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No Greater Joy

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raised to be a monster

monster
from Pan’s Labyrinth

I sat on the couch in the nursery, playing with some loose threads while I watched Mrs. Grace* entertain the baby on her lap. She’d been playing peekabo for the past few minutes when she suddenly saw the baby, Anna*, notice her necklace. It was an antique pendant watch with delicate scroll work, and Anna seem fascinated by the movement of the hands. Mrs. Grace dangled the pendant in front of her, telling her “it’s ok, you can touch it, go ahead.”

I watched as Anna turned to look at her mother who was sitting across the room. Mrs. Dianna slowly shook her head, pursed her lips, frowned, and made a subtle wagging motion with her index finger. Anna turned back to look at Mrs. Grace and very seriously shook her head.

I sat there, impressed and in awe. Anna was an infant– just a few months old! How had Mrs. Dianna done that? I marveled. It was amazing what consistent discipline could do!

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

When I was sixteen, I got into an argument with a boy at church. He was a public school student in a church that idolized homeschooling and had been severely mocked for it by most of the kids at church. He’d called homeschoolers uneducated idiots, I’d called public school students homicidal maniacs, and we’d ended up yelling at each other and then not speaking for the rest of the night– or the week.

The next week the ride home from church was dead silent. I could tell that my father was angry about something, but I had no idea what, although I had the sense that it was directed at me in some way. When we got home we went straight to the bedroom and he pulled out a yardstick and told me to bend over. He told me that I was being punished for being cruel to a boy at church, which left me confused and frightened. I had no idea what he was talking about. I protested and tried to explain my confusion, but it didn’t matter. I received a spanking– and, true to the Pearl’s methods, he continued spanking me until I displayed repentance and contrition and all signs of rebellion were gone.

He broke six yardsticks over me, eventually switching to his leather belt. The spanking went on for forever, because I continued to say that I was innocent, and that was rebellion. The next day, I couldn’t sit down, and when I looked in the mirror I saw that I was beginning to bruise– badly. It was the first and only time a spanking had ever left a mark, and it left me with a vague sense of pride that I’d endured so much.

A few days later, when I was sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, at the dinner table, my father grew frustrated. “What are you doing that for? Stop being so melodramatic.”

I calmly explained that I couldn’t sit down normally, and I saw my father’s eyes widen. He told my mother to look at me, and when we emerged from their bathroom, my mom looked at my dad– but I couldn’t read her expression. “I think her tailbone is broken.”

I watched my father’s face as it cracked. Horror burst into his eyes as they filled with tears. He pulled me into a fierce hug, and I could feel him cry into my hair. He apologized, over and over, begging my forgiveness.

I was confused as I stood in his arms, frozen and stiff. He’d done exactly the right thing. He’d done what I’d been trained to believe was the only possible way to “train up a child in the way he should go.” He was only doing the best possible thing for my spiritual well-being.

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

“I can still chase you down and beat you.”

I winced. It’s nothing, Samantha, I told myself. Don’t over-react. It’s just a joke– a joke most parents use at some point. It doesn’t mean anything. I felt my knee start bouncing and tried to calm myself. He doesn’t actually mean “beat.” He’d never do that.

As the sermon continued that Sunday morning, my mind kept flicking back to that moment. And I kept reminding myself that “beat,” in my culture, is a euphemism. It doesn’t actually mean beat for most people. Hardly anyone would do anything substantially more than a swat or two.

And, then, suddenly, he started talking about a couple of new parents bringing their baby to church, and man, don’t you just wish you could spank that baby? And then he laughed, and said “of course I’m being facetious. No one would actually do that, that’s crazy.”

But all I could see was Anna’s face, staring at her mother, as it transformed into a mask of fear and terror. Her mother hadn’t had to lift her hand, or yell, or rage, or do anything. She simply pursed her lips and wagged her finger, and that was enough to ensure that Anna was frozen and helpless. I just barely managed to survive getting out of the auditorium. The entire time we made small talk in the lobby, I wanted to vomit. During the drive home I chatted idly with my husband, flinching every time Anna’s face appeared in my memory, her eyes wide and her lip quivering. I made it all the way to lunch– and then I broke down.

