No Longer Quivering: Women Recovering From “Christian Patriarchy”

Rose’s Team Pick:

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the ideals of the Religious Right were taken to their logical conclusions? Well, if you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale you probably don’t need to wonder. However, if you think that degree of anti-feminism is fiction — or confined to countries like Saudi Arabia — you are wrong. Because for the small number of people who consider themselves part of the Quiverfull movement, this is a daily reality.

Though the movement is a small one (estimated to be in the “thousands to tens of thousands”), it’s received increasing media coverage thanks to the Duggars, a Quiverfull family profiled in TLC’s popular 19 Kids and Counting. Like other Quiverfull adherents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are not only anti-abortion, but believe that even birth control and natural family planning constitute ways to wrest control of one’s fertility away from God. Specifically, the movement’s name comes from a Bible verse, Psalms 127:4-5: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth / Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”

via nolongerquivering.com

But wait! you’re probably asking. What kind of individuality and autonomy do women have if they’re constantly barefoot and pregnant? Well, that’s the point, Quiverfull members would tell you; they don’t have any. The movement is explicitly opposed to feminism and guides women to be completely subservient to their husbands. (Obviously, nobody is queer in the land of Quiverfull.) And I really do mean completely subservient: wives are generally discouraged from having any interests other than serving their husbands and caring for their children. Children are homeschooled and girls are usually prevented from doing anything that would steer them away from their “destinies” as obedient wives. While other shades of misogynists balk at feminist accusations of being “part of the patriarchy,” Quiverfull adherents wear the badge proudly; in fact, an alternative title for the movement is “Christian Patriarchy.” Used unironically by the members themselves.

Vyckie Garrison, formerly Vyckie Bennett, used to be a proud Quiverfull mother and editor of fundamentalist-Christian homeschooling magazine Above Rubies. However, when her oldest daughter attempted suicide, she had no choice but to rethink her beliefs and leave the movement. She now runs No Longer Quivering (NLQ), a blog documenting the stories of women who have left Quiverfull.

While similar themes arise, each woman’s story varies. Some joined as already-married adults, often through friends or their church. Others were raised in it, as dutiful daughters expected to follow in their submissive mothers’ footsteps. One girl was able to go to college, and it was through discussing her beliefs with her classmates that she started her journey out of the movement. For other girls, the very idea of higher education was unthinkable. Some of the stories describe abuse and are quite harrowing (the blog is usually good at providing trigger warnings for these posts) while others are more hopeful, focusing on the writer’s new, unlimited opportunities. And some are actually humorous, like this entry describing “courtship,” the Quiverfull version of dating. (Essentially, the kids must be considering marriage from the start, only meet with parental supervision, and do little more than hold hands before their wedding night.) All of it makes for great reading.

via nolongerquivering.com

If you’re looking for something specific, NLQ has a great post directory, including a helpful FAQ section. The questions range from the merely curious to those seeking help for themselves or for friends involved in the movement. Garrison also has a directory called “Vyckie’s Tour de Crap,” a selection of her old articles (with her current commentary) from back when she was still a dedicated Quiverfull wife.

The NLQ administrators also run an organization called the “Take Heart Project,” which helps women escaping Quiverfull-like groups as well as educating the public about them. You can check out the project here, which also includes a place to donate.

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Rose is a Michigander currently living in Boston, where she is working on her master's degree in musicology. Classical music, history, 1960s rock bands, cartoons, old movies and the Detroit Tigers are just a few of her favorite things. In her spare time she also writes music, collects too many books and cats, and inhales Diet Coke at alarming speeds. For more of her many opinions, you should follow her on Tumblr.

Rose has written 66 articles for us.

37 Comments

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    I happened upon those Bitch articles a few months ago and found the movement so creepily fascinating that I actually checked out 2 books written by some of the movement’s leaders (Hess, Rick – A full quiver : family planning and the lordship of Christ; and Pride, Mary – THE WAY HOME). Unsurprisingly, they were pretty vapid, skimpy on logic, and sorely in need of some editing. I guess that if they’d had enough education to write more compellingly they would have been in danger of challenging the movement. Thanks for the update/link!

