So Bascha has posted a big and very, very worthwhile blog post about a movement
called “modest” Christianity, one in which women choose to give up all
rights in their relationships and submit wholly to the will of their
husbands.  In this movement, women are expected to acquiesce to
the decisions their husbands make, regardless of their own opinions,
and this applies to all areas of their lives.  Much of this
springs from a belief that the Bible dictates that women are to be
subservient in all ways, and from this core belief comes all the
trappings of their chosen lifestyle:  homeschooling, large numbers
of offspring, a taboo on birth control, a desire to see women barred
from voting, etc.  You really just need to go read Bascha’s post
about it.

I’ll have a soda while you do so.

Sip.

Ah, refreshing.

OK, so now you’ve read Bascha’s post.  Here’s my reaction to the whole idea:  friggin’ A but that is some crazy shit.

I know, I know, that’s terribly intolerant of me.  And here’s the thing:  it doesn’t actually bother me that there are people who choose to live their lives like this.  Well, it does bother
me, it bothers me that there is, anywhere, a belief (religious,
political, social or any sort) that women should be restrained, held
back, enslaved or otherwise denied full equality.  It bothers me tremendously
But, at the same time, who am I to tell these people what to do with
their lives?  They know the options out there, they knew what they
were getting into, and they chose this.  If I fight for my right
to choose my own life, surely I must respect their right to live theirs.

Still

…It bothers me to no end.  I just can’t express how much this
bothers me.  It’s going to sound dumb, especially from me, but
here’s why:  what about their kids?  See, the thing is, we
should get to determine our own paths in life, top to bottom, even if
those paths are not good for us, even if everyone around us thinks
those paths are not good for us, no matter what.  Our mistakes in
life are our own to make, and frankly, we should get to make
them.  Yes, I do think there are reasonable limits to set in this
regard – I am not at all opposed to drunk-driving laws, for instance,
because that’s just plainly and obviously a stupid thing to do, drunk
driving cannot be considered an informed choice – but overall I think
if people want to do something unpopular or perhaps unwise, perhaps
even unhealthy, let them.  It’s that simple.  Just let them
do their thing and let Darwin sort it all out.  I have plenty of
criticisms of this particular lifestyle, not least of which is that
it’s a cop-out for both people in the marriages in question.  The
wives never have to be bothered with any decisions or, frankly, any
facet of genuine adulthood and their husbands never have to learn to
compromise or negotiate.  What wonderful co-workers these people
must be!  (Imagine an emoticon slant-mouth here, if you’d be so kind.) 
The answer to every question has already been decided – the man knows
he will “win” without a fight and the woman knows that she will never
be asked to be responsible for the decision-making, and they are free
to settle down and spend the next few decades knowing the outcome of,
well, everything they ever have to face.  Wow.  That must be fun.

But there’s a phrase up there in that last paragraph that I use as my
moral and spiritual crutch for that whole argument:  “informed
choice.”  Under the arch formed from those words I would allow any
number of bad ideas to pass because, frankly, other people’s lives are
none of my business, including whether a woman in the midwest decides
that the Bible says she should, to quote one “modest” blogger to whom
Bascha links,
“God made woman to sit on the sidelines and cheer when a man succeeds,”
a statement which makes every part of me shudder in horror. 
(Nevermind the idea adopted in my own mother’s view of the creation
myth, which is that God made Eve from a rib rather than, say, his foot
or his head, so that they would be equals, neither of them above or
below the other in origins or in their lives.  These people
believe women were made specifically for the purpose of being
cheerleaders.)  In the end, what
tweaks me so hard about these people is two-fold, and neither of them
has to do with the fact that they chose to live like this.

First off, I think it’s okay for these people to choose to live this
way but, good grief, what are their children learning from this? 
I am not criticizing them for staying home with their kids – I won’t
deny that I benefitted greatly from having a full-time mom, myself, and
I don’t think my mother is dumb or incompetent or any less capable or
intelligent than anyone else for having made that choice – and I am not
eager to suggest that they shouldn’t get to raise their kids however
they want (nor am I eager to leap to a “what about the children”
position), but I have to face that my biggest fear of these people is
what they’re doing to their children.  Sure, the average
“helpmeet” who keeps a blog and raises twelve kids and stays at home to
homeschool them has made this choice, but will her daughters get the
same shot to choose?  It sure doesn’t sound like it from the
beliefs they advocate.  Mom may have decided, for whatever reason,
that this is best for her but her daughter is never going to get that option. 

What happens when the daughter decides this is going to drive her
insane?  Do they part ways peacably?  Do they part ways after
a screaming match and let the years and decades pass in
alienation?  Do the daughters simply run away?  I cannot
imagine that every child reared in this environment agrees with it as
the path they, themselves, will choose to take, and when that
happens… well, what happens?  Whom do the parents
blame?  Do they fall back on the old crutch that is the awful,
terrible, no-good, secular world, or do they consider whether they
should have left open other options for their children and let their
children, if they wanted this life, choose it after having seen the
alternatives?

