Mercy and misogyny

Cherry tree in April

The other day, I glimpsed the profile of a young man who was the spitting image of a freckled fundamentalist boy from my childhood. I blanched and suddenly felt a spasm of terror. It wasn’t this boy, grown up (ostensibly because this boy still lives in the basement of his parents’ house), but I was still shaken. On the whole, I had a very happy childhood, and my parents are these lovely, fun human beings, but I dislike being reminded of the community I was raised in: the fundamentalist homeschooling enclave.

Primarily, when I remember that time, I recall the crushing sensation of misogyny. Of existing in a network of people in which you have no agency on account of your gender.

To list all of the overt and subtle misogyny I faced as a homeschooled girl would be exhausting. The anecdotes and comments still rise to the surface, however, in my daily life, even though I now feel so personally and ideologically removed from that community. Being told, by an adult man, that I was projecting sexual promiscuity because I wore lipstick to church once. When a young man, just two years older than me, told me that I ought to take his plate after he finished eating, because that was my job, as a docile, submissive woman. Reading comments from two fathers of my friends, on my teenaged blog, that I was a handmaiden of the devil and an agent of whoredom for writing that my friend should not be imprisoned at home by her father for 40 days for hugging her boyfriend. Countless remarks about how I should dress, how I should act, how I should submit to and serve men and boys.

My parents, thankfully, did not force this attitude on us. I wore power suits and heels so that I could tower over the scrawny boys in debate league. My sister was a champion in hockey (arguably one of the least traditionally feminine sports). But there were still vestiges of this pressure at home, to be the good, quiet Christian woman โ€” even though my mother modeled leadership and authority, divorced from male control, on a daily basis. My sisters and I all turned out to be independent, confident feminists, because that is what my mother is, even if she would never call herself that.

โ™ฆ

Gender discrimination is the only discrimination I’ve experienced, and so I cling to it, like a bitter badge of honor. I swap horror stories with other women. I delight in making eyes widen at parties with tales of indignities from my strongly patriarchal past.

I have become appallingly sensitive to misogynistic attitudes in other people, in art, in culture. Like my fearful German shepherd, my hackles go up at the first hint of danger and disapprobation.

If no one’s ever despised you for your sex, it is difficult to care about sexism because it is necessarily foreign to you.

Remembering this helps me have mercy on men who don’t think feminism is needed or that women have enough rights already. Most likely, these men have never had anyone oppress them because they were male; the very notion is unfathomable to them. No one has ever told them that, merely because they were born male, they are less intelligent, incapable of leadership, intended to be subservient, or a sex object open to public derision and comment. It is therefore difficult for many men to be empathetic with women on this front.

Lately, however, I have been wondering, what is the point? What is the spiritual fruit of this feeling of having escaped? What heart-based good can experiencing and enduring discrimination yield?

I think I am finally sensing the beginning of such fruit in my life. It is the first time I have been able to say the word mercy in conjunction with the men, both known and unknown, who have belittled me. I probably won’t ever forget the comments and attitudes espoused by the homeschool patriarchs in my past life, but with this added understanding, I can forgive. And that is surely a place to start.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

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88 thoughts on “Mercy and misogyny

  1. you have touched me. Thank you for your words of grace. Hey I am making a Christian project for YOUTUBE, with my friends, we r raising money for charity(starting this summer). Um for more info please go to my blog. ITs the one thatโ€™s say big announcement . Hope to talk soon. From ur friend Brandon. Also need followers and support.

  2. “If no one’s ever despised you for your sex, it is difficult to care about sexism because it is necessarily foreign to you.” So true, and also especially applicable to racism and the lack of understanding exhibited by so many in the community we grew up in. It’s not a nice reflection, is it? That if it doesn’t apply to you, to not care about it.

    1. Yes, certainly; I think of the ways in which I myself am ignorant of other forms of discrimination and how my blindness can come across as callousness.

    2. It’s really unfortunate how many people either can’t see outside their own experience or simply refuse to accept that other people may have differing experiences than them . It’s an uphill battle, but one we must continue to fight.

