Vyckie Garrison runs a website called No Longer Quivering, which assists women in transitioning from abusive, oppressive and servile roles as breeding servants of husbands and an interpretation of the Bible called The Quiverful movement. The site features the stories of women and families, told in their own words - about the harsh price paid by women and children in oppressive, strict religion. Most of the stories are painful to read, but I encourage you to read them. The knowledge of what these women go through in order to provide healthy lives for themselves and their children - is breathtaking. Vyckie also operates a site called The Take Heart Project, to support women in all religions who seek to free themselves of oppression, brutality & dehumanization in the name of a god.
(Posted at SexGenderBody)
I invited Vyckie to be interviewed on SGB because her story is a powerful one, which is shared in full or in part by a great many women across the globe.
SGB: Looking back at your life, who were you before Quiverfull that you are no longer? Who are you since leaving Quiverfull?
VG: Before Quiverfull, I was a young girl with a lifetime and the whole world before me ~ I was smart, competent, relatively healthy, ambitious ~ I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do "something big."
Only I didn't know what that "something big" might be. I had a 4.0 GPA in college ~ so I knew that I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. The problem for me was that everything seemed so very interesting ~ I wanted to do it all!!
But I was also very insecure and fearful. Decision making was a terribly scary thing for me ~ what if I made the wrong choice? Worse yet ~ what if I failed? I wanted to know with absolute certainty that I was doing the right thing. I had the idea that if I prayed to God for guidance and searched the bible, I could discern God's will for my life. It was an appealing idea ~ after all, Who would know better than my Creator what was right and best for me?
So I went to bible college and I became a student of the Word. Through diligent study, plus the help of many fundamentalist teachers ~ I discovered that God had very specific plans for me as a woman. He created me female ~ gave me a womb ~ and if I was to be fulfilled and joyful and pleasing to the Lord ~ I needed to give my womb over in service to Him. I learned that as a woman, the Lord created me to be a suitable helper for my husband ~ to bear his children and assist him in training them up to love and serve the Lord with their whole beings ~ mind, body, soul and strength.
Sure, I could've done anything I wanted with my life ~ but what higher calling could there be for me as a woman than to be sober, to love my husband, to love my children, to be discreet, chaste, a keeper at home, good, obedient to my own husband, that the word of God be not blasphemed? (Titus 2:4,5)
What I did in actuality was to give up my power ~ my agency ~ severely limiting my choices in life. I chose to have no choice ~ all for the security of having that absolute certainty that I was doing the very best thing with my talents and abilities. I had discovered a formula for godly family living ~ one that promised strength and guidance, favor with God ~ with all the requisite blessings of those who walked in His ways, peace beyond understanding, and eternal reward in the life to come. After all, Jesus taught us that a man who seeks to save his life shall lose it ~ but whoever loses his life for Christ's sake shall find it.
It was all so real ~ so all-consuming. I could not imagine that without it, there would be any "me" at all ~ my entire identity was wrapped up in following Christ and the Word of God.
When I began to have doubts ~ when I no longer trusted the Bible as my guidebook for daily living ~ I became rather anxious, so I scrambled to figure out what of Christianity I could hold onto ~ to say, "This, I still believe."
But I came up empty ~ none of it makes sense to me anymore. Which kind of puts me back at square one. The difference is ~ this time, I am not afraid. I do not need to have all the answers ~ in fact, I'm beginning to like the uncertainty and ambiguity. I don't mind so much anymore that life's a struggle and things get messy and we're all a little screwy at times. I am much more relaxed and willing to take life as it comes. I don't feel a need for a sure-fire formula or guaranteed outcomes. The pressure is off and I am enjoying the simplicity of living life in the moment.
SGB: What terms do you use to identify yourself?
VG: Good question! Here's how I used to identify myself (taken from an actual signature line which I used on the "Bible Wives" forum):
Vyckie ~ Helpmeet to Warren, Mom of Seven Arrows for His Glory: Angel, Berea, Chasse, Hazelle (our first "reversal baby"), Andrew, Lydia Jean & Wesley ~ so far.
As a former "True Believer," lover and follower of Jesus Christ, as well as a strict fundamentalist Quiverfull "Mom of Many" ~ I cringe now at labels and actively resist being pigeonholed by terminology.
