Episode 65

Untamed, by Glennon Doyle

Published on: 14th December, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Of all the texts on our reading list, the one that I’m guessing the most people have already read is Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed. Since it came out in March, 2020, countless women have told me that I “have to read it,” and I’m so glad I finally did. And I added it to the reading list because I often get listeners saying “Ok, now that we know how patriarchy developed, now that we understand the depth of the problem, what do we actually do about it in our everyday lives? And that’s what this book does, in a readable, relatable way, probably better than any other book on the reading list. And to discuss the book with me, I’m so happy to have the brilliant Lane Anderson. Hi, Lane!


Amy: Lane and I met in Jerusalem, when we were both studying abroad during college, and then we had English classes together after Jerusalem. But we had since lost touch and I’m so happy to have reconnected. (Invite to share bio)

Lane: Bio

I was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the oldest of four daughters. I moved to the Bay Area after college at BYU where I got my first job as a magazine editor there, then I moved to New York City for graduate school and I have been here in New York ever since. I have moved between working as a full-time journalist and working in academia for my whole career, and I’m now a Clinical Associate Professor at New York University, where I’m full time faculty teaching writing. I’m also a freelance journalist and my work has appeared on NPR, Psychology Today, Outside Magazine, as well as SL Trib and Deseret News there in Utah. I spent years writing hundreds of articles about poverty and social justice issues, and in the process I noticed that a lot of things that impact women and girls and small children and families gets under-reported, or not reported very well, and I started focusing on writing about those issues in particular. And then, about three years ago, I had my daughter, and those issues struck home even more--how systemic issues like healthcare, housing, lack of family supports that other mid-to-high income countries have like paid leave, subsidized child care, preschool, are making life in the U.S. really hard for women and parents. Around that time I met Allison Lichter, who was formerly at WSJ and WNYC, who is now the Director of the Journalism + Design program at The New School here in New York, at a journalism conference, and we discovered that we were both passionate--and mad--about a lot of these issues. So we started a Substack newsletter earlier this year called “Matriarchy Report” where we write about these issues and unpack how we got to this place in the U.S. where life is harder for women and families than it is in other countries, and solutions to make it better. Matriarchy Report has grown quite a bit since we started it and we just got a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network to grow it some more, so that’s exciting. And that’s what I work on and what I’m passionate about. 

Last year during COVID my family moved back to SLC and rented a house there around the corner from my sister and close to my dad, which was the silver lining of being displaced during COVID. So I actually did move back to Utah for a year which I didn’t see coming! But we returned to our apt. In New York in June, and now I live in Manhattan again with my partner and my three-year old daughter, and I guess I’m a bonafide New Yorker now because I’ve been here for over 15 years now and it feels like home.

Amy: Thoughts on Breaking Down Patriarchy?

Lane: Thoughts

I love this project because it’s about reading essential texts--which as a writer and a professor who teaches writing it’s right up my alley. And it’s also up my alley as a feminist. I was raised in the Mormon/LDS church, like you Amy, and I don’t affiliate with the church any more, but I was in it for 30+ years and a lot of my loved ones--friends and family--are in the church or were raised in it. And I don’t think you can be raised Mormon, esp if you’re female, without having patriarchy deeply color your whole life. It’s kind of a patriarchy within a patriarchy. I got married later than most Mormon women--I put it off as long as possible and finally got married when I was 32, but it wasn’t a happy partnership and I got divorced a few years later. That was a really scary time for me bc here I was in my mid-to-late 30’s and I was single, no kids, living and working in New York, and this was NOT  where I had imagined my life when I was a kid growing up in SLC.. I had never known anyone who had a life like mine and at first it felt like a big crisis and a failure, but it opened up a space for me to renegotiate everything in my life, including patriarchy. 

I kind of feel like after my divorce, about 8 years ago, I started a new chapter of my life and have become a different person, in a good way. This was the beginning of me feeling like church was a hard place for me to be, and it really didn’t align with my values of gender equity, or equity for people of color, or equity for LBGTQ+ people, and it was a painful process but I had to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t put up with these inequities in other areas of my life or other institutions, so it didn’t make sense for me to put up with it at church. At the same time I had also received a fellowship to write about sex trafficking for a year, so I was deep in research and reporting and traveling to Los Angeles and Mexico City to report stories about women and children who were trafficked or selling sex to survive, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about how it overlapped with the history of the Mormon Church, and leaders like Joseph Smith, and especially Brigham Young, who married dozens of women, including girls as young as 14, and Brigham Young in broad daylight lived in a big house full of women who spent their whole lives under his roof, this extremely powerful man who had so much control and they had so little control over their lives. And it was chilling to me the way this felt familiar to some of the sex trafficking that I was reporting on. And on my Dad’s side my great-great-great-grandmother was married to Orson Hyde and was one of his polygamous wives. So patriarchy is such a deep part of my heritage and personal experience, I think I will never be done unpacking it. 

