Monday, November 18, 2013

Living While Female in Fundamentalist Country

When my daughter was still in the local schools, she used to come home puzzled and woeful, with tales of her friends, members of the local Charismatic Christian church.  "Lily isn't allowed to be sad," she would tell me.  Or: "Lily has to smile.  She's not allowed to be unhappy."  Or: "Sometimes Lily sticks pins in her arm. Until it bleeds. She says she doesn't feel pain."

I thought this was just some very odd child, or maybe an exaggeration, or my kid misunderstanding something, until I began to get essays from my own students, raised in this church or in similar churches. They tell of being beaten ("spanked," but these are beatings) for showing any emotion other than happiness.  Being sad, or angry, or "moody," was seen as rebelliousness.  It was being "bitter" and "unsubmissive" and was a sin, to be punished.

This is, of course, girl children.  I'm sure some sort of number is also being done on boy children -- that is, I'm sure this disturbing religion is also fucking them up (for instance, my male students almost never write me essays about their lives at all: my male students are mute about what they have suffered) -- but it is the women I want to discuss here.

What is the intent of working so hard to build this false consciousness into half your population?

We know what the effect is -- women who deny their own selfhood, who perceive their own existence only through others ("I'm Timothy's mom!"), who like Lily literally can't feel their own pain, who have no agency -- but what is the intent?  Why do this to other human beings?

What can the intent be, except to turn those humans into objects?

It's right there in the language.  Submit.  Obey.  Surrender.

And it's in the process, too.  From the time of infancy (because this begins when the children are infants), these girls are forced to deny their own agency, their own emotions, their own perceptions, and accept what their fathers tell them is reality.  It's a form of brain washing, and it's an attempt to turn the women into a tool for the father's will.

And then -- since the father plans to give the girl to another man -- for her husband's will.

What's amazing is that any woman can escape this trap at all.

Many of my students can't, frankly.  Even the most intelligent of them, who have been reading since they were very young, and are now at university, and who are writing me these essays, still look me straight in the face and parrot their father's words to me.  "God made women to submit." "Men are created to be leaders." "A rebellious wife makes rebellious children."

When I tell them that Jewish children are raised to argue and talk back, they stare at me like I'm speaking Greek.  I tell them the story of Jacob wrestling with God, and how it is taught in Jewish culture -- how we are meant to argue with God, how it's our job to argue and talk back.  I remind them of how Abraham argued with God when God wanted to destroy Sodom.  "You're supposed to argue," I tell them.  "You're supposed to tell God when he's wrong."

Their eyes are huge by this time.

"And if God can be wrong," I say, "are you telling me men can't?  Or parents?"

They can't even speak.

"Besides," I say, "are you raising children to be obedient?  Or are you raising them to be adults?  Do you want them to do what they're told when they're grown?  Or do you want them to be able to think for themselves?"

This seems never to have occurred to any of them, by the way.

But of course the purpose of the Charismatic church is to raise children to be obedient little objects.  People that can think for themselves -- fully functional adults -- would be a disaster for any sort of religious movement.

Why, that would be an enlightened civilization.  Heavens.

Or heaven.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad they're allowed to go to college. One wonders about the women who aren't.

delagar said...

Good point.

One of my students who comes from this culture wrote about how she very nearly was not allowed to attend university -- because her "purity" might be at risk -- and was only allowed to enroll so that she could be an asset to her future husband.

dorki said...

It comes down to Control, Command, Exploit. Get everything you can for yourself by inventing mythologies from writings of ancient peoples to do it on a grand scale who themselves did just that also.

Anonymous said...

Imagine the mind set of the students who go to the bible "colleges." Your students are a step way up from there. How sad. -L

Historiann said...

Delagar, have you seen the (old) series on my blog, Lessons for Girls? (Click over and look at the links in the upper left corner of the home page.)

I think your post here would be an excellent addition to that series, which I've neglected for a long time and which also features a number of dead links. Maybe I'll get around to shoveling out the barn this week & linking back here. It has a lot of resonance with my entry to those lessons, #1 as it happens, "On Anger."

RE: your observations here specifically: I think this is also why Utah has some of the highest rates of antidepressant use in the country. LDS people are also under the same pressure to be happy and cheerful all of the time, but the women especially. It also makes me think about the poverty of your region, and how that relates to this kind of insistence on emotional control. Does poverty mean that there are more negative emotions to be controlled (because of objective fear, want, need, etc.), or does it mean that this kind of emotional control ends up sapping people's creative and entrepreneurial energy, as well as making them physically much sicker in the long run, so that economic development is limited? (Maybe nicoleandmaggie will have some thoughts along these lines.)

delagar said...

Historiann -- I did read that series, back when I first discovered your blog! I need to read it again, tho. I remember liking it a lot.

I was actually thinking about LDS women in regards to this behavior, too. It's a feature of LDS culture in general, I think, really, the denial of any negative emotion (they have to be happy families, which means everyone has to be happy people, or they have failed the family) but I think it falls more heavily on the woman than on the men, because of the whole submissive issue, and the duty to serve issue.

And yes, I bet that does destroy women's ability to do anything but serve. Their job (and I've seen this written by women) is to "create" a home and to take care of their husband and children. Well, making sure everyone else is happy will leave very little room for doing anything else -- like writing novels, or doing science, or being an engineer.