I Miss Patriarchy. True Confessions from an Unlikely Source (Me)

Last week, I stumbled across the Facebook page of a magazine I sometimes read when I was in my twenties. It was the typical borderline-Quiverfull fare that has a large following among homeschoolers, promoting big families, homegrown organic cooking, and rigid gender roles; dispensing advice about clothing choices, natural health, homemaking, and child discipline.

Scanning the page was bittersweet. I shook my head at the logical and theological fallacies (the very thing that drove me from that mindset in the first place), but oh, how I missed the certainly, the simplicity, the assurance that if you just follow the recipe, your life and family will turn out beautifully. It’s a hollow promise, of course, but I’m sure I’m not the only woman who occasionally pines for a simpler existence, one where the shape and form of your life is a forgone conclusion. (How else can you explain the popularity of Amish romance novels?)

So I decided to acknowledge the feeling, to share some of the things I miss about living out of a patriarchal worldview, and become better acquainted with the mysterious workings of my subconscious mind in the process. Maybe you can glean something from it, too.

Things I Miss:

I miss the simplicity that came with my vocation being a foregone conclusion. When you know that you are going to be a stay-at-home mom, both now and forever more, you don’t have to spend time obsessing about choices that impact your career–schooling, job choices, prioritizing projects, etc.. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s making choices. Visualize me, at age 35, standing in my kitchen with my mother, wringing my hands as I gaze anxiously into the pot of mashed potatoes. “I don’t know if they need more salt, Mom! YOU decide!” Oh, the pressure! The horrible pressure!

I miss believing that my husband was ultimately more responsible for the well-being of our family than I was. As Dana Carvey’s Church Lady would say, “How conveeeenient!” Nowadays, I believe that “responsibility” is directly tied to “ability”–our faithful response to the things God has given us the ability to impact. We are each responsible to use the talents God has given us, and they aren’t always allocated the way we think they should be, according to relationship and role. But that doesn’t mean that burying my talents, or throwing them at Aaron and shouting “Here, YOU do something with these!” doesn’t sound tempting at times.

I miss believing that my husband was ultimately responsible for ME! While I acknowledged, of course, that I was responsible for my day-to-day decisions, I didn’t feel the need to take responsibility for the overall direction of my life. I was just going along with my husband’s direction, supporting him, so my choices were all on him, right? No way for God (or anyone else) to find fault with me there.

I miss being considered “conservative.” About a year ago, Scot McKnight wrote an insightful article titled “Moving Right is Never Wrong,” pointing out that the more conservative you are, the more faithful evangelicals are likely to consider you to be, even if your fundamentalism pushes the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. This resonated with me in a big way. Moral and theological conviction pushed me to become less conservative about gender roles, but I lived with the terror that maybe I WAS moving that direction for self-serving motives, maybe there WAS some deep-seated root of rebellion growing inside me, some part of me that just didn’t want to be under anyone else’s authority. I can’t tell you how much I agonized over this question, how many desperate prayers I lobbed at God while working through this issue. And no wonder. By moving away from legalistic tradition, instead of toward it, I was going the WRONG WAY by the evangelical standards McKnight describes, the standards I grew up with, and it frightened me.

And yet, here I stand. I can do no other.

I miss babies! Honestly? I could have happily gone on and on having babies. But I knew that would not be good for my health, or for our family. Four kids is a lot! Also, I want to adopt someday, and I want to leave physical, financial, and emotional room for them. But that doesn’t mean my uterus doesn’t get jumpy every time I spot a newborn. Tick tock.

What about you? Are there old mindsets or legalistic ideals that you have a hard time shaking? What do you think is behind that longing? Security? Tradition? Reputation? Something else? I dished mine–now it’s your turn!

30 Responses to I Miss Patriarchy. True Confessions from an Unlikely Source (Me)

  1. Don Johnson January 16, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    I sometimes miss the belief that I could just pick up the Bible and figure it all out, that it was all clear if I just studied it enough and prayed enough, etc. But it is a part of growing up and realizing that there are some things that one may never be sure about.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 16, 2013 at 8:36 am #

      You’re right. What’s that old saying–the more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know?

