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Friday, July 29, 2011

On Women and "Protection"

There’s something troubling me about a teaching going around. I’ll probably be preaching to the choir here but on the chance that someone reads this who has swallowed said teaching, I need to give them a dose of reality.

The teaching goes something like this: Girls need protection, physical and spiritual. That’s why they need to stay home under their father’s protection until they can be safely entrusted to their husband’s protection. The extent to which this is fleshed out is different from family to family, but that’s the jist of the teaching.

So what about it? This idea of women needing “protection” is being used to keep them from going to college, getting jobs, and going on missionary trips, among other things. They are told that they are gullible, weak-minded, easily led, and not to be trusted on their own because they are easily deceived and taken advantage of. They need a strong man to come between them and the world.

Besides the fact that I see absolutely no scriptural backing for this idea, I can’t help but think that whoever came up with it doesn’t live in the real world.

I've heard so many use this as an excuse for why a woman shouldn't go off to college. Because then she'll be "alone" and without protection. What if her car breaks down? What if she has to go shopping in a bad part of town? What if something goes wrong and Daddy isn't there to rescue her? Or a shady mechanic tries to rip her off?

My husband's a trucker. I'm "alone" from about Sunday afternoon to Friday afternoon every week during the summer. I have to fend for myself and three kids. I sleep alone, a gun nearby, knowing there may come a night I'll have to use it (and trust me, I can use it better than most men I know). I have to make all the decisions on how to run my house alone. I have to be mature and interact with the world around me (including men and atheists *gasp*) alone. I have to be discerning all by myself, able to judge right and wrong, wise and foolish. If I break down on the side of the road, my husband isn't there to "protect" or rescue me. I have to deal with it as if I were single. I have to be strong and capable and mature and independent every single day. My husband leaves every week depending on me to be all these things and more. If I had an emergency, it could be 12+ hours before my husband could get to me. He didn't need a girl who needed to be coddled, needed someone to make decisions for her, needed to be "led" and guided in daily interactions like a child. He needed a mature woman who could handle an imperfect life. And it's a darn good thing that I didn't spend my growing up years thinking I needed a man to handle my life or come between me and the big bad world. I had to learn how to be a functioning part of society and take care of myself and others. My family's well-being depends on this.

I know girls who weren’t allowed to go grocery shopping, in a safe small town, without their dad or big brother for “protection”. They weren’t allowed to go anywhere without a man, for that matter. Their view of the Big Bad Men in the world they needed to be protected from has grown into a paranoia. They’re scared of their own shadows. They think all men are out to rape them or take advantage of them. And they truly believe they are gullible, weak, and cannot handle life on their own, because that's the line they've been fed all their lives. It's become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As my friend, Christi, said in comment to this idea:

"This is exactly what patriarchy wants us to believe, that women are weak-minded things incapable of avoiding dangerous situation. I lived alone ...and I never found myself in a compromising position. And how would a predator know whether a woman lived at home with her parents, or with her husband, or lived "alone" (with roommates)?

And while we're talking about this, why don't people realize that homemakers are some of the most "alone" and vulnerable women out there? You seem to not realize that married young women have to do the exact same things that young women who are away at college have to do, and more. I have to go out and do my shopping alone, just like a college girl would (though I imagine that college girls get to carpool together). What's more, I'm even at home alone. I'm pretty sure that I'd really be better protected on a college campus since I'm alone during the day (and night, since my husband works until 11 PM) and have often had to interact with strange men, sometimes even inside my house, while my husband is at work. Apartment maintenance men, internet guy, phone guy, UPS man, door-to-door salesmen, etc. Oh, and it's usually my job to take our car in for repairs and oil changes. Car repairmen are actually pretty nice, or maybe it depends on where you go (which again, is simply a matter of making an intelligence choice).

I mean no disrespect to my husband when I say this but, he's really not here a lot to protect me because he's busy working a full-time job in addition to being a full-time student. My marriage license doesn't really afford me any more physical protection than I had when I was single."

You see, it is complete folly to train up a person to be completely dependent on another person. You have no idea what their life is going to be like. No idea what skills they’re going to need to provide for themselves or the people they love. No idea if they will get married, then widowed. Or even if they will marry at all. To raise a girl with the belief that she is weak and needs a man to be her mediator in life is to cripple her for life. To render her ineffective to do anything for herself or for the God that she's supposed to be "glorifying".

