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Olson writes: "Who is the 'Good Christian Woman'? She is a wife who values having a family over a career or education."

The Good Christian Woman ideal is not only repressive, it is the epicenter of harmful expectations for women perpetuated within the conservative Christian community. (photo: Fei Fei)
The Good Christian Woman ideal is not only repressive, it is the epicenter of harmful expectations for women perpetuated within the conservative Christian community. (photo: Fei Fei)

The Cult of the Good Christian Woman

By Sarah Olson, Medium

02 March 19

The community that raised me is pushing an ideal for women that is repressive and damaging

ho is the “Good Christian Woman”? She is a wife who values having a family over a career or education. She oversees domestic responsibilities, she is obedient to her husband and God’s will, and she protects her children from secular influence. She defends the rights of the unborn and asserts that men are leaders. In church, she is known as a godly woman, the idealistic vision young girls are encouraged to become.

A cult is defined as a religious devotion toward a specific figure. Today, many women in the conservative Christian community have a cult-like devotion for the Good Christian Woman. In the name of this godly ideal they condemn abortion, gender equality, even education and careers. The Good Christian Woman ideal is not only repressive, it is the epicenter of harmful expectations for women perpetuated within the conservative Christian community.

A vivid example of this toxic behavior is evident in the backlash against the recent abortion law in the state of New York, which allows for abortions past 24 weeks when medically necessary. The conservative Christian community is making their anger about this law widely known, spreading misinformation and sparking emotional outrage over legislation that was meant to protect the health of women who require medical intervention later during pregnancy. Worse, a new trend on Twitter uses the hashtag #UndocumentedInfants to compare the uterus to the border, as if women’s bodies are nothing more than a political battleground. The language used has been beyond hurtful and repressive, and much of it said for the Christian cause.

Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a gynecologist and women’s health advocate, discussed several reasons for late abortions in a tweet thread that went semi-viral:

I am deeply familiar with these ignorant and misinformed beliefs because I was raised in a conservative Christian community. When my Midwestern family moved to San Diego, my mother home-schooled her five children to protect us from secular influence. Lessons on the Big Bang and evolution were among those censored from my science curriculum, and when #ExposeChristianSchools recently trended on Twitter, I stepped up to share my familiarity with Christian home schooling. For many of my followers, it was shocking that a science communicator and feminist such as myself came from this background.

But for me, escaping that community — and what I believe to be a “cult” centered on the Good Christian Woman — has consumed most of my life. It’s the reason I moved out at 18, and am now living hundreds of miles away from the town where I grew up. It’s the reason I am pursuing a career communicating science and advocating for women, all while putting myself through school because my parents don’t support that I’m studying for a degree in biology.

Back in my teen years, I was fortunate that my parents decided to enroll me in a public charter school while my siblings went through Christian schools. There, free from restrictions, I quickly realized I was missing a chunk of education that my peers had been taught. In both my classes and social life, I felt behind and backward. When my pro-life, anti-feminist, and religious beliefs were challenged, I had nothing with which to defend the lessons my parents had taught me. Then, I outraged my parents by dating an atheist, and by the time our brief relationship ended I was no longer a believer. I began to rebel against everything the Good Christian Woman represented — and as a result, I was drawn further toward science and feminism. Those are bad words in the conservative Christian community.

To complicate matters further, as my bisexuality became more evident toward the end of high school, I tried to keep it from my parents. Still, they confiscated my books that contained suggestive female relationships; they lectured me on homosexuality; they banned sleepovers and refused to let me be alone with girls, as if this might somehow fix me. (This is just another example of intolerance toward non-heterosexuality in the conservative community, though many progressive Christians are much more tolerant.) I wish I would have had the vocabulary back then to better defend myself, but I was locked in a cycle of shame I could not escape until I moved away.

Shame is the weapon of choice for the cult of the Good Christian Woman. In fact, the culture of shame is so deeply ingrained in the conservative Christian community that the young women who celebrate the Good Christian Woman are likely suffering the most. Recently a very good friend of mine, a young woman I love like a sister, revealed on Facebook that she has been struggling with singleness. Raised by a community which enforces that women’s value comes from wifeliness, motherhood, and marriage, she has needed help understanding that being single is not a punishment from God or a failure on her part. She’s only in her early twenties.

I reached out to her and learned that there is a community of eligible young women — smart, wonderful women like herself — who are despairing over being single. Programs and books have had to be created to help these young women find hope while they wait for a husband. It’s a problem the Christian community created, and now they’re forced to design a solution for it. This is deeply troubling to me not only as a feminist, but because these are women I grew up with. These are my sisters. There’s a generation striving to uphold the ideal of the Good Christian Woman, and then despairing when they inevitably fail to achieve it.

