There is a movement in some Christian (and perhaps other) circles to revert many of the overbearing changes that have come out of the Women’s Rights movement. This reaction goes by the name that is used to describe many societies, including our own in times gone by—Patriarchalism. Like most reactions, this movement can swing to the far side of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean that we should always find the happy center between arguments (there are times to be extreme), but I think that on the majority of issues it is a good idea.
I’m going to admit that I did not grow up around this idea and have only started to learn about it in the past 3-4 years. One of my friends asked for an opinion about Patriarchal families, so this is my humble attempt to spell out some of the details.
Let’s begin with a quick explanation of how a Patriarchal family operates and how widespread the underlying idea is. From Wikipedia:
Patriarchy is the structuring of family units based on the man, as father figure, having primary authority over the rest of the family members.
Societies have marked differences in the way they exploit resources for survival, the artifacts they produce and in various rituals and other traditions. They also have similarities like marriage, family and the incest taboo. Aspects of human behaviour and social organisation that are common to all known societies are called cultural universals. Patriarchy is one of these universals.
This “universal” is one of the things that the women’s rights movement has set out to change. It might be fair for me to also admit that I am not entirely convinced that women voting is the best thing to happen. Before you get too upset with me, hear me out. What good does it do for a husband and a wife to vote for two different people? If you are not in favor of families operating as a family unit, then you could consider this to be an improvement. If you do happen to like families staying together, this causes many spouses to cancel each other out during elections and their family is absolutely worthless to society then. It is better for them to decide together who they will vote for. This should be how they operate other parts of their lives as well.
In case you are one of those who believes that families are not important, I would like to point out that even the misguided United Nations has created a children’s fund, UNICEF, which says that children have a right to live with both parents.
Now that we’ve hit that rabbit trail, let’s return to the modern patriarchal family movement. One of the really big problems that comes from it is that women are largely distrusted outside of the leadership of a husband or father. This means that the girl has to stay at home until she marries. Sometimes this includes the guys as well. From a letter sent to Michael Pearl
While homeschooling my own kids many years ago, we read an article that told about how certain ants secrete a hormone that prevents aphids from growing wings and flying away, allowing the ants to âfarmâ the aphids for the honeydew they produce. This is exactly what my parents did to us. We werenât just discouraged from exercising our wings and flying from the nest, we were prevented from growing wings at all!
I tend to believe that many of the Patriarchal families you speak of are really Matriarchal families. And if you think this is impossible, you have never experienced the power and mind control an extremely intelligent and manipulative mother can have over her (young) childrenâs minds, and to some extent (though it may take years), over her husband. I donât know if she really controls my dad; I think he just gave up.
The note about Matriarchal families is an interesting one and I will return to that briefly in a bit. The really odd thing about these family organizations is how they behave when non-normal situations are thrown at them. The world that we live in tends to have a number of those scenarios up its sleeve. Sorry for not citing this one, but I have even heard some Christian leaders teach that widows should return to their father’s house and live under him again. Even if the marriage and moving out from under the parents’ roof did not change the relationship (Genesis 2:24), this teaching contradicts what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 7:39:
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
Now let’s introduce this as a predicament. One of my friends became a widow less than two years after she married. Why is she allowed to choose who she marries now (and what she does) while another girl of the same age who has not married is not able to?
I have also heard of churches where the distinction between the “girls” and the “women” was whether the young lady had a child or not. It had nothing to do with either age or maturity, but instead dealt only with whether she has birthed a child. Would this not encourage girls to simply get pregnant at the first opportunity?
In the same way, I believe that holding your children back because they are not married is an encouragement to marry the first guy that doesn’t show any interest—pardon me—that shows a hint of interest.
There was a mention earlier of Matriarchal families. As you might have guessed, that means that the mother rules the roost. It is not hard to find families where that occurs. One youth leader that I know interprets Genesis 3:16 as a desire for women to rule over their husbands. Men are, generally, more easy-going than women and tend to put up with a lot for the sake of peace. Abraham fathered Ishmael. Isaac took Rachel and Leah’s maidservants as concubines while the two wives feuded over their usefulness to bear children.
That doesn’t mean that women are evil and must be controlled, though I did listen to some women today talk about the backstabbing that occurs in an all-female workplace. They also said that there were problems when it was all-male. There is some give and take on both sides. Men and women bring aspects to the table that need to be rounded out by the other—especially in marriage.
The Patriarchal view did sound attractive to me for a short period of time. The main reason was because I knew a few girls who were not strong enough in their faith to withstand college but were going anyway. What an egotistical thing for me to think. There are men that have the same problem and all children have to be released at some point. You and I cannot be around forever. We should plan to raise our kids to know why they believe what they do and hiding them from everything is not going to do that.
A lot of homeschoolers seem to get confused about this as well. It’s really the same issue. Homeschooling is not about hiding or withdrawing from the world in order to protect the kids. It is about being next to your child and being able to teach them why they want to respond to situations in a certain way. One day they are going to learn that most people have reasons for what they do. Will those reasons overrun your “don’t question our method” commands?
There is more, though. If something happens to my wife, I like to think that I can manage even though some drastic changes will have to be made. How well will a woman be able to cope with the situation reversed? Do I have to train her in how the world works so that she can keep the family together? To keep her severely sheltered does me a grave disservice. Yes, I am selfish.
Regardless of whether it is the husband or wife that is manipulating to keep the children close, I do not believe it is wise. It is impossible to protect from everything.