It used to be my goal in life to know God so intimately ~ so completely ~ that at the end of my life when it came time to stand before Him ~ face to face ~ I would not have the sort of "I really wasn’t expecting this" surprised feelings of one who’s meeting a distant relative for the first time. I wanted that meeting to have the feeling of a homecoming ~ like greeting a familiar, and very dear old friend.
Somewhere along the line, I had a complete change of perspective and now that whole idea of "knowing God intimately" seems silly ~ how could anyone really "know" a being or entity such as God?
These days, when I try to picture in my mind what "God" might be like, I do not imagine a supernatural being who is qualitatively different from all other manifestations of existence. In other words, I believe that everything that exists is all that there is ~ we are all "of a piece" ~ there is no "higher power" outside of and separate from whatever is.
I also do not picture an oversized, white-bearded male looking down from above, overseeing the affairs of "men" ~ and micromanaging every little detail of our lives.
With regard to my former Christian beliefs ~ having devoted myself wholly to Jesus for over 25 years, I think I have a better than fair understanding of His teaching and His life’s mission. I used to be inspired by Jesus’ central message ~ that of the cross, of self-sacrifice and laying down one’s life for others ~ but now, I think that such martyrdom is unhealthy and kind of twisted.
If you don’t mind ending up dead, or wishing you were dead ~ then go ahead and follow Jesus’ example as He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and never opened His mouth in protest. But for those who plan to live out their lives ~ especially for mothers who need to stick around and raise their children ~ a lifestyle of complete self-abnegation is unsustainable.
Pouring one’s entire life into serving your husband ~ giving up everything for the sake of your children ~ this is a recipe for burnout and breakdown.
Particularly for women, Jesus example of submission to His Father’s will is a set up for willing acceptance of oppression and abuse at the hands of those in a position of authority ~ no matter how benevolent and loving that authority is supposed to be.
I am no longer inspired by Jesus, in fact, so much of what He stood for ~ submission, obedience, martyrdom, establishing the Kingdom of God ~ such things make me wince and I cannot bear to listen to His message any longer.
I do still have some interest in "Emergent" ideas and Process Theology. I wish I had plenty of spare time to read up on all the progressive thought which is making its way into the collective Christian consciousness. Some interest ... but not enough to actually make the time ...
I am, in spite of all the radical changes in my thoughts, beliefs, and lifestyle ~ still Vyckie.
SGB: Your website is powerful, direct, extremely moving and often challenging me as a reader to stay with the story as it unfolds. How does the site mirror your identity? How is it different from who you are?
VG: Quiverfull is a powerful head trip ~ the vision of a big, happy family ~ which infects the mind and affects every aspect of a Believer's life ~ thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, decisions ~ it is all-encompassing. In the Quiverfull paradigm, the appearance of perfection is everything ~ because in reality, none of us ever truly measures up to the ideal. Once the spell was broken for me, and I woke up from the Quiverfull dream-land ~ I had an intense desire, not to be perfect ~ but to be REAL.
There is power in the authenticity represented in the stories at No Longer Quivering ~ we are sharing our experiences truthfully from our hearts. The desires and ideals which motivated us to live the extremely demanding Quiverfull lifestyle are universal ~ we all want the very best for our families ~ we all desire our homes to be a place of peace, rest and comfort ~ a sanctuary full of love and the sweet giggles of our healthy, joyful children.
This is the promise of Quiverfull ~ happy families who are right with themselves, with each other, ... and with God.
What makes reading the stories at NLQ such a challenge is the undeniable awareness that all of us are vulnerable ~ readers want to think, "This could never happen to me!" ~ but as they follow the stories, they readily identify with the women and they realize, "This so easily could have been me."
It continually amazes me, as I receive the stories from other women who emerged from the Quiverfull movement, how alike our stories are in many respects. Sometimes we all seem to have been married to the same guy, have been beaten over the head with the same scriptures, and have read the same crazy books by the same misguided people. There are differences, however ~ cultural, religious, and otherwise ~ and I feel strongly about simply allowing contributors to tell their stories even when they differ from mine or from those of other contributors. We all came from different places and have arrived at different places. If I "impose" anything upon my website and forum, it is these principles: that everyone's story is valid and everyone is in a process of recovery. I try to create a non-judgmental environment where the Story is what counts. In the Story there is power.
