For Women Who Grew Up In Strict Christian Homes

If there is one documentary I want more women to see, then it is definitely the documentary called Keep Sweet Pray Obey

It is available on Netflix and follows the lives of women who were affected by the sexist teachings seen in a branch of the Mormon church. 

Set in the United States, without giving so many spoilers, the documentary revealed how an exposure to sexist teachings in the church, made several women and men to see women’s bodies as objects for the production of children. 

It also revealed how deep brainwashing into fear and expectations of a heavenly reward made it difficult for women to leave the community even when they could see that they deserved better. This was such that in alignment with obeying what the preacher said, the men in their lives who wanted to help them escape the community, did not do so because they feared losing their share in the kingdom of God and being branded as disobedient.

I am an African woman. A Nigerian woman to be exact. Although I grew up in Nigeria and in a religious yet liberal home where I was encouraged to question, it struck me that the behaviours of the pastors and preachers in the above mentioned documentary mirrored those of  Nigerian pastors. 

Even more, it struck me that a Nigerian woman who grew up in a strict Christian home would have a lot in common with the women in the documentary. 

For example, women who grow up in strict Christian homes more often than not, will see their bodies as belonging to men. This is because their parents and the church will have infused it into them from a young age that sex is impure, submission to a man is expected of women and that women must cover up in order not to “lead men into sin”. 

One often wonders why men who go about claiming to be the stronger gender still have to be protected by mere fabric. Furthermore, if submission is to be expected of women because “it is in the Bible”, why is it that no one tells the Black men captured in Libya to submit to their slavemasters?

Afterall, the Bible explicitly says that slaves should submit. No one tells Black men to do so because it is understood that submission in it self is dehumanising and a man made construct.

Women are however made to eat up the doctrines of submission and sexual purity in a manner that even affects how they are able to carry themselves in workplaces and during things like salary negotiation. 

This is for the simple fact that when you go about thinking your body is a sin, your voice is lesser and that your body is not yours, it affects how confident you are in stating your worth workwise because you don’t even think you belong to you.

Speaking with Nnenna*, she explained that growing up in a strict Christian family was traumatising and that she thought that that was how things should be. 

In her words: “Growing up in a strict Christian family can be traumatising. When I was younger, I thought it was just how things should be.

My parents were pastors. My father wasn’t strict but you see my mom? She was very strict.????

She wouldn’t allow us to play with boys, even those our age. If she sees us playing with boys, the kind of bad eye she go give you ehn. It won’t end there o. If she sees you again with those boys, she would assume y’all are fornicating. I was just a kid fgs. I wasn’t even having sex.”

Nnenna went on to say: “But she would take us to stay at her relative’s place when they travel. And that woman’s son was the first person to start sexually abusing me. I was four, he didn’t do it once. He was a lot older. Do you know my mom doesn’t know her relative was abusing me till today? No one in my family knows. I couldn’t tell anyone. I got abused plenty of times but my mom won’t know but when she sees you with boys, she deals with you. You know all those mommy and daddy kids play? If she sees you, her child, do it, she’ll put pepper in your bumbum. God. It was a wicked thing to do. I grew up and discovered my mom didn’t trust me a lot when I was younger. I always felt like she didn’t trust me much.

She once slapped me in front of the whole congregation because our youth leader told her I disrespected her and it was a lie. She didn’t even ask me what happened. I was so embarrassed.

She did another because another pastor told her a lie about me. Pastor wey be pervert. Because I didn’t give him a chance to say sexual stuff to me.

Omo! My mom once locked me inside and beat me because the crayfish she bought, she thought I ate it. It was later discovered that a rat ate it. She kept it at the wrong place. And do you know I hate the smell of crayfish? I can’t even stand the smell talk more of eating it. One time, she sent us to go pick something for her in a member’s house. The woman wasted time. We came back a bit late because we went from school. Later, my mom asked me to tell her the truth if I did anything with the woman’s son that day. Just cause I came home a bit late. The day I saw my first menstruation, she said, who was I sleeping with?

One time, I was sick, she said I was pregnant. I wasn’t even having sex. ???? Because of these things, I’m afraid to say that at my age, I have never had sex with any man/woman. Except those times (when I was a kid and teen) when older people sexually abused me. Never had consensual sex. I can’t even say that because no one believes it. I didn’t really like my mom because of how she treated me. But we’re cool now.”

