Sexism and Homeschooling: Ella’s Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

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

On the surface, patriarchy and sexism did not impact my childhood as drastically as many of my homeschooled peers.

My parents encouraged higher education and my mother believed that women should be able to support themselves. I was allowed to drive, vote, and even get a job the summer before I went to college. It wasn’t until later, looking back, that I  began to see the way sexism had influenced our home and negatively impacted me.

My early homeschooling years were focused on unit studies, outside play, and childhood fun. My siblings and I have many happy memories of our childhood and in many ways, I would love to replicate them for my own children. It wasn’t until I was a pre-teen that other influences began to change our home life. We started receiving magazines from Above Rubies, Vision Forum, and other religious ministries that cast a vision for a happy home based on Biblical principles.

About this time, my mother discovered my father’s hidden pornography addiction and in the wake of that pain and how it impacted her marriage, this vision became a catalyst for everything changing.

I was 12 when I was informed that we would not be wearing pants anymore, because feminism blurred gender lines and spoiled the femininity God wanted us to have as women. Similarly, I learned that women have a duty to protect the men in their lives by covering their bodies and hiding any curves. I remember my mother discussing her appreciation for a large busted family friend who was “aware of herself” and wore loose, draping clothes that helped hide her figure. My brothers were not allowed to go to the mall and any family outings to the park or lake involved the awkward process of looking around for any immodest women and leaving if any were spotted. I quit swimming because being required to wear a t-shirt over my swimsuit was too embarrassing.

Puberty was a messy process of self-loathing for me and the rest of my teen years were spent with a vicious, fixated anger directed at family clothing rules. I was convinced that our outdated dresses and skirts were the reason I had almost no friends and no community.

My self-esteem plummeted and I felt utterly alone much of the time.

Occasionally I would seek to push the limits and shop for what I perceived as attractive or fashionable clothing, but usually I was directed to find other options. I remember being 16 and standing in front of the mirror with a slightly loose graphic tee, feeling a strange sense of attractiveness because I could see some curves of my body, only to be told it was inappropriate. I felt shattered.

Today, a decade later, I can look back with a degree of objectivity and see the irony of my mother responding to the way sexism had hurt her with a sexist worldview as the solution. I feel for her. She had been treated as an unworthy sexual object instead of a valuable human being and because she felt powerless to change her spouse, she focused on controlling our environment instead. Unintentionally, she took the very sexism that had hurt her and made it an integral part of our lives.

We began to see men as fragile creatures who had to be protected from their own sex drives and whose egos needed coddling to feel masculine.

Women were to publicly hide their sexuality and privately feed their husband’s sexual desires in the home to help them avoid worldly temptation. They were to “influence” the men in their lives to make proper decisions, while simultaneously  submitting to their leadership. Feminism was about selfish disregard for others while true womanhood served others. At the time, it all fit together in my mind. I retaliated inwardly to the external rules of modesty, but I didn’t recognize the underlying beliefs I had developed about myself as a woman.

When I left home for college, the exhilaration was incredible. I bought my first pair of jeans. I thought (with a guilty thrill) that they were very tight, although in retrospect they were at least 2 sizes too big! I went to Aeropostale in mid 2000s fashion and re-created my wardrobe.

I thought I had left patriarchy and modesty behind me, but I didn’t realize how subtly sexist philosophies had ingrained themselves into my mind.

I turned down the first guy who asked me out because it was “dangerous” to go get dinner with him. I saw myself as vulnerable rather than self-sufficient. What if he took advantage of me? Instead, I began a serious relationship with him because I needed to “protect my heart” so I wouldn’t become damaged goods.

I almost broke off our relationship when he told me he had looked at pornography in high school, because I thought it meant he was damaged goods (to the contrary, he has been nothing but respectful and valuing of me and my body). I became engaged at only 19 even though I felt too young and unsure of myself, because I was afraid to be alone. I didn’t know how to be confident about myself as a person.

I cancelled my application to graduate school when I became pregnant, because it was wrong to continue a career when I was going to have a family (thankfully my husband supported my journey back to graduate school several years later). It took me a long to become aware of how intertwined my views about gender were with my life choices.

These days I am casting a new vision for myself.

Being a successful, happy woman looks different for every person. I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. My body is not the property of those around me, to be either hidden to protect them or displayed to gratify them. It is mine. I can use my voice. I can have passionate opinions and speak strongly without fearing that I am dominating men.

My children are a beautiful part of my life and dreaming about my future when they are gone doesn’t make me love them any less. I can be my own person and have my own passions and interests, even if my husband doesn’t share them. We can disagree on many things and still be united as a couple. Conflict solving should involve both of us and a “trump card” based on gender is an unhealthy way to manage it. And probably most of all, it is important to learn to know myself for who I am and express that rather than reflecting the expectations of those around me.

I am still sifting through remnants of sexist philosophy and figuring out what needs to be tossed out.

I imagine it will be a lifelong process, as I mature and life experiences change me. I am excited for what the future holds and proud of the opportunity to raise a daughter who will stand with me against patriarchy in our society rather than facing it at home.

Journey to Freedom: Warbler’s Story

I was barely 19 when my eldest sister decided to make a run for it.

Against all my convictions and everything I parroted that my parents believed, I helped her.
I remember her looking over her shoulder at me, washing dishes, as she went downstairs in our split level home, a silent farewell where we couldn’t embrace or pretend anything was going on.
I remember I was still working on the dishes in the sink when my mom found her empty room and sounded the alarm. I remember pretending I had absolutely no idea, and I pretended that i wasn’t crying into the dishwater as I heard my dad called everyone he could call, attempting to intimidate them into helping him scour the countryside for her or cutting off any resources she might have through them, calling her names and predicting her demise.

I was a little over 19 when my parents sent me to ATI’s Journey to the Heart in an attempt to keep me from following her example.

Against all precedents, they sent me alone on a train and in a taxi to the center of the country where I found theological discrepancies between ATI’s material and my parents own branch of personally branded “THE correct way” philosophy. I remember feeling the sting of rejection when the famed seer himself sent me away curtly when he found out I was there on a scholarship and that our family had never been card-carrying members of his organization. I remember the resentment that would not go away no matter how many times I tried to “tear down the stronghold,” and all the years since that week and this one. I remember the thrill of spending my own money, finding my own train connections, walking around a real college campus with an old friend, and experiencing a day of her academic life.

I was halfway through being 19 when I secretly began corresponding with my sister again.

Against all thoughts of self-preservation, I dared to call her and spend time with her during an afternoon event she came to where the siblings and I were performing our homeschooled talents.
I remember the horrible ending to that evening when my father refused to allow her to hold the baby, and seeing, again as if for the first time, how malicious he was by nature. I remember the tortuously long bible studies he forced us to have wherein he would use an example at least every other week of how wicked she was and how she hated her family and her family’s god. I remember how I first followed one of her links to the blog of a book-writer who changed my life.

I was on the verge of 20 when I began spouting dangerous ideologies that put me on my parent’s radar.

Against every spanking I had ever had, I stood up to my father and refused to allow him to confiscate something of mine. I remember the thrill of having a personal possession that did not have to be shared, a laptop purchased with “graduation” gifts from family. It gave me a window into the outside world, it gave me a taste. I remember looking for the author-lady’s article about how Michael Pearl responded to the first and second child killed by his methods. I remember arguing with my parents in tears that this was deadly and that it was paramount that they look into their punishment methods as they sat there with jaws scraping the floor.

I was a month away from being 20 when I refused to back down one more time, and my father grounded me to my room except for bathroom breaks and meals.

Against my JTTH-inspired vow to serve my family another year, I took a cellphone that was snuck in to me and began calling people who would listen to me and offer advice. I remember “Elizabeth” encouraging me to secure my social security card, and I did it despite having to sneak into my parent’s room and rifle through the family folders to find it. I remember staring at the folder and being too afraid to take my expired passport or anything else in case they would notice the diminished size and suspect I was planning something. I remember the final weeks when our elderly neighbor’s and next-door-secular-homeschooling-family read the author’s finished book and put all the pieces together. I remember being rebellious and locking my room door every night, and every morning finding it unlocked and cracked open.

