What Happens to the Daughters?

I grew up in a very conservative Christian home. My parents encouraged me and my sister to wear skirts. I remember some talk about raising your daughters to be “keepers at home,” and I’m pretty sure they read at least one book on courtship. I’m not sure that they went much further than that with trying to make us proper daughters. I did, though. In high school, I read a number of blogs on things like “Beautiful Womanhood” and daughters of Virtue and whatever else you want to call it.

I’m not going to lie: there were some benefits. I got a lot of encouragement on making a good use of my time, and loving my family, and many other very good things. So far so good. Still, I don’t go in for such reading much anymore.

What’s bothering me?

What happens when your expectation is that adult daughters stay at home until they are married? That depends on the family, but it opens up the possibility of some very bad things happening.

Some people enjoy controlling other people, and when you tell them it is their duty to take charge of their adult daughters, bad things may happen. Even worse if the daughters don’t believe they have any other legitimate options.

Parents don’t just take charge of minor decisions: they may feel free to decide where (and if) their daughter can work, whether she can go to school, and, of course, who she can marry. This is done in the name of protecting daughters. It may work out that way sometimes.

Imagine, though, that your parents decide everything about what you can do and where you can go and your only hope of escape is marriage. If that’s not bad enough, your parents get to decide who you marry.

Sure, maybe for a lot of people all that is is veto-power. Maybe they won’t make you marry someone (although, I won’t say I haven’t heard of it happening. Or at least of a lot of parental pressure being applied to convince the young lady to marry the approved suitor. How true these stories are . . . I can’t be the judge.), but they certainly can tell you who not to marry. This means if you want to get out from under Mommy and Daddy’s control, good luck. Maybe you can find a reasonable guy whom they will approve, but he better mind his p’s and q’s during your courtship and engagement, or it all will be for naught, and you’ll have to put up with Mommy and Daddy for a while longer until you can find a suitable replacement.

Okay. So appeal to someone. Surely somebody else can talk reason into them?

Maybe. But if all of your friends run in the same circles, they won’t be eager to do anything. They’re going to agree in principle about parental authority and therefore probably are not inclined to look at the situation to see if maybe something is not kosher. Expectations are such that the issue could easily be framed as the daughter being rebellious, no matter how unreasonable the parents may actually be. Many defenses of keeping daughters at home and the courtship model have been written already. Mom and Dad can retreat behind those and may never have to argue their own case themselves. The daughter now gets to choose whether she will submit or be labeled a rebel by everyone she knows. Things are not looking good.


Loving the Victim

What is abuse?

Have you given this question much thought? I hadn’t, I really hadn’t, until about a year and a half ago. Obviously we all have some concept of what “abuse” is, and we probably separate it into different categories: “Sexual abuse,” “physical abuse,” and maybe “mental/emotional abuse.”

Great. So you have some categories. Maybe you could write a definition. But would you know it when you saw it?

I don’t know about you. I don’t have a good answer for that. I think that I would be more likely to recognize abuse than I was a couple of years ago. I think I have a better idea of how abusers and manipulators behave than I used to. I’ve met a few and read about more. Still, there’s room to learn more.

Here’s a hypothetical for you: What would you do if a friend’s daughter came to you and told you her parents were abusing her? How would you respond?

Would you be inclined to take it more seriously if it was one form of abuse than another?

I’m going to assume that many would take very seriously accusations of sexual and physical abuse (although that is by no means a given; you can find many stories of pastors and Christian friends ignoring kids’ complaints of these kinds of abuse, too). But what if the complaint was harder to evaluate?

How would you respond if she said her parents’ abuse was mainly in the form of emotional abuse? Maybe her parents frequently yell at her and berate her and use guilt and manipulation tactics to control her. Would you think that was serious?

Maybe, but maybe not. It seems that a common response is to tell girls* to suck it up. Some sympathy might be forthcoming, but it’s quite possible that the friend or authority figure being appealed to would encourage the girl to simply look on this as her cross to bear.

Of course, there is some legitimacy to this. We can’t all run away from difficult family situations. Everyone has to put up with some unpleasantness at home. There will be sin in every family. We’re all human.

But not every family situation is alike. There is a difference between a loving family environment with some strife and a family environment characterized by strife and misery.

It is possible for someone to live in fear, to feel trapped and alone, without being physically harmed. This being the case, thoughtful Christians have a duty to educate themselves on this kind of abuse and learn how to respond with wisdom and love when someone is in need of help. I’m not entirely sure what all this may entail, but I intend to figure it out. What about you?



*I say girls, because in the uber-conservative circles I run in girls tend to stay at home longer and to be much more controlled and restricted by their parents; this is not to deny that boys might not find themselves in a similar situation.