For IK*, she says that she finds it difficult to forgive her parents due to how they used fear based religion to traumatise her. 

To quote her: “When I think of the things I find most difficult to forgive in my parents, it’s how they used fear of God to parent instead of truth or empathy sometimes. When a houseboy molested me, they didn’t do anything. We went back to business as usual. When I got kidnapped and almost didn’t make it home  because I was hypnotized, my mom said it’s because I don’t pray enough, that’s why such people could target me. I was so traumatized and that’s all I got. Till this day she doesn’t know what was actually done to me in those hours I was missing.”

IK went on to say: “When my parents fought between themselves, my father would say prayers loudly against my mother and we have no choice but to stay through it. 

When I couldn’t go all the way to church because there were dogs out front. I’m deathly terrified. My mom came back and beat me with her slippers for missing church even though I explained why. 

Christianity was the bar. Something they wielded to seem better, untouchable and to parent. Everything below that was an excuse.  Over the years when I struggle with Christianity, these and so many others were at the heart of the much I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain. 

Even our education. Christian school mattered more than the fact that I was being bullied to depression.  I finally got out of there. To do so, I had to find another school myself and it also had to be Christian.”

For Grace, she explained that being a preacher’s kid has affected her growth and made he question the injustice of sexism more. 

In her words: “I’m a preachers kid and life is(because I’m still pretty young) very difficult to navigate without questioning myself. 

My entire life was built on the basis of religion. How I’m supposed to act in public, the virtuous woman tag, the proverbs 31 woman, the submissive woman, the obedient child, the woman who doesn’t question authority like Esther and the woman who is willing to follow and serve like Ruth. 

From being scolded for putting on lipgloss like jezebel, to the whole talk of how I won’t be accepted by a good man because I’m fixing nails and wearing skirts that have high slits EL OH EL.”

Grace went on to say: “Growing up and developing my own personality outside of what is expected of me, I’ve learnt that 90% of the teachings are just to groom you to cater to a man. You have no identity. Just lessons on how to be prim and proper so you’d be married like a good woman. I’ve never obeyed all of it sha. It’s still significantly hard to unlearn everything at once but I’m a work in progress. I wasn’t allowed to watch tv when I was little ????????????. 

I didn’t watch cartoons and that’s why I watch them now. There was this woman that said she went to hell and she saw Ben 10 and the other cartoon characters in hell lol. I wasn’t allowed to go outside to play because my father felt our neighbors were diabolical and I would be initiated into witchcraft. Seeeee.

Even now, I don’t feel comfortable being outside for long. I’m extremely skeptical and uptight which is weird af as well considering the type of person that I am.”

Speaking with E, she told me that her version of religious policing came in the form of clothing choices amongst others. 

To quote her: “So I had a religious/strict background. I didn’t live with my mom for a while but the woman I lived with showed me pepper.

There was a time that we were watching a lot of “End time messages” that I was so terrified of everything. It was so bad that we were told that making hair was a sin and that we should leave our hair as it is. That’s how this woman made me stop making my hair. In 2013, I didn’t make my hair for almost 6 months ???????????? because of this woman. She was so religious eh. She bought really long skirts for me in 2012/2013 because according to her “all my skirts are short”.

E went on to say: “I was wearing very long skirts and it made me feel very ugly. I don’t think I’ve healed from the nonsense I went through with that woman. It was really bad. One time, she siezed my perfume for no reason. It was a gift. I had to plan my escape in 2013 and I left to go and live with my mum.

Not like my mum isn’t religious o, but it wasn’t as bad as this woman I grew up with. I have more stories but it’s giving me PTSD. I remember how my dad enabled the woman too. I was punished for not praying in church, for not doing church things, for not singing in church etc.

The punishments for me were public embarrassment, beating, compulsory prayer and fasting etc.”

As much as faith would always exist, it is important that women are not dehumanised in the name of worshipping God.

The truth is that raising children and daughters in a fear based manner increases the likelihood of them either leaving altogether or staying in the faith and worshipping from a place of shame and fear.

*Name changed to protect identity

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