“He thinks it’s funny because he doesn’t think anyone would do that, but I’ve known people who not only do that, they think it’s biblical. Oh, God, I was one of those people. I thought that there wasn’t anything wrong with spanking a baby. I believed that it was biblical and right to spank a baby. I was one of those monsters!”

And my husband held me as I sobbed.

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

I’ve told that story about Anna and the pendant countless times since that day. I’ve expounded on all the marvelous benefits of child training often an early, and the importance of consistency and, of course, never spanking in anger. I’ve talked about that night when my father broke my tailbone as if it were a funny story– a hilarious anecdote that I shared when a bunch of us homeschool kids got together and started swapping impressive spanking stories. I was basically repeating, verbatim, the teachings of people like Michael and Debi Pearl, who wrote No Greater Joy and To Train up a Child. One of my mother’s best friends had given her both of those books, and I read them like they were gospel growing up. When I was a mother there would be no screaming. When I was a mother I would house-proof my baby, not baby-proof my house. When I was a mother . . .

Telling these stories, today, however, I’m trying not to cry. Because, looking back, I can see the twisted evil of everything I witnessed and experienced.

What makes it so evil is that what teachings like what’s found in the pages of books like To Train up a Child turn good, amazing, loving, responsible parents into monsters. My parents loved me– they love me so much I can barely understand it at times. They’ve constantly supported me, they’ve stood up for me, they’ve defended me . . . they love me, and they always have. It’s because they loved me that they fell in with these ideas. They desperately wanted to be the best possible parents that they could be– and they believed that what they were being taught was the only way to be good parents. Do this and your children won’t depart from these ways when they are old. They didn’t know better, and they looked around at all the parents who were following these methods, and their kids were so happy, so content, so well behaved.

So, in the name of how much they loved me, they were led to do abusive things.

It has nothing to do with my parents being abusive people. They are not abusers. What is so frightening about these teachings is that they blur the line so badly. They’re insidious, because to parents who have absolutely no desire to harm their children, these teachings, on the surface, seem alright. There seems to be cautious admonishments for parents to have discernment– all the while telling them that if you do not drive rebellion out of their heart you are damning their very soul. And when you’re involved in these sorts of circles, it turns into a downward spiral. The methods escalate, the attitudes become more severe. Parents are sucked into viewing their child as the enemy– you are in a constant, never-ending battle for the fate of your child’s soul, and you cannot give up.

Writing about this is difficult– I’ve been avoiding talking about this for months. Because these sorts of stories– they are not representative of who these people are, especially not my parents. But, with all the stories that have been coming to light in the past month, I felt it was time to speak. I’m not Lydia, or Hana— but most of us aren’t. Most of us have stories like mine– stories of parents who were only trying to do their best.

Feminism

cloistered fruit: (not) an open letter to the Pearls

napa valley

So, a friend of mine sent me this post by Michael and Debi Pearl the other day. I encourage you to go read it, just so that you have some context for the following rant and can follow along. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s wrong with this article, and I’m just going to unload both barrels here. Also, in case I get something wrong, because that is totally possible. I’m ranting, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want clarity or cogency or accuracy. If you think that I’ve blown something out of proportion, and you would like to point out a subtlety or nuance, feel free. Or, you can get up here on my soapbox and rant with me. That’s cool, too.

Every family emits its own light. After viewing a family for just five seconds, I know so much about them. After being introduced to each member of the family, they are an open book.

This is from Michael, and all I have to say is No. Just– no. Five seconds? Really? Everyone is just an open book to you? I shouldn’t be shocked anymore at the unbelievable arrogance and condescension Michael Pearl emits, but somehow, every time, it’s like someone slapped me in the face with a fish. Yes, some people are perceptive, and are capable of accurate first impressions– but this claim goes right along with Micheal’s exalted view of himself as a self-proclaimed “prophet.”