I was a week and a half over 20 when I went to a local Amusement Park with my family for a special vacation on discount tickets purchased with couponing.

Against all common sense my father ordered all us females to wear skirts for modesty, and I protested by wearing my shortest (knee-length) one with capris underneath. I remember almost getting sent back to the car for the whole day because I pointed out several mini-skirt wearing women and commented on their impressive modesty. I remember holding my tongue because I had one last day to spend with my little brother, and I remember being brave enough to whisper to him what I was planning at the end of the day. I remember the blisters on my heels that I didn’t mind because I spent the night petting my cats and begging them to forgive me for abandoning them.

I was 13 days over 20 when I put a note on my dresser along with money for the cats care and I walked two boxes of clothing over to the waiting car that took me into town.

Against all odds I managed to stay in town most of the day until my sister was able to leave work and come get me. I remember people being extraordinarily kind to the naive should-be-an-adult woman who was hiding in fear and watching the door. I remember staring down at my Friendly’s taco-bowl-salad and being unable to swallow because my brother delivered my father’s ultimatum. I would come home by sundown or my cats would be put out at the edge of the road.
I remember my sister facing her demons less than a year after her harrowing escape in order to help me.

I was only two days older when we drove into a driveway 500 miles distant and I first saw the people who were going to be my teachers and helpers for the next half decade.

Against the new backdrop I bought my first two-piece tankini-and-skirt combo and my sister and I shared a sunny afternoon in their community pool. I remember everyone cautioning us about how these people were complete strangers and if “anything feels off” to come back to my sister’s and to figure things out from there. I remember the new landlady buying me a sheet set for my room in a vibrant lime green along with a “husband pillow” and her humor and kindness made me feel right at home. I remember thanking my sister before she left, and being happy, scared, nervous, and tired as I started my new life with a few hundred dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I was free, and that I would remain free.

That Time Mary Pride Put the Modesty Survey on Blast

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Mary Pride is considered by some to be “the queen of homeschooling.” She is one of the founders of the Quiverfull movement, the anti-feminism author of The Way Home, and the publisher of the wildly popular magazine “Practical Homeschooling.” I have previously covered problematic aspects of her worldview, including her thoughts on domestic violence and child abuse. Her belief that women’s use of contraception turns men gay is also bewildering.

That said, Mary Pride is also an expert at putting people on blast. Normally she puts her archenemies — child advocates, feminists, and LGBTQ people — on blast. But sometimes even her peers are not spared. The best example of this comes from her trash-talking of Alex and Brett Harris’ 2007 “Modesty Survey.” The following passage is from page 221 of the “Afterthoughts” chapter added to The Way Home‘s 25th Anniversary Edition in 2010:

Speaking of our daughters, I would like to say just a few words about the “Modesty Survey” and other attempts to “encourage” young ladies to dress according to some ill-defined, ever-shifting male standard of “modesty.”

The bottom line here is the belief that women’s dress can cause men to fall into ungodly thoughts. If I had the space, I would have plenty to say about this. For now, consider just this:

  1. The only female features that the Bible says cause potential male downfall are “eyes” (Prov. 6:25): literally “eyelids,” as in the KJV.
  2. The “strange woman” (KJV) or “adulteress” (NIV), who is by no means a Christian sister, leads a young man astray by her smooth speech (Prov. 5:3), not by her outfit.

Those arguing for the “Burqa Lite” standard of Christian dress also fail to explain how young men who faint at the sight of a Christian ankle are supposed to control themselves when out in the world.

Doctors see naked women. Missionaries see half-naked women. But we don’t expect them to go insane with lust.

Proverbs 7:6-27 describes a woman leading a man astray. She is loud, defiant, dressed like a prostitute, and deliberately talks him into committing adultery. Even so, the passage is all about how he should have known better.

I’m all for modest dress, but not because Christian men are going to fall into temptation left and right if various arbitrary skirt lengths, etc., are not met. In the New Testament, “modest” dress refers to “spending a modest amount on clothing,” not to the amount of cloth and where it is draped. “Modest” dress is contrasted with ostentatiously expensive clothing and hairstyles—and the passage is talking about how to dress for church (1 Tim. 2:8-10)!

This preoccupation on men’s part with women’s modesty is misguided and proto-Islamic. Once again, the older women should be teaching the younger what is appropriate. Neither older nor younger men are responsible or authorized to instruct the younger women in this area.

There are, of course, problems within this passage, including Pride’s penchant towards Islamophobia. But still…


Ex-Homeschooler Fashion

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on July 8, 2015.

As a former fundamentalist homeschooled kid, one of many aspects of life that I’ve had to do a lot of catch up in is fashion.  

I grew up choosing clothing based solely on modesty, which in my circles meant that I was shopping in clothing sections meant for the elderly and basically wearing fabric sacks.  Often, I had to make things for myself when even the grandmotherly clothing options failed me.  Everything I wore was at least 4 sizes too big and several inches too short, and I had no idea about choosing colors that complemented my skin tone, no idea about hair, no idea about makeup, no idea about skin and nail care.

There are many wonderful people in the world who spend their time/energy/money on more important and lasting concerns than on their appearance, and I have a lot of respect for them, but this wasn’t a choice that I had made for myself.  I had no choice in the matter, because my family and the fundamentalist homeschooling culture around me told me that trying to look attractive was vain, selfish, and worst of all, would cause men around me to sin.  So I continued to hide in my sacks, feeling like one of the least attractive people on earth, and feeling shame for caring about being unattractive.

During some particularly low times in my late teens, I felt that my hideousness was a punishment from God because my dad wasn’t a “godly” man according to the standards of the homeschooling church we attended in my teens.  I kept running into verses in the Old Testament (Job 42:15 as one example) about how God blessed godly men with beautiful daughters, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was my dad’s fault that I was so ugly.

So, when I finally started to escape from these soul-crushing beliefs in my early twenties, one of the first hurdles to overcome was my belief that it was wrong to put effort into looking attractive.  As I spent less time with people in our homeschooling church and more time with “worldly” people, I started to realize the irony that my “modest” clothing was actually drawing far more attention to me than “wordly” clothes would.  Step by step, through practice, I started to get more comfortable wearing more fitted, age-appropriate clothes with more skin showing.  I started to feel more at home in my body instead of wishing I could jump out of it and run away screaming.  I started to feel a small mood and confidence boost when I made an effort to be pretty, instead of a constant sense of shame.

It just takes a few sentences to describe it, but this process took many years.  

And that was just to alter my perspective!  Over a decade later, through the body ups and downs of two pregnancies, I’m continuing to try to fill in the gaps and learn how to dress for my body and skin type, how to style my hair, how to apply makeup, and how to accessorize.

Something I never imagined that I’d do, but that I now absolutely love, is using a personal stylist through a service called StitchFix.  I’ve signed up to receive a box of 5 clothing items every few months, chosen for me by a stylist based on my size and tastes and needs.  I was very skeptical at first because I have so much trouble finding clothing that I like and that fits me well, but I decided to give it a try because the most I had to lose was a $20 styling fee if I decided to return everything.  I’m so glad I tried it, because every box I receive has hugely improved my wardrobe, helped me learn more about dressing my body type, and taught me more about what pieces pair well together.  I’m particularly impressed with the jeans my stylist has sent me–after many frustrating hours trying on probably over a hundred pairs of jeans in the last decade, I just pull these jeans out of the StitchFix box on my doorstep and OMG PERFECT FIT!!

I know there are many of you who have also had to learn so much very late in life about taking care of your appearance, and I wish we could high-five each other about how far we’ve come.  If there are some of you that think you might benefit from StitchFix as much as I have, so here’s my referral link if you are interested in trying it:  (Thank you in advance if you use my link to sign up–I’ll get a $25 referral credit to feed my new fashion habit).