And while all this was happening after my divorce I also met my partner, Christopher, who is from Trinidad and Tobago and is black. So falling in love with a black person made me rethink my relationship to white supremacy for the first time as well, and was a real awakening, so I’m also always thinking about intersectionality and patriarchy and its relationship to whiteness. Especially now that I have a biracial daughter, it’s kind of a journey I will be on for the rest of my life unpacking race and patriarchy and learning how to raise her and be a good parent to a black girl in America and eventually a black woman. 

Amy: Intro the author:

I remember discovering Glennon Doyle in about 2009, when she had her Christian mom blog, Momastery. She was a profound, original thinker and a gorgeous writer, and I’ve followed her career a little as she’s become a huge cultural phenomenon. But backing up, here’s a little about Glennon Doyle:

Glennon Doyle was born in 1976 in Burke Virginia, and was raised with one sister, Amanda. She has written and spoken frequently about her struggles with bulimia, which started at age 10, and addiction to alcohol during her teens and twenties. Upon learning that she was pregnant, she quit drinking and has been sober ever since. She married her baby’s father, Craig Melton, and had three children (this is after graduating from college and working as a teacher), and she wrote on the blog I mentioned, Momastery, for several years, gaining popularity and then published her first book, Carry On, Warrior,  based on some of her most popular blog posts, in 2013. She then wrote Love Warrior in 2016, and Untamed in 2020, and these books chronicle the struggles of her marriage to Craig Melton, and falling in love with soccer superstar Abby Wambach, whom she married. She has a podcast with Abby and her sister Amanda called “We Can Do Hard Things,” she has a fantastic, inspiring, funny Instagram account, and she’s an Oprah-endorsed thought leader and activist who is changing the world not only with her writing but also with her charity, Together Rising, which has raised over $20 million for women, children, and families in crisis. 

So let’s dive into the book!

Lane: Cheetah/Sparks

[Story about watching the tame cheetah named Tabitha that’s been trained to run after a pink bunny strapped to a Jeep--it’s been raised to think it’s a Lab, and then watching it stalk around the perimeter after the show, sensing that it’s wild and longing for a different world that she can sense, but can’t see. 

“I’d tell her: Tabitha, you are not crazy, you are a goddamn cheetah.” 

It’s a pithy quote and a nice female empowerment metaphor so it’s the story you always hear about this book, but it sets up the rest of the book’s central idea of realizing that you’re caged by expectations and patriarchy, and figuring out how to get free, or wild, as she says. I actually think what’s interesting is the part about how to get over the sense that all we’ve been given isn’t right--we’ve been given a much smaller space than should be ours, but it’s hard to break out of it when you have never known anything else. This is the central challenge for women--and, one might say, to breaking down patriarchy. 

From Sparks: 

“These are the feelings you are allowed to express

This is how a woman should act

This is the body you must strive for

These are the things you will believe

These are the people you can love

These are the people you should fear

This is the kind of life you are supposed to want. 

She connects shrinking herself into these “cages” as what gave her bulimia and eventually alcoholism--and she argues that all of us give up things to fit into these cages, and it happens around 10-12 years old, when our conditioning really takes hold. 

What does being a cheetah actually look like in real life? Can you think of someone you know who has lived free? And has that freedom led them to run amok (harm themselves or others)? That’s always the concern. (I think of Lindsay’s friend Frieda and her very ethically sound, gloriously joyful life.)


Amy: Polar Bears:

[Story of how her daughter Tish was panicked about the polar bears and global warming]

You are not crazy to be heartbroken over the polar bears; the rest of us are crazy not to be.

...The opposite of sensitive is not brave. It’s not brave to refuse to pay attention, to refuse to notice, to refuse to feel and know and imagine. The opposite of sensitive is insensitive, and that’s no badge of honor. 

Tish senses. Even as the world tries to speed by her, she is slowly taking it in. Wait, stop. That thing you said about the polar bears… it made me feel something and wonder something. Can we stay there for a moment? I have feelings. I have questions. I’m not ready to run outside to recess yet. 

