Feminism

choices and being allowed to make them, part two

autonomy

I’ve been struggling, hard, with this post, because, honestly, I don’t know where to begin.

I told a story yesterday from my childhood about the ability I had to make choices– to choose not eating something I disliked over eating cookies. My mother would present negotiations like this frequently, but only when the deal was an honest one. Did I want to wear this, or that? Did I want broccoli, or carrots? I could choose not to wear the wool tights if I wanted to put up with the cold. Whenever I was required to do something, like eat my vegetables or dress up for church (I hated dressing up), there was always some sort of choice involved. When my younger sister insisted that she could do it all by herself, she would wear her clothes inside out and two different socks to church. It was important to my mom that her children know the importance of making choices, and that choices have consequences.

When I was nine and we’d just moved to New Mexico, I was placed in the 5-9 year old Sunday School Class, where most of the kids were 6. I decided that I wanted to be in the 10-12 year old class, and I went to the teacher, not my mother, and told her I wanted a transfer. I explained why, and she moved me. All without even asking my mother– I had autonomy, the independence to decide what I wanted for myself and to go get it.

When we started attending our fundamentalist church-cult, much of that evaporated.

But, it didn’t really feel like I’d lost the ability to make decisions for myself, because I was taught, right along with my parents, that they had the duty, obligation, responsibility to make all my decisions for me, because I was a child and couldn’t be trusted (the fact that I was female compounded this exponentially). Verses like “foolishness is bound up into the heart of a child” and a “child left to himself brings shame to his mother” were used to bludgeon us with the concept that children are completely and totally capable of decision-making. Couple that with teachings like that infants are only lying when they cry, and children are essentially property, and you are left with a frightening vision for child-rearing.

And what we wind up with is my sister practically starving herself for two days because she refused to eat cheddar-broccoli soup and smile while she did it. Or me, as a twenty-four year old woman, curled up in a fetal position, sobbing into the carpet, having one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever had because I wasn’t “allowed” to exit a conversation that was triggering me and go to my room. The insanity of it all was that I could have left the room– my father would never had physically restrained me. But I had been taught, since I was ten years old, that I do not have individual autonomy, free choice, or personal agency. After it was over he realized how insane it had been and apologized to me, in tears.

The problem is that we had both bought into the horrible lie that, as my parent’s child, they were the Absolute and Supreme Authority Over my Life in All Things. It never even occurred to me to think differently. When I went to the gynecologist for the first time, and she asked my mother to leave the room, I was completely baffled by the idea that I might have gone somewhere and done something my mother didn’t know about. The gynecologist was trying to tell me that it was “ok” if I was honest with her, she couldn’t tell my mother, it was against the law. I had a hard time explaining to her that I was with my parents every single waking moment of every single day, that there was absolutely nothing in my life they didn’t know about, because they were responsible for approving and being a part of everything I did.

This teaching has caused me so many problems as an adult– largely because I’ve been taught that having personal boundaries is wrong. I was taught to always nod my head and do exactly whatever any adult had told me to do, instantaneously, without complaint, and always. There was no room for “can I do it in five minutes?” There was zero tolerance for any kind of refusal, on any basis. There was never an excuse for disobeying anyone. Or even really saying “no” or “stop.” Personal feelings– feeling uncomfortable with a request, for example– were so far outside the point they didn’t bear consideration. And when, as an adult, I started establishing boundaries with people I’d never had any kind of boundary with before, the only result has been the termination of our relationship.

My parents were not abusive, let me make that clear. But, as a family, we swallowed this entire destructive system. Thankfully, for my family, the consequences were not severe. I was so thank-my-lucky-stars blessed because no one besides the pastor in my church abused me as a child or teenager (that would come later, in other relationships). But the consequences, for many, can be. Oh, the consequences can be horrendously and heart-breakingly hideous. The things that have been done to children in the name of patriarchy and “biblical” child-rearing are staggering and horrific.

Because, essentially, in this system, children do not have rights.

In this system, the only rights that matter are “parental rights,” and the organizations that seek to protect parental rights want to see Child Protective Services completely abolished, they openly campaign against the UN Rights of the Child, they call child abusers “heroes.” They openly support (and hire) men who have been convicted of sex crimes against children.

In this system, children are property. And you raise these children to literally be automatons– except, unlike Asimov’s positronic brain, there’s no Third Law— there’s no instruction to protect ourselves, only to obey.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is where I’d like to ask for your help.

