In my previous post, I talked about the existence of Christian Patriarchy. I estimated that it left one quarter of women in the US effectively out of the running for education-requiring professions. It’s hard for people in education-requiring professions to recognize the problem because the Christians they encounter are primarily Mainline Protestants and Catholics. Professional Evangelical Christian men are unlikely to talk to outsiders about how they treat their family unless they are the sort of luke warm, backsliding, liberal evangelicals who don’t follow the biblical literalist beliefs of keeping their women in their place and beating their children into submission.
The higher education system in the US charges people huge sums of money to go to school and doles out financial aide and student loans based on the premise that parents care about their kids and will help pay for their education. Subsidized student loans and financial aide are reserved for people who are poor. The kind of loans a middle class woman can apply for fresh out of high school require parents to cosign, which Evangelical Christians aren’t going to do for their daughters–particularly when they could afford to just pay the money without the loan. The system does not acknowledge the existence of middle class young adults whose parents think they are worthless.
As an escapee of religious patriarchy, I’m relatively lucky. My parents didn’t throw me out on the street or force me into an arranged marriage. I guess my parents are fairly liberal as Evangelicals go; in researching this post I’ve found that arranged marriages among Evangelicals are increasingly common–only they call it courtship. I was going to post a link to something about Evangelical Christian courtship, but the articles are all extra creepy. Instead, check the FAQ of someone who escaped the movement: just search for the bit on courtship or betrothal instead of dating.
I got to go to university by virtue of my parents not kicking me out of the house. My life savings was gone in a year. I dropped out of college and moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere that had a low enough population that you could get a job graveyard shift at the grocery store. I moved again and babysat my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s.
I hoped through this process to establish myself as an independent adult for the purposes of applying for financial aide. However, my parents refused to stop claiming me as a dependent. I wasn’t able to use my demonstrably low personal income to get financial aide.
I saved enough money to re-enroll for another quarter and finally found a job at a coop. We didn’t make enough of a profit to pay ourselves for anything like all our work. But we made enough profit to claim the odd hour. All told, I made $1-$2 an hour. That stretched my savings so I was able to stay in school until I found another job. At my employment peak I had 3 jobs, one of which payed more than minimum wage. I worked roughly 60 hours a week on top of being a full time student. It seriously impacted my health.
The price of public universities has skyrocketed since I was an undergraduate. The economy isn’t any shinier now than it was in the early 90s. Getting an education as an Evangelical Christian woman in the 1990s required lenient parents, already living in a town with a public university, and getting into that particular university. It required choosing between remaining in an abusive situation or being homeless. It required taking substantial time off to save enough for a little more school. It required working 60 hours a week outside of school. It required taking jobs that did not pay minimum wage.
If it took 60 hours a week was enough to cover tuition in the 1990s, there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to swing tuition in the 2010s. As it stands, it is well nigh financially impossible for the typical Evangelical Christian woman to get an education in the United States. That’s one quarter of the female population. Anyone interested in diversifying male-dominated fields cannot ignore the fact that one quarter of the female population is not going to go to college in the first place. And if they do, it will be when they are older, after years of somehow squeezing savings out of minimum wage (if they’re lucky) jobs.
Education funding in the US needs serious reform. Professionals, business leaders, universities, and politicians need to acknowledge that parents don’t always care about their kids and that presuming they do has serious repercussions. For those of you following along in austerity-obsessed countries who haven’t quite finished dismantling your systems of educational funding, this will become an issue for you if you can’t reverse the cuts to education.
Although I’ve mostly focused on why I’m leaving academia in this series of posts, I have a positive twist for this one. I’m giving up on academia as a computer musician. But that means I at least got to academia as a computer musician.
Where I didn’t get was a STEM field. That’s something STEM fields ought to be concerned about. Look at me leaving high school: scarily high standardized test scores, Calculus already under my belt, enough AP credits to count as a junior by my second quarter of college, including Chemistry, Physics: Kinematics, and Physics: Electricity & Magnetism. My GRE scores were 760 English, 780 Math, and 800 logic. I’ve obviously got the aptitude; you’d think a STEM field would have wanted me. I had every intention of entering a STEM field, but they didn’t have a place for me.
There’s lots of posturing about how concerned people are about the lack of women in STEM fields. But they ignore this huge financial problem that keeps qualified women from being able to go to college in the first place. I was routinely told as an undergraduate that no one would be admitted to a graduate program in the sciences if they didn’t volunteer in a lab. No one is going to volunteer in a lab when they are working 60 hours a week and taking a full load of classes. STEM fields essentially tell people that they are only welcome in the field if their parents care about them. That seriously cuts into their potential for diversity. My guess is that goes beyond women raised in patriarchal religious households, but I’m sticking to writing about what I know.
Lack of financial aide had a huge impact on the course of my entire intellectual life. I’m extremely smart and I barely made it through undergrad. I worked my ass off but I probably looked horrible on paper when I applied to graduate schools.
Unlike my other professors, who told me I couldn’t go to graduate school without volunteer work, music professors actively encouraged me to pursue graduate school. Instead of looking for markers of rich, caring parents (like experience volunteering in a lab), they looked for creative and intellectual potential. They didn’t compare me someone who hadn’t had to work 60 hours a week. They took the time to evaluate me as an individual. That’s something Computer Music did right as a discipline. Since the political problem of education funding isn’t likely to get solved any time soon, that’s something other fields are going to have to learn to do.
It’s really shocking that there are families out there like yours who refuse to help daughters get educated/a piece of paper. That piece of paper is important to a lot of people. But this sort of thing can really be off most people’s radar. Maybe someone should talk about it on reality TV. That type of show is how I know Amish kids get zero assistance if they decide to go to college. Both boys and girls generally stop school by 8th grade. More schooling is seen as ‘too worldly’. I wonder- do parents denying their daughters college even have a tangible reason they could give if asked?
I think how it’s characterized will depend a great deal on the community. So if someone is in a closed community–for instance someone who home schools and only encounters other Christians at their church and doesn’t really engage with anyone else–it’s probably easier to give the “too worldly” justification or honestly say that they think their daughters should just marry husbands who will be the breadwinner. I’ve heard both.
I’ve head “too worldly” offered up as a reason to be wary of education in general; it’s just as often offered as a reason why people who do go to university need to be constantly vigilant that their education doesn’t destroy their faith. There’s also a sense that women need to be less worldly than men, so “too worldly” works as an excuse for helping sons and not daughters.
My brother was home-schooled through a Christian home schooling umbrella group that had a communal graduation. There was a family there at the graduation ceremony actively trying to marry off their daughter who had just graduated. It was way more creepy than anything I’d been exposed to before. It was like the girl wasn’t even there; her dad was going off about how she’d make a great wife while she stood there next to him looking at the ground. It was like he was selling a cow or something. The whole thing was mega-creepy.
My parents are squarely middle class in a fairly educated community. If it came up, they would have to justify their decision to a more liberal audience. When speaking to us, they always characterized it in terms of need. My sister and I didn’t need money for college. My brother needed help. The reasons he needed money for college and we didn’t were implicit. My sister and I were very stubborn and both very much wanted out, so we did whatever it took to get out. So now my parents have retconned the situation: we didn’t need money for college because we are more self-directed than my brother.
I don’t begrudge them helping my brother; of course he needed money for college. It’s just that my sister and I needed money too.