In most cultures, folks like Tish are identified early, set apart as shamans, medicine people, poets, and clergy. They are considered eccentric but critical to the survival of the group because they are able to hear things others don’t hear and see things others don’t see and feel things others don’t feel. The culture depends on the sensitivity of a ew, because nothing can be healed if it’s not sensed first. `

But our society is so hell-bent on expansion, power, and efficiency at all costs that the folks like Tish- like me - are inconvenient. We slow the world down. We’re on the bow of the Titanic, pointing, crying out, “Iceberg! Iceberg!” while everyone else is below deck, yelling back, “We just want to keep dancing!” It is easier to call us broken and dismiss us than to consider that we are responding appropriately to a broken world. (15-16)

We do slow the world down. We make people upset because people like traditions and the status quo and a lot of people don’t like change. She brings up later that MLK had a 30% approval rating in the US when he was doing his work. Nobody likes a gadfly. Nobody likes a prophet. People in this role are reviled and called “ungrateful” (at best)... they’re only made heroes after the change happens and people forget about what a battle it was to change it. Or after they’re dead.


Lane: Rules

“What is wrong with me, why did I stay and suffer? The door wasn’t even locked.” 

[Let's add the hot yoga story:]

 [Her friend Ashley tried her first hot yoga class, and at the beginning the instructor announced, “We’ll start soon. You are going to get very hot, but you can’t leave this room. No matter how you begin to feel, stay strong. Don’t leave. This is the work.”

The class got started, and a few minutes in, the walls began to close in on Ashley. She felt light-headed and sick. Each breath became harder and harder to come by. Twice her vision became spotty, then briefly went black. She looked at the door and felt desperate to run toward it. She spent ninety minutes terrified, close to hyperventilating, holding back tears. But she did not leave that room.

The moment the instructor ended the class and opened th door, Ashley jumped off her mat and ran into the hallway. She kept her hand over her mouth until she found the bathroom. She threw the door open and vomited all over the sink, the wall, the floor.

While she was on her hands and knees wiping up her own puke with paper towels, she thought: What is wrong with me? Why did I stay and suffer? The door wasn’t even locked.

Two scenes come to mind--the first is me, sitting in church (RS) and choosing a seat by the door so that I can leave when I needed to. I would sit by the door and sometimes literally rock in my chair or openly read my phone just so I could force myself to sit there as long as possible. My body was willing me to leave. It took me WAY too long to realize, this whole thing is volunteer. Nothing is keeping me here--my livelihood doesn’t depend on it, my health insurance, nothing. I can choose to leave! I finally did. 


Amy and Lane: Knowing

Amy: Know

[Glennon had just found out that her husband had been cheating on her constantly since they married]

I had just typed these words into my Google search window:

“What should I do if my husband is a cheater but also an amazing dad?”

I stared at that question and thought: Well, I have hit some sort of new rock bottom. I’ve just asked the internet to make the most important and personal decision of my life. Why do I trust everyone else on Earth more than I trust myself? WHERE THE HELL IS MY SELF? When did I lose touch with her?

[She describes how every entry said something different]. All these differing opinions meant that I quite literally could not please everyone. That was a relief. When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself.

...I wanted to make my own decision as a free woman, from my soul, not my training. But the problem was, I didn’t know how.

And this is one of the reasons I’m so glad I decided to feature this book on the podcast!! Most of the books we have read have been very academic, and we have spent a lot of time analyzing history and identifying how patriarchal structures work, but we have spent less time talking about how to break down patriarchy within our own minds. So this is probably the most important point from the book for me. She describes what she calls “sinking”: 

Be Still And Know.

[Which comes from Psalms 46:10, “Be Still and Know That I Am God”... she stops and says that basically you can know not only God, but all answers to our own lives. She describes how she sits meditation in her closet, how it’s terrible at first, “like an input junkie thrown into detox.” But….]

After a few weeks, like a gymnast who is able to stretch deeper after each training, I began to feel myself dropping lower during each closet session. Eventually I sank deep enough to find a new level inside me that I’d never known existed. This place is underneath; low, deep, quiet, still. There are no voices, there, not even my own. All I can hear down there is my breath. ...Beneath the noise of the pounding, swirling surf is a place where all is quiet and clear. ...There, in the deep, I could sense something circulating inside me. It was a Knowing.

I can know things down at this level that I can’t on the chaotic surface. Down there, when I pose a question about my life - in words or abstract image - I sense a nudge. The nudge guides me toward the next precise thing, and then when I silently acknowledge the nudge - it fills me. The Knowing feels like warm liquid gold filling my veins and solidifying just enough to make me feel steady, certain. 

What I learned (even though I am afraid to say it) is that God lives in this deepness inside me. When I recognized God’s presence and guidance, God celebrates by flooding me with warm liquid gold. ...I now take orders only from my own knowing. (57-59)

  • Remember the episode on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene: The goal is to become more fully human. To know ourselves, to bring forth what is within us. To trust the godliness within us, not to look outside ourselves for permission from other people.
  • Patriarchal structures teach that everyone has to take their orders from a small group of men in charge. This hurts all people, and it warps the character of men who do get positions of power, but most of all it hurts girls and women because we are trained to see authority and wisdom and power and permission as residing outside ourselves, never within ourselves. 
  • For me, the two wake-up calls that finally got me to that place were Prop 8 (even though it took me a while to get there, I finally did) and my religion’s temple ceremony. Violating my deep knowing (and to use the yoga analogy - my body was giving me signals - in both cases I felt anxious and troubled and physically ill) violated my integrity and did damage to my soul. So I also only take orders from my own knowing. 

