Original artwork by Lorraine Nam
Bitch Media is celebrating 20 years of award-winning, nonprofit, feminist response to pop culture. The original version of this article was printed in the The Confidential issue of Bitch magazine, Fall 2008. It appears here with a new introduction from original author Gina McGalliard as a part of the special 20th anniversary edition of Bitch magazine.
I began researching and writing about the Christian Patriarchy Movement around the same time that the evangelical movement known as Quiverfull was starting to attract the attention of secular media—largely via the Duggar family and their ever-expanding empire of televised morality. But cracks in the facade of these godly family values are hard to hide, and it might come as no surprise that the same hypocrisy that thrived in other bastions of Christian patriarchy brought down the architect of stay-at-home-daughter piety. In 2013, Lourdes Torres (one of the young women profiled in the film Return of the Daughters) filed suit against Vision Forum founder Doug Phillips, alleging that her “spiritual father”’s control extended to sexual coercion and abuse during the time she worked as a nanny for his family. Vision Forum Ministries—whom Torres charged with covering up Phillips’s actions—was soon disbanded.
The Botkin sisters no longer sell Return of the Daughters, nor their book, So Much More, and have tried to distance themselves from their previous evangelism, renaming the Visionary Daughters blog simply Botkin Sisters. (Recent post titles include “The History of Womanhood That Feminists Don’t Want You to Know,” and “What Every Christian Girl Can Learn From Kate Middleton.”) But the abuse-and-coverup scandal that emerged from the Duggar compound in 2015 has cast further public scrutiny on the Quiverfull movement as a whole.
“Daughters aren’t to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out independently and say, ‘I’m going to marry whoever I want.’ No. The father has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that has to be approved by me.’”
There’s a lot of talk in mainstream american media lately about the diminishing role of men—fathers, in particular. Have feminism and reproductive technology made them obsolete? Are breadwinning wives and career-oriented mothers emasculating them?
No such uncertainty exists in the mind of Doug Phillips, the man quoted above. The San Antonio minister is the founder of Vision Forum, a beachhead for what’s known as the Christian Patriarchy Movement, a branch of evangelical Christianity that takes beliefs about men as leaders and women as homemakers to anachronistic extremes. Vision Forum Ministries is, according to its Statements of Doctrine, “committed to affirming the historic faith of Biblical Christianity,” with special attention to the historical faith found in the book of Genesis, when God created Eve as a “helper” to Adam. According to Christian Patriarchy, marriage bonds man (the symbol of Christ) to woman (the symbol of the Church). It’s a model that situates husbands and fathers in a position of absolute power: If a woman disobeys her “master,” whether father or husband, she’s defying God. Thus, women in the CPM aren’t just stay-at-home mothers—they’re stay-at-home daughters as well. And many of them wouldn’t have it any other way.
The stay-at-home-daughters movement promoted by Vision Forum encourages young girls and single women to forgo college and outside employment in favor of training as “keepers at home” until they marry. Young women pursuing their own ambitions and goals are viewed as selfish and antifamily; marriage is not a choice or one piece of a larger life plan, but the ultimate goal. Stay-at-home daughters spend their days learning “advanced homemaking” skills, such as cooking and sewing, and other skills that at one time were a necessity—knitting, crocheting, soap- and candle-making. A father is considered his daughter’s authority until he transfers control to her husband.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the CPM shares much of its philosophy with the Quiverfull movement, which holds that good Christians must eschew birth control—even natural family planning—in order to implement Biblical principles and, in the process, outbreed unbelievers. Although the CPM has been around for the past several decades, with its roots in the founding of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the teachings of religious leaders like Bill Gothard and Rousas J. Rushdoony, the stay-at-home-daughters movement seems to have gained traction in the last decade. Kathryn Joyce, author of the 2009 book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, estimates the CPM population to be in the low tens of thousands, but the rise of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity over the past several decades makes it difficult to predict how large the CPM following could eventually become.