  2. VelvetVoice January 16, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    I don’t miss any of these things! Of course, I grew up Catholic and in a big city. I always had to take responsibility for myself. I didn’t think marriage was even in my future. Once I got married at 30, I really wanted a big family, but I was too old and the babies never materialized, I have only one. Looking back, I can really see God’s providence, but it really doesn’t mean much in day-to-day living.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 16, 2013 at 8:46 am #

      I get that! I was raised primarily in rural or suburban settings, by men who took care of EVERYTHING, and developed a pretty hard-core princess syndrome. It’s good in some ways (I have always knows that I was incredibly loved and cherished, which gave me a lot of confidence) and bad in others (because I was so “protected,” I never needed to develop in many areas).

      Obviously, what I posted is only part of the equation. There’s way more that I DON’T miss about that mindset, things I can’t accept in good conscience. But it’s still interesting to look at what the draw is for some people.

  3. AnnaC January 16, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    I can definitely relate to some of this, especially the part about struggling with the fear that I’m moving in this direction for selfish motives, or that I’m somehow rebellious. I still struggle with that sometimes.

    For me, when I first jumped into the pool of liberation, it wasn’t even a “hmm, this deserves a second look” kind of thing. I had been living in a fundie-lite box my entire life, not even being aware that the box existed, and when I caught my first glimpse of freedom I was ALL OVER IT. It’s been a long journey from there, of course.

    I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. I guess that yes, I understand, and to me the underlying point of your post was that it, in a way, it was so much EASIER back then. It really was easier in a lot of ways. But at least for me, it was at the cost of my soul- I was suffocating and I don’t know how much longer I could have lasted. So while this process of figuring it all out is difficult and sometimes painful, I also know I can’t go back.

    Didn’t mean to get all serious on a fairly lighthearted post. :P

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      “But at least for me, it was at the cost of my soul- I was suffocating and I don’t know how much longer I could have lasted. So while this process of figuring it all out is difficult and sometimes painful, I also know I can’t go back.”

      What you just said? Yes. That’s it, exactly.

  4. Kelly January 16, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Hi Jen-
    Great article that resonated so much with me – I know you know the folks I’m vaguely referencing in here and that I love them all so much and have great respect for them, I think this is just an agree to disagree type feeling for me. Anyway :)

    I had a hard time just going to a church that was not Covenant, so it was really hard for me when my beliefs started changing from what my home church was preaching. They didn’t change enough that I stopped going or would consider leaving, but enough that I was questioning why certain things were just accepted. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that: a.)I’m a woman and, b.) I have a disability. I have faced enough “you can’t do that,” and even though it was coming across lovingly – it just doesn’t sit right.

    I did not grow up in a family that went to church so I never dealt with it from a family perspective, but since my church family was (is!) so important to me I felt like I was letting them down. I had a hard time giving myself permission to feel differently. Sometimes, I wish I could just “hand over the reigns” and be a housewife and have a zillion babies, but…that’s just not me. I have a friend who often posts about how “{husband} gave me permission to do/buy/{whatever}” and, while I truly believe their marriage to be a loving, healthy one centered in Christ, I just cannot imagine myself living that way.

    To be honest, my home church still feels the most like “home;” I love the people, the atmosphere, the worship… but I love going here, where, for me at least, I feel more okay to be who I am.

    {And even now I feel the urge to justify my statements because I feel like I’m being unfair to home church – but I’m not…I just feel differently! I’m letting it be…} *clicks submit before she changes her mind*

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      Oh Kelly, you’re not letting anyone down! You are letting God grow you into the incredible person he made you to be, you are living with honesty and authenticity, and I am QUITE certain that all the people you are, as you say, vaguely referencing, are very, very proud of you. :-) Also, as much of a fan as I am of stability, I think that sometimes people have to move on from the places they grew up in, whether that’s home or community or church or whatever, to feel like they have the freedom to grow into the people they need to be. Not always, but often. Can I just say, we love it when you are around, you are very much wanted, but go with our full blessing–stretch those wings and SOAR!!! Just come home and visit every once in a while. ;-)

      You are a bold, courageous woman, and I love that. Name it and claim it, sister! Freedom in Christ is your spiritual birthright!

  5. Kelly January 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Such nice words, thank you :)

  6. Tim January 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    Nice Luther reference, Jen. Loved the analysis and insight that went with this short memoir you gave us today too.

