RH Reality Check Interviews: Kathryn Joyce, Author of Quiverfull

The patriarchy movement is part of a widespread evangelical movement
promoting male headship and wifely submission. Quiverfull, a
sub-movement within the patriarchy movement, promotes the idea that
couples should have as many children as possible to be soldiers of God. Journalist Kathryn Joyce recently published Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.  She spoke to RH Reality Check’s Laura Janoff about the book.

RH Reality Check: How does the patriarchy movement define itself? How is it different from other conservative Evangelical movements?
Kathryn Joyce: It is important to note that the term "patriarchy movement" is the self-described term of the movement; this is not terminology I’m putting on them. They are proudly reclaiming the title, saying…"patriarchy is a good model for family structure so we shouldn’t be ashamed of that." Like other fundamentalist movements it’s not necessarily something that’s old and traditional but more a reaction against modern developments. They focus explicitly on opposition to feminist standards and feminist beliefs.  They deliberately tweak feminist truisms or feminist titles of books, like Our Bodies, Ourselves, and say, "Our bodies are not ourselves"– our bodies belong to God. A woman’s calling in life is not to decide for herself; her highest calling is to be a submissive wife and mother. So in essence it’s an anti-feminist movement. I think that is almost as strong a motivation or as strong a deciding factor in the movement as scripture itself. It’s a concerted effort to get rid of feminism from the Evangelical church.

RH Reality Check: The patriarchy movement has a very specific, rigid idea of what a family should look like. Can you describe this ideal family?

KJ: Their definition of a family includes the bread-winning patriarchal father and a submissive stay-at-home mother who sees her highest role as bearing, as they say, a whole quiver of children.  Her job is to raise  children in what is most likely a home-schooling environment where they can control the morals and education of the children a little more tightly and raise them to understand that this is their highest calling as well.

RH Reality Check: Your book was written with the complete objectivity of a reporter all the way through.  No matter how horrifying the topic you were writing about, and there were many, only once or twice did you personally comment.  Why did you choose to write it this way?

KJ: I think it’s important in the early stage of talking about a movement to allow them to speak about it themselves and show the full range of the belief systems, so that you’re not just giving a representation like you might see on reality TV -"isn’t this a fun, fantastic adventure of a large family" or something that you might read in a non-investigatory kind of piece where you’re just crudely speaking about the reproductive feats of these women. I don’t think that that really adds a lot to the conversation. I think it’s more interesting to look at where their ideas actually come from.

RH Reality Check: The Internet is a constant presence in your book.  Can you explain why and how the movement uses it to its advantage? 
KJ: It’s a hugely Internet-based movement. That’s kind of a truism about a lot of fundamentalists and conservatives, that they have really embraced the modernism of technology as they distrust and fight against modern ideas of values, cultural mores and all of that. They have a vibrant and large Internet presence. They have various blogs and offer websites with names like Ladies Against Feminism or Virtuous Daughters. It’s a natural evolution because when this movement started in the mid-eighties, the religious right had a number of publications, publishers, and news sources that formed a real alternative to secular new sources, so they really already had in place a lot of ways of advancing their ideas outside of the mainstream. They were publishing lots of magazines about things like leaving all family planning decisions up to God, and, after that, here’s how you deal with a family of 11 children, here’s how you cook for them on a monthly basis, etc. So the foundation was already in place for this to be a huge community on the Internet, and I think the Internet has just kind of exploded in that way for them.  It’s made it easy for members of the movement to keep connected across big distances; it is not something that is taught through the Church but is rather grassroots strategies adopted by members and then spread around to their existing religious communities, their home school communities.  It’s been a real boon for them.

RH Reality Check: The Internet also allows women to be leaders, writing blogs and running websites with huge followings.  Why is this allowed when women are supposed to have no role but to be submissive and often cannot even talk in church?

KJ: They say it’s okay for women to be teaching other women, a role that follows the biblical model of Titus II, which is that older women should be teaching younger women how to be proper, chaste, and modest wives and Christian women. They tend to say as long as it’s not interfering with your household duties, it’s OK.  Realistically of course, this mirrors what has traditionally been the case among conservative leading ladies who make a career out of telling other women not to have careers, from Phyllis Schlafly on down.  This is a way for conservative women to shine when otherwise a lot of options for self-fulfillment or having a having a public persona or expressing their ambitions are denied to them. They’ve already signed on to fill this kind of role but these women are intensely intelligent and ambitious and this is a way for them to fulfill that in a way that they feel is biblically consistent.  

