To My Daughter, Regarding Her Uterus

Jesus General uterus image

After being awakened by Daisy, and unable to return to sleep, I read two articles by Kathryn Joyce, author of “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement“. (Via) The first, “The Purpose-Driven Wife” at Mother Jones, describes at arm’s length the foundational priorities of the Christian fundamentalist patriarchy movement, which include:

rising early to feed the family, being available anytime to satisfy a husband’s desires (barring a few “ungodly” or “homosexual” acts), seeking his approval regarding work, appearance, and leisure, and accepting that he has the “burden” of final say in arguments. After a wife has respectfully appealed her spouse’s decision—a privilege she should not abuse—she must accept his final answer as “God’s will for her at that time,” Peace advises. The godly wife must also suppress selfish desires (for romance, a career, an equitable marriage), practice addressing her spouse in soothing tones, and maintain a private log of bitter thoughts to guide her repentance. “If you disobey your husband,” Peace admonishes in The Excellent Wife, “you are indirectly shaking your fist at God.”

It may not shock you to know that the movement is guided by the overwhelmingly male Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The second piece, “All God’s Children” at Salon.com, is a more personal take on Quiverfull, a fundamentalist Christian movement teaching the adherent’s duty to “maintain an ‘open willingness’ to joyfully receive and not thwart however many children God chooses to bestow.” (Wikipedia) In practice, this means no family planning, no contraception and, of course, no abortion. The name comes from Psalm 127:4-5:

4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.

5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

The article tells the story of one woman, Vyckie Garrison, who married at 16, found guidance amongst the patriarchy movement when that brief marriage ended and attained a position of prominence within the Quiverfull movement (and made Nebraska Family Council’s “family of the year”) before she began to realize something was wrong:

She’d had her first three children by cesarean section, but after coming to the Quiverfull conviction, she was swayed by the movement’s emphasis on natural (even unassisted home) birth. During one delivery, she suffered a partial uterine rupture and “felt like I’d been in a major battle with Satan, and he’d just about left me dead.” The doctor who treated Garrison lectured her for an hour not to conceive again, but she felt that stopping on her own would be rebellion. When she turned to her leaders for inspiration, she received a bleak message: that if she died doing her maternal duty, God would care for her family. For six months, she couldn’t look at the baby without crying.

Vyckie left the movement, taking her children with her after a custody fight, and eventually left the faith (“I don’t think you can get equality out of the Bible. You can’t get away from hierarchy, strictly defined roles for gender, authoritarianism, submission, dominating.”) But it’s easy to see why a woman in her position might not have been able to get clear of the movement — if you succeed in retaining custody of our many kids, you face the prospect of supporting them with the kinds of jobs that are open to people who have been outside the job market for many years, if they have any work experience outside the home at all.

So reading all of this makes me think that I should somehow try to prepare you to avoid it. I will teach you that no one else has a fundamental right to make your reproductive decisions, and that nothing I know of in the laws of the physical universe entitles men to any more happiness or autonomy than women. But there isn’t much a person can say that will sway someone who believes that she knows God’s will. And, speaking as a parent, that’s a scary thought.

I have no particular animus against religion. I have been lucky to know a few Christians I deeply respect for their intellect, scholarship and character. I don’t see any reason why your conclusions about the ineffable should be the same as mine, and the possibility that they may be different causes me little angst (and probably shouldn’t cause me any). What’s more, I don’t see any reason why, if there is a single omnipotent God, its feelings on gender equality should be the same as mine — maybe it is in God’s best interests for believers to do any number of things that might horrify me. I dunno.

I guess I just hope that as you confront questions of faith and freedom — and particularly as you interact with those who would tell you what your faith or the scope or nature of your freedom should be — you will ask some critical questions and think about the answers you’re getting. If you should fail to do so, you will be giving away something that you may find it difficult to get back. In the words of Vyckie Garrison:

If, as I kind of suspect, it turns out that I don’t actually believe in a personal God, I know I’m going to be exceedingly pissed — knowing that I’ve done my best with the hand I’ve been dealt and it’s cost me a lot and it’s worn me down — only to discover midway through that the game is rigged and there’s no way I can win.

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