Not Oprah’s Book Club: Quiverfull


Model daughters of the patriarchy movement, the Botkin girls express a hatred of feminism that is pure, and they hate it in a variety of flavors most feminists wouldn’t recognize as their cause. To the Botkins, all bad women–from the seductress hoping to “subdue masculinity” with her womanly wiles and charms to vain pageant queens to career women to even conservative Christian wives who aren’t fervent enough about spiritual war–are feministic, seeking to ‘weaken and dominate men.’

Reading Kathryn Joyce’s exhaustively researched and fascinating new book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, sometimes feels like a science fiction experience. The Christian patriarchy movement is aimed at raising dutiful daughters and obedient wives who will populate the world with strong Christian stock. They make spreadsheets of their future spawn and, like big brother himself, try to manipulate women into feelings like there is profound power in relinquishing all autonomy, opinion, and agency. The most dearly held ideology of this small but growing group of Americans is not necessarily godliness, but severely traditional gender roles. As such, feminism is the enemy.
Joyce is a young feminist schooled in an old-school journalistic style: report, report, report. She enters this world with absolute dedication to getting as much material as possible. She’s not an inflamer or a polemicist, but a dispassionate observer, an information-gatherer, a witness. As such, if you’re looking for some snark (ala Jessica V.) or some poetry then you’ll be disappointed. Joyce is writing a book that is meant to wow you with its comprehensive breadth and depth, not its rhetorical flourishes or narrative personality. It’s quite refreshing actually, if not sometimes a bit overwhelming.
What’s most exciting to me is that Joyce is breaking truly new ground here. Much has been written about evangelic Christianity or cultish religious subcultures. It’s a fascinating and important subject. But Joyce has entered a different sort of landscape, one that is uncharted and completely critical to our understanding of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve got to go if we are going to bring ALL women (and men) along. She’s uncovered a horrifying and very real trend in contemporary America. Next time someone asks you, “Is feminism really so necessary anymore?” just hand them Joyce’s book and say “Read up, my friend.”
Check out this riveting NPR story on the subject as well.
Thanks to Laura for the heads up.

Join the Conversation

  • vtfem

    I read about the story on NPR yesterday, and was shocked to find out about ministries providing funding for the reversals of vasectomies.
    I think it’s really sad that people are trying to overpopulate an already overpopulated world in order to fulfill their political agenda. They have no concern for the wasting of global resources as they try to have as many children as possible to create an “army of god”.

  • Digital Barbarian

    Explain to me how wishing to live a Christian life by adhering to Biblical precepts is a bad thing.

  • pleco

    Most people wishing to “live a Christian life by adhering to Biblical precepts” only mean the precepts they agree with– nevermind that each precept has many different interpretations, and that the versions of the Bible we read today have been translated and re-translated thousands of times over.
    Christian life =/= good life, anyway.
    I would say that purposefully giving birth to children in order to indoctrinate them as part of “God’s army” is a BAD idea.
    I would say that taking a beating from your husband and then remaining absolutely silent about it because it’s a Christian woman’s role to be subservient is a BAD idea.
    Hopefully it doesn’t require too much gestating to decide why I’ve gone ahead and called them bad ideas despite an apparent conflict with Biblical precepts.

  • textualfury.wordpress.com

    Digital Barbarian,
    It is not necessarily that the Biblical precepts are a bad thing, it is instead that the Christian faith is a patriarchy. I was raised in an extremely Christian Family and because I am a female my medical needs were not seen as important. It is (in my opinion) about trying to create equality or at least to make people aware about the system at play.
    This does not mean your religion is wrong, but, there are wrongs committed in the name of Christianity daily. It is about making people aware, in an effort to create balance.
    Yours,
    Kat Fury

  • Cory

    Interesting, considering that the number of Christians in the nation has shrunk from 86% to 76% in the last two decades.
    Scream of desperation to anybody?

  • Lysergic Asset

    Since most families have rebel children who reject everything the parents believe in when they mature, I guess it’s just a numbers game to these people.
    Looks like the white evangelical Christians will be duking it out with the Hispanic Catholics for American domination.

  • Lysergic Asset

    Since most families have rebel children who reject everything the parents believe in when they mature, I guess it’s just a numbers game to these people.
    Looks like the white evangelical Christians will be duking it out with the Hispanic Catholics for American domination.

  • Digital Barbarian

    I never said I was Christian, I simply posed the question as I see a serious defense of Islamic ideals by feminists, which are far far worse in the sense of how women are treated.

