Safeguards from Evil Men

If you are just joining us, we are working through a series on Dear Princess. The first post is here.

Today's post is on the chapter that is worth the price of the whole book.

This chapter is so absolutely jam-packed with mind-melting insanity that I simply must include every single word for your edification. This is important so that you can see exactly how you, Dear Reader (I wanted to say Dear Princess, but I know that some brethren read this blog, and I want to maintain appropriate gender distinction in all things), can protect yourself from evil men. 

(The brethren can feel free to read along, but this advice doesn't really apply to you. And there's not any advice on protecting yourself from evil women, since we all know that God intended it is the women's job to protect you from evil women.) God looks out for guys like that.

This chapter is entirely in story form, and is one of the most comprehensive treatments of exactly what is being taught in this book, and how it looks, acted out in real life. And keep your eyes out for the shocking guarantee.

The girls were all together at Marie's house. It was a delightful spring Sunday afternoon, warm, fragrant, and invigorating. After a delicious lunch was served and cleared away, the girls were on the lawn, chatting happily together.

It was Rebecca who proposed that they go for a walk. "Let's walk down to the old covered bridge," she suggested, springing to her feet from her place on the grass.

Two paragraphs in, and we've already identified the problem child. Rebecca has just made a seemingly innocent suggestion that will lead the girls into grave spiritual and physical peril, which will ultimately culminate in serious soul-searching followed by tremulous apologies.

What's wrong with Rebecca's suggestion?

Well, first of all, what's right about it? (That's the knee-jerk reaction that all conservatives cultivate as a response to any time they are questioned.)

Also, she is obviously the kind of girl God does not like, what with her taking leadership like that.

Finally, there are other reasons, but I don't want to spoil the story.

"Yes, let's!" and Sophie sprang up, too, linking her arm in Rebecca's. "Come on, girls."

Here's our second troublemaker, "running with a multitude to do mischief" with a side order of "inappropriate physical contact." (There's a few super icky passages on that subject coming up.)

These two girls will be the ones to watch through this narrative, as their poor choices will lead the entire troupe of girls into danger.

Marie hesitated. "I don't like the idea of walking along the highway," she said slowly.

I think we can all agree that doesn't sound safe.

"It always seems to me such a public thing to do. I enjoy walks in the country, but not along the roads." 

OK. That's a weird choice of words. "It seems... such a public thing to do."

This is a concept that we will be encountering again later in the book, but for now, let's take note that this girl, the righteous, compliant, hesitant one, has been conditioned to negatively react to "doing public things." To the point that she is only comfortable walking in the country, rather than along roads.

Since the story doesn't tell us that Marie's last name wasn't von Trapp, we are forced to assume that it is.

Never mind that the use of the term "highway" is misleading.

Rebecca looked surprised, "Why your highway isn't anything but a country road!" she exclaimed. "It has very little traffic on it. It surely is safe enough. I've always wished that I could live at such a quiet place as this.

I get so tired of the busy, four-lane thoroughfare I live beside."

"I really don't see any harm in walking the short distance to the covered bridge," Rhoda, who was several years older than the rest of the girls, contributed. "We probably won't see a soul."

So it turns out that the "highway" is actually a township road, or something similar. (After all, how many highways have covered bridges?) But it's still too public to walk along.

Also, notice that the even older (and presumably wiser) girl has now put her stamp of approval on this unwise, harebrained expedition down a country road to a covered bridge. What's next? Makeup and curlers? It reminds me of the verse, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."

In response to her words, the group of six girls moved across the lawn and started down the road two by two.

Rhoda was right. They did not see a soul. The girls stood inside the shady coolness of the bridge, chatting when the sound of an approaching car was heard.

"We better get out of the bridge," Marie warned. "It is so narrow."

Several of the girls immediately stepped out of the bridge and stood on the green grass on the shoulder of the road. The rest hesitated, and as they did, a car entered the dusky interior of the bridge, and approached them.

In the movie version of Dear Princess, the car is dark blue and has a squeaky fan belt, and a slight exhaust leak.

