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Tag: Teenpact

I was meant to be an arrow

We would scoff at the idea that people wanted to have well-rounded educated children. I was meant to be an arrow to pierce the darkness and pop all the well-rounded bubbles. << actually a thing that was said.

I watched the news nightly from the time I was 8, I listened to Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingram and Sean Hannity religiously as a teenager. I saw Bill O’reilly speak, Ralph Reed recognized me and said hello at TeenPact. I went to a video conference that Newt Gingrich did, I attend the FRC Action convention with TeenPact twice, I met Bobby Jindal, Zell Miller, and Sonny Perdue knew who I was. I had a name in the Republican circles in GA. I campaigned for countless religious right candidates. My first sign waving venture was during the 2004 election and I caught the bug. I spent time in local campaign offices putting together phone banking scrips that worked really well, I traveled and campaigned for people in Alabama, Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire – as well as being thoroughly involved in the political scene in Georgia.

My blog was relatively well known – as well known as a teenager’s commentary on politics can be, anyway. I lived and breathed political activism from the time I was 13 until I was just shy of 18 when the burnout set in.

Politics is interesting where it overlaps with religion – and sexism, and gender roles. I’ve talked a bit about TeenPact and the sexism and queerphobia there is just as rampant in the republican party. My political involvement was a bit of a paradox. On one hand it was the only thing that was encouraged besides being a homemaker and I latched on to it for dear life. On the other, we acknowledged that a woman’s place was not in politics unless it was under a man in some way, so my activity was limited to ensure I was always under some kind of male authority – training to be a political helpmeet (my husband or son(s) could be the president someday, after all).

I am keenly aware of the amount of hate and fear of others that runs rampant in the christian conservative-republican communities. I was inundated by messages from all sides that being queer, liberal, compassionate, and seeing The Others as just as human as we are was wrong. Damning, even.

I was told by every authority figure to fear anyone who was different from what I was, what we were. The lack of compassion never set well with me, but I had nothing to compare it to. It was all I knew. I was warned of being too learned, too knowledgeable, too educated lest I become one of those man-hating feminazis. We shunned education in favor of the blissful ignorance paraded as enlightenment by right-wing pundits and preachers.

There wasn’t really a dramatic turning point. The burnout happened when I was close to 18 while my legs were infected and I couldn’t keep up physically or emotionally because life in general was taking it’s toll. I dropped out of politics and into relative obscurity – I was married, so it was expected. Quietly re-evaluating the things that were important to me while working really hard to be the kind of wife I was supposed to be (until self-acceptance became a thing and our relationship was healthier for it).

 

I wasn’t raised to be an independent person. My mother literally said, of my independence and desire for it “what do you think God thinks of that?!” I was 17 and a half and just stared at her blankly, and quietly mumbled something along the lines of “I think he’s probably okay with it?”. I was raised to obey whoever is above me, it’s something I’m still trying to un-learn.

While campaigning, I wasn’t campaigning for things I truly believed in because I wasn’t allowed to have my own beliefs, I was campaigning along the Paulino Party Lines – because that was accepted and encouraged. As long as I followed the rules, campaigned for those my parents approved of, and didn’t get any independent thoughts in my head, I was free to travel for short periods of time and feel like I was making a difference.

Toxic religion and conservatism permeated every fiber of my existence and my very confused and hyper closeted self. Being told day in and day out that you’re wrong for not being X or Y enough, burying all the thoughts and feelings that don’t line up with what you’re supposed to be…ignoring the things that feel wrong because technically they’re right. I learned that politics is corrupt as fuck and the GOP isn’t better than anyone else, and the reason they can organize and come out in droves is because they use hate and fear as their motivators.

Over time I reclaimed my independence, and I couldn’t let fear and hate dictate my actions anymore. I accepted that the person I am and the person I am becoming is the opposite of the person I was supposed to be. I am everything I was supposed to be fighting against.

Here I am, 2016, actively working to make the world better, to be an arrow to pierce the darkness, to bring light and compassion and empathy into the world any way that I can.

They succeeded, I suppose, just not in the way they meant to.

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TeenPact and Relationships

Everyone is told, no crushes are allowed to happen at TeenPact (because you can “allow” a crush to begin with).

Boys are told, to open doors for women, to let them go first in line, and to treat them like they’re delicate little flowers. Essentially, boys are taught to treat women like objects who are helpless and can’t take care of themselves. Girls are told to accept these gestures, always, even if they’re unwanted. Never turn them down.

Some of this is Tim Echols forcing southern manners down everyone’s throat, and some of it is perpetuating the idea that women are “the weaker vessel”. It’s hard, as a courteous person, because, having boobs means I can’t practice common courtesy on a human level. I’m not allowed to open a door, trade my place, give up my seat for someone who’s a boy because then it is interpreted as a slap in the face to them and their efforts at (forced) chivalry. This tells women to expect “special” treatment because they’e seen was weaker, and teaches men that women are weaker and need help to do basic things.