  • JudoJohn

    Jesus said some pretty good stuff. The mote in your neighbors eye, casting the first stone, turning the other cheek, and stuff like that.
    He also said some pretty awful stuff, like the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Unless the Old Testament God punished your offspring, once you were dead, He was done with you. Jesus, in contrast, tortured people for all of eternity in Hell.
    So…. it is rationality that makes the difference. The source of morals is our brains, and not our books. You don’t need the Bible to live a good life. If you want to hold other people as slaves, on the other hand, you will find plenty of support in the Bible.
    And the Bible is loaded with patriarchial nonsense, such as Peter 3:1:
    “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives…”

  • JudoJohn

    If history is any guide, the number of Christians will continue to shrink until there is another “great awakening.”
    Alot of work can be done between awakenings. For instance, the Enlightenment was between the First and Second Great Awakening. Perhaps we are in the beginning of another round of Enlightenment. Enlightenment 2.0, perhaps?
    Let’s enjoy it while we can!

  • annajcook

    I read this book a couple of weeks ago and have a few thoughts up at my blog about the experience. Agreed with Courtney it’s a fascinating and well-researched and well-written book.

  • pleco

    Okay, I’ll bite.
    Examples?

  • pleco

    Oh, and let us not forget that just because one feminist says it doesn’t mean that all feminists believe it. So “a serious defense by feminists of Islamic ideals” would suggest there’s a significant movement-within-the-movement.

  • Devonian

    No matter who wins, we lose!

  • pleco

    Clinton and Pelosi are politicians. Cite examples of what you’re talking about, and it’s probably a case of politicking rather than a statement of feminist ideology.

  • annajcook

    Be careful to equate all good things with secularization, at least in terms of feminism and human rights advances. The Second Great Awakening in the U.S. spurred anti-slavery and women’s rights movements, as well as a lot of other progressive social activism. Enlightenment ideas, meanwhile, both encouraged human rights thinking AND gave rise to (for example) a scientific view of gender and race that encouraged sexism and racism.

  • pleco

    That’s not what I said. What I said was, everything Clinton and Pelosi say/support isn’t related to feminism. Clinton recently said something along the lines of “it’s okay to ignore China’s human rights crisis because we have to deal with our economic crisis together now.” Do you REALLY think that is an example of feminist opinion?
    Your argument (according to your original post) is that feminists are being hypocritical to criticize Quiverfull but be supportive of Islam. However, when pressed for examples of this “serious defense” of Islam you point out Pelosi and Clinton, and unidentified “others.” These are not individuals who are representative of the entire movement. Do you think you could find a feminist blogger on this site that’s eager to defend Islam and deride Christianity?

  • Ori

    Quiverfull is an overwhelmingly white movement, from what I’ve read. I think the Quiverfull movement is partially fueled by racist fear that white Americans are supposedly losing ground to racial minorities. I’m eager to find out if Joyce addresses this issue in her book.
    Quiverfull seems to be the most extreme example of fundamentalist Christian fear of feminism and relaxed gender roles. This sort of reactionary sexism alarms me.
    Suddenly, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” doesn’t seem so far-fetched!

  • Chip Bell

    Absolutly true. One reason I’m an atheist.

  • JudoJohn

    Point taken….but….
    The scientific views of gender and race were incorrect.
    Darwin was an abolitionist who would have been horrified by eugenics.

  • annajcook

    I did not mean to imply that Darwin, specifically was responsible for social darwinism — he wasn’t. In fact, I’m not sure it’s correct to see Darwin as an Enlightenment (capital E) thinker at all. He was a nineteenth-century man of science, influenced by many disparate strands of thought — including the religiously-inspired anti-slavery movement of his own era.
    My basic point was, it’s easy to create a secular/religious dichotomy that suggests a good/evil (or evil/good) correlation. Actual lived experience would suggest it’s much more complicated. I think some of the reactions to modernity seen in the quiverfull movement are actually extremely close to progressive, liberal reactions — they just choose to act on those responses in different ways.

  • JudoJohn

    I hope this is not a duplicate post, I thought I hit submit last time…but it is important…
    Scientific arguements which support racism and sexism are not good arguements.
    Darwin would have been horrified by those who used his theory to support racism. The circles he was raised in were staunchly abolitionist, as was he.
    Darwins project is one of the strongest arguements we have against sexism and racism. Not only is the whole idea of “race” nonsense, there are fewer differences between humans and other animals than anyone ever imagined. Why do you think there is so much resistance to evolution?
    And differences between the genders are real….and completely overplayed, by both some evolutionists as well as many religious folks.

