Patriarchy is so deeply embedded in modern culture that we may not realize the many ways that it’s harming women and girls.
Emily Elizabeth Anderson is back on the BTR.ORG podcast, offering her unique perspective as a practicing Christian who has left fundamentalism. Together, she and Anne share their insights on the deeply harmful nature of patriarchy. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR.ORG podcast for more.
Patriarchy Finds Ways to Treat Women & Girls Like Property
Pre-1800’s, women were literally property under the law.
While women fought for change, misogynists fought for ways to continue to treat women and girls like property:
“Fathers said to their daughters’ new husbands, she was my property, but now she’s gonna be your property. Except for, that just was not the right thing to say anymore after the late 1800’s. And so then they were like, ‘Oh, what are we gonna say now? Oh, I know. We’ll say our God-given authority over them is being transferred.'”
Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG
Patriarchy Isolates and Controls Women & Girls
At varying levels, when women and girls are subjected to a patriarchal system, they experience isolation and control:
- They may not be allowed to attend public school
- They may not be allowed to attend college
- They may have to dress according to certain standards (decided by men)
- They may not be allowed to work outside of the home
- They may not be allowed to spend money without their husband’s permission
- They may be coerced to work outside the home, but not have any control over their own income
- They may not be allowed to associate with anyone outside of their high-control religious community and/or family
- They may not be allowed to participate in religious rituals without their husband present
- They may not be allowed to read scripture or pray
- They may be coerced to homeschool their own children
- They may be conditioned to raise their children in a similarly oppressive system
- They may be coerced to marry early or against their own desires
- They may be coerced into sexual activity
- They may not be allowed to question their husband’s behavior – even abusive behavior
Patriarchy Enables Abuse
In a system where women and girls are conditioned and coerced into silence and submission, men have free reign to control and abuse. Patriarchal systems enable abuse because men and male leadership enable and support each other in their abusiveness.
When patriarchal systems meet religion, women and girls are especially susceptible to spiritual and religious abuse, because men will say that they are acting in the name of God, and women and girls face the threat of eternal punishment if they don’t obey their abuser.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
If you have been conditioned to believe seeking safety from abuse is sinful and that you must submit to your abusive husband in order to please God, please know that we are here for you. At BTR.ORG, we understand how hopeless it can feel to go against what you’ve been taught and brought up to believe, in pursuit of your own safety and the safety of your children.
You don’t have to do this alone – attend a BTR.ORG Group Session today and find a community that understands and validates you.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. I have Emily Elizabeth Anderson back on today’s episode. If you did not hear our episode from last week, go there first. Listen to that one and then join us here. We’ll just jump right in. When we’re talking about the patriarchal mindset that’s common in so many different patriarchal organizations, what theological ideations, if any, contribute to that mindset?
I think patriarchalists often like to start at the very beginning with first book of the Bible, and they love to explain the Eve was deceived in the garden and that if Adam had been there, then perhaps she wouldn’t have been deceived. Which is quite funny because if you read scripture, it says, after she took of the fruit and ate, she gave it to Adam who was with her. So it seems pretty clear in scripture that he was actually with her. But they love to say that because Eve was deceived, um, women are more naturally deceived and so they need protection from men. And just in the last week I have listened to two different teachers use the exact phrase that men are rescuers of women and that that is actually a God-ordained position that men are supposed to rescue women from being deceived from any kind of harm that could come to them in the world.
Does the Bible Support the Patriarchy?
So men are supposed to be protectors, they’re supposed to be providers, they’re supposed to lead their family spiritually. So often that means that the husband or the man is supposed to be reading the scripture to the family and interpreting the scripture to the family because since women are deceived, they can easily be confused by scripture and not be able to interpret it properly. So they have to have a man interpret it for them. So a lot of times there’s a big focus on Genesis as the reason why patriarchy is God-ordained. Also, of course, Ephesians 5 21, the verse on submission is brought up quite frequently, but the verse actually says, submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. So even in Ephesians we see it clearly stating that a husband and wife are to be on mutual ground. They’re supposed to submit to one another. And I think in this instance, submit would be well translated as to serve one another or to give priority to each other’s preferences. So it’s talking about just kindness and Christ-like behavior toward one another. I I, I do not see that as a command to authority whatsoever.
From what you just said, the main thing that is deceiving women is men.
So if you really are concerned that women are being deceived, then you should be like, who is deceiving them? And it’s not their fault they’re being deceived. It’s the abusers who are lying and manipulating them. Women are deceived by what?
By wicked men. That’s who they’re deceived by. And it’s not their fault. That’s funny. I’m like, maybe you should be trustworthy and then you wouldn’t have to worry about it. What does life look like for a woman in the most severe patriarchal Christian organizations?
