

Perfect Beauty

Some definitions of modesty seem to be opposed to beauty categorically, suggesting that prettiness and modesty are somehow at opposite poles, and you must choose one, or else try to balance precariously somewhere between the two. This is a wicked and damnable lie. In truth, a right understanding of modesty is rooted first and foremost in the fact that you as women are—and are meant to be—perfectly beautiful. Any really useful discussion of modesty should begin with a radical affirmation of that fact. God created you to be beautiful; and He has done a pretty stupendous job. In spite of early mornings and caffeine and all the things which the self-centering mirror and lying culture claim make you unlovely, you are deeply and truly beautiful in God’s sight—and in ours, too, when we see clearly.

Further, it is good and right that this deep, internal beauty should be adorned, and that it should be enjoyed by others (more on that later). God Himself is beautiful, and He reveals His beauty in His Creation. It was revealed in a particularly wondrous way in the last act of Creation, the first woman, Eve—and all other women share in her gift, the effects of the Fall notwithstanding. We should rejoice in this fact, and give Him thanks. But there are also many false ideas about the nature of beauty, and many women (including Christian women) believe them.

An elderly woman from [Redacted 1]’s church back home died two weeks ago. She had experienced the usual results of aging: graying hair, crooked teeth, wrinkled skin, thinness, bentness, and often-debilitating illness. And she was very beautiful.

It is eminently clichéd to say that beauty comes from within. It also happens to be true. This lady deeply loved God. She was a faithful believer, a servant of God, a saint if ever there was one. She prayed earnestly for others. She gave of herself wherever she could. She loved people from her heart; and it shone from her face.

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves.” (I Peter 3:3-5)

The apostle moves on to offer the example of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Scripture informs us that she was an extremely physically attractive woman (at ninety, no less). That is, Biblically, a good and commendable thing. (If you think God dislikes physical beauty and don’t want to be disabused of your belief, stay away from Song of Solomon). But it was not her physical beauty that was the central thing; it was her inner holiness. Everything about her, body and soul, was radiant with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We have both known women who, while by no means unpleasant-looking, just didn’t strike us as particularly attractive. However, as we came to know them, and noticed how they lived their lives in service to God, we realized the depth of their devotion to Him… and found ourselves increasingly appreciating their physical beauty as well. Honest truth, ladies—a woman who really loves and serves God with all her heart and soul and mind and strength becomes more physically attractive as well; not because her physical beauty changes, but because the deeper beauty becomes apparent through it and infuses it with life. On the other hand, we have known women who were extremely beautiful in a merely physical sense—some of them professing Christians—and yet because we did not perceive the same depth of Christian character, the physical beauty, real though it was, simply failed to inspire any deeper attraction.

True beauty begins on the inside, with the “gentle and quiet spirit,” with devotion to God and a constant focus on love and service. But that is only the proper beginning. Beauty also has a proper end.

The Purpose of Beauty

Beauty attracts. This is fundamental to what beauty is, and an essential part of its purpose, its end, its telos. Further, it is good that beauty should attract. God made it that way.

But if attraction is central to the purpose of beauty, what is the proper end or purpose of attraction? We would suggest that the proper end of attraction is enjoyment.

If we see a beautiful sunset, or mountain, or small child, we want to look at and admire it. If we smell a beautiful flower, we want to breathe deeply of its fragrance. If we taste—allowing the phrase—a “beautiful taste,” we want to partake of that delicious food or drink. This is the natural human response to beauty. We want to participate, to delight in, to enjoy.

So it is with the beauty of women. And here is where matters become difficult. There are some aspects of beauty which not everyone may rightly enjoy. A woman has a lovely face—well and good. We all may look upon and appreciate the beauty of her face. She has lovely long hair. “It is a glory to her,” and to everyone who beholds it. She has graceful and pleasing curves, she is a fragrant garden of delights—now we run up against complications. “The king is captivated by your tresses” is one thing (Song of Solomon 7:5). The following few verses are another. (No, we’re not quoting them. Read ’em yourself.) And yet the two are related, and we cannot deny the reality of that relationship. A man who spends significant amounts of time admiring a woman’s captivating tresses, her eyes like doves, her neck like ivory, etc., is likely to make the very natural progression to Solomon’s next subject.

One man, and one only, is allowed to follow this progression to its consummation. This does not mean, however, that others cannot enjoy the woman in some sense. Many people benefit from a woman’s spiritual gift of hospitality, or kindness, or encouragement. A few can rightly enjoy the emotional comforts of her presence and care: an elderly father, a younger brother, a close friend. But the full physical enjoyment of a woman’s beauty is limited strictly to her husband and no other.

There are different kinds of love—admiration, desire to serve, desire to possess, etc.—and they are appropriate for different things or persons, at different times and in different ways. The moon may be admired; no one but a lunatic would try to possess it. A cat may be admired, served, and possessed. All women may be legitimately admired (if they deserve it) and served (whether they deserve it or not), but there is only one of which any man may truly say “this is mine.”

The difficulty arises because all the kinds of love, and all the kinds of beauty and attraction, are intimately intermingled. Men under the influence of attraction are rather poor at keeping simple admiration separate from a desire to possess (and we’re always rather poor at cultivating a desire to serve). And, it must be said, women are frequently just as bad at keeping all these things separate, and at encouraging right kinds of attraction while discouraging wrong kinds. Again, the problem is not the desires, but the sinful human propensity to try to satisfy them at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or to an excessive degree. Women desire—rightly!—to attract; they have been given beauty for this very purpose. But they often do it for reasons or via methods that are frankly wicked.

Desire Gone Wrong

We rejoice to say that the women at Patrick Henry are, overall, some of the most conscientiously-dressed ladies it has ever been our joy to meet. And we have seen a number of our sisters here grow in this area over the past few years. However, we must in honesty say that there are many who could do better. We do not believe that there is a general wicked desire to “cause a brother to stumble”—quite the contrary. You all show great love and care for us. But many Christian women, probably a large majority, simply do not understand the depth and extent of the foul perversity of the male mind. (If you’re a man and some part of this doesn’t apply to you personally, just assume we’re only talking about ourselves at that point.)

We have a duty as brothers in Christ to guard the purity and holiness of our sisters, which means restraining how bluntly we speak. On the other hand, part of that duty is to help you understand the problem. To avoid causing offense for our own sake, all the most explicit bits are taken directly from Scripture. Anyone who finds God’s authoritative written revelation inappropriate is advised to skip this section.

You’ve heard this before, but we’ll say it again: men are visually wired. A man notices a pretty female walking by. His eyes lock on, his brain clicks in (we mostly tend toward one-track minds). He is attracted to her. Attraction, when left undirected, leads naturally to desire.

