The best way to protect your daughter is to teach her to protect herself.
I feel like most people know this; that the majority of parents work hard to raise strong, confident daughters who are ready to face whatever life throws at them. And girls, as a result, are thriving. I’ll be honest: there are times when I look at the generation of women just younger than me, those who are in their twenties now, with something akin to awe. They have their issues, like any other generation, but I can’t think of a more effortlessly competent group of women. I’m fascinated to see what they’ll do when they come even more into their own, when they begin to really hit their mid-life stride.
But this isn’t the case across the board, as Rachel Marie Stone pointed out in her article ‘Frozen,’ evangelical purity culture, and what it’s like being a girl, on the dynamics of submission and sexual misconduct in patriarchal settings. It’s been a rough couple months for the Christian patriarchy movement, with Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips and the iconic Bill Gothard stepping down in the midst of sexual scandal. I haven’t written about any of this yet, because first of all, the whole situation grieves me, and second, I feel it is much better to cast a vision for a healthier, more Christ-and-people-honoring way than to cast aspersions at other systems (although I understand that someone needs to do that, and I salute the brave people who have spent time close to those movements and have called them out). But I want to share a few thoughts on the matter.
Here’s the thing: authoritarian systems breed abuse. If you have a spare half-hour, read through Steven Tracy’s excellent article Patriarchy and Domestic Violence, published by the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. The research and statistics he shares regarding abuse in the Christian community are eye-opening.
There are many reasons authoritarian systems breed abuse, but a few of the primary ones are:
- People with control issues and/or chaotic childhoods are often drawn to authoritarian systems. They find the structure comforting and appealing. But when people lack healthy internal boundaries, they can put themselves and others at risk. When the system is run by or caters to people who lack healthy boundaries, it becomes even more problematic.
- Members of authoritarian systems are conditioned to be submissive and avoid questioning the people who are “in authority over them,” making them very vulnerable. This is especially true of women and children in patriarchal systems, but men and boys fall prey to this mindset as well. Spiritual abuse is real and rampant.
- Authoritarian theology can foster a puffed-up sense of responsibility and entitlement in the people who fancy themselves in charge. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the problem is not submission. We are all called to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. The problem comes when people think they have the right–no, the RESPONSIBILITY–to claim authority over another human being, instead of operating with flexible, functional leadership. This is a whole other post for another day, but for now, let me just say that men and women were given dominion, under God, over the earth and the creatures. Not one another. Claiming dominion and ontological authority over other human beings = really, really messed up, in so many ways.
What I am NOT saying is that everyone who buys into patriarchy is an unhealthy control freak overcompensating for their unstable childhood. I am also well-aware that the system I’ve described probably sounds pretty wacky to the average complementarian.
And yes, I acknowledge that the same things can happen in systems built around all sorts of philosophies, not just those that are obviously authoritarian. But I have a bone to pick with Christian patriarchy, regarding the protection of daughters.
Here’s the thing: while patriarchy around the world (and in biblical times) typically results in the commodification of women (see video at the end of this post), the Christian patriarchy movement in the States insists that it is all about protecting women. They have that whole umbrella thing going on–as long as a woman stays under her husband’s or father’s protection, no raindrops are supposed to fall on her pretty little head. But not only does life not always work that way (it works sometimes, I suppose, or people wouldn’t buy into it), the umbrella scheme promotes an unhealthy passivity and dependance. If girls aren’t encouraged to forge out boldly and learn to stand on their own two feet, if they aren’t given opportunities to strengthen their wobbly legs, they are going to have a harder time standing up to or running away from predators–especially men who they view as authority figures. If a child’s will is seen as something to be broken to reach the goal of unquestioning obedience, how is that broken child supposed to stand up to wolves in sheep’s clothing? Daddies aren’t always going to be there to protect their daughters, and sometimes, tragically, daddies are the very people their daughters need to be protected from.
Again, I realize that I am talking about a very narrow slice of the population here. But please, parents, don’t raise your daughters to be pleasant, passive and submissive. Raise them to be kind, strong and respectful. Teach them to be discerning and think for themselves, instead of automatically ceding to authority figures. Allow them to exercise the art of saying “No!”, because they may need that “No!” some day. And it wouldn’t hurt to sign them up for a few self-defense classes.
Please, parents, protect your daughters. Teach them to protect themselves.
P.S. Seline and many other Kenyan girls have been able to stay in school, thanks to your Christmas donations! Thank you all, and praise the Lord!!!