  3. โ€œIf no oneโ€™s ever despised you for your sex, it is difficult to care about sexism because it is necessarily foreign to you.โ€

    So very truly said, and it can be said for many other things as well (race, sexuality, religion, etc). It’s so frustrating when people who have never experienced it assume that this hatred and disdain doesn’t exist… especially when it makes up the back-ground noise of your entire life. I agree, growing up in patriarchal-land did allow me to have a lot of patience with people who have never learned or been taught about sexism and other ism’s. I understand because, when I was there, I didn’t really recognize it then either, even while I chafed under its influence. I had no words to describe it and felt the pressure to defend the system that was oppressing me. I would be rewarded by defending the status quo and punished for challenging it (Example: My mother’s friend complimented my mom for making me wear ankle-length skirts and baggy tshirts because her boys were “so easily distracted and they said that they appreciate that your girls don’t try to flaunt their bodies at them to distract them.” I didn’t even know how to describe how icky it made me feel to have boys who were my peers commenting to our mothers about my body, but I was expected to take it as a compliment). I understand how strongly these systems can enforce their message to the exclusion of all others.

    But what I can’t tolerate are people who should know better who still stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the sexist power dynamics of society or repeatedly try to divert attention away from them. Both when I presented as a woman and now as a man, I would often encounter a particular sort of male culture that would pressure me to win credibility among my peers by denigrating women in some way. I am confident enough now that I refuse to participate, but when I was a young woman trying desperately to be seen as one of the guys, the draw was insidious and strong. I’ve certainly said things I regret now, even while I was simultaneously suffering sexual assaults, harassment, and dehumanizing treatments for being seen as female. The greatest form of oppression is when you can be coerced into becoming complicit in your own oppression.

    Anyway, you brought up a lot of thoughts, so thanks for that.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for your courage. This resonated with me: “The greatest form of oppression is when you can be coerced into becoming complicit in your own oppression.”

    2. “The greatest form of oppression is when you can be coerced into becoming complicit in your own oppression.” I see this over and over again in the church I grew up in, and in my family. Men and women alike are so caught up in the pattern of “women make babies, men make money and don’t show weakness EVER”, and have become so used to it that they can’t understand why I think this pattern is so flawed and painful to everyone. Thank you for writing, your comment reminded me of so so many experiences…..

  4. Totally true. In a world where guys have always had the upper hand, women like us are always ridiculed and tutted at, coz they know that their dominance isn’t going to last much longer. Glad you could share your story here. It helps people out there who are like you and me, to know that they aren’t doing anything wrong by standing up for women. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Even though I am male, I am an ardent feminist. It’s important to look outside of your own experience and see how other people live, and I do not like looking and seeing how some women are made to feel less than human or expected to act that way because of how they were born. It’s horrific. Thank you for your post.

  6. Reblogged this on Soma and commented:
    Preach it!! I’ve dealt with misogyny myself having grown up in the south were your value is dictated by your husband. It’s got to stop!

  7. T’is true, men tend to “like” better the women who forgive them their abuses. Forgiveness is a personal thing, and allowing men to continue their patriarchal oppression because they don’t “know” what oppression feels like is not even true. They know. They just don’t have to “consider” empathy. They benefit from the patriarchal power structure and profit from it and that’s not “forgivable”. Women are half the population and if you treat us poorly, everyone will be treated poorly. Grace is not lacking in the people who stand up against the violence. The daily violence of mysogeny is unacceptable.

    No offense to your intentions. You are a kind person and you don’t deserve poor treatment. You should not have to consider men before you consider yourself. That’s not what service is. That’s not what a just God would want.

    1. Hi! Thanks for your comment. I certainly understand what you are saying. I wrote this, however, because it is an attempt to see men who have treated me poorly as human beings. I think, as human beings, misogynistic men are capable of changing. This does not mean that we shouldn’t still campaign for equal pay, reduction of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and public harassment — absolutely, those things must and can be stopped and fought against — but on a personal level, I feel that I am able to see men who have hurt me in the past as possibly human and therefore necessarily fallible and deserving of forgiveness. Even when I don’t want to offer it to them.

