There’s a sick little article floating around the homeschool/ex-homeschool blogosphere right now. It’s basically one college professor’s gross fetish fantasy about “homeschool girls” (meaning, his formerly homeschooled students who are actually presumably grown women). He likes them so much because they’re so feminine (“just like a Jane Austen character,” he says repeatedly, leading me to wonder how drastically this English professor has misread Austen and other groundbreaking female writers) and not like those ugly mean selfish feminists.
My most creepy-crawly feeling while reading the article came from the total objectification and dehumanization of women who have been homeschooled.
Mr. Markos, you revel in interactions with homeschooled women because homeschooled women were brought up specifically to please men like you. What goes on behind the scenes to craft that “glorious and unashamed femininity”? You see the finished product, a woman poured into the mold of a conservative Victorian ideal and seemingly content there (“enthusiastic”, you say, and I am trying to remember any of the legions of homeschool girls I’ve ever known who was truly enthusiastic about performing any part of traditional femininity that was not already rooted in her own personality). You don’t see how many girls are brainwashed, shamed, abused on a daily basis before they are finally broken down to the point where they can be thus remade.
You would admire my sewing skills, but you would never know about that winter day when me and all my homeschool girl friends were stuck inside learning to quilt while our brothers played in the snow. You wouldn’t know how badly I longed to be outside, sledding and throwing snowballs, instead of inside learning the traditional feminine arts.
You might be impressed that I can draw, until you learned that most of my drawing was used to illustrate a fantasy universe that was populated by women having adventures, going on quests, fighting battles side by side with men. Or used to illustrate my Star Wars fanfic, where I piloted a space ship and spied for the Rebels. Or used to design dresses not to be sewn by me, but as part of a secret dream to move to New York City and be a fashion designer.
You’d have praised my “razor-sharp wit” when it was parroting Ann Coulter or whatever I’d learned at church that week, but now that I use it to eviscerate folks like you, it is “marred and twisted by the politics of identity and victimization.” (And see here you set yourself up to win against all critics, because if I argue that our original identities, pre-brainwashing, are not like the “femininity” you describe, I am now playing the victim card and am therefore “unfeminine” and undeserving of your time).
You might not know, Mr. Markos, anything real about these formerly homeschooled women you interact with. Because do you know what we learn above all? We learn to hide. We learn that our real selves are not acceptable. Anything within us that does not fit into the mold doesn’t necessarily go away, we just have learned not to show it to authority figures or, many times, to potential suitors. Those in authority over us are the ones enforcing the “ideal girl” model, so the quickest way to avoid punishment and shaming is to perform femininity as we have been taught to. Because we aren’t taught to be feminine. Where someone falls on or off the gender spectrum is, I believe, something that is found on one’s own, inside, not something that is taught (gender does not really make sense in my head, but I think that’s probably a side effect of growing up with such strict gender roles). A person can learn to perform gender traits that have no real resonance with who they are.
And wouldn’t you? If you were constantly under threat, continually told that god, your parents, and your future husband (who is The Most Important Person You’ll Ever Meet) would all hate you and shun you and turn up their noses in disgust at you if you didn’t fit this particular mold, wouldn’t you force yourself to fit it? If you were constantly told that “this is what a good woman is,” by everyone around you, wouldn’t you think that you were the problem, that you were a thing to be fixed?
You don’t know these “homeschool girls” you’re talking about, Mr. Markos. You don’t know the actual story of their lives, possibly because the real world of homeschool women is kept very segregated from the world of men. And you don’t know how many of them will join me and my friends in the feminist camp before too long.
So stop fetishizing my pain. It is distressing to see you and so many other Christian men drooling over a neo-Victorian mold of “femininity” (that you label it “Austen-esque” just adds insult to injury). Drooling selfishly over the idea of a woman whose only purpose in life is to keep your home and to keep you happy. Drooling over the thought of a woman whose only thought is to please and serve you and maybe oh-ha-ha-ha take you down a peg or two if you are being too “bombastic” but only because she respects you so much.
Women who fit the classic “feminine” mold aren’t less human than women who don’t. I have never, and will never, think so. But you’re not saying your personal romantic/sexual preference is women who are quietly intelligent and skilled in the arts. Many people have romantic/sexual preferences, and that’s completely acceptable. What’s not acceptable is generalizing your personal and oh-so-weirdly-specific preference and turning it into what everyone born with a particular genital configuration “should be.” You’re saying that all women, in order to be true women, in order to be truly “feminine” (feminists, you say, are more “masculine” than even you! *gasp*) have to be like this. And you’re looking at homeschooled women, who were brought up in a culture that thinks like you do, and praising them for being, as you think, monolithically “feminine.” That perception is not true, not fair to homeschooled women, and insofar as it does bear resemblance to reality, is because of cultural pressures and religious threats, not because of any innate “feminine” qualities.
I’ve seen too many women (and too many people who were assigned female at birth but, surprise, aren’t female, because yes Mr. Markos gender is not the same thing as what you consider biological sex, and conflating the two as you do causes untold damage), myself, my friends, my sister, unspeakably harmed and psychologically and physically abused all for the sake of fitting into that false ideal mold. I’ve seen peoples’ vibrant personalities little by little give way, squashed into the mold. I’ve seen other friends who weren’t brought up this way torture themselves, briefly, to go from independent woman to some Christian boy’s submissive ideal, and fortunately escape before any lasting harm was done.
Any man who marries a woman because she fits the “ideal homeschool girl” mold is only perpetuating oppression. And maybe that’s why they all think feminists are “mean”: because we’ll never stop calling you out on this.
Mr. Markos, you can go home and rub one out to Lizzy Bennett as many times as you want, but please stop reducing real human beings to nonconsensual players in your little fetish game.
Libby Anne over at Love, Joy, Feminism has broken down some of the major problems with the points in his article. Her post is highly recommended reading if you want a point-by-point reading of the article.