My Intern Advisor was also the Dean of Women. She was on staff for only one year before she and her husband moved on to something else. At our very first focus group, she passed out that dreadful list of rules along the lines of “How to be a Godly Teen Mania Woman”. By then we had already been given so many different lists of rules governing every aspect of our HA experience, it was becoming a little absurd. I made a joke about it, something along the lines of: “Hurray! Another list!”. I was only trying to be funny, not rude, but my Advisor heard it, and it came back to bite me.
She was a lovely woman–delicate, stylish, pretty, well-put together. We all loved her immediately. She had a sweet little voice like wind-chimes. With that voice, she told us essentially that godly women were seen and not heard, that godly women dressed modestly but stylishly and wore make-up, etc. etc. You’ve all seen the abominable list. This was bad news for a girl like me, who didn’t have enough money to live up to the standards of dress. I couldn’t afford make-up, and my style was dependent upon whatever was on blue-light special at K-Mart, or whatever I could find in my size on the free table. It was also bad news because I had lots of good guy friends from my ministry placement, which was a no-no, and because I didn’t enjoy things like baking and crafts and manicures and cheesy romantic comedies. (I eventually shrugged most of these guidelines off, as I couldn’t see any evidence for them in the Bible, and there was nothing in the handbook that indicated I could be dismissed for wearing t-shirts and jeans.) TM has a very limited definition of femininity, one that alienates many women who go through the program. (Additionally, it has a very limited definition of masculinity, alienating all the men who don’t enjoy physical contact sports, polar diving, screaming and chest pounding, etc.)
We were required to meet with our advisor every so often–I can’t remember if it was monthly or quarterly or what. My very first meeting was painful. I had never interacted with her before that moment, but she had read my files and felt that she knew all about me and had the right to speak into my life. As I sat there meekly, eagerly, excited to begin a mentoring relationship with my sweet, pretty advisor, she told me that she could tell I was someone who had a bad attitude. She cited the joke I’d made in focus group as an example. I was utterly taken aback. I was still in the honeymoon stage at that point; I was still EXCITED about being at the HA! How could I possibly appear to have a bad attitude? I was crushed that she would have such a low opinion of me. I wanted to please her so badly. I don’t want to make it sound like she was mean to me, because she wasn’t. Like my CA and my ACA, I believe that she wanted what was best for me, but she didn’t ever really get to KNOW me. I met with her the obligatory number of times after that, always being careful as to how I presented myself. We spent virtually NO time together.
The 4th (and last) time I met with her, I was seeking a recommendation to go down a G.I. road. (Yes, in spite of everything, I thought I was supposed to stay another year. And maybe I was, I don’t know.) She told me that she hesitated to give me a recommendation, because she was disappointed in my growth. She had expected so much more from me, she said. I was baffled, because I felt like I had grown a lot since that first meeting with her. I was much more disciplined (thank you, probation!), socially secure, and I felt like my relationship with God was stronger than ever (no thanks to TM; I had, on my own, discovered the term “legalism” and had been striving to walk away from it). I asked her why she thought I hadn’t grown enough, and she told me it was because I had failed to live up to the standards of TM femininity. (For the record: though I didn’t like baking and such, I was still a girly-girl. Not that it actually matters, but I was cute, and boys liked me, etc.) The reason she gave me when I pressed for details?
Around thanksgiving, I had been sent some money, which I used to buy a pair of high-top Chuck Taylors. This was before everyone and their grandma had two or three pairs in their closet, and I was one of maybe a handful of interns on campus who wore them. They were by far the most expensive things I owned, and I was in love with them. “I love these shoes!” I protested. “I know you love them,” she replied. “But they’re BOY shoes.”
In the end I got the recommendation (with reservation), and stayed for another year, which I will talk about later.
Throughout the year, the femininity of the women on campus was insulted again and again by HA leadership with teaching that encouraged vanity and bordered on misogyny. We were ultimately to be the play-things of our husbands–the highest honor for a woman is to be the servant of a “godly” man. These same godly men were coincidentally being taught that if they loved God and stopped looking at porn, God would reward them with nothing less than a Barbie-doll wife who apparently has no interests, desires, opinions, or sexual needs of her own outside that of her husband. Like many HA philosophies, these ideas weren’t always explicitly taught, but rather implied, until they were commonly understood and accepted.