Its headlights illuminate the inside of the bridge, and the camera cuts to each of the girls' surprised, slightly startled faces. The interior of the car is dark, so you can't see the driver. The soundtrack turns ominous, as the camera zooms in on the grill of the car, with its two glowing headlights. It's the most dramatic scene in the whole movie.

"Come, girls," Rebecca cried hastily. Grabbing two of them by the hand, she darted from the bridge, towing them behind her.

This scene is shot in slow motion, as the girls race frantically out of the bridge, and the camera cuts from them to the car, and back, showing the gap closing.

Due to budget constraints, and the fact that the bridge is a registered historical landmark, it does not blow up or collapse. And the car does not hit them.

Reluctantly, they followed, laughingly protesting at the unladylike appearance that Rebecca was forcing upon them.

Flushed and giggling, they joined the girls on the outside. Almost at once, the car emerged from the bridge behind them.

"Whee-e-e!" a bold voice called to them as the car drove by.

Startled, the girls saw two young men in the car.

Both turned their heads and looked back at them. Then it slowed down hastily,  and turned around with a flourish in the middle of the road.

"Girls, I don't like this," Marie said. "Let's go home right away."

Now I don't blame Marie here. This situation is genuinely frightening. If I were walking, and a car passed me, and turned around and came back, my pulse rate would jump through the roof immediately.

Bravely facing the approaching car, the girls started walking back the way they had come.

The car pulled up beside them and stopped. "Do you girls want to ride?" the dark-haired driver invited boldly.

"No, I guess not. We don't have far to go," Rebecca returned with a saucy giggle.

Not the way would handle this situation personally, and of course you know Rebecca has got it coming, don't you? Don't get me wrong, this isn't a good situation, and if I was the parent of this kid child, I would discuss it afterwards, but my point would be decidedly different than the point that our Dear Author is going to make.

"Near or far, we're at your service," the youth returned with a wink, throwing open the back door of his car."

"Hop in, Dimples," he invited, giving Rebecca a gracious smile.

"Come on, girls," Marie said urgently. "We must be going."

There are a number of implausible elements to this story, not the least of which is how the driver "throws open" his back door from the front seat. Is he a contortionist? The story doesn't mention him getting out of the car. But I like the next part even better.

Don't be in a hurry, Beautiful," the driver of the car told her pleasantly. "We have room for all of you. The tighter the squeeze, the better we like it."

I know that by this paragraph, the author intends to depict this driver as being bold and inappropriate, with bad motives, and all. But it's just weird.

He offered for them to sit in the back seat. There are six girls. Even if four of them did get in the back seat, that puts two of them in the front seat, plus the driver and the passenger.

A feeling of panic came over Marie. "Lord, take care of us," she prayed.

To her dismay, Rebecca and Sophie both giggled and Rebecca tossed her head coquettishly. 

"We don't ride with strangers," she told him pertly.
"Oh, is that the trouble?" the bold youth asked. "We can soon fix that up. I am Clint and my buddy here is Clyde. Now with the introductions over, step right into my waiting chariot."

"No, thank you," Marie said firmly and steadily. "Girls, we must go. Rebecca, Sophie, come."

If you go back and read over the last three paragraphs, you will notice that Clint is bold. The author tells us this three times, so I think she really wants us to know that this is a Bold Youth.

Rachel and Sophie, the problem children, who are "pert," "saucy," and "coquettish" have no clue about the perilousness of getting into vehicles with Bold Youth. Clearly, this was before the publication of Dear Princess. 

I am not going to defend their actions. But perhaps they were dealing with a stressful situation by trying to laugh it off instead of freaking out. Perhaps they were unwise, but maybe they were trying.

The group of girls began to move slowly away. Just then a car cme around the curve ahead. Another entered the covered bridge behind. Forced into moving, the dark-haired youth flushed with anger.

"Next time, my pretties," he told them roughly, "if you're not out for a ride, stay off the road."