SGB: People are often afraid to come forward and speak out against abuse or oppression. Often, we can only imagine more violence and retaliation and envisioning the impact in personal, daily terms is very powerful. How does your family benefit with you being in close contact with the stories of these women and families?
VG: There is something particularly dreadful about not just having been a willing participant in our own abuse but also a zealous advocate of the system that was actively harming us and our children. I think the fact that we are smart and strong women only makes our guilt and regret more acute.
What I'm discovering though, is that in sharing our stories candidly in a supportive venue such as NLQ ~ we are able to process and heal at a surprisingly rapid pace. Of course, we are each on our own journey out of self-delusion which is fraught and complicated ~ but there is something about writing down our experiences and receiving sympathetic feedback from others who have been there, done that which is incredibly validating ~ it helps us to realize, "Hey ~ I'm not crazy. Neither am I stupid or evil for having caught the 'biblical family vision' and foisted it upon myself and my children."
The No Longer Quivering forum has many participants who were never directly involved in the Quiverfull movement ~ from these members, I constantly hear that reading our stories and the feedback which occurs in response has helped them to understand their own dilemmas, personal triggers, and trauma. I believe this is because, while few actually buy into the full-blown Quiverfull philosophy and lifestyle ~ the principles and assumptions of Quiverfull are really common family dynamics writ large. Sometimes we call it "Patriarchy Lite" ~ but even in its more subtle forms, the expected gender roles, the dominance and submission, the perfectionism, the martyrdom, ~ these are nonetheless devastating for all who play the game.
SGB: If you could say anything to a woman or child reading this article, who is living inside the Quiverfull movement, what would you say?
VG: What I wish we could all see clearly is that as women living in complicated, confusing, and yes ~ scary times, we so desperately want to raise happy, healthy kids that we give away our power to anyone who says they have the formula for success. That deep fear of screwing up our kids stems from the failure of our parents to protect and shield us from the inherent dangers of growing up in the real world. Of course, our parents can't really be faulted considering most tried their best, but none were perfect. No one is perfect. We know this. But deep down, we cannot escape our own desire ~ to be perfect mothers. Quiverfull women want more than anything to do the right thing by God and their children ~ and we kid ourselves that we've found THE WAY. That's why it's often not until we realize our children are being harmed that we make our move - we've been willing to suffer just about anything to get it right till then. We often are so deluded it takes a terrible incident such as our children cutting themselves, starving themselves, or attempting to kill themselves to open our eyes.
With all my heart, I wish that our love, our sincerity, our intelligence, our diligence, our sold-out dedication, our blood, sweat and tears could somehow guarantee protection and justice for our children. Reality tells me ~ it isn’t so.
If you, like so many of us at NLQ, raised your children according to Quiverfull principles until at least their early teens, you may have already had to endure the sorrow of watching your children rise up and call you Monster, or at least, Failure. If you haven’t yet, you probably will. And, believe it or not, this is a good, good thing. I do hope your child does not need to resort to the dramatic acts that you'll read about at No Longer Quivering in order to gain your attention, in fact, we former Quiverfull moms would plead with you to listen to them well before that becomes necessary. But I want to encourage you with this:
As parents we should not be afraid of the volume or power or ugliness of the moment ~ or indeed the many moments ~ when our child finds her young adult voice. What we really should be afraid of is her silence. That compliant 25-year-old looks and sounds like an adult, but she has a 12-year-old soul. Like the tiny feet of Chinese girls crushed and tightly bound in rags by well-intentioned parents to prevent their healthy growth, that child may be the victim of a sort of a ‘soul-binding’. This disastrous mistake may have doomed her to endure both a crippling emotional agony and an ongoing rage that her mother could dare to insist that such a violent and abusive act was perpetrated because of love.
SGB: The Quiverfull movement is a Eurocentric, white, Christian fundamentalist worldview, but it does mirror many other religious groups that seek to use women as breeders. These movements also deny women any other value in the community, education, agency, voice and health - all with the aim of swelling that group's population to such numbers that they can overwhelm other groups. What thoughts do you have on reaching out across cultures to join with other women and children?