If she’s his wife, all is well. In itself this visual attraction is a good thing. A man is supposed to look upon his wife and be drawn to her beauty. Please, please, ladies, don’t confuse the abuse of the thing with its good and proper and holy purpose in God’s plan. Husbands are not merely allowed but commanded to take pleasure and fulfillment in their wives’ physical beauty: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19). This intoxication is a blessed fact and should be a cause for great rejoicing. As C. S. Lewis says in a very similar context, “God likes it. He made it.”

But there is a great deal of abuse. If the attractive female wandering by is not the man’s wife (and mathematically, the odds tend that way), then there’s a nifty Biblical phrase for desiring her: “lusting after her in your heart.” We’ll leave out the details; you don’t want to know. Suffice it to say that he wants to be intoxicated and filled with delight too. As Solomon says in that passage we declined to quote from earlier: “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” It’s all right for Solomon, he’s talking about his wife, but many of us are not married. Of course most men—here at least—are decent enough not to actually do anything much; but that’s beside the point. The man has spoken these words to himself. He has made the act of volition.

He has once again committed adultery in his heart, and the woman is once again a victim of visual rape.

No, not always. There are plenty of occasions where a man is not tempted to lust. There are some men who are tempted rather less than others. But then, by the same logic, there are some who are tempted more than others.

And yes, it’s more complicated than that. The man’s physical desires are almost certainly confused with all sorts of other desires, emotional and intellectual and spiritual. Some of them are commendable desires, like the longing to care for a woman, to make her feel loved and appreciated, to encourage her—or simply to have a stimulating intellectual conversation. It can be very difficult to sort all this out and be certain what results from righteousness and what from sin. But sometimes a lot of it is sin.

And no, the woman is not guilty of the man’s sin, if he does give in. If a man sins, it is his fault. He is utterly without excuse. Adam tried his line “the woman made me do it!” and God was not convinced. This is important. I am not trying to blame anyone else for what I do; I nailed Christ to the cross, and have no room to point fingers. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

And yes, there is grace. There is much grace. God gives us the strength to manfully oppose temptation, and commands us to do it. We must die to the flesh, and live according to the Spirit. We have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

But temptation still happens. There is a war going on here. Some of your brothers are achieving mighty victories, by the power of God. Some—more than you would think—are losing blood and beginning to grow faint, and are in grave danger of being overcome. And many of us are warring and winning more often than not, but expending so much spiritual energy in doing so that we are left tired and worn down, weakened for the next confrontation. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness; but sometimes we forget.

Now, again (before some men get offended at me), there are Godly men who face less temptation, and there are those who face a great deal but have obtained great victory. However, there are many—and among them some of the most dedicated and true-hearted believers we know—who feel many days as if they’re struggling for their very soul (as, in a sense, they are). For the sake of these men, please at least consider the things we’ve said.

We are not trying to blame you for our sin. Rather, as a warrior with many wounds, on behalf of ourselves and these our brothers, we are asking for allies. This is a cry for reinforcements, lest the battle go to the enemy. We are sorely pressed on every side. This is no exaggeration: we need all the help we can get. We don’t need to be struck down from behind by friendly fire.

Remember, Adam’s sin was Adam’s, but that doesn’t mean God held Eve guiltless in the affair.

Eve tempted her husband, and God cursed her for it.

If we give in to temptation, we are judged; but if you deliberately tempt us, you are judged, whether we give in or not—even whether we notice or not. The sin is not in successfully tempting a brother, but in trying to do so. The immodest swimsuit is still immodest and sinful even if there happen to be no guys on the beach that day—if you decided to wear it because you hoped there would be. Deliberately choosing the barely-too-tight top is still immodest and sinful, even if the RA catches you before you make it out the door.

Perfect Control

We have been told how difficult it is to find apparel that is both beautiful and modest. We believe it. Many of you do an amazing job—and for those who do understand what’s at stake, or who without understanding have simply been trained and have very right instincts on these matters, blessings upon you to the fourth and fifth generation. You are all wonderful, and we pray God will bring you every good thing, all your lives long.

For those who are sincere, but perhaps were not trained quite so well or do not altogether understand quite yet—we pray that He will continue to work in you, so that you can better carry out the good desires of your heart. We deeply appreciate you too. Do not become complacent; continue to grow in purity and holiness. There are women who not only avoid causing temptation, but actually provide positive assistance, making it easy for men not to lust after them—and yet modestly display the beauty God has given them. More than noncombatants, they are valuable allies. Seek out such ladies and ask them for advice in all humility.

But let us also offer a warning. Although women almost never completely realize the extent to which (or the ways in which) they can affect men, most women are aware on some level that certain things attract men. And women like to feel attractive. This is natural; we have already said that you are created to be beautiful. But we have also said that the purpose of attraction is enjoyment.

Please be careful of this desire to attract. It is a good thing; but it is easy to misuse. Many females drive us to ask some pretty unpleasant questions.

If a woman does not want to be the subject of wicked imagining, why does she provide so much scope for the imagination? If she does not intend to be suggestive, why does she tantalize with hints, peeks, glimpses, suggestions?

The answer is that wrongful desire also has a feminine side. The third-century apologist Tertullian links the “lust of the eyes” to corresponding sins in both men and women: “Such [male] eyes will wish that a virgin be seen as [those of] the virgin who shall wish to be seen. The same kinds of eyes reciprocally crave after each other. Seeing and being seen belong to the self-same lust.” But only the husband is meant to see fully, and to enjoy completely. “Should your springs overflow in the streets, streams of water in the public squares?”

To attract where there can be no completion, to encourage desire which must not be fulfilled in enjoyment—let us put it bluntly. This is sin. C. S. Lewis quotes an unnamed source in That Hideous Strength (he may have made it up): “To desire the desiring of her own beauty is the vanity of Lilith, but to desire the enjoying of her own beauty is the obedience of Eve.” The poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti also speaks of Lilith, fascinated entirely with her own beauty, “subtly of herself contemplative,” who snares a man and leaves “round his heart one strangling golden hair.”

All flowers attract insects with the promise of nectar. All are beautiful, adorned with bright colors or beautiful perfumes or landing patterns painted in the ultraviolet. Most of these flowers give up their nectar and satisfy the desire of the bee or the moth, who in return helps to pollinate the flower. But there are also certain flowers in the world which promise but do not fulfill: they are called “carnivorous.” They want to be desired, but not enjoyed—what they really want is to greedily fulfill their own desires, at the cost of a continuous stream of lives.

This lust for desire, which withholds physical fulfillment, is exactly the inverse of the rampant male sin of promising emotional intimacy (which girls want with the same intensity that men want physical intimacy), without the fulfillment of real commitment.

The lustful woman craves attention, and by her attitudes and actions she promises physical rewards that she cannot legitimately deliver.

The lustful man implies a promise of emotional rewards that he is either unable or unwilling to deliver, in return for the physical rewards that the lustful woman has rashly promised. It’s a ghastly mockery of a waltz; it’s two serpents circling forever, endlessly trying to devour the other’s tail; it is Tantalus squared.

