So-called Parents’ Rights is far more than a benign movement to acknowledge parental prerogatives. It is a concept deeply rooted in Christian Nationalism, the militant Christian minority fighting to remake America in its image: A white Christian nation governed by laws drawn solely from their interpretation of the Bible. Christian Nationalists are aggressively forcing their faith on American society by influencing laws and controlling all forms of education.
I am an unwilling expert on far-right Christian Nationalism. I grew up in a Moral Majority church and school in the 1970s and 80s. I was not taught about my female body, other than to hear my body was a lust-magnet for men.
My Christian school left sex education up to parents, which left me ignorant about everything. When smelly yellow goo stained my underwear, I asked my fourth-grade teacher if it was an infection. She told me to ask my mother. My parents would decide what to tell me.
My mother’s solution? I needed to wash myself better. But no matter how much I scrubbed, I could not eradicate the stinky sludge. Classmates held their noses around me, shunned me, and gave me perfume. I felt shame and embarrassment from a natural bodily change that I didn’t understand and nobody would explain to me.
Decades later, I am still hyper-sensitive about how I smell.
When I found the inevitable blood in my underwear, I thought I was dying. Again, I went to my teacher, who told me to show my mother. It was up to my parents to explain bodily changes. At home, my mother said my period would happen once a month. No amount of questioning drew additional elaboration beyond a period is when a girl becomes a woman. The blood is part of God’s punishment of women because Eve ate the apple. Every month, women suffer for Eve’s sin.
Call the push for so-called Parent’s Rights what it is: far-right authoritarian theocracy
I did not understand how my period was connected to getting pregnant. No one told me the vulva has two holes or explained what a hymen is. My ignorance was the prerogative of my parents’ right to control what I learned about my body.
Because of the growing impact of the Parents’ Rights movement in public schools and libraries, many American girls face a similar fate. As their bodies change, they may be confused and afraid, worried and ashamed. They may blame breast size, mood swings and overall body image on their own shortcomings rather than DNA. They may not understand how to use a tampon or learn how to properly clean themselves. And they may not know how babies are conceived, leading to unwanted pregnancies.
My experience with Parents’ Rights is not ancient history. Parents, Christian school teachers, pastors and now politicians are complicit. Why does this extreme minority keep women clueless about basic female bodily functions?
In my Christian Nationalist indoctrination, everything started with Adam and Eve: The Garden of Eden, the serpent, the forbidden fruit. To Christian Nationalists, this Bible story is no myth or allegory. They interpret it literally and believe it actually happened.
In every version of the story, Eve ate the forbidden fruit first. She tempted Adam to follow her. This theme of Eve falling first and tempting Adam is the foundation of far-right misogyny. Because of Eve and Adam, a woman’s very existence tempts men to sin.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of sin, lust is sin; sex outside of marriage is sin; sex for pleasure is sin; in some circles, sex for anything beyond procreation is sin.
Ignorance about female bodies is essential, as any knowledge about the purpose and function of sexual and reproductive organs risks making unmarried girls curious about sex. Curiosity leads to temptation for unmarried boys. Temptation leads to sin.
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Christian Nationalists believe women must control themselves to protect men who aren’t expected to control themselves.
So-called Parents’ Rights is their tool to blur the lines between church and state. It warped my coming-of-age and stunted me for life. At every turn, my teachers told me to ask my parents about my body, but Parents’ Rights was a closed loop my questions couldn’t penetrate.
Even in the internet age, girls may have limited options for information. My mother policed my library books, much like parents demanding public school book bans now. She was strict about who befriended me and blocked access to media she deemed inappropriate, the equivalent of today’s parents who object to critical race theory, exposure to LGBTQIA+ people, and public school teaching of science and culture. I wasn’t allowed a private telephone. Mom read my journals and letters. Boundaries did not exist.
For the sake of American girls everywhere, we must call this push for so-called Parent’s Rights what it is: far-right authoritarian theocracy. It is forcing a minority’s religious beliefs on everyone, leading to a nation of laws dictated by their narrow interpretation of a faith document. It is not merely about controlling women’s bodies. Ultimately, they intend to control EVERY body.