The Patriarchy Views Women and Girls as Property
Hmm. I have seen it start with daughters at home where they are told that they must have an authority figure over them, and their God-given authority is their father. And that that authority remains until they’re married. So in these patriarchal organizations, I’ve been to a lot of weddings, and there’s almost always a transfer of authority section in the, in the marriage ceremony. So the father walks the girl down the aisle and he’s holding her hand and then he gives this like blessing over her. And then this speech about how he’s been entrusted with her and he’s been her authority all these years. And like I’ve seen this with 41 year old women. This is not just young girls, but even 41 year old women that have continued to stay at home to be under their father’s authority. And then he moves her hand into her groom’s hand and does this, like I’m transferring the authority over to the groom. Anyway, so I’ve seen that a lot.
That makes sense with what the turning of the tide thing said about how it was just property before. So essentially you’re yes, you’re like, okay, she was my property, but now she’s gonna be your property. Except for, that just was not the right thing to say anymore after the 18, late 18 hundreds. And so then they were like, oh, what are we gonna say now? Oh, I know. We’ll say our God-given authority over them as being transferred. That sounds very similar to that.
The Patriarchy Seeks to Control Women’s Choices
Yes. Yes. So women raised in patriarchal organizations are often discouraged from working outside the home or for making any kind of income, cause that would be the man’s responsibility. And so they’re usually stay-at-home moms, they’re usually homeschooling their children. And I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom by any means. Nothing wrong with homeschooling, but it’s the idea that that is more biblical than a woman who chooses to be a provider for her family, a financial provider. That’s, that’s what bothers me. Every family I think gets to decide the dynamics and who has which responsibilities and how those responsibilities are divided, divided up. But it’s not more biblical for a woman to be a stay-at-home mom and for the husband to be the primary bread winner women because they’re told that they’re so easily deceived. They are encouraged to consult their husbands on all decisions no matter how small, any kind of financial decision or decision for the family or even when it comes to like buying kids clothes.
I mean, little stuff like that. I’ve seen women having to get their husband’s permission before they do anything. I’ve seen women not allowed to take communion unless it’s given to them by their husband. I’ve seen some churches where if a woman comes in and she’s single, or heaven forbid she’s divorced, and has children with her, she’s not allowed to go up and receive communion on her own. An elder has to bring it to her. These women are often encouraged to not leave abusive relationships, of course, often not told what abuse looks like, but if they go to their pastor and they’re explaining an abusive situation, they’re frequently told, you just need to submit more. You need to pray quietly. Have a meek, quiet, submissive spirit. Pray for your husband. God will get ahold of him so just lavish him, lavish him with love and affection and sex.
The Patriarchy Conditions Women to be Abused
And that will just make him adore you and will encourage him to treat you in a Christ-like manner. I’ve heard that more times than I can count. Women were also not allowed to confront their husband and they’re not allowed to have an adult to an adult relationship because instead there’s this more parent-child dynamic. Because since the husband has this authority position over his wife, he has power and control over her. And they, they don’t have this just equal, let’s talk to each other as adults talk to each other. I can call you out. You can call me out. We can hold each other, um, responsible for things. You know, like you don’t see that in these patriarchal worlds.
Yeah. That’s very fertile ground for abuse in those cases because women think they’re following God by submitting to a lot of times just flat out wickedness. And that is really hard, especially in situations where a man is using porn and maybe, maybe she’s not aware of it or he’s soliciting prostitutes or he has some wicked behavior that she’s not aware of and she’s submitting to his desires or other things she might not even know. She’s submitting to wickedness. And I think that’s really important to let women know that you’re not required to submit to wickedness. In fact, God wants you to turn away from that. For women who are finding themselves in this fog of abuse and they’re not quite able to see what’s really going on, why do you think fundamentalism appeals to them? Like why are women not just wholesale, like what I’m out, you know, why are they feeling so passionate and so convicted that this is God’s plan for them?
Why Is Fundamentalism Appealing?
I’ve seen a few different dynamics at play. Um, first I call fundamentalism the gumball gospel. So you put a quarter in and you get a gumball out. And so it’s very predictable and there is a false sense of security in that promised predictability. Um, so you are told if you follow the rules, then this is gonna happen. If you follow all the courtship impurity rules, then you are going to have a fantastic marriage that doesn’t have any conflict and you’re gonna have an amazing sex life. Your husband will never cheat on you. They’re told that if you are following all these rules, then you’re going to be financially blessed. Your children will grow up as devout followers of Christ and they will not fall away as, as some would say. So there’s, there’s just a lot of promise of happiness and just everything turning out right, you know, happy, fulfilling marriages and not having any, any struggles.