This grim fact is why immodesty can, of course, also be practiced by males, though it usually happens in forms that are less visual and more verbal/emotional. (Still, guys, give up the public displays of the muscle shirts—they really aren’t a blessing to your sisters). But if this is how and why immodesty occurs, it follows that modesty is not primarily or fundamentally a physical thing. As with beauty itself, the soul of modesty does not lie in the outward appearance, but in the heart. It is the intent, the desire, that drives everything. It impacts what is worn, of course; but far more significantly, it impacts the reason it is worn, and the way it is worn (and when, and in what company). This is why we have deliberately avoided making comments on particulars of dress—that misses the point. Some articles of clothing are just irredeemably scandalous (in the Greek sense of “causing to stumble”), but many others may be immodest on one woman and perfectly modest on another, and not simply because of physical differences. (Just be careful of the “Well, it could be immodest, but I’m not wearing it like that” argument.) Any woman can be immodest “by accident,” but she is far less likely to do so if she has sisterly love in mind as a deliberate daily goal. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Modesty flows from a heart devoted to the service of God.

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to Godliness.” (I Timothy 2:9-10)

Beauty Perfected

This brings us full circle. This is why Godliness is so much more important than the physical radiance that will eventually grow from it. It is this beauty, this inner beauty of a “gentle and quiet spirit,” which not only does but should attract everyone, because it may be rightly delighted in by everyone.

We have put a great deal of emphasis on the extremity of the situation, the severity of the battle, the desperate need for help, and thus the importance of modesty. It really is this important. But this is stating the issue in a negative way. Immodesty is a sin of omission. The contrary is inexpressibly more important, for it is not mere restraint, but a positive and difficult action, a firm belief, a way of life:

You are created to be gloriously, radiantly, superabundantly beautiful.

This beauty is a beauty of the soul, of the heart, and to some degree of the mind. It does not allow slovenly appearance, but neither does it allow an overemphasis on or too-great concern for the physical. It is revealed in the face, but it is not a beauty of the face. It is, rather, a filling of the inside of the cup with clean and living water—and then the outside is clean as well. It is the scrap of carbon thread being turned into a flaming incandescence by the electrifying power of the Spirit of Holy God. It is the flowering of the crocus bulb that has lain unnoticed in the ground all winter, persevering through cold and comfortless nights, drinking deep of the graceful rain, and waiting for the Father—in His time—to clothe it more beautifully than Solomon in splendor. It is the transformation of the heart, the “renewing of your mind,” which God is bringing about to make you like His Son—to infuse you and overwhelm you with His own glory and beauty, so that He may be the more infinitely glorified in you, and in all who behold your countenance and see His face reflected there.

Ladies, you are beautiful. God has declared you so, and “not one word has failed of all His good promise.” In the same way in which He made you holy, and is continuing to sanctify you, so also He has beautified you, and is continuing to make you beautiful; and “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Believe it. Live it. Grow in beauty. Bring glory to God.

Under the Mercy,

[Redacted 1] and [Redacted 2]

In which my genitals mean I don’t learn math or science

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on February 9, 2014.

Alright, you have my attention. Anyone who can wield a soldering iron like that is worth some attention. […]

– youtube commenter (comment since removed by author – creepy part, also removed…by me)

I was denied physics because I was born female. I had been taught all my life leading up to that point that girls don’t use power tools, that girls don’t build, that girls can’t understand higher math, that girls can’t hammer straight, that girls can’t and don’t understand science or engineering, and that all of those things are for boys.

So when we moved and joined science olympiad and I was partnered with people who needed partners, and one of them was a dude and our project was to make an egg-car thing and get the egg to go so far and hit a tiny wall without breaking, I was unable to assert myself. I was told to sit on the sidelines because this was boy stuff, all the boys – my dad, brother, grandpa, and my partner, took over the project while I was a mere bystander.

Anytime I did try to help, I was laughed at and ridiculed because I couldn’t hammer a nail straight – because I was never allowed to build – my entire life, I was never allowed to build – I could hammer a nail into a wall to hang something, but not into two pieces of wood, that was boy stuff. They took my inability as an excuse to continue to take over the project and leave me out of it.

My job, in my science project was to put the rubber bands on the plexiglass wheels that the boys decided were best, and load the weights into the pulley that held the car-holder door shut and released the car/opened the door when it dropped (because weight). The only enjoyment I had was to call them tiny footballs because they were fishing weights and looked like footballs and everyone ridiculed me for that. I was so devastated about the entire project that I was just like, THIS IS THE ONE JOY I HAVE OKAY, LET ME CALL THEM THAT.

It was horrible. The entire time no one bothered to give me anything but cursory detail about what they were doing or how it worked. No one bothered to teach me physics, because I was a girl and wouldn’t need to know anyway, I was just there so my partner could enter. No one taught me the math or told me about the calculations or why they decided on plexiglass wheels and a twist system besides “this would work best because you (not me, my partner) can calculate how many turns you need for the distance”.

My entire life I have been afraid of power tools and under the impression that I would never be able to use them effectively because of my genitalia (like a vagina is power tool kryptonite). I was convinced that somehow something world ending would happen were I to try – or maybe not world ending, but it at least would break and not work. I was never allowed to touch anything, only told to stay away, barely allowed to watch, never taught.

I am angry that because I was born in this body I was not allowed to learn how to build, to learn about physics, but instead I was only told I was bad at it and ridiculed every time I made the slightest attempt to understand.

I would never need to know these things to be a wife and mother, so why bother wasting the energy, right?

Sexism and gender roles ruined my math and science education – they denied me either, and instead lied to me, tying my mental ability to my genitalia, and my life’s purpose to bodily functions.

This is why building ikea furniture, and houses in minecraft, and learning how to solder, and making little electronics work is so huge to me.

This is me standing up against my parents – who were my teachers – and learning SCIENCE because I CAN, because it is WORTH LEARNING, because I am SMART and I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED SCIENCE and was never allowed to try, never given the math skills or the time of day to learn it because I was told my entire life it was pointless for ME to learn it. I was relegated to the sidelines when I was supposed to be being educated, but I’m not anymore.

I am building things and I am soldering and I am damn good at it. 

I hate it when I’m made out to be magical because I both have boobs and enough dexterity to solder. It’s not magic, I am not a unicorn, and thinking that it’s somehow remarkable for a person with female genitalia to hold a soldering iron is sexist. It’s the same kind of sexism that kept me from learning math and science in high school, and it is not okay.

Go ahead and be impressed that I can do things, but be impressed because I’m fighting against my past, because I’m carving my way out of the cage my parents tried to place me in, not because I have boobs and dexterity.

Fuck the Patriarchy.

Jonathan Lindvall on the Women’s Suffrage Movement

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Jonathan Lindvall is the president of Bold Christian Living. He has spoken at many homeschooling conferences and organized “Bold Christian Youth Seminars” as well as “Bold Parenting Seminars.” He also presented “New Testament House Church Seminars” in the U.S. and beyond.