Vision Forum, for its part, is fully dedicated to turning back the clock on gender equality. Its website offers a cornucopia of sex-segregated books and products designed to conform children to rigid gender stereotypes starting from an early age. The All-American Boy’s Adventure Catalog shills an extensive selection of toy weapons (bow-and-arrow sets, guns, swords, and tomahawks); survival gear; and books and dvds on war, the outdoors, and science. The Beautiful Girlhood Collection features dolls, cooking and sewing play sets, and costumes. There’s no room for doubt about the intended roles for these girls later on in life. Indeed, the Vision Forum catalog brims with yearning for a simpler, supposedly more secure, and presumably more pious time, with a number of items relating to Western frontier living, a “Grandfather’s Classic Toys” collection, manuals on medieval chivalry, and centuries-old titles about manners and modesty.
Integral to Vision Forum’s belief about female submission is making sure women are not independent at any point in their lives, regardless of age; hence the organization’s enthusiasm for stay-at-home daughterhood. The most visible proponents of this belief are Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, sisters and authors of the book So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God (published by Vision Forum), and creators of the documentary film Return of the Daughters, which follows several young women staying home until marriage, and details how they spend their time serving their fathers. One woman, 25-year-old Melissa Keen, helps put on Vision Forum’s annual Father-Daughter Retreat, an event that’s described on Vision Forum’s website in terms that are, in a word, discomfiting. (“He leads her, woos her, and wins her with a tenderness and affection unique to the bonds of father and daughter.”) Another, 23-year-old Katie Valenti, enthuses that her father “is the greatest man in my life. I believe that helping my father in his business is a better use of my youth and is helping prepare me to be a better helpmeet for my future husband, rather than indulging in selfishness and pursuing my own success and selfish ambitions.” (A video of Valenti’s 2009 wedding to Phillip Bradrick shows her father announcing into a microphone that he is “transferring my authority to you, Phillip.”)
In So Much More, the Botkin sisters claim that women were much happier before being legally considered men’s equals, although, unsurprisingly, they reference no scholarship or evidence for this. They do, however, quote extensively from girls described as “21st-century heroines of the faith,” or “the young heroines of the underground feminist resistance movement,” who claim following submission teachings changed their lives. A stay-at-home daughter named Sarah, for instance, aspired to be an attorney before realizing that her career ambitions displeased God; another, Fiona, left home for college at 18, only to return five years later having experienced much “grief and depression.”
Many of the Botkins’ fellow believers have taken to the web to extol the virtues of the stay-at-home-daughter life, spreading their archaic views via the most modern technology. On stayathomedaughters.com, which recently ceased operating, Courtney, one of the authors of the website’s blog, describes herself as “learning to run and care for a home while under the training of my dear parents.” The section “What We Believe” states that “Stay-at-home daughters are defying cultural standards by purposing to fulfill their role at home, with their family, and under their father’s roof and authority until marriage. We are anti-feminism, and we are counter-cultural.”
Another blog, Ah the Life, is written by “Miss Kelly and Miss Andrea,” who list among their interests “homemaking, theology, hospitality, and femininity.” Their favorite movies include Return of the Daughters and The Monstrous Regiment of Women, the latter a film that inveighs against feminism via soundbites from, among others, STOP ERA founder Phyllis Schlafly. (On Hillary Clinton: “She’s angry about a lot of things.”) And the blog Joyfully at Home was until recently maintained by Jasmine Baucham, daughter of preacher Voddie Baucham, whose 2009 patriarchy primer, What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter, has chapters titled “He Must Be Prepared to Lead” and “Don’t Send a Woman Out to Do a Man’s Job.” Jasmine, who was featured in Return of the Daughters, wrote on her blog that she “chose to forgo the typical college experience so that I could live under the discipleship of my parents until marriage,” but her bio nevertheless notes that she is completing a degree in English literature.
The number of these blogs and their followers may be surprising to secular women, who would likely find the tenets the bloggers live by disturbingly retrograde, if not just plain disturbing. Stay-at-home daughterhood means, among other things, subsuming one’s own identity into the family unit. The Botkin sisters write in So Much More that loving your parents means agreeing with all their opinions. “When your parents have your heart you will truly ‘delight in their ways,’” write the sisters in one blog post. “You will love what they love, hate what they hate, and desire their approval and company and even ‘think thoughts after them.’”