The man was about fifty, certainly not a looker.

Now we’re in one of Debi’s sections, and all this does is remind me of Debi’s rather extensive story about the “one ugly hillbilly” woman in Created to be his Help Meet. This observation has absolutely no bearing on the story she’s about to relate– except as possibly to judge the “Old Dude” (what a demeaning way to refer to someone) for not conforming to her physical standards, and to judge the young woman who appears later for having an emotional connection with someone who isn’t a “looker.” There’s no logical explanation for this– it’s just more of Debi’s self-righteous judgment spilling out of her. Both Michael and Debi have demonstrated, throughout the sum total of their careers, an astonishing lack of compassion and simple human empathy.

Right here, at our church, among all these righteous families! I stood amazed at the audacity of the human race.

In other words, how dare people with actual real-life problems dare show themselves in our church! How dare someone who doesn’t conform to our little universe of perfection! How dare you come in here, and violate our incomprehensibly narrow view of the world!

I tried to ask the girl questions to ascertain the cause of this odd arrangement, but he answered as if the questions were directed to him, and the young lady deferred to him as if he were her voice of conscience. I thought that unless her father had truly been abusive, she should return to her family, but I was making no progress engaging her to consider her options.

Back to Michael. This is where I agree with him– this interaction shows that something about their relationship is off. The married man (I refuse to refer to him as “Old Dude”) is forbidding this young woman to even speak, and that seems to be something that is the standard for them. Either because of the married man in this situation, or because of her abusive home, she’s been silenced. She’s literally voiceless here. But this is the only time anyone even mentions this. It stands out to them as a little odd, but not that odd. Because women are expected to let men “lead.” If you’re going to be a “good Christian woman,” silence is expressly demanded by people like the Pearls. So it’s only a little weird, instead of the gigantic flaming red flag it should have been.

And this is one of the places where Michael builds on a long-standing understanding in these types of circles, and you can see it in the words “truly abusive.” This is so incredibly loaded. Because, to Michael, who endorses extreme physical punishment that borders on the sociopathic, “true abuse” would have to be on the level of breaking bones before he was convinced. Emotional and psychological trauma– don’t even exist. Because the ramifications of emotional abuse are just “bitterness” and “un-forgiveness” to the Pearls. Michael would voluntarily send an adult woman back into an abusive situation in order for her to be “under her father’s protection” than ever admit that a “Christian father” is capable of abusing his children. Psychological trauma– just spiritual and heart issues. And her “options”? This girl doesn’t have options. She’s not even allowed to speak for herself– which could indicate that she’s being manipulated into believing she doesn’t have options. When a woman can’t even talk how can she make an actual decision?

At this point in the story, Debi has burst in with an unexplained prophecy, declaring that she’d heard from God, and was speaking with his authority. She gives no context, and disappears as quickly as she came. Then, she sits down the woman for a talk. She does seem to give the married couple and the abused woman some benefit of the doubt– at first.

Undoubtedly his relationship with his wife was already barren before the girl came along, but the old wife had now become the second woman.

What the. Crap on a cracker. Debi– seriously?! You hear this from God, too? A voice come booming out of heaven to tell you that their marriage was “undoubtedly barren”? Which, if you’ve read Debi’s book is without exception always the woman’s fault. If this married man is developing a emotionally intimate connection, it’s obviously because his wife doesn’t smile enough, or doesn’t know how to put her makeup on. Clearly.

I had to try to help Little Miss see the error of her ways.

To most young brides the husband appears clumsy and unfeeling. But as the wife continues to obey and reverence her young husband, he will grow in appreciation for her soul, and in time learn to care for her emotional and spiritual needs.

I explained to Little Miss that having even a small part of this “mysterious relationship” with another woman’s husband, especially in her own home, in front of her, is exceedingly cruel and evil.

Already touching her spirit, I knew what the answer would be, but I wanted the girl to understand she was indeed not innocent.

If there was ever going to be any change to this situation then she had to understand the full ugliness of her actions, so I drove home how depraved and self-centered she was to do such a thing as to interfere with the sacredness of marriage.