I remember Lindvall from the homeschool teen track at a CHEA homeschool conference in California. Lindvall and Reb Bradley taught the teens about “godly” relationships — Bradley emphasizing courtship, Lindvall emphasizing betrothal. I distinctly remember Bradley making fun of Lindvall for “being extreme.” Which Lindvall would actually consider a badge of honor. According to Vyckie Garrison, who years ago also attended one of his “Bold Christian Living” conferences, Lindvall teaches that Jesus finds balanced people “repulsive.” “Don’t shy away from extremism,” Lindvall admonished.

Bill Gothard of IBLP/ATI directly inspired Jonathan Lindvall’s relationship views. Lindvall is an unabashed proponent of “sheltering” your children to the point of being called an “isolationist” by fellow Christians. And most disturbingly, Lindvall holds up an example of a 26-year-old man pursuing a 13-year-old girl as “a true romantic betrothal example.” (Libby Anne has a good summary of Lindvall and child marriage.)

I recently came across a quotation from Lindvall on No Longer Quivering suggesting young women should be “shielded” from jury duty and that women should not vote. I was pretty shocked to read this. I was not shocked that a leader in the Christian homeschool movement would express this, mind you. I am just shocked at how unapologetic and fervent Lindvall is in his dismissal of the women’s suffrage movement.

Here is what Lindvall said:

I obviously share your conclusion that young women serving on a jury is a very vulnerable, potentially damaging experience we should be able to shield them from. Let me share some thoughts of how we can protect our daughters from this particular emotional/mental threat.

You noted that “never allowing her to become a registered voter” is something you have learned the hard way. This is definitely one of the ways we express our “individuality” in our culture. Early in the republic’s history, only heads of households voted. Sadly, today even in very conservative households most of us have embraced the philosophic underpinnings of the women’s suffrage movement. Of course women should vote! Therefore even Christian couples occasionally “split” their vote, canceling one another’s vote.

But since women are allowed to vote in our society, doesn’t this mean Christians must compromise with the cultural mores and have our wives vote, so we can double our impact? This assumes that God NEEDS our help in appointing His choice of leaders (Romans 13:1 makes it clear that all “authorities that exist are appointed by God”). Especially if registering to vote creates greater vulnerability for our families, perhaps we should rethink this question.

The Reason I Despise Fundamentalist Christianity, As Revealed to Me In a Dream


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sean-Allen Parfitt’s blog Of Pen and Heart. It was originally published on August 26, 2013.

Recently there has been a series over at the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog, called “Voices of Sister-Moms”. I began reading the introductory post, but could not finish. My entire body was having a negative reaction. I mentioned this to some of my fellow LGBT Homeschooled friends, and they wisely suggested that I step away from the article till I could calm down. I was seriously angry, and had beginning symptoms of a minor panic/anxiety attack.

I was surprised at my reaction to the article.

After all, I am a male, the eldest in my family, who, in the patriarchal/quiverfull system, is in a position of privilege. It’s true that I was expected to do a lot of housework and helped homeschool the kids (see last Friday’s post), but I went to college, got a job, and was allowed to live my own life. (And by “my own life” I mean going to work and coming back home and going to church with the family and sometimes hanging out with friends.)

Well, in the last two years, I’ve come out of the closet, left the fundamentalism my family calls Christianity, meet many new kinds of people, and discovered that what I was taught isn’t necessarily the truth. I am in a relationship with another man, which is for me a clear illustration that the traditionally taught family dynamics are not the one true way. I have even begun to question Christianity itself.

But I couldn’t put my finger on either my anxiety when reading about the mistreatment of Christian girls or my strange negative reactions to other generic mentions of Christianity.

Why did I cringe when I saw a post on Twitter recommending a book about God’s love? Why do I skim past the tweets with Bible verses and references to good times at church?

I believe I got my answer in a dream I had Saturday night.

In my dream, I was visiting my father’s childhood church, which my family had begun re-attending. Mom was in a small-group discussion, and brother T was in the main sanctuary. I walked up to T, but he distinctly turned away without acknowledging me. Once Small Groups was over, Mom came back into the sanctuary. I began following her as she straightened the pews, talking to her. She was upset with me for living openly gay, and I was getting more and more angry with her as the conversation continued.

Then I exploded at her. This is very much out of character of me, as I have only raised my voice at her on a few occasions. I almost tremble is reverent fear of my mother, who has power to unleash unheard-of retribution. Or at least, that’s how I feel. So for me to yell at her actually took me by surprise in retrospect. But what I said to her showed me exactly what I had been feeling but had been unable to express before.

It was the very innermost turmoil that I had not been able to understand.

Do you know what I hate about Christianity?” I shouted at my mother, standing in the very sanctum of the religion I was at that very moment criticizing. “Do you know what it is that makes you unable to accept the fact that ‘I’m gay, and it’s OK’?” My mother just stood there, not replying. And then I said the word. Just one word, a simple 8 letters that encompass the root of my dissatisfaction with the religion in which I was raised, and which has caused irreparable pain to so many people. I opened my mouth, and with conviction, the word thundered through the church:


According to Wikipedia, “Misogyny /mɪˈsɒɪni/ is the hatred or dislike of women or girls.” When used in a religious context, it usually refers to the belief that women are the “weaker sex” (see I Peter 3:7) and are under the authority of men (see I Corintians 11:3and I Timothy 2:12). In practice, this means that women and girls are to be humble servants to men. Girls are groomed to become wives and mothers, and should not aspire to be successful on their own. They are to submit, never questioning their fathers, husbands, or pastors.

When I awoke form my dream, I was surprised at what my mind had expressed while I slept. However, upon reflection, I realized how so very true it is. Misogyny is at the heart of much of the pain I have experienced in my life.

It is the root of the pain that countless other women and gay men have felt.

Wait, sure, you can see how misogyny has caused incredible pain and discrimination for women, but how dare I include myself and other gay men in that category? This is the question I asked myself. But even though I did not express it verbally in my dream, I knew what the answer was.

One major argument used against unions between two men is the call to remember God’s biblical definition of marriage. Thus, marriage is commonly interpreted as a union between one man and one woman. Traditionalists maintain that the proper balance of power places the man in the position of leader and the woman in a submissive position. Women are expected to take care of the home, cleaning, cooking, shopping, teaching, raising children, making life easier for men, and providing sex on demand. Men are expected to go to work, provide money and housing, spiritually lead the family, and lead the family into ministry work.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to extrapolate the effects of misogyny onto gay men. If two men are in a relationship, who has what duty? Men aren’t supposed to do the women’s work. Who leads the family and makes the decision? Which one goes to work and which one cleans the house? In short, which one is the man and which one is the woman?

So many straight fundamentalists can’t grasp the idea that gay men are still men.