RH Reality Check: It still seems hypocritical to allow women any kind of leadership position in the context of this movement.

KJ: You’ll remember there was a similar question around whether or not it was acceptable for Sarah Palin to be running for office when most of the churches that supported her and the church she came from would not allow her to be speaking in church.  And a lot of conservative male theologians came out, the very ones who were supporting biblical womanhood and wifely submission, saying, it’s okay, as long as she clears it with her husband, because what she’s offering is political leadership and not spiritual leadership. I don’t think they were being all that genuine, but they were saying in the case of Sarah Palin that she was qualified, there’s no biblical injunction against her being a political leader, the Bible just says that she’s not allowed to teach spirituality.  But I think a lot of the more strict patriarchy supporters had an issue with that, saying why is she going to do this when her highest role as a woman is as a wife and mother?

RH Reality Check: All the people in the book are white, but are there any people of color in either the patriarchy movement or the Quiverfull movement?

KJ: I’ll deal with Quiverfull first. Yes, there are. But it’s predominantly a white movement, I think far and a way a white movement. There is a lot of unspoken racial undercurrent to the arguments they make, the way I see it, when they talk about population decline in Europe, and they talk about it constantly as a justification for having so many children, and they’ll switch seamlessly from "this is what God requires of us" to "don’t you know that the West and Europe are dying and having to import huge numbers of immigrants from the Global South or from Muslim countries because they’re failing to have enough children." The argument slides in a utilitarian direction and they start talking about these immigration concerns in Europe. So I think that there is a big undercurrent to this that would likely alienate a lot of people of color that might otherwise have joined otherwise, but it is in fact a largely white movement.

The patriarchy movement, that’s a little harder to define, because complementarianism, or the ideas of wifely submission and male headship, is a much broader and more mainstream ideology than Quiverfull. It certainly encompasses huge numbers of Black Churches or churches with large African-American populations, and also to a certain degree predominantly Latino churches.

RH Reality Check: There’s a story in the book about a family that adopts a black baby. It is unusual for white families to adopt black babies in the US, so it seems even stranger in the context of a movement with white supremacist tendencies.  Can you talk about that?

KJ: I should clarify, I don’t think the laity of the movement or the followers of the movement are necessarily driven by ideas of white supremacy.  I think it’s an undertone in the way the leaders think about it.  I think there’s not that big of a tension in adopting children, it’s more an idea of having lots of children in order to pass on these ideals.  I don’t think–particularly with the family I know personally and consider to be friends–that they express ideas of racial supremacy whatsoever.  And I don’t think that that is what drives most of the members of the movement.  I want to make that really clear. I just think it’s an undertone that the leadership feeds upon.

RH Reality Check: Even though the patriarchy is a small fringe movement, its ideas seem to be slowly creeping into mainstream society. How and where is that happening?

KJ: There is a trickle-down effect of these ideas. Women in general won’t start having 18 children, but when the World Congress of Families goes to Europe they’re not asking them to have 18 children, they’re telling them that every woman in the country should have 3 or 4, which seems like a lot more reasonable number.  They’re also promoting efforts that institute the ideas of the patriarchy movement legally, such as a family wage law, which would re-legalize pay discrimination between women and men on the grounds that men should be supporting their families and women are just working for extra.  These are things that don’t have huge chances of [becoming law] any time soon. But also these ideas are being picked up by more mainstream denominations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, which is huge, 16 million members, and in recent years they’ve started saying things like deliberate childlessness among Christian couples is not an option, it’s more a rebellion against God. And they’ve certainly been at the forefront of promoting the complementarian idea of wifely submission to male headship.

RH Reality Check: What concerns you most about this movement?

KJ: There’s always a possibility that Nancy Campbell and Vision Forum founder Doug Phillips will be proved right, in that by having 8 children and having their children have 8 children they will in two generations take over the country.  But far more concerning to me is that on the way the way to that goal they are convincing a lot of women to lead lives that are really harsh. When women leave this movement they describe it as involving near slavery levels of labor that they’re expected to do, and standards for being the perfect mother and wife that they can never attain with the amount of time they have to spend on childcare. [There is] a brutalizing aspect of being constantly in submission to your husband or to your father. So I think what happens to women living under this lifestyle is a lot more disturbing than any of their demographic dreams.