The Botkin sisters aim to validate living a life of confinement with staunch, if unfounded, beliefs regarding college. “College campuses have become dangerous places of anxiety, wasted years, mental defilement, and moral derangement,” they write. Although neither of the sisters has attended college, they also claim universities are hotbeds of Marxism that forbid a free exchange of ideas and seek to indoctrinate students in leftist thinking. Elsewhere, they quote a document from the pro-patriarchy website Fathers for Life that states that the “prime purposes of feminism are to establish a lesbian-socialist republic and to dismantle the family unit,” echoing Pat Robertson’s notorious statement that feminism is a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”
Critical thinking and immersion in a diversity of viewpoints and opinions—a chief goal of the college experience—seems to be what the Botkin sisters truly fear. Well, that and Satan—the sisters use the age-old image of women as helpless to resist temptation as another argument against a college education: “Recall that Satan targeted a woman first, too. God’s enemies have recognized that women are not only the weaker vessels, and consequently more easily led, but they are incredibly influential over their husbands (think of Eve again) and children, and they make excellent and loyal helpers,” claim the sisters [italics theirs].
The story of one misled college attendee, the providentially named Evangeline, is instructive. A homeschool graduate attending a Christian college away from home, Evangeline recalls, “I will never forget the night I sat on my bed reading [So Much More] until four in the morning, weeping over it.” She continues, “My heart had ached for a protected mission, a biblically sound mission, an ancient mission. And here it was! What joy! What relief! I was not designed to be an independent woman, but rather a part of a man’s life, a helper.”
But not all stay-at-home daughters accept their lot so unquestioningly. A young New Zealander named Genevieve decided to live at home until marriage after trading in her dreams of becoming her country’s first female prime minister for the goal of becoming a Christian homeschooling wife and mother. Now the author of the Isaacharican Daughters newsletter, Genevieve exemplifies how young women in this lifestyle are encouraged to replace their own thoughts and identities with those of whichever male figure in their lives currently acts as the authority. In writing about the process of swapping her father’s “vision” for her new husband’s, she notes that a woman having independent thoughts is evidence of Satan gumming up the works.
My loyalties have had to undergo a change. I was used to thinking Dad knew best. Now I needed to learn to think that Pete knows best. I used to do things and invest my time in projects according to what I knew Dad would want me to do. Now I needed to be guided by what Pete wanted me to do. When faced with a problem or option I couldn’t think “What would Dad have done in this situation?” Now I had to think “What would Pete do in this situation?” These were exciting times and difficult as during this state of flux—learning to replace one man’s vision with another—the devil would come around and say, “But what about what you want? What about what you think?”
Genevieve’s words are worth noting because most stay-at-home daughters can’t truly say they’ve chosen this lifestyle—they are often brought up in homes where a woman’s autonomous choices are vilified, and they rarely interact with those who think differently. One has to wonder if Genevieve, with her childhood dreams of national politics, bought into the myth that feminism is antimotherhood and antifamily, and thus feels she must choose between having a family and her own personhood, something most would consider a false choice.
Submitting to either your father’s or your husband’s authority may seem like perpetual childhood—or indentured servitude—to modern, first-world women who value their ability to do things like vote, go on dates, and determine the course of their lives. The Botkin sisters have a different take. “The sign of our maturity and our adulthood is when we willingly submit ourselves to God-given authority and therefore to God Himself,” they write in one blog post. “This is a struggle, and it requires strength, wisdom, responsibility, and spiritual maturity.” And though one presumes these women’s enthusiasm for submission means they come from safe, loving, and abuse-free homes, there are potentially chilling consequences to spreading their beliefs to those who may not be so lucky.