A flamboyant gay man is called effeminate and looked down on. When I came out to my mother over the phone, she prayed for me. In that prayer, she cried, saying that she didn’t want me to be her daughter; she wanted me to be her son. I have had several people ask me who is the man in Paul’s and my relationship.

Besides being entirely misguided, such notions and comments are very hurtful. I have been completely cut off form my family. My old friends have told me that we cannot fellowship anymore. They see me as a deviant from the natural order and desires. Because I don’t want to be with a woman. Because I don’t want to exercise headship over my partner. Because I like to engage in “feminine” pursuits such as sewing. Because I care what I look like and plan my outfits to coordinate. Because I wear earrings. Because I am “acting like a woman”, when I am really a man.

I admit I am not sure where I stand on the issue of Christianity. The pain and hurt I have received from the church has made me very wary of the religion of the Bible. When I see others facing the same discrimination I have, I become enraged. It is hard not to be bitter against the very religion that brought me up.

It’s a world of pain, hurt, and rejection, all because of one word: misogyny.

Allowing the Devil to Undress You: The Slut-Shaming of a Former Homeschooler

Teresa Scanlan.
Teresa Scanlan.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


A disgrace.

A destructive force against families.

Homeschool dropout.

A rat turd.

These are but a number of phrases used on HSLDA’s Facebook page in reference to Teresa Scanlan, a former homeschooler attending Patrick Henry College. These are not phrases used by HSLDA; in fact, HSLDA has championed Teresa as a homeschool success story. But these phrases are also not coming from anti-homeschoolers or liberal secularists.

They are coming from fans (or at least previous fans) of HSLDA.

Yesterday, HSLDA shared about Teresa’s life and homeschooling experience in light of her being crowned Miss America in 2011. It was obviously about marketing to some extent — “the secret behind the crown was homeschooling!,” HSLDA says. But it also was about celebrating a young woman with passion and drive.

But things got ugly.

Some of HSLDA’s fans were livid. In fact, if you were looking for evidence that the modesty and purity culture that exists within Christian homeschooling can lead to some truly dehumanizing and dangerous thoughts, look no further than what unfolded.

Here is HSLDA’s original post about Teresa Scanlan, and here is the link to the post on Facebook:

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The comments that some people are leaving on HSLDA’s post about Teresa are frankly alarming. They are misogynistic and dripping with body-shaming. They even are scarily reminiscent of rape culture — that women are responsible for men’s lust and are “asking for it.”


There is direct, no-holds-barred slut-shaming going on right on HSLDA’s Facebook page.

Check it out:

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Yes, you read that right. Someone is pulling their support from HSLDA because of HSLDA’s link — which was merely a link to their original radio series about Teresa. Because old men and young men might “fix their eyes” upon Teresa dressed in a rather conservative red dress (you can’t even see her shoulders!).

Now you might wonder: how is that picture immodest? Well, it isn’t. But fear not. People encouraged other people to google her in a bikini. (Does that sound a bit hypocritical? Because it is hypocritical, and also slightly creepy.)

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Not everyone on HSLDA’s page, however, was attacking Teresa. Some people tried to defend her – and then got promptly slut-shamed, too.

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Yes, if you participate in a pageant, you have caused men to commit adultery and you will be “held accountable of Judgement Day.”

The comments continue:

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Another defender, who is attacked:

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By the way, Teresa is a Christian.

Not just “a” Christian, but a conservative Christian. In fact, she points out in her radio interview with HSLDA that many of the young women that participate in pageants are actually conservative Christians:

Actually, the majority of contestants, believe it or not, are Christian conservatives, I found, in the competition. And then the judges, in my interview, they have my resume in front of them, and they saw a lot of church activities and things on there, so during my interviews, several of them actually asked me questions about my faith.

But that does not stop people from judging her relationship with God:

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It really is a train wreck. They call her a “homeschool dropout,” and attack her for wanting a career:

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They compare her to a “rat turd”:

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They do not hesitate to link to her Facebook profile (which, as we all know, will probably lead to further online bullying, harassment, and slut-shaming):

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This is not to even mention the likely hypocrisy and double standard of some people in the homeschooling community when they only think of modesty and purity in terms of women. What about men?

Were all these people up in arms when Tim Tebow went shirtless for magazines?

Or were they parading Tebow around as a homeschool superhero? Kathryn brilliantly pointed out (not on HSLDA’s page) this double standard about equally harmless actions:

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Credit must be given to those people who are defending Teresa on HSLDA’s page. This goes to show that not all homeschoolers — in fact, not all Christian homeschoolers — believe in the toxic ideas behind modesty and purity culture ideology.

I commend those people for standing up against those ideas and the people that would use those ideas to shame a young woman.

We need to push back like this. We need more homeschoolers to speak up against these ideas (and not just against the modesty and purity culture ideas). Teresa’s own experience has demonstrated that this shaming is (very sadly) nothing new to her:

When I first won, I thought, of course, that I would get criticism from the public in general about being a Christian, but it was kind of surprising to me that probably the most criticism I received was actually from conservative Christians that competing in the competition like Miss America did not line up with their morals and values.

No one deserves to be abused and harassed in this manner, regardless of their way of dress, their gender, their political or religious beliefs, or anything else. In fact, I commend HSLDA for being willing to champion a conservative Christian woman who is — through her actions — bravely overturning some of the deeply held assumptions in some conservative Christian circles. She is celebrating her beauty and her body, she is going to college, and she has high career aspirations — in fact, as HSLDA mentions in their bio of her, “her highest career goals are to run for president in 2028 or to be nominated to the Supreme Court.”

She also hopes to educate people about eating disorders.

She has expressed a desire to “educate children and adults alike as to the signs and risks of eating disorders, as well as how and where to get help for themselves or a loved one.”

More power to her.

A Life With No Future: Rebecca’s Story

A Life With No Future: Rebecca’s Story

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

Trigger warnings: abuse and mentions of suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

My homeschooling story has similar themes to many of the others on Homeschoolers Anonymous: religious indoctrination, abusive dynamics, and educational neglect. Overall I feel like homeschooling inadequately prepared me for adulthood.

I was fourth in a family of six kids and I was homeschooled for every grade except kindergarten. We used the Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools curriculum for most of my education but had changed to Switched-On Schoolhouse (Alpha and Omega) for the later grades. I had a couple of friends and acquaintances in the local homeschool group, I attended church, and sometimes took community classes such as gymnastics and swimming. Still, my primary friends were my siblings.

Educational Neglect

Our family was not impoverished but we were lower class. Having enough money was a continual concern and a source of household stress. My parents spent a lot of time working to make ends meet and maybe it was because of this that they didn’t really interact with me much or supervise my education closely. The usual routine was that I would wake up, do the assignments in my workbooks by myself, and spend the rest of the day left to my own devices. Most days I only needed help for spelling tests. Despite the religious slant to the books, I did learn a lot from them and I’m glad that at least I had the basics of spelling, math, history, and so on drilled into me.