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  • invalid-0

    and marry young and thus have 8+ children and teach your daughters the same so they too have 8+ children and in two generations your equality to men world view will beat them in taking over the country.

    Otherwise, you lose. Feminism merely breeds itself out of existence.

  • invalid-0

    male vs. female when instead it should be a joint effort. Why do the sexes continually try to outdo or undermine each other? Why can we not learn to live peacefully with one another? In a Matriarcal society it works,not many male takers, they are to strung up in power and control.
    I see the 18 and growing clan as equals at least it appears that way on the show. I never saw any discrimination. The whole family works as a very functional unit. They all built that huge house together. It was impressive. Maybe it is just a front for TV. I would like to believe otherwise.

  • invalid-0

    The article suggests that patriarchy ideas are slowly creeping into mainstream society. Not so. American men are increasingly “discovering” that the majority of women on the planet prefer to stay home, cater to the man, and have lots of children. When presented with that option, that guy in the cube next to you at work or the cute one you’re checking out at some cafe will probably consider it. Why? Well, the question really is, why not. And where is this discovery taking place? Yep, the Internet. Sure, Mr. Mainstream may have been “ruined” for American women after returning from a trip to Venezuela, but most guys awaken their patriarchy bug via the Internet. The unraveling of 40 years of feminist training starts on the most benign websites. The fun guy you met at the sports bar last night joined Match.com today and found thousands of foreign women suddenly communicating with him, many 20 years his junior. Match.com has a web page exclusively designed for those seeking a foreign partner (read: suck up to patriarchy females) and its a profit generator for Ticketmaster (owner of Match.com). Visit sites like scanna.com or loveme.com and you will begin to see why so many anti-patriarchy American women will never have a mate.

  • invalid-0

    Check out this website: No Longer Quivering. The stories are heartwrenching.


  • invalid-0

    “Feminism” means so many different things that it appears to mean very little. Its advocates constantly contradict each other and themselves. In casting off feminine reserve and modesty they seem to have learned intellectual shamelessness as well. Rather than damaging feminism, its incoherence offers an easy defense against criticism: whatever the complaint, the response is that it misses the mark because feminism is really something else. It appears, however, that nothing can be called feminism that is not radically antitraditional and antinatural.


    The success of feminism has owed a great deal to the astonishing absence of open opposition to it. That absence has had a variety of causes, including masculine cowardice and the difficulty of communication between the sexes. Other causes include the extreme centralization of public life today, the absolute triumph of liberal ideology in our public and intellectual life, and the difficulty that ideology has dealing with issues relating to family life because of its tendency to base all human relations on arm’s-length bargaining or force.


    In the end feminism cannot win because it radically undermines any stable and productive ordering of private life. By disordering reproduction and childrearing it puts long-term social survival in question. It has done a great deal of damage, however, and will do much more before it destroys itself. The more explicit, articulate and successful its opponents the more damage can be prevented.

  • invalid-0

    Nature has put an alluring bloom on young women for an obvious reason, and it fades in time with their fertility.

    Males are attracted to the bloom. In their bee-brains, pleasure is separate from procreation. They deposit their semen and move on to the next flower without concern for the woman or the consequences.

    Sexual liberation sanctions and encourages this callous and primitive behavior and invites the woman to collude in her own exploitation and degradation.

    It allows the male to take the only thing that interests him and ignore the woman’s humanity in terms of her natural life cycle as a wife, mother and grandmother.

    Sexual intercourse represents the essence of her commitment to her husband and her offspring. Women who have had many partners find it more difficult to bond to one man, and consequently he has difficulty bonding with her.

    Take away a woman’s innocence and she is a man, with a male sex-pattern, treating lovers as sex objects. Then we have two male pretenders trying to bond.

  • invalid-0


    Feminism has already prevailed. Evidence? Women are pursuing higher ed like Secretariat out of the gate, and are participating in public life in ever growing numbers. And as it happens, the more educated the woman, the more STABLE the marriage.