I know girls my age who are single and still at home with their parents, being told that they need to be "protected" and watched over until they get married and all that jazz. But guess what? I'm married and I'm still on my own. Age and marital status aren't the magic keys to a perfect life. They are just used as excuses for controlling the lives of these girls. Real life doesn't look anything like what the Patriarchy crowd are trying to say it does. Their view is way too narrow. Ask a soldier's wife. Or a trucker's wife. Or any woman who is married or single and has to be a mature adult and deal with the world on her own. Whose husband and children and lives depend on it.

I love it when my husband is home and able to take care of things so I don't have to. I love being cared for and knowing that I don't have to do everything by myself. I love feeling loved and protected by my man, just as much as he loves me caring for him. I love sleeping peacefully at night, knowing he's right there and I don't have to be so alert. But I also love knowing that should he not be there, I can still take care of myself and my children.

One last thought. You know that popular verse in Proverbs 31 that says "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her worth is far above rubies."??? Go look up the Hebrew word translated "virtuous". It's most often used in the OT to describe might, strength, fighting men of valor, army men, efficiency, wealth, strength and force. It is translated all these ways: army 56 times, man of valour 37 times, host 29 times, forces 14 times, valiant 13 times, strength 12 times, power 9 times, substance 8 times, might 6 times, strong 5 times, and a few miscellaneous words. Gives you a rather different picture of what a "Proverbs 31 woman" looks like, doesn't it?


  1. You know what strikes me? Those involved in Christian patriarchy will claim that feminism is about removing women from safety and casting them out into the world alone and unprotected. Um, no, actually, feminism is about teaching women how to protect THEMSELVES and giving them the tools to do so! Now there's a thought!

  2. The Proverbs woman is a formidable individual, a force to be reckoned with, not a protected hothouse flower. She is full of wisdom, business-sense, ingenuity, goodness, and deep faith in God. Nothing is said in that passage of her husband protecting her. Hardly!

  3. I thought men needed protection...if you catch my drift.

    Anyway, great post. Thank you. I will now take the chain mail off my wife and allow her to draw the curtains back.

  4. Hahaha, IC. :P I actually had tons of trouble writing this because of so many things that could've been turned into innuendos. :D Gah, my brain.......

  5. Sounds like some of these men might feel at home in Saudi Arabia. :p

  6. The quote from your friend Christi really hit home for me. I've never actually thought about what you have said before - about women being "alone" if they are at home by themselves with the kids and everything else. It just never occurred to be until I read this post. Startling!

  7. It never really occurred to me either until she and I got into a discussion with several others about it. She said it first and it was like a revelation. :)

  8. Kristine (my bride) always rants and raves about people's interpretations of Proverbs 31. "They" act like the woman is somehow this quiet stay at home rock, sweet, with a sewing machine in one hand and a stirring spoon in the other, babies running around the primly swept floor, tugging at her long skirt that is niftily safety-pinned into place so the little tugs can't pull it down.

    Far from the essence of that passage! This woman is rockin' it! She runs her own business. Is well known in the city. Her children respect her because she is so freaking successful! And much more.

    Sorry ladies and gentleman (who desire to relegate the women to servitude), the Proverbs 31 woman is more like today's typical feminist (that respects motherhood as a career) than any representation of the patriarchal ideal lady, e.g. Ms. Duggar.

    Did I just use Ms.? Horrors!

    And let me tell you something else. A free woman is so much better at some important areas of a marriage. Free, meaning, she thinks, acts, and decides for herself.

    Over and out.

  9. I think the 'protection' doctrine is just a code word for control. The subordination of women, to suppress, oppress, limit and corall women and to programme them into believing that their only function is to serve the self-serving agenda of entitled men, so that the privileges of patriarchal men may be upheld and not challenged. This is patriarchy the world over, in every non-Christian religion and culture you can imagine. It is the selfish, carnal nature. It is not the justice of God. To take this male-centric selfishness and dress it up as 'godly' is a farce, and a desecration of scripture. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, women. Be strong and very courageous. Go to the nations. Preach the word with boldness. Don't stay at home, your place is not 'at home', your place is to GO. (I don't mean that parenthood and domesticity are not life-enriching & valuable things for men & women to participate in, I just mean it's not the ONLY arena for women and women must not be restricted to the domestic arena, according to Bible instructions and Biblical example.)
    Julie Bell

  10. oh sorry, Incongruous Circumspection, I forgot to sign that off as 'Ms. Julie Bell' (I do really use Ms in my every day life.) Thank you for your comment, it's great to hear from men who are as fed up to the back teeth with this silly 'keep those scary troublesome women in their place because we men are too insecure to cope with genuine equality' doctrine as we are!

