What Do Godly Women and Fallen Women Have in Common?/The Cult Chronicles
I’m pretty sure that to live my best life, I generally need to do the opposite of what my culture demands. I wish I had known that when I was a young woman, but I didn’t.
I was raised in the closed society of a religious cult.
When I left home and the church, I was anxious to try things out, all of the things that I’d missed. There were so many things that I couldn’t take part in when growing up.
Almost anything that gave me any kind of pleasure was off limits. So…
I couldn’t even cut my hair.
When I left home my hair was long enough to sit on. It was supposed to be my crowning glory according to the scriptures. I cut off 21 inches, a symbolic gesture of liberation.
When you examine the short list above you’ll soon see that my life was pretty one dimensional. Praying, going to church, reading the Bible, and household chores mixed with an occasional walk summed up how I could spend my free time.
So, as you can probably imagine after I left home and cut 21 inches off of my hair, I had a little catching up to do.
Now that I look back on it, I’m really disappointed that I didn’t experience a lot more of life in those early civilian days. But I didn’t. Wanna know what my number one concern was at the time?
Having a boyfriend.
Yep, I wanted a boyfriend. I was 18 and had never hung out with school chums. I had to hide the books I read. I’d never been to a school dance. The piano was off limits for me. I loved music, but it was considered worldly. I couldn’t listen to the radio. My life experiences were limited to say the least. But in spite of extreme limits placed on my social and personal development, my primary concern was finding a boyfriend.
I was also a virgin. So, there was that burden to carry.
Virginity in a religious cult is usually the gold standard for girls. We are supposed to save ourselves for our husbands. If we did then finding a good husband would be our reward. Dating was nonexitent. Unchaperoned activities were not tolerated. Having a husband and children to care for one day was the sole god-given purpose of our lives.
So, although I had a lot of catching up to do when it came to sinning and enjoying my life, I was also conditioned to still see myself as the lesser half of a future whole.
I wanted a boyfriend.
Needless to say, I eventually discovered similar but well-hidden truths about being a girl in mainstream culture.
The civilian world promoted much the same idea for women.
The goals remained the same. Sure, I could now cut my hair, wear a short skirt, apply a little makeup, go to a matinee with my boyfriend, and even read most books without setting off a firestorm of shock followed by punishment. That was fun! But being a girl in civilian society was ultimately the same as being a girl in a cult.
I was supposed to find a husband and have children.
Do you remember the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart was given a glimpse of how his wife’s life would’ve turned out if he hadn’t been born? What were her choices without a husband? That’s right! An old maid librarian, scuttling home in the dark after locking the library door behind her. A barren woman who was unable to have children and remained husbandless.
I guess when it came to women of a certain age, the writer of It’s a Wonderful Life held the popular opinion that women inevitably sink into a grim existence without a man.
Now, George was another story altogether. He had a zillion dreams before he fell in love and got hitched. The sheer exuberance these dreams provided kept him alive and hopeful in the small town where he grew up. He may have sold out and married, sacrificing those dreams for love, but it didn’t stop him from trying to build something of his own thereafter. A fair portion of his suicidal tendencies were due to him feeling that he was losing everything that defined him. He was experiencing a crisis about his personal worth.
Whereas, his little wifey’s main concern was him. She’d achieved everything that society allowed her to achieve years ago when she became George’s wife.
Once I left home and the fervor of a right wing religion where it was believed that women were created to serve men in total subjection, I was mistaken for some time about civilian life as a woman. In the beginning, I was fooled by what felt like a rush of freedom. I was experiencing so many things for the first time in my life. Being pretty and pretty innocent made me quite an appealing little package, too. I turned a lot of heads while at the same time carrying an aura about me that many civilian girls lost shortly after middle school.
I was a virgin, a very pretty virgin at that. They were not. Some were even considered whores or sluts, two of a slew of names society branded women with if they enjoyed the same sexual freedoms that men were allowed.
