So Much More, p. 53-62 – Part 2: En-vision-ing Stereotypes

“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.

As most of my readers know, So Much More was sold and heavily promoted by Doug Phillips’ now-defunked ministry Vision Forum. As its name indicates, this organization was borderline obsessed with the concept of “vision.” I spent a lot of time in my Big Box series trying to figure out what “vision” meant exactly. That was hard to do, but what did emerge clearly was that “vision” is something reserved for men only. In fact Doug Phillips explicitly taught that it was a “perversion of God’s natural order” for a woman to be a family “visionary.” So in keeping with my last post, let’s examine how A&E use this concept in such a way that it enables husbands and fathers to abuse and control their families.

First, let’s try and discern how A&E define “vision”:

One of our friends was discouraged because her father’s vision extended only as far as bringing home the bacon, and he didn’t have a mission she could help with. We encouraged her to go to him and ask him if he had ever had a secret, long-buried desire to help people, make something of himself, or passionately pursue a life-work that was bigger than a paycheck. She was astonished when he told her that he had always really wanted to have a ministry to street kids. Why hadn’t he pursued this? Because he had never had anyone to help him make his dream a reality.

This is where a father needs his daughter. It may be up to you to initiate and discover the mission you can work on together. If your father never considered anything like this, you could sit down together and come up with a “dream ministry,” something that you and he could work on together with the whole family.

Here “vision” appears to mean “any dream, goal or desire that a man has” – since it’s also clear, once again, that the daughter’s role is to help support her father’s vision, not pursue one of her own. I don’t think I need to dwell on the obvious fact that women can also have dreams, goals and desires, so let’s look at this from the standpoint of abuse.

First, when looked at in conjunction with A&E’s previous statements, this bit about “vision” makes it even clearer than a father is some kind of conduit through which God reveals His will for a particular family. The implications for abuse are obvious. How can you tell when a father is speaking for God, and when he’s speaking as a fallible human with fallible opinions? Are you even allowed to ask? Remember, it was previously made clear that questioning your father’s spiritual convictions is “selfish,” and girls were encouraged to doubt their own conclusions because they might be sinful “imaginations.” (Fathers, of course, aren’t given these same warnings.) What’s to stop an abusive man from using these ideas to silence all dissent in his family and impose his own opinions as if they were (literally) divine fiat? (Hint: nothing.)

However, it’s the second and less obvious potential for abuse lurking here that I find even more disturbing. Here is the definition of covert incest from Overcoming Botkin Syndrome (taken from CovertIncest.org):

Covert incest typically occurs in families where one parent (the shadow parent) does not actively participate in family affairs, thus setting the stage for the other parent (the invasive parent) to turn to a child for emotional support. The invasive parent in effect makes the child a surrogate spouse who is forced to take on the responsibilities of the shadow parent. The roles are essentially reversed; instead of the parent looking after the child, the child is responsible for the parent’s well-being. This is a terrible burden for a child to carry, as a child is incapable of meeting the emotional needs of an adult.[1]

Now look again at the situation described above by A&E. I don’t know about you, but when I read it, my first question was, why isn’t the father revealing these long-buried desires to his wife? A&E say he “never had anyone to help him make his dream a reality,” but why is that? Is he non-communicative and never told anyone? Is his relationship with his wife in trouble? In short, why did he feel that the only person who ever supported him in this was his daughter? I am obviously not a professional and cannot diagnose anything, but nevertheless this doesn’t strike me as a healthy family dynamic. Parent-child activities certainly have their place, and a whole family building a ministry together could be very rewarding, but there are some things that should remain spouse-to-spouse. To this reader, A&E are treading on thin psychological ice here. (Any professionals reading this are, of course, free to correct me and/or provide more information.)

I’ll change when you do

A&E don’t just enable abuse via their ideas about “vision”; they also enable it with their devotion to gender roles and their associated stereotypes. Take, for example, this especially insidious nugget:

Many girls have lamented to us that their fathers are not involved in their lives and refuse to offer guidance. In some cases, the reason fathers become afraid to “interfere” and “intrude” in their daughters’ lives is because their leadership and guidance have been pushed away in the past. If this is your story, repentance is called for. …

Before you can accuse your father of being unprotective ask yourself: do you make it clear to him that you are a woman of virtue, worthy of his special protection? If your behavior was more gentle, feminine, respectful, and lovely, would he be more inclined to feel protective of you?

If a father continues to be indifferent, you could appeal to him with Scripture, showing him that God has ordained him to be the authority in your life. Pray that God will work in his heart to take you back into his protection and will renew in him a spirit of manliness so that he will want to truly lead his daughter and his family.

Hear that, girls? Your father’s bad behavior is your fault because you were insufficiently feminine! That’s bad enough, but it’s then immediately followed by an even worse bait-and-switch in which A&E completely fail to define all the words they use to describe femininity. For instance, how gentle is “gentle”? Does that exclude playing sports or laughing loudly? What about “respectful”? Does a girl have to refer to her father as “sir,” or is “dad” okay? And “lovely” and “feminine” are so vague that they’re almost meaningless.

You might think I’m freaking out over nothing, but really, go read that excerpt again. A&E are pinning everything on a girl getting this “feminine” behavior standard correct: until she does, she has no right to complain that her father is being “unprotective.” But then all they give these poor girls to work with in their quest to fix their dads via their femininity, is some definitional hand-waving about being more “lovely.” If this is really so important, A&E, why didn’t you give your readers more detail? Cultural standards of femininity are hardly cut-and-dried. Even among patriocentrists, disagreements happen about whether a certain activity is “feminine” enough to be appropriate for girls. So at least tell your audience what the standard is, A&E. If you don’t, you can’t really blame them for not meeting it.

Returning to abuse, it’s once again obvious how this would play out. An abusive father behaves badly; his daughter complains. He verbally acknowledges his misbehavior with a show of penitence, then immediately turns to how he really really wants to behave better, but he just can’t help it that he doesn’t feel “protective” because of her “lack of femininity.” The abuser is thus left with the perfect undefined goalpost, which he can move at will whenever he needs to justify a certain behavior. (Like I said in my last post, I suspect A&E are either completely unaware of this dynamic, or would actually agree with the abuser in this situation. Which is why I would never recommend any material by A&E to anybody.)

Before I close this post, I’d like to examine an underlying assumption of A&E’s treatment of gender roles. In this chapter, they use the phrases “pursue femininity” and “renew…a spirit of manliness.” The implication is that masculinity and femininity are something that men and women have to actively work on, almost as if they were training for a marathon or a weight-lifting competition. But then in a previous chapter, A&E insisted (forcefully) that all differences between men and women are natural and inborn. So my question for A&E is, why do we as women have to “pursue” femininity at all if it’s 100% natural? Why, say, did the old Vision Forum catalogs fret so much about boys and girls playing with the “correct” toys? Shouldn’t they be gravitating toward the “right” things on their own? And if they don’t automatically gravitate toward those things, should you perhaps consider that maybe your ideas about inborn gender differences need some work?

I grew up not gravitating toward the “correct” girl things. I never had any interest in dolls, tea parties, makeup, etc. And I did this completely on my own; my 5-year-old self had no idea about things like feminism and egalitarianism, and it’s not as if my parents sat me down at age two and told me that dolls were evil and I had to like the same things as boys. (Though for full disclosure, I didn’t like stereotypically “boy” things like trucks and sports either.)

So is there something wrong with me? Am I in sin? Am I just confused? Inquiring minds want to know. It’s apparently vitally important, after all.

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