She later clarifies two more important things: 1. That deep knowing is not the same as just wanting to do something or not wanting to do something. Sometimes the knowing tells you to persist in something you want to quit, or tells you to forgive someone you do not want to forgive, or to do something you are terrified to do. And 2. Each person’s knowing is custom-fit for where they are right then in their lives, so it will look different for each person.

I want to add one thing here on leaving the LDS church vs. staying in. My friend Ashmae recently posted on Instagram that she was seeing lots of posts about how brave it is to stay in the church, and she said “it’s also brave to leave.” I know you’ve left the church, Lane, which took a lot of courage, when you had so much pressure from family and friends to stay. And other reading partners on this podcast are experiencing a lot of pressure to leave the church, but when they sink into their inner knowing, they feel the answer that they should stay. 

This can be true of every religion, and for lots of different things other than religion: staying in a marriage vs. ending a marriage. Staying in a grad school program or at a certain job. Everyone’s “knowing” looks different, and it can also change over time - it can be “what’s best for me right now.” So it’s a waste of mental energy for us to judge each other. Better to spend our time figuring out how to tap into our own wisdom and truth and live our own authentic life.


This chapter is triggering for me tbh, because I know exactly what she’s talking about. I think the most damaging part of being raised in the church for me--was being taught to look elsewhere for answers, instead of inside myself. And by that I mean, looking to men for answers--either by praying to a male God to find out what he wanted me to do, or by turning to male leaders like bishops. I learned to completely distrust myself and dismiss what I want. It was also the most freeing part of leaving. 

I think I will be figuring out how to do this for the rest of my life, but the way that she describes going into her closet and “sinking” to find her knowing and listening for a voice is v similar to what I was taught to do--to pray until you hear the “still small voice” or “feel a burning in your bosom.” I spent hours in closets and on my knees and fasting and pleading to get answers and literally trying to silence and tune out what I wanted to try to find out what God wanted. And this led to some of the most painful episodes of my life. So going in a closet and doing this sounds like the last thing in the world I want to do. I would like to find a nice ritual for “knowing” but that might not be it for me, or, reclaiming it would require a lot of practice and maybe a completely different setting.


Amy and Lane: Imagine/Let it Burn (Under Part 2: Keys)


One part that I loved from this chapter is the concept of growth and learning, which requires being open to change and to being wrong.

If we are truly alive, we are constantly losing who we just were, what we just built, what we just believed, what we just knew to be true. (74)

I love how she points out that Jesus always wrote in sand. I’ve started saying “this is what feels right/makes sense to me right now.” I’ve learned that life is a process of learning, and I have been wrong many, many times. The podcast was scary for that reason - I knew my voice would be recorded forever, and inevitably some things I would later realize were wrong. I’m embracing that journey - that’s what growth and learning is all about. 


In the previous chapter, imagine, she writes about how she was an alcoholic bulimic addict who got pregnant, and then reinvented herself and got sober and got a husband and 3 kids and a writing career. Then, she goes on to describe how, years later, she finds out her husband has been cheating on her for years and shortly after that a woman she’s never seen walks into a room and she instantly falls in love, and then she has to decide if she’s going to reinvent herself again. She writes: 

I’ve got one husband, three kids, two dogs, a skyrocketing writing career, based partly on my traditional family and Christianity. I’m at an event to launch a new book, the highly-anticipated memoir about my marriage’s redemption. At that event, a woman walks into the room and I fall madly in love with her in the same moment. My circumstances, my fear, my religion, my career--they all scream: no, not her. 

And yet something inside me whispered: Yes, her. 

That something was my imagination. All evidence to the contrary, I could imagine myself as Abby’s partner. I could imagine the kind of love where I was fully seen, known, and cherished. 

….”swelling, pressing, insisting: There is a life meant for you that’s truer than the one you’re living. But in order to have it, you have to forge it yourself. You will have to create on the outside what you are imagining on the inside. Only you can bring it forth, and it will cost you everything.” 