  11. There you go. You just had to mention my teeth. Crud. Now the dreams will start again.

  12. Wow! GREAT post! I used to swallow a lot of that Damsel in Distress nonsense too (pre-marriage), but my hubs has always wanted me to be able to do things for myself. I have learned the importance of what it REALLY means to be a strong Proverbs 31 woman, and I agree; I think she looks NOTHING like the Patriarchists paint her!!

  13. Ok. I just have to say this.

    Anon. There are times when a good woman SHOULD play the "Damsel in Distress."

    Wink, wink.

    I better shut-up.

  14. So, basically, that Proverbs 31 gal, she really kicked ass! :D

    Read it this way: "A mighty, strong, fierce, fightin' woman who can find? For her worth is far above rubies." ;)

  15. Darcy - Fantastic post!

    You know that the patriarses will only back up their belief by saying that if a husband worked for himself instead of "the man," the womenfolk wouldn't have to be at home alone. They like to find a loophole around everything except that in the end, they end up being another kind of hole, if you catch my drift.

  16. I fought working for "the man" for a while. Then, I realized I sucked at being "the man" so I went to work for "the man" and have loved it ever since.

    Being self-employed is noble but is hard and not for everyone. The teachers of patriarchy love it because it maintains isolation of their followers and assists in their desire to control.

  17. Erika, yeah I anticipated that come-back. But whatever. I don't think even they can twist the scriptures enough to way that all men must be self-employed. :P

  18. It's not good to raise any child to grow up to be afraid all the time.

  19. Even a self-employed man can't be at home all the time. Chances are he'll be one of those men Darcy listed - repairmen etc - spending hours every day in compromising situations with stay-at-home-women like her :D

  20. That teaching serves no purpose other than promoting religious slavery. It's completely unbiblical, and especially unChristian. The men who promote it need to stop lying to themselves and their families, and just admit they are merely small time cult leaders.

  21. "He didn't need a girl who needed to be coddled, needed someone to make decisions for her, needed to be "led" and guided in daily interactions like a child."

    I just wanted to jump in with some gentle encouragement here. If you've been that girl, or if you are that girl, do not despair, all is far from lost! I know because I've been there and to some extent am still there. It's been empowering to realize (by simply doing stuff) that I'm stronger than I think, and fully capable of easily mastering many things I once feared were beyond my scope. :) It's a journey and you may need a lot of support and understanding at first, but recognize that you've got what it takes! Nothing that is human is alien to you. :)

  22. ^^^YES!!!! If this is you, how you were raised, please don't take what I said and despair. You have what it takes. You CAN do this! The first step is banishing the lies that you were told that you are weak or gullible or too emotional or foolish. Those things are NOT true of you. Thank you, Bluebleakember, for that encouragement. :)

  23. How wonderful to be cared for by my husband and yet he can't be there for me all the time. What an amazing truth that Christ is with me always!

    I'm grateful that I am mature enough to be able to handle life without my husband's constant watch over me. Not to mention how smothering that would be.

    My husband wanted a partner, not a child, when he married.

  24. Yes, so many of patriarchy's demands only work in best case scenarios (and even then one wonders).

    What about a man, like my dad, who was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident when I was a toddler? As long as I can remember my dad has been wheelchair-bound.

    My dad has always done ALOT considering his disability but still there are things he just can't do or that it just was easier/faster for mom to do. Like pump gas, replace house siding, build a deck, build fence, etc. Mom and dad were a team--he gave instruction and did what he could and mom did what he couldn't. My mom was/is a strong woman and has been/still is a great role model for me.

  25. The fear of "the world" is also ridiculous. "Worldly" people are just as nice, caring, and generous as fundamentalists, and in some ways more so. The patriarchal element portrays "the world" as this evil scary place. It's not.

  26. Libby Anne, I agree completely. Some of the nicest people I've met are "pagans" while the patriarchal men I've met were some of the meanest.

  27. in Latin too, the feminine noun "virtus" means courage, excellence, character, strength, etc.

  28. The only feminine protection I need is a tampon.

    Girls are competent, they should be taught to change a tire, basic self-defense/awareness, etc. instead of relying on a man who cannot always be there. Yes, there are neighborhoods to avoid after dark, but the worst that's ever happened to me alone and unprotected in the cold hard world of a large public college was having a drunk pick me up, shake me, and then put me down (while my male friend, supposedly "escorting" me, did nothing, so much for that "protection." I felt safer by myself when I was more aware and not relying on anyone else; then I knew to run away from weirdos who jump out from the bushes).

