“Stay At Home Daughters” sounds like a slogan for Wahhabi Islam, but is actually an extension of the American Christian Patriarchy Movement. Stay-At-Home-Daughters (SAHD) encourages young women to relinquish higher education and employment outside of the home and devote themselves to their fathers until they become wives and mothers. Claims by writers such as Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, that thousands of young women reject feminism in favor of patriarchal complementarianism is intriguing, to say the least.
Somehow by reinstating traditional gender roles, these women feel they are rebelling against societal norms. Has feminism really failed these women or have they just given up?
SAHDs fall under the patriarchal Christian movement, which views the world as imperiled by all non-Christians and dismisses mainstream Christianity as corrupted by feminists. While claiming to recognize the rights of women, complementarians limit these rights with the belief that women are inherently inferior to men.
At the forefront of this movement is Doug Phillips, minister and founder of the Vision Forum, a leading Christian Patriarchal group. Phillips, who purportedly refuses to hire women in his organization, teaches that women are the “helpmeet” of their husbands, and that prior to marriage, daughters may function only under the surveillance of their fathers.
Phillips’ leading disciples, sisters Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of the Visionary Daughters blog, reject feminism and claim that God gives women rights, and in a hand-that-rocks-the-cradle kind of way, ultimately empowers them. They state on their site:
“It is the anti-Christian religions (including Marxism, Islam, and feminism) that demean, undervalue, and exploit women; throughout history, it was the Christian societies that truly valued women, protected women and honored women (insofar as those societies were faithful to the Bible’s actual teachings).”
The Botkin sisters fail to recognize that historically and theologically Christianity and Islam are very much intertwined. Islam is in essence a continuation of Christianity. The Qur’an tells us that as women, we have God-given rights over men and they have rights over us. Islam is said to have emancipated women from the cultural patriarchy that existed when society drifted from God’s word, and Islam did this by re-establishing fundamental women’s rights.
As American Muslim women, we often find ourselves in discussions about faith and feminism. There are many Muslims who, like Phillips, believe the two concepts are mutually exclusive, as if being a feminist is the antithesis of being a faithful believer. Our families tell us it is our religious duty to educate ourselves so we can become pillars of society as wives and mothers. The media tells us we are being oppressed, deprived of our rights to have boyfriends and wear mini-skirts.
Growing up, we are taught to live by the example of Khadijah, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him (PBUH)). Several years older than Muhammad (PBUH), she was not only a wealthy business owner but his boss; and she proposed to him. We are also told of Aisha, Muhammad’s wife after Khadijah’s death, who led troops in battle and who is revered as a highly authoritative Islamic scholar. And after years of watching The Cosby Show we believe that we can achieve domestic and social success by being Clair Huxtable, the quintessential do-it-all woman – a beautiful fashionista, a successful career woman, and a caring wife and mother. That is a lot to live up to!
The struggle to be everything to everyone and do it all in six-inch stilettos makes it easy to see how feminism can be viewed as having failed the modern religious woman. Feminism is not seen as a liberating force; instead it is viewed as the rejection of our God-given femininity and the resultant moral decay of society. This is where SAHDs blame feminism for the exploitation of women. Calling on women to reevaluate their priorities appears harmless. Many women, of all faiths, are opting not to do it all anymore, or at least, not do it all at once. Women are planning their lives so they can be there for their families. These decisions are not considered radical. In fact, it can be argued that a woman making an informed decision about how to live her life is in essence a feministic ideal regardless of her choice. However, actively purporting a return to patriarchal isolation as means to build self-worth, as the Botkin sisters encourage, is a dangerous excuse for intellectual laziness.
Patriarchy, by definition, represses the God-given rights of women because it places women at the whim of men and removes the element of personal choice. Women are conditioned to deny their own desires, to be submissive to men, and to believe that their only function is to please men. Encouraging the idea that women are only fit for motherhood and marriage denies women the potential to grow as human beings. Promoting virginity to be a pledge given to fathers and taken by husbands turns women’s bodies and sexuality into the property of men. This is precisely how oppression works. The oppressor creates a reality to justify the subordination of the oppressed, and in this case, the Botkin sisters have merely become tools of Phillips’ female subjugation.
Our collective history as Christians and Muslims has demonstrated continuously that, when women live in isolation from the world, intellectually confined to what is deemed appropriate by men, society cannot flourish. It is impossible for women to find protection and respect if their standard of worth is left for men to determine, no matter how “God-fearing” the men claim to be. Rejecting feminism to return to patriarchy cannot be a revival of faith because it replaces the power of God with the desires of men.
(Photo Source: Amybarickman.com)
Growing up as a Pakistani-South African American Muslim in suburbia New Jersey, Nadia S. Mohammad spent much of her childhood thinking she was Desi until she moved to Pakistan and learned she was American. Returning to the U.S. with this new perspective and a defiance of social stereotypes she delved into the world of South Asian and Muslim American media and activism. A Loyola University Chicago law graduate, she continues to believe in the values of justice and equality with cupcakes for all.
Anisah Hashmi is a B.A. candidate at Dickinson College and a proud Pakistani-American Muslim woman who routinely engages in interfaith work, feminist causes, philanthropy, and artistic expression.