And now salvation comes by way of car ex machina. Suddenly two cars simultaneously materialize on this quiet road, forcing that Bold Youth to drive away.

I assume he stomped on the gas to force the back door to close. Or perhaps one of the girls kindly closed it for him before they scuttled away.

And what a weird thing to say, "If you don't want a ride, stay off the road." Is this that male privilege thing everyone talks about? Because, if it is, I gotta say, they have something there. Why would you assume that a girl (or woman) walking along the road wants you to pick her up? That's just weird. Maybe she wants to take a walk, and that's all.

We easily could write Clyde and his curiously silent partner off, if it weren't for the rest of the chapter.

When the girls gained the security of Marie's house, they sank down into chairs with knees trembling. Only Rebecca and Sophie seemed not to sense the peril they had been in.

Before I go any further, I want to tell you a story.

A number of years ago, I was looking for an interesting place to hang out with a good friend. I stopped at a local park to look around.

There was a single vehicle parked there, with a man inside.

He asked me what I was doing there, and I told him that a friend and I were thinking of doing an outing and I wanted to check out the park to see if it was a good fit.

He told me that there was an old monument back in the woods for an old fort. I told him that that was interesting and I really enjoy history. So he offered to take me back into the woods and show me where it was.

I politely declined, and quickly left. I had already gotten a slightly weird vibe from the guy, and he had made a suggestive comment in our short exchange.

So I avoided that park for years after that. Because it was really creepy.

But I never once blamed my own actions for the creepy actions of that guy. 

In the case of these girls, I would probably not walk that road much after that experience. Because those guys acted scary and weird.

But there would be no recriminations. No such luck for our problem girls.

"It was your light, flirty attitude, Rebecca," Marie told her, "that made those boys as bold as they were. They have passed here different times when I was by the road at the mailbox and they never paid the least attention to me."

"I just wanted to act friendly," Sophie defended herself. "I didn't want them to think we were afraid of them."

The boys started out by cat-calling before they had even stopped the car. But, of course, in Marie's mind, Rebecca's unladylike conduct in running out of the bridge is clearly what triggered that.

The horrible thing about this paragraph is the implication that those boys, and by implication, men in general, are relatively harmless, until their lustful natures are aroused by a nearby female's inappropriate actions. This is why girls and women must be so alert, so that they don't trigger that ravenous beast inside every man, even the good ones. (after all, that's what Bathsheba did, and look how that turned out.)

And Sophie's actions may have been unwise, but she was trying her best to deal with an uncomfortable situation. But this conversation gets worse.


This next section is some of the craziest things this book has to offer, so we're going to work through it a piece at a time.

"And we were just standing around at the bridge," Rhoda admitted, "as though we were waiting to be picked up. I am sorry that I encouraged the girls to go, Marie, after you had discouraged the idea."

What the (insert appropriate euphemism here)???

What sane person, who was also in their right mind, and NOT a weirdo, would think that a group of girls standing on a covered bridge were there because they were waiting to be picked up by some random person?

This statement is so unbelievably, inexpressibly nonsensical.

Who in the world thinks like that? Because if you can think, "Those girls are standing there. They must want to get in my car," you can also think, "That girl smiled at me, she must want to engage in sexual conduct with me." These people are called "perverts."

And if you, like our Dear Author, are the kind of person that thinks that this is a normal way to think, you will always, ALWAYS find a reason that something the girl did implicitly INVITED the boy to do the Bad Thing.

And that is why this book is so evil and perverted and why victims are so commonly blamed, because of perverted thinking like this.

And if you think I'm grasping at straws, keep reading. Rhoda continues.

"You were right. As Christian girls, we should keep ourselves in modest retirement from the world and not be idling around in public places."

If someone didn't throw their phone after reading that, why am I even writing this blog?

Yes. You read that right. Good girls have no business standing on a quiet covered bridge on a country road. And imagine going to town and "hanging out" at a coffee shop, or a book store, or a library. All of those things are inappropriate and will leave you open to being sexually assaulted, and it will be all your fault.