The teen years were when I started running into educational problems. I had done all right in math so far–I needed help sometimes, but I could do the workbooks more or less on my own– until I hit Algebra 1 and I could no longer make sense of it without help. I had Saxon Math, which had been working for me until that point, but it was just not clicking anymore. Unfortunately my mom was burnt out by all the working and homeschooling and she didn’t prioritize my education very highly.

By that point I was perhaps several grades behind in assorted other subjects. I wasn’t doing that badly at most of them but I had been lazy about finishing the work on a schedule, my parents never put the heat on me to learn, and gradually I stopped bothering with the schoolwork.

My formal learning ended with a whimper. There was no graduation or diploma, we just gave up. As far as I can remember, I never got past the equivalent of Junior year. I am not sure though, since I was often clueless as to what grade I was supposed to be in.

Household Dynamics

My parents were converted to Christianity at the time of the hippie-led Jesus Movement, and they brought their relatively relaxed approach to life to our upbringing. Unlike many Christian homeschool families, we were not an authoritarian household. Since we were fundamentalist/evangelical Christians, there were definitely lots of little red flags you had to look out for (Harry Potter? Bad. Secular music? Bad. Spaghetti strap tank tops? Bad), but for the most part our parents let us have freedom. I was allowed to dress in punk clothing. We could listen to any style of music as long as it was Christian. We could be friends with whoever we wanted. Our parents tended to trust our judgment in these things even during the dreaded teen years. I’m glad that we were allowed to be individuals, and that the homeschooling gave us lots of free time to play and read.

The problem was that this undisciplined parenting approach was at times neglectful, not only for my education but also my physical and mental health. I think I was undernourished as a little girl. I had chronic stomach pains that went unaddressed, and my parents were aware of my continual depression but didn’t do anything about it. My older siblings were the ones who most often paid attention to me, comforted me when my stomach hurt, and tried to help me cheer up. When they got jobs, they were the ones buying half my meals and I finally caught up to a normal weight level.

There was a pressing problem with my mother.

She had major personal/mental health problems that did not get treated adequately. Sometimes she would go into fits of rage and terrorize me and my siblings, or threaten to kill herself or my dad. When she was at her best, she was a laughing, curious person who loved to explore the world with her kids. When she was at her worst, I thought of ways to run away from home or kill myself to escape from her. Sometimes I did run away from home and self-harm. Rarely, the abuse was physical, but she only needed to sigh rudely for my heart to start pounding. I wish she had gotten help for her problems, and I wish she had not taken them out on us.

It has taken me a long time to realize how fucked up it was.

No Future

My major issue with my homeschooling experience is the fact that it didn’t seem to be progressing towards anything. My parents didn’t seem to realize that they were supposed to raise us to become adults, not just Christians. Instead my life seemed to exist in a warped kind of Never-Never Land in which I was rocketing towards adulthood equipped with only a child’s skill set.

I knew little or nothing about household maintenance, how to hold onto a job, how to work hard or make myself useful, fix a car or drive one, how to handle a romantic relationship, take public transport, talk to adults, or how to get a scholarship or apply to a college or even exactly what college was. It’s tough to raise kids on a shoestring budget, but there was no reason my parents shouldn’t have taught me this kind of stuff or helped me see a life beyond the four walls of our house. I was told on one occasion by my parents that they didn’t care what my future ended up looking like as long as I was Christian. That was the only time they gave me any guidance about my future. (I am now an atheist, incidentally.)

When I was a little girl I would talk about all the things I would grow up to be, but that stopped before long. There was a misogynist stigma in our family that women who had careers were evil (a job to make ends meet was one thing, but being a Career Woman was another). I did not have a good experience with the food-service job I briefly held when I was 14 and I have not been able to handle even entry-level jobs since. I get severe anxiety. In my teenaged years, I was aware of no way out of my parents’ house except to get married to someone with a job.

College was not on the table, since there was just no way for 6 kids from a low-class family to make it unless we paid for it ourselves (which only one of my siblings has managed to accomplish so far). There was also a sort of contempt for higher learning that I picked up on. Part of me wonders if this I-don’t-need-no-fancy-education attitude was based on a sense of inadequacy, like if it was out of our reach, we would pretend we were too good for it. When my friends graduated they all went on to college to broaden their horizons, leaving me in a small town with nobody to hang out with. I deeply resented and envied them because I was acutely aware that my life was going nowhere. I feel like if I had been public schooled, there is a chance that a teacher or counselor might have been able to help me see a bigger picture of my life. Instead the only option I thought I had was getting married. At 20, that’s what I did, and I moved out.

Catching Up

To this day, I still feel as if I’m 10 years behind my peers.

I’m 27 and only now exploring college options and figuring out how to get a diploma equivalent, which is something most other people are starting to look at when they’re still teenagers. I think this experience is familiar to some homeschoolers as well as some people who grew up disadvantaged, and I was both. My future is in my own hands now, and my success or failure depends on me, but I don’t believe I was given the best possible shot at life. I feel inadequate when people ask where I went to college, or what my career is.

The truth is, I don’t know how to explain that I was set up to have no future.

If you set out to educate 6 kids at home, you have to follow through all the way to adulthood with each and every one of them. You have to admit when you’re in over your head and put the kids first and not your ideology. I wish my parents had done that.

Now it’s up to me to pick up the pieces and make my life into something worthwhile.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Six, TeenPact Breakaway

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Six was originally published on May 22, 2013.


Part Six: TeenPact Breakaway, by Jessica

I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie

I remember the exact moment I began to breakaway from the TeenPact message.

And what is funny is that the reason it started to crumble had nothing to do with the misogyny, the hypocritical modesty standards or corrupt election rigging. Instead, it was a young person who dared to speak their opinion; an opinion that the powers-that-be did not share.

First some background.

In March 2002, Alabama legislature was locked in an intense debate over reforming the Alabama constitution. At the same time, the 2002 Alabama TeenPact Session was conveying. They thought it would be the ideal time to introduce us to government in action (and rightfully so).

This was my second year to attend TeenPact. The first year, my involvement was fairly basic. I went to my state class. I learned a lot and really enjoyed socializing with so many people so decided to go to an alumni event: Leadership Summit.

It was there that I bought into the whole TeenPact ideal. The TPA dress code, how to interact with guys, how to keep “sweet” and be acceptable (which I never quite could do). But the biggest thing I learned was the idea of servant leadership. To the TeenPact organization, sacrificing yourself is the only way to be a servant leader. Which is true, in part. However, they failed to emphasis that it doesn’t mean becoming a doormat, an enabler or codependent. Telling impressionable young people…especially young women that to be God-like you must take anger, taunts and other abuse  without providing guidance on assertiveness and boundaries is dangerous. But I bought it. I bought it all.

And it damaged me.

