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Patriarchy, Meet Matriarchy

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #89, 2009.

Where the new movement for “Dad involvement” is missing the boat.

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Mary Pride

How did this happen? Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book, The Way Home, urging women to rediscover their biblical role, including the blessings of children. The only times the word "patriarch" was even mentioned in The Way Home was in quotes from various feminists agonizing about male oppression.

Yet somehow today I find myself "credited" as a founder and promoter of the modern Patriarchy movement.

A new book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, claims The Way Home "did much to recreate the homeschooling movement along patriarchal... lines."

This probably explains why major network producers have been emailing me asking for interviews the last few years. If I had actually responded to any of their emails, instead of concentrating on my family and Practical Homeschooling, they might have enlightened me about the positions I supposedly introduced to the world.

As it turns out, I do have some interest in the Patriarchy movement. Starting with this:

Patriarchy Is a Bad Word

Literally, "patriarchy" means "father-supreme-leadership." However, in the Christian home (and the Patriarchy movement is a Christian movement), Jesus is Lord, not Dad. So right from the start, the emphasis is in the wrong place.

This, I believe, is because when rejecting one point of view (feminism), the temptation is to go a bit overboard in the opposite direction. Since feminism glorifies women, the knee-jerk reaction was to glorify men just a teeny bit.

He Governs Best Who Governs Least

Let's move on to the next common concern I've heard expressed about Patriarchy: men who micromanage their wives.

Although I don't necessarily trust every word in Quiverfull (I found a few inaccuracies in the areas of which I had personal knowledge), the author refers to cases where women felt they had to ask their husband's permission to do anything, including their daily chores.

Any of you businessmen reading this should already be shaking your heads. This kind of micromanaging is the sign of a poor leader. After all, it stands to reason that if you are looking over another person's shoulder, you are not working on your job. If the worker (in this case, Mom), is even mildly competent, it's a massive waste of Dad's time (at best) and humiliating to Mom, as well.

The "Yes Mom"

Continuing our business analogy, it's also not a good idea to have Mom always agreeing with Dad-at least, not until they have already argued the issue out! (Or "discussed it thoroughly," if you prefer a milder expression.)

As I explained in The Way Home, while Dad may be the family's commanding officer, Mom is the family's executive officer: the XO. For you Star Trek fans, that means Dad is Picard and Mom is Riker. Or for Classic Trek fans, Dad is Kirk (though hopefully not in his dealings with the ladies), and Mom is Spock.

As those of you in the military know, it's the XO's job to disagree with the captain when he sees a danger to the ship or the mission. Then, after full and free discussion, the captain has the final word. Unless the captain is absent, incapable of serving, or deliberately sabotaging the mission, in which case the XO takes over.

The home, of course, is not a military operation. Dad is not supposed to stand around barking out commands. My point is that Mom is not subservient, but an active partner in the operation, with the ability to take it over if needed. She has to be literally able to take charge of the whole family if required, which cannot be accomplished by those who freeze unless they have instructions.

The "Home Despot"

Actually, the Bible does say a particular parent is the "home despot."

However, it isn't Dad!

In I Timothy 5:14, young wives are told to "guide the house." The word in the Greek is oikodespoteo, which literally means "be a home despot." Or "home boss" or "matriarch." Does this sound like an oppressed doormat hanging out by the sink? No way! Mom is the ruler of the house. Or, as I quoted Janet Dittmer in The Way Home as saying, Mom is a manager, not a maid.

Traditional Christian cultures understood this quite well. Mom had her jobs, and Dad had his. If Dad tried to meddle in Mom's work, she would shoo him away. Although he could help if she asked for help and no female friend or relative was available (e.g., if she was sick or after giving birth to a child), or he could take over if she was absent or unfit (e.g., crazy due to psychoactive drugs), under normal conditions it was not his job to supervise her job. She was in charge of her area of responsibility.

Which brings me to my next point:

Moms, Not Dads, Are Supposed to Teach their Daughters the Womanly Arts

Many of us have cringed when hearing about such things as:

  • Purity Balls, where dads "date" their daughters and give them a "purity ring"

  • Father-daughter events where daughters are blindfolded (the better to hear and follow their father's commands) and perform intimate acts of service, such as shaving their fathers (the better to learn to serve their future husbands)

  • Daughters being told to stay home until married (no college) to "serve" their fathers until they get a husband they can "serve" in turn

I believe this emphasis on dads and daughters started with good, although unbiblical, intentions. It can be traced back to the highly-publicized psychological studies on which Meg Meeker's 2006 book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, was based.

In her book, Meeker makes claims like:

  • "You Are the Most Important Man in Your Daughter's Life" (chapter title)

  • "You Are Her First Love" (chapter title)

  • "Girls with involved fathers wait longer to initiate sex and have lower rates of teen pregnancy."

  • "Your daughter takes cues from you, her father, on everything from drug use, drinking, delinquency, smoking, and having sex, to self-esteem, moodiness, and seeking attention from boys."

  • "A daughter's self-esteem is best predicted by her father's physical affection."

Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg of all the ways Meeker claims (based on psychological studies, not the Bible) that fathers should be involved in all areas of their daughters' lives.

It's only natural for fathers to wish the best for their daughters. However, all the benefits above attributed to "dad influence" were "found" via psychological surveys, not the Bible. And never before in church history did anyone start with the idea "daughters need more fatherly influence" and run with it to come up with cultural oddities such as the Purity Ball.

Are dads supposed to train their daughters in the womanly arts?

Who exactly is supposed to teach girls what they need to know to become successful wives and mothers?

In Titus 2:3-5, the people who are commanded to teach the younger women... to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home... are the older women.

Not the older men.

Which parent traditionally passed on jewelry to their daughters?

Not dads bearing "purity rings."

Who biblically is supposed to teach the young women?

Older women.
Not dads.

Single Serving

Like our sons, our daughters are called to serve the Lord, their future families, and the larger community-not just Dad or the home business.

This may require college, or it may not. It depends.

It's possible to educate yourself in all sorts of humanities with just a library card. And online degrees are extensively available in areas such as business and computer programming.

On the other hand, my oldest daughter studied humanities at a Christian college. My second oldest is earning three science degrees at a secular college. The three youngest are all pursuing nursing degrees-that's only possible on campus.

I'd love to either have them all married to great guys, or have them home forever. But that's not my choice (or their dad's choice).

God is my daughters' Father and their Husband. He is the One they must serve all their lives. We can't take His place, and we shouldn't try.

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