      1. Hello. Thanks for replying to me Abby. I see men as humans too. I’m not advocating revenge and punishment, just to be clear. And I’m glad you clarified forgiveness as personal. Sometimes it’s not something a person can extend to the abuser and I feel there needs to be space for those people’s feelings too so they don’t become overwhelmed by the misogyny which is not their fault. To be able to forgive is a goal… but to forgive ourselves when we can not forgive others or to forgive our limitations in understanding mercy towards the oppressor, is okay. We don’t all have to be “ready” or on the same page to forgive. Healing takes time.

        I understand the freedom you find (not to put words in your mouth) in what you call mercy so that you don’t become entangled in the oppression or hatred or exhausted and undermined by your reactions or the actions of others. I see how forgiveness can also empower your own self by taking control of how you want to manage your emotions. This takes a lot of patience and self-compassion so you can be more able to love others the way you are expressing, I think. (Again I’m hoping not to generalize you or interpret “you” too much)

        Very good to speak with you. I appreciate your forum.

    2. I think it was Meryl Streep who recently pointed out that women regularly are forced to empathize with male protagonists, but it rarely goes the other way…. and I think the pattern plays out in many walks of life, unfortunately.

      1. I like Meryl Streep, April. Thanks for sharing about her. That’s a too true statement.

        I guess it’s fair to say men deserve our empathy as the patriarchy oppresses them and boxes them into hyper-masculine gender roles certainly harming them. But greater still would be for them to acquire compassion/empathy so they could free themselves. If they were not so hard on each other they wouldn’t be so hard on women and we wouldn’t have to consider forgiveness and mercy so much of the time. Oh well, I’m afraid I’m not adding much with this, but thanks again for your comment.

      2. Yeah, I totally agree…. they are creating their own problem, a lot of the time.

  8. Very nicely written. I am from India and ours also is an extremely patriarchal society. And I agree when you mention that someone who has never experienced any kind of discrimination based on their gender would not be able to fathom the idea behind feminism. Lets hope for a world someday where people are just divided on the basis of whether they are good or bad and not based on their color, creed, religion or gender

  9. It’s like your just described my entire childhood. That was very weird. I too grew up in a tight homeschool group, and a very conservative baptist church. I too endured many overt and quiet remarks about my “God appointed role as the submissive” to any and all men. It was horrid. My poor husband has no grasp, as he grew up in a much more liberal church, and his mother is the main breadwinner in his family, his sisters are headstrong women, and he never even heard of expecting something out of a woman until I told him about my experiences. He tries to understand but as you said, he has never been “despised for his sex.”
    This article is perfect. I shared it with 3 friends already. Thank you so much for writing!

  10. Wow, what an honest and powerful message. It’s so easy to forget that others walk a different path than we do. No matter what our differences are, it is important to remember that others face different trials than we do (and sometimes their trials make ours seem like a walk in the park). Thanks for the reminder, it really was moving. Hope you keep moving forward in grace and that you keep sharing your journey with others!

  11. I’m glad I perused your post. I must admit that I admired your strength. Girls shouldn’t be taught how to be “shrinks” while boys are allowed to go about being irresponsible. Thanks for sharing your experience. Above all, I’m glad you’re a Christian.

  12. This was such a nice and thoughtful post. I think you and I had similar backgrounds – I was also home-schooled for awhile and then attended a strict private Christian school. Basically, college or career never once came up in the entire time I spent there – it was expected that you would get married and have kids after high school and honestly, I never thought it could be different. Luckily, I moved to a less conservative town and attended a public school in high school and had my horizons broadened and was motivated to go to college. Even still, a lot of family members give me side-eye or make underhanded comments when they hear that I’m the breadwinner in my relationship and that I haven’t had children yet (or that I may never). My mom, who has come so far and definitely supports me and my career, still makes comments that my husband is the “head of the household” and I need to “obey” him (which my husband and I both laugh about).

    This doesn’t even touch on the challenges of being a woman in the workplace. Mention feminism on Twitter and be prepared to be attacked by a thousand trolls. Despite the challenges that still exist, I still see hope that walls are slowly being broken down. Anyway, great post!