  29. "The only feminine protection I need is a tampon." -Joy

    Best thing I've read all day.

  30. I came from a home that espoused many, but not all of the quiverful/patriarchal philosophies. Since I got married to a non-QF/P man, the biggest lesson I've had to learn in terms of life & spiritual growth is that I'm called to be the best possible wife to MY husband.
    My job isn't to sew curtains, do the dishes & bake bread. My job is to be my husband's wife. So far in our marriage, that has meant working full time in the real world. (I did work outside of the home before getting married, and I did go to college in another state... not my parents' ideal for my life, but they were wise enough to realize when God had other plans for me).

    I haven't loved having to work full time, though I'm sure the things I've learned will be useful down the road (especially people skills). I still don't know a thing about cars and I can't fix a flat tire. I'm still learning things like how to get car inspections & renewal stickers and the things my husband handles to run the house. My knowledge of finances is very basic. Hopefully when I can quit working, I can have time to really learn all these things. Right now, he needs me to focus my energy on working full time, at another stage in life he'll need me to know how to handle all these things.

    It's definitely a learning process since these are things my parents didn't teach us and I want to be able to be a strong, capable partner to my husband.
    I appreciate this post and I agree whole-heartedly with it (and I.C.'s hilarious comments!) Thumbs up for addressing a very important issue.

  31. I have come across this site via my husband. I hope that you don't mind my 2 cents (that's about what it's worth). I am a mom of 7 who has spent the last 4 years challenging my pre-existing beliefs. A bad church experience has delivered me through pain into a freedom that I cherish.

    Anyway, regarding your post, there is a sweet balance here! Families that are cultivating strength, growth and positive forward movement are amazingly beneficial - it is just easy to get unbalanced. I have seen healthy relationships between parents and their children that have been encouraging.

    Again, there is a balance. When parental involvement hits that balance, which quite frankly doesn't happen often because we're all so imperfect, it benefits all involved and is truly beautiful.

    I agree with your general assessment and understand the imbalance that we've seen in the ultra conservative teachings in this area.

    It's not just hindering the girls from being strong, but also is damanging to the young men as well.

    Yep, out of whack!

  32. @ Leigha- Huh?

    @Erika- "Working for the man" LOLZ It sounds so hippified. One of my absolute favorite pieces of art is a sculpture of a pioneer women, shirt open to bare one breast to the baby on her hip and in her one arm, her face staring determinedly into the future, and a (presumably loaded) rifle in the other hand. Nurture, protection, provision, planning for the future- now THAT'S my vision of motherhood.

    I come from pioneer stock. When my family lost the farm in the Great Depression, my mom sharecropped with the kids until FDR provided work for my grandpa in the GWP. If you are ever out in Ft. Sill, OK, my grandad might have been the stone mason who put together those buildings, walls, bridges, etc.

    My grandma married at fifteen and was as active homesteading as my grandfather. What a joke that women are fragile and need protected.

    @ Libby Anne- we were just discussing about why my husband's fundamentalist training taught him to avoid any people not part of the church, except to witness to them. When you do start hanging out with other people, you find out that most of them are MUCH more loving, forgiving, tolerant, generous, fun, etc. than your Christian family. You start to realize that maybe your Christian family was lying to you about other things as well. Hmmmm.

  33. Oops, my grandma sharecropped, not my mom. My mom was just a baby getting dragged down the rows on a toe sack by her oldest sister who was picking cotton. Sorry for the typo.

  34. Thanks, bluebleakember and darcy, for the balance and encouragement. Sometimes it feels like egals and comps are in a race to see who can kick the "weak" to the curb the fastest.


  35. So true, Darcy!

    And I'm enjoying the comments too! :)

  36. What gets me is when families raise girls in those circumstances and then expect them to be wise, mature, perfect mothers the moment they start popping out babies. Um, how can you expect someone who has been treated like a child her entire life to suddenly morph into a mature woman? It puts a lot of pressure on these girls and can lead to a host of problems.

    I was once in a situation where leadership's idea of teaching us to "respect" our leadership was to make us totally dependent on them. Yeah, totally flawed. Even though I was pretty much brainwashed at the time I still had enough of my own mind left for that to annoy me. Seriously, what was the harm in maybe, I don't know, giving us a freaking schedule so we knew when we would be able to do laundry or put gas in our cars or go to the doctor or, heaven forbid, SLEEP?