    Tim

  7. Waneta Dawn January 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I miss the 4 part (or more) a capella music. I tried to like the contemporary music, but ended up hating it even more than I had at first. But as I play a capella, 4 part singing at home, I am aware of conflicting feelings. The male voices especially, I used to associate with safety, with the promise of someone strong to watch out for me, but later realized that was a lie–a betrayal. A large number of those strong men were misrepresenting themselves so they could use their strength for themselves at the expense of women and children. So now I feel conflicted about the singing I love. It helps to remind myself that not all strong men are abusive toward women and children. Some genuinely care. That at least allows me to listen to singers I don’t know personally. I can wonder what they are really like, wonder if their public persona is a deception or the real thing. Often it is so conflicting, I don’t listen to singing or music at all.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      Oh, Waneta–that is heartbreaking! I pray that God will pour healing over you, and REDEEM that singing for you!!!

  8. Lisa January 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Having grown up in a very secular home and coming of age in the 1970s (yikes!) and 1980s, I totally bought into the ‘women can do everything’ mantra. Yes, it’s true, women can and should be able to do whatever they want to do. But this – at the time – seemed to be at the expense of having a wide range of choices. The choice to stay home with kids, not get on the career fast-track didn’t seem like options. At least in my family. Well, I can tell you now, that at 54, I’m exhausted. I just want to rest. Somehow I never got the message that it’s okay to do so. Well, I’m learning to take it back now. So, Jenny – I think my remarks are off topic somehow, but your words really struck a chord for me. Thanks very much for writing. I always enjoy your thoughts… Lisa

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 16, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      Thanks Lisa! A friend of mine once said that women who came of age in the late seventies and eighties “swallowed the dregs of feminism”–had to be hard-driving superwomen who traded family for career and had to deny their feminine side to make it in a man’s world. I, for one, and GLAD that the second-wave has been pulled back to sea! I’m thankful for all the advancements that generation made, and simultaneously glad that I’m not expected to do what they did! I can understand why you’re exhausted, and hope you’re able to enjoy a nice, restorative, well-earned rest! Thank you!!!

  9. Deborah January 16, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    I think this is an important blogpost to put out there. I relate to the “I miss being considered conservative paragraph.” And I can imagine that some friends whom I might wish would embrace egalitarianism would, if considering it, relate to your other points.

    I sometimes miss fitting in better, although the me I was trying to be was ultimately a lie (I just thought it might be a lie God wanted me to make, to mold myself to). I always stuck out as someone who did not fit comp expectations, but I could still roll with the comps better at one time. Most of my friends now are still comp, with the exception of online friends, but I stick out all the more now that looks on my face, etc. and failing to parrot back certain catch phrases betray me. I have also lost friends over this issue.

    As a single woman, I frankly miss having a potential dating pool of some significance. I don’t have any dating pool where I am regardless of comp/egal positions, but it still changes things in terms of cyber connections and in terms of husbands I know and might imagine a future spouse to be like. I realize more than ever that he would be a needle in a haystack. He always was going to be a needle in a haystack, but there were some concessions I was possibly willing to make before that I explicitly feel God will not allow me to make now… I’d be way outside of His will, since His will is for me to steward certain messages, if I dreamt of making those concessions now.

    And there are times when I miss a certain simplicity. That is, I was aware of a lot of the relational dynamics around me but could not verbalize and mourn them. Once I could verbalize and mourn them, the burden of it was clearer and deeper in some ways, and the complexity with which I viewed those with whom I came in contact increased more than is sometimes beneficial. And theology became more complex–in a good way, a truer way–but with complexity comes unknowing, seasons where one’s searching can leave you feeling quite unsettled week after week, and fear.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 17, 2013 at 7:50 am #

      “I sometimes miss fitting in better, although the me I was trying to be was ultimately a lie (I just thought it might be a lie God wanted me to make, to mold myself to).”

      That hits the nail on the head–”a lie God wanted me to make, to mold myself to.” We’re all called to become like Christ, of course, but the double-standard between what that was supposed to look like for men and what that was supposed to look like for women is a pretty big tip-off that many of those expectations have more to do with cultural expectations than the fruit of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit aren’t gender-specific, and neither is sin–God doesn’t have double standards.

