They are agreeing to being spiritually married to their father

A startling – yet all too easily understandable – item from Purity Culture. Lynn Beisner at AlterNet:

My step-father began having problems getting erections when I was a senior in high school. How did I find out about this? He told me that he was using me to get an erection so that he could have sex with my mother.

We were very religious people. We attended a Fundamentalist Baptist Church so sexually conservative I was not even allowed to wear jeans. But still, he would sit me down and discuss what he had been thinking on those nights when he pressed my body against his and stroked my hair, the curve of my hip and the area between my collar bone and breasts until his penis was hard against my thigh.

In those incredibly awkward and galling conversations he reassured me repeatedly that he would never do anything to compromise my virginity.

So using her to get a hard-on is perfectly fine. Purity is preserved.

In a way it’s staggering in its callous absurdity, but in another way it’s just of course, the whole point of patriarchy is ownership of female sexuality, so naturally Mr Horndog rationalizes that it’s all cool as long as he doesn’t actually Break Her Hymen.

But it’s worse than that.

To better understand the role that Purity Culture played in my step-father’s abuse, I would ask that you bear with me while I explain a little about the beliefs and practices of that culture. I should distinguish first the difference between the emphasis placed on purity in mainline Christian circles, and the hardcore Purity Community. The latter is best known for their the icky tradition of Purity Balls.  At these annual events, daughters as young as five dress in elaborate white gowns and “gift” their virginities to their fathers for safekeeping.

I will grant you that purity balls are indeed cringe-worthy. But it is important that we not stop our examination of the culture at that point because the Purity Culture is far more troubling, and the relationship between father and daughter becomes far more enmeshed and emotionally incestuous than most articles about purity culture expose.

For starters, the balls are celebrations of the vow that these girls have made and the contract that they sign. They are agreeing to being spiritually married to their father and to God until such time as their father sees fit to give her to a husband. For their part, fathers pledge to protect their daughters’ virginity, which is the “most precious gift that she can offer her future husband.”

Yeah you know that’s really not…

…it’s not a thing, not Christianity only more so, not extra extra pure. Daughters “spiritually marrying” their fathers…that’s a twist.

According to Vision Forum, one of the leaders in the Purity Culture, a father treats his daughter in such a way that is that he “woos her and wins her with a tenderness and affection unique to that relationship

My step-father couldn’t woo me using Purity Balls, because there were none at that point.  Back then, fathers were encouraged to woo their daughters on regular dates.  My step-father would bring me flowers, open doors for me and generally treat me like I was his much younger girlfriend.


I did a post on the Ew back in September 2011, via a post of Libby Anne’s. Everyone who commented was equally horrified.

And in practice…it turned out to be every bit as creepy as it looked.

To me, these dates felt more like an excuse for my step-father to re-experience his youth. He got to be seen with a younger woman on his arm, and more importantly he got to spend an hour or two basking in the warmth and adoration of someone who was not allowed to challenge him.

I am not being egotistical when I say that my step-father fell for me, developed a huge and creepy crush on me during those dates. Had we been allowed to have the normal step-father/daughter relationship where we ignore each other and occasionally snarl back and forth, I feel fairly sure he would never have developed that heartfelt affection and sexual attraction.

But  the dates succeeded in one way: They taught me exactly what I should expect while dating men in that environment: abuse.

And the other thing they taught her?

The second lesson, however, is about more than just being your father’s servant. It is meant to teach young women to orient their entire lives around pleasing their fathers as practice for pleasing their husbands.  One of the more important ways that this shows up is in the requirement that  a woman dress and groom herself in a way which pleases her father.

A prime example of this is a statement from Michelle Duggar, a star of the hit series “19 and Counting” She said that she styles her hair however Jim Bob prefers because “what he likes is what I want.”  The Botkin sisters, luminaries in the Purity Movement, talk about wearing  their father’s favorite colors, styles in dress and hair so that their father will enjoy seeing them.

Girls are trained to be patriotropic.

In the practical case of my step-father,  surrendering to his wishes about my appearance led to him treating me as his personal Barbie doll.  He bought my clothes had my hair styled as he wanted. Then under the guise of giving his stamp of approval to the outfits that I planned to wear, he would demand fashion shows. Although they were obviously for his titillation, he was doing nothing more than what Purity Culture encourages.

It’s inevitable, when this is made so central. It’s funny about that, isn’t it – it’s not charity or compassion or making the world a better place that’s made central in these cults, it’s patriarchy – real patriarchy, literal patriarchy, not the sublimated watered down version that we secular weirdos have to navigate.