Perpetuating this repressive lifestyle are people like Lori Alexander, blogger at the Transformed Wife, whose tweet about why women must choose between career and family recently gained quite a bit of attention. Her tweet outraged the many women working hard to balance their careers while raising children. But I’m familiar with her argument, as well as her blog, which features popular posts such as: “She Doesn’t Want to Go to College,” “Women in the Workforce Have Hurt Men’s Ability to Provide for Their Families,” “College Keeps Women From Bearing Children,” and “Should Husbands Ever Discipline Their Wives?”

This may seem straight out of Little House on the Prairie, but for women in the conservative Christian community, upholding these Biblical standards brings praise and admiration from others. It’s a cult of domesticity, the model housewife that companies like Coca-Cola sold Americans in the ’50s. Alexander doesn’t shock me because she’s simply expressing the same mentality that the women who raised my generation pushed on us. Women who pursue the ideals of Good Christian Woman are validated by the community that enforces those values — and punishes those who reject them.

An example of this validation can be seen in Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master.” Evans was inspired to follow the commands for women outlined in the Bible, just as they were originally intended, when she felt as though her evangelical community needed to return to true Biblical womanhood. Though she intended to debunk the idea of Old Testament values for women to follow, her book comes across as defensive of the Good Christian Woman.

While it’s easy to laugh at the idea of living an entire year by the antique rules described in the Bible, I was appalled by the way Evans seemed to play with the idea of female oppression. She appears to think calling her husband “Master” is a fun and interesting experience for her book, and that sleeping in a tent during her period was somehow a liberating, religious experience. She doesn’t seem to understand that some women do submit to husbands as their masters, often suffering abuse and rape in the process. She doesn’t seem to know that in some places, women die after being banished to menstruation huts. Of course, Evans does not have to worry about any of that. She did this “challenge” because it was just another fun, trendy experience for a conservative Christian woman.

Throughout my life and my time in the church, I have witnessed firsthand how these beliefs, masked by the ideals of the Good Christian Woman, are much more sinister than they appear. It’s both men and women who perpetuate these repressive beliefs, and both men and women who are directly suffering — but I argue women more so. Christianity is supposed to be a source of hope and strength, the center of a supportive community. Christians are supposed to be sharing a message of love and forgiveness. Instead, the conservative Christian community has become infected by toxicity, distrust, and shame. They distrust science and medicine, spread falsehoods about gender equality, and are becoming more radically repressive by attacking those who challenge their beliefs and asserting that their religion is law.

It’s time to call out the Good Christian Woman for what it is: an idealistic lie designed to perpetuate repressive beliefs.

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+44 # Adoregon 2019-03-02 23:07
Jesus Christ... and I thought Catholicism was stupid and repressive.

Conservative Christianity is as lame as the Taliban.

Fools who are willing tools.
+30 # chemtex2611 2019-03-02 23:24
Smart, educated, caring women can make their own decisions about what the world needs going forward. For centuries, men have made decisions about their visions and priorities without consulting women, but have assumed that we would support them in their careers, because they actively shut women out of most career tracks. Men also assumed that women would assume all responsibility for cooking, cleaning and child-raising.

It is time for them to come to the table and admit that they have had and taken advantage of a good deal for a VERY long time. Now is the time for them to grow up and to cultivate a spectrum of skills, just like the women they have been ignoring for decades.

Women have cultivated skills in money management, computer programming as well as science and engineering, communication, psychology, personnel management and project management. Moreover, many of the women have a wide spectrum of skills. However, when they decide to combine their skills with child rearing, they need to choose their own time schedule. Women, typically prefer a longer work span, with varying intensities between beginning and the end. They need to ignore men's life-work schedule and construct their work-life schedule to suit themselves, working toward more independence as they mature.
+26 # frankdburton 2019-03-03 00:17
This article tells some very inconvenient truths about the idealized Good Christian Woman.

It stops short of explaining that Good Christian Women not only put up with marital rape and physical and emotional abuse, but also excuse extreme anti-woman and bigoted behavior of certain American political leaders.

What if the Good Christian Women who read this article would apply this next thought as a standard for everyone, especially abusive husbands, boyfriends, ministers, and political leaders:

"What would Christ do?" Did he condemn people with dark skin? Did he condemn strong women, or women who were sexually active rather than passive vessels for men to use only for their own pleasure? Did he condemn people because they loved someone different?