We’re supposed to let the men take command in setting things up, in making decisions, and whatever even if we disagree or have a better one. We can’t just assert ourselves and say no like normal people, because we need to learn submission.

In what I like to call the 2007 Speech From Hell, Tim Echols started by going on a raging tirade about “effeminate men” and I’m pretty sure he worked in how homosexuals were evil too. He said that it was an abomination to god and he was really angry with any man he saw who didn’t act manly enough for his liking. He listed specific examples (that I thought were ridiculous) but I can’t remember what they were now.

Then, he turned his attention to women, he singled us out and spent far too long on another tirade.

He talked about how we need to grow up and get married (fast! young!) so we can start breeding an army, because that is what we women are supposed to do. Our job in life, our job to further the cause, is to create more people and train THEM to make the changes that (hopefully) our husbands will have started to make. If we did that, god would be happy, we would be fulfilling our roles as women – because that’s just how it is. Women are not supposed to actually lead, women’s place is in the home, behind a man, who is supposed to be bringing the nation back to it’s christ-centered roots (don’t get me started).

Well before that point I had sworn off marriage, because a life of doing nothing but being pregnant and teaching children with the HOPE that they would be passionate about the thing I was and want to do the same thing just sounded horrible and unlikely. When he singled out all the women in the audience I felt embarrassed, ashamed, sad, horrified, and broken.

Because I had been told by my parents that what Mr. Echols was conveying was indeed my purpose, but I didn’t want that. I never had. It sounded like hell to me, though I would never have used those terms. It sounded just….the thought of it crushed my soul, and I was hoping TeenPact would be the place I didn’t have to fit that mold, but I was so wrong. I knew that once I got married I would have to go into that box – so I swore it off, and in case that didn’t work, I resolved to do all the things I wanted to do before I got married. Remembering that speech still devastates me and kills that thing that it killed before over and over again. I think maybe it was hope.

I felt completely broken, like a failure, because while every other girl was sitting there, raptured, already sold on the idea of getting married and having kids and getting permission to get married young, I was devastated, because that was just not the life I wanted – not the life I felt I was supposed to live.

I was supposed to do what they wanted me to do, without question, because a guy said it, I was never supposed to think.

And yet, thinking is what saved me from that fate, so, Thank you, TeenPact, for introducing me to my thinker-husband, my thinker-friends, and our sense of knowing we can indeed change the world, and reverse the lies and beliefs you perpetuated that only serve to enable the abusive environments we escaped from. Because of you, maybe we can make that change.



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TeenPact and Women

To my knowledge, there have only been two female governors in Maine, and none (to my knowledge) in GA. Maine is seen by the staff as the more liberal/wildcard state where things happen there that don’t (or aren’t allowed?) happen in other states. Maine and Hawaii I suppose, because there’s surfing there and every staffer wants to staff those two states.

I know both of the female governors closely. Women taking on a high leadership position that isn’t somehow under a male is almost unheard of. I was shocked when I won “president” at Back To DC in 2007, but I think that was because the dude who was running before was an obnoxious 13 year old who wasn’t even going to stay the whole time and I had previously attended the class and the one other alumni there was on my campaign. I may have won favor with the staff when I shared that I was struggling with running for the position (because *gasp* I can’t LEAD), instead of running the campaign (because that was completely different).

At National Convention, Women are allowed (I wouldn’t necessarily say encouraged) to run for Representative and Senator, and even Vice President. In my time there, I only ever saw Boy/Girl Pres/VP teams, because women running for president, while not directly prohibited was just known to be taboo. I ran for representative but never made it past primaries – although some women definitely are elected, the majority of the faux positions are still filled by males. I know this parallels real life, but here it’s encouraged. Women in leadership positions is allowed, but sketchily, always under men.

In fact, we are told, many times, in no uncertain terms that we (women) are supposed to just go along with whatever the men say – even if we disagree with it, and to not speak up if we do. They’re supposed to lead, after all, and we’re supposed to submit.

In “girl talks” a session where the guys go out (to talk about opening doors) and the women stay inside we learn that modesty is on us. completely. It is our job to cause our “brothers” to not stumble while we’re at class. We’re told exactly how to wear and to not wear items of clothing. In State Classes we must wear skirts, and they must be over the knee when you sit, never too tight when you move or bend over. All clothing must be able to hang or give at least an inch from your body, but simultaneously, should also be cute/professional and not frumpy. Just to be safe, I wore several layers – in the middle of summer, in the hot GA sun – just in case I got wet, or the sun caught something and my one-size-up tshirt were suddenly opaque.

