The Stained-Glass Ceiling

Copyright 2011 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved.

006-big-stained-glassI grew up in a quiet little working-class neighborhood in suburbia where the houses, just like the people, where predominately white.  While growing up my family attended church every Sunday where I became socialized to the idea that gender roles were part of the glue that held society together.  Men built houses, women kept house.

As my height and curiosity grew, well-meaning women from my church warned me of becoming “too smart” or “too educated” because it could seriously reduce my potential for landing a guy—words like “Bachelor of Arts” or “systematic theology” or “I read for fun” were surefire ways I was informed to send any man packing.  As a result, a lot of gals I knew from church, unless they were trying to get their MRS, didn’t go to college or wouldn’t finish their degrees.  Smart men made good husbands, smart women became old maids.

When I showed an academic interest in theology, and began reading what one woman referred to as “pastor books,” I was encouraged by church-going men and women alike to pursue my academic and spiritual curiosity, to live up to my full potential, by becoming … drumroll please …  a church secretary.  Men were orators and leaders, women answered the phone.

Not Exactly “Leave it to Beaver”:

It wasn’t the 1950’s, but feeling trapped under the stained-glass ceiling of my local church’s ideology, it may as well have been.  Predominantly out of fear of being labeled with the “f-word” (feminist) or the “b-word” (backslidden), I didn’t publically admit to the frustration I sometimes felt regarding things like gendered career and educational expectations.  But the aggravation and pain were there, nevertheless. 

Much like the actual 1950’s for many housewives, my own life didn’t always mirror the harmony and simplicity of “Leave it to Beaver.”  In high school my dad was diagnosed with a fatal degenerative brain disorder.  His brain was dying.  Slowly but surely the kind and involved dad I had known was fading from view; he was dying slowly, one piece at a time.  And it wasn’t long before an irrational, angry, and violent stranger had completely engulfed him.  My loving daddy was gone.

Like many housewives in the 1950’s facing verbal or physical abuse from their husbands, instead of finding support and protection, my mom was told to “submit” and “be a better wife.”  It was literally a dangerous situation, we were emotionally and physically unsafe, but church folks we knew told us it was “God’s will” for us to stay exactly where we were.  Sadly, way too many church goers assumed the reason my dad was distant and verbally abusive was either my mom’s fault for not being a “good wife” or my fault for being a lousy daughter.  We were the victims in the situation; my mom had lost her husband and I’d lost my dad, and we’d all lost the safe home we’d once had.  Despite being the victims, due to our gender alone, we were too often the ones who were blamed for my dad’s behavior.

Finding Freedom:

Thankfully, though, my mom had the courage and strength to go completely against what hegemony (the dominant ideology) was insisting was the morally correct way to handle the situation, by getting us out.  I believe with all my heart that my mom did the right thing.  She protected her kids and herself, but afterwards she still had church people telling her she’d gone “against God’s will” because she hadn’t just summited to the abuse.  When it came to dealing with a woman’s husband or father, they believed the God-honoring solution was to roll with the punches … literally.  But my mom had the guts to get us out.  And she was criticized for it.     

I once read a comment by a woman reflecting on her life during the 1950’s, she recalled feeling hopeless and trapped, but how in the mists of it she was saved by feminism—the idea the women should have equal rights and opportunities, and should never ever have to submit to abuse.  I didn’t grow up in the 1950’s, but I feel like I was also saved by the same feminist ideals that resulted in laws relating to domestic abuse being changed in the 1950’s in order to protect women.  I was saved from an unsafe and stressful environment, and mentally and emotionally saved from being “only a girl.”

This emotional and ideological salvation has provided me with the freedom to pursue my spiritual journey without anyone even mentioning the word “secretary.”  The freedom to become educated without the fear of scaring off all the men (if they can’t handle a smart woman, I’m not interested in them anyway).  And the freedom to be strong and, above all, safe.

