Christian Patriarchy

As part of my series on leaving academia: patriarchal indoctrination is widespread and has profound implications for disciplines trying to achieve diversity.

Totalitarian, patriarchal religious sects are more common than anyone wants to admit. In the US we really like to pretend that misogynistic patriarchy is a Muslim problem. We’ll sometimes mention ultra-orthodox Jews. But we really, really don’t like to acknowledge that extremism shows up in Christianity.

According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Evangelical Christians make up more than 26% of the population. There are a few evangelical voices crying out in the blogosphere for a bit less hate, but they recognize that they are marginalized by evangelical tribalism. As Fred Clark at Slacktivist points out, the boundaries of the evangelical tribe are political:

What does “evangelical” mean? In America, in 2012, it means this: A white Protestant who opposes abortion and homosexuality.

Obviously not all Evangelical Christians have a problem with women or there wouldn’t be any Fred Clarks floating around. But there are plenty of people who aren’t Evangelical Christians who do have a problem with women. One quarter of the female population in the US growing up in extremely patriarchal systems seems like a fair estimate.

I don’t think I have a concise way to explain growing up as a woman in an evangelical household. Maybe a good place to start would be the belief that children are sociopathic little bundles of sin who need to have their will broken. Every once in a while, a case makes it to the media where a child is finally killed by this process. I haven’t come across any descriptions that match the “spankings” I received as a child and I don’t want to trigger anyone with a description here. Suffice it to say that multiple therapists, one of whom specialized in trauma, couldn’t emotionally handle taking me as a patient.

For Fundamentalist Christians and other patriarchal types, children exist to do their parents bidding and women exist to do their husband’s bidding. Boys get cut some slack; they’re eventually going to be men. Obviously boys raised in Evangelical Christianity are also raised as little bundles of sin who need their wills broken. But they are raised with the ultimate goal that they will become heads of homes themselves. They are therefore less likely to be punished for things like assertiveness, displaying signs of self esteem, or the possibility that they might be thinking something wrong.

I don’t recall my brother ever getting disciplined–he might have gotten a few time outs. My sister and I did not get time outs. We got sent to the guest room to await our impending doom in the form of our father coming home to dish out severe violence. My brother could do things with impunity that my sister and I would never dream of.

The deck is stacked pretty heavily against women raised in Evangelical Christianity. My sister and I are exceptionally stubborn. I haven’t come across any other professional women who are open about being raised by Evangelical Christians. I don’t exactly advertise my upbringing to everyone–I think of it all as an unpleasant brainwashing experience and prefer to distance myself from all that hate. Still, most people I’ve worked closely with professionally know about it. Maybe there are a few other professional women out there who would rather not talk about it, but they haven’t mentioned it to me.

Unless the additional hurdles faced by women raised in extremely patriarchal homes are addressed, education-requiring professions are drawing on the entire male population and three quarters of the female population. You can’t toss out a quarter of the female population and expect diversity.

Off the top of my head, there are two major ways that I see my upbringing hindering my professional life. There are probably more, but I’ll address the low hanging fruit of finances and socialization in the next two posts.

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