The Feminine Housewife: Flowers to Fundamentalism

TW: This post covers heavy themes including religious fundamentalism, sexism, abuse of spouses and children, and forced female submission. The links in the post are to explanations of the various movements and individuals by people who cover topics on their YouTube channels, such as political movements, religious fundamentalism and cults. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

Hello, and welcome back to an ongoing series on my blog, looking into a revival of a traditional homemaker model that seems to be gaining traction on the Internet.

For context: I am a bisexual woman. I have always had a love for vintage aesthetic and have interests in what some may consider old-fashioned, like Home Economics, knitting, using vintage methods to look after the home etc.

I am a feminist, a progressive Christian (I also try my best to follow Quaker principles of equality, justice, community etc. as they resonate strongly with me) pro-choice and pro LGBTQ+ rights. I also firmly believe in the right to choose what works best for you, providing it doesn’t hurt you and/or believe other people should be hurt or oppressed in some way. I’m also a sex blogger by the way, if you haven’t already seen that.

Now, in my last post, I spoke a bit about the #TradWife movement. I mentioned the extremist parts within the community, with links to religious fundamentalism, white supremacy and Neo-N*zism, I stated that a lot of self-identifying TradWives from what I have so far seen, were against this.

However, that doesn’t mean some of the otherwise traditional arrangements under the hashtag I’ve seen online, in amongst the harmless pictures of a clean home and a day with the kids, don’t have some incredibly toxic and harmful ideology. In this post, I’ll be focusing on a particular extreme: Christian Fundamentalism.

FLOWERS TO FUNDAMENTALISM

Now, with what I am about to write, as I’ve seen in some anti-fundamentalist circles, I am not out to bully people, especially on the basis of looks, gender, among other even more horrible things like doxxing and threats. This is not ok, regardless of where you stand on the subject. I am not out to do that and condemn that at every step. I wish safety for people and their families.

And obviously, not everyone with a traditional arrangement is a fundamentalist. Not all conservatives are fundamentalists. Nor is everyone that is submissive to their husbands either. I mean, come on, I write BDSM fiction for God’s sake! But this is different. This is not BDSM. Online I’ve been seeing some rather concerning trends, that regular folks looking into being an old-fashioned housewife could be at risk of falling into if not careful.

What I have an issue with is the scarily common toxic ideologies I see. This ranges from perpetuating purity culture, patriarchal family structures etc. to full-scale fundamentalism, racism and right-wing extremism.

From my internet excursions, being religious to a certain extent is common, in particular conservative Christian. Intersecting with this traditional family model, Bible verses such as Ephesians 5:22, Proverbs 31:10 and the creation story in Genesis are frequently used. Depending on how traditional to extreme you want to go, a patriarchal structure is the norm, where the husband is the head of the family, provides for the family and makes the final decisions, while the wife stays at home and sees to the domestic work and caring for the children.

Buzzwords and phrases among this subculture are words like, ‘Helpmeet’, ‘Let him lead’, ‘Woman of strength vs. Strong woman’, ‘Submissive’, ‘Feminism cheats women’, ‘Feminine’, ‘Masculine’, ‘Obedience’ etc.

As well, there is (from what I’ve found anyway) anti-LGBTQ+, pro-gun, anti-choice, anti-birth control and sometimes anti-government views, along with not always but often, Christian Nationalism, and pro-Tr*mp rhetoric and the conspiracy theories that come with it. There’s a lot of harmful intersections.

BREAKING DOWN THE BUZZWORDS

Let’s break these down:

HELPMEET – A term derived from the creation story in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible: And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.” Genesis 2:18, KJV

Here, it is said God creates animals and other creatures so Adam could have a said ‘help meet’, but it didn’t work out, so then he made Eve. The reasoning behind this term, is a bit like the word helpmate, only here a helpmeet, is a more hardcore interpretation of the role of a woman and ultimately, a wife.

This usually translates to staying in the home, undertaking domestic tasks, bearing children and being submissive to the husband (Usually in all things. Yes, this teaching can and has lead to various abuses and victim blaming) and the other men in their lives. On having children, this can be anywhere from one to as many as you can have, as seen in the Quiverfull movement where ‘helpmeet’ is often used.

This argument is often argued with interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. In fundamentalist communities (such as Independent Fundamental Baptists) Biblical Literalism is the norm, so these verses, as well as the rest of the Bible (a text that heavily uses symbolism and metaphor) are taken very literally. Biblical Literalism is also frequent in Evangelical churches and can be used in various other denominations, as well as down to personal interpretation.

LET HIM LEAD – As I said before, patriarchy is the norm and again, using the Bible to justify this, if I had a pound for every time I heard this phrase, I’d be a rich woman. This states that that man is the head of the house and the family, he should ‘lead’ the marriage and family, while the woman is to be ‘submissive’ to her husband, citing Ephesians 5:22-24 KJV: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands in everything.”

