I’ve been reading a lot about the Botkin sisters lately. And for you all to understand why I’ve been reading up on this particular family from Texas, I’ll have to start with an explanation.
Over the better part of the past two years, I’ve been scouring the Internet for points of outrage, places where I could read opinions that were very contrary to mine to see if there was any merit in these positions or whether they just reaffirmed what I already knew about them. Yes, I know that I should find something better to do with my time. But I figure that if I’m going to surf, I might as well make it a philosophically challenging experience.
Much of my searching lead to sites written by “Men’s Rights Activists”. These are a branch of thinkers who write extensively on the materialistic nature of women and how they make the dating world much harder on themselves and potential mates. In their view, the decimation of gender roles has lead to the breakdown of family and anarchy amongst the young & sexually frustrated. Disillusioned, these men take to the internet to make their arguments. They are apocalyptic and ominous in tone, especially when it comes to the condition of American women. (They refer to them as “AWs” or, sometimes, “Ameriskanks”.) Since these movements are aligned with a dangerous form of conservatism which would have women stay in the kitchen, flat on their backs, or out of sight, I can’t say that I sympathize with them. The language they use is hostile, often misogynist, and the logic that they use to defend their sociopolitical concerns is so reprehensible I can’t even get through some of these posts.
However, just because I find them beyond the pale, it doesn’t follow that other women disagree. In fact, these blogs boast a dedicated following among ladies who also agree with a notion of strict gender roles. Some of these ladies post comments on these MRA blogs, and this was how I was hooked into the world of Ladies against Feminism, Domestic Felicity. Many of these women aspire to the Titus2 ideal — feminine, compassionate, and very aware of male authority.
These women make it a point to be inoffensive, but I consider some of their opinions to be extremely radical & hidden behind the flowery language. The Thinking Housewife supports overt discrimination against women in the workplace. The Ladies Against Feminism, an anti-choice group, thinks that the Enlightenment spurred the fall of civilization and obliterated femininity. Not mainstream opinions, to say the least.
At the end of this search trajectory, I came across the Botkin sisters. Their site, Visionary Daughters, is connected to the Western Conservatory, a school of thought that’s apparently devoted to making sure that we all stay in the stone age. Their parents and six brothers are very active in their conservative Christian community. Not wanting to feel left out, they’ve taken up the mantle of Christian womanhood with the same ministerial zeal. Aside from blogging, they also produce videos, take (& give) interviews on local radio shows. They’re both very pretty, as an aside, with classic good European looks that probably win them a lot of fans.
They write extensively about the role of young women in their families. They see themselves as part of a “backlash against feminism”. Feminism is often equated to a cancer or a scourge; it is an outside, unnatural influence which is responsible for the corruption of civilization. To them, formal education is a tool that the government uses to spread this faulty philosophy, so they champion the home- schooling cause. And if the Botkin sisters were in charge, no lady would ever attend university. Colleges are hubs of Godlessness; they encourage liberalism & raunchy behavior. Living away from one’s family (before marriage) is seen as decadence and staying home is an act of resistance and personal conviction.
(The Botkin sisters document a counter-cultural tactic among Christian women who do not leave home after completing school in their movie The Return of the Daughters. This movie chronicles the lives of young women as they explain their decisions to stay home and reconcile their faiths, sexual identity & places within the Bible through extensive study of the Scripture.)
There was one story in Return of the Daughters that truly disturbed me. One of their documentary subjects was the Baucham family whose ultraconservative patriarch, Voddie Baucham, kept his daughter at home after she graduated from high school. When confronted with the choice to send his daughter to college, Jasmine’s father asserts: “I will not sacrifice my daughter at the altar of Men.” Jasmine, who has her own blog and is very erudite in her own right, remains perfectly content to submit to her father’s authority. By doing this, she believes she is acting as her father does when he submits to the Lord.
I don’t understand this line of reasoning. Does that mean that you should treat your earthly father as if he is God? I love my father and think he’s almost infallible sometimes, but he is not an omnipotent being; he is capable of making mistakes.
This father-worship pervades the Botkin mentality. Their father — Geoffry Botkin — leads seminars on for young men on the subject of responsible fatherhood. And though he seems like a wonderful and involved parent, I sense his deep arrogance — he believes that his way is best.