Why I Chose to Walk Away: Elle Christopherson’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

My mother was the model Christian home educator. She self-reported to the local school board when she wasn’t required to do so. She had me tested every few years for her own peace of mind. She kept journals and records and piles of my work and even paid for a distance-learning program in high school to ensure official transcripts for college. My mother led creative workshops in our co-op, and enrolled me in an animal dissection class taught by a certified biology teacher. She enjoyed teaching, from her own childhood play to leading Sunday school today, she has always loved to teach. Mom was in so many ways the ideal Christian home school parent. We were the envy of the church and even my friends. So why don’t I speak with her today? Why so deep a rift between me and the woman who passionately raised me?

This is the story of my lightbulb moment.

‘Biblically based.’ The core tenet guiding every moment of my life in school and out. My mother converted from Catholicism to Pentecostalism when I was three years old. Unable to afford our church’s private school, mom took inspiration from a visiting missionary couple and began to home school me when I entered Kindergarten.

She had good reason to avoid our local school system, which today is even further financially drained and failing, but so much more than simply avoiding a poor school, she hoped I would embrace God’s word and its relevance to our lives.

I was four the first time I prayed the sinner’s prayer. For months following, at bedtime I silently repeated, “Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus…” until sleep came. I was terrified that He might not know that I really meant it, that if I didn’t wake up I might go to hell and be separated from my Mommy forever.

Mom chose books through Abeka and Hewitt-Moore catalogs.

In history, I learned how the events of the Pentateuch played out into the formation of the societies we have today (Gen 10:32). I learned from science textbooks that ‘the circle of the earth’ (Is 40:22) indicated knowledge of our spherical world well before this discovery, proof of the Bible’s scientific accuracy and divine origins (2 Tim 3:16). In my health book I learned of the US’ abysmal rape statistics, but was encouraged to follow the Bible’s guidelines on modesty (1 Tim 2:9) and trusting God for a mate rather than dating (Ruth 3:10) to prevent unwanted attention. I attended church an average of 4 days a week (Heb 10:25), volunteering in nursery (Prov 22:6) and with the worship team (Col 3:16), church cleaning (1 Pet 4:10) and eventually leading Sunday School (1 Tim 2:2). At fifteen I chose to become my mother’s apprentice (Titus 2:3-5), and took charge of my youngest brother’s schoolwork until I married and moved out. As training for womanhood, I did the majority of housework at that time, and cooked all meals three to four days a week (Prov 31:13-19). We read the Bible together every morning, and individually (Joshua 1:8). I read it cover-to-cover four times and came to the conclusion that I should never wear pants (Deut 22:5).

The first real fight I had with my mother was over a woman’s right to preach in church. I had become convinced that the Bible indicated it was never okay (1 Tim 2:12, 1 Cor 14:34); she insisted God made exceptions like Deborah (Judg 4:4-5) especially in gifts of prophecy (Joel 2:28). At that time she told me that she was eager for my wedding, because she didn’t want me to ‘corrupt’ her children with my ideas (Rom 16:17). This hurt me deeply, because so long as the gospel was being preached, that’s all that mattered to me (Phil 1:18).

I was fearful, lonely, and unhappy, with no real understanding of why.

As far as I could tell, I was doing most things right, and repenting of the rest. This was supposed to bring me fulfillment and happiness unknown to the world! (Gal 5:22-23) But then, my mother always told me the world can ‘enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ (Heb 11:25) That must be why relatives appeared so carefree! Some of my viewpoints changed over time — I stopped wearing dresses (Gal 3) — but I always prayerfully came to these conclusions through scripture… or so I thought. Then I began to research infant circumcision.

The New Testament makes abundantly clear that circumcision is no longer requirement for a relationship with God (Rom 4), and in fact is even insulting to the cross (Gal 5:2). I easily decided it was wrong for a Christian to choose this. I was told that it was ‘cleaner,’ that modern science has shown this as wisdom God gave to the Israelites, and this is why Christians still follow the practice in spite of Biblical admonitions to the contrary. I looked into the science and discovered that it is hardly proven, this notion that amputation of genital tissue is necessary and beneficial for all mankind. That this practice was introduced among Americans only in recent history out of a desire to reduce ‘sinful’ masturbation in children. That over seventy percent of the world’s men have their parts intact, and modification is most common among highly religious people and nations — not the most scientifically advanced. Still, they asserted that the world was missing God’s will. I argued that if anything, science supports the New Testament’s position that it is no longer necessary.

As I delved deeper into the history of genital alteration, I learned of intersex individuals. I had never heard of this before, except in a passing joke. If it was possible to be born with both male and female parts, how was this ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps 139:14) individual to find a partner and not be forced to commit the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (Lev 20:13)? What if it were possible that those with same-sex attraction actually were born with that preference in their biology, since it’s possible to be born with a combination of sexual parts? I began to read more. Maimonides stated that circumcision was intended to curb the adult sexual inclinations of both males and females. Brit B’peh actually gives diseases to children.

The more I read, the more disgusted I became, and the more I found discrepancies between basic human decency and the Bible itself.

We fought for pro-life legislation because of verses that spoke of the value of human life, citing scriptures like Psalm 127:3. It certainly didn’t matter that the babies had unbelieving parents. Yet in just as many verses there are stories of God backing and causing infanticide and forced abortion among the disobedient (1 Sam 15:3, Hosea 13:16 for starters). We abhorred slavery of all kinds, and our Abeka history texts glorified the good Christians who brought slavery to an end in America. Yet there is not even one verse in the entire good book that condemns slavery. No, but there are New Testament admonitions for slaves to obey their masters (Col 3:22). How can one live ‘Biblically’ with a good conscience? By cherry-picking, apparently.

We lived by the verses we liked, explained away the ones we didn’t.

Everything began to crumble.

So it was that simple concern for baby humans which opened my eyes to the extent to which our textbooks (and churches) selectively chose Bible quotations alongside manipulated scientific and historical data to ‘prove’ conservative Christian theory, thus instilling their ‘Biblical Worldview.’ My mother was correctly led to believe that lifelong indoctrination would make departure from the faith extremely difficult. All my siblings still believe what they were taught, to varying degrees of fervor. It was only after marriage and caring for my own firstborn that I finally realized how little love is shown to all mankind’s sons and daughters in the Bible. The claim that God loves us all is constantly challenged within that same ‘good’ book.

I’m still unpacking all the pseudoscientific claims I relied upon as proof of the Bible’s validity.

All my life I heard pastors and home school mothers debating how and why adult children fall away from the faith when the Bible clearly says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ (Prov 22:6) Now I understand why those fell away, why I have chosen to walk away: the Bible tells me so.

‘And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.’ Mark 9:42

Rethinking Purity

CC image courtesy of Flickr, MadisonElizabethx.

The following is an excerpt from R.L. Stollar’s “Facing Our Fears: How the Voices of Homeschool Alumni Can Help Homeschooling,” originally prepared for the 2014 Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California. You can read the presentation in full here.

When we consider modesty and purity as a dialogue and not simply a monologue, we will realize what has often been communicated to homeschool children about modesty and purity has tied directly to abuse they have experienced and mental illness they struggle with. So, in fact, the dominant monologue about modesty and purity is a great example of how everything I’ve been talking about is all inter-connected. There’s this vast web of issues and no one issue is itself the “problem.”

If you follow homeschool news, you’ve probably heard a lot of homeschool “problems” as of late. Maybe those problems involved specific people, like Doug Phillips or Bill Gothard. Or maybe those problems involved specific ideas, like “Patriarchy” or “Legalism.” Over the last year, for example, homeschool debate coach Chris Jeub declared that “Patriarchy Has Got To Go,”[i] Presbyterian pastor Shawn Mathis claimed one of the “root problems” in homeschooling circles is Legalism,[ii] and HSLDA’s Michael Farris drew “A Line in the Sand,” denouncing both Patriarchy and Legalism as “damaging” and “threatening” to homeschool freedoms.[iii]

While I do think both Patriarchy and Legalism as systems of thought need to be called out, I want to point out that you are more than two-thirds of the way through this paper about issues homeschooling communities desperately need to address and this is the first time I have mentioned Patriarchy and Legalism. And I only mentioned them in the context of what homeschool leaders have called out thus far.