Complementarianism is championed, a model sometimes particularly seen in Abrahamic faiths that men and women are equal, but have different roles in life, marriage etc. that compliment the other. It’s quite traditional and heteronormative, and some relationships and marriages where faith is a factor do run by complementarian principles and work well with it.

However, complementarianism and male superiority can leave avenues open, as I’ve seen with prominent known fundamentalists, for abuse and victim blaming of wives for ‘not submitting enough’ if the husband becomes abusive, which is not ok and most Christians would widely condemn. This notion of ‘you just need to submit more’ taught by pastors and families alike, has led to deaths of women who were killed by their abusive husbands.

While complementarianism can work well for some couples who choose it, where it is not weaponised, conservative and fundamentalist interpretations on complementarianism really go full on with not much, if any, breathing room.

OBEDIENCE – I would just say ‘See above’, but even more sadly, this word takes a particularly sinister turn when children become involved. Having children is part of a traditional model, the more the better in Quiverfull movement, where birth control is not used and a goal is to effectively ‘out-breed’ non-Christians. In fundamentalism, obedience is expected. Not just from the wives, but from the children.

There is a belief in fundamentalist spaces, that any sign of ‘disobedience’ in a child (basically kids just being kids) is sinful and they need to be punished for it, being taught to be obedient to the parents without question. This usually includes the physical punishment of children with various implements. There are teachings for physical ‘punishments’ in varying degrees depending on the child’s age, including babies. It’s incredibly upsetting and makes me seethe that these families are using ‘religious freedom’ to argue for this. It’s sickening. Children should never be treated like this.

With the very literal interpretation of the Bible, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” can become a tool for abuse. The awful book To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl, is frequently used and recommended in fundamentalist circles. It’s a horrible book that has been linked to the deaths of multiple children, along with lasting mental and physical trauma for countless more. For folks that are so adamant on ‘thinking of the children’ they sure love to traumatise them and advocate for their abuse under the guide of ‘discipline’. It’s abuse, plain and simple.

FEMINISM CHEATS WOMEN – Whoa, this is a big one, ironically enough, driven just as much by the women as the men. This is an ongoing theme within conservativism and especially fundamentalism, that modern day feminism (usually citing Third Wave Feminism) has cheated women out of their ‘true purpose in life’ as well as their happiness.

Now, I’ve come across homemakers who are neither conservative nor fundamentalist, or even Christian for that matter, who have had experiences of being shamed and bullied for wanting to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, having what is generally considered feminine interests and tastes etc. and obviously that is not ok. I myself have also experienced this and it’s not pleasant.

As a result however, they feel feminism cheated them out of what they wanted. As a feminist, I say that I am sorry you were subjected to that kind of treatment. It’s not right and I don’t condone it. Feminism is about respecting your right to choose.

That being said, in fundamentalism and very conservative spaces, the right to choose doesn’t really, from what I’ve seen, even seem like an option. Feminism in any form is seen as this big, bad, ugly monster come to take away your femininity. Straw man arguments are often used, along with insulting caricatures, such as the ‘Slovenly, multicoloured hair social justice warrior woman, who likes to shout loud, control every man around her and can’t clean their apartment. She just needs a man to show her her place’, being a particular favourite that I’ve seen online.

That pursuing a career ‘isn’t feminine’ along with a laundry list of other, in my opinion, very menial things, and discouraging any other forms of expression outside of a traditionally feminine persona. There’s a lot of romanticism for the 1950s on social media, but even in the 1950s, for most folks it wasn’t how the romanticised image of traditional family values presents online. The ‘they’re lying to you!’ argument with no evidence, or resorting to often debunked theories to show it, is prevalent. And let’s not even get started on the ‘natural order of things’ to justify a patriarchal structure, citing people like Jordan Peterson.

CONCLUSION

Anything taken to an extreme isn’t good. But especially so with religion, and I say that as a Christian. It’s one thing to be traditional. It’s another to take it to a harmful extreme that we see here.

This extreme is often less, as Jen from Fundie Fridays puts it, more about rules and regulations than it is about any kind of sound doctrine. As well as that, as I’ve said before, historical context is everything when interpreting a religious text and literalism is literally killing people, if not leaving them with lasting, if not lifelong, trauma.

It’s these kind of teachings that fuel the movements we are seeing in society right now, from religious freedom legislation in the States (which basically translates to preferential treatment for Christians at the cost of others), the implementation of anti-abortion laws, to hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people, non-Christians, the poor and minorities.

It’s one thing to have a traditional set up because that’s what makes you happy and that’s your choice, providing it doesn’t hurt you or others. It’s another to be in that set up out of a doctrine of fear and threat of shame, shunning and/or even violence.

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