Being cloistered might have been bad for her, but now she was party to damaging the sacred.

Girlie, it will come to you soon enough, and you will need a place to flee. Don’t come here. The invitation for a place to stay is closed. I would not trust a ‘regret’ girl around this ministry.”

This should speak for itself.

Debi doesn’t care about the abuse this woman has experienced. It doesn’t even matter– it only enters as a “but” statement. The fact that the married man in this situation talks about being “highly skilled in the art of caressing souls” straight to Micheal’s face doesn’t matter. They’re not even capable of picking up on the GIGANTIC BILLBOARD-SIZED RED FLAGS that should tell them that the man in this situation is taking advantage of a tender, fragile, desperate and abused young woman.

Because it’s the wife’s fault for not reverencing her husband, or not fulfilling him, or not having sex with him enough, or not keeping herself pretty enough. And then it’s the abused woman’s fault. Her fragility, the fact that this married man deliberately chose a woman sheltered enough to not understand exactly how he was going to “caress her soul.” He’s vulnerable because of his wife, and the abused woman is preying on his vulnerability. No, he’s not emotionally manipulative, or taking advantage of this situation at all. It’s all the woman’s fault, because being abused by her parents and then manipulated by another man (which she’s probably been taught since infancy is a legitimate authority over her, simply because he’s a man) doesn’t make a lick of difference.

And then comes the hammer. Debi tells her that she will absolutely not help an abused woman when this woman eventually realizes that she traded the frying pan for the fire. Because she’s responsible for the married man manipulating her. She’s cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. She’s not hurting, she’s not lost, she’s not desperate for someone to realize that she’s a person, and that she needs help.

Michael and Debi Pearl– YOU are cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. You’ve been blinded by the power you’ve wrested from innocent people by being false prophets. You are completely and desperately lacking of any form of common sense or sound judgment.

The article goes on (with Michael inserting an insignificant caveat about how holy and righteous he was, and how men should stay away from women, because, well, women will seduce them away from God), but the story is over. They switch into analysis mode, and I just . . . can’t.

If you are a young woman in a cloistered situation, beware of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Staying in the frying pan is much to be preferred, for you can always jump when a clean alternative shows itself.

Samantha hits her head on her desk repeatedly at the sheer idiocy and ignorance.

Do they never even stop and listen to themselves? Are they so blind to reality that they’re incapable of understanding how ridiculous a statement like this is? When you’ve grown up in a “cloistered” home– by their definition, a family so sheltered they can’t tell “right from wrong,” how the hell do you think an infantalized woman (or man, for that matter) is capable of being aware of the difference between “clean” and supposedly “unclean” alternatives? They’ve been purposely and deliberately shielded from having that kind of power.

Micheal and Debi Pearl are dangerous.

People listen to them, people respect them, people make excuses for them when their teachings are responsible for the slaughter of innocent children. Their loyal followers say that reactions like mine are exaggerated, that I’m just not giving the benefit of the doubt. If I’d really read all of their books, if I’d actually paid attention to what they advocate, I’d be fine with them. I’m just not understanding their true message, which is obviously of love and directly from God.

No.

I have read their books– I’ve read every single last one of their books multiple times. I idolized them as a child. They were just so brazenly honest, so overwhelmingly clear– how could Michael be anything but a prophet sent from God to teach the fundamentalists how to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

But as I got older, I started realizing, with a mounting horror, just how clearly evil their teachings are. What they advocate fosters and nurtures abusive homes. They explicitly encourage women to stay with physically abusive husbands and utterly dismiss the existence of marital rape and don’t even acknowledge that men emotionally and verbally abuse their wives.

Debi repeatedly tells women that if their husbands are abusing them, it’s clearly their fault. They’re just not reverencing their husbands enough. Reverence your husband, and he won’t yell. Reverence your husband, and he won’t beat you. Reverence your husband, and ignore the fact that he’s raping you when you don’t want to have sex– because you’re not even allowed to say no. If you say no, he’ll just go sleep with someone else.

