Quivering with Fear: A Review of 'Quivering Daughters'
Many of us tend to react with righteous indignation when we read stories of women in foreign countries denied higher education, the chance to support themselves, and the freedom to live independently and make their own decisions.
How do we react when women are denied those same freedoms here in America—by some of our fellow Christians?
Christian patriarchy—a loosely organized movement encompassing Quiverfull, Stay-at-Home Daughters, and similar lifestyles—has been gaining more and more mainstream attention lately. From the pages of Time to cable reality shows, we're growing used to seeing families who deliberately have as many children as possible, dress ultra-conservatively, and observe a clear and unbreachable division of gender roles, to the point of preventing girls from going to college or working outside the home.
Blogger Karen Campbell, who has written extensively on this movement, coined the term patriocentric, which emphasizes the heart of the patriarchal philosophy: Translated, it literally means "father-centered." Campbell defines the movement's central teaching as follows: "that God gives a 'calling' in life to only men, specifically fathers, and that the purpose of the wife and children is to fulfill the father's calling."
In her book Quivering Daughters, Hillary McFarland offers the rare and valuable perspective of a woman who actually grew up in a patriarchal Christian home. She shares both her own story and her conversations with other women who have come out of a similar background. Unlike some others who have left patriarchy behind, McFarland has not lost her faith; her book, which is saturated in Scripture, critiques patriarchy from a Christian viewpoint. Though McFarland clearly loves and respects her parents, she writes frankly about the spiritual abuse that she argues is inherent in their belief system.
While that system is steeped in Christian terminology, one theme that emerges here is the pattern of idolatry practiced by McFarland's family and other families like hers.
- Idolatry of the past. McFarland opens her story with an account of having her hair washed with kerosene to remove lice: "I lay in it, drenched, my body on fire. I know [my mother's] hands burned too." But "Grandma Millie, our neighbor, said it worked because that's what they did in the old days." (Never mind that it never actually got rid of the lice.) Everything, according to her parents, had to be based on "what they did in the old days" because the old days were unequivocally better, case closed. "Living frugally and biblically … meant not relying on the conveniences of modern culture, but welcoming hardship."
- Idolatry of the parents, especially the father. McFarland was taught as a child that she could experience God's leading only through her father, and that it was wrong for her even to hope to experience it herself. As she astutely observes, this led to an enormous burden for father and children alike, as he struggled to micromanage every aspect of their lives. Some of her diary entries, recalling her feelings of despair at her father's constant fault-finding, are difficult to read. Like the time he scolded her for tucking in her blouse because that showed her "crotch and butt" and could lead to her getting raped.