My son Jude is seven and enjoys photography and playing with his little sisters. He could care less about playing war games with the other boys in the neighborhood. Sometimes he’d just rather come home and help me cook dinner. Or handcraft a card for a friend. I’m glad Jude was born a month after we left fundamentalism. Had we stayed, he would have struggled to find his place in an environment that ascribed to rigid beliefs about gender-appropriate activities. Which is to say, in fundamentalism, boys don’t cook. Or make pretty cards for their friends.
In fundamentalist practice, boys are expected to provide and protect. Girls are expected to serve and submit. And even if your average fundie might occasionally offer a broader interpretation, this is how “Biblical” male and female “roles” are defined. It’s all so simple because, fundamentalists explain, this is how God made us. So, if a boy enjoys painting and a girl pines to be a doctor, well, that’s seeking a life outside God’s prescribed blueprint for life. What this means is, boys who deviate from the fundamentalist norm are called wimps and girls who deviate are called feminists. Which translated from the Greek means: homosexuals and Jezebels.
I realize that some might suggest I’m casting an unfair generalization across the whole of Christian fundamentalism. But sometimes generalizations are helpful insofar as they address what is generally practiced within a group. And the thing is, this isn’t just some nebulous theory. This is precisely how fundamentalists operate. Sure, maybe they won’t go so far as to say every woman working outside the home blasphemes God’s Word, but they’ll definitively assert that any married woman working outside the home is not following God’s plan for Biblical manhood and Biblical womanhood.
In other words, a woman is a “whitewashed feminist” if she “openly promotes an egalitarian position that is opposite to complementarian orthopraxy.” At least, so says Stacy McDonald, one of the co-authors of the popular book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. In defending her use of the “whitewashed feminist” label, McDonald writes that she’s never labeled any individual that way. True. She’s only labeled an entire group of (working) women that way. I guess name-calling is acceptable so long as you say, “You’re all losers” and not “You’re a loser.”
This is the kind of circuitous logic that plagues fundamentalism. I call it crazy-making. What happens is this: fundamentalists set out The Biblical Way Of Life. But then when real life intervenes, well, they blame it on the world’s values infiltrating the church. Or maybe they blame it on sin, humanism, paganism. Or Obama. What you come to find out in fundamentalism is that the Bible/their rules are never wrong. Somehow they forget to tell you that when they say the Bible what they really mean is their interpretation of the Bible. But praise the Lord for the sufficiency of Scripture, amen?
A funny thing happens when women like myself speak out against these abuses of so-called “Biblical authority.” We’re called gossipers, slanderers, sowers of strife among brethren. I’ve gotten emails from people telling me that I’m hypocritical, small-minded and blasphemous. And what happens if I speak against certain teachings of, say, Vision Forum? Am I going to get sued, too? If what they are preaching is The Truth, why are they so afraid of a few questions from a stay-at-home-mother-of-five like myself? I know why they see me as dangerous: because I grew up living their lifestyle. I’m a fundamentalist insider. Or am I a traitor? I’ve seen firsthand how their theology plays out in the lives of women and children. I have family members who bear physical scars as a result of their kind of theology.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that if speaking out means that my son can make pretty cards without being harassed and my daughters can become lawyers if that’s where God leads them, then being called a “whitewashed feminist” is a price I’m willing to pay.