Monday, August 29, 2011

The Girl Talk

The first year I attended a TeenPact class I got my first experience of The Girl Talk, and I would experience it every year after along with special Girl Talks at National Conventions. When I was 16, I became a staffer with TeenPact, so I have myself given many Girl Talks. The Girl Talk begins with the staffers splitting the class up, leaving all the female participants together in one room while the males get up together and leave. After all the boys are gone, the female staffers come to the front of the room and explain what is expected of the female participants during the week of TeenPact. The dress code is covered in minute detail - exactly how long mid-calf-length is, exactly how many fingers from your collarbone before your shirt gets too low, etc. Female TeenPacters are left with the distinct impression that in order to set a good example, a woman has to be modest. No one wants to cause their brothers to stumble, and so after The Girl Talk there are relatively few dress code mishaps.

However, sometimes there are accidents. While staffing in Maine, I was asked by one of the female interns to inform a student that her clothes were inappropriate - I forget what was even wrong with them, I think it was that her skirt was too tight or something like that - anyway, the problem was fairly miniscule and she certainly had no idea that she was in violation of dress code. I took her aside and told her that she would have to change. I remember dreading it - I knew she would be mortified. She looked at me in complete humiliation and started to cry. I felt terrible, but she had violated the dress code. I had only done what I was supposed to do in order to protect the young men around us. I knew she wouldn't violate the dress code again.

While the girls are having The Girl Talk, the boys are getting The Guy Talk. The subject of this talk was hotly debated among the girls, because neither sex was supposed to know what the other's talk was about. When I became a staffer, I found out that while the girls were having their half-hour long talks on the subject of just what exactly constitutes immodesty and how we could best keep our brothers from stumbling, the guys were getting a much, much shorter (fifteen minutes topes - and that was stretching it) talk on: being respectful of women and opening doors for them. Now, I'm not saying it's bad to ask guys to respect women - it's great. But the point was that the burden of modesty was on the women alone. After they'd heard their spiel, the guys would stand outside the room the girls were in and wait for them to be done. They got their talk, then stood there and waited. There was honestly nothing more that could have been said to the guys? They just had to wait for the girls to realize that it rested with us and us alone to protect our brother's minds?

The Girl Talks at National Convention were much different from The Girl Talks at regular TeenPact classes. These talks weren't about modesty or the dress code, at least not in those concrete terms. These talks were much better than that - girls waited eagerly for the session when the TeenPact National Coordinator (who was female - it was ok for her to hold a high position because she was always under the authority of the founder, a male) would speak to us about what it meant to be A Woman. We would listen with baited breath as this strong woman of God explained to us that the woman's place is to be subject to the man - a woman is usurping a man's true role if she takes a job over him. She explained that this does not make women less. Far from it! She painted the picture of a noble, strong man - one who would have never gotten to where he was had it not been for the meek and humble encouragements of his doting wife who never stopped believing in him or submitting to him. She explained that a woman's role is to be a persuader - a winsome creature whose Godly arguments could sway the heart of the king. However, if you try to persuade your husband of something (though none of us were married, including her, it was pretty much assumed that we all someday would be) and he should choose not to listen to you, no matter how important it is, the Godly wife, the True Woman, would submit to his wishes. No matter what, no matter how hard. This, we learned, was how God would know we were truly good wives - we honored His role for us even when it was incredibly difficult. There was no mention of anything like spousal abuse, verbal or physical abuse, monetary indiscretion or any of the very real things that a man could choose to do that a wife would then have to submit to. The picture that was painted for us was one of humbling our own pride and selfish desires to be first. If you didn't always do what your husband said, you were prideful, selfish and not God-honoring and that was that.

I know this woman, and she is a wonderful, dear person with great integrity. I like her quite a bit. But she herself has been lied to, and in consequence she was spreading those lies to us. For one thing, the culture she'd grown up in seems to have made her terribly, terribly naive - perhaps I'm wrong about this, but the picture that she painted for us was one filled with naivete. It's one thing to set aside your own desires in order to build up your spouse. Christ provides us this very model: laying down your pride and selfishness to serve another person. But to imply that ANY marital problem can be solved by simply following this formula is nothing but ignorant. If someone is abusing your children, you don't submit to that man. You protect your children. If someone is verbally and physically abusing you, you don't submit to that. You get out. I'm sorry, but it does NOT dishonor God to protect yourself and your children from sin and evil. Either I am completely misrepresenting and completely misunderstood her words and intentions, or she had never give much thought to the extremely dire straits a woman can find herself in after marriage, or those dire straits had been passed off as products of the woman's sin - she's not submitting enough, she's not respectful enough, etc. She couldn't have realized the extremely destructive nature of what she was telling us. She wasn't a hypocrite, she was just extremely misled.

