Thursday, March 26, 2009


Fourteen or fifteen years ago, some friends of mine dragged me to a Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood seminar, where the speaker--I think it was John Piper--delineated what he thought was a woman's proper way of relating to men. He wasn't necessarily opposed to women working as such--just insisting that they avoid any kind of directive authority over men. E.g. a woman could be a nurse, but probably not a head nurse who'd be directing male nurses and hospital support staff. And women should be careful how they handle even the most innocuous communications that could be considered authoritative. The example he used was a man asking for driving directions. While the biblical woman is allowed to tell a lost traveler how to get back to the freeway, she's supposed to do so in a feminine, gentle manner. Which insofar as I could tell meant a soft voice and not sounding too authoritative. Seemed silly to me, as I assume the lost driver would rather the person guiding him sound confident and certain!

Looking back, that conference, and how appalled I was by it, was a first step for me in my journey from the Religious Right to the religious center-left. (I'm still a Presbyterian, but I'm now in the mainline branch of the tradition.) But for awhile there I tried very hard to believe God had designed women for a different and subservient role because that was the worldview surrounding me, and I wanted to be a good Christian woman. Perhaps because of that, I've developed a fascination for the Christian patriarchy movement that's grown out of teachings like I heard at that seminar back in the 90's. I've watched the Duggars' show once or twice. I lurk on blogs related to the movement, both pro and con. I write alternative history, and I guess patriarchy is my alternative history. If I'd made a few different choices in the mid-90's, I might be a submissive wife with twelve children instead of a partner in an egalitarian marriage with just one. There but for the grace of God go I...though doubtless they'd say I'd turned my back on that grace!

So naturally I made a point of reading Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (Kathryn Joyce, 2009) as soon as I heard about it. Joyce, a journalist who isn't religious herself but has often written on religious topics, investigated the movement, meeting leaders, dissidents, and ordinary families. Mostly she just stands back and lets her subjects speak for themselves. She focuses on women as wives, mothers, and daughters, and I thought the last, shortest section on daughters was especially powerful--daughters who don't go to college or work before marriage, who consider themselves as helpmeets of their fathers, under their fathers' authority until they're transferred to their husband's keeping upon marriage. In some cases they even refer to themselves as owned by their fathers. I read that chapter, I look at my daughter, who at not-quite-five is already so full of spirit and dreams (lately she wants to be a painter and have her work in a museum, but some days she says astronaut or veterinarian instead), and I'm glad I'm not living that alternate reality.

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