Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: Good Coffee, Bitter Patriarchy

For my lifestyle as a stay-at-home mom of four, I’m a frequent resident in hotels. Sometimes, these stays belong to me—they exist as my personal getaways. And occasionally, they belong to the family as vacations. But most of the time, they’re my husband’s, and I’m simply along for the ride. This following after a man and his career has never appealed to me. So instead of viewing these trips as such, I see them as blessings from God or husband or both, spun along the circuitous gift route, for the production of my own work.

I fall into slumps when I’m not actively producing something of worldly value, and by this, I mean my own academic work that extends beyond the family unit. I don’t define “something of worldly value” as the motherly goods I produce, which include meals and what might spring from my garden by accident because I’ve committed acts of mass herbicide through negligence. Neither do I mean stacks of clean, folded laundry, a tidy house smelling of pine oil, or well-educated children.

On the contrary, all of these parental activities bear intrinsic value and give their own rewards in a karmic give-and-receive effect. Because I believe in a Christian version of karma, I’ll relabel it the golden-rule effect. I’m generous to you, and you’re generous to me. I cook for you; you wash the car for me. I wash the dishes for you; you weed the garden for me. And, in fact, this division of labor among a family unit has a circular shape to it, hence my use of eastern terminologies to describe it. Westerners have their Venn diagrams, but I’m not certain a Venn diagram would fully represent the concept. Perhaps a figure eight, or the symbol of eternity would depict this ideal in a better way. Or maybe a series of connected loops in a circular form would do it justice.

At the moment, I’m considering these shapes and ideas in a Starbucks, which happened to be the first cafe I ran across while wandering away from my latest hotel stay. Coffee is an integral part of my creative life, and, although Starbucks would have been verboten in the decade of the Nineties Coffee Girl, I’ll drink any coffee here in New Mexico as long as it’s strong and black. Currently, the Starbucks’ radio channel is directing my mood by playing Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby Magee. As you may know, at the apex of this song, Joplin sings, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Nothing—and that’s all that Bobby left me.” As you probably don’t know, I used to sing these lyrics all the time. Some ballads connect to my soul in indescribable ways. This is the purpose of poetry, after all—describing the indescribable.

Freedom is an elusive concept. As a housewife, as a Christian woman, as a homeschool mom, and as a longtime citizen of Oregon, I’ve experienced a counterculture you may not have had to confront in your own path to self-development. It’s called Biblical Patriarchy. Although many Christian leaders support this movement, their views on female roles may differ in application. For the sake of this writing, I’ll give you the basic tenets: females aren’t exactly subhuman, but they weren’t created in the image of God as men were. Rather, God created woman to be man’s helpmeet, period. Therefore, she must always be under male authority—either her father’s or her husband’s. Her vision must reflect her male authority’s vision because having her own is selfishness.

By extension of these beliefs, women in the movement are discouraged from voting because their sphere is in the home and not in the world, and voting could also permit women to hold their own opinions apart from their fathers/husbands. Women aren’t worthy of opinions due to being weaker vessels, which isn’t simply interpreted as of smaller stature, but extends to the belief that women have weaker intellects. University is—no surprises here—frowned upon for women. Careers outside the home are strictly forbidden. Many other rules apply: women aren’t allowed to speak in gatherings where men are present; women must be happy child-bearers and forgo birth control. I would add direct quotes from the horses’ mouths and, trust me, I’ve run across some excruciating ones. But I squirm at using others’ words in order to generate controversy (click the links and judge for yourself: Douglas Wilson, Doug Phillips, the Pearls, or the Botkins).*

Here I sit, defying patriarchy, pursuing my own career, while my husband pursues his. As I drink from a liberal coffeepot, I remember serving trays of espresso at Medford Coffee Company–a decidedly more conservative place–and listening to the conversations of the Biblical Patriarchalists who patronized the shop. I don’t wish to dredge up these peoples’ pain, and I won’t do that, except to say that their philosophy didn’t work out for them. The ironies of each particular family has worked its way into the light.

As I see it, the problem with westerners taking on a philosophy of absolute male authority and female subservience is one of using a faulty, non-circular model. In a western patriarchal vision, a pastor might draw a line between the man and his relationship to the world and a line between a woman and her relationship to man. The western model also frequently uses a pyramidal structure to denote levels of leadership, with one authority on top of another, until you drop to the rabble at the base. These models limit truth and create oppression. Leadership and helpfulness should be circular. One begets the other in a cyclical fashion defined by do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you’re a man in authority over a woman, this means you must consider whether you would desire to have your own authority figure–your employer, perhaps–remove your personhood from you. When you’re done with work for the day, would you desire that your boss insist you continue to view the world through his vision, his needs, his desires?

As for gender roles, you won’t find much information on those in the Bible, only cultural models that don’t rise to the level of commandment. That’s a blessing because rigid gender roles aren’t practical in an imperfect world. And so, I continue to produce my own work. I direct them outside myself and sometimes, due to my western mindset, I wonder if my arrows are hitting the mark. Then I remind myself: this isn’t about finding a target. It’s about the circularity of creating ideas, sending them forth, and being ironically refilled and fulfilled through this giving.