And Michael– spank your child until he obeys. Spank your child with an ever-increasing-in-size pipe until he instantaneously submits to your every uttered command. Spank your children until they are cowed. Spank your children until they would never even think of disobeying you. Because that’s what’s going to teach them about how to obey God.

The only language the Pearls are capable of speaking is a language of violence and abuse.

Feminism

choices and being allowed to make them, part three

child abuse

I realize the claims I’m about to make here are going to upset some. Many of you are going to violently disagree with me, and I’m anticipating that. I’m not accusing the parents who hold to these ideas as abusers– they have no idea that the system they so fervently believe in as “biblical” is abusive. I’m making some very big, very broad claims, and I’m making them without nuance or complexity simply because of time constraints. There is a Polemical nature to what I’m saying, and I’m aware of that.

Shortly before I married Handsome, I was in his childhood home, kicking around with his younger brother. We’d just finished watching a movie, and we’d been discussing all sorts of interesting things– the merits of a Confederacy over a Republic, for example, and the meanings of oligarchy and aristocracy. Smart kid, right? Well, Handsome came downstairs, and I’m not sure how we got around to this, but we started talking about some of their mutual childhood memories; namely, how they were taught to respect their mother. Handsome and his brother started reminiscing about how their mother would “count” in order to get their attention.

When I say “count,” I’m talking about what we see in the grocery store every day: “I’m going to count to three,” and the child has the opportunity to respond within that time frame, or, well, consequences. That is not how their mother practiced it– she used it only as a means of getting attention, with no threat of consequences implied — but that’s the typical perception of “counting,” I think. Hopefully you agree.

When they started talking about this idea, I scoffed. Probably rolled my eyes, too. “We’re not doing that with our children,” I pronounced, quite firmly.

Handsome turned to me, genuinely confused by my obvious hostility to the idea. “Why not?”

“It’s just teaching them that they can disobey however they want to. That I don’t really mean it when I call them.”

He stared at me, clearly not following. “Huh?”

“Children need to obey their parents. They don’t get to define how and when they obey– we do.”

What followed was a rather intense discussion that, in retrospect on my part, didn’t make any sense. I started trying to argue that “counting” was inherently a threat, and I didn’t want to threaten my children, but somehow completely missed that the kind of authoritarian, totalitarian, dictator-style approach to parenting I was advocating was based on threats.

During our conversation, I started feeling very triggered, and I could feel a panic attack coming on, which perplexed me. Why was I reacting this way? Why was I spiraling out of control? I could feel myself start to tremble all over, and I knew I had to leave. I went up to my room, curled up on my bed and cried, completely not understanding why I was panicking, or even what had triggered me. What was going on? What had caused this? Why was I so upset, when Handsome had not done anything remotely triggering?

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

At the time I attributed it to stress- it was a week before our wedding, and it had been a somewhat intense, although still friendly and open, conversation.

I know what it is now, although thinking about it is still very muddled. But, it is linked to the idea of instant, cheerful obedience that was advocated by nearly everyone I knew as a child and teenager. All the books we read taught it, and it was practiced by everyone in the community. Every child I knew had been taught since they were infants that they were to obey instantaneously and without question– and not just their parent. All children were required to obey all adults, and we could be punished by any adult immediately and with the direct approval by our parents.

My supposed “pastor”-‘s wife used to summon her children by whistling. She whistled through her teeth, and the sound was distinct, unmistakable, and loud. You could hear it from anywhere inside Wal-Mart, practically. Anytime she whistled, all of her children responded immediately— and in the sense of “immediately” that is the result of programming. Their response was so ingrained, so automatic, when they heard a whistle it was like watching Pavlov’s dogs. For all their talk about the evils of psychology, conservative religious disciplinarians sure jumped on board the behavioral modification and classical conditioning bandwagons.

Personally, I was taught to respond with a cheerful, respectful “yes ma’am,” to any demand, with the rationalization that it’s impossible for a child to say “yes ma’am” and try to fake respect if they’re not actually feeling it. I was required to drop anything I was doing the second I was summoned, because the summons was always more important than anything I was doing.