And that goes completely against scripture where Jesus was very clear. We live in a broken world. You’re going to experience pain, you’re going to experience hardship and brokenness is going to be all around you and you’re going to experience these things. And you know, we’re supposed to keep our eyes focused on him and realize that this world is our temporary home and we’re supposed to keep our eyes on our future home and realize that, you know, that is where we’re going to experience the perfection of God. It’s not going to be on this earth. And just because you’re experiencing pain here on this earth, it does not mean that you’re not following God or that God is upset with you. It’s, it’s, it’s really toxic lie that I’ve seen told again and again.
When Victims Feel Betrayed by Religious Narratives
And I think when it doesn’t work out like that, that’s why women feel so betrayed by religion, right? They feel so betrayed cause they’re like, I did everything I was supposed to do. And in, in fact I married a quote unquote godly man. He checked all the boxes and you told me if I did that, that I would have a peaceful, happy marriage, but instead I’m just being abused. So explain to me how this works. It wouldn’t it have been more useful for you to educate me about abuse? But since they don’t understand abuse, they can’t really educate people about it. That’s part of the problem.
Yeah. It’s very, very sad. I’ve also seen a couple of other dynamics as far as why it looks so appealing in that, first of all, abusers love it because it is a golden ticket for them to be able to abuse all they want and have power and authority and control over their victims all they want and be able to do it in the name of God, which personally is what I think blasphemy looks like. Not just saying God’s name when you stub your toe. Anyway, side note. But also I’ve seen women confess that they consider it a lack of responsibility. So I’ve heard women say, I love it because if something goes wrong in the family, it’s not my fault, it’s my husband’s fault. He’s the leader, he messed up.
“The Life You Want, You Can Build For Yourself”
That’s interesting. I’ve never been that type of person. It might feel like safety to them, right? That maybe that’s what feels safe to them. But that’s, that’s interesting. I think a lot of women just feel like they can’t maybe get what they want. Like what they want is a peaceful life. And instead of them maybe going to law school, they’re like, oh, I will marry an attorney. Right. Or something like that. And I wanna tell women, the life you want you can build for yourself. You can do what you want. You don’t need to find someone else to do it for you. And it’s a long process and it’s a lot of hard work, but you are worth it. And the cool thing is you are the one that you can rely on, right? You can depend on yourself and you can show up for yourself, which is really important. And I think that’s what God wants for his daughters. What do you think God has to say about fundamentalism and patriarchy?
Well, as I began my, what I call deconstruction process, and that was not deconstruction from Christianity, but deconstructing from fundamentalism and realizing what, what Jesus actually looked like, what his character really looked like. And not just depending on what I have been taught all these years about what the Bible says about X, Y, Z. And so when I study the scriptures, I prefer to read them through the lens of the heart of Jesus. And when I first started counseling, I joined a Bible study and we were in the Book of John. It was the best book that I could have started with because I think out of all four gospels, John really gets to the heart and the character of Jesus probably better than than the others. And you see his tender care toward women and how he broke these social norms again and again, whether it was his conversation with the Samaritan woman and his graciousness and kindness toward her, he did not shame her.
Healthy Relationships Do NOT Include a “Power Over” Dynamic
He saw her as a victim and he had such a love for her and he empowered her as the first evangelist. Like he not only was the first, she was the first one that he told that he was the Messiah, but then he told her to go and, and tell the town he didn’t shame her for, for the circumstances she was living in, but he actually gave her respect and honor by speaking to her. And we see this with the women that accompanied him in his ministry on earth. And we see his, his respect again and again. And so I encourage women when you’re reading scriptures, keep that in mind and realize that nowhere do we see Jesus encouraging one human having power and control over another. We don’t see it in Genesis either. When God created an Adam and Eve, he gave them dominion over the earth together.
We don’t see that he gave any kind of authority over one human, over another. So I don’t believe that was ever part of his plan. So whether it’s in Genesis or it is seeing God’s provision for women through the Old Testament that were downcast in society, they were shunned, they were abuse victims. We saw his provision for them in the Old Testament, then we saw his, his actual personal interaction with women in the New Testament. And then we see the beginnings of the early church and we see how women had positions in the early church of ministry. It’s like again and again, I look through these verses that fundamentalists want to pick out, that seem to support patriarchy. And I say, let’s look at that through the whole picture. Let’s look at that through the whole lens and really see does does God really encourage patriarchy over women? And I, I just don’t see it happening.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.