"Another thing I believe," Rhoda continued, "is that the boys would likely not have stopped if Rebecca had not run from the bridge, dragging Sophie and Carrie behind her in such a silly fashion. It made us appear like a light, silly, and foolish bunch of girls."

Because teenage girls acting normally (running and laughing) attracts predators.

Also, there is the unspoken assumption here that if you are light, silly and foolish, you are fair game. And it's your fault.

"I agree with you," Marie stated firmly. "Mother has told me that if we would have the respect of young men, even worldly young men, we must have a reserved and modest bearing about ourselves, an air of self-respect and dignity.

Notice what the main point of this paragraph is. "What do the guys think?" And these girls are even worried about what the "worldly young men" think of them.

Of course, the reason that we want these worldly young men to respect us is so they will not "violate our purity" or something. And it's up to US to make sure they respect us so that doesn't happen.

So twisted.

"Running, giggling, and loitering along a public road do not show these qualities to anyone.

So basically, if you take this at face value, girls that run, giggle, or take walks down the road are not reserved, modest, or self-respecting, and cannot expect men to respect them either. THAT'S WHAT IT SAYS!

"What else has your mother told you," Rhoda encouraged Marie. "I think we all need some teaching on this subject."

Marie hesitated. "May I run up and get my Journal?" she asked. "I wrote the things down that Mother told me."

"Yes, get it," several girls urged her.

Marie returned in a minute. "I have given this list the title, 'Safeguards for Respect and Safety Away From Home,'" she told the girls as she opened her well-worn Journal.

In this passage, the Journal (note the capitalization) serves as a proxy for the Bible. The term "well-worn" is always used in reference to the Bible.

I find it highly unlikely that a girl would have a journal filled with lists like this , but whatever. I've begun to believe anything is possible in the funhouse mirror world of Conservative Mennonites.

So what does the Journal tell us about safeguards for respect and safety? 

"The first point I have here is that we should always be modestly dressed, so that there is nothing about our person that excites the lustful nature of a man.

If we violate this, we are inviting lustful looks and bold whistles or approaches."

I could have a massive fit about how nuts and wrong this is, but it's so common that I barely have the energy to spend on it. 

So, yeah, let's just point out that this clearly states that women that dress "immodestly" are "inviting" men to sexually harass them. ("She was asking for it.")

"Then Mother said that in keeping with our modest appearance should be a modest bearing or conduct.

We should not smile in a friendly way to strange men or boys, or to men or boys we know are not Christians. Many men would be encouraged by this to make friendly approaches to us."

You may be asking yourself why this discussion of the book keeps veering into the territory of sexual assault. It is because that is what the author is referring to when she talks about young girls being "safe." It means not molested sexually. And this chapter purports to having the way to prevent that.

This book directly teaches girls to be cold and distant to anyone they do not know. And what is worse is how it warps the word "friendly" into something sinister.

If a man is being friendly to you, or making a "friendly approach" because you smiled at him, you are in danger. That is the message here.

And, if you smiled at a man, and he was friendly to you, and later assaulted you sexually, that would be your fault for encouraging that by smiling at him in the first place.

"Nor should we talk or laugh loudly in a silly way that attracts attention. Mother says that any girl that does anything to attract attention to herself, whether it is in how she dresses, talks, laughs, or acts, is not a modest, self-respecting girl."

The bitter irony about this is that this culture demands that girls dress like they just rode a time machine out of the 1800s, so that when they walk around town, they can't help but be noticed.

And then they are told not to do anything that attracts attention, and be sullen and unfriendly for their own safety.

Also, there is talk about "self--respect" which apparently comes from being completely unnoticed. The cognitive dissonance is mind-melting.

"Other things that are out of place for a girl to do in public which would invite the wrong kind of thoughts and looks, are for her to slouch or recline, to skip or run about, or constantly watch men or boys."

In the Director's cut of the movie version, there is a flashback of Mother and Marie having this discussion. Marie asks how she should act when she goes to shopping in town.