    We live in a fallen world run by people, and people are flawed. I wish more people would understand that.

  37. Darcy, you and your sister are so wise!! Thank you :)


  38. Excellent post. Patriarchy has wounded and stagnated the lives of many women even though they are not aware of it.

    I'd love to see this on the ECA Blog and forums.

  39. Believer, I am not familiar with the ECA blog and forums. What are they?

  40. Wow - yeah. I left the whole movement at 17 - 14 years ago now, and have only recently looked back and tried to make some sense out of it. I just decided I was done one day and moved out......and never looked back. Reading this helps me make sense out of the backlash I got - at 23 I took a job by myself in China. Now I wasn't always the smartest cookie through that whole escapade (one that ended up lasting four years, much to my father's chagrin!) but I unlearned so much in those four years that those passages took on a whole new meaning. The whole concept is warped. God takes care of you ultimately. Your husband can't always be there (especially not mine - the US military has this bad habit of sending them away!) and it is really demeaning to God to place a person in that position - like its is their responsibility to do what only God can do. It's such a relief to not have to put that on someone else!

  41. I'm late to this discussion, but something else I'm learning about this whole warped roles thing is the disservice that it (false patriarchy) also does to men. The artificial burden and lack of freedom that constricts their contributions to the Body of Christ also. When certain body parts are depended on to do more work than possible, they are prone to injury (while other parts atrophy). Not allowing certain members of the Body (women) to operate in their intended ways causes imbalance and dysfunction as a whole. Becoming, or being encouraged to be an abuser is a weakness.

  42. That rubies quote gets me every time. It's very popular in Judaism too, but we always translate it as "Woman of Valor"

  43. Wow. Wow. Wow. Darcy, I could've written this entire thing myself, *except* that I don't yet have children or, alas, the skills you do. But I decided a while before marriage that there was not really a reason why a man should be required to know how to do x, y, and z, but not a woman. So I often require myself to place myself alongside my husband for dirty work: under the car, under the house...! Mind you, I haven't accomplished a lot yet, but I am TRYING to learn, and by God's grace it'll be better with my daughters. (I think another, perhaps-minor danger in the whole mindset is that it turns wives into whiners who expect their husbands to work 60 hours a week and still come home and manage EVERY task they never learned how to do.) I can almost NEVER explain this so people "get" it: I sound like a rebel, etc., etc. Would you please provide a facebook share button? :)

  44. Hmmm, a Facebook share, eh? I'll look into it. :) You can always share by copying the URL and pasting it onto your status. That's what my friends do.

  45. I have suffered abuse as a kid and am really furious at the abuse of women like in Muslim countries. But it angers me to see women spit in the face of men who genuinely love them and want to protect and cherish them. I relish having somebody say I shouldn't go somewhere dangerous alone, and that instead I should have a big strong man to protect me.

    Here are three basic beliefs some people have:
    1. The worldly viewpoint that has embraced feminism and has denied fundamental differences between the sexes, and abhors the notion of male authority as well as the notion women should be protected.
    2. The sick viewpoint that women's intrinsic value is lower than a man's, therefore it is good and acceptable for her to be verbally and physically abused and her spirit broken. In Muslim countries it is "good" for only the female but not the male to be executed when both have participated in a sexual crime.
    3. The viewpoint that I believe is Biblical and healthy: men are in charge and in authority over their wives and children, but the value of their lives is NOT higher. On the contrary, it is their duty to provide for their wives and children and protect them.

    When the Titanic sank and men put women and children first on the boats, were they doing this just to exert some selfish narcissistic control over the women? It's pretty hard to have control when you're dead.

    1. You forgot the Biblical viewpoint that probably half of all Christians believe and follow:

      That man and woman are created equal and equally in the Image of God; that the Fall destroyed this equality and introduced human hierarchy; that Jesus restored that equality when He reversed the Curse; that all relationships and people now operate under the headship of Christ alone, with no human exercising "power over" any other human; that we are to "submit one to another in fear of the Lord"; that all people are gifted and called, not according to their gender, but according to the talents and purpose for which God has made them; that "there is no longer male or female....but all are one in Christ Jesus"; that marriage is to be a continual cycle of mutual submission, respect, and sacrificial love, not one spouse ruling over another as they did while under the Curse.

      "Spit in their faces"??? I don't know what women you're hanging out with, but this doesn't describe any woman I know. Perhaps you need top stop thinking in extremes and open your mind to the possibility that you have believed a false dichotomy.