Then she goes on to connect this personal anecdote about being willing to burn everything down in your own life, even though it seems like entering an impossible void, and the larger systemic/societal implications of that. She goes on to write about the “seen order of things” vs. the “unseen order of things, and the “seen order of things” where children are shot in their schools and violence reigns, and 1% of people hoard half of all that we have, but we know that there is a “better, truer, wilder way.” And that is the “unseen order of things”, the that inside us, the vision for a world where all of our children are fed and we don’t kill each other and mothers don’t have to cross deserts with babies on their backs. It’s what a lot of religions or traditions call heaven or shalom or nirvana, but it can be, she says, if we refuse to wait and die and instead “give birth to it here and now, and rework the world after our imaginations. She says we must reclaim our place as co creators of this world, and like Tabitha, unleash ourselves to that wilder and truer world that we sense is out there even if we can only imagine it. 

On first blush some of this can feel like it’s obvious, but I actually think that women, and especially white Christian women who make up a lot of her audience, can have a hard time breaking out of some of the systems that hold them back, and that oppress other people, because they are afraid of what it will cost them. And in many ways, this allows a lot of sick and oppressive things to persist on their silence or compliance. I think she’s right that if women were willing to burn things down and take on risk, they would change their lives and change society. But patriarchy and white supremacy have built in so many reasons that they think the cost is too high. 

Here’s what she writes in the next mini chapter, “Let it Burn.” (Read from pg. 73-75). 

Personal Example: During the 2020 election, I had a hard time because I felt like a lot of white women, esp in Utah where I was living at the time, did not like Trump but were not willing to be outspoken about it bc they didn’t want to offend anyone or rock the boat. A woman who I admire wrote a personal essay about how “whoever you voted for, you made a good choice” and it got passed around in my circle of utah and hs friends. Meanwhile my husband and I had been spending time leading up to the election donating money, making calls, texting--things I had never done bc one of the candidates said terrible racist things and supported racist policies and verbally supported white supremacist groups and I was DESPERATE for my black daughter to not have to grow up with him in the White House and hear the dehumanizing things he said repeated back to her at the playground. “Whoever you chose, it was a good choice” was absolutely not how I felt--and when I reached out to this woman and expressed to her where I was coming from, she could not agree fast enough--she loathed trump, she agreed that he was racist and unfit--and she rushed to assure me of that. But, I had to gently point out, that’s not what her essay said. And then it was really interesting she went through this whole agonizing process over chat where she was like, should I take the essay  down? Oh my gosh what if my other friend X who is black sees this? I don’t want her to be offended! What if I just rewrote it like this, or like this--she started sending over little edits that tried to equivocate but didn’t really change anything. She was like, well, I’m in the YW and I don’t want to offend them or the people in my ward, and I just kind of watched her go through this whole cognitive dissonance in real time where she was trying to please everyone and didn’t want to offend anyone and she wasn’t really willing to the take the risks to be in line with her own integrity and say what she really thought. Inside I was silently shouting “BURN IT DOWN!” Be willing to burn it down! It will mean something to you AND the young women around you and your community if you stand in your truth and be willing to burn it down if it means doing what’s really true and beautiful and right to you. And she just couldn’t do it. And I saw a lot of white women around me, especially in utah, doing this around the election and it was really hard for me to watch, since it had such high stakes for me, and it felt like a lot of those women would rather be safe and pleasing and, frankly,  throw families like mine under the bus, than take a risk and stand in their own integrity. 


Lane: Ears

In this chapter she takes her two daughters to the mall to get their ears pierced, and the younger one goes through with it, and the older one doesn’t. And Doyle writes about how she’s actually proud of the older daughter, too, for not doing something she’s not sure about. 

She writes: Brave means, in every uncertain moment, turning inward, feeling for the knowing, and speaking it out loud. Since the Knowing is personal and ever changing, so is brave. Whether you are brave or not cannot be judged by people on the outside. Sometimes being brave means letting everyone down but yourself. Both my girls are brave because they are true to themselves. They are not divided between what they feel and know on the inside and what they say and do on the outside. Their selves are INTEGRATED. They have INTEGRITY.” 

I love this definition of integrity. I would rather have integrity than be nice or pleasing. I think all children could be taught this better, but especially girls. I don’t think I even thought about what “integrity” means besides being honest. It means knowing your own values and then living them--even when you lose things and people and relationships over it. 

I love it too. An “integer” is a whole number. If something “disintegrates” it falls apart into the different elements that used to be “integrated.” Integrity is claiming and  all the parts of ourselves and not hiding stuff. I am trying to live more that way. For years and years, I didn’t, and it caused depression and anxiety for me. I am sooo much happier now.


Lane: Eyes [about mothers and martyrdom]

“I asked myself: is the decision to continue abandoning yourself really what your children need from you? 

*Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist. 

What a terrible burden for children to bear--to know that they are the reason their mother stopped living. What a terrible burden for our daughters to bear--to know that if they choose to become mothers, this will be their fate, too. Because if we show them that being a martyr is the highest form of love, that is what they will become. 