This continued into adulthood– I was still living with my parents, and had gotten home from an exhausting shift at work. All I wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch the movie I’d rented when my mother called me into the office.

“Why?” I responded, believing it to be a reasonable response. I didn’t want to move. I was tired. I wanted to watch my movie and then go to bed.

“Just come here!”

“But why? I’m busy.”

“No, you’re not. Come here. I want to show you something.”

“What is it?”

“Just come here!” The frustration in her tone was escalating.

I realized at that point that if I was ever going to watch my movie I’d have to do whatever it was my mother wanted. When it turns out she wanted to show me a map because I’d gotten lost the day before, all I wanted to do was leave. Maps are completely useless to me– they make no sense, and unless I am actually driving on the road with one, all those little lines, squiggly and straight, mean absolutely nothing to me. My sense of direction is abysmal, and yes, it takes me a little while to figure out where I’m going and how to get there. But maps– they are worse than useless. But, they work really well for my mother. And, she was convinced, despite my protestations to the contrary, that if I just stared long and hard enough at the squiggly lines I wouldn’t get lost again.

She was the parent.

I was the child.

What I wanted to do didn’t matter. That I was tired didn’t matter. That I knew myself, my own capabilities and limits, didn’t matter. She knew how to help me, and she wanted to help me right now, no matter if I told her it was a waste of time or I was busy. I didn’t even get to define for myself if I was busy– that was determined by her. I don’t know what’s good for me, but because I’m her child, she does.

This is one of the biggest problems of the “Instant Obedience Doctrine.” No one grows out of it. Not parents, not children. And the children, fed since birth this dogma of absolute, unending, cheerful, complaint obedience to all authority, are implicitly indoctrinated against every outgrowing it.

This is why I believe that the Instant Obedience Doctrine (my term) is inherently abusive.

My parents didn’t abuse me with this doctrine. Our relationship is fine, although we’re having our problems adjusting to me being an independent, autonomous, free-thinking adult. It’s rough, but we’re doing it one day at a time.

The problem with the Instant Obedience Doctrine is that it grooms children to be abused. This is inescapable. Not every child brought up in this doctrine is being abused or will be abused, but it creates an entire system where abuse will be allowed to go unchecked, mainly because the child will have absolutely no concept of abuse. They will not have the ability to think of themselves as autonomous, as free agents, as having rights over their own bodies and what they get to do with them– because this idea is explicitly disavowed. Children do not have any ability to choose in this system– that ability is systematically taken away from them as part of “biblical child-rearing.” We have been taught since infancy that we are never, ever allowed to say “no” to an authority.

Oh, the people who teach this doctrine will pay lip-service to teaching their children about abuse. They’ll say that they’ve taught their children to tell them if someone touches them inappropriately, or if someone does something they don’t like. But the doctrine completely overrules this “stop gap” because the primary, foundational idea in this doctrine is that children are foolish, children are ignorant, and children must be corrected by authorities, usually through physical pain (corporal punishment).

This does unspeakable damage to everyone involved– the parents and the children. Because the children eventually grow up, and if they start asserting independence, like I am now, our relationships can be damaged, because the independence is sudden and unexpected. Expressing my own ideas, disagreeing with my parents can be very emotional, upsetting territory, because the point of the Instant Obedience Doctrine was to raise children who are ideological replicas of the parents. The fact that this doctrine essentially means that parents will never actually get to know who their own children are is completely lost in all the rhetoric.

And for many children brought up in this system, the biggest problem is that they have no access to any concept of being their own, independent person. That idea simply doesn’t exist. They exist to do the bidding of authorities. They are property. These narratives are internalized unconsciously by everyone involved in the process.

Again, not every child brought up in this system is physically or sexually abused by his or her parents, or even by other authority figures in their lives– but they are emotionally and psychologically abused by the fundamental notion that they do not belong to themselves, that they are incapable of making their own choices.