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May 17, 2019

Educated

by Anne Paddock

Have you ever thought that maybe you should just let them go?

In the introduction of Educated by Tara Westover, the author is careful to write “This story is not about Mormonism. Neither is it about any other form of religious belief” but after reading the book, I wonder how anyone could not think that Mormonism (or any faith that is patriarchal) not be a big part of the story? When a child is taught in Sunday school and by her father that “in the fullness of time God would restore polygamy, and in the afterlife, she (sic) would be a plural wife,” the message is clear, even to a child: submit and behave according to our standards and you can be a part of this family. Do otherwise, and you are a sinner and unwelcome.

Tara Westover was born the 7th and youngest child to a pair of isolationist Mormon survivalists in Idaho. Although some of her older siblings attended school, she did not. Instead she was kept home to help her mother with her herb and midwifery businesses and her father in his junkyard.  After watching two of her siblings “escape” to college, Tara sought their assistance to educate herself and escape a life that was dangerous, abusive, and geared towards having her get married, defer to a future husband (and, all men for that matter), and have children.

A memoir, Educated is Tara’s story, an often horrific account of the dangers of growing up in a household with a mentally ill father, a mother who would not protect her (and who put marriage ahead of the safety of her children) and often looked the other way, and an older brother who was physically and emotionally abusive in his attempts to enclose her in a cage. For 16 years, Tara lived with her family in an isolated area of Idaho where she quickly learned she had to yield to survive.

At the heart of the book are memories and the author is careful to differentiate her memories from others who also witnessed what was going on in her home. These memories form the basis of what drives the author to renounce her parent’s world and find the courage to make a new life for herself, which sounds a lot easier than what it was because she loved her parents and had deep connections with them that were hard to break. Leaving a family is rarely a light switch decision; instead, it’s more often an agonizing process that only gets easier as time passes and the abused are able to step back, validate their memories, deal with the anger, and have the courage to stand up and not allow the controllers and abusers to hurt them anymore.

Educated speaks tons to the reality of this world. In all fairness, Mormonism is not all bad; it like many other religions rely on shared beliefs (fiction) that often fester inequality and submission. Power begates power and in patriarchal cultures, those in power (males) fight to retain the status quo because their positions and influence require it. Unfortunately, this culture also stops others (primarily women) from  reaching their potential and often subjects them to abuse in the name of religion, faith, and God.

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