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7 thoughts on “The Stained-Glass Ceiling

  1. Amen!! Way too many women and children are put at risk , because of the blaming of things on the ones who are not at fault and your Mom and You are very courageous!! Keep being who you are too! I too love theology and being smart and discerning in the spiritual realm and the true Proverbs 31 woman was a business woman, who had fields of interests and was awesome like you!! Thank you!! sincerely, Carla

    • Thank you so much for commenting, Carla. I was a little hesitant to post this because I wasn’t sure what kind of reactions I’d get, so it was so nice to get such positive feedback from you. Very encouraging. Thank you. 🙂


  2. I have been a true believer in Christ since I was sixteen and have been in several churches in different states the last 41 years plus and in every church there has been a woman that has been abused verbally and physically. It has been a burden for me to help as many that I can in this area. How beit if I can encourage her and help her in any way to live in safety. Many in our good churches to do not really see how many hurting women there are, with all the good intentions and right doctrine ,yes, But God does not want this to be pushed under the carpet and not dealt with by giving people the tools to not have to put up with any kind of abuse.

    Also, women are smart, are discerning and are well read and capable of being used of the LORD in such a way that brings glory to their Saviour and also is so fullfilling to that woman as well. I am one of these women who reads constantly and Knows her Bible and can be a real blessing to so many out there in the world who are looking for someone to help them find the Saviour and also been through many of the same problems that others go through and can have victory through these problems, albeit it health issues or some of the things you have been sharing. Your mother as well, has been this kind of woman and I am sure you are well on your way in contributing your talents in a mighty way. God made us this way and keep on keeping on!! love, carla

    • Carla, I know exactly what you mean. I’ve known so many women in churches who’ve suffered physically or emotional abuse and it was just pushed under the carpet. Their churches told them to “submit” or “be a better wife” but they never tried to help them women out of the situation. It’s heartbreaking. There are a lot of hurting women and their churches, sadly, are making it worse. I wish there were more people willing to stand up to it and be an encouragement and to the women in abusive situation and coming out of them rather than adding to the problem.

      I completely agree. People do need to be given the tools to know that they never have to put up with that kind of abuse.

      Thank you for commenting. 🙂


  3. Hi,
    I just came across your blog through a link on your Mom’s. I knew that your Dad suffered the same brain affliction that my Dad has, but didn’t realize the lack of support that your family had had to deal with. I’m so sorry for the added pain that must have added to an already painful, confusing, dangerous situation.
    My Mom was able to get my Dad into care just before I truly believe things would have turned violent. His admission was accelerated as he had had to go into respite care while we traveled to a family funeral and the staff truly saw how difficult he was. My Dad’s journey with FLD has been slow. We get so many comments about how wonderful it is that he “remembers us and can talk” unlike the typical person in care with him who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Sometimes I want to scream because this brings me little comfort as I see this angry, irritable, unsmiling man in my Dad’s body. Yes he knows who I am, but he has lost the capacity to care about me or my feelings. My Mom also received criticism from people who thought that she should have cared for him longer at home. There is the the unspoken implication that not very much was wrong with him because he could remember and talk. This just didn’t get to see (or hear from her) about the hoarding of garbage, destruction of the house, rages, anger, shop lifting, wandering, verbal abuse and threats. This stranger is not my Dad.

    I don’t know if this was the right thing to comment about, I just haven’t heard of anyone who has shared part of the same experience as our family. I’m so impressed with the wisdom that you have for someone so young. You are also inspiring me today to take a look at my somewhat stalled faith journey. I wish you all the best.
    Linda (Canada)

    • Linda,

      Thank you so much for commenting. I’m glad that you did share about your own experience with FLD.

      My family and I have gotten the, “Be thankful he can still remember you!” comments, too. And it always makes me want to scream. It just shows how little they truly understand the situation if they would say something so unhelpful and often even hurtful. It feels like people just want to make themselves feel better, like they can’t handle hearing about such a sad and difficult thing so they belittle the pain to make it seem not as bad. What they don’t understand is that when you lose someone to FLD they’re completely gone, dead — only there’s no finality. It doesn’t make it better, it makes it more complicated, messier, and harder to fully grieve.

      My family, specifically my mom, has gotten a lot of criticism about how we’ve handled things with my dad, too. I’m so sorry people who don’t understand what you’re dealing with have felt the freedom to share their stupid, unhelpful advice with you. That only makes things worse. ((HUGS))

      Thanks again for commenting.


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