Somehow I suspect that when a daughter rebels against this sort of
environment and ideology, they rebel all-out.  I suspect it
involves run-aways.  I suspect the blame is never first laid on
the parents’ own doorstep – or, if it is, it lands there for all the
wrong reasons.  After all, if dad makes all decisions and
the mom executes them, including the guidelines of the child’s
socialization and education, well… let’s just say I doubt a father
who thinks this sort of ideology is any way to raise a family is going
to be terribly interested in hearing it’s his fault Daughter #7 just ran away rather than live like this.

So, there’s that.

My other big criticism is the evangelical nature of this sort of belief
system – and, for that matter, it’s the same problem I have with pretty
much all of the current activities of the right-wing religio-political
machine – is… well, it’s big.  Get ready folks, because you’re about to get a blast
from the past.

It’s un-American.

I can’t figure out a better way to say what I’m thinking.

See, it’s like this:  America is not, is manifestly not,
about making everyone agree about everything.  America is not
about having one ideology that everyone adopts and everyone
obeys.  America is not about everyone agreeing.  America is about learning to live next door to someone who lives and thinks differently from you and no one getting beaten up over it
That’s it.  That’s all we’re supposed to accomplish as a
society.  Oh, yes, there are plenty of ways our society tries to
create commonality, but I have a whole (lengthy and probably not
interesting) argument that the commonality encouraged by the
institutions of American society is a commonality of experience not of belief,
and that this is designed to make sure most of us have something in
common with most other people so that it doesn’t matter that we all
think differently. 

OK, I can’t avoid launching into it to some degree.  We all had to
endure high school.  We all had to wait until we were 16 to get
our driver’s licenses.  We all have to scrape together the rent
and we all have to pay our taxes on time and we all have to walk the
dog or whatever, and whether we like these things or not, they give us
a series of common bonds, little bridges we can build from one to
another that are constructed from experience.  The upside
of this approach to fostering a sense of commonality within the larger
society is that none of these things are necessarily affected by what
we believe.  We may all vote differently but we all have
to stand in the same line to do it.  We may all get married
differently, but we have to go to the same courthouse to get the
paperwork (unless it’s illegal for us to get married, ahem).  None of these things spring directly from, or have to be squashed directly by our
religious or political allegiances.  None of them.  They may
be affected by them, but at the bottom line, they don’t have to
be.  My Republican neighbor and I both have to mow our lawns and
we both have to fight traffic and we both have to pay county property
taxes and to what party we belong has nothing to do with any of those
things, and that’s how America is supposed to work

Is that good enough for the right wing, though?  Hell no. 
Rather than try to find what they have in common with the rest of the
world, and build bonds that way, they try to impose their beliefs on
the rest of the world and then use those to enforce conformity to a set
of experiences and experiential scripts which they consider to
reinforce, and be reinforced by, their ideological agenda.  It’s a
complete inversion of what I think this country is supposed to be
about.  Rather than send their kids off to a normal school and
teach them their family’s beliefs at home and let their children learn
that there are people in the world who are different, and that is okay, and that they wish their children to believe differently from those people and yet be able to share the world with them, and that’s
okay, they keep their kids home and teach their daughters that it’s a
sin to ever say “no” and that anyone in the world who is different
isn’t just bad, they are evil.  The blogs to which
Bascha links may never use the word “evil,” but once you’ve started
spouting that it’s a sin for a woman to go get a job you’ve crossed that line, period.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that really is my whole
problem with the frothing wingers who want us all to think the
same:  it’s not their damn business to tell me what to
think.  It’s not American to ask us to think the same. 
What’s truly the best expression of the republic is for us to simply
learn to share the same country without a fistfight breaking out and
see where things go from there.  The second that’s not good enough
for one’s ideology, the second one decides that they have to convert those around them to their own system of belief because they can’t handle
the idea that someone else lives differently, the second they start
telling their children that the people next door are necessarily evil
because they’re different, one has started to undermine everything America is supposed to be.

I suspect I’m not making much sense when I talk about America being
built on communities of experience, not communities of belief, but it’s
very hard for me to express what I mean when I think about that. 
My neighbors and I all have to drive up and down the same street and
look at the same trash bins and avoid the same potholes and tip the
same garbagemen at Christmas, you know?  It doesn’t make us all
best friends but it does give us something to talk about if we realize we absolutely despise one another’s politics, and at least that’s something.  You know? 

Which, to bring us right back to the beginning, is one of the things
that really squicks me about the helpmeets and what they’re doing to
their kids.  Those kids are going to be terrified of the rest of
the world, and whether they express that terror with a whimper or a
fist, either way, it’s a tragedy that their parents would do that to
them.  It is scary to think that they are teaching their children
that a simple differences of opinion – between husband and wife or
between father and daughter – is an unacceptable deviation from the
norm and that to express that difference of opinion is a sin.  It
takes the parents’ own fear of the world and the difference in it and
crams it into the hindbrains of their kids, reinforcing the same cycles
of fear and hate and conflict that humanity has fought for
millenia.  It undermines what our country is supposed to be about, and in the process it strips another generation of people of their rights to make their own choices and their own mistakes.

And still, I have to let those women who’ve chosen it do their thing. 

It would be so easy to be unfair.  So easy.

Sigh. (more…)