  • Ruchama

    They were wrong, but people believed them and acted on them, because they were put forth in the name of science and rationality.

  • moonfall

    Not everything you’re citing were Jesus’s actual words. “Peter 3:1″ implies those were Peter’s words. I also don’t know where “wailing and gnashing of teeth” comes from. Revelations?

  • KungFuGurl

    If only I was selfish enough to pump out 12+ resource consuming, attention needing, little feminist heathen children…

  • JudoJohn

    Matthew 13, 37-42
    “He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
    The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
    The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
    As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
    The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
    And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
    This is Jesus speaking, saying that he will send out angels to gather those who offend and cast them into Hell.

  • Tara K.

    Yes, I’d agree. The fear of a white minority, a Christian minority.

  • danielle

    like big brother himself, try to manipulate women into feelings like there is profound power in relinquishing all autonomy, opinion, and agency.
    OOO. I just finished 1984, and am about to write an essay about the role of women in the book (sidenote! My feminist teacher told me today she specifically put the ‘female role in the books’ prompt on our instructions for me :D) and you gotta love how intercourse is supposed to be derived of all pleasure specifically for the women. And the teaching them to be submissive and they need to have a kid so keep having sex even if you can’t stand it. Ok, i just used that one sentence as an excuse to talk about the book :/

  • moonfall

    All right. Thank you for clarifying.
    What’s a tare, anyway?

  • Ruchama

    It’s a kind of weed.

  • M0xieHart

    It’s also important to remember that the Gospels were written decades after the death of Jesus. It’s really impossible to disentangle what Jesus said from the political realities of the writers of the Gospels.

  • annajcook

    Joyce absolutely talks about this in a chapter about fears of a “demographic winter” in Europe and the U.S. among whites. This aspect of the movement, to me, is a really fascinating counterpoint (rhetorically) to the cries of “eugenics” that anti-abortion folks — many of whom overlap with the communities Joyce is discussing — routinely level against pro-choicers.

  • Gopher

    The Bible was written by men hundreds of years ago and was altered many times to serve the political agendas of the religious leaders. It espouses overt misogyny and treats women as non-human. If we allow this quiverfull type crap to continue they will start to adhere to exactly what was written in the Bible. This includes selling of daughters as property (many Quiverfull men dont think women should vote), donning burqas and essentially being inferiorized and mistreated. Not to mention quiverfulls have an unhealthy and wholly misogynistic attitude that wholly undermines women excepting their uteruses (and even that is mistreated as women werent made to reproduce continually like animals, not to mention her mental health). Inferiorizng women is wrong plain and simple. We aint regressin.’ The question of women ever being treated as inferior or having her current status in society undermined has already been answered and the answer is never again.

  • Gopher

    Great idea! An army of feminists! Yay! That would be funny that we got the idea from them! Feminists in combat boots knocking down bullshit patriarchy (daydream relief sigh, hmmmm…)MAybe we could invent incubators without use of a human?

  • Kat

    genders and gender roles are socially constructed. do you mean sex? even then, it’s not always clear cut. intersexed people are an example of this.

  • aideenj

    That’s not strictly true. At most, the gospels were written 30-40 years after Jesus’ death. This might sound like a lot to our modern Western ears, but you have to remember that in Jewish culture in this day there was a fiercely strong Oral tradition. Kids would memorise all 39 books of the Old Testament by the age of 15. As in, if you said “Deuteronomy 12:5″ they’d have to immediately be able to tell you verse 4 and verse 6 as well as verse 5. And oral tradition pretty much *had* to be kept alive, as most people couldn’t read. So the gospel writers had some pretty decent source material and wouldn’t have felt at liberty to put words in Jesus’ mouth. Not only that, but they report on things that would have actually damaged their cause had they been trying deceptively to start a new religion, such as the disciples repeatedly chickening out and showing weakness, the fact that the authorities actually tried to spread rumours that they’d stolen the body, and the fact that Jesus’ empty tomb was discovered by women, not men, thus not reliable testimonies. Also, they mention countless eye-witnesses who would have still been alive at the time of writing, so anyone who didn’t believe it could go and ask them.

