Women in the Amish religion are committed to living a life that is subordinate and subservient to the male members of the community. Many women within the Amish community complacently accept this role, as it is the role that was assigned to women in ancient biblical scriptures. There are many that would argue that women within the Amish community are unfairly suppressed, however all women living within the community do have the option to choose whether or not they will accept the faith before becoming a member of the Amish religion.
The Amish, otherwise known as "plain people" for their unadorned clothing, live in many different throughout the United States in segregated communities. Speaking what is referred to as "Pennsylvania Dutch" many people in the Amish community avoid casual contact with people living in modern society, as a means to avoid most of the conveniences afforded to people living in the 21st Century (Kelly & Yoder, 1992).
The Amish practice a very strict form of Christian idealism, which was derived from Anabaptist practices of the early 1500s. The Amish very literally interpret church doctrine as indicated by biblical scripture. Amish women are considered the caretakers of the family and community within the Amish culture. By modern standards the role of Amish women is considered to be very submissive; Amish women live a lifestyle much more reminiscent of women in Victorian times, where men held the upper hand and made all important decisions. A modern woman may in fact look down upon Amish women as subservient, but the Amish religion actually teaches respect and recognition for the important role Amish women play within their communities, even though it is a role that is subordinate to the role of men.
This paper will examine in greater detail the doctrines of Amish faith that govern the role and place women have within the Amish community.
The Amish religion originated some time during the early 1500s, a spin off from the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland (Kelly & Yoder, 1992). Members of the Amish faith first arrived in the United States in the early 1700s, and formed their first "homeland" of sorts in Pennsylvania (Kelly & Yoder, 1992). Lancaster Pennsylvania is in fact well-known for their large Amish community.
The Amish religion dictates that people living within an Amish community enjoy a very simple lifestyle; as such they avoid anyone and everyone that might attempt to educate them regarding the ways of the modern world. Consorting with members of modern society is often considered a sin, as it implies that individuals are consulting with people that might otherwise be shunned by the community.
There are approximately 150,000 Amish living in North America today, with the largest group of people centralized in Holmes County, Ohio (Kelly & Yoder, 1992). The Amish have become synonymous however with Pennsylvania, with Lancaster often referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch country (Kelly & Yoder, 1992). Pennsylvania is perhaps more well-known because of the tourism that centers around the community, rather than a large population.
The majority of Amish live on farmland without electrical conveniences or telephone lines, in simple farmhouses that house multiple or large families (Kelly & Yoder, 1992).
The Amish religion is generally categorized into several groups labeled the new or old order (Kelly & Yoder, 1992). The "Old Order" currently has the most members, and follows the most strict rules and regulations related to allowing modern conveniences (Kelly & Yoder, 1992). New Order followers follow many of the older practices but are typically considered more progressive, allowing such conveniences such as telephones, air-filled tires and some even use electricity in their homes (Kelly & Yoder, 1992).
Church is attended every Sunday, held at a different home within the community each weak so members of the community can keep tables on each family to ensure they comply with the laws and rules of the church (Kelly & Yoder, 1992). The religion is very unforgiving, and requires that the "Rules of Order" called Ordung, are followed strictly. If a family disobeys these rules they are shunned by the community, and even face excommunication from the church (Kelly & Yoder, 1992).
The Amish religion is very conservative. There religious beliefs center around interpreting the bible very literally. Some of their key beliefs include emphasizing the importance of separating themselves from the rest of the world/communities in which they live and rejection of the involvement of anything militaristic in nature (Hostetler, 28).
They practice worship services in the home and strongly feel that a separation of church and state is appropriate. The "Ordnung" is the set of oral traditions and rules that dictate how the Amish should live their life (Robinson, 2000). This set of rules may vary somewhat from church district to church district but certain key elements remain the same (Robinson, 2000). Generally the Ordnung require that members of the community live a simple life, with men functioning as the head of the household in every situation.
Major doctrines also include observance of a document called the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 (Hostetler, 85) which among other things endorses social avoidance (Hostetler, 33). The Amish in general avoid outsiders; for fear that their beliefs would taint the community. Amish children do not attend public high schools, because the teachings of modern schools vary so significantly from Amish practices. Social avoidance includes keeping distance from members of the community that have been excommunicated.
Amish welcome only the pure to religious practice, and shun or avoid those who are not pure, a practice referred to as Meidung (Nolt, 17). The Amish do not believe in communicating with anyone that has been excommunicated in any fashion including family members (Nolt, 17).
The Amish's strict beliefs include the practice feet washing, literally interpreting biblical scripture from John 13 where Jesus had his feet washed by disciples at the last supper, as an act of humility (Nolt, 82).
The Amish hold true to basic Christian ideals such as the acknowledgement of a Supreme Being, of Christ and of the existence of heaven, and intertwine those beliefs in their every day existence (Kraybill, 25).
More cultural rather than religious practices include the speaking of Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a form of German dialect, though English is taught to schoolchildren (Robinson, 2000). Men are required to grow beards in accordance with Hebrew Scriptures, and typically dress in plain dark colored suits (Robinson, 2000). Women wear plain dresses with long sleeves, and a white prayer covering when married (Robinson, 2000).
WOMEN IN RELIGION
The Amish teach each other to be reserved and modest, to practice a way of life that involves thinking about an individual's relationship with God; it requires that people serve the Lord as a measure of success (Kraybill, 25). Women are expected to adhere to strict humble practices. The communities in which they live are typically small and simple. Vows that women take, as well as the men in the community include an emphasis on separating their community from the outside, and being close with nature.
Both female and male children are not educated past elementary school level; for fear that outside beliefs will penetrate the community. These outside beliefs include the idea that women are liberated and independent. Many of the women living in Amish culture fear being shunned and excommunicated, and thus avoid outside temptations. Women in the Amish culture have many restrictions placed upon them.
Amish women are expected to be submissive, and are expected to work hard fulfilling their role of caretaker and maintainer of the home, family and community. An outsider looking into the Amish community might actually consider their practices "old fashioned." Women may decide to join church, as both men and women do as they become older. No woman is actually forced into accepting the faith, which is an important point to make. However one might legitimately argue that women are pressured to accept the faith, for fear of being shunned or looked down upon. Remember that once an individual has been shunned by the community they are no longer welcomed back and can't communicate with any member of the community, including family members.
Within the Amish faith, most of the major decisions and doctrines of the church are decided upon by men, and women must agree with these rules if they have accepted the faith. This stems from typical biblical practice where men made most of the major decisions.
Women often make quilts from plain fabrics, and often enjoy each others company while doing so. In fact quilting is a very popular pastime among Amish women, as is other events such as cleaning and family raising. Interestingly the quilting accomplished by women is standard in nature, with most women using traditional patterns, colors and forms with almost ritualistic continuity. To make a quilt in a nonstandard manner might be considered an attempt to set oneself apart from other community members which is generally considered unacceptable.
Women are generally docile, conforming to the wishes of…