Sexism and Homeschooling: Maya’s Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

Trigger warning: Detailed descriptions of abuse.

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

I don’t even know how to begin to explain myself. Here I am sitting in the place I am forced by income and circumstance to live in (my parents’ home) outing myself to the world when it’s dangerous and precarious for me to do so in the real world. I can’t even use my real name online because I have been stalked and blackmailed by people who choose to support my ex-husband.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe we should start near the beginning.

I was raised Fundamental Southern Baptist. At age 7 I would go door to door with little comic books called “Chick Tracts” spreading the Word Of God to Unbelievers. I was convinced it was my direct heavenly duty to convert people, that I would end up before the great throne of judgment when I die and God would berate and belittle me if I failed in this calling.

By the time I was 12 I would sob in my pillow at night because I had never led anyone to salvation or through “the sinner’s prayer”.

I found no solace in my worship of God because God was to be feared. I was convinced it was proof I wasn’t really saved, and that when the rapture came I would be left behind. It didn’t matter that I was the peacemaker in my family trying to keep my sisters out of trouble any time they saw the cracks in the system. It didn’t matter that I was an A student and had several crown pins in my Patch the Pirate sailor’s hat denoting my dedication and obedience, I failed in my life’s mission before I even hit puberty.

At 13: someone sexually abused my best friend. I was floundering, because I had no idea how to help. I urged them to confess to the parents, so the grownups could help. This was the worst advice I have ever given and it still haunts me.The adults were completely out of their depth too, and relied on the Pastor to fix it all. He had no formal education or resources to assist, and took it upon himself to send my best friend through Gay Conversion Therapy behind the parents’ backs. The atrocities my bestie lived through still feel like they are my fault.

I will forever carry the internal scars for damning their life.

At 16: The doctors declared me infertile. I was raised to believe the highest honor and calling for a woman was to raise children. It was the only thing I ever wanted from life. I took this as further proof that God was not with me. I remained active in the youth group, church nursery and kitchen staff duties. I was a model of obedience and feminine beauty through sacrifices.

The other kids teased me behind the grown ups’ backs that I was just trying to be perfect so the Pastor’s son would like me. They saw the truth even though I denied it. I secretly thought if J wanted me then it was proof I was exactly who I needed to be. We were in a fishbowl, and to be worthy of J’s attention meant I was the Perfect Christian Girl. It didn’t matter if I didn’t love him romantically, it was just a way to grade myself.

At 17: I was dying because my immune system had turned on itself.

It was the first time I ever considered killing myself. My prayers bounced off the rafters of the house. God didn’t care about me or any of my efforts. I didn’t see God protecting his children: I saw cover ups, deceit and an endless empty desert of a life ahead of me. I spent the majority of my time in bed, sick and suicidal. I still worked hard to project confidence and happiness in the face of these “trials”. I don’t know if anyone actually saw what was going on in my head and heart. I knew I couldn’t survive life at Pensacola Christian College, my new best friend had sent me weekly letters of her struggles there. She was a public school kid, but so much smarter than me and I just knew I would fail.

My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college just for me to get an “MRS.” degree, and my senior year of school was being fudged by our cover school so I could squeak through because the grownups thought I wasn’t going to live very much longer anyway. They saw me graduating as a spiritual act of mercy.

At 18: I recommitted my life to God.

That was a huge deal. I decided I was going to believe harder and obey better, and sacrifice until I was purified. If I followed all the steps I would be rewarded. It was promised. My health began to improve with doctor intervention and a new healthy diet. I graduated my homeschooling education. Apparently everything was working with my sacrificing, because my first bestie was “doing better”, my college bestie was surviving, and a suitor had entered my world. He was approved of by my father. I began courting the man, and thought he was handpicked by God just for me. All the signs were there and he seemed to genuinely love me!

While chaperoned by his sister I roamed his house he had bought. It felt like home to me. All the dishes were exactly where I would put them, and I could see myself living there. He was my “soul mate”. He worked on his church’s sound and recording team to broadcast the Word of God to the world. He was friends with all the young people the church held up as examples to follow. He had a good job, and a well known family. He had attended Word of Life Bible Institute, and in high school went to ATI conferences. He had an active ministry and I had the high honor of carrying his equipment and assisting him as he wired S. Truett Cathy and other well respected leaders for sound at events at the local Southern Baptist college.

I was so sure that we were going to light the world on fire for Christ.

That we were destined for greatness. We would be world changers. It would be okay that I had never led anyone personally to the lord, because I was made to assist a great man. His light would shine, and his shadow would be my protection.

At 19: I married him. He confessed privately to me the day before we married that he had sexually touched his sister over her clothes when he was a teenager. I asked him if he followed the keys to forgiveness as laid out by Bill Gothard, and he said he had. I asked if he had anything else to confess, and he said no. I asked if she had forgiven him and if he ever touched anyone else that way, to which he said she had and he didn’t.

I sobbed and told him I forgave him.

This led to heavy petting. I felt helpless, and confused that I had sexual response feelings despite not being on board with what was happening. I had been saving myself for marriage, so sheltered and completely innocent. I had never kissed anyone. I had no sex ed. His advances told me that it was too late to retreat. This was just…a forgivable little thing. God would forgive me for allowing the kisses and groping because I was marrying this man in less than 10 hours. No one had to know.

I’m still haunted by this. The anxiety and disgust have woken me up in the middle of the night so I can vomit countless times. I see it now much more clearly – he preyed on her, and then moved on to me.

At 20: I thought everyone dealt with this sort of thing, that’s why they always warned about “when the honeymoon is over”.

He stopped touching me in a sexual way again after the week of our honeymoon. I knew at a core level he married me from obligation. He wanted to have sex with someone and I was there. He wanted a place to vent his twisted frustrations, so I was there. It made perfect sense. I was there to keep him from giving in to his non-godly desires. I was there to cover up his dark places. I was there to be his “helpmeet”. He constantly told his mother what a failure I was, so she sent me Debi Pearl’s books with highlighted sections to help me improve in my God Given Duties.

