I read a number of blogs written by women (and sometimes men) recovering from Quiverful and other similar very conservative Protestant movements or churches. As the links on this blog indicate. I can relate to a lot of the things that they write about—patriarchal family dynamics, ridiculously high levels of intrusion into people’s lives, cults of personality around self-styled leaders, destructive scripturally-based “counseling” and rotten “marital advice” dished out by such leaders, victim-blaming rhetoric, the after-effects of isolation from “the world” in favor of living in a religious bubble… and the list goes on.
Sometimes, the things they write about help me to think through things that happened to me. Sometimes, they make insightful suggestions about how to deal with particular issues. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know that you are not alone in dealing with the aftermath of such things.
But unfortunately sometimes, reading these blogs is more like realizing the answer to a question that been haunting me ever since I saw a memorial display with the statistics (broken down state by state) for lynchings of African-Americans in the twentieth century: Where does such visceral, violent hatred go? What happens to it, when it is finally driven more or less underground? Does it die for lack of oxygen? Or does it lie there in wait, perhaps mutating into something more socially acceptable so that it can rise again?
Posters and commenters in particular in some of these blogs (and others like them) sometimes use a sort of short-hand that expresses that certain ideas, practices and institutions are oppressive:
- a fundamentalist, controlling Christian community is a “fundystan”
- any oppressive, hyper-controlling church or group is a “taliban”
- conservative Christian teachings (especially on women’s roles) are a “mental burka”
- to question and reject said teachings is to “throw off the mental burka”
- Hepzihah House is “Hezbollah House”
- and so on
Basically, any media word/part of a word that is associated in one way or another with Muslims is equated with oppression, violence, cruelty, or danger, regardless of what the word means in the language(s) or community(ies) that it originally comes from.
This is a practice that is unfortunately all too common in the media, where we see words like “jihad” being used to discuss the activities of, say, conservative Christian anti-abortion activists who resort to violence. The implication is that as true Christians supposedly can’t be violent, controlling, misogynistic or abusive, such terrible things can only really come from some despised Other. Like Islam. Or Muslims.
This way of talking is now practically mainstream. It is not surprising that those recovering from spiritual abuse have picked it up and run with it. So, I generally try to ignore it, to shove back that niggling question: What is the long-term effect of these words? For my children? For my grand-children? Just how literally does anyone take those words?
In a recent post on No Longer Quivering, Cindy writes about seeing a Muslim woman with a face-veil eating with her family in a restaurant:
Sitting at a table in very close proximity to ours was a Muslim family. We see a lot of Muslim families these days, but more so in Houston than anywhere else in Texas and Oklahoma.
We don’t have any objections to sharing the planet, state, city, neighborhood or even close quarters of a restaurant with peaceful Muslims no matter how fundamentally extreme their personal beliefs and practices.
But here, we’ve not seen too many whose women wear a Hijab that covers the entire face only leaving small openings for the eyes. It was disconcerting as we couldn’t help but notice that for this dear woman- a mother of small children- to eat, she had to maneuver her food under the veil to reach her mouth.
It’s difficult to imagine how one could actually enjoy the pleasantries of eating out, handicapped in such a way.
I felt sad for her. Paul felt sick to his stomach. This is just how he reacts to such things (he’s weird like that).
No doubt, though, if one were to question her the virtue of a belief system that would require such needless display of devotion, she would fervently claim that she has chosen this life.
She would likely deny that her husband has forced her to live this way. She would probably claim he shows honor to her, exalts her in some way by ‘requesting‘ (expecting) she commit to her faith (and to him) to this degree….
The larger point that Cindy says she’s trying to make is that all hyper-conservative, controlling religious groups ranging from the FLDS Mormons to Quiverful are horribly oppressive to women. And that the way she writes about this veiled woman is just meant to represent women’s oppression in a variety of religions, not to single out Islam in particular.
But, as several commenters on that post point out, Cindy doesn’t even know the woman. Cindy has no idea about her life, her marriage, why she covers her face, or what her husband thinks of it. She is just using that woman’s body as a prop in her post, without that woman’s consent. And in order to argue against the oppression of women, no less. The irony of this has apparently escaped her.
And, it’s all about Cindy. And her husband, Paul. Don’t get them wrong, they’re nice folks, so they condescend to share the planet, the nation, the city, the neighborhood, even the restaurant with Muslims. But still. How they feel as white, Christian Americans, seeing a Muslim family eating in the same restaurant is really important. How Cindy pities the veiled woman, and imagines that her husband controls how she relates to her faith. How Paul feels sick to his stomach at the sight of a woman in a face-veil. How Cindy patronizingly wonders how the woman could possibly enjoy eating out.
But what makes me sick to my stomach is the memories.
Reading this sort of thing brings back all sorts of memories. From back when I wore hijab, through the twenty-five years that I wore it. Thing is, Muslim women aren’t any more unconscious of their surroundings or of people’s reactions to them then anyone else on the planet is. We knew when we were being patronized, condescended to, grudgingly tolerated, pitied, stared at (whether openly or surreptitiously) or whispered about (or spoken about in our presence, as though we were small children who couldn’t understand adult conversations).
It also makes me feel very sorry for the veiled woman. Imagine having to eat your dinner in close proximity to those who you know are reacting to you in such negative ways. And having your kids witness all that. How humiliating and depressing.
Being critical of patriarchal religions is one thing. Writing about a white man’s nausea at the sight of a veiled woman and passing this off as a statement against women’s oppression is quite another.
I don’t wear hijab any more. Nowadays, I don’t agree at all with the usual conservative Muslim arguments for why women should wear hijab, much less veil their faces. And I’m certainly not the only one, either. In the last ten years, a number of Muslim women I know have chosen to de-hijab (or in one case, de-niqab as well as de-hijab) for a variety of reasons.
But much as I oppose pro-niqab discourses and am highly critical of those who promote them, I don’t feel nauseous at the sight of a woman wearing one. Because I see niqab-wearing women as human beings first and foremost.
Being pronounced the cause of someone’s nausea is dehumanizing.
And, it’s a part of a much wider context. A context in which many people, including some journalists, feel free to use words that imply that Muslim = oppression/violence/danger.
Those words are borders, lines. Marking territory for those who belong, for the pure, in which Others (if present at all) are, well, Other. It’s that sort of thing that can help create an atmosphere that could lead to violence against those Others. Hardly something that is going to liberate all women.
And since the issue at stake is said to be the oppression of women, this post is all the more remarkable. If the veiled woman is in fact abused, then what is the likely result of encountering white folks oozing pity, condescension and so forth? Would she feel safe approaching them for help? Is it likely to inspire her to call the abused woman’s helpline, or the police, or to go to a shelter—where you know, she might well anticipate having to deal with more white folks with similar attitudes? Really?
So, there are certain blogs that I won’t link to. And I don’t add my blog to the Spiritual Abuse Survivors Network either.