Mother tells her, "Just buy your damn groceries and get home where you belong."

If you are more offended by the fact Mother said "damn" then you are about what she is teaching her daughter, you are part of the problem. Let me get the door for you.

Mother says, too, that a young girl should never wander along the road or around the countryside alone. Nor should she travel on public conveyances without the companionship of some responsible and suitable chaperone.

I love this part. Especially the "public conveyances." It's so delightfully old-timey.

The sad part is that it is far more likely for a girl to be molested on a public conveyance by her "responsible and suitable chaperone" then by some random passenger.

And you know this is more about keeping tight reins on the girls and less about them not getting molested. Because, face it, if Conservative Mennonites were really serious about stopping molesting, there are practices besides "riding public conveyances alone" that they would end.

And the method of control is, as always, fear.

Mother told me that we Christian young girls have no idea how evil the world is and to what danger we expose ourselves when we are out in public and away from the security of our own homes.

I get the distinct impression that Mother had a bus or plane trip that went badly for her, and has never quite gotten over it.

And now, at the close of the chapter, we come to that promised iron-clad guarantee.

But she has assured me, also that if I always wear the veiling God asks Christian women to wear in I Corinthians 11, and keep myself carefully in line with these safeguards of modesty and discreet conduct, God will protect me from wicked men and boys when I am out in public among them. And I believe it."

After you have retrieved your electronic device, and checked it for damage, I want you to notice a few things here.

1) Mother makes an iron-clad promise on God's behalf. "No one will hurt you if you do this list of things and wear this magic talisman veiling."

2) Mother only mentions protection from wicked men and boys out in public. So, no protections are promised to you from men and boys in your church. Which is probably over 90% of all abuse cases in Mennonite settings. (I have heard a lot of people who grew up Mennonite tell stories of childhood or teenage sexual abuse, and I can't think of one in which the abuser was a stranger.) I'm sure it has happened. But it's not the norm.

3) Obviously Mother's guarantee is false. While there are things that can be done to mitigate risk (sensible things, not Mother's list),  abuse, rape, and sexual assault still happen. Even to women and girls who "did everything right."

But there is a very real guarantee in Mother's words. She guarantees you that if you are assaulted, you will be blamed for it.

4) The logic to victim-blaming is flawless. "God will protect you if you follow the rules. If something bad happened, God must have let it happen. Therefore, you must have broken a rule." Therefore the assault is your fault.

And don't take my word for it. Read on!

"I believe it, too," Rhoda agreed emphatically. "It was only because we broke several of the rules for our safety that we had this humiliating experience."

The girls tediously agree with her that it was scary and they learned their lesson and then Rebecca says this.

"I'm sorry for the way I acted, girls. I see now that I was in a large measure responsible for what happened." Rebecca's voice broke.

Rhoda may believe it, but you don't have to. Rebecca might think that she was responsible, but she is wrong.

Now, I know for a fact that I have people reading this site that grew up reading this book and others like it, and believed these lies. And I'm reasonably certain that some of you suffered abuse, and believed that you were to blame, because you broke some rule. And this next part is for you. You need to hear this, even if you've heard it before. 

Listen to me. 

There isn't a list of rules long enough to keep everyone safe. We live in a messed up world, and no one can make any promises. Abuse happens because abusers choose to abuse.

It wasn't your fault.

See the deceptions for what they are. Lies designed to control you, and make you compliant and silent in exchange for false security.

You don't have to believe Rhoda. You know the truth now.

Go and be free!