At its heart, the pairing of lines from Bobby Magee captures my fears of being a Christian wife and mother. I’m afraid my freedom will involve having nothing more to lose because I’ve already lost myself. I fear a man’s work will render me empty. I fear this, even though my husband doesn’t oppress me or expect me to give up my dreams. I fear this, even though I know God desires me to continue with my career as academic and writer.

*Doug Phillips founded Vision Forum, a ministry that publishes books from a patriarchal perspective. Although I’ve read books by Vision Forum authors, I haven’t read any of his.

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8 comments

  1. You’re much more on top of this than I am. I’m aware it exists; my father in law was such a man unto his death and my mother in law remains cowed by his unexpectations.

    I’ve never traced it or paid too close attention to it simply because it seems so ridiculous to me. The men I’ve encountered (and there are many) who hold to these views are cartoonish to me and I have trouble respecting them. So I steer fully clear, generally.

  2. I’m not too familiar with this type of thinking either. Perhaps it’s just not popular around these parts, or I’m just not observant. My grandmother was a self-sufficient woman who mothered 10 kids, ran a farm, and made all her boys learn to sew, so I grew up surrounded by the idea that men and women both need to know how to survive independent of each other. This biblical patriarchy stuff is all very foreign.

  3. @Katherine and Jessica–I wish I had never run across it either. One of the tenets is that parent HAVE to homeschool their children or they are considered rebellious or abusive. Since I’ve been in and around the homeschool community for so long, it was difficult not to run across it. I think it’s really bad for homeschoolers, too, because we’re already considered weird.

  4. Hi I got here from Vox days blog since you reviewed a book he wrote. I always want to comment on this type of post because it is close to my heart I guess. I sort of understand where you’re coming from in the employer employee analogy. Even though that seems a little unrealisticc since I doubt Douglas Wilson et Al consider their wives at the level of employees let alone employees who lack persongood. I’m currently really enjoying a new way of looking at the world which is patriarchal after a childhood and young adulthood among quakers. I spent a lot oftime innewbberg or which is not far dom medford I believe. Anywayway, I have spent a lot of time among feminists and always kind of hated it because it made no sense bit. Equality for example doesn’t exist but as feminists. We had to believe in it and talk about it as if it did or even could. Any way I think the problem is basically intractable and ultimately it will amount to a might makes right scenario in the glrious western and really global tradition. That’s what is coming to it appears.in the past patriarchty controlled the courts and public opinion to feminism does. I would preferpatriarchy because its calmer and more rational and doesn’t elevatefeelings to the leevel of reason but. But what I believe as a man matters Less and less oh well. I’ve taken refuge in a very conservative christiamn community that celebrates patriarchy. The women there seem pretty happy. Noneof the girls get pregnant out of wedlock and the boys are boyish and respectful. The women are basically all stay at home moms and believe inbeing submissive. I haven’t really ever seenanything in feminist influen ed communities that especially appealed to me. I was happy to break out of that racket. I sort of felt like lessof a person there I guess in a way. So talking emotions I feel way betterhere as well as having intellectual peace of mind. I just think since feminism really started gaining steam in the 60s we’ve seen what’s its really about. My gradparents America nolonger exists its values gone. I’m site there are mny contributing causes but inmy view feminism is the main one.anyway this going to come down to might makes right or might makes laws as we’ve already seen. They’ll probably try to make the catholic church ordain women and marry homosexuals eventually proba bly coercivemy at first. So just wanted to say this because I feel likei not trying to convince anyone of anything or attack anyone. Some of my brst friends are feminists. The terribsle typos are from typing on a blackberry.

    1. Patriarchy=natural law. We do, indeed, live in a patriarchy, where those men in charge have duped us into believing otherwise and, in so doing, have caused grave divisions between men and women. I take issue, not with patriarchy, but with the enforced patriarchy in conservative Christian circles that, if anything, removes headship from the father and gives it to the pastor. Families, being composed of unique individuals, must work things out for themselves.

      As far as feminism, I could write you a very long response proving that I’ve studied feminism from its prototype days (the 17th C, really, when the literacy rates rose and women had access to publishing), but I won’t do that. I’ll just say that the feminist movement was co-opted and/or influenced by Marxist thinking in the 20th C, just as much of our society was.

      Equality is certainly a lie. There is no such thing. And yet, neutrality under the law and under the covering of Christ is essential for the dignity and well-being of male and female, poor and rich, etc.

  5. Ah, that is something I could have gotten on board with and which could possibly have pulled me back into the racket a few years back but I’m too wise from experience and influenced by patriarchalism now. Even if its not perfect patriarchy its way way way way better than the increasing gutless anarchy of womandom where I used tolive. Thanks your response was delightful

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