"What would Christ do?"
+5 # Texas Aggie 2019-03-03 18:34
The answer that you would get from the fundamentalist religious community is that Christ would do what they tell Him to do. My ex was an ultraorthodox catholic, and in her mind, Christ did what the priests, especially the ultraorthodox ones, mandated. The same thing applies to the right wing religionists. They are the ones that determine what God wants, the heck with anything that the Bible may say to the contrary.
+32 # lorenbliss 2019-03-03 02:41
Ms. Olson and RSN are each deserving of clenched-fist salutes and several subsequent rounds of applause for having the courage and news judgement to do this story.

Having spent nearly all my post-NYC, involuntary-car petbagger boyhood in the Southron Theocracy, I have a strong sense of the transformations that brought Ms. Olson to her present mindfulness.

More to the point -- because as an agnostically pagan agitator I was often a helpmate in such transformations -- I have a sense of how much determination and unflinching bravery it takes to complete that especially blessed (albeit most assuredly not in the Christian sense) rite of passage.

Hence, Ms. Olson, I salute you again and urge yet more rounds of applause on your behalf.

(Verily, it seems at long last we are awakening to the oft-ignored and not infrequently hidden role of Christianity in the advent of USian fascism.)
-49 # Cowboy 45 2019-03-03 06:55
And you wonder why feminists are angry, single, and unhappy with their lives.
+26 # Michaeljohn 2019-03-03 13:35
And one doesn't have to look too far to see why you are angry at the thought of losing male control .....
You may persist for a while but your way is the way of the dinosaur.
+9 # Texas Aggie 2019-03-03 18:36
I wasn't aware that they were. Most of the feminists I know are quite happily married.
-12 # Cowboy 45 2019-03-04 11:26
Why would any man want to be married to a man hater. That is what feminists have become.
+10 # Sweetgum 2019-03-04 07:29
Do you ever wonder why cowboys only have horses and cattle or companions?
+12 # 2019-03-03 07:48
some perspective is in order. First, the cultish practices described are not consistent with the teachings of the Bible. To describe the Bible rules as "antique" is either ignorance or prejudice or both. Ask any rabbi about how the Torah is progressive with respect to the rights of women. It is the church that has created this myth, not the bible. Second, thankfully, this cult is far from universal in the Christian community. While it is just as bad as described, its scope is somewhat limited. Fundamentalism has always been scarred by racism, homophobia and sexism. But please remember that fundamentalism is not the only or best view of scripture.
+8 # Robbee 2019-03-03 12:20
Quoting 2019-03-03 07:48:
Fundamentalism has always been scarred by racism, homophobia and sexism.

- this story, The Cult of the Good Christian Woman, Sarah Olson, Medium, 02 March 19 -

explores a political phenomena that explains a counter-intuiti ve statistic - why do working-class white women vote, at least by majority, for male, white supremacist, anti-feminist, anti-woman repukes?

in other words? why do white women, playing against sex, largely "stand by their man?"

are white women the 2nd last, working-class white males being the last, refuge of conservative politics?

why do hillary, and even bernie. fail to make inroads into the hegemony, repuke-voter base?

why do working-class folks so vote against type?

this story is a germane political story that rsn shares!

there is no simple answer -

working-class whites are suffering and dying thru a true national emergency of drug-abuse epidemic, powered by oxycontin, meth and lost hope in a better future, loss of an american dream, and their conservative avoidance scheme is "just say 'no?'" and "pray to jesus?"

is there another way?

olson writes - "Christianity is supposed to be a source of hope and strength, the center of a supportive community."

robbee says - the problem is not christ - who stands for the socialist principle that tasks us to "treat our neighbor, as ourselves?"

the problem is religion. repurposed NOT to be "our brother's keeper?"
+1 # Robbee 2019-03-03 12:54
moreover - the last? only? dem politician who, to great effect, thumped the bible, was bubba clinton?

repukes have gone completely over to the old testament “eye for an eye?” political philosophy?

who, if any dem, thumps the new testament? - “turn the other cheek?”

but for blacks and latinos? has the dem party completely abandoned the christian religion? to repukes?
+12 # elizabethblock 2019-03-03 08:21
See also Tara Westover's wonderful book "Educated."
+8 # Kootenay Coyote 2019-03-03 09:49
It would be helpful to know the name of the ‘Christian’ fundamentalist sect involved in this inhumane, evil doctrine: its own form of Purdah.
+20 # laborequalswealth 2019-03-03 11:19
And let's not forget that paragon of Christian Womanhood Phyliss Schafly, who made the grand whistlestop tour of American to convince women to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment - while her multi-millionai re husband (inherited money) stayed home to raise his and Phyliss' SIX CHILDREN (along with plenty of paid help no doubt.)