We must be vigilant, and tell our “sisters” if they’re wearing something we think is too tight or revealing. Lady-Staff will confront girls to change their outfit if they feel it’s inappropriate. Because, again, it is our responsibility to show ourselves as non-human-shapeless-forms so our “brothers” don’t accidentally see our bodies and think something bad.

Boys aren’t told how many fingers width a neckline is allowed to be before it’s “too much”. They don’t have to reach up, and bend down to check and see if any skin shows.

But we, we seductresses in our pubescent awkwardness, we must never show any more skin than necessary to avoid heat exhaustion – and even then, pants must be loose!

I hate using the phrase “rape culture” but the more I think about it, the more this perpetuates it – because regardless, it is ALWAYS the women who are at fault. We are essentially told as much, and this is coupled with “don’t tell a man no” is just a setup for abusive environments and relationships to thrive.



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TeenPact and Me

TeenPact is a christian conservative/evangelical organization that organizes government and civics classes and camps throughout the country. Their goal is to raise a generation of christian leaders (teens) to go and bring the country back “for christ” by encouraging activism and male leadership.

When I think about TeenPact and my time there, I don’t feel anger – like I do with most of my other past experiences. I feel confusion. Because I have so many good memories and experiences that are entrenched in environments that perpetuated the lies that enabled an abusive environment to thrive.

The thing about organizations like TeenPact and NCFCA is that their goal is to raise a new generation of leaders – thinkers, even – to do one specific thing: Take the nation back (for god!). What they don’t count on, is that by giving us the tools and resources to think critically, we’ll actually, you know, think critically and carry that on throughout our adulthood. Which is awesome and I’m really happy that I was allowed to learn that, because it’s served me well and enabled me to become the person I am today. Funny thing though, our parents and the people who head up these organizations get extremely grumpy and upset when we do what they taught us to do (or at least you know, the thinking part of that) without doing the rest of what they wanted us to do.

They teach us how to think, but then, they don’t actually want us to think, they want us to do their bidding.

And this, in a nutshell, is my beef with TeenPact. I’m going to be splitting this into parts instead of writing a book of a blogpost – because some things need to be fleshed out more, so for today, I’m going to concentrate on one particular event that happened while I was staffing.

I staffed one of the GA State classes in 2007. As staff, I helped oversee the voting process – a process which is designed to teach students about how elections work (assuming everyone is honest). The votes were tallied and my friend was a clear winner. I was pleased with this, and a little proud because he had really gone out of his comfort zone to even run. I was appalled, confused, and maybe a little angry when in that back room the Program Director turned to us and said, well, I don’t think he’d make a good governor, we should choose someone else. The founder was there and the high ranking staff wanted to impress him (by discarding the process?) and decided that my friend wouldn’t do it.

So in that back room, the Program Director, and the higher ranking staff decided to choose someone else from the 3 candidates to be governor and told us to be quiet about it. I was 15 (2 weeks before my birthday) and I had no idea how to respond – I was too shocked to say anything and too surprised to complain or dissent, so I stood there quietly, feeling as though my mouth was gaping. When we left the room with the new results, and with the Program Director deciding that his vote overruled all, I was full of shame and guilt. We announced who won and there were many questions – because in the other room, everyone tells everyone who they voted for, so everyone actually knows who won. People asked me questions and I couldn’t respond, my friend asked me and I was crushed and had to give him the same line I had given everyone else “it’s just what the votes were”.

I felt helpless because everyone who I would have talked to about it, was in that room and made that decision. They didn’t expect dissent – honestly, I don’t even think dissent is allowed, though it’s never directly stated – it’s a very homogenous group and anyone who does dissent is instantly cast as weird/strange/anything you don’t really want to associate with.

The staff did what they did because they didn’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Echols. I don’t know what the staff meetings are like, but I imagine that choosing a good face was enough of a requirement to strike fear into the hearts of the interns.


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Ex-Teenpact Blog Week

I was talking to a friend a while ago, and we were comparing notes on our experiences with TeenPact. It feels like such a taboo subject to talk about, I’m actually almost scared to, which honestly, is why I am – because if this one thing from my past has this much hold on me for no real reason (when I’m open about everything else) I should probably talk about it.

So on the 20th-26th, we’re doing an Ex-Teenpacters exposé. Because TeenPact is just another piece in the conservative christian “culture wars” machine that teaches (or in my case, because most of this wasn’t new, emphasizes) the lies and the wrongness of my past as right and perpetuates misogynistic theology (among other things).

Guest/Anonymous submissions are welcome and Starfury at Between Black and White will be posting them over the course of the week. If you’d like to post on your own blog (like I am) we’ll have a link-up widget over there as well.

I have a feeling that our two stories aren’t the only ones out there, and I think it’s time that we give those a voice.

If you want to submit your story, email us here.

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