stay-at-home-daughters are raised to be imprisoned

I may have mentioned, in passing, that I’ve been looking into attending seminary. There’s a few possible obstacles that have made finding the right seminary a difficult process, but one of the biggest is my unaccredited undergraduate degree. Because I can’t relocate for seminary, I have to find one that supports an online program, and most of the ones I’ve found have been either too conservative to admit me (as a woman and/or as an LGBT person); the ones that aren’t that conservative still won’t consider me because I don’t have an accredited degree. For several places, even if I were to complete the foreign language requirement at Liberty it still wouldn’t help me, because they only look at the undergraduate degree.

It looks like I may have found a place to apply (United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities), but I had to have a long conversation with their head of admissions to fully explain my background and why, even though my educational history looks super sketchy, I’m actually quite qualified for seminary. A big part of that story was the fact that I went to PCC because I was raised in the stay-at-home-daughter movement; attending a backwater fundamentalist Christian college was the only way I could go to any college anywhere.

The way I was raised, the movement I was brought up in, continues to limit my options. I imagine there will be ramifications of that ideology throughout my life. For example, I’m dreading my someday children coming home from school and needing help with their algebra homework. I was a woman in a Christian fundamentalist cult– I don’t know anything about math beyond arithmetic.

A little while ago I read Paulette Perhach’s “A Story of a Fuck Off Fund.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do so because it paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to be a woman with limited financial options. Which, let’s face it, is an awful lot of us. As I read it, though, my background informed my reaction to it, and I realized that one of the many ways the stay-at-home-daughter movement is abusive is this one: it purposely and intentionally makes damn well sure that women cannot leave abusive situations.

I’m sure most of the parents who decided to raise their daughters this way didn’t cackle to themselves “yes! Now, if she marries someone who throws her down the stairs, she won’t be able to divorce him! Bwa-ha-ha!” However, one of the reasons I was given by multiple leaders in the movement was that if a woman feels like she has the ability to leave her marriage, she might be tempted to consider it when she shouldn’t. Being totally dependent on a husband– having no college education, no marketable skills– was given as an argument for being a stay-at-home daughter. This idea was frequently put in contrast to the “feminist” idea of a “career woman,” which for us was basically a byword for Jezebel.

The stay-at-home-daughter movement, while not fringe, is not exactly mainstream, but I think there’s echoes of the ideology in broader movements. Complementarianism frequently comes with a heaping side dish of keeper at home, and while most of modern America has probably never even heard the term complementarianism, the ramifications can still be felt. Women are frequently the ones who stay at home with children, and loose out on career opportunities. Women are the ones frequently forced into the position of primary caregiver for elderly parents.

Women are the ones consistently expected to make financial sacrifices, therefore becoming more dependent on their husband’s income. For many of us that’s not a problem. I’m completely and totally dependent on my partner’s income and health insurance. I don’t foresee that to be a problem, but financial dependence is one of the reasons why, when a woman says something like “oh, the first time he ever hit me I’d dump his ass so fast!” my response is usually a hard and blunt “No. No, you wouldn’t.”

There’s a lot of reasons why I react that way: abusive relationships aren’t always physically violent, the abuser usually makes sure their victim is isolated and dependent before they escalate to violence, the victim has already been gaslighted and had her self-confidence destroyed … etc.

All of the above is why I’m writing a book explaining why complementarianism sets up abusive environments. It encourages toxic masculinity, it sets up abusive relationship dynamics as the ideal, and it especially limits a woman’s options when her relationship is abusive. Not only is divorce considered anathema in these circles (John Piper straight-up said women should “endure being smacked around” rather than immediately pursue separation and divorce), but complementarianism as a system practically ensures that women won’t be able to leave unhealthy environments. They’ll be constrained by their belief system, first of all, but they’d also be constrained by realistic concerns like food and shelter.

Photo by Jason Devaun
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  • Stefanie Musser

    You should come to my college 🙂 No but seriously I am right now writing a paper on homeschooling, conservative Christianity, government policy and abuse and I just wanted to let you know that your insights on these issues are really helpful to me. Especially when it comes to the intersection of conservative religion and abuse. I hope you will be able to get into seminary.

  • Lora Williams

    Thank you for all your insightful writing, Samantha. I’ve recently been reading my journals from my teens and 20s (I’m 47 now), and I have been pondering the messages I got in the church before I left at 23. One of the questions I ask now, as someone who is much more aware of the politics and power structures at play when Christianity was codified, is this: who benefits? If someone tells me that women can’t have authority over men, can’t act without a father or husband’s approval, who benefits? I am automatically skeptical of anyone who gives me rules for living that 1) don’t benefit me and 2) do benefit them. Your post is a timely one for this reflection. Thanks again.

    • Jackalope

      One of the useful life lessons I picked up along the way is that if my theology a) benefits me b) to the detriment of someone else, then I need to think long and hard about whether it’s correct. It’s so easy to set up the rules (or believe the rules we’re taught) in a way that is to our benefit. I have often wanted to ask people like John Piper if he ever noticed how convenient it is that all of his rules put him at the top of the food chain at the expense of everyone else.

  • Northwoods Dan

    Hey Samantha, if you make your way up to United, you may be able to have lunch with John Piper. His church is fifteen minutes away. Just kidding.

    My comment is on the insidiousness of complementarianism. My sister was abused by her ex-piece of …. They ran in the circles of fundies and exactly the isolation and dependence you described was implemented against her before he crushed the bones in her arm and locked her in a room to “never come out”. Fortunately, she had her cell phone on her and was able to call me with her non-crushed hand. I called police and then hired an attorney for a restraining order and divorce. Again fortunately my sister wasn’t so immersed into complementarianism that she felt locked in but she needed financial help for the lawyer and to get set up in a new apartment. She wanted the divorce but it was hard for her, given her historic involvement with a complementarian background and the general dimuntion of women that goes along with that.

