Sobbin’ Women and a Rubber Duck: Ellynn’s Story

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

I didn’t intend to write this.

When the prompt went out about Media Memories I didn’t feel like I had anything to add. Like most homeschool kids, I wasn’t allowed to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, or a decent chunk of Disney. This was in an era of little to no internet access, so I have old art projects where I tried to draw the things from the shows my public school friends told me about with no basic idea of what they were talking about (my idea of a megazord was apparently multi colored ninjas making a pyramid). My media was Nanny Bird and Psalty (the blue fro’d singing psalm book). My younger, non-fundie cousins had Barney. Comparatively, when my youngest siblings came along, Veggie Tales were amazingly watchable.

And you know, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t really terrible. I wasn’t scarred for life because I wasn’t allowed to watch Aladdin. Yeah, as an adult I had a lot of cultural catching up to do, but I’m not upset about it.

So, yeah, I didn’t think I had anything to say about my own Media Memories.

Do you know how much of your thinking occurs on a subconscious level? Little background things collate as you go about your day and then smack you in the face when you least expect it.

I’m one of those people, I’ve always got a song in my head.

While I love it, it’s also quite frustrating because I have no control over the selection. Monty Python, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and various greatest hits of YouTube pop in at the most inappropriate times. More annoyingly, I often revert to songs I grew up with. My Aunt’s favorite country songs, Stephen Curtis Chapman, the Donut Man — I find myself absently singing things I haven’t heard in well over a decade, things I could happily never hear again.

I’m pretty sure I still know all the lyrics to Achy Breaky Heart. Thanks for nothing Billy Ray Cyrus.

So one day last week I was at work and I caught myself absently singing “Sobbin’ Women” from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and nearly threw up. Literally, and let me tell you it was unexpected.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a retelling of the Rape of the Sabine.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a retelling of the Rape of the Sabine.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is something that even the most conservative families I knew had watched. It’s a 1950’s musical, with attractive guys and fun dance numbers and it all ends in a mass wedding. Wholesome, right?

The thing is, it’s a retelling of the Rape of the Sabine, where a group of men came upon the young women of a village at the Sabine river, bathing and doing laundry, and took them by force to be their wives.

Did you know the English word rape rooted in the Latin raptio, which also translates as “abduction”? The reason we root sexual assault within a word that generally translates to abduction is because of this story. It’s also considered one of the foundational moments in Roman history.

Here’s a few of the lyrics from the lesson the elder brother taught his younger brothers about wooing:

Them a woman was sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’ fit to be tied.

Ev’ry muscle was throbbin’, throbbin’ from that riotous ride.

Oh they cried and kissed and kissed and cried

All over that Roman countryside

So don’t forget that when you’re takin’ a bride.

Sobbin’ fit to be tied! From that riotous ride!

…Them a women was sobbin’, sobbin’, passin’ them nights.

Now let this be because it’s true, a lesson to the likes of you,

Treat ’em rough like them there Romans do, Or else they’ll think you’re tetched.

And the reply:

Oh yes! Them a women was sobbin’, sobbin’,

Sobbin’ buckets of tears

…Oh they acted angry and annoyed, but secretly they was overjoyed!

(Click at your own risk, because damn is it catchy)

So don’t forget that when you’re taking your bride! Sobbin fit to be tied!

And you know, it’s very 1950’s, there’s something like four kisses in the movie, they all seem like lovely kidnappers, and of course the women loved them and they got married, so it was romantic!

As a kid I didn’t really have a concept of what rape was, much less rape culture. I just loved the dresses and the dance numbers.

As an adult I catch myself singing “Them a woman was sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’ fit to be tied. / Ev’ry muscle was throbbin’, throbbin’ from that riotous ride,” at work and go from zero to physically ill almost instantly.

So I had something to say, but I still wasn’t sure what -—other than “don’t let your kids watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Trust me, they’ll be glad to have missed out on that when they’re older.” But the thing is, in my experience homeschoolers never need to be told not to let their kids interact with media. The slightest hint that someone disapproves is generally enough to get further restriction, and that’s really not  a message I endorse. So yeah, I wasn’t sure where my brain was going with this.

And then, while I was thinking over what to write, a small voice in my head sang “because I love my duck,” and I just knew.

Have you ever seen King George & The Ducky? It is by far my favorite Veggie Tales tape. The songs are catchy, the mini skits are great, THE FRENCH PEAS! Really, what’s not to love. And they managed to tell the story of David and Bathsheba in a way that would be acceptable to children.

Except I’ve never wondered, but why are we telling the story of David and Bathsheba to children?

It’s essentially a story of rape (yes, there are no explicit scenes in the text, but if a king orders a woman he’s never met brought to him for the purpose of having sex, struggle or not, it is totally rape) and murder. What are we going to tell them next? The story of Lot and his daughters, teaching a tale of incest and/or date rape with carrots and peas? Just because it’s in the bible doesn’t mean it’s really appropriate material for children.

But there’s something more than that.

You are not the author of your own story, you’re not even a character, but if you’re really lucky we’ll put you in it as a rubber toy.
You are not the author of your own story, you’re not even a character, but if you’re really lucky we’ll put you in it as a rubber toy.

In conservative culture, be it from the 50’s or 2015, women are generally objects with no agency. Even when they’re main characters, i.e. Elsie Dinsmore, their greatest virtue is in their absolute submission to the men in their lives, their unquestioning obedience and absolute love for these men, no matter how wrong they many be (i.e. Seven Brides style kidnapping plots). If you love and obey your father/man in all things you will have a happy ending – unless God is testing you, then after several years of lovingly submitting through hell you will have a happy ending, probably with the person who was tormenting you through all those years.