    Kinda blows your theory all to hell, huh?

  • amanda-marcotte

    Have, within the space of 6 comments, implied that men are too evil and weak to support women, made racist comments about how "foreign" women aren’t human beings with hopes and dreams of their own, and resisted the biological reality that men and women have more in common than differences.  They’ve also treated women like breeding machines whose only measurement of success is child-output.  After all, the "anti-feminists will outbreed you!" nonsense assumes, incorrectly, that political ideology can only be communicated by women through child-rearing.  Actually, feminists write books, give speeches, and talk to others, which is an excellent form of spreading our ideas, and why the Christian right is so nervous.

  • invalid-0

    Snerk. And once again, the threat that insecure/unattractive/sexist/self-entititled American men will seek the doormat of their dreams outside our borders will surely put American women onto our collective submissive knees. No really.

  • invalid-0

    Yes it has prevailed…in the US, Canada and some Western European nations. Nothing a theory blowing passport cannot cure. Somehow a 50%+ divorce rate represents stability. Guess you lay in the bed you make…American feminism comes to a screeching halt at the Rio Grande River.

  • invalid-0

    Yes it has prevailed…in the US, Canada and some Western European nations. Nothing a theory blowing passport cannot cure. Somehow a 50%+ divorce rate represents stability. Guess you lay in the bed you make…American feminism comes to a screeching halt at the Rio Grande River.

  • invalid-0

    Ah yes, the ol’ hackneyed responses:

    INSECURE – the ol’ “you can’t handle a strong woman” shaming language response. Strong as in obnoxious, inflexible, stubborn, loud-mouthed, opinionated, argumentative, confrontational, condescending, androgynous, misandrist. You are absolutely right – I am therefore insecure. UNATTRACTIVE – of course, you need to make yourself feel better – convince yourself that no attractive man would even consider young fertile well-adjusted women for a mate. SEXIST – yawn. SELF ENTITLED – sometimes, life is about what you can get…deal with it. Oh, and the goal is not to get you on your knees – its just to get away from you. The opportunities are endless in 99% of the world and you are powerless to stop us. Powerless. All the protests, rants, blogs, forums, degrees, careers…powerless.

  • invalid-0

    Judging by the divorce rate and the increasing negative press regarding gender relations, it is not surprising that most women in the world reject American feminist standards. What a sorry state of affairs, indeed. Ironically, the men who expatriate receive all the benefits.

  • invalid-0

    Oh, and the goal is not to get you on your knees – its just to get away from you. The opportunities are endless in 99% of the world and you are powerless to stop us.

    Then will you quit your yammering and just go find your “perfect woman” already? You seem to be under the impression that feminists would be sorry to see you and your ilk disappear from the pool of available men. They would only be too happy to have one less of you to deal with—and male feminist allies would relish having one less embarrassment to their gender. Powerless to stop you? Heck, mister, we’ll help you pack your bags!

  • invalid-0

    The real issues is not finding a date or a mate. Rather, its the threat to feminism in general. The more women who are or become feminists, the better for all feminists as the power is in numbers. If the standards on how to treat and live with women are lowered (become more non-feminist) then the women’s power will diminish overall. If men go to date foreign non-feminist women in greater numbers, then the power remains with the men and achieving a balance will become more difficult. Therefore, telling men to leave rather than educating them is counterproductive. At the same time, women globally should be brought into the feminist fold and that option for men will be taken away, as it should be.

  • invalid-0

    The opportunities are endless in 99% of the world and you are powerless to stop us. Powerless. All the protests, rants, blogs, forums, degrees, careers…powerless.

    The question is…why would we WANT to stop you? Just wondering.

  • invalid-0

    The writer above states “Match.com has a web page exclusively designed for those seeking a foreign partner (read: suck up to patriarchy females) and its a profit generator for Ticketmaster (owner of Match.com). Visit sites like scanna.com or loveme.com…” Well, I did visit those sites and Match.com does have a separate site for international seekers and they may avail themselves of women from nearly every developing nation. Scanna and Loveme are indeed very problematic. That is what needs to be stopped. These websites are an entry point into patriarchy for many mainstream American men.

