Review: Quiverfull

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy MovementQuiverfull
by Kathryn Joyce

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quiverfull / 978-0-8070-1073-0

I consider myself to be a homeschooling success story, as I was homeschooled for several formative years of my education, and now happily hold two college degrees and a good job - and indeed, I am fully open to the possibility of homeschooling my own hypothetical children. Going into "Quiverfull", I held some concerns that author Kathryn Joyce might fail to clarify that the type of people her research centers on - many of whom "homeschool" (see note below) - are NOT typical examples of the homeschooling community at large. However, Joyce is an eminently fair writer, and frequently emphasizes that the movement she studies is "fringe" in most all respects - fringe Americans, fringe Christians, and fringe homeschoolers.

[[NOTE: Homeschooling families tend to be sensitive to accusations of isolationism and indoctrination, in large part because the public figures of homeschooling are often comprised of the "fringe" element - whereas the "normal" families who see homeschooling as one of many valid education options to choose from tend to be more interested in quietly getting on with teaching their children properly. In much the same way that there are educational private schools and indoctrinational private schools, such as there also educational homeschooling families to balance the indoctrinational one. The best parsing of the issue I have seen so far is the growing online meme to refer to these methods respectively as "private schooling", "private churching", "home schooling", and "home churching", to designate where the training is taking place, and what the training is focusing on.]]

Divided into three parts, "Quiverfull" carefully parses the duties and burdens on women within the Quiverfull movement - as wives, mothers, and daughters. With a predominantly respectful tone, author Joyce carefully balances the statements of the members of the movement with the cold facts, and keeps editorial comments at a perfect minimum (just enough to delight the reader, but never so much as to seem to co-opt the narrative). Joyce carefully highlights the contradictions within the movement at large, such as:

* the insistence that wives be submissive at all times to their husbands, even when the husband is wrong, but without a corresponding energy level directed into teaching the husbands to be loving, mild, and, well, not wrong. Why is so much energy directed at teaching the women to be submissive when that same energy could be directed at teaching the men to be kind, gentle, and wise representations of Christ?

* the disconnect between the fertility reasoning behind the Quiverfull movement (to allow God to direct the number of children within a family) and the actual practice of the Quiverfull movement: desperate women driven to despair because they "only" have 3-4 children, which means they measure as "less holy" than the women with larger broods - some women going so far as to use fertility pills, treatments, and schedules to attempt conception.

* the financial blinders within the movement - although God "provides" for the children, He will apparently only do so *after* the children are born (according to a divine "no backsies" rule), and in an apparent contradiction He refuses to pony up the cash for a vasectomy-reversal or tubal-reversal - those surgeries have to be paid for by charity organizations that select worthy candidates. There is probably a "pay for your own sins" analogy in there, but it breaks down quickly in light of the whole concept of Christ.

* the hypocrisy in the name of public relations - in a movement that insists that women "marry young" and neither earn money nor teach adults (usurpation of manly power), it is noteworthy that a huge amount of the books are written by Quiverfull women, and the prettiest daughters of the movement leaders are cultivated into public speakers for the movement in a blatant P.R. attempt to appeal to young women within the movement. If that means delaying the marriages of the chosen daughters, so be it - even the worst P.R. firm in the world recognizes that it takes time to build a brand, and you can't get a new spokeswoman every year without hurting your cause.

The density of information within this book is absolutely staggering, and the author has done a superb job of laying out the information clearly, succinctly, and with a rawness of tone that will scar even veteran readers of the patriarchy movement. Especially painful is the clear and open misogyny and racism of many of the proponents here - Joyce is not afraid to point out which of the leaders prefer to fear-monger about the lack of "the right kind" of babies being born, nor does she fail to point out which leaders are currently lobbying to revoke female suffrage in America. Are these fringe elements? You bet, and Joyce never pretends otherwise. But they are a fringe that we should be aware of, and "Quiverfull" provides an easy immersion into this terrifying culture.

~ Ana Mardoll

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