Welcome to Cult of Perfect!
This is a limited run podcast about the intersection of motherhood, public performance, and bodies.
To hear today’s episode in full—or read the full transcript—you will need to be a paid Cult of Perfect subscriber. It’s just $5 per month or $15 to get full access to every episode, plus commenting privileges and our biweekly live threads. Founding members also get comped subscriptions to both In Pursuit of Clean Countertops AND Burnt Toast, which is truly a trifecta of content that embraces all that is imperfect.
A note about paid subscriptions plus an earnest appeal!
There are approximately 83 million podcasts currently available for your listening pleasure, and the vast majority of these podcasts are free. So how exactly do podcasters make money? And why do we want you to pay for ours?
Sponsorship deals. When your favorite podcast is raving about Athletic Greens or Bombas socks, that means Athletic Greens or Bombas is paying them. When your favorite podcast says something like “Enter code: CULT at checkout for 20% off your purchase” they’re getting a small cut of whatever sales AG or Bombas makes.
Partnering with podcast production companies like iHeart, Wondery, or Crooked Media. These companies pay their podcasters a set fee, sort of like when a freelance writer gets paid to write for The New York Times.
Creating bonus content that can be accessed through sites like Patreon.
If you’ve listened to Cult of Perfect before, you might notice you’ve never heard an ad for Athletic Greens or Bombas socks and that’s because we have no sponsorship deals! We’re also not backed by any fancy podcast companies. Which all means that the many many many hours we’ve spent–drafting episode outlines; doing administrative work (emailing guests, scheduling guests, emailing each other!); recording episodes; editing written transcripts; listening to audio transcripts; writing episode posts (like this one!); arranging live threads; and promoting the pod–is all unpaid labor. UNLESS! People pay us.
We should also say that we have a wonderful audio producer, Tommy Farron, who makes us sound way better than we would otherwise, anddoes a huge amount of editing for us. Your paid subscriptions pay them first and foremost, before either of us get any sort of reimbursement.
We have an inordinate amount of fun making this podcast, and we’ve heard from so many of you for whom its been a bright spot in their day, an illuminating reframe, or even just a great resource for ugly (COMFORTABLE) shoes and puzzling tables. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone supporting the pod!
Cult of Perfect Episode 4 Transcript
So this week we're talking about several different forms of perfect all rolled into one. We're going to be talking about the perfect woman as defined by evangelical Christianity. Of course, the perfect woman in this context is also the perfect cis het woman. She's the perfect mother.
Evangelicalism might feel like a random place to start when we're interrogating these feminine ideals, so I want to ask you, Virginia, what do you know about evangelicalism? Have you encountered anything in the media? In pop culture? And why do you think we're talking about it today?
I was raised atheist, which means my exposure to evangelicalism as a kid was when I had a couple of friends whose families went to evangelical churches. When I came over for playdates, their parents tried to save my soul.
I had this one experience when I was 11 years old and I went over to my friend's house. It was a really hot, sunny day and we were playing in her pool. Her dad, I can remember him floating on this pool raft, and talking to me for like an hour while I got the worst sunburn of my life because I was trapped by the pool, listening to him talk to me about how the rapture was going to come, and he and his daughter and his wife would all be floating up to heaven and I would be left to burn in hell. Again, I was 11 years old. So that was intense.
I did not have a follow up playdate at that friend's house. I think very fondly of her. I don't know what happened to her. But it was clear that my atheist, divorced parent household was a little too radical for them. We were lacking in perfect womanhood, let's put it that way. We were really lacking.
Looking back, I can see purity culture was also being emphasized very heavily. I think she did later wear purity ring—and that was a big part of what her dad lectured me about. Again, to me as an 11 year-old sitting in his pool. So my understanding of the perfect woman stuff is really rooted in the purity culture stuff.
So I had this one obviously not very positive experience. But I don't know a lot else about it beyond what I've consumed in pop culture, media, and discourse. There's a lot I’m here to learn today.
I should also say that I am by no means an expert in religious studies. I did not grow up Evangelical. I grew up in a middle of the road Protestant household. We went to church on Easter and Christmas Eve, that type of thing. But I did go through a period in my adolescence, where I was attracted to the certainty of religion. I joined a youth group on my own.
Oh wow, interesting.
I kind of forget about this chapter in life sometimes. But yeah, I joined a youth group. I went through a period where I was trying to read the Bible cover to cover.
I'm unclear where the drive to do this was coming from, but I think it stemmed from fear and anxiety. I remember as a younger kid learning that prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. “
That's just a dark thing to say to a kid.
Nobody taught me this prayer. I found it in a Victorian book or something, but I just remember being terrified.
“Just in case I die overnight…”
Terrified. I think my little imagination was just like, I need to get on the good side, if there is such thing as a good side. I just wanted any type of certainty, especially as an adolescent.
But I became interested in patriarchal religions from a more cultural criticism standpoint when I randomly discovered a documentary on the FLDS, so that's the fundamentalist Mormon church. I was in college and I just couldn't believe that this was happening in our country. So I'm particularly interested in religions that have really clearly defined gender roles where control over bodies seems to be a really important tenet of the religion.
That's a long-winded way of saying that is how I came to find our guest’s book and became really interested in how evangelicalism as an ideology is impacting culture today.
What do you think of when you think of the phrase “ideal woman?”
It's a lot of the stuff we've talked about. Perfect housewife, long hair, thin, white, many children. And that sort of joyous love of domestic life without any complicated emotions or difficult questions being asked.
I also think a lot of “duty,” like the embrace of duty. This is where I think you see evangelicalism creep in. It’s motherhood as a sacred calling. Creating a home as a sacred duty. This will become clearer once we hear from, our guest for this episode. Once you learn more about how evangelicalism is weaving its way into all facets of life, you kind of can't unsee it.
So Jeanna is going to provide more enlightenment on this, but I do want to give our listeners more of a context for Jeanna's work. To do that we're going to talk about Christian Girl Autumn.