Over the next nine years the abuses got worse. He started to manhandle me in front of others, so I would behave in a certain way. We no longer went to church, because the church had withdrawn him from the service team and taken away my kindergartners sunday school class because I had medically diagnosed depression. Obviously his house wasn’t “in order” so he had no further privileges in the church. This made things so much worse for me at home.

It was my fault he was disgraced.

Any failing of his became my failing. There were screaming matches. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times he urged me to kill myself. I knew he cheated on me, the evidence was always there when it was with women. One woman he worked with told me explicitly how she had had her way with him in the break room after work. Another girl threw a brick through his car window when he quit with her.

I became a shell. The more I cut off of my self the more I thought I would control the chaos I lived with. He borrowed money from friends and stole money from me – I had to be resourceful and creative to hide it and pay people back. I worked two jobs in addition to all the 1950’s ideals I was expected to live up to. It was never enough. I was just waiting for him to actually hit me or leave bruises. I was raised to believe only that was abuse.

Again I tried to kill myself. A friend forced me to vomit and the pills came up.

By year 10 of our marriage I had conceived.

When I lost the pregnancy, I was sobbing in the shower with blood everywhere. I was clawing at my skin because I couldn’t stop my body rejecting the new life. I remember him ripping back the curtain and telling me I deserved to lose the child, and that it was a blessing because I was cursed. That no child deserved me as a mother, because I was a failure at being a human being. He spit on me and left me in the shower, shivering, bleeding and alone.

Shortly after that, I learned he had an active account on Ashley Madison and it stated he was game for a good time with any gender.

One week after the miscarriage he pinned me to the wall.

He told me he knew I was going to leave him because I no longer slept under the covers with him. He said I would fall on my ass and come crawling back to him, and when I did he would laugh and turn me away. He frightened me so badly I fell to the ground when he let me go. He told me to clean up the floor and myself, because he couldn’t stand to look at me. I remember scooping up the breakfast into the plate, trying hard not to cry audibly. I used lysol wipes to clean it up and I was terrified he would punish me for not using the mop, but he had taken away my walker and I couldn’t really stand up. I took refuge in the bathroom and ran water for a bath, the sobs had overtaken me by then. I heard the door to our apartment slam, and he was gone. He frequently left on wednesdays to smoke and play card games, but he left earlier than normal. I expected him back at any minute.

I cleaned our apartment top to bottom, hoping to appease him. My atheist friend in Alaska set up a call between me and the local domestic violence center. She convinced me to give staying there one night’s chance, because I had an active suicide plan. I knew if I left my treasured belongings he would never give them to my sisters, so I called my parents to come get the things and my service dog. I thought inwardly if the night’s stay at the shelter changed my mind I would have my own clothes at my disposal.

Through the help of the shelter I learned what abuse is defined as.

I filed a Protection From Abuse order because he was stalking me and still using threatening language. We had a messy divorce. I am still forced through circumstance to live in my parents’ basement. In spite of this I’m learning that I am not cursed, nor a burden. That I am left with scars, but scars don’t inflict pain, they are proof you’ve lived. I will never allow him to hurt or use me again.

I will never allow the Fundamental Southern Baptist religion to control my life again.

I am not cursed. My disabilities are not proof that God has cursed me, or that I am of Satan. My disabilities are proof that I’ve got broken DNA and that’s all.

I will not allow Fundamentalism, Bill Gothard, the preacher, my childhood or my ex-husband to control me or ruin what’s left of my life.

I deserve better than what I was given and better than what I accepted. You do too. If you’re reading this and you’re inside the box still, know you can leave. It’s dangerous and scary, but there are people waiting in the wings to help you.

The world is beautiful.

You are beautiful, and they have no right to crush you.

I am now a Catholic. I vote for the Democratic party. I have friends that are Wiccan/Pagan/Atheist/Agnostic/Muslim/Christian/Jewish. I have friends who are LGBTQIA. I belong with these people. They are the ones that want to make the world a kinder place. They’re the people who turn love into a weapon that defends the weak against others that seek to diminish or deny basic human rights.

I am what I was raised to despise, and I believe God wants it that way. I finally sleep peacefully almost every night. I forge my own future, it’s not predestined or decided for me. I’m an apostate, and yet God hasn’t struck me dead. In fact, I think God and I have an actual understanding now. It’s not my job to win souls, or lead strangers through a rote prayer. It’s my job to be a good person.

One Ticket To The Gray Havens, Please: Marais’s Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

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

My pseudonym is Marais. I am 17 years old. This is what happened to me when I was 12-14. I was part of a not-very-well-known homeschool group called Regina Coeli that was part of a bigger religious group, which didn’t have a real name but was basically known as Traditional Latin Mass Catholics, FSSP, TLM, Usus Antiquior, etc. I would compare it to Quiverfull in that it wasn’t a homogeneous group or network, but was made of a lot of families over the the US and Canada who believed similar things: basically, that the Latin Mass is the only correct form of the Mass and that Catholics who go to Mass in the vernacular (English; Novus Ordo) aren’t as ‘Catholic.’ There were varying opinions on this: some people thought it was a sin to go to a Novus Ordo, while others thought that Novus Ordo Catholics were just lazy. Unlike some other writers featured on HA, I would describe my experiences with homeschooling as positive. I have a good relationship with my parents. We share a lot of religious and political beliefs, but I know that my values are my own and not just forced on me. I want to homeschool my own children. Sometimes I’m still hurting from my experience in late middle school, but it’s not because I was abused in any way. I was stuck in a confusing situation that I still haven’t fully come to terms with. It took a lot away from me, and I miss how happy I was then.

The first time I watched The Fellowship of the Ring, I was so excited that I went upstairs at 11:30 p.m. and bounced on my bed for ten minutes.

I felt as if I’d been given an invitation into the world of Middle-Earth, where there was plenty of evil, but there was more good, and good won out in the end. And if things didn’t work out perfectly, there was always the Gray Havens.