    1. Another reason to be weary of homeschooling …

      For a second I was afraid you meant “wary”; I am relieved to see that I was mistaken, because I am weary of those who are wary of homeschooling…

  13. This is an engaging assessment of the misogyny you experienced. Thank you.

    As a non-Christian mother who home-schooled her children briefly, I find it a little alarming that home-schooling is so strongly associated with fundamentalist Christianity. It is a wonderful opportunity for alternative schooling for all sorts of reasons. I was aware that many of the home-schoolers in my area were Christians, but it was not an enclave by any means. My Canadian experience is probably different from the US experience, but I want to give a thumbs up to any parent who does her or his best to educate their children at home. It is a learning experience for the whole family.

  14. We are all born equal. And that’s the problem. It’s not fun being equal. Humans like to compare themselves with each other in order to enjoy their uniqueness. That’s where complexes creep in. Superior to others. Inferior to others. And not just this, EVERYBODY similar to me should feel the same way as me!
    Shucks.
    To break the shackles of the human mind is so difficult.
    I think only meditation and introspection can work. A determination to be sensitive and understanding. To not be judgemental as well as be strong. To respect others and not let anyone disrespect us.

  15. I want to pursue a branch in my studies which is very male dominated , so i get so many typical looks when i talk about taking up such a branch. But i dont want to backdown and your post shows so much of what ur females out there are going through. You are brave to have come so far. We shall never bow down to the old ways .

  16. I really appreciate your positive approach on this topic. Your detailed insight on this topic, makes your blog time worthy and pertinent.

  17. I wish you all the best. Thanks for sharing..
    Congrats on being freshly pressed! I created a new page last month called Real Life Natural Wife. I hope you’ll check it out and leave me a comment with your thoughts. Have a great weekend!

  18. You just made me cry. This post was written so well and so true. I know how discrimination can affect our attitude and future . But it is on us to make this discrimination our biggest weakness or to fight and make it as our strongest strength. Beautifully expressed.

  19. Reblogged this on Malawi Ace and commented:
    “If no oneโ€™s ever despised you for your sex, it is difficult to care about sexism because it is necessarily foreign to you.

    Remembering this helps me have mercy on men who donโ€™t think feminism is needed or that women have enough rights already. Most likely, these men have never had anyone oppress them because they were male; the very notion is unfathomable to them. No one has ever told them that, merely because they were born male, they are less intelligent, incapable of leadership, intended to be subservient, or a sex object open to public derision and comment. It is therefore difficult for many men to be empathetic with women on this front.”

    Sounds very familiar, and I’ve heard a version of this kind of statement countless times, but as regards to race, not gender ( so I know what being maligned for some senseless or stupid reason or other is like).
    But I’m republishing this post here primarily because Malawi is a deeply religious society, and not because I’m a minority living in Britain.

  20. Loved your writing and the way you expresses. I appreciate and fully agree with you. I faced racialism once but I have forgiven those ignorant souls long ago. Hope you come out of shadows as well. Keep doing great work.

  21. I’m from Vietnam and have experienced some gender discrimination in my childhood but it wasn’t as harsh as yours. Luckily there were only the unfair treatment in classes and some gender bias comments from people around me. Now thank to my mother, I’m properly educated and can dive myself in the professional community, where women start to dominate. I feel sorry for many boys and men in my country, they live so comfortable lives, they never try hard and now they are falling behind academically and professionally but still aren’t aware of that. From my experience, I think we, women, should thank for the difficulties that misogyny brought to us, what doesn’t kill us make us stronger.
    On the other hand, in the countryside, where education is limited and the Asian traditions dominate, girls are not as lucky as us. They are experiencing domestic violence, never have a chance to think and do things differently to change their miserable lives, or even don’t realize that is miserable. I think the same happens in many other countries as I read your post, I feel connected. I wish and will do something to help those girls and women. And to be able to do that, I think women who are lucky to get education, should never strop trying to be successful in business and in leadership, so we become more powerful to help others.

  22. I have never experienced this, despite living in India. You are a strong and a dignified lady. And one day i hope we live in a world where there is no gender discrimination.
    I am just 17 years old and i have got a bad english. So sorry if i made any mistake

  23. In addition to mercy, I think there should be more conversations surrounding men and their role in developing feminist ideals. Men are ignorant about feminism and what it is. They’re unaware that they, too, are victims of a patriarchal society, though obviously to a much lesser extent than women are. Men who enjoy traditionally feminine activities, such as cooking or sewing, are belittled; they are assumed to be hyper-sexual creatures without much of a choice; they must suffer when the women they love become victims of sexual assault or of gender-fuelled discrimination. Men should be involved in more dialogues concerning feminist developments because equality requires effort from both genders. What’s needed isn’t mercy, but rather forgiveness for their ignorance and a collaborative effort toward expanding perspectives and taking action.