If we keep passing down this legacy of martyrdom to our daughters, with whom does it end? Which woman ever gets to live? And when does the death sentence begin? At the wedding altar, the delivery room, whose delivery room--our childrens’ or our own? When we call martyrdom love we teach our children that when love begins, life ends. This is why Jung suggested: there is no greater burden on a child than the livived lie of a parent. 

*What if a responsible mother is not one who shows her children how to slowly die but how to stay wildly alive until the day she dies? What if the call of motherhood is not be a martyr but to be a model? 

I looked deep into my own eyes: My children do not need me to save them. My children need to watch me save myself. I quit using my children as an excuse to not be brave and start seeing them as my reason to be brave.”

Personal experience: I spent most of my twenties trying to avoid getting married in a culture that only had one plan for me: to get married. It was this huge conflict for me and a huge waste of my time and energy. I got engaged and broke it off twice and hurt people but this conundrum of sensing that my life would be over--I couldn’t shake it. I loved those boys but I didn’t want to get married. I wish I could go back to my young self and say, you just don’t want to get married and that’s ok. Don’t get married. Just study and be with your girlfriends, which is all you want to do. But all my girlfriends were getting married and all the boys I dated, esp the ones I loved, were constantly pressuring me to marry them. I have always been distrustful about marriage, and I still am. I think this goes back to the church’s practice of polygamy,  and my mother and grandmother got married very young had unhappy marriages and I think felt they couldn’t get out. But I could leave and get divorced on my own terms because I had my own education and my own job and money.  I wasn’t really trapped. Even my partner now--I didn’t want to get married again, and I didn’t until we decided to start a family. I think for many women marriage is where the disappearing begins, and in patriarchal cultures we’re told it’s the only thing that gives us worth. It’s a real paradox and for me it was paralyzing.

Talks (pg. 173)

“Tish: Chase wants me to join the same club he joined in middle school. I don’t want to. 

Me: So don’t. 

Tish: But I don’t want to disappoint him. 

Me: Listen. Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself. 

Tish: Even you?

Me: Especially me. 

Cream Cheeses (pg. 180)

“Five flavors of cream cheese is not how to make a child feel loved. 

Five flavors of cream cheese is how to make a child an asshole.” 

And yet all my friends are cream cheese parents. Cream cheese parenting is the result of following our memo: successful parenting is giving your children the best of everything. We are cream cheese parents because we haven’t stopped to ask: Does having the best of everything make the best people? 

What if we revised our memo? What if we decided that successful Parenting includes working to make sure that all kids have enough, not just that the particular kids assigned to us have everything?

What if we used our mothering love less like a laser, burning holes into the children assigned to us, and more like the sun, making sure all kids are warm?” 

This is similar to the awakening that I had that led to starting my own journalism and writing project or newsletter, Matriarchy Report. Five or six years ago I was writing full time about poverty and social justice issues and was just blown away by what I found--how much systemic injustice there is in the U.S. and how our programs for families, esp women and young children, are just way below international norms. Like, countries with much smaller GDPs than ours like Chile and Lithuania devote chunks of their budgets to provide paid leave for mothers, preschool and subsidized childcare, and there are mountains of research that these lead to great outcomes for mothers and young children. But we don’t have them. And we have a stunning number of kids in the U.S. that live in poverty. And then when I finally had my own kid it just brought home to me even more how much families are really on their own and the burden and expense of parenting in the U.S. is crushing for a lot of people--and it just makes me angry or all of us. But it makes me really angry that so many little kids in the richest country in the world go without. And what she says here about “the best of everything” is created, in a way, by patriarchy that says that women have to be perfect mothers, but also a scarcity mindset that pits us against each other from the beginning--we are all competing for the good schools, bc our systems is set up in this cruel systems where the local tax base funds the schools, so some schools get “the best of everything’ while the schools for low income families get the least. It’s horrible. I have often been wary of “moms” as a solution for social justice problems, and I think she puts her finger on why here. We have been conditioned to compete and get our kids the best at all costs. 

Ex: A local mom friend of mine was checking out local schools, and I live in a pretty progressive place, in Manhattan nyc. And she was investigating a local school that has a really good reputation, but she was concerned that the high number of hispanic students there might actually leave her son, who is white, feeling left out. I was really taken aback by this attitude, and pointed to my black toddler, who was playing with her son. I said, my daughter will be in the minority *wherever we go. She doesn’t have the choice of being “in the majority.” She will always be different. Don’t you think it would be good for your son to experience being not the majority, to experience being different? Don’t you think that will help him learn what it’s like to not always be centered, to learn different points of view, to learn empathy? It’s just school--practically everywhere else he goes he will still be the majority. But we are so primed to make sure that our kids are centered and given preference that we don’t want *too much diversity, we want a sprinkling but we want our white kids to still be centered--so not too much. This is how we end up with Nice White Parents, etc. 


