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Learning to Love Being a Woman

A young woman who was raised in a misogynistic cult shares how it affected her views on womanhood

Mental health and wellbeingSocial Issues
By VoiceBox ·

Briana Renee

A young woman from the US

Learning to Love Being a Woman

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For as long as I can remember, I thought being a woman was fundamentally awful. My parents raised me in a cult that is a patriarchal society in which women are expected to regard men as their superiors. In the congregation, only males can assume positions of responsibility and education. Leadership maintains its demeaning portrayal of women as "belonging in the kitchen."

If you are a female member of this cult, the leaders' perspective of women diminishes your self-worth. The consequences of a patriarchal, male-dominated religion can be disastrous, especially in three areas: domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.

The cult leaders adhere to a rigid interpretation of the Bible regarding women's roles. The headship arrangement is founded on Paul's statement that "the head of a woman is the man," which underpins the role of women in the congregation and marriage. The headship system is described as orderly, divine in origin, and a privilege and a joy in the cult's teachings.

My name constantly reminded me of my gender disappointment, Briana just one letter away from Brian. I unconsciously learned that it's better to accept everything you're not and settle into a comfortable humility that keeps you and your flaws hidden than to pretend you're of equal value to those born differently than you and embarrass yourself.

According to cult officials, women are less capable than men, which is worrisome. The leaders justified female subjugation because they believed women's smaller brain size rendered them less clever. They think a woman's brain capacity is 10% lower than a man's, implying that she is unfit for the role of leader. I was taught that a woman's role is of submission to her father and then her husband. My role would be of submissiveness, which requires me to acknowledge and appreciate my femininity, and never try to take the “man's role”. 

As I grew up, many men would chastise women for not having as much sex with their husbands as they desired. I started to think that a woman's worth was determined only by the sexual pleasure she could and should provide to a man. I began to despise my physique and how I knew it would be perceived in the future. I didn't wear makeup to draw attention to myself and wore baggy clothes to hide my body as it developed.

When my period arrived, I believed my life was finished, and I began to despise my body and uterus with a vengeance. My inner and outward anatomy became a subject of disagreement, a punchline for jokes, and a real source of my failures. The cult leaders often give "talks" about how cramps were punishment for Eve leading men astray with her sinful nature. In ways I couldn't fully grasp, I was punished for being a woman.

And these sentiments of inadequacy, self-hatred, and disillusionment followed me beyond high school and into young adulthood. While others my age were heading off to college, I didn't because higher education was discouraged. Leadership regularly warned that going to university is a waste of time and will lead to a life of depravity. 

Since men fill all leadership positions, women are only found at the bottom of the organizational ladder. The most senior role available for women is to recruit members, usually in groups of two. While it appears to be a privilege, it is merely a sales position that uses free labor.

As a recruiter, I was allowed to work alone a few times and gained an opportunity I never had before; the chance to talk to non-cult members. Through individual incidents with different types of people and the help of the Internet, I learned many lessons that chipped away at the cult's teachings of gender injustice and misogyny. 

It took far too long for me to recognize the inherent power and aptitude that women possess. It took me far too long to identify myself as a human deserving of the finest humanity has to give rather than the garbage discarded by men. It took me far too long to see myself as more than a second-class citizen; incapable, weak, and constantly needing a man's grace, understanding, and assistance. But I did, and I owe it to other women.

I met women through recruiting who journeyed with me as I made my way out of the cult and my newfound freedom. I'm slowly but steadily moving away from the horrible lessons the cult was so inclined to teach and closer to self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-love.

I'm learning that my body is not a source of contention or religious punishment but a vessel of strength and love that I, and I alone, should govern, thanks to women who have fought for women's rights. And, thanks to women like Abby Norman and websites like Ask Me About My Uterus, I no longer despise my anatomy or the fantastic, sometimes painful things my body, including my reproductive organs, can accomplish.

When I think back on my life, I cringe, still unable to overcome the natural but unlearned desire to despise myself and my inherent womanhood. But as I look around today at how far I've come and try to see into the future, I can't help but feel grateful that I wasn't born as Brian, the man, but as Briana, the woman.

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