I actually didn’t plan on writing anything about the Ham on Nye debate Tuesday night, I planned on drinking and eating popcorn and watching everything implode in a talk-past-eachother kind of way. My mouth hurt, (still does, I have even better numbing stuff now, but it makes my lips stick together :P), we ended up getting milkshakes because Ham is more triggering and milkshakes are more comforting.
The debate went as I suspected it would – more cathartic for me and those of us who have left the Young Earth Creationist camp we were raised with. Ham had all the same material, I’d heard everything he’d said before at VBS, in DVD’s, and his theology permeated my “science” books even though they weren’t exclusively AIG. I knew all his answers, I’d seen all of his graphics, he said absolutely nothing new, at all, I remembered everything verbatim from my previous encounters with AIG as a child. To Nye, this idea is so unfathomable that he had trouble grasping and understanding his audience and I don’t know that he knew what he was getting into. To the people in that room, YEC is more than a science…theory(?), it is, in a very real way, a (the) foundation of their religion. Believing in a Young Earth is somehow, essential to this brand of christianity, my whole family, I think, is Young Earth, my immediate definitely, if not my grandparents too.
None of the arguments made in the debate were really going to change anyone’s minds I don’t think. I don’t know how many people were listening to it like a presidential debate, being really on the fence about religiously-intoxicated creationism and mainstream science, but who knows.
During the Q&A session though, Nye said one thing, one groundbreaking thing, and I don’t know if he even realized it. He said “I don’t know“.
What he probably didn’t know (or maybe did) when he walked into a room and an audience loaded with people who have been raised or told all of their lives and all of their childhood that they have to know all the answers to everything all the time and that “I don’t know” is not an answer and if you don’t know, something is wrong – saying “I don’t know” in a way that did not have defeatist or negative connotations is something that people raised in this sheltered and toxic environment have probably never heard. Their parents may have, but have denied themselves and their children that option, they’ve rejected the idea of not knowing for the burden of having to always know and have thrust that upon their children at very young ages.
Fellow homeschoolers have written about having to know the answers to all questions – even questions about the legality of homeschooling from the time they were like 6. This is true and this is devastating and this is too much, no one, let alone any child should be required to know the answer to everything. Yet this is what fundamentalists do – they require themselves and everyone they gather into their brand of religion (or non-religion) to have all of the answers to everything. They must always be able to back up a question with a pre-scripted answer that allows for no nuance. I don’t know is invalid.
People asked him the questions creationists are scripted to ask evolutionists (because they don’t know the answer but we do! HA!) and he answered, happily, excitedly, unashamed, and like he had been waiting to say it all night because it’s such a beautiful answer: I don’t know.
Ken Ham, and every entrenched creationist in the audience I’m sure scoffed at Nye’s reply. But what he said, in those three words, is something more powerful than he can know.
Because to the people who were watching who are tired of having to know everything because they realize they don’t know, who are maybe doubting, who are maybe thinking, who are maybe just trying to keep their head down to get by but secretly (even so secretly they may not realize it yet) want to taste something different, something not straight out of the book, Bill Nye just introduced the concept of freedom.
Because the freedom to not know (and that be an okay, even good thing) after coming from an environment where you must know is so so powerful. But one of those things, where you only realize it’s power once you’ve come to terms with the idea that it’s okay to not have the answers.
Bill Nye just introduced hundreds or thousands of people to the idea that “I don’t know” is valid, and okay, and not wrong.
That is the most important thing (I think) that happened in the debate, that’s what I haven’t been able to get out of my head. I don’t know. And it’s beautiful.
I want to build a nest around myself, and burrow into a hole made of blankets.
Life is a blur and I am overwhelmed.
I feel too big for my skin and too big for my house – like I’m growing and my clothes don’t fit right.
Like Alice when drinks the growth potion (or is it the cake?).
Simultaneously, I feel so inconsequentially small.
Like one minute mistake is enough reason for my existence to cease.
Like I have to be perfect in order to deserve living.
I’m prone, of late, to panic attacks and find myself struggling to feel as though I’m still in my skin and not just fighting to escape it. I feel like my bones are growing and pushing through the tips of my fingers.
I wash dishes and feel the hot water and the soap on my hands, or I stick up the bows that keep falling off my door and notice the tape stuck to my cold fingers. I snuggle my octopi and my cat and feel the soft, and it helps for a while.
