Woman on a Pedestal

Woman on a Pedestal

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  "Esteemed faculty and fellow graduating students, as a representative of the St. Mary's graduates, I thought it appropriate that I say a few brief words about that Christian womanhood into which we are now about to enter."

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  When I was ten years old I loved to roller skate so much that it became the only thing I wanted to do in my free time. The repetitious kick glide, kick glide, kick glide brought me out of my troubled mind and into a purely physical space.

  During the five early childhood years that I attended public school, I was bullied incessantly for the way I looked. The freedom and weightlessness of skating gave me a temporary respite from the feelings of worthlessness and my swirling, racing thoughts.

  It was true. I could not interact well with other children in elementary school because I was not allowed to watch television or participate in any aspect of popular culture. I had nothing in common with them and my attempts to interact ended in embarassment. I also did look very, very strange.

  In my family, not only did God expect us to adhere to certain standards of modesty, we had to protect ourselves from the worldly influence of the godless fashion industry. Denim jeans, my mother said, were inherently sinful, and Levis in particular were a sign that Jews controlled the world. As true soldiers of Christ, we couldn't condone or participate in that in any way.

  My mother would make the pants she believed would please God and his mother Mary. These garments would be purely functional, not fashionable, allowing us to walk with humility and fulfill our responsibility to cover our female bodies so as not to tempt men with impure thoughts.

  As a result of my mother's pious sewing efforts, I had a pair of pants for each day of the week, all from the same bolt of dark brown cordouroy, all with elastic waistbands, all baggy and shapeless. All exactly the same. The pants were noisy when I walked, as cordoroy rubbed against cordoury between my little legs and the wide hems flopped awkwardly up and down over my equally unfashionable shoes.

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      "Salvation Army! Salvation Army!" choruses of kids would chant while tossing pennies at me.

      "Hey, Bellbottoms! Yeah, Bellbottoms girl!"

      "Why don't you ever change your pants? That's disgusting".

      "I change my pants every day," I pleaded desperately. "They just....they just all look the same."

      "Offer it up", my other said. "Think of Jesus on the Cross".

  I felt the shame in my very body, as though the pants were part of my legs. With every step I took, every audible zwip flop, zwip flop, of those cordouroy pants, it was as if my ugliness came from within my self, because of a a choice I had made that made me despicable. My very nature was to be despised. I shrunk away from everyone so they would not be subjected to the horrific stench of what I was, rotten like a soul stained with mortal sin.

  I skated and skated, up and down the street next to the house. Up and down, up and down. Kick glide, kick glide.

Family member of Rose Anderson, circa 1956

Family member of Rose Anderson, circa 1956

  "This is indeed a graduation, a moving forward, from the lesser responsibilities of students to the roles of Catholic women."

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    My family had been quite isolated in our strangeness, but finally my mother was overjoyed to meet a very religious family with seven children. As if we needed to be any more strange, my mother gained strength from them to become even stranger.

    This family had a small farm and did not use birth control. They were preparing for the Three Days of Darkness.

    They lived to pray and to please God, without compromising for the ways of the world. This was the way my mother had always believed people should live.

    From this family we also learned that God and his mother Mary did not want women to put on the garments of a man. The girls did not wear pants, only skirts and dresses. My mother told me I would wear only skirts and dresses from that point forward.

I would not be going back to school. We would homeschool now too.

  "It was the Catholic Church which gave woman her voice in society. Never before--during her servitude of pagan times--did woman enjoy the respect she received after Our Lord sanctified woman's place in the person of the Virgin Mother."

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    There would be no more baggy dark brown cordouroy pants. I put on the red cordouroy jumper my mother gave me. It had a bell skirt that came down below my knees.

    It was a chilly late afternoon in the fall, and I needed to skate.

    I put on my skates, and went out to the top of the street next to the house. I stood, looking down the hill I had loved so much to fly down and forget all of my ugliness. The cold autumn wind blew up my skirt, chilling the bare skin of my legs. I shivered, and in that moment it was as though all physicality left me.

    I turned and went back to the house. I did not skate again.

From “Little Stories About God”, The Daughters of Saint Paul, 1964

From “Little Stories About God”, The Daughters of Saint Paul, 1964

   "The Middle Ages were not the Ages of Darkness, but the Ages of Faith, the Ages of True Womanhood. The virtuous woman was seen as the mirror of Our Lady, and was held in reverence and esteem."

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  Perhaps if I had stayed in school I would have been mocked for the dresses too, but the isolation of home school would begin soon, bringing with it a strange sense of relief. At least the other children could no longer see my shame.