Moving beyond the minimal representation women often have in media, there are very few examples of women who are strong, smart, and make their own choices, for good or for ill, in christian media. Heck, a girl making her own choices and having a happy ending was one of the reasons people hated The Little Mermaid when it came out. A man can choose to kidnap a group of women and get a happy ending, a woman can only be good when she is submitting.

Because I love my duck.

Veggie Tales didn’t really have any female characters for the first several installments. They tried to remedy that later on with Esther, Shelby, and Madame Blueberry, who each showed up very sporadically and never really made it into the core character set. I’m not even sure Junior’s mom has any lines.

Bathsheba, the woman who was pulled out of her house, forcibly made consort to the king, and who had her husband murdered, is a rubber ducky. She is literally an object. And that’s a lesson for little girls.

You are not the author of your own story, you’re not even a character, but if you’re really lucky we’ll put you in it as a rubber toy.

King George was my favorite Veggie Tales installment, and now, when I think about it I want to cry.

And that is the trouble with growing up, it’s not the things you weren’t allowed, it’s the things you realize you can never enjoy again because what seemed harmless, cute, and wholesome in actuality makes you ill when you start to think about it.

That, and paying for your own insurance.

The Ideal Homeschool Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So stop fetishizing my pain.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

When “Respect” Involves “Disgust”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on December 5, 2013.

Growing up in a conservative evangelical home, I believed that we were the ones who truly respected women. I believed that our young men—the young men in my homeschooling community—were being raised to treat the women around them, of whatever age, with respect.

I was wrong, very, very wrong.

A reader recently pointed me to an article on World Net Daily that presents a fictional scenario where an “normal” girl, Jane, is ordered by a judge to leave her public school and be educated in a homeschooling family*. While the entire article is a fascinating portrayal of conservative Christian homeschoolers’ perception of the average public school student, I was struck in particular by one short paragraph, three simple sentences—sentences that say so much.

When Jane tries to slut it up with the boys in the class [i.e. the homeschool boys she’s now being taught alongside], they look at her in disgust. Yes, she might be sexy, and yes they have hormones, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to act upon primal urges. They’ve been raised with manners and to respect girls.

It does not work this way.

You cannot follow “they look at her in disgust” with “they’ve been raised with manners and to respect girls.” If they were raised to respect girls, why are they looking at Jane in disgust? Because that’s not respect. Perhaps the author’s definition of “respect” is something very different from that found in the dictionary or what the word is usually understood to mean. Perhaps the author actually means that these boys were being raised to respect girls who were worthy of respect—girls who were properly demure and modest and chaste, as evangelical sexual standards require.

Several years back, the Harris brothers, homeschool graduates who founded The Rebelution, conducted a “Modesty Survey,” asking teen and twenty-something evangelical males what they thought was modest and, well, not modest. If you scroll through the results, one thing that becomes clear is that these young men, most of them products of the same evangelical homeschool culture as myself, have a great lack of respect for women who do not dress “modestly,” and in some cases even openly disdain them. Here are a few examples:

You have less respect for an immodest girl than for a modest one.

There are many Godly men out there, as I’m sure this survey will prove, that are dying to give you their utmost respect when you choose to follow God’s leading in this area of modesty in your life.

Please don’t take modesty lightly. As your brother in Christ I value the relationship that I will have with my wife someday. When I am tempted because of you I lose a part of myself that I am trying to save for her.

Guys really do respect and honor girls who have the willpower to keep themselves pure and looking pure.

God made you a thing of beauty. A thing to be admired and respected. When you dress or act in a way that draws attention to your body, you make it easy for the guys around you to reduce you to the level of a disgusting toy—using you to mentally satisfy their fantasies. . . . Would you rather be the tool by which guys satisfy themselves or the beautiful thing God created you to be, pure for your husband?

I respect and love girls that are modest so much more than those who do not.

And then I start remembering other things about growing up.

I remember the disgust that always suffused any conversation about pop stars like Brittany Spears, or any woman who dressed immodestly.

And that disgust? It was taught. It was something we could read in the reactions of our parents and our friends’ parents. We watched it, we mirrored it, and we learned it. It was something taught from the pulpit. Beware those sinful immodest wayward women!

Of course, the Modesty Survey is full of comments by young evangelical men urging young women to understand that what mattered about them was not their outward appearances but their hearts. They said this to assure young women that they didn’t need to dress sexy to impress. But the irony here is that these same young men, in urging women to dress just so and telling them of the dire consequences for not doing so, were actively reducing women to their clothing and telling them that outward appearances actually do matter—a lot. After all, if what matters is what is inside and not what is outside, why so much emphasis on what is on the outside?

Why tell women in one breath that it is what is inside that matters, not what is on the outside, and in the next breath that if they show cleavage they will as a natural consequence be objectified and robbed of humanity?

The irony is that we were told that women who dress immodestly will be objectified by the men around them, and that dressing modestly ensured that you would be seen as a person rather than a piece of flesh when in reality we were actually actively taught to reduce women dressed “immodestly” to nothing more than their bodies, to see only midriff and cleavage and therefore disrespect and dehumanize them. We weren’t taught to see them as people but as sluts, whores, and home-wreckers.

We were the ones objectifying, judging, degrading. We were the ones we were warning them about.

What is actually taught is disrespect for women, disgust even—unless, of course, they live up to proper purity standards. Those good, proper pure women, they should be respected, and even placed on a pedestal. Those other women? Forget it. And I’ve rarely seen this as clearly stated as in that World Net Daily article.

*****

* The World Net Daily article was written in response to a judge ordering some homeschooled children to attend public school, and was an attempt at parody. The situation involved joint custody, a mother attending a cult-like church, and a concerned father, but this was of course ignored by homeschool advocates, who portrayed the ruling as an assault on homeschooling as a whole.