    My broader point is that at the end of the day, the complementarians seem to always come down on the side of the abuser and not the victim. They can’t seem to understand that it’s a symptom of their pseudo-biblical doctrine. Rather, it’s an inherently belittling system that has real life consequences. Unfortunately their doctrine seems more important to them than real life tragedy.

  • So, reading this article, and then linking over to the John Piper article that you referenced, I guess I would say that I do think that parents who raise their daughters to be powerless have exactly the intent that you are implying – they do intend to limit their daughter’s opportunities. Whether that is done through ignorance or malice is really irrelevant. The end result is the same – the woman has been molded into the perfect victim.

    Ultimately, I think that all of this comes from a place of delusional self-righteousness. They simply do not believe that “godly” girls (or women) are ever victimized. They can’t believe this, because it is in conflict with the basis upon which they live their lives. If someone has been victimized, by their definition, that person must deserve to be victimized. And if they deserve to be victimized, if God has concluded that they are prideful, or that they lack humility, or that their desires are inconsistent with their station, then who is John Piper to get in the way of a little bit of divine instruction imposed by God, using the bludgeoning hands of her lord and master.

    My initial reaction is to hope that someone, somewhere finds John Piper and beats the living shit out of him, and then tells him to endure it. My second reaction is to acknowledge that my first reaction is inappropriate.

  • J.B.

    And even when you’re a bad feminist who works outside the home, you still make less than your male colleagues and don’t get the opportunities. There’s been progress but it’s sloooow.

  • pl1224

    Here’s what I don’t understand, Samantha. What if the husband in a complementarian marriage becomes disabled through chronic illness or catastrophic injury? What if he is in the military and is killed in action overseas? What if he dies from any of a multitude of other causes? How is a woman supposed to support herself and her children and, of course, her husband if he is permanently disabled? This whole belief system seems so foolishly short-sighted.

    • Original Lee

      I think the assumption is that, if the husband dies, the wife will re-marry someone in the community. If the husband is unable to work, the community will support him and his family. That’s the ideal. Never mind that it doesn’t usually work that way.

  • Junie Girl

    Not at all the main point of your post, but I have always struggled with math. I was pointed to Khan Academy online, and I have been working my way through Algebra 1 with the goal of getting through Calculus for the express purpose of being able to help the kids in my life–as well as feeling like I accomplished something I always thought was beyond me. It’s free, and it’s great. I also strongly recommend the Numberphile YouTube channel for entertaining videos about math(s) in the world. It’s often beyond me, but the presenters are all very charming and they obviously enjoy it, and it’s infectious and encouraging.

    • Elin

      I love Khan Academy too. I work with it from time to time to freshen up as well and increase my knowledge. I am Swedish and here there are a lot of choices on how much math you study depending on what future jobs you envision yourself having. I prepared myself for university studies but not in the science field so I didn’t take all the math classes I could. I don’t really regret it but I still feel that because I made that choice I haven’t really reached my full potential when it comes to math and I would like to at least try to reach that level. I would love to study some courses at the university in the science field too and I would need to show I qualify for a slightly higher level of math to do so. I think it would be doable but I have a 10 year plan for this so that I will not feel too stressed out about it.

  • Elin

    To me education for women, even if you believe that their main purpose is to be wives and mothers would be a priority just for the possible catastrophes that could happen: her husband divorces her, he dies young, he becomes too sick or disabled to work. To me, being your husband’s helper would absolutely mean that at the very least in these situations you would assume responsibility for bringing in the money.

  • Chris Kight

    I’ve so enjoyed your writing. And your connection with PCC helps me to better visualize your struggle while growing up, since I can rely on my experience of PCS as a point of comparison.

    I’ve spent years dealing with your seminary dilemma. An MDiv that is certified by ATS requires 1/3 of your degree to be in residence, though intensives are now able to count for that residency requirement. The problem then becomes the length of the residency requirements and your distance from the school. I couldn’t afford to take 3-4 weeks off each year to attend classes.

    I thought I could manage a MA or MTS degree through seminary, but they also required residencies I couldn’t take the time to attend.

    I ended up taking 4 classes with Earlham School of Religion and transferrng them into the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with Excelsior College. (BTW, Excelsior College might be able to apply most/all of your PCC credits to one of their accredited bachelor degrees, if that ever becomes important.)

    I hope the Association of Theological Schools can figure out how to make more accredited seminary degree available to students at a distance. I wish you all the best at UTS.

  • Chloe Winter

    I made it out because I had friends who opened their home to me. Without them, I’d still be there. I stayed because I financially could not leave, despite the fact that I decided to leave three years into an eight year relationship. I’ve since been told by family and friends that I should have told them sooner, but, to be frank, I did tell them. Until I left, very few people seemed to understand just how bad it was. Had I been able to make enough money to get a small apartment and pay for food, I would not have wasted five more years of my life with him.

    Financial stability does many things, but freedom is, for me, the most valuable.

  • Original Lee

    Truth! I was appalled when a friend of mine wanted her daughter not to go to college, but to stay home and apprentice as a farrier. She hadn’t really thought it through, but she had talked to many other parents in her conservative church, and none of them were encouraging their daughters to go to college, or if college was in the picture, it was the local community college, for the nursing degree. All of them were living at home. She felt very conflicted about taking her daughter for college visits, because on the one hand, she wanted her daughter to follow her dreams, but on the other hand, nobody else was letting their daughter go away to school. (The daughter is now studying electrical engineering at a school six hours away, thank God.)