  I was developing into a Traditional Catholic woman, the most noble role a person could have. But with that great honor came great responsibility. This privilege required sacrifice. It required a spirit of unquestioning obedience.

  I was being taken deeper and deeper into world where in exchange for being called the noble earthly counterpart of Mary the Mother of God, I would dedicate myself in obedience first to my parents, then to a husband. I would bear a child each year of my marriage, because birth control was not allowed, nor was denying a husband his "marital right", nor was any sexual encounter in which "the end of marriage" ("end" meaning "purpose", the purpose of producing children) was deliberately frustrated.

  Like the mother of the family we had just befriended, I would cook and clean, take care of children, and fetch my husband his slippers, and defer to him in all household decisions. I would be reliant on my husband's income, more and more so with each child, and stay with him in spite of drunkenness, violence, rape, or failure to provide that income.

  To disobey my husband would be to disobey God. To leave my husband would be to abandon God.

  "This status conferred by Our Lord is defined by the Church. By defined, I mean limited, not in a negative sense, but in the sense that woman is given very specific duties. The problem with today's woman is that she tries to raise herself to what she believes to be a higher dignity by usurping the duties of a man."

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  After four years of homeschooling, my entire extended family left for Kansas to live in a town of people like us. In the cult, I was happy that I was no longer alone, and that I didn't have to watch other kids living normal lives. It was easier for me without a view of the outside world. In the girls' school, all of us were held to the same strict code of dress and feminine behavior.

 The year I graduated, Father Angles chose me to make the salutatory speech, not because I had excelled academically but because I was excellent in my understanding of the principles he taught. I was also excellent in my ability to convey those principles to others.

Ruin in the ghost town of Daniels, Maryland
Patapsco State Park
Photo: Rose Anderson, 2017

  "We have seen it many times. A woman who insists on taking over for a man becomes a monster never intended to take any place in the plan of God. Her proper place is then left vacant, her duties unfulfilled."

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  After I had written my speech, I was called to Father Angles' office so that he could review and approve it before the big day.

  I read it for him.

  Near the end of the speech, I read, "We will certainly be scorned as dowdy females who hide in the darkness of the Middle Ages, in an inferior role, wasting our talents. True to our heritage, we will cherish this Catholic standard and embrace that scorn as the particular cross of our salvation."

  Father Angles interrupted me.

  "After 'wasting our talents'," he said, "Say very loudly,'So what!' and pound your fist on the podium."

 "So what!" he bellowed, bringing his fist down on his desk to emonstrate.

  I giggled but took him very seriously. I would do exactly as he instructed.

  "We Catholic women take for our model, not masculinity, not modern gorgons, but the lofty femininity which is embodied in Our Lady. The interior virtue of the Catholic woman illuminates her exterior grace."

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  On graduation day I stood at the podium in front of several hundred people who had come from all over to see even for just one day for the glorious promise of this place where the army of Christ the King was assembling. They looked to us for secrets of meaning in this life and salvation in the next, answers that they could not find anywhere else, and I stood at the head of those aspiring soldiers as a four-star general.

  If I had to be opressed, I was going to oppress myself. I would own my oppression. It would happen on my terms.

  For the audience to whom I spoke, I was a beacon shining in the dark. This was the place where those unloved by the world, those who could not find a sense of worth and purpose in mainstream society could come to find inclusion and dignity, a reason for being, just as I had.

White Madonna
Photograph: Rose Anderson, 2018

  "The preservation of Catholic Tradition in Our Lady's little community is also the preservation of woman's true dignity. We must take this inheritance with us when we leave St. Mary's. This education for true womanhood, which we have been given will be no true education unless it is impressed upon our minds, on our hearts--so deeply that it becomes our way of life. We will certainly be scorned as dowdy females who hide in the darkness of the Middle Ages, in an inferior role, wasting our talents. So what!?"

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  I had made the a-line skirt and tailored jacket I wore, expressing my worth and dignity with sparkling faceted buttons I had carefully chosen for my creation. It was both modest and beautiful. There were no more baggy dark brown cordouroy pants, no mocking, chanting crowds of would-be peers who just didn't get that I had been chosen by God to be part of the One True Church.

  As I crafted the speech and crafted my dress I was constructing the pedestal that I would stand on as an medieval ideal of Christian womanhood. That pedestal had been promised to me since I put on that first red cordouroy jumper in fourth grade, and I was going to have it. I was going to stand tall upon it and never come down. If I was going to be in the army of Christ, I would have the status of a commander.

Window of an abandoned house  Photograph: Rose Anderson, 2013

Window of an abandoned house
Photograph: Rose Anderson, 2013

 

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Translation

Translation