Things that are small bother me more than they should – the pile of dishes, the cookies left out, the boxes on the floor. I need my peripheral vision to be clear, I need to create around myself a space that is blank so I can draw all over it with my mind later.
I feel too big and too small. I don’t have enough room, and the room I have I don’t deserve because I’m imperfect.
I fight, I flip out, I panic, I cope.
If I can manage to get past the hair-triggered chaos that occasionally likes to pop out in my brain – I remember that I don’t have to be perfect, that my environment matters to me, currently, more than it usually does, that life is a thing that happens and it’s okay to be swept by the tide.
I remember that eventually this will equalize – this overwhelming and restless essence will turn into something useful, as it always has.
Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be perfect. They’re supposed to be Pollyanna, Elsie Dinsmore, and Jane Bennet. They’re supposed to be completely innocent, unnoticed, modest, graceful, but still look beautiful and unblemished (while not thinking too hard about it).
Good Homeschooled Girls are impossible. All of us are wearing masks, we’re all acting feminine, we’re all hiding ourselves, because none of us are that perfect.
Instead, we are berated – we are told we are never enough, that we’ll never be good enough, that we don’t measure up. We’re told we need to fix our hair and only wear makeup to cover our acne, we’re told we need to look just so – but not focus on it. Our appearance and personalities are shamed, muted. We are turned into china dolls – empty, silent, porcelain – while we die slowly inside. Our unique identities are stripped – told to be sinful – our independence denied, and to fight for it is to abandon all that we were raised to be.
Our dreams – if they exist outside the chosen path – are cast aside, scoffed at, or allowed under very specific circumstances and made to end upon marriage and/or pregnancy.
And if we abandon this dream, or if we seem to have a particularly hard time measuring up to this standard? We are broken, and there is something wrong with us. To base our worth in who we are instead of when our uterus is used flies in the face of this ideal.
Elsie Dinsmore, Beautiful Girlhood, and Jane Austen are the books that are handed to us as examples of femininity and how we should conduct ourselves. Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be quiet, demure, masters in the art of domesticity – never raising their voices or asserting themselves, never doing heavy lifting (unless it’s babies or laundry baskets), always walking with poise, always graceful, always innocent and perfect, never loud.
The first two emphasize the devaluing of self as godly and feminine. I can’t speak to Jane Austen because I’ve never been able to make it past the first chapter.
Innocent, all with Hayley Mills and a yellow house in Maine and everything, harmless. Right?
If we leave it at the movie, sure(?).I didn’t know at the time, but the out-dated standards they sing about – is something that is invisibly expected of all Good Homeschooled Girls.
The line: hide the real you while it was probably meant to be funny and absurd was essentially my way of life.
I’ve always been stubborn, strong-willed, and independent – when it worked in my parents favor, this was a good thing, otherwise it was something to be squelched.
I was never really a tom-boy, sports bored me and seemed pointless – which, I suppose naturally meant I was a good candidate for the social experiment of super-girly-femininity. I was given books – Elsie Dinsmore, Beautiful Girlhood, Pride and Prejudice or Emma or Northanger Abbey (I don’t remember which ended up in our collection), and etiquette 101 for tweens (I can’t remember the name). I had to learn to be hospitable and submissive, though my parents never (or rarely) used the word feminine. Submissive and feminine are often synonymous here.
I read them, dutifully, internalizing the expectations (well except Austen. I just couldn’t, but that comes in later). My parents never really talked with me about this, they had a tendency to just give me the books and expect I learn from them. Elsie is less fiction and more a not-so-subtle way of giving young girls impossible and unhealthy expectations and telling them they’re worthless if they can’t master it as Elsie did.
It didn’t take long for me to realize Elsie is an impossible set of standards that I was never going to meet. Though the real line was when she married her father’s best friend. I couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore, arranged marriages to a man who’s old enough to be your father who was creepy as hell to you when you were 8, AND you’re too perfect and ideal to even exist or be relatable. Just, no.
The appeal of the civil war/regency era vanished – because I saw through what they were trying to do and I think it was my own secret form of rebellion, sort of. Good Homeschooled Girls are given these books as guidelines – Beautiful Girlhood literally is a guideline for femininity and social conduct.