At fourteen, I was pretty unhappy. I’d found limited fame and fortune in doing spelling bees (typical homeschooler alert!) and built an identity for myself as a Word Nerd. Unfortunately, that identity dissipated when I lost my local spelling bee the year after I had tied for 12th at the National Spelling Bee. I had struggled to make friends ever since preschool (I had been homeschooled starting in kindergarten). Wherever I was with ‘normal kids’, I couldn’t keep up with their conversations. I felt invisible.

(I still struggle to talk at the pace of other people. If anything is distracting me from the conversation, I can’t keep up – it takes me too long to process what the other person has said and think of a response. I’m also still too shy to join a conversation I haven’t been expressly invited into. Like most homeschoolers, I communicate much better with adults than with people my own age. My best friend, besides my sisters, is a 30-year-old mom of four whom I babysit for.)

Regina Coeli Academy, which later became FisherMore Academy and today is Queen of Heaven Academy (more on that later), isn’t very well-known outside the Traditional Catholic homeschool family circles. Its tagline is “Catholic Homeschooling Online”, giving overworked homeschool moms of ten or eleven kids an alternative to sending their older kids to ‘real’ high school. My mom heard of it from a family who had pulled their daughter out of real high school and sent her to this online academy instead. They were only too delighted to spill their horror stories of her experiences at the real school to anyone who would listen. After my parents had a less-than-stellar experience with the staff at the local Catholic high school, they decided to send my sister and me to Regina Coeli.

The kids at Regina Coeli introduced me to the Lord of the Rings, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Once I had watched the movies and read the books, I discovered that the community would completely accept my enthusiasm and even obsession with the books, which my mom found violent and unsettling. In class, people would call me Arwen (my favorite character) if I wanted them to. I could be the girl who had an elf sword.

However, they also introduced me to the Traditional Latin Mass, and that isn’t such a clear-cut issue. It’s hard to explain the extent to which the TLM permeated that school’s culture. In my second year there, Regina Coeli officially changed its name to FisherMore Academy and became a partner and feeder school for FisherMore College, a tiny liberal arts college in Texas whose most important draw for students was the TLM offered DAILY! on its campus. The partnership changed a lot of things. I watched in deep envy as some of my classmates moved to Texas to be near the college and its Mass.

More than anything, I think the partnership strengthened the us-vs-the-world mentality.

The TLM community magazine, aptly named The Remnant, from the verse Zephaniah 3:12: “But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the LORD.” Sadly, we weren’t humble. We were inordinately arrogant and pleased as punch with ourselves for being right when everybody else was wrong. If you couldn’t think of anything to talk about with another Regina Coeli student, bashing the Novus Ordo (Mass in English) was always fair game. My sister’s history teacher referred to the Novus Ordo liturgy as ‘clowns and balloons.” One boy in my religion class said that his family drove three hours each way every Sunday to attend Mass in a cafeteria, simply because it was in Latin.

The Regina Coeli family who’d first told us about the school had moved to a different (TLM, of course) parish, and whenever they talked to us, some part of the conversation revolved around me and my sister complaining about having to go to the Novus Ordo every week, and the other kids in this family telling us about how great their Mass was. On a visit to an out-of-town church, my sister started crying at the end of the Mass, in which the cantor sang a lovely, if modern, song at the end of Communion and everyone clapped. After Mass, I sympathized with her as she sobbed that she felt so bad for the people who had to go to Mass there every week.

I wondered miserably why I wasn’t crying too and berated myself for enjoying the music.

It bears mentioning that unlike most families, my parents never got involved in the Latin vs. English drama. They were content in the Novus Ordo and prayed and waited patiently for my sister and me to be content too.

I attended my first Latin Mass when my sister and I went with that first Regina Coeli family on a Thursday night during Lent. Unfortunately, what I remember best was how bitterly cold it was in the church and how hungry and bored I was. I didn’t understand the Latin (duh), and the Mass seemed to take way too long because of all the extra prayers that the faithless Novus Ordo community had subtracted. The supper in the church basement was potluck style, and TLM families pride themselves on who can get by on the most penitential fare (read: watery, meatless soup) during Lent. After we got home, my sister was ecstatic and couldn’t stop talking about how amazing our night had been. “I wish every night could be like that!” I agreed with hopefully convincing enthusiasm, wondering why I was feeling so let down.

To tell the truth, I hadn’t liked the TLM.

I didn’t want to go back. At the same time, I felt panicked. This was who I was. Everything depended on my going to the Latin Mass: where I would go to college, who my future husband would be, how I would raise my kids. How could I not like something that I had built my life around? I had taken my friends’ glowing descriptions of their Sunday experiences at face value.

Not long after my disappointing evening, the FisherMore scandal broke. In a nutshell, a badly done real estate deal caused the college to lose a lot of money. At the same time, some board members were concerned about a speaker the college had brought to campus, who declared that the Second Vatican Council was invalid. (In the Catholic Church, you can’t just say that a Church Council is ‘invalid’; despite this, my classmates and even a few teachers had been saying the exact same thing all year.) The bishop ended up telling the college that they couldn’t celebrate the Latin Mass anymore, a catastrophe for a school that had built itself around the TLM. My religion teacher went off the deep end, posting crazy things that didn’t make any sense on the course homepage. The college students started a GoFundMe campaign to keep the college open. Though they reached their goal amount, the college closed almost immediately.

For me, I knew the game was up when my parents, who are the most generous people I know, refused to donate to the GoFundMe campaign.

My mom was concerned about the attitudes she’d seen in my sister and me and some of our friends. She had caught on to the toxic disgust toward the Novus Ordo. Actually, it wasn’t too hard for me to ditch the TLM. The hard part was accepting that this whole way of life, which had made me very happy, was over.

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you”

I listened to “Landslide” a few months later and blinked back tears. The problem with letting go of the TLM was not the liturgy itself, but the way of life it offered me. It had offered me entrance into a secret club, a Remnant. I could be in the same group as the TLM elite. It offered me a chance to be different, special, separate, counter-cultural. I could go to a TLM college, meet my husband, graduate early because of my transfer credits from FisherMore Academy, and live in a little house in Texas near the kids I’d known from online classes ever since middle school. We’d homeschool our (many) babies together, go to church together, share recipes and go on walks and have cookie swaps and sing-alongs and volunteer together.