What I hope to communicate in highlighting this fact is that is that there’s no singular problem. While it is convenient to target certain systems of thought like Patriarchy and Legalism (especially since their most outspoken advocates, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, recently came under fire for sexual assault and harassment allegations[iv]), we cannot content ourselves with thinking that as long as we reject those two systems of thought, homeschooling will suddenly be healed. As Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has stated, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

The wheels of abuse and neglect in homeschooling are driven by much more than Patriarchy and Legalism; those systems are but a few of the wheel’s parts. All these problems are connected. They involve valuing ideas over children so much that we don’t stop and ask how our children experience those ideas. We neglect dialogue.


Modesty and purity.

I want to make this simple. Let’s talk about a phrase, a phrase that you have probably heard many times. This phrase goes something like this:

The greatest gift a young Christian woman can give her future husband is the gift of her purity.

Now, some of you might hear that phrase and think, “Amen.” Some of you might instead think, “That’s not true.” What I want to focus on is not whether you agree or disagree. I want to focus on interpretation. In other words, I want you to think about how this phrase gets interpreted by children.

Let me tell you how children — and by that, I mean almost every homeschool alumni I have talked to — has interpreted that phrase. That phrase means:

If a woman is no longer a virgin, she’s worth less.

One of the clearest examples of both this teaching as well as how it has been interpreted comes from a book that was wildly popular among homeschoolers when I was a teenager: When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy. (In fact, it continues to be popular today, even to the point of being a recommended resource in the context of sexual abuse prevention.[v]) The Ludys’ book, marketed as “The Ultimate Approach to Guy/Girl Relationships,” claims to be “for anyone searching for the beauty of true and lasting love, for romance in its purest form, and is willing to do whatever it takes in order to find it.”[vi] In one of the final chapters of the book, entitled “Too Late?”, Leslie Ludy discusses “sexual sin” and “moral compromise” — in other words, “lost virginity.”

There are two issues I want to highlight from this chapter about lost virginity: The first is the story Leslie tells about a 12-year-old girl named Rebecca. Leslie says that Rebecca — again, a 12-year-old — was lured by a 16-year-old boy from a church youth group into his house one day. Leslie says that Rebecca “left as a used and defiled sex toy” and was “forced from childhood into womanhood.”[vii]

From Leslie’s description alone, Rebecca’s story reads as a straightforward account of a 12-year-old girl being raped. The words “used” and “forced” indicate a lack of consent. Yet Leslie puts Rebecca’s story in the same chapter as stories of willing sexual encounters of individuals who chose to have sex before marriage. All these stories are then discussed as “sexual sin” and “moral compromise.”[viii] At no point does Leslie identify Rebecca’s story as a story of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or rape — and at no point does Leslie then relate it to the importance of children and teenagers learning sexual consent and safety. The message to young women reading this would be and has been clear: you being “forced from childhood into womanhood” is you sexually sinning, even if you were “forced.”

The second issue I want to highlight from Leslie’s chapter on “lost virginity” is how accounts of losing virginity are described. Leslie describes a number of young women’s first sexual encounters in the following ways: Karly, for example, “made the mistake of giving [her boyfriend] her most precious gift—her virginity, but now he was distant and cold towards her. She was full of guilt.”[ix] An unnamed 25-year-old from Australia is described as saying she had “given away the most precious thing I had—my purity. There’s nothing left of my treasure… Now I have nothing to offer my husband.”[x]

While Leslie does state that God can “forgive” each of these women for their sexual impurity and “can give us a ‘second virginity,’ spiritually speaking,”[xi] at no point does she question whether a young woman’s virginity (or “purity”) is “the most precious thing” one has. At no point does she question whether virginity is “the most precious gift” one can give one’s husband. The Ludys, in fact, endorse this idea — hence the importance of God granting a spiritual “second virginity.”

The Ludys are not alone in fixating on a person’s virginity as all-important. Another essential reading on relationships for homeschool teenagers was (and continues to be) Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity. While Elliot’s book is more contemplative than the Ludys and focuses on Elliot’s personal story of her relationship with her late husband Jim Elliot, Elisabeth states upfront that her book “is, to be blunt, a book about virginity.”[xii]

The message that homeschool students and alumni have received from books such as these is pretty clear: that if you are not “pure” (in other words, if you are not a “virgin”), then you no longer have “your most precious gift” that you can give your spouse. I want to take issue with this because I believe that not only is it a damaging message, I also believe that it is an unbiblical message. Marriage is a covenant of love: individuals deciding to commit and give themselves to one another, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And the greatest gift within the context of marriage is not one’s “purity” or “virginity” but one’s self.

In the Book of John, Jesus declares to his disciples that, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” And to make clear what it means to love another, Jesus adds that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[xiii] According to traditional Christian theology, Jesus himself demonstrated this greatest act of love when he sacrificed himself on the cross for humanity. And what Jesus sacrificed was not any one part of his body, or his virginity, or his “purity” of heart. Rather, he sacrificed himself — he gave the totality of his being for humanity.

Traditional Christian theology also tells us that marriage is to look like the relationship between Jesus and the Church. One must conclude, therefore, that the greatest act of love, the greatest gift, within the context of marriage is not any one part of one’s body or one’s virginity or one’s “purity” — but rather, in similarity with Jesus’s greatest gift, the giving of one’s self to another. You — not your virginity, but all of who you are, your body, heart, and soul — is your greatest gift to your spouse. This doesn’t mean virginity cannot have value; the problem is the message that it’s the most important thing when it comes to romantic relationships. You are such much more than whether you are a virgin or not. And that you — being an amazing and beautiful individual made in the image of God — want to give your life to share the journey of life with another human being? That is the ultimate gift.

But homeschool students and alumni learned otherwise. They learned that the greatest gift was not their selves but rather their virginity. And it is so important to see how this unbiblical teaching has led to great damage. Because when students and alumni are taught to value their virginity over their selves, their self-worth becomes inherently linked to their “purity.” Hence the idea young women have absorbed — that, If a woman is no longer a virgin, she’s worth less. Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart spoke of this idea last year when she said that after being kidnapped and abused it was “easy…to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value.”[xiv] Smart directly related this feeling to the purity teachings she had imbibed.

To fully appreciate how this idea has manifested for homeschool alumni, let’s look at a few examples of their experiences:

The first is from a young woman named Laura. She wrote,

“I had to go through the True Love Waits program. The ‘activity’ I remember the most was a wrapped present. I held the package and stood at the front of the room. Then, the youth leaders lined up the guys and each of them tore off some of the paper. Then I had to read some paragraph about how virginity is like a gift – no one wants a present that was ‘meant for them’ to have already been opened by someone else. Because of that one activity, I never told anyone I was raped at 15 until years later.”[xv]

The next story is from a young woman named Cora. Cora says,

“Having been told all of my life that my worth was in eventually being someone’s wife, serving him, and having children and that my virginity essential to attracting a husband, I naturally informed my [boyfriend] that I wanted to wait until marriage. He agreed. Then he started pushing. And pushing. Until he held me down in the bathroom one day, and forced himself on me… I told my friend. She told me it was because I was teasing him. I believed her. We both lived in a world that demanded that women be responsible for a man’s desire. The mere fact of existing and causing a man to want you means you should expect to be violated… I never told anyone else for a long, long time. I knew my parents would also tell me that it was my fault.”[xvi]

Another story, from another young woman named Auriel:

“When I was 9 years old, [my mom] told me that having my hair down made me look like a ‘lady of the night.’ Even though I was a shy, modest girl, Mom constantly told me that something I did or wore was sinful, displeasing to God, and might turn on my dad or my brothers. I was so scared that I was going to lead my brothers or dad into sin for lusting after me.”[xvii]

I know these stories are difficult and troubling to hear, so bear with me for just one more. This last one is from a young woman named Christine:

“When my boyfriend [in college] raped me, I felt horrible but thought it was sex. I thought to complain about it to a friend would be to say that sex was wrong… I had not been taught about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. As a child, I was taught that I must always put my own interests and feelings aside and serve other people, and not argue. My body had never been my own – not when my parents coerced me to hug someone or when they’d told me to pull down my pants so that they could give me more spankings… I was unused to being in touch with what my body told me… So, ironically, the teachings that my parents thought would keep me abstinent and make me a ‘good girl’ actually ended up putting me in unwanted sexual situations.”[xviii]

I think Libby Anne, a formerly homeschooled blogger, summarizes these stories in an importantly precise way. She says,

“Presents, chocolate bars, roses, chewing gum, packing tape—these sorts of metaphors abound in circles where what I call ‘purity culture’ is strongest, and each one is used to illustrate how having sex before marriage will ruin you, rendering you dirty and potentially even unable to bond or form real relationships for the rest of your life. In the effort to keep young people from having sex before saying marriage vows, Christian leaders, pastors, and parents resort to threatening their youth… in the process, these very teachings have led young women…to leave their rapes unreported, remain in abusive relationships, and stay with their abductors. This is not okay.”[xix]

Libby Anne is right. This is not okay. What young women — and young men, too![xx] — heard about modesty and purity is nothing less than cruel.