The Botkin sisters are just as merciless. Their book So Much More — written for the young Christian woman who seeks a defense from the secular wilderness – has the same lilting arrogance. They know best because their father knows best. (Their mother Victoria Botkin also hosts such events, and these are so wildly popular that the opportunity to listen to her is an incentive for conservative women to participate in lotteries and contests across the blogosphere in hopes of securing a place at one of these webinars.)
Another recent post on Visionary Daughters discusses the sin of idealizing one’s mate. The intended audience include Christian girls who have been tempted by Twilight’s Edward Cullen and (true) literary heroes like Pride & Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy. The Botkin sisters write that these heroes are no more than emotional pornography, coated in a Biblical premise of Eve’s fall from grace through the temptation presented by the apple. I believe that this concept of “emotional pornography” describes an actual phenomenon. There are people whose ideal notions of the perfect literary hero get in the way of finding a flesh-and-blood significant other, emasculating our expectations while feeding our narcissistic beast. But saying that we should avoid these books means that we’re denying ourselves the right to imagine. I like my heroes. I love Mr. Darcy. I wouldn’t give up my knowing him and his story for the world, and you’d better believe that. They conclude their argument with the most ridiculous few sentences I’ve ever read.
We who feel “the urge to escape sometimes” should ask ourselves why a world apart from God’s character, God’s laws, and God’s created order would be a world a Christian would desire to live in? What would make us want to run, like Jonah, from God and His presence? “Escapism is only medicine to one who views the reality of God and His creation as a disease.” The answer for those in need of “escape” from life’s hardships is running to God – not away from Him. from How Twilight is Revamping Romance
Escapism is our way of coping with the raw deal that God gave us. Or — to put it religiously — it is our way of trying to understand and reason with the majesty of infinite options. It’s our way of testing omnipotence. If religion is all about how we’ve been created in God’s image, how is it sacrilegious for us to attempt to understand this image? Who does not escape, or attempt to escape?
I’m also curious: if God is everywhere, is it dimensionally possible to run away from Him?
(Even by writing this I feel like I’m on the defensive. I’m “rebelling” against what I’ve been told to do. They speak from the unvarnished platform of authority and I’m their supplicant, willing to listen and absorb, unwilling to argue, mystified by my reluctance to grasp.)
Just by this paragraph alone I was struck by their uncompromising world view and the way they tackled many of their posts with a blunt insensitivity that undermined their authority on various subjects. Here were two young women advising many of their older counterparts on matters of marriage, relationship with God. On what/whose life experience do they base their observations? Their parents’? Their siblings? Similarly sheltered friends?
The Botkin Sisters sink to new depths of self-righteous nonsense in their post concerning young women in fractured backgrounds. It’s entitled Biblical Principles for Girls in Difficult Situations and is a long, moralistic piece of hubris addressing girls in difficult situations. Reading this, I feel like I’ve stumbled across a tract written in the early twentieth century. It urges girls not to lose hope and covet those attractive opportunities of others. They deliberately set themselves up as objects to be coveted in the beginning as they discuss their “intact” family at length. What mystifies me is that they make no allowances for other conclusions that can be drawn from life experiences other than theirs. Their message is this: if you do not have what they have, then you are doomed to need it, but whatever you do, you must not want it. If your life leads you to cherish and desire other things, there is always some verse in the Bible that will mention its ungodliness and threaten swift consequences unless you realign yourself with the correct path.
With all of this contradictory, moralistic garbage floating around, is it any wonder that being a girl is so confusing?
In the future, my daughters will be on the receiving end of such messages. I can’t say that I’ve emerged from my adolescence unscathed, but if I did, it was no thanks to messages and guilt trips such as these. If I could tell my future fertilized eggs one thing, it would be this: Try not to listen to anybody. And if you need mentors, find better ones than the Botkin sisters.
“[the Botkin sisters] claim to have ministered to others, but I wonder if that was truly to those outside their world – or just a cleaned up version their parents wanted them to see. Their life with the tidy clean house, tied up in a perfect red bow is awesome, but those that grew up in the opposite home life? The announcer can say EVERYONE that has a daughter needs to get their book, but truly there are a lot of girls that you won’t reach. Its like someone speaking English to a person in Russia, and telling them they can’t grasp reality due to lack of understanding the language (English). Its not the Russians fault for walking away looking at you like a LOON – yet the way they approach it you would think it is!”