  • invalid-0

    Kathryn Joyce expressed concern over the ability of Patriarchism to spread via speed breeding. Therefore, if feminists are relying heavily on recruitment via the propagation of ideas, then preparation should be made soon to counter the onslaught of anti-feminists (preferably prior to voting age). On a related note, recently arrived female immigrants should be targeted for enrollment in Women’s Studies programs.

  • invalid-0

    Why stop there. Make Women’s Studies mandatory in high school.

    Seriously, I’m a little less worried, as “Patriarchism” generally depends on social isolation and disengagement, two conditions that are increasingly difficult to maintain in modern times. The website I mentioned above is a tragic accounting of two women who have left the Quiverful movement, and my best guess is that they are two among many. Moreover, extremist theology in the west invariably runs headlong into our long tradition of intellectual liberty, and the result is always epic fail.

  • invalid-0

    These men who can’t deal with modern women are called WIMPS. They call us Feminists like it’s a dirty word, but what they are is disgusting and much worse. Let them get bamboozled and swindled by these women, I have heard of it happening many times. These foreign women who are sometimes already married or have a boyfriend and take the guy for everything that he has, because some women are hip from these countries and know how to play the game. Or, they get mad and leave the US born husband and take their children to their old country where he can’t control them. ( I know someone personally that happened to, a friend of my Aunt and Uncle- he was such a jerk and deserved it, because he was domineering and controlling and Patriarchial and I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard he got his just desserts!! It has been 12 years and he STILL can’t find her and his two kids. I think they are better off, myself, as I think that he used to hit her.) It doesn’t just happen in the news. The thing is, these are mostly older men, because most of the younger generation can handle strong women with careers, opinions, and a past.

  • invalid-0

    I am reposting the URL of the website of two women who have left the quiverful movement: http://2spb.blogspot.com/

    It is not because I believe these women are pro-choice that I think their stories are important…. my guess is that they are not pro-choice..

    What is important is that we acknowledge the nightmare of the lives of these women, respect their courage, and get the word out. Go read.

  • invalid-0

    I am 100% woman, the number of partners I’ve had in my lifetime does not make me a man anymore than the number of partners you’ve had in yours making you a woman, that kind of reasoning is senseless. I have not found it difficult to commit or bond to a man due to the number of partners I’ve had, if that was true in any sense it would be due to surviving an abusive marriage followed by being raped by a guy I had dated in high school (14 years AFTER we met in school) and that is what lead me to feminism and despite all of that I am committed and engaged to be married this summer to a strong, intelligent man who loves me for being the strong woman I am. He doesn’t coddle me, talk down to me or expect me to be his servant, he expects me to be his equal and I am exactly that. According to you I guess I would be a man but thankfully, many, many men would completely and totally disagree with you that women like me should be considered male because (heavens forbid, we actually enjoy sex and can be responsible about it!) as more and more men appreciate a woman that actually has a brain and isn’t afraid to use it, isn’t afraid to speak up for herself, isn’t afraid to actually get off her butt and provide for herself instead of expecting a man to cater to her because she’s so helpless and weak (what a joke!). I think many men would be relieved that they don’t have to basically “babysit” a feminist woman because she is strong and secure in herself and doesn’t need constant “saving” like a damsel in distress (what an old notion that is!). Maybe you should try your kind of reasoning back in the Stone Age, it might actually fit in there. By the way, has anyone else noticed that all of these people bashing feminism are all Anonymous? How fitting!

  • invalid-0

    Oh No! The Lesbians are coming! The Lesbians are coming! Now would someone please explain why lesbians would feel threatened by men marrying foreign women? Indeed, I would imagine that lesbians would be pleased to have the men “scared away” from them. Then instead of being either objectified or discriminated against they could get some privacy. Since when did lesbians ever give two hoots about what the men were thinking?

    There is nothing inherently natural about patriarchy. There have been, and still are matriarchal communities that are thriving. Since theres been a lot of talk about the submissiveness of “foreign women” See this link (also for anyone who is skeptical regarding the existence of matriarchal communities):

    Ultimately, your not going to stem the tide of feminism because it works. It works too well. It makes too much good sense, economically and emotionally. I know my husband likes knowing that I can earn enough to support myself, and him, should the need arise. I like that he brags on my professional achievements, and my strength and integrity of mind. I like our equality, I like that we can divide our household labor by skill and not tradition. He makes a much better Bundt cake than me, for which I am eternally grateful. I have to wonder, what happens to the wife and kids if the patriarchal husband is disabled, or laid off, or dies? Feminism works because it means that my husband has the freedom to invest in those stocks, or go back to school for his masters, or buy that mustang or whatever, instead of struggling to support the household, to the point of bitter exhaustion.