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    My younger brother has these beliefs. He was married to his wife two years ago after seven months of “courtship” dating. The first moment they actually touched was when he took her hand from her father’s at the altar on their wedding day. Their second child is due in a few days, about two weeks before their second wedding anniversary.
    I have to say that although I do not at all agree with these beliefs and I do worry for how his wife might feel in the future, they are actually a very happy couple. I know these people seem crazy from the outside, but it works for a lot of them. I try really hard not to cast stones. Of everyone in my conservative Christian family, this brother is the one who has been most loving to me, especially after I came out. We don’t agree on pretty much every issue you can think of except for one, and that is unconditional love.
    I know that the reality of situations like the one he is in can turn ugly and scary, especially for the women involved, but I try to be as tolerant of him and his beliefs as he is of me and mine.

    I also really hope that this “movement” remains relatively small. I can’t imagine being a woman feeling stuck in this situation.

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    I am a recovering fundamentalist baptist (many in our church were in the quiverful movement). I was a skirt wearing, long haired, homeschooling mother of five until I found my way out and met the woman of my dreams.

    I was one of the lucky few — I had education and skills to fall back on when I left. I have a few friends from that previous life who do not have skills nor education and are hoping to find a way out. Most of the women in my former church had 10 or more children. My family of five children was the smallest family (and it was often pointed out to me).

    The above article is very accurate, we did not have choices in our own lives. We were to be subservient to our husbands and to the church leadership above all else. There was no sense of autonomy or free thought. If I mentioned that I was questioning my (former) husband or if my husband had done something “immoral” or abusive, fault would be found in me by the church and leadership (if I had been a better and more subservient wife, etc). Our focus was to please our husbands in any and every way.

    Every day I am thankful that I have an amazing woman at my side and that we are equal partners in all ways. It is quite a change from 2 short years ago.

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    Thank you for the fascinating article. I’ve been reading the NLQ website for the last several hours, and am even more disturbed by the Quiverfull movement than I was previously. I have heard a lot about ex-Scientologists and ex-Radical Mormons, but I have never been able to find a first-person account from an ex-Quiverfull member. I have a feeling I’ll be glued to my laptop all day!

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    I was never this far into that movement, but way, way too close. All of my sister-in-laws were churning out babies as fast as possible and homeschooling them all. Those in my church definitely subscribed to this kind of thinking. While I can’t say it was abusive, at least in my case, it was oppressive. It is a movement based on control and on judgment, which is ironic, based on Christ’s focus on unconditional love and his own treatment of women. I left my husband and my church and had many years of spiritual wandering and soul searching. Now, Buddhism is what resonates the most with me, and the unconditional love and kindness that form its core message. Wishing peace and empowerment to all women in oppressive situations… may everyone be happy and free.

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      Totally. I grew up in a pretty intense Baptist church. These people had so many kids that it looked like little ducklings following in lines behind their mothers (who had vapid, exhausted smiles at all times). The kids bedrooms consist of bunk beds lining the walls. I was already prepping to be a mother at age 13 and it was assumed that I would marry a boy I’d known since pre-school (we acted like siblings with each other, so they figured we were in love? Weird. I don’t know.)

      SO GLAD I got out of it.

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    @Aleks, yes, I did escape with my children. My former spouse and I share custody/placement. He has since left that church as well.

    It took a long time to deprogram all of us, but we are now much healthier. My daughters and I all wear jeans and (gasp) shorts. I even have recently shaved me head. :) the kids adore having 2 moms and see it as a very natural life.

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    Emme – it’s always good to hear from another Quiverfull walkaway. I’d be thrilled to have you join our community on the NLQ forum: http://nolongerquivering.com/forums

    The NLQ forum is not exclusively limited to ex-Quiverfull believers – we are a very diverse group of women (and a few men) from a wide range of backgrounds and religious/non-religious beliefs. We share a common interest in exposing and combatting the spiritual abuse inherent in “biblical patriarchy.”

    And, my thanks to “Rose” for highlighting No Longer Quivering here at Autostraddle :)

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      You’re welcome, I’m happy to hear you were pleased by the article! I’ve been a long-time reader and I could not wait to team-pick it here.

      If there are any changes you would like me to make or anything you’d like me to add, please let me know!