    1. Agreed! A great point; thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m using “mercy” here much in the same sense that you’re using the word “forgiveness for their ignorance.”

  24. Reblogged this on Tana Daily Telegraph and commented:
    Your experience is, indeed, testimony christian scriptures, thus: And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. Of course every experience that we go through in life, presents an opportunity for us to learn from and overcome prejudice in society. You’re an inspiration to most of us.

  25. I can’t imagine what it must have been like growing up in such an environment – well done for not letting them take your voice, which is a very powerful one.

  26. It is always a blessing when our hearts are opened to compassion and forgiveness in situations in which they had trouble before. I am grateful for every such moment in my life and am happy you found one of your own and shared your thoughts so openly and honestly.

    Misogyny exists independent of nationality, religion, ethnicity or culture. It is something that all women from all backgrounds face in smaller or larger measure. I was neither homeschooled nor am I christian, but your experiences resonated with me just the same because something we do have in common is being women who experienced strong forms of misogyny. Sometimes I feel discriminated against only because of my most obvious differences, but I think we should focus more on sharing what we have in common and building the understanding that makes us realize that we are far more alike than we are different and that as we understand each other and come to love one another, compassion and mercy naturally follow, and the world is better for it.

  27. Even as a man, I’ve personally seen the misogyny in fundamentalist Baptist churches. I grew up in that cult. Maybe I’m a bit more receptive of it because I have ten sisters whom I saw treated horribly on account of their gender.

  28. Hi Abby,
    you wonder “what is the point? What is the spiritual fruit of this feeling of having escaped? ” Well, I think you gained the ability to fulfill your potential in terms of what you want to do with your life. You now have the wisdom and understanding that you won’t allow anyone or anything prevent you from working to achieve your dreams, just because you’re a woman.

  29. “Remembering this helps me have mercy on men who donโ€™t think feminism is needed or that women have enough rights already. Most likely, these men have never had anyone oppress them because they were male; the very notion is unfathomable to them. No one has ever told them that, merely because they were born male, they are less intelligent, incapable of leadership, intended to be subservient, or a sex object open to public derision and comment. It is therefore difficult for many men to be empathetic with women on this front.” NO YOU MORON, WE ARE OPPRESSED BECAUSE WE HAVE LESS RIGHTS THAN YOU DO AND YOU CAN”T SEE OR REFUSE TO SEE IT BECAUSE OF YOUR SELF ENTITLED ATTITUDES! MEN ARE THE TARGETS OF OPPRESSION EVERY DAY BY FEMINISTS AND THEIR AGENDA!

  30. I can relate to this. I grew up that way. I recently started blogging about my story. It’s hard being a woman in a culture were a woman’s worth is based on her virginity. Everyone deserves a voice regardless of sex, color, or age.

  31. Thank you for sharing your story with us. It took me many years of self analysis to be able to determine the fruits of discrimination members of my family experienced and the long term impact it had on us all. I wrote about some of it in “That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles” a book I made available for free on Smashwords in order to tell a story that needed telling.

    I too have experienced discrimination as a woman, both in the workforce and in church. Both are soul reducing but that’s not the story I wish to identify with or to have control my life!

  32. At 65 and male I have dealt with this issue with some success, if accepting the equality of women in the workplace, and in the bedroom can be a template to measure by? In my life experience however some women who blame men for their own inadequacies only create two wrongs that don’t make a right. Take responsibility for your choices.

  33. Well, all I could say is it really depends on the environment. I will admit that there was a division between girls and boys during my elementary years, as we went through the phase where boys thought I would give them cooties or such nonsense. However, once I reached high-school, I actually found myself hanging out with a lot of guys, as friends. They didn’t treat me according to my gender, but simply as a friend. It really depends on the cultural norms of a society, I guess.

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