Of course not every man in purity culture uses his daughter to treat his erection problems. But the attitudes and beliefs about women that encourage men to see daughters as apprentice wives and their sexuality as his make it very easy justify all manner of oppression and abuse just as my step-father justified his behavior.  The potential for abuse grows exponentially when you factor in the isolation that these families and religions generally practice which leave the fathers with no fear of reprisal and daughters without recourse.

What does “apprentice wife” mean in this context? A girl who is being groomed for literal slavery. It’s a decorated, veiled, beribboned kind of slavery, but it is slavery.


  1. says

    I think perhaps the worst thing about it is that it’s so diametrically opposed to what parental love should be. Yes even step-parents should try to emulate that, and if they can’t, they should at least try to emulate the outward manifestations of it.

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Darn – my customized link didn’t forward to 1:59 in the video clip like it was supposed to!!

    But all joking and snorking aside, this “Purity” culture within Christian patriarchy is deeply disturbing. One of my son’s friends, a tall and charismatic 16-yr-old, was one time regaling my son and his friends (we were in the car) about how he used to be so sexually active but that was “wrong” and so now he was keeping himself pure (and showing off his purity ring). I pointed out that cults always try to control their members’ sexuality, so if any of them is in a group that tries to dictate when and with whom they’re allowed to be sexual, watch out.

    Quiverfull is another horrible manifestation of this, with those disgusting Duggars its spokespeople/salespeople. They allow the family members to be dressed somewhat normally, because if they were all dressed in matching dresses/suits (uniforms), they understand that those outside of the movement would naturally react negatively. The whole goal of that Duggar show is to mainstream and promote Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy, so they’re careful to only show the nicey-nice stuff. They don’t show the “blanket training”, where an infant is put on a small blanket and any body part that goes outside gets whipped. The baby learns quickly to just sit, so as to be less trouble for his parents who really are too busy with all those children for parenting anyhow. So you have the children raising the other children – oh, THAT’s healthy!

    Say, that reminds me. I wonder who’s raising Sarah Palin’s special-needs Down Syndrome child?

  3. opposablethumbs says

    It’s revolting in every possible way. I’m not surprised Mark is feeling nauseous, I should think quite a lot of both parental and non-parental decent human beings feel that way too. It’s hard to get your head round a family dynamic being quite that fucked-up on every conceivable level, I don’t have the words to express how disgusting it it.

  4. says

    I’m reading Ellyn Kaschak’s 1992 Engendered Lives: A New Psychology of Women’s Experience.* In the chapter I just read, she revisits the Oedipus-Antigone myth and argues that the Freudian claims about childhood complexes were really about displacing/projecting adult male psychology onto children – that what actually exists in patriarchal societies is a cultural Oedipal complex:

    The Oedipal complex in men rarely reaches resolution in a patriarchal society, as adult men typically continue to experience themselves in this grandiose manner, which includes a sense of entitlement to women. Thus, it is a complex neither of childhood nor of sexuality narrowly defined, but one that applies more generally to masculine psychology in a patriarchal system. It is characterized by extensive boundaries that subsume others, particularly females, who are considered to contain the feelings, conflicts, and meanings that men attribute to them. For Freud, this meant that the transgressions of the fathers were really the desires of the daughters. For fathers, this means that their daughters exist to meet their (the fathers’) needs. …This right is extended to all men in a patriarchal society, who have the right to view and evaluate, to sexualize any woman who falls within the range of their sight. (p. 62)

    She goes on to talk about how daughters and women generally are made responsible for this sexualization, how a woman is “mandated to control it by limiting her exposure, her freedom” in a way that’s institutionalized by religions. This purity horror is an extreme form – I was thinking about it when I was reading the chapter.

    *I’m not that far into it so…jury’s still out. There could be kookiness to come. The tradition of feminist psychology, though, is one that should be renewed.

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    Khomeini made some comment about it being better for a woman to have her first period in her husband’s house, rather than her father’s.

    The ‘biblical’ patriarch model is darker than we, perhaps, even CAN imagine. The unconstrained, self-justified authority is a danger to everyone such a man meets. Usually, the patriarch’s whims are ascribed to god’s will and the spiral descends from there. Mohammed and Joseph Smith both have ‘divine revelations’ on cue, whenever their sexual urges are exposed.

    And the patriarchal scheme is like Amway or any pyramid system. Young men are superfluous, to be militarized or discarded like Mormon ‘lost boys.’ But those same boys, buy into the system in the belief that THEY will somehow reach Big Daddy status by collaborating with the system.

    Little girl dolls and little boy soldiers. This is no way for human beings to live.

  6. says

    This is deeply disturbing. Under the veil of “religious freedom” some abhorrent practices are still maintained nowadays. I wonder when are we going to stop treating women as inferior and as objects and, specially, when are we going to outgrowth the worshipping of primitive ideas from primitive times. Science and technology advances but our cultures seems to be unable to keep up the pace…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *