Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Problem with Patriarchy

quiverfull, patriarchy, christianity, feminism,
This admission from a Saudi woman about her doubts as to her own competency is heart wrenching, and exactly my problem with patriarchy and TLC's portrayal of the Duggars. (18 Bajillion Children and Counting.)

I would simply introduce myself as: A Saudi female, who aims for a better tomorrow.
In few weeks, I will be on my way to the United States of
America to pursue my post-graduate studies.Yes, I have traveled before to many
countries, including USA. And yes, I have traveled alone. Yet, I am scared!
Although I try to act excited and strong, but deep inside me, I am afraid.
“Living Alone” for five years, away from my family and friends is a new
experience, I knew it will happen one day, but I kept denying it.

Living in Saudi Arabia is nothing like anywhere else! Being surrounded
by all kind of walls that keeps you from being yourself and having your own
believes, principles, and thus, identity. In Saudi Arabia, your identity is
derived from your belonging to a certain family, social class, or “tribe”! Being
different is usually not accepted. However, there are always exceptions.

The new thing in the experience of living abroad is facing yourself with your
reality, there are no parents to guide you. There is no family, or a society
that you’d be thinking: “What would they say”. There is only You and

“Having to follow what is common in your community for your whole life
is easy, as you don’t have to think about what is Right or Wrong. You just need
to follow others. ” a friend of mine says. “Am afraid I won’t trust myself” she
adds. “I don’t know myself, I don’t know what do I really believe in, what do I
accept or refuse, what are my abilities, I don’t know the real (ME), all I know
is a life I am (used to living), and a person I became because I had to!, I had
no choice in being (this)” – Pointing to herself.

I am not afraid of this because I was never forced to do, believe in or
become someone, I chose to be “Me”. However, I am afraid to face the whole
world alone and have no one to rely on. I am spoiled – “Dad’s little girl!”. My
father, like many other Saudi men, likes to do everything for us, as he wants us
only to study and care for our future without worrying about anything else. I am
not sure if it was because he wants to, or because it would be hard for me to do
anything being a female. Even the procedures for earning my scholarship, I tried
to visit the female section at the Ministry of Higher Education, but because
they can’t do anything and they know nothing, I had to have my father go to the
men’s section. And to finish my papers at my work, I have to wait for the reply
of the men’s section, so it’s faster to let my father check with them directly,
and likewise goes everything else!

She is so brave and honest, and I wish her the best. She is a victim of patriarchy- a system that ensures that women never learn who they are, never learn to be competent, never learn to be self reliant. Now she is ill-prepared for a life in which her only measure will be herself, her failures and successes will be her own, and she will be expected to be her own person, separate and apart from her father. I admire her courage in even trying, because it's hard to succeed at life even if you were raised to do so.

So how do the Duggars relate to Saudi Woman's journey? The only difference between the lives of the Duggar's girls and the average Saudi woman is a burqa. The Quiverfull movement, which the Duggars are a part of no matter how TLC tries to whitewash the connection, treats its women and girls exactly the same way. They are controlled by men, in every way, from what they wear to when they wake up, from what they read to when they fuck. There is no moment of their lives not "surrendered" to their men. There is no moment of their lives to be themselves.

TLC paints them as a shiny, happy family. Apologizers bleat about "tolerance" for their "lifestyle". No one seems to consider the daughters, like Saudi Woman, raised to never know themselves, to doubt their competance, their very being. They had no choice at all.

If you want to know why I find the Duggars, and TLC's portrayal of them, so very dangerous, reread Saudi Woman's plea for her own independence. Follow Ruth, raised Quiverfull, as she painfully peels back the layers of her childhood indoctrination in order to find herself. Then look at every little girl you see and ask yourself do they not all deserve to be free?


  1. The strange thing is that there are many people who regard that as "true" freedom. A 'real' expression of respect and love. On both the male and female side of it.

    It seems to me that it would generate contempt for the person free "from" the world by the person in it.

  2. I still find it hard, even when confronted with stories like these, to get my mind around the fact that there are actually people who believe and live this way, here in the twenty-first century.

    I, too, wish all the best to these two brave women, and to all others in their position.

  3. Yes, Yes, Yes. I am the daughter of qf parents. I am trying to break free and make my own decisions, be "myself," and not live based on what God and the Bible (via my father) say.

    It's utterly terrifying.

    I have no idea who myself is. I have no idea what I want or desire. I was never permitted these things...and now, what? I don't know how to live. I basically find myself paralyzed with every decision--even minor ones. How do I know what kind of ice cream I want? I never had a choice before. I don't know what I's a silly example, but that's how I feel. Not only that, but there are constant worries that whatever I choose will be WRONG and I will be responsible, punished, and blamed for it.

  4. Not only that, but there are constant worries that whatever I choose will be WRONG and I will be responsible, punished, and blamed for it.

    I don't know how much it will help to know this, but you will make choices that are wrong and you will be negatively affected by them. The little ones aren't going to be that big of a deal. The big ones, though, could last a long time.

    I made the worst decision of my life so far about nine years ago. It took about six months to a year to realize that it was a bad decision. It wasn't until three years later that it occurred to me how catastrophically bad it was. And that decision had a direct impact on my life up until about six months ago.

    Basically, I bought a car without doing the appropriate research. It was a pile of crap. And the decision to buy that car reverberated until I finally stopped paying off the car that I had to buy to replace it. And, for that matter, I'm not exactly driving my dream car right now, I'm driving the car I could afford at the time.

    I just made another huge decision to move from Chicago to Dallas. I made the decision based on the best possible information. It might end up being the best decision ever or I might end up hating it and wishing I hadn't done it. I just don't know. I won't know for a long time.

    And the thing is, that's okay. No one punished me for buying the wrong car. It negatively impacted my life, but I took that as an important lesson to never buy something as expensive as a car without doing all of the necessary research. It's a good lesson. It's an important lesson that some people never, ever learn.

    We all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions. But that's because we all have to make decisions without knowing what tomorrow will bring. Some of those decisions turn out bad, some end up being really good.

    And the craziest thing about it is this: the ones that seem huge often end up being unimportant in the long-run. The little ones that don't seem like a big deal at the time often reverberate and create huge, unexpected opportunities or challenges in the future.

    That's what makes life so exciting. It's what makes life worth living.

    So don't worry about it. Right now it's tough, but it will get easier. Especially when you make that first big mistake, then realize that you've survived it, it wasn't as bad as you'd feared, and you're getting along just fine.

  5. thanks, geds. I'm trying to disabuse myself of the idea that somehow everything I do has an "eternal impact;" that I will forever be judged based on each action...Before, things were clearly right or clearly wrong. I still did "wrong" things all the time, despite having tried really really hard to be a perfect qf daughter. But it was so black and white. Now, you know, there are all these things which are bad and those which are good and those which are in between. And I've got to figure it all out. on my own. but i don't know who i am or what i believe or what i want--beyond not wanting to live the qf life anymore; beyond thinking that Christianity doesn't make sense anymore. I'm lost.

  6. but i don't know who i am or what i believe or what i want--beyond not wanting to live the qf life anymore; beyond thinking that Christianity doesn't make sense anymore. I'm lost.

    It gets better with time, trust me.

    Honestly, I can't fully imagine what you're going through. I left Christianity a couple years ago when I lost the ability to hold on to the cognitive dissonance. But I had always been taught to think for myself and had long ago realized that right/wrong and good/bad existed outside of the religious constraints I was supposed to believe it dwelled within. I'd spent a lot of time around people of different faiths and no faith. I'd realized that there were good people without faith, bad people who sat next to me in church and were praised for their godliness, and that there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to it.

    And even with all of that it was scary for me to leave. It meant losing friends. It potentially meant alienating my family (although I doubted they'd stop talking to me). It most certainly meant having to admit that a girl I thought I wanted to spend my life with would absolutely not choose to be with me. As I'd been planning on going in to the ministry it also meant I'd have to figure out something else to do with my life.

    It was scary. For the first few months I constantly tried to come up with reasons to go back. I probably became one of the greatest of all Christian apologists simply debating the idea with myself. After that there were times I simply wished I could go back. There was ready-made community. There was certainty. It was uncomplicated.

    The problem was that I couldn't believe any of it any more. I can't live a lie. And, gradually, I've gotten to the point where I don't want to try. I like where I am. I like that I can choose where I'm going next.

    In short, it sucks now, but it gets better.

  7. "In short, it sucks now, but it gets better."

    Quoted for truth.

  8. Ditto everything Geds said. It really does get better. I had one of those moments of clarity a few months back, where I realized: "This is the hope I was supposed to have in Christ." Here's hoping you find those moments as well.