I had no idea how much the civilian world treasured a girl like me. Not because they wanted to protect me. Oh, no. I was considered the catch of the day in the eyes of many men. A rare find. They wanted to own me or at least get a taste of me. The girls weren’t too crazy about me, however. I was an immediate threat to their quests to find a husband. Competition between girls for the attention of men could be a bloodthirsty game back in the day.
I was shocked and gratified at how quickly and easily I fulfilled by feminine duties.
I left home when I was eighteen and was married and with child by the time I was nineteen. Mission accomplished. In fact, I met my husband on Valentine’s Day and married him in May. Oh, yes! Of course, I was totally infatuated with him and carried away with feelings of love, but if truth be told, I was afraid. I was afraid of the civilian world at the time. My parents had indoctrinated me to fear the outside world. Anything outside the cult was suspect. And, I soon recognized that much of what they told me about people was true. It was a dog eat dog world, inside and outside the cult. I was totally unprepared for what I encountered.
There was safety in marriage or so I thought.
I was soon to discover, however, that this cherished cultural expectation for civilian women turned out to be exactly the same as being a member of a cult. I began to take note of the lives of new friends and acquaintances I was making. Rarely did I find a happily married couple. Most of the women I met who were my parents age were products of a 1950s culture, a little bored, a little neurotic, and pretty powerless. I became a 60s hippie girl who didn’t always wear a bra and was flirting with going to college and having my own career.
We were met with disapproval. Our mothers and mother-in-laws watched us try to break the glass ceiling and shuddered. They were no help to us at all. Rather the opposite, a hindrance.
I realized that I may have left the cult, but the civilian world had plenty of rules that I was required to adhere to if I wanted to fit in. Ugh! I had mustered up all that courage to leave the cult, including being disowned by my parents, to end up feeling pressured to conform to the cultural expectations of the mainstream tribe.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I still wasn’t happy. I still wasn’t able to be me, whatever that was.
How could I even know what being me entailed? I’d never been allowed to explore my potential, define my preferences, or experience my options. I had no role models. There was one option presented to me — get married and have a family.
It’s been a long slow process but at the tender age of seventy-one, I can say without reservations that if I’m to have my best life imaginable, it will often involve doing the opposite of what my tribe says I should be doing.
Soon after I left home, got married, and had my first child, I enrolled in a few college night courses. That was my second step toward true emancipation. My journey has been long and arduous with very little support along the way. Whether in the cult or in the civilian world, I was met with plenty of disregard for my dreams and aspirations.
But I persevered, even if confused and often held back.
I earned two degrees and established a career of my choosing. Once I was able to do that I was never dependent on someone else’s money again. I had my own which gave me personal power.
Throughout my life, I’ve often bucked the system by pursuing an avenue that was rarely traveled by the average woman, often not even by the average male.
I became a writer and a world traveler. I aspired to live a debt free life rather than drown in the hyper consumerism of the American Dream. I retired at age 54 and sold everything I owned in order to travel the world for four years. I started an international house-sitting business. I wrote plays and directed them.
I may have started my own party a little late in life, but dammit, I’ve made up for lost time.
I’ve done things my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law never dreamed of doing. And although they, too, stood in my way when I attempted to shed the shackles of society in order to live my best life, I was able to break their traditions for my own daughter. From a long line of women who preceded me, I emerged as a new type of role model. A bit tattered and torn perhaps, a tad later in life than I would have liked, but I made it to the other side.
In some ways, I was lucky.
Being raised in a cult gave me an edge, I think. I could look outside the religious barriers that separated me from the civilian world and see two distinctly different ways of life. If I had been raised in the mainstream tribe, I might not have realized that there was more than one way to live a life. The sheer numbers of tribal members makes it much harder to question the way things are done.
Plenty of people are unhappy but they don’t know why. It never occurs to them to defy cultural norms by choosing to live their best lives.
I’m finally entering the last phase of life, that of a senior citizen. I look back at all the lessons learned and I’m sure that I’ll redefine what it means to be an old woman in the civilian world as well. Ain’t no way I’m going to forget what I’ve learned on this arduous journey.
What’s that, you ask?
I intend to live the rest of my best life by doing the opposite of what OLD people in America are told they should do. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. I don’t need to belong to a tribe.
Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.