There really needs to be a new word for uber hypocrite to describe the "Christian" right.

PS: And they are so "pro life" that they cheer when President Agent Orange slaughters more women and children both at home and abroad.
+2 # Wise woman 2019-03-03 11:29
Also Dr. Elaine Pagels book, When God
+9 # Wise woman 2019-03-03 11:42
Also Elaine Pagels' book, When God Was A Woman. And you can ask the above mentioned rabbi about the morning prayer that all good Jewish men in tone about thanking God that they weren't born a woman. As for you, Cowboy, when did you complete your mile in a feminist's shoes? And finally, thank you Loren Bliss. Always enjoy your posts!
-8 # BKnowswhitt 2019-03-03 14:05
Blaming christianity for women's rights is like blaming the chicken for the egg. Truth is most men are not capable of being a good christian husband. False proficies of real christianity abound also. However real christian principle is that a woman is equal to a man. Yet different. Men and women are also inherintly different and That's anatomically proven as well. The relationship should be a balance of the Jing and the Jang .. not the same all the time always .. in regard to work place rights earning power etc .... yeah it's still a man's world dominated by testosterone .. if i were a woman i would not want to 'act like a man' though .. wrong application ..
+6 # lorenbliss 2019-03-03 21:28
Thank you, Wise woman.

Here then are three more vital books: Chris Hedges, "American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America" (Free Press: 2006); Jeff Sharlet, "The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American power" (Harper: 2008); Barbara Mor and Monica Sjoo, "The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth" (Harper San Francisco: 1987).

And let us not forget Robert Graves, "The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth" (original copyright International Authors N.V.: 1948; revised edition Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1966).

Graves' work literally re-purposed my life. Hence I must honor him as the late Helen Farias honored me in 1971 after reading the initial draft of "Glimpses of a Pale Dancer," my book-length investigative report that redefined the Counterculture as the first wave of survival-mandat ed revolution against patriarchy but was destroyed by arson just as it was on the brink of mainstream publication: “you have given me the vocabulary to describe what I've always known to be true but never before had the words to express."

Hence too a special blessing for Ms. Olson:

Let such Nature-embracin g mindfulness reinforce the socialist solidarity that may yet save our species and our Mother Earth from the genocidal Capitalists and their ecocidal ChristoNazi shock troops. So mote it be.
+4 # lorenbliss 2019-03-03 22:27
Regardless of what the advocates of the Abrahamic Religions claim, the history that defines the kindred, misogynisticall y ecocidal, genocidally patriarchal theologies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is an atrocity-list of murder and sadism infinitely worse than that of all other human religions combined.
+2 # Wise woman 2019-03-04 22:30
Re: the Great Cosmic Mother mentioned by Loren Bliss. It teaches us that the earth is sacred and should be honored as such. It is also the basis of all the pagan and tribal religions but lost in the abrahamic religions which has brought us to point of annihilation which we are now experiencing. Our salvation lies in rediscovering our earliest truths and abiding in them. To do otherwise, is to perish. Again, thanks, Loren. Good to know we are on the same page.
0 # DongiC 2019-03-05 16:08
The Christian religion in the real old days, first three or four centuries AD, showed its members had great love for one another. Of course, the Roman Empire was persecuting the hell out of them and using them as entertainment in the Colosseum and arraying them against wild animals. When the Christian church got power in the fourth century, things started to change. Then there was established dogma and courts to enforce it and people branded as heretics and on down through the centuries. Then came the printing press and the challenges to Eccleasiastical power and the Reformation and the Religious Wars and church splits of all kinds. Then, the rise of science and technology and industrializati on and public education and the growth of modern democracies.

Presto, we are in the 21st century with ever advancing science and technology, with missiles and the bomb, with an ever increasing population, with many nation states, with the development of several different value systems and with the hope of a better life; for individuals or for the collective. We are trying to expand rights for all colors, all sexes, all incomes. We are trying to build tolerance for all beliefs except those which threaten us. Will we continue to evolve and
develop our species? Yes, if we remember to think and to respect. Everyone has their rights, no one should be without opportunity. Everyone has the right to develop. Let all dogmas remember that human freedom comes first.
+1 # MikeAF48 2019-03-05 20:05
I liken this cult experience to be very similar to Saudi-Arabia. Just not my cup of tea.

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