The blogosphere has been agog recently over one feminist journal's feature-length article, "House Proud: The Troubling Rise of Stay-at-Home Daughters." If you are like me and hadn't heard of the stay-at-home daughters (SAHD) movement, here's a primer.
Sahd is connected to what detractors call the "Christian Patriarchy Movement," a phrase popularized by Kathryn Joyce's 2009 book, Quiverfull. In it she examines the lifestyles of a group of evangelical Christians who reject birth control and adhere to rigid gender roles they believe are scripturally based. The locus of these teachings, along with the SAHD philosophy that stems from them, is Vision Forum Ministries.
When a movement is said to be "rising" yet is essentially tied to a single organization, albeit one of considerable influence in some circles, perhaps the aforementioned journal doth protest too much. It seems that reports of the Christian Patriarchy Movement are greatly exaggerated—as are the rise, "troubling" or not, of stay-at-home daughters.
Nevertheless, the concept is intriguing. In all fairness, some might argue that having a woman who is a university administrator and professor (and childless to boot) analyze stay-at-home daughters is something like asking the fox to critique the henhouse. But I'll do my best to be fair.
Essentially, adherents of SAHD believe daughters should never leave the covering of their fathers until and unless they are married. One SAHD father writes:
While they are preparing to be keepers of their own homes one day, until our daughters are married, they should serve as keepers at home in the house of their father. They are to be helpers to their mother and blessings to our entire family, as well as to our local church and community. Our daughters are to be busy preparing themselves to be helpers to their own husbands by developing their skills, continuing their education, enhancing their talents, and glorifying God right here where He has them - at home.
The SAHD movement disdains contemporary college life, but it highly values education. Even as a college professor, I would be hard pressed to disagree with Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin's assertion (SAHD pioneers since the publication of their 2005 book, So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God) that colleges "do not have the monopoly on higher learning, higher qualifications, and proper training." Rather than attend college, the Botkin sisters "encourage girls to strive for a broader, higher and more intellectually honest education than is available at most colleges today." Not only is this a worthy aim, it is one these young women seem to have achieved admirably.
In fact, the SAHD girls, along with their fathers, take great pains to show that these young women are educated, empowered, and strong—as far from denim-jumper-wearing, hair-hung-to-the-hips stereotypes as east is from west. The Botkin sisters well represent their comrades when they list their interests as "film making, orchestral harp, history, music theory and composition, theology, the reconstruction of the West, hospitality, classical piano, the persecuted church, and home-making." Such a list of accomplishments makes me want to stay at home, too.
But the real issue is less "to stay or not to stay" than the underlying principle for doing so. While SAHD advocates cite ample scriptural passages to support their orthopraxy (the practice of their orthodoxy), the principle underlying that practice seems to me to lack explicit scriptural support. This principle is what they claim is a clear divide between "public and private" (terms less connected to biblical language than to Enlightenment concepts) or separate "spheres of dominion" for men and women. Vision Forum Ministries states that "men are called to public spheres of dominion beyond the home," and "the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home."
It's possible that this bipartite division is more a social construct than a biblical one. If separate spheres were extrapolated from biblical language and principles, it is more likely such realms would fall along a more complex, tripartite division like family, church, and society. Such a trinity of spheres complicates neat alignments with the God-given binary of male and female.
Perhaps this helps explain some of the problem. For while the SAHD movement calls for daughters to "be helpers to their mother and blessings to [their] entire family," their attentions appear largely focused on the ministry and business of the fathers. (By the way, none of the fathers, apparently, work at the local automotive plant.)
A post by Douglas Phillips, president of Vision Forum, quotes a letter from a stay-at-home-daughter named Kelly. It illustrates what is confusing about the movement. The girl writes,
As I observe the convictions and the passions for the things of God in my earthly father, I begin to make myself available more, in helping him. Walking beside him in his ministry; asking for ways I can help him, and pray for him. I want to know more about what he believes. I want to know why he believes, the things he does … The beautiful thing is, that as I begin supporting my father in his God given ministry, I find that his convictions, are becoming my convictions, his passions, my passions … After ending a conversation, people began telling me how much they heard my father in me. "I can hear your Dad talking when I listen to you, Kelly!" They laugh, and inside, I feel ten inches taller. I want to sound like him. I want to be like him.
A funny thing has happened on the way to the Forum: The lives of stay-at-home daughters—their goals, desires, passions, their very identities—ultimately seem to orbit around their fathers, rather than their mothers, as might seem more in line with the movement's stated principles.