Amy: Islands (pg. 191)

In this part she talks about the difficulty of feeling judged by her parents when she got divorced and married a woman. She says:

“It’s not the cruel criticism from those who hate us that scares us away from our Knowing; it’s the quiet concern of those who love us…

So her parents kept saying things on the phone that weren’t overtly mean, but showed that they were worried and still disapproving, and she was deciding whether to let them come over to the house. So she comes up with this metaphor that her family - her spouse and her children and herself- have an island where they are happy and safe, and there’s a moat around it, and she is very very careful about who she lowers the drawbridge for. And she came up with very specific behaviors that would qualify a person to be able to enter - it’s essentially just setting boundaries. And when her parents could do those things, they were invited onto the island. 

...I decided to please myself instead of my parents. I decided to become responsible for my own life, my own joy, my own family. And I decided to do it with love. 

That is when I became an adult.” 

And later she talks specifically about allowing people onto our island who might harm our children, and I thought this was especially applicable for parents of LGBTQ children. She says:

Pg. 194: “A woman becomes a responsible parent when she stops being an obedient daughter. When she finally understands that she is creating something different from what her parents created. ...you are being required to choose between remaining an obedient daughter and becoming a responsible mother. 

Choose mother. Every damn time from here on out, choose mother. 

Your parents had their chance to build their island. 

Your turn.” 

And that leads into our next topic...


Lane and Amy: Decals (pg. 241)


“Then, one Sunday, the preacher started discussing the sins of homosexuality and abortion as if they were the pillars upon which this church was built…

...after many circular arguments he looked at me, sighed, and smiled. He said, “You are a smart woman, what you say makes sense--the the ways of the world. But God’s ways are not our ways. You must not lean on your own understanding. You seem to have a good heart but the heart is fickle. Faith is about trusting.” 

Do not think. Do not feel. Do not know. Mistrust your own heart and mind, and trust us. That is faith.” 

...Everybody owes it to herself, to her people, to the world, to re-examine what she’s been taught to believe, esp if she’s going to choose beliefs that condemn others. She has to ask herself questions like, who benefits from me believing this?” 

After the preacher told me to quit thinking, I began researching...all the devil has to do to win is to convince you he’s God (bottom pg. 242.) 

It’s so telling that abortion and LGBTQ rights are the issues that were chosen to create these divisions--issues that directly reinforce straight male dominance. 


He wanted me to believe that trusting him was trusting God. My heart and mind were my connections to God. If I shut those down, I’d be trusting the men who led this church instead of trusting God. I’d be relying on their understanding. 

...When hate or division is being spread in our religious institutions, we have three choices: 

  1. Remain quiet, which means we agree.
  2. Loudly challenge power, and work like hell to make change.
  3. Take our families and leave.

But there is no more silently disagreeing while poison is being pumped from pulpits and seeping beneath our children’s skin.

So many parents have come to me and said, “My kid just told me she’s gay. We've been sitting in this church for a decade. How must she have felt hearing what our leaders thought of her and assuming her mother agreed? How do I undo what she heard there? How do I convince her that I never really agreed with any of it, and that she’s perfect just the way she is? (240)

I saw Glennon and Abby talk about this on a podcast excerpt on their Instagram, and Abby got teary talking about the internalized homophobia she still carries, from all those Sundays sitting there absorbing it in church. They pointed out that you never know whether your child, or a child in your Sunday School class, or in your youth group is gay. They hear everything you say.



In this chapter she describes an incident where she gets called a racist and gets grilled on the internet bc she puts together a webinar on anti-racism after George Floyd’s murder, and it’s her and another white woman putting it on, and she gets accused of taking up space and profits that should go to the black people who have been doing this work for a long time. It’s a long reflection on that experience. She says a couple things in this chapter that are worth repeating: 

“In America, there are three kinds of people: those poisoned by racism and actively choosing to spread it, those poisoned by racism and actively trying to detox, and those poisoned by racism who deny its very existence inside them. 

Reminds me of what Jasmine Bradshaw says: All you have to do to perpetuate racism is...nothing! Systemic racism is baked into all our systems and all we have to do to support racism is remain passive and let it continue to fester. 

Also useful that she compares it to how people react to misogyny, and the biggest obstacle is getting people to acknowledge their own racism. 

No one is terrified to admit that she has internalized misogyny, because there is no morality attached to the admission. No one decides that being affected by misogyny makes her a bad person. But then when I bring up racism, the same women say, “But I’m not racist. I’m not prejudiced, I was raised better than that.” 