VG: What you say is quite true ~ but to be honest, I'm not nearly so ambitious as to be actively reaching out beyond the Quiverfull community. I'm kind of burned out ~ single mom, 5 kids still at home ~ and the work that I'm doing at No Longer Quivering is overwhelming and more than I can handle. (As evidenced by how terribly long it took me just to respond to this interview ~ LOL)
One of our NLQ forum members, Tapati McDaniels, is a former devotee of the Hare Krishna movement ~ Tapati is sharing her story of patriarchal abuse, "Patriarchy Across Cultures" in the hope that women in other restrictive, fundamentalist traditions will begin to see the connections and question the beliefs that constrict their lives.
We are in the process of forming a non-profit organization, The Take Heart Project, in order to better serve women who are escaping and healing from the Quiverfull teachings and lifestyle. This is a gargantuan task which has me feeling severely inadequate as the need is overwhelming. With increasing frequency, I am hearing from moms of 6+ kids who read the stories at No Longer Quivering and are waking up to the destructiveness of this most insidious philosophy. Leaving an abusive marriage is tough enough ~ but add in the spiritual component (for many, forsaking Quiverfull is equivalent to giving up on God) and half a dozen young children ~ and you have a situation which could aptly be described as a living nightmare.
SGB: Abuse is a tough cycle to break free from, in and of itself. For it to also be labeled as "God's will" must be incredibly onerous - especially when it is reinforced throughout our community of family and friends. What are some of the challenges this presents when women approach you for counsel?
VG: We offer ongoing support for former Quiverfull moms who are transitioning back to the "real world" ~ it's quite encouraging to witness the strength and the integrity with which these women are tackling seemingly insurmountable piles of crap ~ from relational disasters to hellish fallout when the kids react against the soul-crushing Quiverfull family environment. These women are dealing with entitled ex-husbands who are relentless in their efforts to recapture their former place of supreme importance in the lives of the women and children (one of our members' Ex has taken her to court over 150 times!), they're facing financial strain as most have been out of the workforce for decades, many are caring for special needs children whom they were encouraged to adopt as a way of filling their quivers with more "arrows for the war," often the children are in crisis ~ so they're also dealing with kids who are anorexic, suicidal, drug or alcohol dependent, etc. Many of these women have lost their own health due to near-continuous pregnancies, childbirth and nursing ~ and add to that the Post Traumatic Stress of surviving years of mental, emotional and spiritual abuse. And yes, their entire support system is generally tied to the fundamentalist Quiverfull community which is quick to shun them the minute they begin to make waves. On top of it all ~ if their faith is lost in the process of escape, then there is not even the comfort of Someone to hear their prayers ~ so these women are literally on their own.
Honestly ~ I don't know how we manage. We're a tough and tenacious group of women who love our children and are determined to make it for their sakes. I really cannot describe in words what a tremendous challenge it is.
SGB: Any social system that denies half its population education, health, rights and earning power - is doomed to failure. Especially when that half of the population is the mother of every child, raising and influencing each male and female. This is by design for the benefit of the status quo minority. However, most men are not in that elite grouping and are unaware that they too are suffering as a result of this brutal inequity. So, enrolling men in the dismantling of these systems is critical in breaking the social structure of abuse. What do you see the Quiverfull movement costing the men that participate in it?
VG: Though at first glance the hierarchical family structure with husband as head and wife as submissive helper may appear to be an inviting set-up for the men ~ the day to day reality, and the long-term effect of being indiscriminately catered to ~ the perpetual indulgence of power and control ~ turns out to be not such a sweet deal for Daddy after all.
I was intrigued recently to read about "Acquired Situational Narcissism" (ASN) ~ a personality disorder which develops in late adolescence or adulthood ~ brought on by wealth, fame and the other trappings of "celebrity."
I was especially interested to read this:
ASN differs from conventional narcissism in that it develops after childhood and is triggered and supported by the celebrity-obsessed society: fans, assistants and tabloid media all play into the idea that the person really is vastly more important than other people, triggering a narcissistic problem that might have been only a tendency, or latent, and helping it to become a full-blown personality disorder.
Naturally, I began making connections ~ because what is patriarchy if not the absolute enshrinement of the supreme importance of males?
Consider the following advice from Debi Pearl, author of "Created to Be His Help Meet: Discover How God Can Make Your Marriage Glorious" ~
"For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man" (1 Cor. 11:8-9). Four thousand years after creation, Paul, Timothy, and Peter wrote to us, telling us God’s original plan was still the same as it was in the beginning when Adam and Eve were first learning how to be husband and wife. ...