It was a picture-perfect life, and it’s hard to just walk away from that.

It’s still hard to keep walking away. I think of the guy who was the closest thing I’ve had to a boyfriend. We emailed each other every day during eighth grade. I think of the girl friends I had. I’ve never been that close to anyone since. I feel like Frodo: I’m glad I came back, but it really, really hurts to think of what I left behind. I wouldn’t be happy if I went back now, but if I had stayed in, I would be happy there now.

How do you pick up the threads of an old life?

How do you go on? 

When your heart had begin to understand;

There is no going back . . . . .

Forgive me for quoting the movie instead of the book, but I feel that nothing better expresses my feelings about this. Frodo had the Gray Havens to go to when he came home and it wasn’t home anymore. I am so envious. I know that this will never be fixed. It’s going to hurt for the rest of my life: whenever I hear Gregorian chant, whenever I see a priest ad orientem, whenever I think about that musty old church basement that was awful and uncomfortable but also really beautiful, because I belonged.

Don’t expect me to let go. One ticket to the Gray Havens, please.

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.

Sexism And Homeschooling: A Call For Stories

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

By Shade Ardent, HA Editorial Team.

‘A woman’s place is in the home’

‘We were created to be his helpmeet.’

‘You will stay at home under my authority until I hand you over to your husband.’

‘You need to be more submissive.’

‘There’s no need for college.’

‘Courtship not dating is what’s right for you.’

‘Promise me your heart and your purity.’

‘Don’t be immodest.’

Did you hear things like this when you were homeschooled? If so, you were probably assigned female at birth.

To be homeschooled and read as female (even if you are trans or non-binary) is to enter into an alternate universe. I know my brother did not have the same experience that I did, and that we are not the only siblings to have this disconnect in our stories. While everyone’s homeschooling situation is unique, there are certain aspects of a type of homeschooling that run common among those of us who are not read as male.

We were less-than, considered weaker, easier to fool, stumbling blocks. We were fit only to be a wife and a mother. Patriarchy and sexism ruled our environments, but we survived it.

Homeschoolers Anonymous is doing a series on sexism and homeschooling. We would like to hear your stories of how sexism and patriarchy affected you.

We will begin posting submissions on April 10, and will continue throughout the month of April.

If you are interested in participating in this series, please email us at HA.EdTeam@gmail.com.

We take privacy seriously and will happily make your submission anonymous at your request.

Policy: We accept autobiographical stories with a minimum age of 13. Stories belong to the people they happened to.

HA Note: Because patriarchy harms everyone, we will be accepting stories from all genders. We will not, however, accept stories that try to claim ‘reverse sexism’.

Preventing Your Daughter from Going to College

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 12.14.56 AM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 1, 2014.

Pastor Karl Heitman recently wrote a blog post titled “2 Reasons Why My Daughter Will Not Go to College.

I pledged to myself that I will not sacrifice my daughter on *the altar of men* by sending her out of my home, care, and protection at age 18 just so that she can get a degree and achieve some worldly status. I will count those years as a precious time for my wife and me to prepare her for the wonderful task that’s ahead. The job of being a wife and mother is a high calling and I would argue is the most important job under the sun.

The first thing that occurred to me is that this isn’t Heitman’s decision, it’s his daughter Annalise’s decision (Annalise is only five at the moment). Whether Heitman likes it or not, when Annalise turns 18 she will be a legal adult and he will have no control over her decisions. Or will he?

Our current system of paying for college is messed up—including our financial aid system. If Heitman’s daughter wants to file a FAFSA to apply for financial aid, she will have to have a parent’s signature. If Heitman refuses to sign her FAFSA, Annalise is out of luck where financial aid is concerned—unless, of course, she can prove that she was abused. But I’ve seen that process, and it can be complicated, because you have to present supporting evidence. And besides, what if she isn’t abused, at least in any legal sense of the term?

But of course, even this presumes Annalise qualifies for financial aid. She might not. The general assumption is that when a young adult’s parents make too much money for her to qualify for financial aid, her parents will pitch in and help pay for her college. After all, the system is set up specifically to help young adults whose parentscan’t afford to pay for their college.

If Heitman makes enough money, Annalise may not qualify for financial aid.

So, Heitman could deprive Annalise of financial aid, and it’s possible that she might not qualify anyway. What then? It’s very unlikely that Annalise will have money to pay for college herself, especially given the rising expense. She might have a family member—an aunt or grandparent—who could help her out, but chances are her only other option would be a loan. And guess what? Someone has to cosign a loan. What if Heitman refuses to cosign a loan? Annalise might be able to find an uncle or cousin to cosign, but that’s uncertain.

Our current college financing system presumes that parents—whether poor or rich—want their children to be able to go to college. It assumes that parents of young adults—and we’re talking anyone between 18 and 24—will help pay for their children’s college if they can afford it, and that those who can’t afford it will sign their children’s FAFSAs so that they can get financial aid. But these assumptions are not always accurate, and when they’re not, it’s the young adult who is left holding the bag.

Our economic system is set up such that some of the greatest financial burdens an individual will bear occur at the very beginning of adulthood. Unfortunately, when a young adult’s parents don’t help them out—by signing a FAFSA, helping out financially, or cosigning loans—their futures and options may be severely curtailed. Yes, there may be other options—various trades, attending community college while working—but some doors are simply closed.

What of Heitman’s plan for Annalise to spend her adult years as a wife and mother? The trouble is that during the years parents—usually mothers—spend as homemakers and caregivers, they aren’t accruing social security benefits, they don’t make money, and they don’t acquire career skills or work experience. Now yes, there are things that matter more than money. But the trouble is that, in the system we currently have, a mother who stays at home (and it is usually the mother) is incredibly dependent on her husband. She’s dependent not only in a current sense (financially) but also in a future sense (social security benefits) and in a sense that increases over time (as the gap on the resume widens).

This is especially true if a woman did not attend college or gain work experience before transitioning to life as a stay-at-home mother.

