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Women of Distinction

        Believing Lies Shaped My Life—

        Until I Learned to Ask the Right Questions

                                        By Patty Bear

           ntil I was eight years   It never occurred to   boys and men I knew and   ity. People who have been
        Uold, we went to     me I was being indoctri-  didn’t see that they were   trained in these sound-
        church every single Sun-  nated or that the things   any smarter, or wiser,   bites begin to parrot them
        day. As a little girl growing   I was hearing might not   or kinder. It made no   without questioning them
        up among the Plain People   be true. I accepted them   sense to me that Eve was   and naturally reinforce the
        (Amish and Old Order   because everyone else   responsible for Adam’s be-  intended indoctrination.
        Mennonites), I would sit   did, and because we were   havior or that the miracle   As a female in the
        in the pew beside my three   “the one true Church.”   of birth would be given as   Reform Mennonite
        sisters and my mother   To question anything the   punishment.   community and military
        on the women’s side of   ministers said meant that   At first, nagging   I landed squarely in the
        the church—segregation   I would burn in hell for all   doubts chipped away at   inferior camp. But as a
        that served as a persistent   eternity. In fact, my child-  the rock-solid, four-hun-  white woman, as a leader,
        unconscious reminder of   like belief was so strong   dred-year-old ancestral   as a pilot, and in other
        how different my future   that I begged my mother   traditions and their wall   privileged roles I have
        would be from that of my   to let me officially join our   of dogmatic certainty.   been recruited to the
        two older brothers.   Church at a precociously   But soon enough, these   superior side of this lie   of liberating questions I
           I didn’t think much   young age. I had already   questions opened a flood   too. Yes, the early violent   have learned to ask:
        about that then, though. I   determined as a child   of clarity, sweeping away   suppression I experienced
        was far more interested in   that I would grow up and   hidden walls and leading   initiated the questions that   1.   Is that really true, and
        watching the slow parade   live a life identical to my   me out of the cloistered   would eventually pierce   what does the evidence
        of cloud shapes as they   mother. It was all I knew,   world of my ancestors to   the lie (and the prison)   show?
        passed by the window, or   and it was what I believed   a wider, freer world, and   of female inferiority for   2.    What else might be
        the bees playfully chasing   I wanted with my whole   toward a destiny I could   me. But it was my father’s   true?
        each other. So I paid little   heart.      have never imagined.   dogmatic challenges of   3.   How am I participating
        attention to the drip, drip,   Before my request   As a girl among the   everyone except himself,   in a lie of either superi-
        drip of the ministers’   could be fulfilled, a   Plain People, and later as   his obstinate insistence on   ority or inferiority?
        words as they fell on my   traumatic turn of events   an Air Force Academy   his entitlements, and the   4.  What else might be
        sisters and me.      led me to begin question-  cadet, a woman in the   needless isolation and ru-  possible in this situa-
           While most Sundays   ing what I’d been raised   military, and a female   ination it brought to him   tion?
        the sermon featured a par-  to believe: my father   pilot, observing the habits   and his family that served   5.    What is true of me?
        ticular focus, there were   was excommunicated   of highly indoctrinated   as a lifelong caution to me
        few that did not eventually   and shunned. Shunning   cultures became a survival   about the tempting lie of   Ultimately, questions
        touch on familiar territo-  is a biblical practice   skill.     superiority and the prison   are a quest for the truth—
        ry: the proper role of fe-  among some Mennonites   In my experience, ev-  that it, too, created.   the whole truth—as well
        males in our culture. The   meant to bring wayward   ery indoctrination has one   What came from   as a bid for freedom. Once
        ministers would quote the   members back into the   central lie: you belong to   being on both sides of this   we begin navigating via
        scriptures, telling us how   community’s fold. In my   a superior group or to an   experience was an awak-  curiosity, it doesn’t take
        women were never to hold   father’s case, it backfired:   inferior group. Assigned   ening in me of the power   long to witness the melting
        positions of leadership   in an attempt to enforce   a “natural” fate, these two   of navigating via curiosity,   away of prison bars we
        over men, that we were   his “rights” and tighten   groups are trained to as-  and the thirst for inner   hadn’t noticed restraining
        supposed to be silent, sub-  his grip on his wife and   sume either unquestioned   and outer freedom that   and limiting us. And when
        missive, and obedient to   children in our hyper-   postures of entitlement   questioning brings. Now,   that occurs, vistas we nev-
        our husbands, and to ac-  traditional culture, he   and influence, or one of   in any number of situa-  er imagined come readily
        cept this cheerfully as the   launched a crusade that he   subjugation and invisibil-  tions, these are the kinds   into view.
        natural order of things.   took to the state Supreme
        Every contrary thought   Court and that was cov-
        or uncertainty we might   ered by national, and even   AB O UT
        entertain was to be firmly   international newspapers.   Patty Bear rose out of the cloistered world of the “Plain People” of Pennsylvania,
        muzzled so that no pro-  But instead of stifling me   where voting and serving in the military were strictly forbidden and where women were
        test, however mild, should   further, this upheaval   expected to be silent, submissive, and obedient to their husbands. She was catapulted out
        ever escape our mouths in   had an unexpected effect:   of that world due to a scandal her father initiated that captured the nation’s attention
        public or private. Without   it opened the door to   for more than a decade in prominent media outlets, such as: the New York Times, The
        it being spelled out, we   liberation.       Washington Post, People magazine, Good Morning America, and many more.
        understood that we were   My father's behavior    Her escape chronicled in From Plain to Plane: My Mennonite Childhood, a Nation-
        second-class citizens   ruptured our family, and   al Scandal, and an Unconventional Soar to Freedom, chronicles her improbable journey
        because we were second   in the violent chaos that   out of a centuries-old culture to freedom and much bigger life. This path would lead her
        born, created from the rib   ensued, I began to ques-  to graduate from the US Air Force Academy, serve as an aircraft commander in the first
        of Adam. Further, the ag-  tion everything I had been   Gulf War, and become an international airline captain. This path of liberation Patty
        ony of childbirth was our   taught. Was it really true   embarked on as a child has been a lifelong reminder to her of what is possible when we
        punishment for tempting   that men were superior   follow the Call of the Wild Soul.
        Adam and our responsi-  and should rule over us?
        bility for original sin.   I looked around at the
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