To this day, I am prone to accept abuse from toxic individuals because I feel like I deserve it. I do not establish appropriate boundaries because I don’t feel I deserve them. If I want to be a good Christian, I will want to be abused and mistreated. This has caused a lot of problems in establishing friendships and even in my prior relationships with men (before my husband).

Back to my TeenPact story, though…

After Leadership Summit, I was hooked. I went and worked for two weeks at the National Offices, I staffed a one-day class, and was so ready for my alumni state class!

It was at this week-long class, that I, along with the Alabama TeenPacters, sat and observed the Alabama legislature debate the reforming of the state constitution. My father was a county official and I was very familiar with the state constitution reforming bill. Reforming the constitution would be beneficial for every county and would also alter the language to remove racist terms. I didn’t see a problem with allowing the state to do so. It was thousands of pages longs and the way it had been created was not intuitive to the 21st century. I, however, was in the minority. The rest of the TeenPacters were in a fever that the Democrats (said with all fear and loathing) would add all kinds of liberal propaganda. Like, gasp, the horror, lottery! Even at that age, I didn’t see the big deal in having a lottery. Sure it was stupid and I didn’t want to waste my money on it but so what if it was added to the constitution; if it would improve efficiency and remove racist language, who cared.

While I sat there with my other TeenPacters, a newscaster came along and tapped me and my friend on the shoulder:

“Are ya’ll here to watch the debate?” she asked. “Do you support constitutional reform?”

I said naively, “I do!”

She took me out of chambers and did an interview with me. I was glowing because I was actually expressing my views on an important matter, one that could affect my state!

After the interview and the Senate dispersed (not ever deciding on anything, of course), I walked back with the rest of the group. The Program Director walked up to me and said “I see you were getting interviewed. What about?”

At this time, I had a huge crush on this Program Director and was convinced that we would have one of those love stories that I read about in all my courtship books.

I said proudly, “I told her how I was pro-constitution reform. And I gave her an interview!”

His face went blank. He was shocked. At that moment, I realized I had gone against the TPA code of conduct by disagreeing with them on a policy matter. It should have been obvious to me that constitution reform was something we were supposed to be against since being pro-constitution reform was a “liberal” thing.  To his credit, the Program Director (who I did not marry, thank God) didn’t chastise me or report me to the TeenPact Dad for the week (please, someone, write about the TeenPact parents).

It was at that moment the first seed of doubt appeared about TeenPact. I might not have been aware of it but it was then that I started to realize I was “different.” I didn’t follow the party line exactly. In hindsight, I wish that I had questioned “the look” more.

Looking back, I think I know what was in that look from the Program Director. It was astonishment that someone would think differently. It was confusion that a girl would speak out.  It was suspicion over my ability to critically analyze a problem and come to a pretty good conclusion. All qualities that TeenPact supposedly promotes in theory but in action they are just as harsh on free thought as any other religious or political fanatic.

To be continued.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Five, TeenPact and Women

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Five was originally published on May 22, 2013.


Part Five: TeenPact and Women, by Kierstyn King

Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.

To my knowledge, there have only been two female governors in Maine, and none (to my knowledge) in GA. Maine is seen by the staff as the more liberal/wildcard state where things happen there that don’t (or aren’t allowed?) happen in other states. Maine and Hawaii I suppose, because there’s surfing there and every staffer wants to staff those two states.

I know both of the female governors closely. Women taking on a high leadership position that isn’t somehow under a male is almost unheard of. I was shocked when I won “president” at Back To DC in 2007, but I think that was because the dude who was running before was an obnoxious 13 year old who wasn’t even going to stay the whole time and I had previously attended the class and the one other alumni there was on my campaign. I may have won favor with the staff when I shared that I was struggling with running for the position (because *gasp* I can’t lead), instead of running the campaign (because that was completely different).

At National Convention, women are allowed (I wouldn’t necessarily say encouraged) to run for Representative and Senator, and even Vice President. In my time there, I only ever saw Boy/Girl Pres/VP teams, because women running for president, while not directly prohibited was just known to be taboo. I ran for representative but never made it past primaries – although some women definitely are elected, the majority of the faux positions are still filled by males. I know this parallels real life, but here it’s encouraged. Women in leadership positions is allowed, but sketchily, always under men.

In fact, we are told, many times, in no uncertain terms that we (women) are supposed to just go along with whatever the men say – even if we disagree with it, and to not speak up if we do. They’re supposed to lead, after all, and we’re supposed to submit.

In “girl talks” a session where the guys go out (to talk about opening doors) and the women stay inside we learn that modesty is on us. completely. It is our job to cause our “brothers” to not stumble while we’re at class. We’re told exactly how to wear and to not wear items of clothing. In State Classes we must wear skirts, and they must be over the knee when you sit, never too tight when you move or bend over. All clothing must be able to hang or give at least an inch from your body, but simultaneously, should also be cute/professional and not frumpy. Just to be safe, I wore several layers – in the middle of summer, in the hot GA sun – just in case I got wet, or the sun caught something and my one-size-up tshirt were suddenly opaque.

We must be vigilant, and tell our “sisters” if they’re wearing something we think is too tight or revealing. Lady-Staff will confront girls to change their outfit if they feel it’s inappropriate. Because, again, it is our responsibility to show ourselves as non-human-shapeless-forms so our “brothers” don’t accidentally see our bodies and think something bad.

Boys aren’t told how many fingers width a neckline is allowed to be before it’s “too much”. They don’t have to reach up, and bend down to check and see if any skin shows.

But we, we seductresses in our pubescent awkwardness, we must never show any more skin than necessary to avoid heat exhaustion – and even then, pants must be loose!

I hate using the phrase “rape culture” but the more I think about it, the more this perpetuates it – because regardless, it is always the women who are at fault. We are essentially told as much, and this is coupled with “don’t tell a man no” is just a setup for abusive environments and relationships to thrive.

To be continued.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Four, My Experience And A Lot Of Parantheses

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Four was originally published on May 21, 2013.


Part Four: My Experience And A Lot Of Parantheses, by DoaHF

DoaHF blogs at Out of the Chrysalis.

Photo gallery courtesy of DoaHF.

My mom saw a poster for it on the homeschool group’s website. It was being promoted a lot since it was the first year that they gained access to our State. I think I was the only student there who wanted to attend. Amid all the testimonies of hating the fancy (and modest) clothes, hating civics, and it being a struggle to not listen to music or watch television all week, I wondered what was wrong with all these other homeschoolers.

Yes, I had a lot of pride, but I was raised thinking that homeschooling was better than public school and it was unfortunate that public schoolers could not get a 4 day crash-course of in-depth politics training on a state level. I reveled in the homework and the required modest clothing and I had no problem with the rule about media because my media consumption was already incredibly minuscule. The rules about guy-girl interactions was not a problem because of how strict my father was, and all of the guys there were younger than me and not that appealing.

I also had a family background in politics (2008 was an election year and my grandparents and older sister were so caught up in the whirlwind that my leaving for so many days was a big deal around the house) which made me the student who knew it all.

