Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,


I've been reading a LOT lately but this weekend I finished "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop. I joked to a group recently that my two favorite genres are horror, and self-help. Reading about women escaping from fundamentalist cults is really in that perfect intersection.

tw: abuse, assault, sexual violence, people being absolutely awful.

this one was hard to read. This poor woman is born into slavery, for all intents and purposes. From a young age in the fundamental church of latter-day saints (FLDS) she's taught that polygamy and religious obedience are the answer to everything, and some day she'll join a big happy family. She's abused as a child and does a little bit of wondering whether it's tied to the system and religious philosophies in her world, but she mostly buys into the good "theories" behind the way they live. Women just need to be really subservient, really pleasing to their men, really devoted to their children, then it would all work out.

One of my favorite books ever is Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. It's about math and logic. He has a chapter about how to spot a medical quack. A real scientist, he says, will compare several ideas and see which one yields better results. A quack just looks at one idea. Dogma. If the patient gets better, it's because of the quack's medicine. If the patient dies, it's because he didn't take enough of the medicine.

Throughout this book, the idea is that God speaks to a few men and everybody else needs to be as obedient as possible for their lives to work out. Women must get married, then pregnant, again and again and again. Carolyn Jessop is trying to give herself options, attending college to be a teacher, when her family says she's been chosen to be the 4th wife of a 50 year old man. She's devastated and terrified and agrees to it. If she says no she'll go to hell. This is what she was raised to do. So she hopes it will work out. It does not. She's the lowest in the pecking order and has to constantly work to maintain a crowded house, taking care of the kids of other wives. Whatever the husband says goes, next in the authority line is his favorite wife, then his favorite daughters, then sons, then his less than favorite wives. They're barely given money for food. When her pregnancies start getting more and more dangerous she starts realizing how little anyone actually cares about her. If she dies, that was her purpose. If one of her children dies, it's because God is mad at her and wants to teach her a lesson in obedience. Her children are abused, she's abused, and finally after 13 years and 8 dangerous pregnancies, she takes her kids and runs off. It's a miracle she escapes because this community is so huge and full of religious fanatics, and they're everywhere. The doctors are part of the church, so the community has doctors to deliver the babies of underage girls and fix the broken limbs of abused children without any outside authorities involved. The police are part of the church, so abused women are accused of being disobedient wives and sent back home. Everyone just seems miserable. But they're sure that this is what God wants because their leaders are sure of it. Their leaders are also certain that leaders should marry more and more underage girls whenever they get a whim. They even excommunicate men who don't follow the path or are critical or look at them the wrong way, and then all their wives are forced to marry the leaders. A LOT of men and boys are thrown out. Nobody suspects that it's a numbers game here?

So it's a sad book, but she finds happiness in the end with escaping and winning legal battles and getting 7 of her 8 kids into a normal life. Her oldest daughter is too far gone and opts to go back to the cult to save herself from the fires of hell.

In the end, my takeaway is around the destruction of equating obedience with salvation. You can raise whole generations who do not think for themselves, and then you have nothing but fear, terror, power struggles... there is no cooperation. There's no joy. There's no family. She loves her children and she's grateful for them, but she's not even allowed to hug them when she's in the cult. Everything is seen as weakness. It took so much bravery to escape, but in order to do that she had to realize she had absolutely nothing left to lose anymore.
Tags: books

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