If I could choose just one thing for other white people, or white women, to understand, I think it would be this: we are all racist and it’s okay to say that. It’s the only way forward. It’s the people who *deny that they are racist that scare me. In this chapter she commits to her own “detox” from racism even though she got called out, and commits to getting it right, not being right. This chapter `doesn’t carry the weight of black writers writing about race--including some on your podcast, like bell hooks. But I think it’s a good call-in for white women right now, and I wish more would join her in this space. 

I’m so glad you brought this up, Lane. I noticed as I listened to our episode on the book This Bridge Called My Back that I was still less evolved than I thought I was. Sometimes you don’t know until you listen to yourself. There was one part where I was describing a conversation where a person had denied being “a racist,” and I said something like “and they were totally racist!!” And Jenn - who is Taiwanese-American, was trying to gently steer me toward more nuanced language by saying “you mean she was behaving in a racist way? Because Amy, I have also behaved in racist ways.” And I was still labeling someone else a “racist” as if I myself hadn’t absorbed racism. I was surprised to hear that very blunt and clumsy language come out of my own mouth. Just like Abby Wambach says “I absorbed homophobia” because everyone does, we all need to own that we absorbed the poison of racism. Because everyone does. It’s like a sickness, and if we can correctly diagnose the sickness, then that’s the first step toward effectively treating it. Like you said, if we keep protesting “I didn’t get that sickness” then we can’t go about the process of getting medicine and flushing it out. 


Amy: Boys

[She tells how she was prepared to raise her girls in a patriarchal society because she] “...did not have an alternative narrative as a child, so when the world told me that a real girl is small, quiet, pretty, accommodating, and pleasant, I believed that this was the Truth. I breathed in those lies, and they made me very sick. Children are either taught by the adults in their lives to see cages and resist them, or they are trained by our culture to surrender to them. Girls born into a patriarchal society become either shrewd or sick. It’s one or the other. (161)

[But then she watched the news and saw a school shooter saying that he killed three classmates, one of whom was a girl who rejected his advances, members of a lacrosse team charged with gang rape, a college boy killed in a hazing accidnet, a middle school gay boy who committed suicide because of bullying, a war veteran who committed suicide due to PTSD]

I stared openmouthed at the TV and thought: 

Oh my God. 

This is what it looks like for boys to try to comply with our culture’s directions.

They are not allowed to be whole, either.

Boys are in cages, too.

Boys who believe that real men are all-powerful will cheat and lie and steal to claim and keep power.

Boys who believe that girls exist to validate them will take a woman’s rejection as a personal affront to their masculinity. 

Boys who believe that open, vulnerable connection between men is shameful will violently hate gay boys.

Boys who believe that men don’t cry will become men who rage. 

Boys who learn that pain is weakness will die before they ask for help. (164)

When we say “girls are nurturing and boys are ambitious. Girls are soft and boys are tough. Girls are emotional and boys are stoic,” we are not telling truths, we are sharing beliefs - beliefs that have become mandates. If these statements seem true, it’s because everyone has been so well programmed. Human qualities are not gendered. What is gendered is permission to express certain traits. Why? Why would our culture prescribe such strict gender roles? And why would it be so important for our culture to label all tenderness and mercy as feminine?

Because disallowing the expression of these qualities is the way the status quo keeps its power.  In a culture as imbalanced as ours - in which a few hoard billions while others starve, in which wars are fought for oil, in which children are shot and killed while gun manufacturers and politicians collect the blood money - mercy, humanity, and vulnerability,cannot be tolerated. Mercy and empathy are great threats to an unjust society. 

So how does power squash the expression of these traits? In a misogynistic culture, all that is needed is to label them feminine. Then we can forever discount them in women and forever shame them out of men. Ta-da: no more messy, world-changing tenderness to deal with. We can continue on without our shared humanity challenging the status quo in any way. (165)

[Talks about giving her son an alternate script, just like she did for her girls - telling him he could be a poet, a teacher, a devoted father, telling him he can be sensitive and still be a boy]

I want my son to keep his humanity. I want him to stay whole. I do not want him to become sick; I want him to be shrewd. I do not want him to surrender to cages he must slowly die inside or kill his way out of. I do not want him to become another unconscious brick that power uses to build fortresses around itself. I want him to know the true story, which is that he is free to be fully human, forever. (166)


Amy: Lane, what’s a takeaway from the book?

Lane: (Takeaways)

Amy: On our next episode of BDP, we will be discussing Unwell Women:Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World, by Elinor Cleghorn. It’s really long, but I could not put it down. It was published in 2021, and it’s a perfect book to end our timeline, because Cleghorn takes us back to medical practices in the ancient world all the way through the present day, so in a way it’s a review of the ground we’ve covered in our podcast. So join us next time for the discussion of Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World, by Elinor Cleghorn, next time on BDP.

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About the Podcast

Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

About your host

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Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.