Making Peace With The Great Divide

Our neighbors on their way home. Photo by Jon Katz

I woke up thinking that what was really going on when I first saw the Amish wagon all those years ago in Ogdensburg NY was that the people inside of it scared me. It was fear I was feeling. Without knowing the people personally, the stereotype of the man’s puritan beard and the woman’s black bonnet and cape were images of oppression to me. Symbols of women accused of being adulterers and witches.

This issue of Amish women being oppressed is one that I struggle with.

When my  Amish neighbor Lena was looking at my Corona Kimono and read my entry about how the Corona Virus has made women into housewives again, she perceived it in the exact opposite way that I meant it.  She saw the familiar image of the woman with the apron on and smiled as if it was a good thing.

My own mother chose a kind of oppression to avoid having to deal with certain things in life.  She never learned how to drive and never worked outside of the home so didn’t have her own money.  Like the Amish women, she had control over the things that went on in the kitchen but my father told her how to dress and doled out money and transportation as a way of control.

I’ve heard of women who join the nunnery because they are afraid of being out in the world.

It’s a trade-off that works for some people. And it’s their choice, I think to myself.

But the Amish girls don’t know what else is out there.  They might not even know that they have a choice.

I think this because it is familiar to me.  I didn’t know I had a choice about certain things in my life and I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island.  One of them being something as simple as going to Sunday family dinners.  The first time Jon suggested that I didn’t have to go it was like I sprouted wings and the world and around me suddenly got a little brighter.

So this is one of the great and lasting conundrums in my relationship with the Amish.  This great divide in beliefs.

But that doesn’t make me want to hate my neighbors or have nothing to do with them.  It doesn’t make me want to convert them to my way of thinking either.  I know I don’t really know what is best for them.

And as is often the case, knowing more about them, even if I’m uncomfortable with some of their beliefs, I’m no longer afraid of them.

Yesterday when Lena took the blinders off of her horse Sadie I saw it as a wonderful metaphor.  And later when Lena opened the door to my studio, without knocking and stuck her head in to see what I was doing, as I knew she would, I wanted to show her and Fanny how I make my potholders.

I wanted them to see how I choose the fabric I will use and how I will sew it together according to my instincts, my “rules” and no one else’s.

It’s a small poke to the patriarchy.

Lena and Fanny’s confidence and curiosity is far greater than mine was at their age.  Their upbringing has done that and I’m sure many other good things for them.  They will have a kind of security and a faith that I will never know.

I imagine I’ll always get a twinge when I see how the Amish women and girls wait on the men and boys. But apparently, that’s my problem, because I’m the only one who seems bothered by it.

There’s another religious community in our town.  The women there are also subservient to the men.

Jon and I visited them years ago.  We stayed for dinner and their religious service, which included dancing afterward.  The food was all grown within the community.  It was fresh and delicious.  They make their own clothes and shoes too which are very stylish even though somehow dictated by scripture.  I would wear their shoes in a minute.

After the visit I joked with a friend, holding my plans up in front of me and moving them up and down as if weighing something.  “Yeah, I said, “they may have to answer to the men and boys, but they eat well and have and terrific shoes. “

11 thoughts on “Making Peace With The Great Divide

  1. Maria, you expressed your thoughts regarding patriarchy very well. That last sentence made me smile. Maybe it all comes down to happiness, contentment. If the Amish women are happy in their roles, more power to ‘em. But like you said, they’ve never lived any other way so don’t really know what it’s like to be a creative independent individual able to make her own decisions. The security and closeness of Amish family and community is a big plus for sure, but it’s also a high price to pay for a woman having to give up her independence and having to submit to the wishes of another. Life’s trade offs!

  2. “…that’s my problem because I’m the only one who seems bothered by it.”

    Not just you, Maria, I have a feeling lots of us are bothered by it. . But, I guess, we live in a pluralistic society where we allow for such differences. I think it’s possible to live a very happy and fulfilling life inside of such a community, even though it’s not for me (or you). I left my own religious community partly because I couldn’t tolerate the patriarchal structure for another minute (among other things), but it seems many women really aren’t too bothered by it. I don’t know, maybe they find ways around it.

    Anyway, for sure those beautiful young women are deserving of your love and friendship.

    1. Thanks For your thoughts especially coming from your background. It’s interesting to hear your point of view and the kindness that you are able to feel toward those who chose something different than you did.

  3. I so appreciate your sharing your feelings about the Amish women and how you are working thru them. It is grounding especially since our own culture seems at war with itself.

    1. It’s intereting Sharon, those were two peices I just had to write. I’m sure they helped me understand how I felt as much as putting it out to others.

  4. I keep thinking about this writing. Rumspringa, the time taken away from the family and farm, is a way for many Amish young people to know the outside world and make a choice. Not all Amish do this. And many Amish young people return to their communities after their time in the outside world. I have not read much about them. Wasn’t interested until now.
    I have lived my life pretty independently, choices made a long time ago. But I think I can look at Lena and Fanny without prejudice and appreciate what they do have. And I spend a lot of time now taking care of my partner who still can’t walk well, I am the doing partner.

    1. Interesting, Sharon how at different times in our lives we are ready to do things we might not have at other times. I know of a few very independent women who very much wanted to take care of them men in their lives when they needed it. You are now one of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Full Moon Fiber Art