    Feminism isn’t about man-hating. It’s about equality and respect- for all people, of all races, of all orientations, of both or any genders. Indeed, for most if not all of the heterosexual feminists I’ve met, it’s about respect for themselves, for all women and for their great/amazing/wonderful supportive men, who deserve so much better than a needy doormat.

  • invalid-0

    I support women to be empowered to speak and act for themselves, and to be strong. I am raising my daughters to have minds of their own and to educate themselves and support themselves – and I know (since they are both beautiful) that men will be begging them to marry. My mother is a feminist – thank God, if it was left to my dad to provide our sole support our family would have been homeless, not that it was his fault – he was always honest and hardworking, but age discrimination (yes, 45 is considered too old for white males in the engineering field) coupled with the PTSD he suffered as a result of WWII combat made it extremely difficult for him to get work inside or outside of his field no matter how hard he tried. My mom has a spine of steel and a will of iron, with a warm heart full of love and caring. She kept our family together when most facing similar situations would have fallen apart. I want my daughters to be like her, not be baby factories. “Men” who won’t deal with strong women ARE weak, and strong women can see that, that’s why you losers are seeking foreign women because your wimpy butts got shot down in whatever singles scene you habituated. Real men love feminists!

  • invalid-0

    It takes a loving, wonderful, man to be a proud feminist man, and I know many men like you, thankfully! They have warm and richer relationships with women, because in some ways, they have had such a warm and close relationship with their feminist moms and have empathized with them, rather than being mollycoddled and made into narcissists like the Patriarchial, mysogonist wimps. Feminist men were wanted and cherished and taught things, like how to cook ( both of my borthers are awesome cooks, and I hate to admit, are better cooks than me! They LOVE to cook, I am a better baker.) Feminist men are warm and loving parents, they don’t control, they EDUCATE and TRUST, and most important, LOVE. They know that women are just as important as men, and make sure that they bring up their daughters to be strong, self reliant, educated, and well rounded. I thank goodness for my feminist mom, but more importantly, so do my nieces, as both of my brothers had all girls. Do they care? No, and they get mad when someone asks “So, when are you going to try for a boy?” My one brother’s reply is “Who needs a boy, when girls are the greatest?” aww!! : )

  • invalid-0

    I had the same thought, Amanda. Why is everyone so freakishly preoccupied with the uterus? It’s almost as if they don’t believe women – of any race – are human beings with any purpose beyond breeding.

    Oh. Wait. They do.

  • colleen

    Why is everyone so freakishly preoccupied with the uterus?

    The part that really bothers me are the pretensions of ownership over other women’s uteruses. The ‘pro-life’ women here  have helped me understand how it is that  some women could cut open another woman to extract and steal her baby.

    It’s almost as if they don’t believe women – of any race – are human beings with any purpose beyond breeding.
    Oh. Wait. They do.


     LOL. Pretty much

  • http://interiorator.info invalid-0

    Thank you for this interview. I find this book really impressive. Joyce explores both the ideological underpinnings of the movement and the human interest side of the story, as she attends various events and meets both with women who belong to the movement, and those who have left it. She avoids writing polemically, but as she unpacks the logic of the movement’s ideology, examines the attitudes of its leaders, and – inevitably – recounts some of the undoubtedly abusive and destructive situations that have arisen, a picture emerges that is not attractive. Tellingly, Doug Phillips responded to the book’s publication with complaints about Joyce’s background and motives, but without any corrective points to make whatsoever.

  • http://dynastyirondoors.com/ invalid-0

    I found this interview to be very interesting and at the same time very disturbing, not because of the author but because of the way these young girls are taught to be slaves to the men that they love and are supposed to love them back. I do believe that a mother should be the one to stay home with children and raise them while they are young if your situation allows for it. But for these girls to be taught that this is the only option is ridiculous and not based in reality.