And that was a problem. My whole TeenPact experience I was either patronized by staffers and administrators, or I was the problem that they had to deal with and work around.

One of the staffers inserted a rabbit trail push for John McCain votes/support (we were all too young to vote anyway) and I piped up (in the middle of class) about his immigration bill and his history of non-conservatism. That got me an extremely dirty look from all staffers and I was ignored every time I raised my hand after that — except when no one else knew the answer. (I was down for a couple in-kind contributions to a campaign, so I knew what they were. None of the other students did.)

I definitely stood out in the class as the only student to ask the Aide to the First Lady (She was also a high-level judge) what (the Judge/First Lady’s) stand was on abortion and how she would deal with cases to repeal Roe v. Wade. (I was also very ignorant about how the real world worked. I spouted what I was taught with passion and sincerity.) I was the only one who knew what an “ex-post facto” law was and my team won the Constitution Game because of my knowledge of the Constitution. (Literally, a staffer had to help the other two branches because Congress blew them out of the water.) (Both years!)

And, when I went and visited the 3rd year (I was unable to attend due to financial constraints – and more on that later) the whole alumni class asked that I be allowed to participate on their team. Their requests were turned down by the less-than-amused staffers.

I was completely gung-ho about TeenPact after my experience. I was effusive in my praise and I thought it was the best thing I had ever experienced and I wanted to attend all their other offerings.

Unfortunately, TeenPact is a rich, middle class thing. You pay your own way for everything. And “everything” is not cheap. You get an experience, the opportunity to meet friends, meals, and a T-Shirt. Often the events are far away and even staffers have to pay their own transportation. Housing is an extra cost on top of the $200-$300 event. (Unless it it its own event, like Endeavor or National Convention, which raised the price tag to $400 or more.)

The first year I was in TeenPact I won a scholarship to go to National Convention and found a last-minute ride from Maryland. It was a 750-1000 word essay on What Does it Mean to Be a Conservative.” Reading over it now it is a huge mess of right-wing idealism, including a rant about government distribution of wealth. Back then, I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself.

I spent the week in a mix of pride, boredom, and frustrated anger. There was an obvious problem with popularity. The kids who had staffed multiple places had a huge edge over people who had staffed only their home state or not staffed at all. Their actual personalities were often sickening, but they still received the most votes and applause (or the elections were rigged in their favor). While there is a lot of discipleship and depth in the core groups, a lot of the event was fluffy and I was bored by the big speeches, only broken by the funny skits and attempts at making me play“The Game” (you just lost). Huge promotion of the Ultimate Frisbee tournaments annoyed me, as I was never that in to sports, and all attempts I made at throwing Frisbees resulted in everyone laughing and pointing. I would spend the afternoon wandering the camp looking for people in my group who might not be already with their cliques and might want to do something with me than gawk at Adam whats-his-name in a pink shirt playing with “The Bojangles.”

Because it was the first year that my state had ever had a TeenPact class, I was the only one from my state in attendance. I made a laughable attempt at running for Congress (and was one of the few late entries who actually paid my $10, to my knowledge). My contribution to much talked about and poorly attended silent auction was a necklace set that I hand-made.  It was made fun of for not having a more political or state relevance. (I think, I hid and refused to tell them that I made it.)

The only other person I found who was really a “kindred spirit” was a guy, and as I was not “allowed” to crush on him or spend any time with him without someone else there (I didn’t know anyone except staffers, and I followed the rules that I saw many of the “regulars” breaking) we never really got to know each other very well. Interestingly enough, he is the only one of any of them that I still keep in Facebook contact. And, through him I got to know a couple who are now some of my good friends.

I came home from National Convention tired emotionally. I felt suddenly like TeenPact was not the marvelous place I had once thought it to be. I felt left out and unwanted by the very group I would have given my talents to willingly and eagerly. Unable to afford any other event that year, I began saving what little money I had in order to attend the State Class next year. I also applied to Staff, but I was turned down, which I almost expected. After all, I had spoken up and contradicted a staffer and made myself stick out. I paid for my alumni class all by myself, as my quiverfull father did not have the funds to spend on me for a second year. This is notable in that I was not allowed a job and made this money over the course of a year of saving odds and ends that came my way from neighborhood cleaning or babysitting jobs or from family members. I had no way to make money, so spending that much meant a lot to me.

I aced the alumni class, again proving to have put the most into the assignments and again leading my branch to victory in the Constitution Search. (When teams were picked everyone asked to switch to my team.) I made an effort to work my hardest and to not cause any issues. I was trying to prove myself as a competent person who was a good candidate to staff her own state. I was also at the upper age limit and I knew that this would be my last class.

I wanted to attend Endeavor that year, but I was not able to make enough money and instead looked at the perfectly lit pictures of the other girls having a High Tea and shooting guns in a field thinking about how nice it would be to be able to have that kind of an experience. But their middle class families could afford the airfare or gas, the dresses, the makeup, the scones and high teas, and the price of the event.  My father made about $40,000 a year for a family of 11.

The last year I spent in my home state I applied again to be a staffer and I was turned down again. One of my fellow classmates was accepted, though, as he had gone to National Convention and Survival. He also said that one of that year’s staffers had pushed really hard for him. It figures, the staffer I had interrupted my first class was now an Intern (albeit he never came back to my state).

Now, over 5 years later, I look back on it all with a sigh and a shake of my head. I was young and passionate. I had a lot to give and they turned it down. But in the end, I was the one better off for it. I left that state and have since been able to mediate my passion with real knowledge of the world and the incredible amount of variety and complexity in it. I no longer have “pat” answers to everything and I think I am all the better for it. I also refuse to accept their misogynistic belittling of women. I believe I have the right to wear a pair of dress pants instead of being relegated to a skirt. I think that I have just as much ability and knowledge as any male, as they refused to allow women to be an Intern for more than one year. Men could do it for two years and then if they excelled, they could go on to be a program director and have their own gavel made for them. I acknowledge that I could definitely be a Mayor or a President, which position they never elected a woman into. It was an interesting coincidence, if it really was a coincidence.

I refuse to think of myself less because I did not have the money that the “TeenPact Families” (ie. the blue bloods) had to host events and send their kids to staff 5 states and run expensive presidential campaigns with the paraphernalia, candy, and free T-shirts.

I have saved only my first state class t-shirt with all the names on it. The names are mostly faded and can hardly be seen. I have de-friended most of the Interns (or been de-friended) and have since hidden most of my TeenPact pictures and videos. It is a chapter in my life that I do not regret, but do not like to announce. I prefer that no one remember me or pick me out as one of them. I regret being so conservative and blind. I do not regret getting away and changing.

And I hope that people who read this think twice about endorsing a misogynistic group that exists for the wealthy middle class republicans to indoctrinate their children. They also get together groups of students to do grunt work for HSLDA.  Read about that scandalous mess here.

To be continued.