fundamentalist men thought they owned me

My interactions with boys until I was about ten are pretty much hysterical. They are some of the funniest stories I tell about growing up, and I cackle and giggle my way through them. There’s the boy who gave me his mother’s wedding ring on the bus. I was so confused about what had just happened– why would he do that? I showed the ring to my mother and she about had a fit. Long story short, we found the boy’s mother and returned the ring– and it was like the Parable of the Lost Coin going down in that house.

Then there was the random boy who walked up to me in kindergarten and pompously declared that we had “broken up.” Bewildered, I responded with “ok, but I don’t remember your name.” I think he was trying to impress another girl in our class.

My first five-year-old crush ended in violence. We were playing with our blocks, me creating a lopsided pyramid of sorts, and him carefully stacking one block on top of each other. At one point he started crying, I think, drawing the attention of the teacher’s aide. He complained that my tower was taller than his, and that was so not fair. The aide pulled me aside and told me to not be such a show-off. I nodded, then went back and slapped him.

There were the three boys who lined up after church one day when I was nine, and told me that I had to pick one of them to like, because all three liked me but they weren’t going to let that damage their friendship. I solved that particular problem by telling them they were all gross, and I didn’t like any of them. (Seriously– one boy saved up all his spit during church and then bolted out of church the second the service was over to get rid of it, boy #2 had shoved a scorpion down my dress, and boy #3 had made fun of me in Sunday school for disagreeing with him).

When I was thirteen, Jacob* appeared. I tried to be his friend, as his family had recently joined the church and his status as a public schooled was not being very well received by all the homeschool kids at our church. He was more awkward then we were, shy, and uncomfortable. He did not make friends easily, but talking to complete strangers had never bothered me. I kept it up for a few years, even though we spent most of our conversations fighting over the most ridiculous things. At one point, we ended up in an argument over whether or not a road that connected both of our neighborhoods ran north and south or east and west. This argument lasted for a good, solid fifteen minutes. We fought like cats and dogs about everything.

Then, when I was about fifteen, Jacob confessed that he still felt very lonely at our church, and he asked me if I liked him. “Sure,” I said. “I like you.”

It didn’t really occur to me that he was asking me if I liked him. I’m rather obtuse, when it comes to these things. He started talking about how he was almost a year –11 months, 12 days, to be exact — older than me, and how that was a good thing. His commentary befuddled me, but it frequently did that, so I didn’t make anything of it.

Six months later, Jacob started treating me like I was his. I was confused by this, as it looked like he was trying to make it seem that we were together, and we were not. He had never asked me out, had never even come close to broaching anything like that. He had never even approached my father, as would have been expected as a first step. But, after a “Fall Fellowship” we had out at one of the member’s hay farm, and he had clearly pissed on my leg in front of the boys who’d come from other churches, I asked him what was going on.

He told me that he had gone to the pastor of our church and asked him for permission to marry me. And the man had given it– as well as a promise that he would groom Jacob to be the pastor of the church someday. Apparently, the pastor thought I’d make an “excellent pastor’s wife someday, if she recognizes her place as a woman.”

What the WHAT?!


Needless to say, that’s still my reaction when I think about this encounter. I get confused, still– and I get angry. Even when I first found out about it I was pissed.  You’re batshit insane if you think I’m going to be ok with that. Obviously, our tenuous friendship ended with me furiously yelling at him to never speak to me again. A difficult demand, considering there were six people in our church who were close to the same age, and he and I were the only ones who weren’t related. But, I enforced it by very haughtily flouncing away, Anne of Green Gables–style, whenever he approached.

The underlying philosophy that made this situation for Jacob and the pastor that church, however, is one that is a basic tenet in Christian patriarchy:

women are not capable of making decisions.

This basic assumption drives nearly everything else that gets discussed regarding gender roles and women in patriocentric and fundamentalist circles. There are a host of reasons for why they argue for this, and most of them go all the way back to Victorian oppression. To those who are gung-ho patriocentric, Victorian society was the crowning moment of man. Everything was better back then– the clothes, the food, the education system, and especially marriage. Women were always keepers-at-home, and it was an admirable– nay, necessary–goal for a young woman to be “accomplished” in all the home-making arts. I remember our church hosting “Old Fashioned Days” when we would all dress up like characters from Little House on the Prairie and go around extolling all the virtues from a time gone by. My friends all kept “hope chests,” to prepare for their marriage one day.

However, women were supposed to ignore the fact that, in Victorian society, they were property. They had no voice– in fact, a woman being able to voice her opinion was an even more ridiculous notion than racial equality. A woman in Christian patriarchy is still little more than property. She is inferior to men in every way– in fact, she is so inferior, that supposedly the most biblical form of marriage is one where a woman can’t even be held responsible for her decisions. That is, if she’s allowed by her husband to make any– the husband, after all, is the one who make the ultimate decision. Women are emotional, not rational. You can’t trust her to make the most wise decision, as she’ll be fueled only by her matronly, nurturing instincts. Our emotions are so volatile, too– we’re basically incapable of controlling them. In fact, to be safe, women should surrender every area of their life to first, their father, and then their husband. Isn’t it just so nice not to have to worry about anything, dear? Just keep submitting, dear, and you’ll be fine. God will honor your submission, even if your husband is evil.

And I believed all this, once. To my core I believed it– I could not trust myself to make decisions. I laughed about this gnawing fear, jokingly telling people that I just wanted my father to “pick someone for me,” and that I honestly didn’t mind the concept of an arranged marriage. After all, the one time I had “fallen in love” had been a horrendous mistake that left me “damaged goods” for any other man. I couldn’t escape the fear, though, that I was, by nature, untrustworthy. That I could not trust my mind, or my instincts, or my emotions. My gender rendered me mute.

And then, one day, I met someone.

He asked me if he could write me letters– and we wrote for months and months, and I asked him things, asked him what he felt and thought and believed. And I fell in love– fell in love so quickly it frightened me. I was doing it again– thinking I could make a decision this monumental. Eventually, he kissed me, and told me that he loved me, and that he’d be crazy to ever let me go. I held onto him as tightly as I could, and promised myself that I’d never lose the certainty I felt in that moment.

I called my father to tell him what had happened to me– that I had fallen in love, and I was happy, and I was so utterly sure that my parents would love him, and I couldn’t wait for them to meet him. And then, suddenly, we were arguing, because how could I trust you to make this decision. Look at what happened when you thought you could this before. Look at all the pain you caused yourself when you thought you’d found someone. History has proven that you’re not capable of making this decision, Samantha. You have a track record. 

And, for a moment, all the certainty was gone. I had gone outside my father’s approval. I hadn’t waited for his permission– no one had even bothered to ask him for it. I had made my parents superfluous, like they didn’t even matter, and just gone off, willy-nilly, thinking I could do it all by myself. How rebellious was I being? I should be ashamed of myself.

But in another flash, all that doubt flew away. No–no, I refused to go back there. I knew myself– I had spent the last two years discovering who I was, and I was not about to let all of that go to some ghost from my past telling me that I’m the weaker vessel, the woman who was first deceived. I didn’t need my decisions rubber-stamped. Even if it was a mistake, it was my mistake, and I would own it.

Turns out my parents did love him. My mother helped him plan the proposal, and my father walked me down the aisle. Turns out– I was capable of making up my own mind. And when my husband asked me to marry him– he was asking me, and not “me” plus some patriarchal authority system. And I said yes, all on my own.

Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer
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