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Obedience?

“Home-schooled girls do not need ‘further’ education; they should just prepare for being a wife and mother.” “A daughter should stay at home and serve her father until he chooses a husband for her.” “The daughter is a ‘helpmeet’ for her father.” “Parents should never let their daughter be out of their sight.” “Women should never work outside the home.” These and many similar sentiments are being dogmatically expressed by leaders of the Christian Patriarchy Movement.

The home-schooling movement has been growing for the past forty years. The momentum of this movement spawned hundreds of national and regional home-schooling conventions and events. Among the featured speakers are some who espouse a patriarchal view of Christianity in which men and boys hold authority over women and girls. On the tables and in the booths at such conventions will be found many books and media options espousing this viewpoint.

“Patriarchy” is a human social construct wherein “a woman must conform to expectations, be subservient, stay in the background, be quiet, sweet, and caring, and above all care for and serve the men” (Christianity and Incest, Annie Imbens and Ineke Jonker, Fortress Press, 1992, p.138). Further, “girls are trained to take a back seat to boys. Boys and girls are brought up in such a way that men’s power over women remains intact” (CAI, p.239). “The basic premise [of patriarchy] is that women are inferior to men and that women should therefore obey men” (CAI, p.275).

Sadly, the visible church has been shaped and dominated by males because the primary players have always been men. Women were systematically removed from the church’s story, and marginalized in church functions (cf. Anne Jensen, God’s Self-Confident Daughters: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women, Westminster John Knox, 1996). “Traditional theology…examines reality primarily from the standpoint of the experiences and insights of men” (CAI, p.287; cf. Marielouise Janssen, Sexism: The Male Monopoly on History and Thought, Farrar/Straus/Giroux, 1982). These facts are all the more significant as we consider how the church has treated women in its practice (Garry Wills, “Excluded Women,” Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Doubleday, 2000, pp.104-121).

“Why is it,” Imbens and Jonker ask, “that a relatively high number of children who are sexually abused by men within the family come from very strict religious families?” (CAI, p.7) Based on their studies they conclude that “the sexual abuse of girls within the family [is] the ultimate consequence of patriarchal thinking, of patriarchal theology, and of the patriarchal experience of Christianity” (p.3). The following is one key reason why patriarchy and the humiliation of women go hand in hand.

Great pressure is put upon girls in many Christian homes to be passive and submissive in extraordinarily unhealthy ways. Bible themes are interpreted in a manner giving the impression to a young woman that she can only honor God by doing whatever her father says.

The most important message a woman hears in church is obedience. Eve was disobedient and that’s why sin came into the world. A daughter sees this obedience in Mother, with whom she identifies herself. She must honor her father and mother…A woman must keep silent. That was quite normal in the church. She must love her neighbor and be self-sacrificing.

Teaching of this sort stereotypes girls so they feel they must give in to whatever their fathers or other male authority figures desire of them.

The use of Scripture by adults can become a very tricky exercise. It is clear that the Lord wants parents to be properly honored. Children are instructed to “obey” their parents in the Lord. But it can become a convenient thing for fathers to use these biblical themes to threaten, abuse, intimidate, manipulate, and control children. A child’s mind can begin to grasp the concept of “obeying” as taught by adults, but things can become very fuzzy and confusing when the “obedience” called for feels instinctively wrong to the youth. It is a very grave aberration for a mom or dad to use “obey your parents” as a means to fulfill their self-centered agendas.

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9 Comments

  1. Comment #97441 posted December 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    “Teaching of this sort stereotypes girls so they feel they must give in to whatever their fathers or other male authority figures desire of them.”

    This is very true. When this is coupled with any type of sexual abuse in a child it can cause a daughter to become subservient and especially prone to wanting to please men. This is because pleasing men has been taught to her as the only way for her to have a happy life. She is at the mercy of all men. And then it becomes especially important for her to gather male figures around her to support her. At a marriageable age, she is taught that she needs a husband to serve and he will in turn protect her.

    It is unfortunate that so many patriarchal minded families think training their children in these views is desirable. It often works until the daughter reaches a point of desperation. At that point the options are few. Her mind has already been filled with lies. So still believing them she can settle for something that she hopes hurts less.

    I’ve known the personal stories of several women that have survived such training. It was not easy to overcome the indoctrination and find truth and a better paradigm to live in.

  2. LKH
    Comment #97446 posted December 30, 2012 at 12:19 am

    I’m a Ph.D.-holding feminist who was homeschooled K-12 (for religious and educational reasons). While I did see a lot of evidence of the movement you describe, it does not describe everyone. I actually think I came into egalitarian living in large part (albeit indirectly) b/c of homeschooling. My education taught me to question everything and that I could be anything I wanted to be. I actually found my conservative Christian niche at a secular university to be much more constricting.

    • Comment #97447 posted December 30, 2012 at 12:42 am

      It’s good to read your experience LKH. Maybe it’s more about who does the teaching than where or how it’s done.

    • Amanda Beattie
      Comment #97450 posted December 30, 2012 at 3:25 am

      I see LKH beat me to the comment I was going to make. :) I was homeschooled from 2nd grade onwards, and my family’s influence is definitely the primary reason I am egalitarian today.

      To be fair, we did run into a lot of fairly extreme patriarchalists in the homeschooling community. But I still think it’s important to separate the concept of “patriarchy” from the concept of “homeschooling” in general. One does not require the other–and the more that is seen, and the less synonymous the two terms are perceived to be, I believe oppressive patriarchal teachings will have less of a foothold among homeschoolers.

      Homeschool is an important enough alternative for enough children, that I’d hate to scare away potential homeschooling families with the idea that it’s incompatible with egalitarianism.

    • Comment #97453 posted December 30, 2012 at 10:02 am

      I agree, it does not describe everyone. It was an oversight for me to not have mentioned that. As well, these days patriarchy is losing the foothold in homeschooling that it used to have.

      • Red
        Comment #97483 posted December 31, 2012 at 5:01 pm

        Just to throw this out there…I was not homeschooled, but had many friends who were. We all started college in the early 2000′s. Honestly, the things I see in the homeschool movement of today are more troubling than the things I saw when my friends were homeschooling in the 80s and 90s.

        Obviously there are healthy families and unhealthy families in the homeschooling movement, in every generation. I just wonder if things have changed since most of us were kids.

  3. Liz Liz
    Comment #97460 posted December 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Even though this post began with reference to homeschooling, the main issue is the teaching given to girls about their behaviour and attitudes. Whether it is taught at home, in school or in the church is secondary but often the three go together and a child sees this as what is normal and expected.

    In order to change the enormous burden carried by girls and women, the way girls are taught needs to change, whether it is in formal education or just by observing what happens at home and in the church.

  4. Comment #97461 posted December 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    as much as these fundamentalists claim to hate islam and sharia law, it’s ironic how closely their own beliefs mirror it

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