      When we have to pretend about ourselves, to throw our intellectual honesty out the window to conform, that’s a pretty big warning sign that something is off.

  10. Carolyn January 17, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    Amen. I also agree with AnnaC- staying in would have truly been at the cost of my soul. I tried to explain that to my parents at one point. I hope they understood.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 17, 2013 at 10:48 am #

      I hear you. Interesting you should mention your parents–I think daughters often play a role in challenging their parents’ thinking on these issues. People tend to know their daughters well, and want the best for them–and when those realities don’t line up with their pre-existing beliefs about what women shoud do and be, it gets them thinking.

  11. Jodi January 17, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    It’s like the saying my mom uses when I tell her I am not sure if I want my own kids, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” The more that I am around children and the beautiful innocence and brilliant compelling love of that innocence the more I realize I am missing something when I am not around children more. In addition, the more time I have to be around family and friends and the more I have gotten my own home in order with my own hands, the more whole and healthy I feel :)

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

      Yes–balance in all things! I love being with my kids, and I enjoy being able to spend time investing in other things, too, now that they’re a little older. We miss out on a lot when our lives get out of balance, and we think it all needs to be one way or another.

  12. Jessica January 28, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    Definitely my reputation as a “good Christian.” Once I followed where I believe the Bible and my conviction led, I had to stop getting the good kudos for being a conservative/”Good Christian Woman.”

    But the fulfillment of being truthful, being authentic, and following Christ as a real person is so much better. Just not as “conveeeeenient” LOL

  13. erin a. January 29, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    I can relate to all of these, Jenny!

    Getting married to someone who was not actually in this mindset was a bit of a shocker for me. “You mean, you expect me, the woman, to be a grown up here and take responsibility and help you make vital decisions for us and our family? What?!
    You are the husband.”
    It was a hard change, but I truly am much happier knowing I am a fully participating partner. The strength of our unity and love is so far beyond what it would’ve been, if I remained in that child-like place.

    I do think that some of my old friends probably view me as rebellious for becoming more “liberal”. But truly, I feel less rebellious now. Now I that I see I have freedom in Christ to speak, and I am even called by Him to speak up, I can do so in kindness and wisdom. In the past, I was never the silent type. So, any time I did speak up, I felt a little rebellious. My speaking up was usually snarky, instead of gracious. (If your not supposed to speak at all, why try to speak with grace?) I am learning that I can be a woman with a voice, and learning how to use it for building up.

    And, my husband and I are always in the ache for anothe

  14. erin a. January 29, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Oops. Early submit.
    I was going to say, we are aching for another baby. But, we are in the (somewhat long) wait for adoption. It is hard to wait. We do super hope to have the gift of one more pregnancy some day.

  15. Jasmine February 9, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    First time visiting your blog. While I like your writing style and have been scanning your blog, you have gone from one extreme to another in your beliefs.

  16. David Hylton August 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    Great article. We need more women like you in the world. I think of it all the time. I miss old-fashioned life, where men used to lead, provide, protect, and go out and work for his family. Women used to stay at home, raise the children, cook, clean the house. Even though women are totally capable of being managers and working in corporate America, I believe it places a drag on their spirit and isn’t a natural fit. Women are more at home being nurturers, raising children, helping to grow a family. This is more their biological fit, not being in an office from morning till night.

    Thanks again. One person at a time, we can bring back a traditional patriarchal society that used to exist hundreds of years ago.

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  18. Dani March 22, 2014 at 3:01 am #

    This post is one of my favorites! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to re-read it and find comfort when I’m feeling unsure about the journey I’m on toward egalitarianism. I come from a soft-patriarchal family filled with lots of love, benevolent sexism, and old-fashioned, traditional ideals. Sometimes I get a pang of nostalgia for those times when life seemed simpler and womanhood was clearly defined. I miss being about to talk to certain friends and family members about marriage, because our views on it are so different now. In addition, like you said, I miss being seen as conservative and having the “good Christian girl” reputation. Every now and then I wonder if I’ll return to patriarchy and look back on this time as my “rebellious years.”

    I’m also having trouble finding a church that’s egalitarian and involves women in worship and teaching, without it being more liberal than I’m comfortable with. I am hoping God will lead me to the right place soon! This path can feel really lonely, and I’m thankful to at least have an online community where I can hash out my beliefs!

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