The Outsider

By Arielle Woodruff, Xavier University of Louisiana

            When growing up in the United States people become accustomed to a specific lifestyle.  When I think about gender and sexuality from a broad perspective, I think of everyone being introduced and familiar with the same norms as my culture.   When studying culture, society, and gender a more realistic picture forms about the likelihood of everyone having the same cultural norms.  A community that has always seemed fascinating and unique to society is the Amish community.  The Amish are totally opposite of the average American lifestyle in today’s age.  They do not depend on technology, phone lines, and electricity to be a part of their everyday lives as other cultures do.  The Amish differentiate depending on which particular community they belong to- New or Old order, Miller, Swedish, or Swartzentrubers.  Each of these communities follows the same lifestyle of living but differ depending on their location and beliefs.  As a whole they are a unique community who still obey their traditional way of life more than many other communities across the world.  Their uniqueness plays a part in their Amish lives either to an advantage or disadvantage depending how we as outsiders perceive them.  My goal of this project is to explore how gender influences education, religion, and how the Amish provide for their family.

            Education is very strict and uniformed for the Amish children in the community.  They have very few choices of when and how long they want to further their education.  At the age of fourteen is usually when the children leave their studies to begin working on their families’ farms.  When the children first began school the boys and girls are segregated at an early age so as they get older they become accustomed to not spending time together with someone of the other sex.   The women of the Amish teach their children everything the community feels they need to know in order to survive their lifestyle.  They do not teach their children valuable lessons that they feel the children can use against the community.  According to Richard Dagger the author of Civic Virtues, “The steady number of Amish that leave the Amish community shows that many believe that they have the ability to survive outside the Amish community.  Furthermore, the Amish do not raise their children ill-equipped to live meaningful lives.”  The author proves that the leaving the Amish community to better their lives is frowned upon.  This theory or method that the Amish use is very different to other parts of society considering that many communities want the children to go to the highest level in school so they can better their lives.  Usually in society people are praised and seen as a role model when they make the best of themselves in life, but all is different for the Amish. While in home school the kids are taught their basic studies: math, english, social studies, science, and extracurricular activities.  Sex Education is not taught in Amish communities, and flirting is frowned upon.  The Amish feel that if they teach their children about sex at an early age that it persuades them to be promiscuous amongst one another, which causes sin that it is not tolerated in the community.  

The Amish life is based upon the Amish Church.  They have very strong religious beliefs which they feel the need to follow in order to have eternal life.  To make sure that they do not disobey one another and their religious leader the communities follow a guideline of rules called the Ordnung; the rules differ depending on the community.   Twice a year the Amish hold a formal meeting to discuss, revise, edit (if need be) and agree upon their Ordnung.     The Ordnung deals with everything from the specifics of a boy’s hat brim to the process of shunning.  Shunning, which the Amish call “loving rejection,” happens in the community when a member disobeys the Ordnung.  Many outsiders are familiar with this term which is when the member is in isolation, away from the rest of the community for a period of time.  The Ordnung has many strict rules that the people have to follow regarding with what the boys and girls can do in the society.  A few of the rules that  the Ordnung list for the people to follow is that the girls can wear no jewelry, make-up, shave their legs, and are forced to wear skirts no shorter than eight inches from the ground.  They also have to wear push down bras to hide their curves.  This is a major difference amongst women of other cultures considering that women usually enhance their beauty by wearing make-up, shaving, and wearing push up bras, to show their curves to demonstrate their femininity.  Although these rules are not common for many, the Amish are not alone because many Arabian women follow the same gender roles.  Their Ordnung also has some specific rules for the men to follow.  They are not allowed to have mustaches or layer their hair.  In the community this is seen as to sexual, and to masculine.  The married men are allowed to have beards while the single men remain clean shaven.  The Amish people like for everyone to be on one accord.  Where there cannot be any judgment physically, but rather they can be judged amongst their intelligence and how they live their life more and more like a Christian. Sometimes the Ordnung could be so strict that it leaves no room for the children to actually grow up and have a mine of their own.  The author of the book, The Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish, believes that, “Religion can both liberate and indoctrinate, both create a community through the bonds of tradition and doctrine, and enslave a community through the binding of minds and control of behavior.”  The author strongly agree with the Amish of living a life of god, but feels as if though how can the people of the community grow and become more Christian like if they do not have any mistakes to learn from.  This is where the disadvantages and advantages of being in the Amish community come in to play.  He explains how despite the fact that religions are made to make the best out of your life, they sometimes contradict with one another causing conflict amongst families and communities.

            Another stereotype misunderstood about the Amish people is how they provide for their family and community.  Usually when people speak about the Amish, it is always negative.  Many people perceive the Amish as simple farmers who reject mainstream because they still commute in buggies with wooden wheels and no windshields.  Even though the Amish still live their lives as if it is the early 1900’s they meet the needs for providing for their families.  The way the Amish receive their income for providing for their family is through farming.   At the early age of five years old the young boys of the family learn how to farm.  The boys work in the fields while the girls focus on quilting, sewing, cooking, milking, cleaning and gardening.  As in most cultures the women duties is to  make sure the house is in order and take care of the children. Everyone in the family works together as one to make sure that all needs are met.  The relationship that the family makes while providing for one another is one that the people cherish dearly.  “ The Amish hold these values above all others: Anything that undermines their ability to cohere as a community of neighbors and linked families, anything that isolates them in their work or places production of profits ahead of the collective process, is prohibited,” according to Steven Stoll author of Postmodern Farming, Quietly Flourishing.  Their way of transportation is still yet to be modernized, but they are evolving in other ways.  The Amish are starting to commute to local grocery stores and supermarkets to sell their products to locals in the city.  The Amish feel that they do not need the luxurious cars to provide for their family. They still travel the same roads as anyone else in the city barely going five miles per hour.  The community does not use the slow moving vehicle signs when traveling nor do they use the glowing orange colored triangle, which they claim that it is too bright and too much of “the world” involved.  The people of the Amish community are very calm and patient, never rushing anything which is very different from other cultures.  Many cultures are always anxious to get from place to place, and do not take the time like the Amish to provide entirely for their family.  Also, they have no plumbing or central heat, no cars, tractors, refrigerators, or telephones, but the still make a way to cook, clean, and communicate with one another.

             The Amish are a group of intelligent people seeking their way to be accepted by their ruler and leader, Jesus Christ.  Their mission for life is not to please one another, but rather please the leader who they can benefit from and who can give them eternal life. They are just people using what they have to get where they want.  Not people using what they want to try to get what they need which are what many cultures that do not live their life by the bible do.   The Amish are people carrying out an order which is to serve the community by any necessary means.  They live for one another, serve one another, and teach one another.  Just like all cultures, different aspects of life influence they way women and men act in a community.  They are traditional and live their life without wanting to become modernized with technology, phones, electricity, and phones.  In the Amish community they have three main focuses in their lives, education, religion, and how they provide for the family influences which influences their gender roles.   



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