    I get the whole terror of "eternal consequences" of your actions. On the one hand, you're forgiven, and God's grace covers it all...but on the other hand, somebody may be burning in hell because you misrepresented Christ by making just one careless wonder it's terrifying to make a move.

    I don't know if this will help you in any way, but I've found it therapeutic to go around challenging some of my old hangups. Nothing large-scale or expensive, just breaking small taboos here and there as I encounter them. Having the fun I'd never allowed myself to have because I had to be perfect at all times. You may find it's a lower-risk way to become acquainted with who you are, and what you want...and after a while, it can get to be sort of fun. Then, when the big decisions come, they may not be quite so daunting, because you'll have something to help you equate standing on your own with confident, positive feelings, rather than indecision and impending doom.

    I can't say what will work for you, but for me, the only thing that seems to dispel the fear of making mistakes is going out and making them. The nice thing I've found, however, is that mistakes don't always mean regrets.

    To stretch your ice cream example into a (perhaps crappy, but bear with me) analogy...most ice cream places will give you little samply-spoons. You can try different flavors to see what you like before committing. And if you decide you like rocky road today, you're not committed to rocky road, every day, forever. You can get mint chip tomorrow if you want. Or bubble gum. Or blackberry. You get the idea. I know it's hard, when you're conditioned to see things in such stark, black-and-white absolutes, to realize that you CAN change your mind, and that you haven't betrayed rocky road by deciding that you're in the mood for strawberry today. (Ok, enough with the ice cream already. Obviously, I need a snack.)

    Also, today's xkcd seems appropriate. :D

    Best of luck, anariel. It really does get better.

  9. Anariel, I have found it useful, in my lifelong journey of self-discovery, to catalogue those few really big important decisions that made a significant positive impact on my life. Some of them were hard decisions to make, some refreshingly easy, but each of them was my own, and an example of me taking control of my own life. The very first decision on my list was my decision to leave home. Whenever I feel the doubt of indecision, I can look back on these personal triumphs, and realize that I have power over my destiny, and that nobody owns me.

  10. I'm cross-posting this from Accidental Historian in case you don't go back to see the reply to your comment:

    I must agree with Geds. It can be petrifying trying to make decisions for yourself before you're accustomed to doing so. Just be confident in your ability to analyze a situation and, using the best evidence available to you, make a reasoned choice.

    If it's wrong (and it often will be), that's okay. You'll get it right next time. The true key is learning from your mistakes. As long as you do that, you'll be 100% okay.

    Also, and this will help you a lot, branch out a bit. Do you like movies (as an example)? Join a local movie club. Get to know some people and make new friends. You'll find the world is full of some truly wonderful people (and some awful ones, as well, but they tend to advertise their awfulness). Many of them can support you in ways you didn't think possible - not by making your choices for you, but by supporting the choices you make for yourself. That's what true friends do.

  11. wow. thanks everyone.
    reading all your comments, I realized I've already started doing what I'm so afraid of doing. I made the decision that I need to leave. Maybe it's an awful decision and God will punish me for it. I know that it means loosing friends and family--that, I know, is a huge loss. But I don't want to spend the rest of my life doing what I'm doing now: trying to be a perfect daughter (or wife/mother); submitting to someone else. I'm not sure what I want /to do/ yet, but I'm going to make sure that I don't end up doing something I don't want to do. So, I guess, I can do it...And you know, I think if I don't leave, then I won't ever be able to figure out what I do want.

    Thanks for the suggestions and encouragemet. I'll see how this going out and being my own person and getting to know other people thing goes. Hopefully I don't fail too horribly.

  12. Good luck. If you want to, check back in and let us know how it goes. Don't be afraid to ask for help, advice, or support - again, if you want to. And remember that when we give you advice, we do so in the hope that it will help - not the expectation that you will do what we say. Even if you asked for the advice, you can ignore it, modify it, keep it for future consideration... whatever you need to do. Whatever feels right.


Comments are for you guys, not for me. Say what you will. Don't feel compelled to stay on topic, I enjoy it when comments enter Tangentville or veer off into Non Sequitur Town. Just keep it polite, okay?

I am attempting to use blogger's new comment spam feature. If you don't immediately see your comment, it is being held in spam, I will get it out next time I check the filter. Unless you are Dennis Markuze, in which case you're never seeing your comment.

Creative Commons License
Forever in Hell by Personal Failure is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at