Your upbringing is a vital part of who you are, and it can be an asset to your future or a hindrance, depending on your circumstances. In my case, I was raised in a strict Baptist household, and the religious environment began to stunt my personal growth as soon as I decided that I wanted a better life. I’m not saying that all churches are bad, but in my experience, they do tend to disperse ideas that are antiquated in nature and not at all empowering to women. From a very early age, I observed the church culture and its inherent misogyny, and I knew I couldn’t live like that.
Misogyny is a word that tends to provoke strong reactions. Those who perpetuate misogyny get defensive, those who oppose it express their opposition vehemently, and those who cower in the middle are Baptist women who think their place in life is to accept that they and their opinions don’t matter. What is misogyny, really? Many people think it’s a reference to the hatred of women, but I see it differently. Misogynists don’t necessarily hate women, but they believe in their hearts that they are more intelligent and capable than us and therefore think it’s okay to undermine us and hold us back from having the kind of futures we deserve. In my opinion, that attitude is worse than hate. I’d rather be hated than fully disrespected.
After coming up the way I did, I’m proud that I became such a strong independent woman and I want to help others who are in similar situations find the strength to live the life they want, despite the torrent of discouragement they’re bound to face at home. Here are some of the main examples of misogyny I observed and managed to overcome in order to become the empowered woman I am today.
- Boys are encouraged to go to college; girls are encouraged to learn how to cook and sew. In the church I attended, the youth interaction was interesting. Boys were expected to get an education and become productive citizens, while girls were expected to learn household chores so that they would make suitable wives. The few girls I knew who did go to college went for fairly useless degrees and most of them ended up dropping out as soon as they were offered a ring, subjecting themselves to a lifetime of dependency on a husband who may or may not treat them right. They wouldn’t know until after the wedding, because they weren’t allowed enough time and freedom to get to know a guy before marrying him.
- Women are expected to marry someone they’ve never been on a real date with. In the Baptist church, people who aren’t married to each other aren’t allowed to be in a room alone together or have any physical contact aside from handshakes or awkward side hugs. “Dating” for them means sitting in church together or going to group or chaperoned events: no alone time whatsoever. How can you possibly get to know someone well enough to marry them on those terms? It’s not possible, and, once you go through with the wedding, you’re stuck because divorce isn’t allowed.
- Women are expected to always be submissive to men. If your husband tells you the Earth is flat, you better not dare to correct him because the church has taught him that he’s always right (especially in comparison to you). If he tells you to do something, you’re expected to do so promptly and without argument as if he’s your father. He can dictate what you wear, who you talk to, and how you spend your time, but he’s free to do whatever he wants because he’s a man.
- Divorce is frowned upon even if you’re being abused. After you “successfully” get hitched to that guy you barely know, you move in with him and find out all the things about him you should have been able to discover before saying “I do.” You can get through some things, like if he leaves his socks all over the bedroom, but what if he becomes physically, emotionally, or verbally abusive? The church says that’s not right but you’re still a terrible sinner if you opt to divorce him. Their answer is to pray about it, and hope that their god magically intervenes and stops him from killing you.
- Women are expected to become baby factories, even if they aren’t ready. After marriage, which usually happens really young, you’re finally church-approved to have sex but many churches still don’t condone the use of birth control. Even if you’re only eighteen and not emotionally ready to be a mother, you’re probably going to get pregnant because that’s how the birds and the bees operate. Once that happens, you’re in for a whole new life.
- You’re expected to teach your kids the same values you grew up with. I couldn’t imagine teaching my daughter that she’s not as smart or capable as her brother, or that she should stay in the kitchen with me while the boys do cool things like target shooting or four wheeling. I would refuse to encourage my daughter to marry anyone while she’s under 25, or to skip college, but that’s exactly what the church wants. They want their members to groom the next generation of misogynists and submissive women.
- Even though your entire life is spent in the service of others, you’re expected to be happy. Everyone needs to be a priority sometimes and have their own needs met, even if we do it ourselves. In the church, it’s a sin to put yourself first but you’re still expected to be happy despite spending your entire life as a servant. It seems almost like a form of emotional extortion, act happy or you’re going to hell.
After observing all of these cultural nuances, you may be wondering how I got out and ended up fairly normal. I think it’s somewhat ingrained in me, because of the fact that I recognized the inequalities even as a child and thought it was strange, but it’s mostly because I just ran the other direction and jumped head-first into a sea of uncertainty. I didn’t know if I would sink or swim, but I had faith in myself. From there, I endured several years of trial and error before I found my path and really discovered myself. Given the opportunity, I would never go back to the oppressive environment I was raised in, and I hope that other women see that they can be anything they want to be. You don’t have to be an uneducated housewife/baby factory just because a group of men told you to be. It’s scary to jump into that sea of uncertainty but it was the best decision I ever made.