As for me, I was lucky. My parents taught me that my role in life was to be a wife and mother, and absolutely not to have a career, but they still sent me to college. They told me they wanted me to have a backup plan, and options available if I didn’t marry immediately or if my husband someday were to lose his job or die. They also said that college-educated men generally want to marry college-educated women, for the intellectual compatibility. In fact, they described the money they paid for my college as my “dowry.” Of course, college graduates marrying college graduates is likely more about social homogeneity than intellectual compatibility and college is not always necessary to ensure that a young woman is prepared to support herself.

But Heitman isn’t saying that he wants to prepare is daughter to support herself using avenues outside of college. He explicitly states that he doesn’t think his daughter should be prepared to support herself. I’d like to say that Heitman is unaware of just how dependent he plans to make his daughter on her future husband, but his words make it clear that that’s not true. He argues that it is right and natural for a woman to be dependent on her husband—and obedient to him. And of course, divorce is not seen as an option. A married woman is supposed to be shackled to her husband, for good or for bad.

And besides, what if Heitman’s daughter doesn’t marry straight out of high school, or until her thirties, or at all? What would Heitman have her do—live at home with him, waiting for her prince charming to appear?

Unfortunately, he answers this question with a resounding “yes.”

I’ve read a variety of commentary on Heitman’s article, and want to highlight this bit:

Better titled “Many numbered reasons your daughter will distance herself from you when she realizes she has been given free will and stops being afraid to use it.”

This father may not realize it, but his assumption that he can dictate his daughter’s life trajectory and make her adult decisions for her will likely come back to bite him in the end, especially if he deliberately sabotages her options. Again, I have watched this happen. I know young women who have found themselves in this position, with parents unwilling to sign a FAFSA or help out in any other way.

The young women generally make it through, with blood, sweat, and tears, but their relationships with their parents generally don’t.

The Day We Fall Silent is The Day We Don’t Care Anymore: Nikki’s Story, Part Two

Homeschoolers U

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

< Part One

Part Two

I was raised in a fundamentalist homeschooling family.

To say my parents were patriarchal is an understatement. My father once sent me this article from Rushdooney’s Chalcedon Foundation to explain why I couldn’t choose my own husband. For those who don’t care to click through, the article’s thesis is summarized by this quote: “As strange as it may sound, in the peculiar relationship of the father and daughter, God, as it were, takes a back seat. God has created a hierarchy such that the daughter is directly answerable to her father, and her father then answers to God.”

Needless to say, I was grateful to get out.

I chose PHC because it was 1000 miles away from my parents. I was young and naïve—homeschooling in the hands of controlling, fundamentalist parents has that effect. I had no idea at the time that I could have applied to other schools. PHC also seemed safe. I had attended PHC’s constitutional law camp a few years before (I know, I know, homeschool nerd). The campus was small and not intimidating. And being around other, conservative Christians meant I would be able to trust everyone around me—or so I thought. PHC just seemed right.

It’s been almost eight years since I first stepped foot on that campus as a new student. Now I’m hated by the administration and have been told by Dean Corbitt that I’m not fit to speak to freshmen.

But in August 2006, I wanted nothing more than to be at PHC and to belong.

The first few weeks were a lot like summer camp. We were the class of 2010, the redemption class, the first students to arrive post-Schism. (Yes, we really did name the faculty’s dramatic departure the year before after the famous church split in the 11th century. Homeschool nerds.) Everything seemed hopeful. It was a new beginning for everyone. Of course, that didn’t last long.

At the time, PHC was cursed by something called an ASE or an “all student e-mail.” Sometimes, ASE wars would erupt, and our inboxes would be flooded with the (rarely witty) back and forth between our fellow students. One such war started shortly after the beginning of the semester. An older male student emailed this link to the entire school, thinking it a marvelous joke. For those who don’t want to watch the video, one of the punch lines is that over-education in women leads to “ugliness, premature aging, and beard growth.”

Unfortunately, sexist banter and jokes are common at PHC. A year or two ago they were still sending out “girl-friend applications” to incoming freshmen, a form that compared getting a girl friend to signing up for extracurricular activities. “Make me a sandwich” and barefoot and pregnant jokes are ubiquitous. Not that sexism is extinct in the rest of American society—far from it. But sexist jokes at PHC have an especially cruel edge because as much as people claim it is all in fun, in PHC’s culture women are expected to marry and stay home with their children, men are expected to be providers, women are expected to be submissive and to obey their husbands, and men are expected to be the leaders in the home.

The majority position at PHC is that a woman can have a career only if it does not interfere with or limit her primary purpose, which is to be a wife and mother.

Complementarianism, the idea that men and women have distinct roles and that women must submit to their husbands, is taught in PHC theology classes as fact. Until recently, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology served as the primary textbook in that class—for those who don’t know Grudem, he co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and devotes much of his academic work to combating Christian feminism. It is also not a coincidence that the past two Faith and Reason lectures (school-wide, mandatory lectures held each semester to highlight the work of a Christian thinker) were anti-feminist screeds damning both birth control and domestic violence laws.

Sexist jokes are damaging in any environment—at PHC they are a maddening reminder that some people think it’s funny to mock women’s ambitions, abilities, and experiences in a place where many women had to fight their families to even come to college and where even more must fight for the freedom to choose their own husbands (or wives, let’s not forget there are queer students at PHC).

But let’s return to that ASE. At the time, I was rooming with two of the more liberal women on campus—by which I mean we were all moderate Republicans. The video and the universally positive reaction it elicited enraged us. One roommate and I decided to fire back—with our own ASE.

It was really quite tame, in hindsight. We were impertinent freshmen who told older students they weren’t nearly as funny as they thought they were. Shots were fired both ways. There was no cursing, no name-calling, and probably way too much Christianese. But we had dared to stand up to older students in front of the entire school.

It doesn’t take much to mark you as one of them at PHC. And by “them,” I mean the vague and nebulous group of “bad kids” we were warned not to join. RAs told us about them. “Stay away from those seniors,” “That person is a bad influence,” “That group will ruin your reputation,” you get the idea. Few ever explained to me what these people had done to earn the red letter sewn onto their clothes. When there wasn’t an older student taking you under their wing to steer you away, there were still feelings and whisperings. You got to a certain point where you just knew, based on how the good kids behaved and the subtle changes in conversation, who was in and who was out.