Back to our interview. God loves us, loves us, and wants us to have peace and also wants us to be able to benefit from our own righteousness. Part of the problem with abuse is regardless of how righteous you are, you cannot benefit from your own righteousness when you’re being abused. Because the point of righteousness, the point of being healthy for, for my listening friends who perhaps aren’t religious, so let’s just maybe call it the point of being healthy, right? Emotionally healthy is to have peace, is to bring happiness and joy into our lives. That’s the whole point. But when you’re being abused, you cannot feel that no matter how healthy you are because you’re just constantly experiencing someone else’s bad choices. And that is no fun. Right? We all know right. That that’s miserable. So I think like God wants us to be able to benefit from our own healthy and righteous choices.
“As You Submit to Abuse, The Abuser Just Gets What They Want”
Yes. Yes. And though he said we would endure pain, I do believe he has so many good gifts for us here to enjoy. And I believe that he cares about his daughters and the safety of his daughters and he would never want his daughters to be submitting to abuse in the name of God.
Yeah. I think when women do that, they also feel a sense of perhaps control. Right? Maybe if I do submit my life will be good and things will turn out okay not knowing that there’s no end to abuse. So as you submit to abuse, the abuser just gets what they want. Sure. And they continue to say, oh, this worked so I can continue doing this. So submitting doesn’t, doesn’t solve the problem when it comes to abuse,
For women who are beginning to deconstruct their personal experiences and realizing that they also suffered from spiritual abuse and that part of the, the reason why, um, they were in so much fog is because it wasn’t just their husband, it was also the system of misogyny. What are some of your favorite resources for women beginning to deconstruct from the fog of abuse?
Resources For Women Deconstructing Abuse
There are so many, um, but some of my top ones, I would say that specifically break down the patriarchal mindset and um, will perhaps give you some new insight on those verses that have previously been weaponized against you. Uh, one of my favorite books is 10 Lies The Church Tells Women by Jay Lee Grady. Rebecca Davis has a series of books called Untwisting Scriptures, which is very good. The Eden Podcast with Bruce CE Fleming is great to dig in if you really want to study Genesis and Creation and how God designed relationships from the beginning. Um, and then a couple of other books that I love are Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Amy Bird and The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr.
Thank you for sharing those. I appreciate that. You know, one of the things that abusive men have stolen from women is their faith. So, so many women have experienced all this abuse and so just even talking about scripture or even attending a a a service or something is so traumatic. So for women who are listening who are really traumatized by even just the thought of reading scripture or you know, something like that, our heart goes out to you. We know that that has been very difficult and I want to leave a space for you if you’ve chosen to step away from your faith because of your trauma. And we honor that here knowing that that’s a difficult, difficult situation. So for women in that situation, Emily, do you have anything to say as we conclude about, um, perhaps some just comfort for them that perhaps where they are is just fine and God loves them anyway, or some, some type of comfort that you might be able to offer women who have lost their faith due to abuse?
“It’s Completely Okay to Take a Step Back”
Yes, I agree. It is completely okay to take a step back whether that is taking a step back from church because you’ve been an abusive of church is your whole life, and instead you choose to find safe community elsewhere. I’ve stepped away from church for a few years, um, at the beginning of my deconstruction and I did eventually find a place that I have found to be safe so far. But that can be pretty uncommon. And so if you need to totally take a step back, there are, there is so much safe community to be found elsewhere, um, and healing to be found in safe relationships outside of the church. I did dig into scripture because I had had scripture used as a weapon against me and I wanted to know what it really said. But there are books of the Bible that I still have not opened in the past six years through my deconstruction process because they’re just too triggering and certain passages of scripture that I just can’t do.
And I think God understands that and um, I think he speaks to me in other ways. So whether you’re taking a step back only on certain things or just entirely, I think there’s just so much healing to be found in therapy, safe relationships. Um, if you wanna continue to pray, I think you can do that anywhere. You know, and I, I think God sees your pain, he sees the abuse you’ve been through and he’s weeping for you because of all the abuse you’ve been through. And I think he wants to heal that, but I think he also understands that space is needed sometimes and you need to step away from organized religion for a while in order to heal and sometimes to find the heart of God.
BTR.ORG Is Interfaith – All Are Welcome & Loved Here
Yeah. And I’m so grateful for Betrayal Trauma Recovery. We’re interfaith. I am an active devout member of my faith and attend church and read scriptures and stuff like that, but I really respect all women for where they are and I want them to know that they’re welcome here. And I’m so grateful for those of you who maybe aren’t of any faith or maybe there are atheists listening. And I just wanna thank you for giving us a space to be able to share our experience in our way and be able to define what this has meant for us. Right. And, and everyone is welcome here. So thank, I’m so grateful that BTR is such a robust community of women who might disagree about, you know, whatever, but we all agree about abuse and that we need to support each other and it’s a really strong community in that way. And so thank you so much for coming on today’s episode.
Thank you. It’s been amazing. It’s been wonderful to get to meet you and to chat and, um, thank you for the opportunity.
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