Furthermore, the stay-at-home-daughter movement holds that girls are ready to marry only when they’ve completely tamed individualistic traits—when, as the Botkins put it, they’ve learned to “submit to an imperfect man’s ‘whims’ as well as his heavy requirements. To order our lives around another person. To esteem and reverence [sic] and adore a man whose faults we can see clearly every day.” Fathers are never to be criticized or even teased: “When you speak of him to others, you shouldn’t talk about his mistakes, but of the good things he’s done. When you speak of him, instead of criticizing and nagging him for his faults, you should tell him how much you admire his strengths,” say the Botkins. Stay-at-home daughter Ruth says she honors her father by finding out his favorite colors and wearing them; Kelly says she finds that her father’s convictions “are becoming my convictions, his passions my passions.” Although it’s likely that many women would find such an existence frustrating, if not completely infantilizing, within the context of the Christian Patriarchy Movement it’s not difficult to see the appeal. After all, women raised in the CPM are brought up to believe that the world outside their community is sin-filled, godless, and dangerous; opting for stay-at-home daughterhood represents a lifetime of safety.
Still, they’re not safe from everything. Although the Botkins and their stay-at-home sisterhood believe that women have a duty to be obedient, if men fail in their endeavors—their work, their marriages, their faith—guess who’s responsible? “If our men aren’t successful, it largely means that their women have not made them successful. They need our help,” the Botkins write. Wives, they go on to claim, have the ability to “win over” their husbands with respectful and submissive behavior, for when the husbands observe this, they will become “ashamed and repentant.” (The sisters are strangely silent on what to do if this isn’t effective.) And daughters have the same responsibility: “Before you can accuse your father of being unprotective, ask yourself: ‘Do you make it clear to him that you are a woman of virtue, worthy of his special protection? If your behavior was more gentle, feminine, respectful, and lovely would he be more inclined to be protective of you?’” Relationships with mothers, by contrast, get little consideration within the literature and blogs of the stay-at-home-daughters movement. Mother-daughter dynamics are mentioned in the Botkins’ book and film only in the context of readers becoming future mothers.
The stay-at-home-daughters movement has inevitably inspired controversy and dissent, much of it among dedicated Christians who consider it to be a dire misconstruction of their religion.
According to Cindy Kunsman, a survivor of what she terms “spiritual abuse” and the author of the blog Under Much Grace, stay-at-home daughters who have exited the lifestyle are—despite what the rest of us might presume—usually well prepared academically, but lack certain key skills for success in life. “Those young women who received excellent training have an easier time acquiring job skills when pursuing college and health-care training, as many of them have done quite successfully,” said Kunsman in an interview. “However, because [they] were required to abdicate all significant problem-solving to another agent while in their families of origin, they lack practice in critical thinking and planning… They must work to build integrity, self-reliance, autonomy, and trust in themselves, which they were taught to derive from the identity of the family.”
One of the most outspoken counter-CPM blogs is Quivering Daughters—a play on the phrase “Quiverfull”—authored by Hillary McFarland. “Increasing numbers of women in their late twenties and thirties remain ‘safely’ at home, patiently waiting for husbands to find them,” writes McFarland in her book Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy. “As unmarried adult daughters continue to perfect the art of homemaking, help to mother and school young siblings, and learn to be a godly helpmeet, many through spiritual discipline strain to cauterize wounds made tender with disappointment.”
Despite the assertion of stay-at-home daughters that they are “protected” (albeit in a country where they have every legal right to walk away from their families and churches), it’s difficult not to view them as being extremely vulnerable. After all, men who grow up believing that women were created to serve their whims are generally the ones who are just as likely to abuse the women they see as “theirs” as to protect them from others.
Such sexist views of women’s roles are certainly not limited to the Christian Patriarchy Movement. But unlike other conservative religious groups that are typically closed off from the rest of society—the Amish, or fundamentalist Mormon polygamists—the stay-at-home-daughters movement and the CPM might be capable of seeping into the already-booming populations of evangelical and fundamentalist churches and Christian homeschoolers, which already advocate a less rigorous version of female submission.
In this sense, stay-at-home daughters might feel that they are the most pure, and most righteous, of Christians.
In a complex world where women have more choices than ever, perhaps the appeal of this lifestyle for both men and women is perpetual female childhood. Men make all decisions and are never told they are wrong, always getting their way, while women are free of any decision-making: a markedly different, albeit less complicated relationship than one between two equals. Only time will tell how far this new movement will spread. In the meantime, those of us who were lucky enough to have fathers who delighted in our accomplishments and growth as individuals—rather than believing our existence was to serve their own needs—should count our blessings.