It would be years before I realized that most of those “bad” upperclassmen were just as boring as I was my senior year, kids just trying to keep their heads down, finish their assignments, and get out. But young, impressionable, freshman me wanted none of that—I wanted to be good. I wanted to be one of the well-liked RAs who seemed so on top of everything. I didn’t think that fighting back about that video would be the first tick mark on my record.

A week later two, older male students stuck a pig’s head on a stake, pounded the stake into the ground outside our first-floor dorm window, and attached a note to it: “Thus to all feminazis.”

They were never caught. No one even looked for them. There was no investigation. The administration never interviewed me or either of my roommates. At a school where Student Life seeks to know everything about everyone’s business, this incident was simply unimportant, and the entire thing was shrugged off. It would be years before one of the perpetrators came forward to tell me what he’d done—not to apologize, but to reminisce about an “awesome joke,” one of the great “unsolved pranks of PHC.”

It wasn’t funny to us.

I was so ashamed. I never even told my parents. I was afraid of what they would do to me, since I was obviously advocating for “feminist” (and therefore evil) things while away at school. I never sought help from the administration, believing instinctively that they would take the perpetrators’ side. I never even told my professors, even though I would form close relationships with many of them. I buried the incident so deeply, I had to go back to old gchat records to verify it happened—there comes a point where it just sounds too outrageous to have ever happened to me. And there it was. September 25, 2006.

I know it’s hard to comprehend, but we were so naïve, so sheltered, so ignorant about the world, we didn’t even realize the gravity of what had happened to us. I didn’t understand that I had the right to express my opinion and not fear reprisal for it. It seemed to be just another example of “boys will be boys,” a comeuppance for my temerity.

Whatever it was, I mark this incident as the first time I realized everything at PHC was not as it appeared.

To be continued.

To the Students of PHC: Talitha’s Story

Homeschoolers U

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

I came to Patrick Henry College as a girl with big dreams and a go-getter attitude. Maybe my dreams were too big, but I was prepared to work hard to get where I wanted to be. After surviving a life of poverty, I realized that nothing comes free in life. During my high school years, I never knew if I was going to have food on the table the next day. My experiences with being low-income motivated me to do well in life — both for me as well as for the people I loved and left behind to attend school.

It was ironic, then, when I stepped on campus and people automatically labeled me: “Oh… that rich girl.”

At first I was flattered that people thought my thrift-store business casual wardrobe was akin to designer fashion. But I soon realized it wasn’t about my clothes at all. Sure, they judged me by the color of my hair and the fact that I wore high heels. But eventually it became clear it was more about my attitude than anything. I was too assertive. I raised my hand in class when I had something to say. I ran for student senate. I actually talked during senate meetings. I attended all sorts of club meetings. I helped run several clubs, in fact.

I did these things because, for me, this was a second chance at life. I had an opportunity to be a part of something regardless of my financial status. Through good grades and test scores, a crap ton of volunteer hours, and demonstrated dedication to several part-time jobs, I was able to attend PHC alongside the sons and daughters of millionaires. I was thrilled to get the educational opportunity of those in the top bracket. I dove in head first, because I was so grateful to be a part of the campus community. I wanted to make the most of my time there.

But apparently, people (especially boys) didn’t like that.

Be involved in the community, but not too involved, otherwise by default you’ll be smeared by people envious of your success.

Something PHC people don’t realize is that the moment you say something bad about someone behind their back, it’s as if you’ve said it to that person’s face. The gossip travels so quickly that it’s bound to get back to the person you smeared. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “hey, guess what so-and-so said about you?” and “oh, you wouldn’t believe how she talked about you.” “Guess what he said about you during coffee??” I lived with the rumors every day, and I was called atrocious things by people who said they were my friends.  They thought I didn’t know, but the echo of the rumor mill ensured that I heard the same things they did.

I was called vain, a flirt, a suck up, a fake, a slut, bulimic, insecure, too ambitious, and disingenuous.

There finally came a point where I couldn’t believe they were “just rumors.” Something about them had to be true, right? Even though sometimes — when I walked into a room — I could see people look at me and start to whisper, I just tried to push on. Success never comes easy.

I couldn’t keep my head up, though. Despite all my efforts. I began living constantly terrified of what people thought of me. Without realizing it, I allowed the rumors to isolate me. People didn’t understand me, because I didn’t let a lot of people in. Although I looked okay, I had a wall up — and instead of getting to know me, people were quick to make accusations and judgments.

The next year wasn’t much better.

Why?

Because my professors recognized that I yearned for more responsibility, and gave it to me. I was put in charge of numerous projects and clubs, but with that, a level of authority my peers were unwilling to accept. I had “Christian” classmates calling me a “bitch” because they didn’t want me in a position over them. I had close friends call me “unapproachable”, one going so far as to personally smear me to professors so they could get the position they wanted. It was unbelievable, and I was deeply wounded.

I struggled severely with depression the entire year. But my classmates were too busy resenting my work-ethic that they didn’t notice.

Everything I did, someone questioned my motives, or called me a name. It got to the point that I could barely ask a question in class, without someone rolling their eyes at me or looking at me strangely. Every day, I wanted to crawl in a hole, and disappear. No one came to me to ask if the rumors were true. I felt completely isolated and alone.

RAs, tasked with enforcing dress-code, seemed to take a special liking to me. I would get dress coded at least once a day, and I lived in fear of “sending the wrong message” that I was a rebel. I wanted acceptance, but I began realizing that it would never happen at this place.

There comes a time when success in school isn’t enough to get you through the day. It’s not worth losing friendships over. It’s not worth the pain of people’s jealousy. At the point where I spent three days in bed, not getting up to eat or do anything, I realized I was done trying.

Congratulations, PHC, you broke my spirit.