Now, you might agree with that. When you hear these stories, you might also have a kneejerk reaction like, “But I never said that!” Or, “I would never say that!” Or, “If my children asked me, I would let them know I don’t think that.” All of these reactions bring us back to the importance of dialogue.

See, communication is a two-way street. Though honestly, sometime it’s more like a traffic-jammed freeway in Los Angeles. Through my decade-plus experience with speech and debate, I can confidently tell you that communication is so, so much more than what you say. In fact, communication experts often say that what you say is probably the least important aspect of communication. Far more important than what you say is how you say it, your body language when you say it, the mindset of your audience, and — probably most important for our current discussion — what you don’t say.

All of these factors go into the turbulent mixture of communication. And sometimes? Sometimes you have no control over some of the factors. You can’t mind-read your audience and thus know their mindset. You can’t prepare in advance an entire list of things you are not saying but you unintentionally communicate.

This is directly relevant to the homeschooling conversation — both in general and about the modesty and purity aspect of that conversation in particular.

It’s relevant in general because your lived experiences as homeschool parents are completely different and distinct from the lived experiences of homeschool children. Things that you might take for granted, aren’t taken for granted by your kids. I was struck by this fact when blogger Libby Anne wrote a piece about finding out her mom didn’t actually believe everything in a homeschool magazine that their family regularly received. Here’s an excerpt:

“My mother subscribed to Above Rubies and read each issue thoroughly. The ideas contained within the magazine aligned at least generally with beliefs I heard my mother espouse. When my parents disagreed with a religious leader, they were quick to say so. In fact, I grew up hearing James Dobson described as too wishy-washy and soft. Yet, I never heard my mother call Nancy Campbell or her magazine into question, so I assumed that the messages contained therein were approved, and that it was something I should read, take to heart, and learn from. And read, take to heart, and learn I did… I’ve talked to more than my fair share of homeschool graduates who grew up in this culture and took to heart things they later found out their parents never even realized they were learning…. Parents may not realize the toxic ideologies their children taking in through osmosis from the Christian homeschooling culture around them… ‘You need to tell the girls, mom,’ I said. ‘They read Above Rubies just as I did at their age. You need to tell them you don’t agree with all of it, because if you don’t, they’ll think you do.’”[xxi]

I was blown away when I read this interaction between Libby Anne and her mom because, wow, I can so relate to it. I remember hearing all sorts of messages from my friends, my friends’ parents, from the magazines that were in our home, from the leaders who spoke at conventions — and I, too, just assumed that we were supposed to agree with what they said. I assumed my parents agreed. Years later, after all sorts of fear and anger and fights between my parents and I, we realized that (1) I thought they thought things they didn’t and (2) they had no idea I thought they thought those things. I was living in a shadow of misunderstanding and fear because my parents did not publicly express dissent about certain prevailing ideas and they never bothered to ask me what I was hearing from the homeschool culture around me.

Now take all those observations and apply them directly to the modesty and purity issue. You have a whole life of experiences. For my parents, it was experiences growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and reacting to certain expressions of love and sexuality they found harmful. And in response to those experiences, they came up with — and listened to others come up with — ideas for how to avoid the pain and heartache they experienced. They came up with ideas about modesty and purity and bought Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye and we attended seminars by Reb Bradley about Preparing Your Children for Courtship and Marriage.

But my fellow alumni and I didn’t grow up in the 60’s and 70’s. We grew up in often sheltered and protective homes. So our parents’ expressions of love and sexuality — built in reaction to their culture’s expressions of love and sexuality — mean something entirely different to us than to our parents. They are heard differently, felt differently, and lived differently. So much is lost in translation.

And when modesty and purity get communicated — in our culture with our experiences — with a line like,

The greatest gift a young Christian woman can give her future husband is the gift of her purity.

…we are not thinking about Woodstock. We are not thinking about the Free Love Movement. We are thinking about holding hands or the Antebellum Dances or the swing dances so popular in homeschooling circles. We are thinking that if we lose that “gift of purity” (whether by force or willingly), our worth has been diminished.

So you need to stop and ask yourself difficult questions like, what if my child gets assaulted? You probably don’t want to, because that is probably one of the most heart-wrenching and sickening scenarios you could ever imagine. You would probably do everything in your power to stop such a situation from occurring.

But you can’t just wish away the possibility. As a parent, you have to come to terms with what we talked about earlier: that as many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood. What are your modesty and purity messages teaching those girls and boys? How will your messages be interpreted after an experience of trauma? Are your messages going to empower them to speak up, or will they silence them into shame, guilt, and secrecy? Into darker moments? Perhaps even longer and more abusive relationships?

What I want to challenge you to do today is to go home and rethink everything for yourself. I want you to put yourself in Laura’s shoes; I want you to put yourself in Cora’s shoes; I want you to put yourself in Auriel’s shoes; I want you to put yourself in Christine’s shoes.

How are they hearing your metaphors? How are they hearing your analogies?

This is why dialogue is so important. This is why we need alumni to keep speaking up and we need to hear from you — you who are parents and leaders of our communities — that you welcome our voices. Because you actually can’t put yourself in our shoes entirely. We need to tell you what roads we walked and what words we heard from you. We’re the ones who can tell when you communicated messages that trapped us in abusive mindsets, abusive relationships, or drove us into depression or suicidal thoughts. And if you will listen, if you will open your arms and hear our words and show us you care, then we can work together to make things better for the next generation.

But we have to do it together. You cannot change this world alone.

Click here to read the rest of “Facing Our Fears: How the Voices of Homeschool Alumni Can Help Homeschooling.”


[i] Chris Jeub,, “Patriarchy Has Got To Go,” April 16, 2014, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[ii] Shawn Mathis, Examiner, “Homeschool apostates, homeschoolers and legalism,” December 17, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[iii] Michael Farris, Home School Court Report, “A Line in the Sand,” August 2014, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[iv] Regarding Doug Phillips, see Chelsea Schilling, WorldNetDaily, “Christian Giant Sued For ‘Using Nanny As Sex Object,’” April 15, 2014, link. Regarding Bill Gothard, see Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service, “Conservative leader Bill Gothard resigns following abuse allegations,” link.

[v] Lisa and Kalyn Cherry, “Recommended Reading List For Parents and Teens,” Kalyn’s Secret, Word and Spirit Resources, 2009, p. 293. Also see Frontline Family Ministries, “Sexual Abuse: Recommended Reading,” link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[vi] Eric and Leslie Ludy, When God Writes Your Love Story, Loyal Publishing, 1999, p. 13.

[vii] Ibid, p. 202.

[viii] Ibid, p. 203.

[ix] Ibid, p. 203.

[x] Ibid, p. 205.

[xi] Ibid, p. 204.

[xii] Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning To Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control, Baker Book House Company, 1984, p. 11.

[xiii] John 15:12-13, New International Version, Bible Gateway, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xiv] Elizabeth Smart as quoted by Elizabeth Esther, “Elizabeth Smart & the life-threatening danger of shame-based purity culture,” May 8, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xv] Libby Anne, Pathos, “Things Woman Hear In The Church,” May 15, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xvi] Cora, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “When Home Is Worse Than Rape,” May 13, 2014, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xvii] Auriel, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Growing Kids the Abusive Way,” August 13, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xviii] Christine, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Asexuality And Purity Teachings Can Be A Toxic Mix,” May 24, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xix] Libby Anne, Patheos, “Question: What Do Presents, Chocolate Bars, Roses, Chewing Gum, and Packing Tape Have in Common?,” June 6, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xx] An example of how purity teachings have impacted males can be seen in Abel’s story on Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Ticking Time Bombs of Atomic Hormones”: link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

[xxi] Libby Anne, Patheos, “They Why Didn’t You Tell Us That, Mom?,” September 1, 2013, link, accessed on September 29, 2014.

