Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teenage Identity Crisis

Every kid reaches that age where they struggle to discover who they really are. It is natural to the process of growing up. We stop defining ourselves by our family, and start defining ourselves by our friends. We naturally want to push the limits, push our bodies, and push the rules. During this time, our dreams and feelings are larger than life, and Oh-so-real. Parents often make the mistake of shrugging off the teenage years as a “faze” in which their kids are overcome by hormones. They often chuckle behind closed doors about the latest “teenage moment” and make their kids feel patronized and misunderstood. Parents long for the day that their teen’s hormone levels will normalize and they will have an adult on their hands instead of a large, moody child. Talking and listening to your teenager is the best thing you can do for them. As young adults, all we want is to be taken seriously, and to be heard. The teenage years are a beautiful, fragile time in which children become adults.

In a Fundamentalist Christian household, the teenage years can be a very different story. My parents didn’t want their daughters to grow up. Ever. We were trained to serve and submit from an early age. Pushing the limits was NEVER tolerated. Emotions were either irrelevant, or labeled as rebellion. As early as age 11, I remember having those “teenage moments” of huge emotion. Like every kid, I felt misunderstood and unjustly suppressed. Instead of being asked how I felt, or what was wrong, I was taught that my emotions were the manifestation of my sinful nature.

Tired and sore in all the wrong places? Laziness, Sloth.
Sad, depressed? = Bad Attitude, Selfishness.
Anger? = Rebellion.

Whenever I showed emotion, my mother would be disappointed. “this is isn’t the Sarah I know!” she would say. “who are you trying to imitate?” She wouldn’t let me see my friends anymore. Not even my cousins. Because I was “copying” them and not acting like the sweet happy daughter she knew. Instead of asking me what was wrong, or how I felt, she questioned my identity. As a teenager, I was already struggling to discover myself. She told me that she knew me better than anyone else. I tried so hard to be who she wanted me to be. How could she love someone who wasn’t her daughter anymore? I second guessed every word I said. I was paranoid that my motives were impure, that I was a copy cat, that I had no personality. I am still struggling to trust myself, all these years later.
 I remember at around age 13 I rolled my eyes at my dad. This was a BIG no-no. Sighing, stomping, folding my arms, and rolling my eyes were all deserving of a spanking. He grew angry and ordered me to come to him for a spanking. The injustice of it all welled up in my chest and I suddenly shouted out “No!” He was shocked. I was terrified. My legs took over and I took off running down the hall. I had never run from him before. He caught me, in what turned out to be one of my worst memories of my dad. He grabbed me by the arm and threw me into the bathroom. I tried to apologize, but he mashed my face into the corner. I screamed and I cried and I begged, and I hated myself for every “I’m sorry” and every “please stop.” I had hand prints on my arms and bruising on my face. The wooden spoon left bruises all over my newly developing body. And I hated myself. My mouth had betrayed me. If I hadn’t shouted that word this would never have happened. My body had betrayed me as well. If I hadn’t ran away, my punishment would not have been so severe.

 I hated myself for not having total control over my sin nature. I started cutting myself. I picked apart shavers with a pair of tweezers and saved the individual razor blades. It was freeing to exercise this type of control. It was like bleeding out all my emotions so they could not cause me problems throughout the day. It was freeing, it was addicting, it was frightening. My body learned to crave punishment, and I learned to oblige. When growth spurts made me so hungry it hurt, I agonize over every bite I ate. I would stare for hours in the mirror, begging for the courage to deny myself these gluttonous urges. I cut myself again and again. For every extra bite, for every surge of anger, for every misplaced tear.

My parents were happy with me. I was showing self control. I was being their sweet compliant daughter again. My mother was happy to have me back. She thought she knew me so well. Thought she had encouraged me right back into the girl I used to be. But every conversation was tailored to please. I had no idea who I was anymore. I was a bloody, torn mess, buried under a hard shell called Self Control.

 Parents, your children are going to change. Please let them. Don’t pretend to know them. Ask them questions, listen to them talk, and understand that their reality is just as important as your own. Don’t use the teenage identity crisis as an excuse to avoid meaningful conversation. You’re children will grow and change whether you want them to or not.

If you want to have any influence on the rest of their lives, embrace them for who they are.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Conservative Christian Speaks out Against Misogyny

A few months ago, Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson posted a video on youtube in which he blamed women for all of societies problems. "It's unfortunate that men are so weak that they allow these women to just run wild, and screw up everything, including their souls, and their children." He said. "And if you speak up about it, Satan got it set up, through the women, that you're going to be punished in some way." From behind the pulpit, he insisted women are incapable of leadership, and that they should not be allowed to vote. Think I'm kidding? Watch it for yourself here. When I first saw the video, it was all I could talk about for days.

About a week ago, Peterson was on the Hannity show on Fox News. I didn't see it because I don't watch Fox News. But my husband, who is a staunch conservative, watches regularly. Kirsten Powers was on Hannity at the same time, and she interrupted Hannity in the middle of a segment and asked Peterson to explain his misogynistic youtube rant. Neither Hannity nor Fox news saw fit to address the subject and the whole event was swept neatly under the rug.
My husband, who generally shrugs off my feminist tirades, surprised me today by writing a letter to Hannity, calling him out on his choice of guests and friends. He sent the letter to Fox News, Hannity himself, and the station that broadcasts the Hannity Radio program. 

Dear Mr. Hannity,

I am a 21 year old married college student and a lifelong  advocate of conservatism.  I appreciate what you have done and continue to do to advance the cause of freedom in our Country. Recently an exchange on your show between Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson and Kirsten Powers piqued my interest.  I soon found myself watching a video in which Mr. Peterson delivers a sermon filled with indefensible comments about women, including that they should have never been granted the right to vote and that women are responsible for the introduction of all the evils we face in the modern age. I do not toe the line that there is an organized war on women, and for that reason I believe a statement like this must not go unrecognized. As a Christian, I understand that every man, woman, and child is born with original sin. To suggest that women are disproportionately guilty of bringing evil into our world is not only cowardly and self serving, but poor theology. Frankly, Mr. Peterson is not fit to be on local TV network, let alone a show with your reach and influence and preaching the Word of God.  I implore you to at the very least make a statement condemning a painfully obvious example of sexism (fuel for the "war on women" argument) that originated from a conservative contributor to your very show. If you choose not to address this issue then I understand that either this man's friendship means more to you than the credibility of your show and the conservative movement, or that you yourself agree with the egregious statements made by Rev. Peterson.

 [Enigma's Husband]

 Let's see if it goes anywhere, after all, I'm sure Fox and Friends will listen more closely to a Conservative Christian man...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Raised Quiverfull

Libby Anne is publishing a new series over at her blog Love, Joy, Feminism. It is a set of questions and answers from adults who were raised in patriarchal, quiverfull, evangelical homes. Libby interviewed 9 men and women including myself, and she is publishing a new segment a few times per week. It's a great series, you should check it out!