I know that as you read this it almost sounds like blasphemy, because it is so weird to think that your husband deserves you as his help meet. But who said anything about what he deserves? You can only realize your womanhood when you are functioning according to your created nature. ... Your female nature cannot be retrofitted to the male role without permanent damage to the original design.
.... God made you to be a help meet to your husband so you can bolster him, making him more productive and efficient at whatever he chooses to do. You are not on the board of directors with an equal vote. You have no authority to set the agenda. But if he can trust you, he will make you his closest adviser, his confidante, his press secretary, his head of state, his vice-president, his ambassador, his public relations expert, maybe even his speech writer ~ all at his discretion.
As a fully convinced patriarch’s wife, Debi Pearl and similar champions of wifely submission inspired me to anticipate and meet my ex-husband’s every need, want and desire ~ regardless of the cost to myself and the children. I did this, not primarily for Warren’s benefit, but because, as Pearl explains:
When you are a help meet to your husband, you are a helper to Christ for God commissioned man for a purpose and gave him a woman to assist in fulfilling that divine calling. When you honor your husband, you honor God. When you obey your husband, you obey God. the degree to which you reverence your husband is the degree to which you reverence your Creator. As we serve our husbands, we serve God. But in the same way, when you dishonor your husband, you dishonor God.
Looking back, I can plainly see that the "assistance" which I rendered to Warren as his "suitable helper" served only to reinforce in his mind the idea of his superior ~ and divinely-sanctioned ~ importance. My daily submission to his every demand ~ no matter how petty or self-serving ~ was about as helpful as giving in to a tantrum-throwing, breath-holding toddler ~ it’s a very effective way to create a tyrant.
That’s unfortunate ~ because in many ways, Warren is a nice enough guy. I believe that patriarchy legitimized his weakest tendencies and the strict gender-roles which we followed arrested his ability to adapt and capitalize on his strengths.
Following the "help meet" model advocated in the patriarchal worldview creates an artificial competence in which the man never has to struggle through a difficulty and thus feel the sense of triumph once he’s conquered a problem ~ because he is living in a self-protective bubble created and maintained by his well-meaning Proverbs 31 wife.
As Christians, we constantly heard that in a godly marriage it is essential that a man loves his wife and that the woman respects her husband. Here’s the rub ~ the patriarchal blueprint for the marriage relationship guarantees that a man will not truly love his wife and that a woman can never truly respect her husband.
A man’s growth and maturity are stunted due to constantly being rescued from adversity ~ and he has nothing of himself ~ only a dependency upon the woman to uphold that illusion of his headship and control.
There is no love in patriarchy. There is no respect. There is only perpetual immaturity, dependency and frustration for the man who is subjected to the most sophisticated manipulation as his wife gives over control and authority to him ~ and in that move, takes control of God Himself ~ for in response to her obedience, has the Lord not promised to bless her?
When I finally recognized the insidious nature of the headship/submission scheme, here’s how I described my connivance:
The very first thing that I had to learn as a Christian wife was submission. I needed to honor and obey my husband. And I had to be such a devout, godly woman that my husband couldn’t find any fault in me ~ and in that way, I could "win him without a word." Of course, the bible study ladies reminded me that it was God’s job to get my husband saved, but they also assured me that I could do my part by following their advice and being a loving, respectful wife. ... What I took away from that meeting was this: all I had to do was be the perfect wife and the perfect Christian and God would honor that and save my marriage.
Now, I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking that obviously it’s impossible to be perfect ~ but that wasn’t so apparent to me at the time. I was 18 ~ and girls that age are apt to think they can do anything. I knew I was smart and talented and so I had a pretty high opinion of my own abilities. I had little doubt that I could carry out all that those women told me I must do ~ and when I did it, God would have no choice but to come through for me.
Everything I did in that respect during that time was my attempt to attach strings of obligation to God so that I could make Him dance like Pinocchio at my bidding. I was the ultimate manipulator ~ I no longer needed to control my husband directly because I could influence God to do that work for me.
Yes ~ that is a most twisted love. That is the reality of patriarchy. Undoubtedly, the women lose ~ but it’s certainly no bargain for the men either.
[Note from Vyckie: Many thanks to several former Quiverfull moms, who asked not to be mentioned by name, for their assistance in responding to this Sexgenderbody interview.]