As much as I tried to mask my nature, to hide the real me, I was never able to do it well enough to be the pinnacle of femininity that I felt I was supposed to be.
Austen bored me, because I couldn’t get into the obsession with ribbons and dresses and who’s-courting-who. Elsie and Beautiful girlhood just made me more painfully aware of the inadequacies I was already painfully aware of.
I felt broken. I felt broken because I didn’t live up to this idealized standard of godly womanhood (or girlhood). I felt broken because I am not delicate, and no amount of silencing myself was going to re-write the core of my DNA. I come from a line of stubborn women, you can’t demure you’re way out of it. Or maybe you can, but I couldn’t. I felt like that meant I was less desirable (the end-goal of being female being married and having kids).
Being born female meant that I had my entire life and code of conduct set in front of me, no personality required. I was required to follow the program. I felt wrong because the very fiber of my being was in direct opposition to it.
It still is.
I remember when I was 11 or 12 trying painfully to write fiction about an edwardian-era girl (instead of my book about the secret society of women who fought in the Revolution via spying because the Quartering Act) who sat in a garden in her frilly dresses and waited for suitors. I think I got maybe 4 paragraphs and then became frustrated because it was impossible for me to even write about that without getting bored.
The idea of being locked up, spending my life in waiting for someone to whisk me away, and then to spend the rest of my life locked up birthing and raising children horrified me. No matter how hard I tried to make it not, or how hard I tried to make it seem…as ultimate as people were telling me, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself it wasn’t certain death.
I couldn’t escape the feeling of the futility and meaninglessness of my life if all I was allowed to do was wait, and then have kids, and hope that one day they’d grow up to do the great things that I wanted to spend my life doing.
That meant something was wrong with me. I was too independent and god wouldn’t like that.
I remember being told, on several occasions, when I chose to fight for my autonomy, “independence is bad [for a woman], how do you think GOD feels about that [me being autonomous]?”
I was wrong and broken because I was not, am not, could not be demure, quiet, and feminine. I would never live up to the standards that good homeschooled girls are supposed to live up to – no matter how many masks I put on, or how hard I tried to hide myself.
I may never have been a tom-boy, but I was never the epitome of girlishness either.
Masks could only cover so much. I found ways to let myself be stubborn in subtle and approved ways. I was compliant to a point.
The things is, I know now that those books are poison to my rose-soul, but I still feel the need to embody all that is wispy delicate and feminine. I still feel broken because I don’t fit the mold when other people project it onto me. Because it is impossible for me. It would require giving up my autonomy and a complete change of taste.
I can’t watch Pride and Prejudice without raging, I generally hate dramas (there are exceptions to this), I’d rather read a good fantasy or scifi novel or comic than a book about amish courtship (don’t get me fucking started), I love a good action movie – Give me robots fighting monsters any day.
None of my most basic preferences are even considered in the world of godly womanhood and good homeschooled girls. It is assumed that I LOOOOOOOVE anything by Austen, that cooking, courtship, and children appeal to all of my tastes and interests, that robots and monsters and other-worlds are boring and unnecessary, and action movies are for boys. When I express otherwise, it’s all but laughed at or ignored.
I watched the Lizzie Bennet Diaries without raging (loved it, even). I know Austen was groundbreaking for her time (a woman author? *gasp*), but I can’t read her – not just because I find it dry, but because of homeschool culture.
Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be looking waiting for their Mr. Darcy (an asshole, really?). Good Homeschooled Girls are supposed to be Jane Bennet (Lizzie is far too independent) which doesn’t make sense because Jane marries Mr. Bingley? I know too many people who are trying to hack the 21st century into a Jane Austen novel and it frightens and sickens me. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were balls and you married the person you danced with? I feel like that can’t be the point of Pride and Prejudice, but you wouldn’t know it in this particular subculture.
^ Don’t start thinking about it too hard, it’ll hurt your brain.
It is the obsession with denying women humanity – autonomy – and worth that pervades this whole idea. Good Homeschooled Girls have no needs. Good Homeschooled Girls are whatever they are told to be. Good Homeschooled Girls must gracefully and perfectly meet and fulfill contradictory requirements (look perfect, but don’t obsess about it! learn things, but don’t use your brain!), while never having a bad day or a human moment. Good Homeschooled Girls aren’t allowed to be.