A fundamentalist Christian family is a hard place for a woman to grow up. I was taught by my parents (and, more urgently, by all the books available to me) that a woman’s place is in the home. A woman’s highest calling is marriage and child-rearing. All of my talents and abilities and dreams could be met and fulfilled in building a happy home for my family. If (god forbid) I were to end up single, I could be a nurse, like Florence Nightingale, or a missionary, or maybe a teacher. I didn’t know anyone with a career, as far as I knew. There actually were some women at church who had jobs, but they were either single or else I didn’t know that they had jobs. It was just assumed by everyone that the normal pattern was for a woman to marry and give up her job as soon as she had kids, to dedicate herself full-time to taking care of them and, most likely, homeschooling them. After all, Paul wanted women “to be keepers at home.” And what someone wanted for women two thousand years ago is obviously the best thing possible for all women throughout time.
But two women slipped through the cracks and crept into my early image of successful womanhood. Of course later, as my view of the world widened, there would be others, but these two I knew from early on in my childhood, and each holds a place in my heart.
When you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I (not feeling that motherhood right away would be my path) would respond either teacher or nurse, and singer. Singer? What a random career option. This is because we had some old records by Amy Grant, which my mom had recorded onto tapes, which I listened to constantly. She inspired me to enjoy singing, and I wanted so badly to be like her, singing such beautiful songs for a living. I imagined being on a stage, people clapping for me. The dream was squashed by two things. First, when Amy Grant got a divorce, I felt terribly betrayed. I was too young to understand the reasons why it was actually a good thing for her to get out of that marriage, and I had been taught that divorce is a horrible sin. I wouldn’t listen to her music for months afterward. The second dream-squasher was being taught that everything needs to be done for god, not for oneself. This led me to believe that performance was in some way wrong, perhaps not for other people but for a selfish, prideful person like me, it certainly would be.
My other early female inspiration was Captain Kathryn Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager. The series ran from the time I was five years old until I was eleven, and oh, how I wanted to be Captain Janeway. I recall in particular one birthday party, I couldn’t have been older than six, where we went to a park and played on one of those big playground structures. I ignored all the other kids at the party and ran around the playground structure pretending to be Captain Janeway commanding the starship Voyager. I sucked in my stomach because I thought that made it look like I was a grown-up woman with boobs, lending me more credibility in the character of female spaceship captain.
I have literally no clue how I continued to want to be Captain Janeway alongside being taught harmful patriarchal bullshit about having to be a totally submissive wife and mother with no career or dreams or goals of her own except serving her family. I don’t know how Janeway survived my upbringing, how she remained enshrined in my heart as a totally badass role model, but she did.
Maybe it’s like the way I believed in both evolution and creation at the same time. My Grandpa gave us books about dinosaurs and fossils and I devoured them (as I devoured all books), and somehow held separate in my mind two alternate timelines for the universe. The first timeline was illustrated by the pictures in my bible story books, god creating everything from nothing, the luscious garden scenes, the temptation and fall of mankind, the flood, and then it appeared that everybody lived in the desert for a long time, with camels and stuff. The second timeline was illustrated by the dinosaur books and a couple other books that managed to slip through the cracks. There were volcanoes and organisms crawling out of the water, sea monsters and dinosaurs and cave men. There were magical words like “Jurassic” and “Cretaceous” and “trilobite.” The evolutionary timeline seemed more like a fantasy than the biblical timeline, just because it wasn’t continuously reinforced during every waking moment. But the evolutionary timeline was so taboo I got an almost sexual thrill from thinking about it, reading about it, looking at those strange landscapes and animals, and I thought that it, too, along with the bible taken in a strictly literal sense, was true. There’s no way to reconcile how I was taught the bible with the evolutionary theory, but yet those beliefs coexisted in my mind. In the same way, there’s no way to reconcile the patriarchy I was brought up in with an admiration of Captain Janeway, but I held on to both anyway.
Maybe it’s because, deep down, I liked a world where dinosaurs roamed exotic forests and then millions of years later a woman could captain a starship better than a world that had been around for brief few thousand years of history in which women were always morally obligated to be subjected to men and never aspire further than the home. And maybe it’s because, deep down, I knew as soon as I encountered it what I actually believed, no matter how strenuously I tried to make myself believe what I was being taught.