The girl who was once confident, secure in herself, and goal-oriented is now confused, shaken up, and alone. She feels like the world is against her, simply because she wanted to make something of herself and make the world a better place for those who come from similar backgrounds of poverty and abuse.

On a campus that encourages excellence, I am, to this day, shocked at the hate people get when they succeed. The name calling is like they’re still in high school.

To the students of PHC: You, and your small comments and judgments, could be pushing someone deeper into depression every day. The person you see as an object of gossip also has feelings. The person who looks successful is actually torn apart inside because of your mean words.

I guess I was an easy one to pick on, but I hope no one else has to go through this. As I return to PHC this fall, I’m still wrestling with isolation and depression. I have panic attacks thinking about returning and I worry about what dramas await when I walk through the doors into my first class of the year. I will not be participating in the clubs, events, and senate that I have in years past. I’m withdrawing, but not altogether. I am crushed, but I’m not a quitter.

I need a semester to heal.

Love Jesus, All Else Be Damned: Sophia’s Story

Homeschoolers U

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

My parents are very well meaning people.

They didn’t go to college, and they didn’t grow up religious. Just before they started a family together, they came to Christianity. For them, it meant safety. It was a formula for doing things correctly and for protecting their children from the hurt that they experienced in their own lives, hurt for which Christianity offered an explanation (sin). They homeschooled us to “protect us from the world.”

Growing up, though, I didn’t feel protected.

Instead, the most vivid memories I have from my childhood are of fear and loneliness. Fear that, at any moment, I was transgressing one of my parent’s constantly changing rules. Loneliness that came from sitting at home most days, with nothing to keep me company but my family and my books. Patrick Henry College seemed like a perfect escape. It was on the other side of the country, their rules seemed lenient to the sheltered 16-year-old filling out her college application, and best of all, I would constantly be around other people my age.

In reality, attending Patrick Henry College (PHC) was an extension of all the worst parts of my childhood. Again, I stepped into an atmosphere full of suffocating rules. All of our time was spent in rigidly structured and overbearingly supervised social interactions. When there was no rule in place, the college administration (really, disciplinary watchdogs), would remind us that we should abide by the “spirit,” not just the “letter” of the law.

If no rule existed, you weren’t safe. Instead, you needed to invent one. 

We had mandatory chapel where we (or at least, I, doubting my faith even as a freshman) had to feign enthusiasm while singing worship songs.  After that, we would listen to various speakers tell us of the evils of liberalism and homosexuality, or perhaps give a lengthy digression on some portion of the Bible. We spent the rest of our time in classes all day, then studying at night, all while conforming to a rigid dress code and rigid conduct rules (and many informal social sanctions). My four years at PHC were filled with incredible loneliness.

Within a few weeks, the excitement of leaving home faded, and the nature of my new prison became increasingly clear. I came to PHC the semester after the “schism.” My friends were all people who had been deeply affected by the ousting of multiple professors, and were generally “anti-administration.” At PHC, a school filled with students who’d spent their lives trying to understand reality in an us-versus-them (conservatives-versus-liberals, Christians-versus-nonbelievers, etc.) framework, it seemed natural to view the student body of PHC (a, mind you, very conservative school) with a liberal-versus-conservative, bad Christian-versus-good-Christian rubric.

My friends were the “liberals”, and by associating with them, dressing somewhat normally, and having career aspirations as a female, I too was branded as a liberal. Once, after attending a concert in DC with some older students, two members of the administration called me in to question me (probably thinking they could scare me, a freshman, more easily than they could an older student) about the purported use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs by students at the concert. I managed to say something about how I thought gossip was a sin, and they let me go. It was clear, though, that I had been branded, and was being watched.

College, a place where I was supposed to finally have friends, became a place where I felt lonelier than ever.

I didn’t know whom to trust. I felt that anyone around me was possibly watching for me to transgress a rule so they could report me to the administration. And if not that, anyone around me was probably judging me:

“You’re eating that much food?”

“You’re wearing that dress?”

“Your attitude toward that boy seemed flirtatious.”

“That comment was too assertive.”

Of course, coming from where I came from, I didn’t think this was wrong, or a problem with the college. I thought that there was something wrong with me. I simply wasn’t trying hard enough to be godly or pure enough.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. I now teach college students at a much more prestigious research institution, and I know that even at major Universities, freshmen confront some of the biggest blows to their egos of their lives. Students who were at the top of their class at prep school find themselves grade-grubbing at their TA’s office hours when they receive their first B- (or worse) on an essay. At PHC, we were learning how to write and think like all college students, and that involved many ego-bruisings. But there were also a few more nefarious subtexts.

We had to excel, because this was our Christian duty. Failure was somehow sinful. But in exceling, we couldn’t be too prideful. Especially as a female, this attitude could be seen as inappropriate. In one instance, after a particularly contentious student senate meeting where I’d spoken against the “conservative” wing of the senate, a fellow student senator (a “mature Christian” male) came to me and said:

“You know, everyone hates you. You’re too assertive, and it’s not a godly or womanly attitude.”

What really broke me, though, was something that happened freshman year. I was on the college debate team, which was one of PHC’s main selling points (“See, we have this activity where our students sometimes do ok against people at normal schools! We’re awesome!”). I’d won my first tournament. At my second tournament, my partner and I won enough rounds to advance as first seed, which meant we had the best performance in preliminary rounds. Our coach (another student), thinking that I needed to learn humility, held us back from advancing, and sent another team ahead of us. I couldn’t understand it. I thought I’d done everything I needed to do, but somehow there was this deeper logic of being ambiguously “Christian enough” that I was failing to follow.  After that, part of me stopped trying. I didn’t know where the lines were anymore. I just knew that I was somehow spiritually inadequate, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I started to go deeper and deeper inside myself in the quest to be good enough. Like so many perfectionist girls, even in less restrictive environments, I decided I needed more rigid self-discipline. So I stopped eating, both because this felt like some form of success or control, and because I felt that I needed punishment for my inadequacies. As my eating disorder continued to develop, I continued to withdraw. The only way to stay safe from the onslaught of judgment was not to let anyone in, ever. One by one, my friends started to slip away from me. I still don’t really blame them. As an 18, 19, or 20 year old, dealing with your 18 year old friend’s anorexia is a pretty tall order, especially if you think it’s a sin (which she can just stop committing) instead of a disease (for which she might need professional help). I never got that help. The campus administration, who cared so deeply about whether our skirts were 2 or 3 inches above our knees (the latter was a serious infraction) or whether we imbibed alcohol (for which you could be expelled), didn’t seem to care at all about the fact that I (and many other students) developed life threatening self-harm disorders.

