What Is The Evangelical “Stay-At-Home Daughters Movement”?

Weeks ago, we met the evangelical housewives who submit to their husbands. Now let’s meet the evangelical “stay-at-home daughters” — young women who forgo higher education and a career to stay close to their fathers and learn how to be a good homemaker and helper before they are getting married.

Writing in Bitch Magazine, author Gina McGalliard explains how these young women claim all women are much happier submitting to a family-focused life, rather than getting their own careers and jobs. Whether the woman needs “special protection” from her husband or her father, it’s all part of the same “Christian patriarchy movement.”The “stay-at-home daughter” lifestyle is regressive, not to mention extremely heteronormative (i.e., considering heterosexual sex to be “normal”). But that, you see, is the way they want it. McGalliard writes:

The stay-at-home-daughters movement, which is promoted by Vision Forum, encourages young girls and single women to forgo college and outside employment in favor of training as “keepers at home” until they marry. Young women pursuing their own ambitions and goals are viewed as selfish and anti-family; marriage is not a choice or one piece of a larger life plan, but the ultimate goal. Stay-at-home daughters spend their days learning “advanced homemaking” skills, such as cooking and sewing, and other skills that at one time were a necessity — knitting, crocheting, soap- and candle-making. A father is considered his daughter’s authority until he transfers control to her husband. .. Integral to Vision Forum’s belief about female submission is making sure women are not independent at any point in their lives, regardless of age; hence the organization’s enthusiasm for stay-at-home daughterhood.

The creepiest part of the article is when McGalliard writes about the bond between fathers and daughters. Have you ever seen or heard about “virginity pledges,” where a father gives his tween or teen daughter a ring? She pledges to stay a virgin until her wedding night (ahem, Jessica Simpson) and keep her dad as the only man in her life until she is married. The behaviors of the fathers and daughters in the Vision Forum take that even further. McGalliard writes that in the documentary film “Return of the Daughters,” 23-year-old Katie Valenti talks about how her father “is the greatest man in my life. I believe that helping my father in his business is a better use of my youth and is helping prepare me to be a better helpmeet [An explicitly biblical phrase that means “helper.”] for my future husband, rather than indulging in selfishness and pursuing my own success and selfish ambitions.”

McGalliard adds that at her 2009 wedding to a man named Phillip, Valenti’s father announced he is “transferring my authority to you, Phillip.” Blogs written by stay-at-home daughters Ah The Life and Joyfully at Home will enlighten you further. (Under Much Grace is a blog by a woman who left the Christian patriarchy movement.) I also encourage you to check out books and media to “inspire young men to be courageous” and “encourage young women to be virtuous” on the Vision Forum’s website.

This article on Christian patriarchy and stay-at-home daughters reminds me of a conversation I had over the summer. My boyfriend’s sister is an evangelical and I spent all the Fourth of July day with about 15 of her peers. (To be clear, I don’t know if they believe in being “stay-at-home daughters” or all the tenets of the Christian patriarchy movement, per se.) Naturally, I had a million questions. Many of the women worked at entry-level jobs and had no education beyond high school. I politely asked them if they were interested in advancing their education, because that’s the kind of thing I’m used to with my (non-evangelical) peer group. One of them explained to me that they don’t really think of their lives in terms of what they want to do, but in terms of what would please God and what their calling would be. I asked if my calling would be writing. She told me it could be, but God could also have another calling for me and He would tell me what that is. These women seemed completely at ease with not having any ambitions in the way that I, personally, define “ambition.” Although I can understand their reasoning, it’s nevertheless 180 degrees different from anything I know. I don’t recall them using the word “selfish” to describe having ambition, but I do remember them talking about the difference between having a “self-focused life” and an “others-focused life”; it was clear that with my job and ambitions what kind of life they think I lead.

Another thing that struck me about this article was how the author said “women are not independent at any point in their lives.” From what little peek I’ve had into the lives of evangelicals, it is my understanding that independence is not an ideal for anyone; they are all about the group mentality. In some ways, this is beautiful, how they support each other and truly have a community mindset. But of course as a feminist, I don’t think I need to explain to you what I think about discouraging women and girls from being independent and submissive to the men in their lives.

Admittedly, some aspects of a family-focused life sound lovely. Yet, any society or social group that prizes a woman’s fertility and supposed inborn mothering/nurturing skills gets a little too The Handmaid’s Tale for me. Furthermore, my biggest problem with “movements” like this — which include perhaps only a few tens of thousands of people, according to Bitch — is that they purport to be the best lifestyle choice for everyone. If an individual woman wants to consent to live her life this way, I couldn’t care less. But prescribing that every woman submit to her father, and then her husband? Nuh-uh. Not going to fly. Coercing a young woman into being a “stay-at-home daughter” and then convincing her that a wife is her highest goal in life? That’s wrong, too. (McGalliard aptly describes the “choice” between “having a family and her own personhood” as being presented with a “false choice.”)

I wholeheartedly encourage you to read the full piece in Bitch. While I love, love, love Bitch, I wish that stories of this kind made the mainstream media more than just that one piece in The New York Times Magazine.

[Bitch Magazine]