Gothard’s ATI and the Duggar Family’s Secrets

Jim Bob Duggar and Bill Gothard at an ATI conference. Source:

By Wende Benner, HA Editorial Team

Content Warning: Spiritual Victim Blaming

The recent revelation that Josh Duggar admittedly molested five young girls as a teenager has taken over social media for the last two days. There has been a wide array of reactions and speculations. But, for many who were raised in the same quiverfull and patriarchal homeschool world, this has been a time of reliving their own traumas brought about by that dysfunctional culture. Those who lived it know all too well how the teachings and attitudes that are part of the Duggar family’s life affect families, victims, and even offenders.

The Duggar family’s involvement in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschool program adds complexities to this story which are unknown to the average person. The underlying principles and beliefs the Duggars have built their lives around actually help groom and shame victims, help hide grievous abuse, and even keep offenders from receiving needed help.

The lessons learned from birth in homes like the Duggar’s strip children of their voice and agency. Starting with blanket training babies and toddlers understand quickly that disappointing a parent leads to swift and painful consequences. As they grow, it becomes clear that simply doing what is expected is not enough. It must be done instantly and cheerfully. Children are even forbidden to seek out the logic behind the request, as kids are prone to do, because that is seen a making excuses or delaying obedience. The consequences of failing to meet these expectations are severe. Gothard and the Duggars believe that spankings are necessary to save a child from their inborn nature to do evil, and these are not just any spankings. The Duggars endorse the child abuse methods taught by the Pearls. Growing up in an environment of fear, where questions are seen as rebellious, eventually makes children unable to speak up for themselves. They become unable to trust their own judgment of what is right and wrong. These children are the perfect targets for abuse; they do not know how to advocate for themselves.

Also, from a young age the children are instructed in God’s plan for their gender. Strict gender roles are the foundation of a patriarchal system. Girls learn their role is to be wives, mothers, and keepers at home. Most people know that for the Duggar family this includes the expectation of having as many children as possible.  Michelle Duggar is also outspoken about her beliefs on a wife’s subservient role and need to be sexually available to her husband. Children learn by watching their parents that men hold the power. This is detrimental for both boys and girls. Neither learns to have a healthy relationship without the power differential already in place.

All of this is accompanied by one of Bill Gothard’s 7 Basic Principles, Authority (these principles are the foundation to his Institute in Basic Life Principles seminar). This concept is taught with a diagram of umbrellas, which represent protection.

Umbrella of ProtectionNotice the man has authority over the entire household. The teaching claims that as long as the father has no holes in his umbrella-sin in his life, then nothing bad can happen to the rest of the family. However, any member of the family can step out from under the father’s protection if they sin. Then all manner of evil can happen to that person. Therefore, if something bad, like a sexual assault, happens to you and your father hasn’t done anything wrong, it must be your fault. Knowledge of this fact keeps many from even disclosing their abuse. They are aware that questions about sin in their life are likely to follow any revelation of their violation.

In Gothard’s world there are many other ways in which sexual abuse can be the victim’s fault. At the ATI student’s Counseling Seminar students are taught Gothard’s method of helping victims of sexual assault. The handout pictured here is part of the teaching material. Counseling SAStudents are taught to question the victim if they had any fault in the assault. The most obvious way they would be at fault is if they defrauded their attacker. Defraud is Gothard’s favorite word for any dress, actions, or manners that cause someone to lust. This teaching is further backed up by a handout on moral failure released in the 90s after an ATI boy was caught molesting his sisters.

ModestyWith this teaching a case can easily be made to blame the victim in some way. The feelings of arousal the offender felt must have been caused by some fault of the victim.

Defrauding is not the only way a victim can be at fault. Gothard also teaches that if a victim fails to “cry out” or be alert (one of the 49 required character traits everyone should have) enough to have anticipated the assault, then the victim bears responsibility. The story of Tamar, daughter of King David, is used to illustrate this point. It is easy to see how these teaching have set up a system where the victim bears the blame. Anyone raised with these beliefs is set up to struggle with a lifetime of shame and guilt while still bearing the scars of their abuse.

Before the victim has a chance to make sense of what has happened to them or deal with the chaos of emotions, they will also be reminded of another one of Gothard’s 7 Basic Principles-Suffering. This principle emphasizes the necessity of forgiveness and has dire warnings about the consequences of unforgiveness. If a victim fails to forgive, bitterness will take root in their heart, and bitterness causes pieces of your soul to be given to Satan. Satan will then build strongholds on this piece of your soul.

BitternessThis teaching is also echoed in the handout from the Counseling Seminar. Victims are to be reminded that their soul has more value than their bodies, so forgiving the offender must be the priority. Any suffering caused by the assault is then brushed aside.

The Duggars assured the public Josh’s victims have received counseling. Yet, the type of counseling taught in their world does not promote healing. It teaches shame. How can these young people be expected to heal from such a violation with these principles guiding the process?

The Duggars also claim that Josh received counseling. It is reported this counseling was done over three months at an old VA hospital in Little Rock, AK. While there he did construction work. The old hospital was donated to Bill Gothard for use as a training center. The Integrity Construction Institute was at that time a part of this facility. Evidence that manual labor is an effective treatment for sex offenders is hard to come by. Construction work alone would be a disservice to someone seeking help.

It is important to note that any counseling received from someone associated with ATI would be driven by the belief that mental disorders do not exist. This approach to counseling would be ineffective to address the very nature and needs of a serial molester.

Any counsel Josh did receive would probably be similar to the counsel noted earlier, in the handout on moral failure from the 90s.

Moral FailureWith close examination it becomes clear that the boy referenced learned a lesson on shifting blame. The victims were blamed for their lack of modesty. The parents were blamed for their lack of teaching. The offender learned to see how others have failed and have caused his problems. This approach would not bring any lasting change in someone needing serious help.

Josh Duggar’s situation as a teen was critical. Studies show that young offenders who are able to get the right kind of help reduce their probability of reoffending by more than 50%. Yet, as far as we can tell, that kind of help was not available to him. The ATI system of counseling not only fails the victims but the offenders as well.

This toxic system of beliefs originated with Bill Gothard, a man who had to resign from his own ministry last year when faced with dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. Even though Michelle and Jim Bob were aware of this, they still continued to use these teaching in their home and promote them using their fame. They also continued to speak and teach at the annual ATI family conferences. They have failed to see how their own system of belief has contributed to the devastation in their own family and in the ministry they promote.

The secrets the Duggar family hid all these years have tragic and devastating effects. The lives of five victims will be permanently altered. ATI only helped cover their abuse. ATI also was unable to provide the necessary counseling that Josh Duggar desperately needed at that time. The consequences of that failure could have changed to course of his life.

Bill Gothard’s cult creates a world in which abuse thrives in secret, and those that need help the most are silenced and shamed.

A Story about My Mom and Panties: Fidget’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Alex Proimos. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Alex Proimos. Image links to source.

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

How I Learned that My Mom Didn’t Maintain the Belief that She Owned My Body and the Way my Father Thought He Did

When I was fifteen, on a rare trip to Kohl’s with three of my four approved friends (yep, the only four girls I talked to when I was fifteen), I bought myself my first cute panties. Out for the five pairs I bought that day, the most memorable were black and had a butterfly composed of hearts (or a heart composed of butterflies) screen-printed on the back. None of them were thongs, and they weren’t particularly sexy or risqué or anything, they were just cute and feminine and fun, but I was nervous about owning them. Before, all I had ever worn was plain Hanes–  the ugly animal print granny panties with a waistband that cut into your skin no matter how big you bought them– that came in six and eight packs at Walmart, so lace waistbands seemed lavish and taboo to me. It felt like I was putting myself in danger when I bought them, and in reality I probably was on some level.