At the worst of the eating disorder, when I could hardly walk and just wanted to die and make it all go away, many people questioned my “walk with the Lord,” but not a single person asked me if I was ok.

This, to me, is what PHC stood for. Love Jesus, all else be damned.

Every time someone told me they “just couldn’t deal with me anymore,” or I  “needed to get right with the Lord,” I dealt with it by closing up a little bit inside, and eating a little bit less (650 calories today, only 600 tomorrow, oh, I didn’t deserve that salad, I should throw it up, etc). When an older classmate, someone I trusted, took advantage of that trust to force himself on me, I didn’t really resist. I was just a worthless shell, after all. Who was I to say no? It didn’t even seem worth reporting.

After all, it was (as I was later told by another male student) probably because my skirts were a “stumbling block”.

My parents, of course, didn’t know what to do.

They knew something was wrong when I came home for Christmas break my freshman year, 30 pounds underweight, withdrawn, and sad. I didn’t have the words to articulate what was happening to me, or how things were going at PHC, which they interpreted as standoffish. Even if I had articulated a cry for help, their backgrounds and religion didn’t provide them with the tools to help me. They tried various tactics, including denial, anger, and threats. But eventually it was them, in a fumbling but heartfelt attempt, as well as the kind attention of a wonderful professor, that finally tipped the balance.

After my freshman year, when I was exhausted, waif-like, and contemplating giving up on it all, my mom called me. She didn’t tell me I was sinning. She didn’t yell. She didn’t judge.

She just told me how she loved me.

How when she was pregnant they told her I might not make it, and how she cried and prayed and hoped every day that I would, and how it felt to hold me for the first time, and how all she’d ever tried for in life was to protect me in pain, and how she felt like she failed, and please, please not to give up.

Her words were filled with love, and in that love was a kind of freedom. It was also the freedom I found in the classes of one particularly gifted professor, who transported us away from the rigid confines of religious rules to questions about existence, knowledge, and politics.

These glimpses of freedom helped me make it through. Eventually, I recovered from anorexia (without any professional help, which is a different story). I made it through the rest of the PHC (not happily, but again, that’s another story), and I made it out to go to graduate school in a big city with no one to answer to but myself. Now, many years later, I still get nauseous anytime I get near Purcellville, Virginia. Sometimes I’m still bitter and angry, but mostly I’m grateful for my freedom.

Last year, I came back for homecoming to speak on an alumni roundtable about graduate school. The students expressed concerns about what it would be like to be surrounded by “non-believers”, who might keep them from vocalizing a “Christian worldview” in the classroom. I’m afraid that my attempts to explain the glories of academic freedom or the wonders of objective scholarship fell on deaf ears.

What I was trying to tell them was something I wish someone had told me:

Outside of that overly stylized colonial campus, there are places where you have the freedom to say what you think, and no one’s going to report you for it.

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

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 2.28.15 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck the Patriarchy.

My Childhood Readings: Elsie Dinsmore

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 1.27.11 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on March 13, 2013.

So conservative homeschoolers are sort of known for reading the Elsie Dinsmore books.

My family was no exception. We owned the first three books on cassette, all 20 something books in the series, the companion series about Elsie’s cousin, and the modern day rewrite of the books (which are much better written). Plus I have the Elsie and Mildred dolls. The books were written in the late 1800s, btw.

But I was an Elsie fanatic.

First, I should give a summary of Elsie. In short, the story is about a rich plantation girl born in the 1840s whose father comes home from Europe the first time when Elsie  is 8, and tries to force her to play the piano on the sabbath day. She refuses to break God’s law, saying she will obey any command but those that break God’s law. So she starves, and on the break of death, her father gives his life to Jesus. But still the struggles continue. Her father beats her brother until he fetches the newspaper as instructed. Elsie gets harsh punishment for reading Oliver Twist, and is never allowed to say, “I guess so.”

Elsie’s father also knows best for her marriage. Elsie falls in love with a fraud when away one summer. Her father intervenes, rescues her, and Elsie is quite upset until realizing her father was right. Her father is always right, no matter what, no matter Elsie’s age. (BTW, Elsie reminds me of the story in Courageous when the girl dates a boy who ends up in jail. Any time courtship is brought up, it always comes with the worse-case-scenerio stories.)

Elsie ends up marrying her father’s best friend (and boyhood friend), 16 years her senior; older men know best. Just before her husband dies at an early death, Elsie and her husband say they never had a fight. Elsie’s step mom, the only parent Elsie ever knew, also said she never had an argument with her husband, Elsie’s dad. Yet the book features her crying when her husband “spanks” the kids, but she never argues, ever.

Beyond that, the book is full of racism. They have slaves, and since they treat their slaves good, its justified. In one scene, they go to Elsie’s mother’s plantation and find the slave master beating a slave. They chastise him for this. During the Civil War, Elsie’s family bails out and spends the years in Europe. They come back to plantations destroyed in their area, but theirs are still standing, and so are their slaves.

And that, my friends, is the Elsie books, sold and pushed by Vision Forum. But I loved the books, and read them many times over.  And I never read fiction, basically ever, so that says a lot. I loved it because I identified with Elsie. She struggled to breathe in an authoritarian home, but unlike me, she handled it with ease and poise. I also identified with the Southern culture and all the Victorianism. Elsie always cried on her Bible, and I would cry on mine.

I wanted to be Elsie.

So I’m pretty much in agreement with those who say the Elsie Dinsmore books are full of sexism and racism. But Elsie made my childhood bearable and gave me a warm companion. I am glad to have “met” her.

Anyone else ever read Elsie? Watcha think?