Feminism

learning the words: liberation

bloomers

Today’s guest post is from Way of Cats, a former fundamentalist who now considers herself spiritual. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

In my Midwest rural birthplace, my parents had a mixed-faith marriage. He was a Lutheran;  she was a Methodist.

My first firm memories of church were after our move to the small-town South. We went to non-denominational, bible-believing, born-again churches. I joined Youth Group and went to sleepaway Bible Camp every summer. I cried in my seat when a revival group took over evening worship and screamed a blow-by-blow re-enactment of the Passion of the Christ.

I spent seventh grade in a Southern Baptist Christian Academy where we had chapel twice a week. The first row would get hit with spit from our principal, raving about the demonic influences of “rock music.” Girls’ skirts and boys’ haircuts were measured with a ruler. I mastered the art of the five-second shower, lest the Rapture occur during that window, in which case I would be naked in front of God and Everybody.

My science class discussed tectonic plates as though God himself had assembled them. Evolution was a lie, and our textbook for this discussion was a Chick Tract. We grew used to our teacher lifting his head and saying, “Do you hear that? It’s the godless Communist hordes coming down the road. They are going to come in here and point a gun at your head and kill you unless you deny Jesus Christ.”

He would use his finger as a gun, and point to each of us in turn, moving through the rows of desks. The beige weave of his polyester slacks and the ketchup tinge of his breath would embed itself into our about-to-be-blown-out brains.

Make no mistake– I grew up Fundamentalist.

We would get sent home from school if we had the nerve to wear a blouse and jeans, since everyone knew we were allowed to wear a “pantsuit,” where the top matched the pants. Of course we were expected to be chaste before marriage; that was not a part of dating, where That Boy was supposed to Respect Us and get us home by our ridiculously early curfew. A woman could be a manager, a teacher, an accountant or nurse or even a doctor; but she better bring her best covered dish to the potluck, and she would (of course!) do the washing up along with all the other women.

In my early teens, I did chafe at my circumscribed “woman’s role” in the church. I was happy when my intellect was respected by our classically trained minister, who spoke Greek and read Aramaic. He would discuss theology and morality with me and lend me books. Why, I could be anything… except a President, (of anything!) or a pastor.

As a bright, and academically gifted girl, I was expected to pursue a career, so long as it didn’t interfere with the two or three children I was also expected to have. More than that meant I wasn’t “taking precautions” and having too many children for us to support.

What alternate Universe was this? It was biblical-literalist, full-immersion, haters-of-secular-humanism Southern Baptist in the early 70s.

I left Christianity entirely at fourteen, shortly after I did what every Fundamentalist is subtly discouraged from doing: reading the entire Bible, cover to cover, without a study guide or Sunday School teachers or pastors to “interpret” things for me.

Once we have read other works of art, the Bible is so-obviously a collection of history and poetry and myth, the incredibly preserved testament of a people who gave birth to one of the world’s greatest Teachers; Jesus. I took the red words and ran away.

Back then, I thought I was being oppressed. I had no idea.

Now, wandering around the Spiritually Abused sites where people tell incredible stories of inconceivable oppression, I am humble and grateful. As bad as my parent’s divorce was, it at least put us beyond the reach of what the Protestants have become; a Quiverfull, woman-hating, incredibly abusive, sect that has completely lost track of what Christianity is supposed to be about.

God is Love. It’s not that difficult.

While I had legitimate issues with the “role of women” as described by religion during my teens, I was never regarded as Less than Human. I was never just an incubator who cleaned. Sure, I felt that way, but in the early 70s, I was never actually treated that way. What triggered this War on Women?

It was Feminism. That’s all. Women’s Liberation. Because, at that time, what my church taught was not that different from what the entire culture believed and practiced. Women could go so far, and no further. This is what broke up my parent’s marriage.

Years later, when my mother confessed that it drove her literally crazy that my father could not handle money, and she felt driven to divorce him, I was stunned. Why didn’t she, with much more skill as her later life proved, just take over the finances? Because she hadn’t been raised that way. It didn’t even occur to her to do that.

It wasn’t done.

Women escapees from Spiritual Abuse are very familiar with the ways certain ideas are not allowed to be thought– familiar with all of this was a backlash against Women’s Liberation. It’s not God at all.

Be keeping women slotted into housekeeping and shutting up, it’s easier for small men to feel superior. This is what happens when they cannot inspire respect with their accomplishments. They can only bully fear from the weak and vulnerable.

They are mean, petty, scared, small men.

God is much bigger than that.

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  • Way of the Cats,

    I hope it is not disrespectful to tell you that I laughed out loud at the “shower” reference. I grew up southern baptist and during the 70s, so I can relate. In some ways those days were better for girls (perhaps not women) and I worry for my young daughter in today’s society.

    Many men (and women) have taken up the cause of rejecting feminism and it is not just Christian Fundamentalists. The one group is all too eager to hang onto the fundamentalists’ coat tails because it mirrors their own bias and anger.

    I, like you, read the entire bible and decided what was important to hold to. I adhere to the red lines, like you, but there is much beauty and wisdom in other parts, as well.

    But you are right: God is Love. Very simple in theory, but apparently nigh on impossible for the average Christian to believe.

    Thanks for the beautifully written article.

    • Cindy, I really like your concluding thought, “God is Love. Very simple in theory, but apparently nigh on impossible for the average Christian to believe.” You are right, of course. Many Christians say, ‘God is love’ but their actions say differently. I think this is because so much baggage has been added to the message of Jesus.

  • The “shower” line cracked me up too. I never thought of it like that before.

    You are right that so much of evangelicalism is really just a reaction against feminism. I grew up in the ’80s more than the ’70s, and for some reason, I don’t remember it being as bad as it is now. I think the influence of R. J. Rushdoony on the home school movement in particular has pushed the Church much further in the direction of Patriarchy and a lesser sub-human view of women.

  • kawa

    Ah yes, I remember the days when the rapture was a constant source of worry in my mind. As a child, any time there was a suspicious lack of people, or I couldn’t find my parents, it was reason to call up my best friend to see if she was still around. If she was, I figured I was in the clear, and life on earth was still normal. Yup. 🙂

    Hey, I’m totally sorry if this is confrontational, or harping on something that isn’t the focus of your piece…but you make the statement that “the Protestants have become [ ] a Quiverfull, woman-hating, incredibly abusive, sect that has completely lost track of what Christianity is supposed to be about.” I sort of think that’s a bit exaggerated. All Protestants? All supposed 170 million that live in the US? Or are you looking at extreme sects that we would all agree do not represent true Christianity.

  • wayofcats

    True, kawa! It’s only some Protestants. I should have said “fundamentalists,” which is also more accurate, since the fundamentalists of many religions are the ones who tend to be rigid and hateful.

    • kawa

      Ah, okay 🙂 Totally understand. Thanks for replying, and thanks for your post!