Like a lot of homeschooled girls I know, all of my clothes had to meet my father’s approval.

There were unspoken rules about how I was allowed to dress, rules that my father applied at random whenever I was about to go out, and that changed at his discretion. I wasn’t allowed to wear padded bras, because they were ‘too slutty’ (yeah, someone explain that one to me), I wasn’t allowed to wear bright red tights no matter how long the shorts or skirt was on top of them, because they ‘drew too much attention to me’. It wasn’t just about modesty, though that was often given as an excuse. My father didn’t want me to look like a ‘freak’: he demanded that the little mosquito bite marks on my legs and arms be covered (point of interest they never scared, they would fade before the summer ended), he wanted me to keep my hair long and naturally colored, my face naked, and my nails were never supposed to be painted black (they almost always were).

He believed that my image was really his image, and therefore his tastes were the only ones that mattered when it came to the way I dressed.

(Another side note: I’m now about the most goth looking girl I know and wear my hair cropped and dyed, and even then I had already chopped my hair for the first time and dipped my toes into the kiddie-pool of ‘emo fashion’, so there goes his image).

Naturally, I kept my new panties secret, wearing them on special days and washing them separately from the rest of the family’s laundry (this is a major perk of being entirely responsible for the whole family’s dirty clothes). They stayed secret until a family trip to a lake house in Virginia. The chore rotation that we followed at home didn’t apply on vacation, so I found myself folding laundry with my mom while my father and all of my brothers played in the lake (I could go on forever about how my four perfectly capable brothers weren’t required to help just because we were on vacation, but whatever). I had miscounted days and not packed enough, so my secret panties were in the pile of clean laundry, and disaster was looming. I was prepared to snatch all of them and shove them into the pockets of my cargo capris (so sexy) before my mom could see, but she beat me to it. She picked up the butterfly-heart-butt pair. I braced for her to run out and report to my father that I was a huge whore (despite only knowing three boys my age and almost never seeing them, and certainly never touching them, and despite not yet knowing the word ‘clitoris’ or even ‘orgasm’ and with the most clinical understanding of sex possible). My heart was in my throat, and I felt tears in my eyes already. I wondered if apologizing and throwing them out would make the shouting and threats that would surely follow any less awful. I seriously doubted it, so I decided I would fight for them, damn the cost.

I was already used to being told off for being rebellious and selfish and spoiled, so who cared if I was going to add whore-in-cute-underwear to the list of things wrong with me.

“Are these yours?” My mom didn’t sound mad, but then again she rarely did until she was shouting.

I nodded, mute with terror.

“They’re cute.” and she folded them and handed them to me.

“You like them?” I was blown away, this didn’t make any sense, I was prepared for a fight, I was prepared for shouting, and all she had to say was that they were cute?

She fished another pair out and smiled at me, “Yes, I think they’re all cute, nice choice.” No condemnation, no anger, no shame, just ‘cute’.

My mom and I almost never talked about clothes, and I can’t recall ever having a conversation with her about my image that was particularly empowering. She never talked about body positivity or treating myself well, and never commented on the way my father treated me about it.

With her approval of my panties, my mom very subtly taught me that she didn’t think she owned my body.

Without meaning to, I’m sure, she gave me approval to start exploring my image and developing a healthy relationship with my clothes and appearance. She didn’t comment on them ever again, but she didn’t need to. That stupid afternoon of extra housework was one of the most import ones all because she didn’t get mad at me. My father never found out and never called me a slut over them (he would have, no doubt). My mom was okay with them, she was okay with me. It was all okay.

As a side note: he did call me a slut over other things. Side-side note: NO UNDERWEAR IS EVER IMMODEST EVER. PERIOD. NO DISCUSSION. It’s UNDERWEAR for fucks sake, no one is going to see it, unless you want them too, and in that case ‘modesty’ is really not much of a concern

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Six


HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on August 3, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Five

Part Six: Modesty- Because SKIN is a Four-Letter Word

I remember the first time I heard the word “modesty”.  I was eight.  We were all gathered together on a Wednesday night, listening to Joe LaQuiere talk.  We were dressed up somewhat nicely, because it was our version of church, and I was wearing a dress.  The adults were sitting on the couch, and the kids were sitting on kitchen chairs or sprawled on the floor.  I remember I was lying on my back, propped up on a pillow, listening to Mr. LaQuiere and thinking that he was the most godly man I’d ever meet!  I was more than a little in awe of him.  He commanded attention and respect with his voice and his self-proclaimed exclusive knowledge of How We Ought to Live.  Out of nowhere, he turned to me and asked if he could use me as an object lesson.  I was completely thrilled to be noticed, because I was so quiet and shy that I was used to people forgetting I was even there.  I shyly agreed.  He turned to one of his older sons (the dark-eyed one all the girls had secret crushes on) and asked him, “What color are her panties?”  His son looked and said they were blue.  I was mortified.  Worse than mortified.  Humiliated.  I was already painfully shy and shrunk from public attention.  To be put on display in front of everyone I knew–all of them snickering at me–it was the worst thing I had ever felt.  I wanted the floor to swallow me.  Mr. LaQuiere proceeded to say that the reason he and his son, and now everyone, knew what color my panties were, was because I was displaying them by how I was lying.  Modesty – that was it.

I was lacking modesty, and it was worth the small price of one little girl’s feelings to bring it to the attention of his flock.

From now on, we needed to be careful about what we were wearing, and how we were sitting, standing, or lying down in our clothes.  No one wanted to make the fatal mistake I did and open themselves to the same ridicule.  That was my introduction to modesty.

Modesty: it’s the topic near and dear to many a home-schooled heart.  No one was concerned about the “braiding of hair” or “the adornment of jewels” that Paul actually talks about (we all wore our hair french-braided most of the time, or at least, all the girls who had long enough hair did: be still, my envious heart!).  But everyone was very concerned about the feminine figure and especially with the question of whether or not the girls nearing puberty were “showing” inappropriately through their turtlenecks and jean jumpers.  Mr. A had seen some evidence of this and had stern discussions with the parents of the offending girls, who passed the scolding on to their embarrassed daughters.  Our mothers were worried.  Was it time for “those” conversations and the mandating of bras?  Whispered reprimands were given, and sometimes girls were sent in disgrace to grab a sweater.  Some of the older girls were banned from wearing turtlenecks altogether.  I was a little bit jealous of them.  No one would ban me from wearing a turtleneck.  At least they had something to hide!  Puberty and budding little-girl breasts also brought up the issue of hugging, and all girls, whether they had “bumps” to hide or not, were strictly ordered to avoid giving any hugs that could result in their chests brushing the other person.  Most of us chose to avoid hugging altogether, rather than engage in obligatory, awkward, arms-length hugs with anyone.

This was so foreign to what my life was like before I met the LaQuieres.  In earlier times, I would wake up, scurry to grab some clean play-clothes, and head out to play.  I couldn’t have cared less what I was wearing while I was playing, as long as it didn’t get in my way.  I had a favorite outfit: my yellow-and-pink shorts with little cherries on them, and a pink t-shirt with ruffled sleeves.  They matched my white tennis shoes with the hot pink laces that I wore proudly crisscrossed around my ankles three times (they were really long laces!).  My sense of fashion may have left something to be desired, but hey, I was only eight!  When it was cold, I wore long pants and sweaters.  When it was hot, I wore shorts.  When we played in the sprinkler, I wore a bathing suit with little yellow ducks on it.  Dresses were reserved for Sundays and church, and holidays.  I spent my days practicing cartwheels and climbing trees, so it seemed logical that I’d end up in pants most of the time.  Those days were now over.

The new attire was to be modest and gender-specific.  It was an abomination to the Lord for girls to look like boys, or boys to look like girls, we were told.

From now on, girls were to wear dresses, all the time (unless very special circumstances warranted pants for the sake of modesty).  Of course you could ride a bike and roller-blade in a dress, if you really found it necessary to engage in those activities.  Why couldn’t you?  As for climbing trees, that wasn’t really lady-like anyway.  Did I want boys to try to look up my dress?  Well then.  Maybe I should find something better to do with my time.  Swimsuits became a hot topic.  A serious discussion was held by the grown-ups, led by Joe LaQuiere, who pointedly said that wearing swimsuits was essentially parading around in your underwear in public.  When did that become appropriate?  Goodbye swimsuit with the little yellow ducks on it.  Hello, big oversize t-shirts and knee-length shorts!  I found my new swim clothes to be annoying and hampering.  How was I supposed to learn to stand on my hands underwater when I was constantly being chided by my mom for letting my huge t-shirt float up in the water, letting people catch apparently-tantalizing glimpses of my one-piece swimsuit underneath?  This was too much for my practical 8-year-old self, and I tried, mostly in vain, to argue my way out of wearing at least the huge t-shirts, pleading their impracticality.  When we were swimming by ourselves at home, I sometimes even won my case!

Later on, swimming became even more restricted.  Mixed-gender swimming was strongly frowned upon, if not outright prohibited.  We avoided beaches and swimming in public places more and more.  Public pools became off-limits, because they wouldn’t allow girls to wear shorts and shirts over a swimsuit (which for some bizarre reason they insisted on classifying as “clothing”, not appropriate pool attire).

Even dresses were not modest enough by themselves.

The more crafty of the mothers sewed dreadful lacy white “culottes” for all the girls, so that if we were so immodest as to allow a glimpse of something, that something would only be old-fashioned grandma shorts, which hopefully wouldn’t turn anybody on.  The other creative solution to the problem of female modesty was to buy all our clothes in women’s sizes, thereby ensuring that they would be at least three sizes too big.  Thus the dangers of accidentally displaying a curve or bit of skin were averted, causing all mothers to heave a collective sigh of relief.  They had done their jobs.  Of course, this meant necklines that were far too big or low for most of us, which required the extra step of sewing custom inserts into all the dresses.  But that was a small price to pay for the moral safety of their offspring!  When I look back at pictures of myself during this stage, I was invariably wearing long flowery dresses that hung off me like a scarecrow, complete with big lace collars and huge shoulder pads that stuck out 4 inches further than my shoulders.  I actually liked the shoulder pads, because they gave me a sort of shape, which was more than nature let me have.  I looked like an inverted triangle, but it was a real, recognizable shape, and I was pleased about it!

When I was 12, I was wearing dresses and sometimes (only at home, shh!) jeans that were a women’s size 6.  Today, seventeen years later, and a few sizes bigger, I can’t fit into anything larger than a women’s size 2.  Usually I can’t even fit into women’s sizes at all, and have to shop in the Junior section.  Yes, it’s a little embarrassing, but nothing could make me go back to the days when I wore flowering tents with linebacker-shoulder pads!

Part Seven>

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

The White Dress and Modesty: Mahalath’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr. Image links to source.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mahalath” is a pseudonym. Also by Mahalath on HA: “Paper Swords.”

I once owned a dress that was made of white lace and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

I don’t know how it ended up in my possession, but I remember trying it on near the bathroom mirror. No frills, no fluffy skirt, and it actually fit my body. While I admired myself in the mirror, however, I kept one hand on the door and both ears straining for the slightest noise. The dress had wide straps and a skirt that ended above my knees, so of course it was “immodest”. I could never wear it. So I put it in my dresser, way in the back, for “someday”. Someday, when I could wear what I wanted, I would take it out again and go for a smoothie. I would laugh and feel pretty.

I never got to wear that dress.

My parents snooped through my stuff one day and found it. In order to escape punishment for keeping such immodest apparel, I said that I was saving it for sewing scraps. I had to keep my face still and bite my tongue as they cut my dream dress apart, saying they’d feel better if they gave me a head start.

I don’t recall a time in my parent’s house when I could feel pretty without the risk of shame.

Everything had to have sleeves, cover the knees, and not show any cleavage. It couldn’t fit you properly, because it might show off your body. (I wore a size too big for years because my mother refused to let me wear the right size.) White shirts might show your bra, v-necks invited boys, and heaven forbid I go swimming in a swimsuit without a skirt!

The term “dress” meant a Victorian-era type garment with a wide collar, sash, and buttons down the front. They were obtained from Goodwill and Salvation Army in varying degrees of atrociousness. I fit right in with Samantha, my American girl doll, right down to the lacy white socks. (A huge victory came at age nine, when I destroyed all my lacy socks and refused to wear new ones.)

Makeup was a battle that was fought and lost. The little makeup that was permitted was frequently inspected and deemed “too much”. The only acceptable amount was just enough so that it didn’t look like we wore any at all. I gave up, and consequently know nothing about makeup. My little sister, however, cared a great deal. Even though my parents somewhat relaxed their rules with her, she still can’t get ready for church without some remark about how she “cakes it on”.

When bags of used clothing would arrive for our perusal, my sister and I would grab the most risky of them all (Shorts above the knees? A shirt cut to fit a girl? A cute mini dress?) We’d try them on, helping each other with straps and zippers, admiring how good we looked in them. But there was a certain sense of doom that accompanied this private fashion show, and we gave each other looks of sympathy as we marched out to be inspected. Rather, rejected, as the criticism began. How could we think that was appropriate? You should have known better than to try that on. What would God think of what we were wearing? That needs more “up top”, this makes people look at your bottom, that is “painted on”.

As the door slammed behind us, the air ringing with the edict to put on something else, two young girls cried and rubbed each other’s backs in sympathy.

“But,” we’d whisper, “I look pretty.”

They wondered why I had self-esteem issues afterwards. Seriously.

My father asked me once how I couldn’t like myself after all of this. Because, daddy, you and mum have spent my whole life telling me it was wrong to feel like a girl. Be pretty, but not too pretty, or you may as well be a prostitute. So many other girls have grown up this way, being ashamed of their femininity while “femininity” and traditional gender roles are being crammed down their throats. It’s a contradiction at best, a tragedy at worst, that as the children of the modesty culture grow up they are forced to decide whether or not they want to be accepted by their families or themselves.

It was hard for me to think about dresses for a long time. To me, “dress” meant an ugly hand-me-down that looked like it belonged in a history museum, not on a modern girl’s body. It as a momentous occasion when I went shopping for my very first dress and fell in love with being a girl, not a piece of meat that had to be covered to prevent flies from getting too close.

I never really appreciated what it meant to be female when I lived at home. It was as if having curves was sinful, that hiding what I was born with was the only atonement. At times, I remember expressing hatred for my gender because we had to go through so much to keep men from “stumbling”. But how I dress is my decision, and if someone has a problem with it, male or female, it’s their problem.

I have had to relearn what it is to be pretty, and I’m still not done learning.

I still wear a lot of jeans and T-shirts, but the jeans and T-shirts fit now. I’m trying to get in touch with my feminine side, and it’s kind of great. Who I am is not and will never be a reflection of some set of rules for modesty, but what makes me feel good. And I do feel good.

I visited my home a couple of weeks ago for the first time since I moved away. I walked out of the storage room they’d thrown my bed into, ready for Sunday church in a dress I had bought myself. It was a gray mini dress from Forever 21, a v-neck that was simple in design and very slimming. I wore leggings underneath, and had spent time before I emerged adjusting so the skirt didn’t hike up and the neckline didn’t sink low. The first thing my mother said was, “I thought you were getting dressed for church.” I confirmed that I was dressed, and she began to criticize. I was wearing a shirt, not a dress. Didn’t I know how immoral it was to wear leggings? “Tell her!” she exclaimed to my silent father. His contribution was a quiet remark of how it showed my shoulders. Shoulders? Seriously? Of course, hordes of men were waiting at the front door of the church to lust at my bare shoulders!

I ended up not wearing the dress, to avoid conflict. She literally begged me to let her wash my mud-stained jeans instead. When she brought them up to me, freshly laundered, she asked why I had even thought about wearing my dress in the first place. I looked her square in the eye and said, “I love this dress because it makes me feel like a girl. It makes me feel pretty.” And she had nothing to say.

I’m still looking for a dress like the one I lost, white and lacy and feminine.

Someday I’ll find it, and I’ll wear it with pride.