  • aideenj

    That’s not strictly true. At most, the gospels were written 30-40 years after Jesus’ death. This might sound like a lot to our modern Western ears, but you have to remember that in Jewish culture in this day there was a fiercely strong Oral tradition. Kids would memorise all 39 books of the Old Testament by the age of 15. As in, if you said “Deuteronomy 12:5″ they’d have to immediately be able to tell you verse 4 and verse 6 as well as verse 5. And oral tradition pretty much *had* to be kept alive, as most people couldn’t read. So the gospel writers had some pretty decent source material and wouldn’t have felt at liberty to put words in Jesus’ mouth. Not only that, but they report on things that would have actually damaged their cause had they been trying deceptively to start a new religion, such as the disciples repeatedly chickening out and showing weakness, the fact that the authorities actually tried to spread rumours that they’d stolen the body, and the fact that Jesus’ empty tomb was discovered by women, not men, thus not reliable testimonies. Also, they mention countless eye-witnesses who would have still been alive at the time of writing, so anyone who didn’t believe it could go and ask them.

  • Ori

    :: chuckles ::
    I loved “1984” as well, and Orwell made some interesting observations about gender and sexuality in the book. What are your thoughts on Winston Smith’s initial misogyny, which seemed to fade as he got to know Julia?

  • AgnesScottie

    Read about these women’s experiences and maybe you’ll realize why quiverfull can be a “bad thing.”
    http://2spb.blogspot.com/
    http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/03/14/joyce_quiverfull/index1.html
    Accepting every pregnancy as a unilateral blessing meant some radical leaps of faith, however. Put into physical practice, Garrison says the lesson of leaders like Nancy Campbell, editor of the fundamentalist women’s magazine Above Rubies and author of movement books like “Be Fruitful and Multiply,” “was, if pregnancy can kill you, think of the missionaries who go off to foreign lands and put their lives on the line. It’s no different if you’re risking your own body or life.” Indeed, Mary Pride referred to her mothers as “maternal missionaries.”
    Garrison complied. She’d had her first three children by cesarean section, but after coming to the Quiverfull conviction, she was swayed by the movement’s emphasis on natural (even unassisted home) birth. During one delivery, she suffered a partial uterine rupture and “felt like I’d been in a major battle with Satan, and he’d just about left me dead.” The doctor who treated Garrison lectured her for an hour not to conceive again, but she felt that stopping on her own would be rebellion. When she turned to her leaders for inspiration, she received a bleak message: that if she died doing her maternal duty, God would care for her family. For six months, she couldn’t look at the baby without crying.”

  • James

    Yep… it’s not too distant from Pat Buchanan’s insistence that women in “the West” (read: white women) need to get busy procreatin’ because “non-Western” (read: people of color) people are outbreeding white people, and if “Western” women don’t get busy soon “Western” (read: white patriarchal) culture will fall.
    That said, I’m more worried about the women who are trapped in this system than I am about society as a whole coming under the sway of this system. I’d say from my experiences in evangelical Christianity (I have a degree in theology from an evangelical seminary) that the Quiverfull types are a ridiculously small subset of even conservative evangelical Christians. Just about all the evangelicals I’ve met are comfortable with the Pill and with birth control in general, even if they’re otherwise regressive on reproductive rights issues. Much as we should remain vigilant, I wouldn’t worry about the Quiverfull movement–or even the ultraconservative Christians who want to ban birth control–getting any kind of real political power in the foreseeable future.

  • M0xieHart

    Just because someone has a strong oral tradition doesn’t mean it’s reliable. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. People make mistakes nowadays about mundane events, let alone the indescribable. The story of Jesus may be an interesting parable but that doesn’t necessarily make it historical reality.

  • danielle

    Yeah, the part where he tells her he wanted to rape and murder her?! I was like, “…what a charmer.” It bothered me. Very early on he starts mentioning his dislike for women. You know, I never even thought more about the progress of it until you brought it up, but the part right before they’re captured, when he mentions how beautiful the prole woman is was really nice. I even marked it in my book. The quote “why should the fruit be held inferior to the flower?” I think is really awesome to say the least-just because she isn’t the “ideal” beauty doesn’t mean she isn’t beautiful. Thanks for bringing that up, I definitely didn’t even realize how much he changed.

  • kisekileia

    Thanks for posting this! It definitely belongs on here.
    Come to think of it, I suspect Vyckie and Laura would enjoy and benefit from reading Feministing. I think I’m going to link it in a comment on their blog.

  • Bebekah

    How about adopting lots of children out of the overburdened foster care system and raising them with independent, feminist, humanist viewpoints? I think that would accomplish the same positives and negate the negatives of Quiverfull and overpopulation, don’t you?