Since none of us were married (not yet!) we got helpful tips on how best to affirm and respect the men who were in our lives right now. Men were the natural leaders, and we should always be encouraging of them. We were told to affirm the young men around us - the 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 year-old young men who were also at TeenPact. It became a running joke with my friend Andy and me - he would say something stupid and I would reply "I affirm you!" But seriously - boys at that age? Can sometimes be stupid. Really stupid. They're not very mature yet, and that's just the truth. But no matter - if the young women in their lives would affirm them in their dreams and aspirations, they could only turn out well. The support of a woman was all it took.

It was a ridiculous view of women, with much more in common with the 1950's idea of the "angel of the home" than with anyone I knew. But I reasoned: didn't Jesus tell us to be meek? Weren't we supposed to be humble? This must be the way for a woman to do those things.


  1. And...I see my concerns about Teen Pact confirmed. I was never involved, but many of my friends were. I understand why they teach these things (they literally believe that men and women have vastly different roles, and while they may argue that these roles are equal, they are not), but it strikes me how much more successful movements like this could be if they trained their girls to be leaders rather than followers. What a waste.

  2. The weird thing is, I don't think they're really sure about how to implement what they teach about girls and women. For example, many of the young women who go through TeenPact DO end up being leaders - Elise Hall, an intern whom I knew personally, is now a state representative for Oklahoma. TeenPact really celebrates Elise (and Josh Cockroft, another former TeenPacter), but I think that's mostly because those two individuals are both extremely conservative (thanks, I'm sure, to TeenPact). I don't think TeenPact knows what to do with it's own teachings. They taught it was ok for women to be in the government, but it was with a subtle underlying understanding of "If the men won't step up to their God-given task, well, God's just going to rise up some women to do it instead!" I was never sure if it would be morally right for a married woman to be President of the US, because she would still have to be subject to her husband. It was very strange.

  3. I took her aside and told her that she would have to change. I remember dreading it - I knew she would be mortified. She looked at me in complete humiliation and started to cry. I felt terrible, but she had violated the dress code.

    It's awful that you had to do this, and awful for the humiliated girl. It probably left you both heartbroken. Makes me sad to think the same kind of thing has played out thousands and thousands of times, probably happening somewhere even now as I type this.

  4. No wonder that most of people that attended TeenPact were conservative homeschoolers. Can you imagine a "normal" homeschooler attending? They'd laugh through the whole thing!

    The leader that gave that national talk sounds a lot like a Bill Gothard type. Give marriage advice to young women and not even be married yourself.

  5. Hey, I was at that Convention and heard that same speech. I'd love to talk to you about it more privately, but I understand if you don't. I agree that it stands out as one of the most frightening and effed up things I heard there. At the time I was just beginning to recognize that it was wrong, even if I couldn't articulate it then the way I can now.

    I understand your desire to remain anonymous. I too, am close friends with several people still involved with the organization, several who were involved and hate it. I personally and politically think very differently than I did then. Sometimes I cringe at the ideas I nodded about and then taught as a staffer/intern. I've had to seek out women I hurt or asked to change or resented for not being as much of an "example" as I was back then, and they have forgiven me. I've let God's forgiveness soak into me and let it change me.

    I am grateful for the opportunities I had in TP to grow, travel, and have friends across the country. I remember some crazy things (I think a lot of those have been toned down now, by the way) and so much good. I wouldn't be as sure of my self, my God, or have the healing relationships I have now without it.

    I really hope you continue to blog this process. It's important. True friendships will understand your intentions and needs. No organization is perfect. I think it's okay to point out the mistakes and celebrate the things you enjoyed. TP is not nearly as bad as IBLP/ATI as far as mass damage caused, in my opinion, because the ideas we're AS extreme, nor was the scope. As more conservative people had more influence, TP got stricter for a while, but it's balanced out a bit from what I can tell. But please know that your healing is your own and whatever you need to remember or reflect is okay! Your pain is absolutely real, no matter what someone intended or is like now.

    I don't mind people knowing about the good and bad experiences I had with TP, so if you'd like to talk to someone, feel free to email me.

  6. I was attending one of the Teenpact classes in 2008, as a young teen, and I remember that "girl talk". It doesn't seem to have changed much. I was one of the more "normal" homeschoolers attending, and I did not enjoy my time there. In fact, I went out of my way to rebel against the dress code in ways that they couldn't actually punish, like wearing a sundress with a long skirt instead of somber business attire. I did not agree with their views, and one time, when a leader was playing devil's advocate, I agreed with him, instead of arguing against his "liberal" views.I don't think they were too proud of me.