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I Learned How to Have a Feminist Marriage from the Most Surprising Place

Were my mom's conservative Christian values actually kind of progressive?

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My parents missed a lot of what has happening in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Instead of watching Star Wars with the rest of America, they were reading the Bible with their church group. My mom and dad were more focused on organizing prayer circles at our nation’s capital in Washington D.C. than attending any vigils for John Lennon when he was assassinated. By 1983, they had a family with four children under the age of five, including my foster sister who had special needs. They were very young and very Christian; life was about living as Jesus wanted and spreading the word of Christ. This is how I remember most of my childhood.

Of course, there were a lot of rules that came with it. Rules from the Bible’s Ten Commandments that were easy to understand, like Thou Shall Not Lie or Steal or Murder and Always Respect Your Parents. There were commandments less easy to understand like Thou Shall Not Covet. And, like most conservative Christian establishments, we learned young about the perils of sex before marriage, about life at conception, stories of modern miracles, and to fear the Devil and his work. You know, Conservative Christian stuff.

Also? In my house, we were definitely, no matter what, not allowed to watch The Flintstones.

They’re a modern stone age…misogyny?

The life of Bedrock experienced by Fred, Barney, Wilma, and Betty was off limits to the Sturges children of Petaluma. This drove me crazy. Crazy. The other kids at church were allowed to watch it, I argued. They are funny, I pointed out. Both cartoon couples are married and not doing any work of the Devil, I postured. It isn’t even rated PG or anything, I cried. My mom never relented. Recently, as an adult who displays less drama about cartoons and has a lot of questions about the way we were raised, I asked her about this.

“Eve, they lie to their wives.”

I watched a few episodes to see if she even knew what she was talking about. Guys, The Flintstones is offensive. The men lie to their wives about where they are and what they are doing, and the women supposedly aren’t smart enough to catch on. The wives roll their eyes at each other about their husbands, because men. Here’s a gem: “Wait a minute, Wilma! I know my rights, and I know I gotta right to expect dinner when I get home!” Looking back, it feels not only acceptable, but admirable, that my mother disapproved of this show.

Guys, I think my Christian mom is a feminist; mind blown.

Using my new “Flintstones lens” of understanding, I started looking back over my childhood with a different perspective. Sure, there are the typical white American Christian experiences: Sunday school, Vacation Bible school, Church-sponsored sleepaway camp, youth group. But my mother and father were equals in our household, even if they divided the duties by predictable gender norms. There was no suggestion that a wife should “submit to her husband” (Ephesians 5:22), or “remain silent” (1 Corinthians 14:34). While some of my peers were wearing promise rings and forgoing college for mission trips, my parents were adamant that I could choose any career I wanted, that I put myself first in relationships, and that I was deserving of all the same things as my brother and my father—ideas that don’t always match up with conservative religious values.

cabbage patch dolls and intersectional feminism

Censoring the The Flintstones was just one of the small ways my mom asserted her feminist beliefs. Tired of feeling belittled for her role as mother-of-four, my mom had business cards made to hand out in conversation, just like my dad: Deborah Sturges, Homemaker. (And this was years before the Ann Romney vs. Obama stay-at-home mom controversy, or the Hillary Clinton stay-at-home mom controversy.) It seemed silly to me at the time, but the more women have to demand equality in 2016, the more I respect my mother’s demands in 1990. She didn’t just advocate for herself, either; raising two children with special needs made my mother an outspoken advocate for the disabled community. She has never been shy about asking people around her to consider their ableist privilege and demand equal access for all. Privilege was frequently a part of our day-to-day conversation. My Lutheran preschool hosted a “Bring your Cabbage Patch Doll to school day.” Disgusted by the classist assumption that all families owned or could afford one (those dolls were pricey), my mom pulled me from the school. Permanently.

Time and time again, I was embarrassed. No one else’s moms did these kind of things. Now I am nothing except proud.

While my conservative Christian’s mom’s feminism wasn’t perfect (and really, whose is?), fully realizing the values that she lived by is especially important to me now, because now I am a wife and a mother. These days I’m trying to teach my children the same things my mom was trying to teach me with her actions, and my husband and I are making every effort to model a relationship grounded in equality. (He does not, for example, believe he has a right to expect dinner when he gets home.) I no longer begrudge my folks’ righteous struggle against cartoon programming. Despite the leaps our society has made on behalf of women, it can still be hard to find role models for my daughter, and television that doesn’t have me cringing for one intersectional feminist reason or another.

I do a lot of things differently than my parents did, because a lot of their views and methods didn’t work for me. But even if we disagree on some big things—like religion—I try to encourage my daughter the way my parents encouraged me. I work to find models of people and relationships that demonstrate values I want her to learn. My husband and I tell her she can grow up to be anything she wants to be (even a homemaker mother-of-four). And while I let her watch more TV and movies than I was ever allowed, I annoy the heck out of her by constantly explaining why entertainment still has a long way to go when it comes to gender norms.

It took me over thirty years to really appreciate the efforts my mother made, and to see the ways they are reflected in the woman I am trying to be. My daughter is entering her teen years and is already mortified by everything I do. She’s confident, strong, and outspoken, though, and I’d like to think she has at least two generations of women to—one day—thank for that.

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