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    Every time Autostraddle posts another article about one of my loves/fascinations/obsessions from the deep dark corners of the internet, my belief that I am secretly writing AS in a Fight Club-style split personality scenario grows stronger.

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    No abortion, no birth control, no natural family planning…. And I’m assuming that the wives have to have sex whenever the husbands want it? And they’re considered lustful if they try to initiate sex?

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    This is really interesting. I was raised in a fundamentalist group (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and currently have been communicating with a lot of queer ex-JWs. It really helps to have a community when you’re leaving something as controlling as these groups.

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      One of my good friends is an ex-JW, we bonded over having very religious environments growing up (I’m an ex-SDA). It really helps to have someone who understands the pressures you can have in those communities.

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    Oh my god. I’ve only been reading Autostraddle for a month, and I am so happy for its existence right now! I was raised Baptist, homeschooled, the oldest of five, told I would never date at age 12, supervised courtship was the only option. I was engaged at 18, and my ex-fiance’s mother actually gave me that book, A Full Quiver! Scared me to death. Thankfully, I met my first girlfriend at a Southern Baptist Church Camp ;) and managed to not get married and came out to my family last year. Thank you so much for writing about this movement. Yes, it’s small. But for so many girls I grew up with, it’s reality. This oppressive life style is the only option for so many. They face rejection from their parents, siblings, churches, basically everyone they know, if they leave it. I certainly did. Vyckie Garrison- You are a courageous woman. Thank you for battling this oppression and speaking out about it.

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    My grandmother, the first in her family to go to college, had six children; three boys first and then three girls. She was and is a devoted christian, but always thought for herself and just wanted a big family. But when she got remarried (most of the boys were in their late teens, my dad the oldest) she seemed to lose all that. She got involved with this cult-like christian homeschool group and dragged her two youngest daughters down that scary path with her. My aunts were pulled out of public school put in ONLY dresses (unless there was work to be done), told what they were allowed to read, not allowed to have sleepovers, and were controlled so closely that they just submitted.

    Now my grandmother moved away from that after a bit, but still buys into some of it. It’s extremely odd because before all that Quiverfull stuff she used to teach equality. Boys wash dishes, girls can change tires. Plus she’s an amazingly intelligent, unbelievable well-read woman otherwise.

    Problem is that now my aunts suffer from it. One of them courted a man from homeschool program connection she met but didn’t think she liked. They courted for a year and then got married. He treats her like a goddess and praises her every aspect. Their marriage is so wonderful, they’re the only people I can say I’ve met who were truly soul mates. Here’s the thing: She has four children (they use the family planning birth control method) and, while she loves them all so much, she didn’t want such a large family. She got pregnant immediately on her honeymoon. Also, she was haunted for years, still is, by sayings such as “What ever you fear most will happen because you fear that above God.” She used to cry herself to sleep thinking that her husband would die. She still struggles with all the Quiverfull ideas even though she and her husband are now very moderately conservative Episcopalians.

    My OTHER aunt, however….She was much younger when they started all that shit and she is in it waist deep (or deeper). There are quiverfull-related books everywhere in that house. She has had four children in five years. She is strict, harsh, and occasionally even cold to her children (three girls, one boy). She was so in agreement with corporal punishment that some of the family even talked to her about it. Her husband is a scary fucking scumbag. I hate that bastard with every fiber of my being. They got married three months after knowing each other. She thinks (or recognizes that under those ideals that she HAS to think) he is amazing. He talks down to her, is a misogynistic asshole, and is (in my opinion) abusive to their beautiful, sweet children. He favors the boy. I could go on for days. Oh I just hope those kids are smart enough to get out of all that.

    Also, it’s important to note that I live in south Mississippi, in a small town. And after that you may not believe me, but my family, every one of them, is extremely intelligent. We debate about books and have crazy game over who can be the wittiest. All that Quiverfull stuff is just baffling. And everyone but my grandmother and one aunt completely reject the Quiverfull idea. My dad is the most passionate hater, though.

    P.S. The crazy aunt won’t let me babysit now she knows I’m gay. Who would’ve guessed? I say, good luck finding a babysitter as fucking awesome as me, assholes.

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