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9 thoughts on “Safeguards from Evil Men

  1. Jonna says:

    Wow- you are a gifted writer, whoever you are (yes, I get that anonymous part!) who made me laugh and think at the same time. I was in Mennonite circles for 14 years. It is only when you leave their circles you begin to see the very things that you are talking about. I must admit my kids and I used to read the Rod & Staff story sheets and often laugh, sad to say, at the predictability of the story lines (Erva Mae’s biggest concerns of life were determining which dress fabric to buy as she watched the dirty dishwater swirl down the drain or Durvin’s contemplating the error of his ways, always in a timely fashion, while he bedded down the calves). God forbid many of us never lived on a farm- maybe THAT is why we were never totally accepted among many in the conservative Mennonite circles we tried so desperately to enter, for all those years:-)??
    These things aside, the more I hear of abuse you, and others I have met, have mentioned that exists within these circles, the sadder I am, and supportive of this scourge being dealt with and exposed.
    Just one small note-with your gift and ability to write so well, maybe you can pray about leaving the profanity out, even if it is meant to generate a laugh. Please don’t make those of us feel apologetic if we don’t enjoy reading that. Though I may be moving in different Christian circles now, I still hope to try to reflect Jesus in my words and public writings that, like you, I also do.

    • By Thy Words says:

      Thank you, Jonna, for your kind and thoughtful comment.

      I assure you that I thought long and hard about using that word, before I made the decision to include it. I felt like its coldness and harshness matched the tone of what Mother was actually saying.

      Nevertheless, I respect your objection to its use, and will consider your feelings in the future.

      As you go through life, may Christ walk with you.

  2. Valerie says:

    Thank you so much for doing this series. I am enjoying your wonderful humor, and I’m grieved by how far this pernicious teaching was spread through the homeschooling movement also. “Dear Princess” was sold in homeschooling catalogs and was part of at least one Christian home ec program, “Training Our Daughters to be Keepers at Home”. (I’ve been homeschooling since 1994 and still have a few left to graduate, yet.)

    When my younger kids go walking in our small town, I tell them to keep to the highways where there is more visibility and accountability, for safety’s sake!

    • By Thy Words says:

      I had no idea that it was used extensively in the homeschool movement, although I’m not surprised, given the prevalence of purity culture in those circles.

      Now I want to check out that curriculum and see what fresh horrors I can unearth.

  3. Ebeth says:

    When I read that book years ago I realized that the author was coming from an area where it actually WAS unsafe to walk along the road. There were some very perverted neighbors that were molesting the women of the community. One lady accosted them when they were parked close to her daughter’s house. They claimed their car wouldn’t start. She brought out a gun, pointed it at them and said, “Maybe this will help it to start” and it DID, immediately!

  4. Shirley says:

    I wanted to say thanks for showing me how negligent and uncaring my parents were in raising us.ok I’m being sarcastic. I remember begging my mother to tell me what was missing. Decades later I did the same to a church in a strong Mennonite community. Now I understand why!!! No wonder I got ostracized so much. I was indeed a horrible influence and didn’t even know it. My parents are both gone now but after reading this blog I am sooo grateful for what they neglected to teach me. I’ve since left the Mennonite Church. Not by my choice we were invited to leave. But I’d always hoped maybe if I found what was so wrong with me I could fix it and would be welcomed back. After reading this blog??? If this is what is being absorbed No Way !!!! Agsin thank you for showing many of us those unpoken rules we were breaking and had no idea.

  5. Renee says:

    Rod and Staff was one of the only publishers willing to sell to homeschoolers in the early 1980’s. R&S curriculum was the entire catalyst for my family’s deep dive into conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist teachings/trappings. (Mom inquired, and Crockett connected us with a Nationwide church.) Other publishers soon followed, but R&S definitely benefitted by being early.

  6. Tree says:

    Reading your blog on this garbage is SO therapeutic. I was homeschooled using Rod and Staff materials in the late 80s and early 90s, even though we were traditional Catholics. By the time I was a teen, I was a nervous wreck in public and terrified of being seen. We had modesty rules, not as strict as Mennonites but close, and they guaranteed that a girl like me stuck out like a sore thumb no matter how hard I tried to be invisible. “You’re wearing a SKIRT? What are you, Amish?” The skirt was supposed to be a symbol of true Catholicism that would shame women into conversion. This book, and others like it, not only shaped my subconscious, but hugely influenced my mother. I’m still unpacking this stuff in therapy.

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