It’s Still (Not That) Complicated

I was cleaning up today and came across my cousin’s book It’s (Not That) Complicated, in which they lay out their advice to young women waiting around for a husband (spoiler alert: they think you should ask your parents to screen applicants while you patiently do your father’s bidding at home) and flipped open to this passage, which was horrifying enough that I felt slightly sick to my stomach:

“Amazingly, the Bible does speak specifically to our parents’ role in our romantic lives. Deuteronomy 22 is a good place to start. Verses 13-21 lay out a law that God gave the Israelites regarding a young bride whose husband has accused her of not being a virgin on her wedding night. Interestingly, the young bride is not the defendant. Her father is.

The burden of evidence was placed on ‘the father of the young woman and her mother’ to prove that their daughter was a virgin, and the father was required to represent her. If she was proven innocent, the young man had to pay an enormous fine to the father for bringing ‘a bad name upon a virgin of Israel.’ But if the young woman was found guilty, verse 21 continues, ‘Then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and then men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So shall you purge the evil from your midst.’

Why? Why was it not entirely her own business? Why was she stoned at her father’s door and not her husband’s (or the door of her apartment)? What did her father have to do with something as personal to her as her own purity? Because God had placed the daughter under her father’s care, until the time when the father gave her to another man (as it is said in verse 16, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry…’) and her father was responsible for knowing that the purity of the bride he was giving away had been preserved for her husband. She — and the priceless gift of her purity — was not just hers to give. In the event that the young man had been defrauded of what was rightfully his, the responsibility fell on the guardian (father) as well as on her” (page 143).

The passage in question requires the parents of the accused girl to bring out “the cloak,” which refers to a cloth placed on the bridal bed. If it was bloody, that was “proof” that the girl had been a virgin, and if it wasn’t, that was proof that she was a “whore,” and should be bludgeoned to death with heavy rocks. As common as this practice may have been in certain parts of the world at certain times in our history — including some of the current-day Middle East — it is of course widely known at this point that this is about the least scientific way to prove or not prove virginity. At this point, any sane person should be thinking that this passage should be about the farthest thing from something we should aspire to. And yet, according to It’s (Not That) Complicated, we are to draw an important lesson from it: it’s partially the dad’s fault if a daughter doesn’t bleed on her wedding night, and a husband has been “defrauded of what was rightfully his” by the same token. Because obviously, making his bride bleed on their first night together is what every dude should aspire to as his God-given duty, and killing her if that doesn’t happen is the next natural, logical step. And her father should totally approve of this arrangement.

That is one horrible father. So, sorry, and you can call me a feminist for wanting the value of a woman’s life to lie somewhere above the value of a tricky little medical membrane, but you failed to convince me that I should be seeking out that kind of “protection” — either from such a father or such a husband.

9 thoughts on “It’s Still (Not That) Complicated

  1. Thank you. Thank you so much for this. It’s sickening to think that there are some who judge a woman on the condition of her hymen. A woman’s worth is the same, whether she chooses for herself to abstain from sex until she marries, or if she has slept her way through Pittsburgh.

    You are a real class act, and I admire you.

    1. All of my posts on homeschool/patriarchal culture are categorized as such, for the reason that it’s way more popular here than in most other places (at least as it relates to Christianity, anyway).

  2. Katie, I have recently rediscovered your blog and am enjoying your articles. I grew up in the branch of fundamentalist ‘Christianity’ promoted by Vision Forum et all, and it is fascinating to read assessments of the culture by someone in your position.

    I was fortunate: my parents did not wholeheartedly support Biblical Patriarchy, and they eventually encouraged me to go to college, yet the teachings of Doug Phillips, the Botkins, Stacy McDonald and others led to some really devastating long-term issues in my life. I was out of the movement by the time Complicated came out, but I read So Much More and watched Return of the Daughters. I can still remember the helpless rage, self-hatred and despair I felt at being told (as it seemed to me) that I was rebellious, worldly, and ruled by my own flesh if I disagreed with their views. Those descriptions might not seem too severe, but to someone who’s grown up in the movement, they are so disheartening.

    I felt I had no hope of ever being the perfect young woman they held up as an ideal: helping my father’s ‘vision’, working at home, unselfish. I was working on a historical film at the time (I was 16), and I felt so guilty, because that seemed like a ‘selfish personal interest’, that wasn’t even explicitly Christian or family-oriented. I struggled with whether or not to go to college, I fought with depression and self-injury, I still deal with overwhelming shame and self-hatred.

    I realize some of these problems may have been made worse by my own natural perfectionistic tendencies. But I have read so many harrowing stories from young people who’ve been absolutely abused by their families and religions through these same beliefs. The Botkin sisters and the former Vision Forum are of course only part of a larger destructive trend of dominionism, legalism and religious patriarchy that afflicts the Christian church. I hurt so much for all those, children and parents alike, who’ve been oppressed through this movement. It is hard not to be angry at the ‘leaders’ who’ve preached these things. I don’t hate them, I think most of them are doing what they believe is right, but it is so frustrating when allegations of wrongdoing are met with disbelief and criticism.
    To me, the Botkins (sisters and father alike) have always seemed so sure of themselves that I can’t imagine them accepting the story of someone like me. I feel that if I ever got the chance to confront them personally about the harm their teachings have done, their beliefs would not be shaken and I would be dismissed as a rebellious child…and I would believe it. Katie, do you have any knowledge about how your cousins respond to or feel about the criticism that they doubtless receive? I sent them a lengthy email, years ago, expressing these things, and didn’t get a response. I know it’s impossible to respond to all critics, but it would be interesting to know if they do thoughtfully engage with pushback. I have had some pretty negative experiences with other patriarchal leaders responding to criticism in the most intellectually closed way.

    Anyways, I know this was a long rambly rant. Mostly I wanted to say, thank you for writing, and I will look forward to anything else you may write, particularly on the topic of dominionism.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share all of this, Bathany. I can completely relate. I’m sorry that my cousins didn’t reply to your letter, and I know how utterly frustrating and demoralizing it is to be told by someone you respect (or are supposed to respect) that anything you do outside some fairly arbitrary, rigid boundary is sinful/rebellious. Especially when, as you say, you’re perfectionistic anyway, and you’re not sure you agree, but disagreement is just labeled rebellion… and around it goes.

      I’ve written them my own e-mails, and they responded very charitably, though obviously with the same interpretations of everything that they express elsewhere. When a family or culture is that insulated, it becomes very difficult to see the logic behind any real, systemic disagreement, I think. If something seems to be working for them, they’re not going to see the point of doing anything differently, even in grossly different circumstances.

      The bottom line is, what you say and think and feel matters, despite all the messages in this culture to the contrary. It is not wrong to think, to feel, or to disagree with anyone. And it’s OK to live your life accordingly. Sometimes it’s hard to come to the place where you can do that without feeling guilty, so be compassionate with yourself, and with those around you. And know that you aren’t alone.

      1. Katie, thank you for your response, and for expressing some of the difficulties of growing up in that belief system better than I can!
        I agree with your assessment of the difficulty for people in very isolated settings to see beyond their own beliefs, particularly when they so deeply believe they are doing God’s will.
        Thank you again for your writing, and your support.

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