In November 2017, Rachel Jeffs of Warren Jeffs’ infamous FLDS cult was interviewed by NBC’s Megyn Kelly on the Today show. With eyes usually downcast, making only shy sidelong eye contact with Megyn, Rachel explained how her (ex) cult requires all the women to “keep sweet.”
Suddenly I remembered! A memory shaken loose from thirty plus years ago, rolling down the corridors of auld lang syne, shedding dust and cobwebs as it comes.
A memory of my mother carefully and yes, sweetly, explaining to Little Me that I had to be sweet. Sweet was what they wanted me to be and sweet was what I was going to be. I was fed on a steady sweet diet of Strawberry Shortcake and Little House on the Prairie (both of which I love to this day!)
Should my sweetness slip, and it did from time to time, I was reminded with the words, “You’re not being very sweet!” or “That wasn’t sweet.” And so, I went back to being sweet. Years and years of (trying to) keep sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, fucking SWEET!
You can do anything to a sweet girl. Anything. All she’ll do in response is smile.
Was anything ever more designed, crafted and tailor-made for and by abusers, narcissists and cult leaders?! It’s perfect for their agenda.
Sweet girls and women are robbed of 90% of their humanity. In sweetness, you always agree. In sweetness, you never see what you’re not supposed to see. In sweetness, you have no anger. In sweetness, you have (feign!) only one emotion: happiness. In sweetness, you’re uni-dimensional. A mere shadow of a woman. You’ve lost 90% of yourself: intuition, observations, opinions, anger, pain, sadness, outrage, boundaries, even creativity.
No wonder people like Warren Jeffs and my parents demanded “keep sweet.” Play your cards right, and a keeping-sweet woman won’t even be able to cry or scream.
Sometimes your physical world begins to match your emotional world. Most of my life, no one has been able to hear me. I speak too softly. I trail off. My husband says “What!?” fifty times a day!
In 2004, during my I-Want-To-Be-An-Actress-Because-I’m-Always-Acting-Anyways phase, I joined the dramatics team at my church and was cast in a role in a Christmas play that required me to let out a piercing scream.
There was only one problem: I couldn’t scream. All that came out was a pathetic squeak. I’d completely lost my voice and my ability to scream bloody murder. My physical world now matched my emotional world. The play director was exasperated and flummoxed. What kind of woman/actress can’t scream!?!
Well, I can’t. But I used to be able to scream.
Once upon a time, oh, I must’ve been about nine, my dad and mom were tickling me beyond endurance. I was writhing, the tickling sensation was so intense I was afraid I’d blow a blood vessel or wet myself or something. So I let out a piercing scream. Instantly, the “fun” situation turned “dire.”
“BE QUIET!” they angrily ordered me. “DO YOU WANT THE NEIGHBORS TO HEAR AND CALL THE POLICE!?”
There it was again. The threat that the police would take me away from them if I screamed. That I’d be put in foster care if I told anyone that I was spanked. Silence was the family mantra. Never talk about what goes on behind closed doors. Never talk about Dad’s rages. They tried to teach me to lie. But since I was and remain an extraordinarily pathetic liar, they gave it up as a bad job and told me to just play stupid. Say, “I dunno” to every question. To judge by their attorney’s letters, they expected me to lie, play stupid and stay silent til the grave swallowed me.
In recovery, one of the first things that comes back is your voice. Without even trying, a voice you’ve never heard before will come booming out of you…taking even you by surprise.
It happened to me yesterday morning. I’d just let the dogs out to go potty when I spotted that ubiquitous white Cadillac parked on our street, with over-dressed people trundling languidly from house to house, Watchtower / Jehovah’s Witness tracts in hand.
I had two reactions: 1) Sympathy for people trapped in what I consider to be a cult and 2) Rage. After thirty-three years in a cult school, cult church and cult home, cults are my trigger. They fill me with rage. Not only that, but I had specifically warned that cult to stay off my property last year. “No trespassing” signs are clearly posted!
Out of nowhere, a stentorian voice burst forth reminding me of that humorous coffeemug I saw once that warned: “Don’t make me use my opera voice!” That was it! My opera voice came booming out, “GET OFF OF MY PROPERTY. THANK YOU!”
If they were shocked, I was more shocked. You could’ve knocked me over with the proverbial feather! Where had that voice come from? I didn’t recognize it as my own!
I rather liked it!
Along with recovering your voice, both emotionally and physically in recovery, one of the first things you’ll shed is keeping-sweet. It won’t be a conscious decision or plan. In fact, I never quite realized until today that “keep sweet” is what I’d shed and why I often say, “My mother wouldn’t like me anymore.”
I’m not saying we should all turn into caustic bitches but we shouldn’t be all sweetness and light anymore either. It’s not real. No one is authentically Pollyanna all the time. We need to restore balance to the Force. (Aw man! Do I have to put a dollar in the Star Wars jar now? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKX3b0zNaEE)
Sweetness has its place in our personalities but it’s not the end-all-be-all of life and womanhood. When you’re playing with a kitten or your grandchildren, sweetness is great. When your sniffing a lilac or composing a poem. When you’re loving your spouse. But it’s only one tiny facet that makes life as a girl or a woman so rich and enjoyable.
The men (and women, but mostly men) who demand “keep sweet” are cheating themselves too. They’re so damned terrified of the women around them having an independent, authentic, unique thought that they demand “keep sweet” so theirs is the only voice, only opinions, only decision-making. They’re really cheating themselves out of the richness these women could add to their lives. Husbands like this are cheating themselves out of their “help meet.”
By demanding me to keep sweet, Dad cheated himself out of knowing me. I sometimes think he didn’t know me at all. Not really. Heck! I didn’t know me either. Keeping sweet took all my time and energy. Authenticity be damned!
So there we have it. But I know I’m not alone. So please! Share your stories about being made to keep-sweet in the comments section below.
And, as always although I keep forgetting to say it, thanks for reading!