You might be aware that there is a petition for the Home School Legal Defense Association to openly acknowledge that homeschoolers can also be abusers, and to educate their members about child abuse.

I want to ask you to go, read the 300+ stories, and sign the petition. If you’re someone who is familiar with CPS conspiracy theories, or you were someone who was abused in a homeschooling environment, or you knew someone who was, please tell your story, too. There’s other outlets– like Homeschoolers Anonymous, which is attempting to collect the stories of the once-homeschooled adults. There’s Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which is researching and collating all the documented cases of homeschooling abuse it can find. The Wartburg Watch monitors any and all of the damaging, destructive trends and teaching that appear in Christian culture.

These issues are  . . . so far beyond words. They are horrifying. They are abomination. They are anathema to anything a Christian should believe, to anything a decent human being should believe is true. The fact that there are entire organizations bent on openly supporting these concepts and then blatantly covering up the natural consequences . . . deeply grieves me. I’ve been reading these stories, and there are days where I can’t take it anymore, when I curl up on my bed and weep for all those who have been so gravely wounded– or destroyed– by these teachings.

This post is going to be a safe harbor. Ordinarily my comment policy is as open as I can make it– but not for this. I will not tolerate comments that dismiss or belittle the evil of these ideas, or attempt to justify them in any way. I will not allow that to happen here, on this post.

If you are someone who has been affected by these teachings, who has suffered abuse or trauma because of these ideas, you can speak truth here. You can tell your story– if that is something you want to do. If you want to share your story, but do not want to share it publicly, you can email me, or send my facebook page a message.

forgedimagination (at) gmail (dot) com.

facebook.com/defeatingthedragons

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  • I want to say thank you for being honest about this. It’s a frightening, horrific subject. I have been resonating with what you’ve been writing (particularly this two-parter and the adolescent myth post), and I’m just now discovering that what happened to me was NOT ok, was NOT Biblical, and is NOT “the way things should be”. My parents never tolerated the ‘gimme a second’ answer to their demands, and I was punished multiple times (sometimes physically) for not dropping everything I was doing to go do whatever it was my parents wanted me to do. I remember one time we had someone over and my mother asked me to do something — I was in another part of the house, engrossed in something, and I made the mistake of saying, “Just a minute”. She took me downstairs and spanked me (a fourteen year old), humiliated me in front of the guest, and made me dry my eyes and pretend everything was fine. I’ll never forget the grief of that moment. I didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was at the beck and call of someone else, that she could order me around and I had to do what she wanted, right then, or suffer the consequences. I’m thankful I didn’t experience worse (two of my siblings did but not at my parents’ hand), but I’m still struggling with learning to be my own person and to make my own decisions.

    Thank you again for your beautiful words, they’re helping.

  • Thanks for writing this. I’ve never experienced anything like what you have, and I’m keen to learn, to be able to support others, but also to start shaping my own values. Your writing is a great help in getting me to think things I wouldn’t have considered before, thanks.

  • You’re absolutely right that children don’t have rights in this world. In What the Bible Says About Child Training, Richard Fugate writes

    They [parents] have the right to rule because God gave that right to parents, not because it is one they have earned or deserved…

    There is no such thing as “child rights” sanctioned by the Word of God. The child has only the God-given right to be raised by his parents without the intervention of any other institution.”

    (pages 25 & 37)

    It’s this mentality that Homeschooler’s Anonymous have to fight with the HSLDA.

  • Thank you! I could have written this as well.

    I was 16 the last time I had a hand raised to my backside by my father. I was forever told I would never be too old, or too big (I am nearly as tall as he is) to be spanked. Apparently I out-grew that, and it came to shouting matches.

    I was around the same age when my dad went off on one of his angry rants about how I was “abandoning my duty” by going to my home congregation instead of tending to their needs. Granted, they did have Mono… but still, I was an adult living at home. Who did he think he was that he had the right to yell and scream at me like that?

    And why, why when I asked my mother why she didn’t step in, was her answer “You always make me choose between you and him. And given that choice – I will always choose him!” Gee, thanks. I thought moms were supposed to support and protect their children!!

    And to this very day, after 26 years of living a home prior to marriage, this is why I still do not share everything with my parents, including my parenting philosophy or egalitarian beliefs. Sure – dad follows me on twitter and my mom follows my Pinterest, but I guarantee you they don’t read half of what I post. I’m just being followed because somehow I’m supposed to be under their authority still as their child. (*cue twilight zone theme*)

    This is precisely why I do not parent my children this way. 🙁