If you can't read the text, here it is in it's entirety:
“Girls are like apples on trees. Their fathers are the farmers, whose job is to care for them. He must protect his apples from pests and disease. He must guard them against thieves who may pick his apples prematurely. Neither those at the top nor those at the bottom can help their location. But, when each reaches peak ripeness, it is the farmer’s job to harvest that fruit and give it to whom he will, to those in need. So there is nothing wrong with the apples still on the tree and nothing wrong with the boys who seek them. But it is the farmer’s duty to provide for both, in due season.”
Let's get our metaphor straight, first.
- Girls --> Apples on Trees
- Fathers --> Farmers
- Boys --> Thieves? Pests? Disease?
What immediately leapt out to me is how little agency young women are given in this analogy. They aren't responsible for their growth or care, they don't get to decide what they are and aren't ready for, and they aren't seeking. They are completely passive.
Instead, it's the farmer that makes the decision, and the boys that seek the fruit. The young women themselves make no decisions. They take no actions. They merely wait.
It's objectification in its purest sense, and really, it's yet another example of how objectification works on multiple fronts. We see it all the time in the overt-sexualization of women, but it also exists in the reverse too. Objectification isn't a spectrum with sexualization on one end and purity culture on the other--although purity culture often likes to claim that it is protecting young women from objectification.
And apples? Apples are a particularly terrible choice of analogy, Patriarchial Christianity. Let's follow this analogy from beginning to end, shall we.
- Farmer plants seeds.
- Farmer cares for seeds which grow into trees.
- Trees bear fruit.
- Farmer cares for fruit.
- Farmer picks fruit when it is at peak ripeness.
- Fruit immediately begins to die cut off from the tree.
- Farmer sells fruit to highest bidder, hopefully before it starts show that it's dying.
- Buyer eats fruit.
- Fruit no longer exists except as part of the buyer.
For the love of all that is holy and infernal, who picked this analogy? Seriously, I almost feel sorry for them.
The sexism present in many branches of Christianity--especially evangelical branches--is not overt. They're not usually saying, "Women aren't worth as much as men."
Instead, it's cloaked in benevolence. It whispers to young women, "You are valuable. That's why we have to protect you. It's really for your own good." And that, my friends, is what chips away bit by bit at your self-identity, your own presence of mind, your resilience. It's what creeps into your decision-making. It's a double-edged sword. The one edge says, "I'm valuable," and the other edge says, "How do I live up to that value? What have I done to deserve it?"
I've recently finished reading How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (I shared some of it last week in my Atheist Mama series), and one of the chapters covered descriptive praise. Many of us are aware of the importance of using descriptive praise with children because of the damage even positive labels can do. "I'm smart? Great, what happens if I get something wrong? Then I'm not smart anymore." As I was reading through, I recalled all of the times I'd been labeled as valuable, worthwhile, etc. Even knowing that these labels were meant to encourage and uplift me, I can see the damage that trying to live up to them did.
Identity is a complex tapestry woven from different cords of our characteristics. The strongest cords are those labels we apply to ourselves. Those are the cords that are the most sincere, that are the most authentic, that we are most able to believe and accept. The labels that other people apply to us don't form the same strong cords in our identity.
When a cord snaps, our entire identity can unravel. The way we see ourselves can fray and split. Young people of all stripes need room to grow and develop those strongest cords for themselves, and yet, so often we see young women trapped in this bubble wrap of good intentions. They can't move or make mistakes, lest they lose the labels that have been applied to them.
Your daughters aren't apples. They're people. People who need room to grow, to breathe, to mess up, to learn, to decide for themselves.
Apples don't care what label you put on them.