18 Kids and Counting has presented a highly sanitized version of what many ATI kids go through in the movement (as regarding purity rings and courting). As I'm sure most of my two or three readers can imagine, I have some insights that I'd like to share about the reality of this system.
Purity Rings. The formal party line is that the girl should be given her ring at the age of twelve or her first menstrual period (whichever comes first). However, the build-up starts much earlier. I was six when my mom started telling me about the pledge of purity and how I was god's special flower and He had already chose the gardener for my flower. All of my sisters got the same talk at age six so I'm pretty confidant that this speech is handed out with the first grade ATI curriculum. At six, I was given a formal lesson on 'defrauding' men. Only, back then, I don't think it was labeled as 'defrauding'. My mom showed me pictures from a magazine (It was a copy of LIFE magazine) that had "pornography". The pictures were of Madonna. She told me that people who wore immodest or "gender confusing" clothes were "destroying men". In her own words, she taught me that when a man sees a woman wearing men's clothes, he feels threatened and unsure of his own responsibilities. When a woman wears immodest or revealing clothes, it tempts the man and causes him to betray his promises to his Creator just as Eve tempted Adam with the apple. There's no discussion about a man's accountability or responsibilty to use self-control. I think they get that talk from their fathers but, as girls, we weren't told that men should or could control themselves. If they sinned, it was our fault for causing them to sin with our immodesty. I thought it made men sound very weak and my mother actually winked at me in a conspiratorial fashion. There's a lot of that happening too, within the patriarchy movement. Women tell themselves that they let the men think they are in control whenever they're feeling really out of control. I'll explain that more another time but back to the rings.
When I received me ring, my father told me my sexuality was under God's authority. Only God could decide when I should give that gift away, to the man He had for me. Of course my dad would help me find that Knight in Shining Armor and let me know he was THE Knight. The Duggars are up-front with that part. The part they don't share is that Gothard tells fathers to make the daughters accountable to them. Yes, that's right. If a girl commits a sexual sin, she's not supposed to go to her mother or her sisters. If a girl has a sexual sin committed upon her, she doesn't go to her mother or her sisters or anyone but her father. If you have a good father, which I think Jim Bob is, then that works out fine, but what if you have a father who is more concerned about his image than his daughters. I've seen fathers marrying daughters to the highest bidder in this movement for their own gain. It's a dirty little secret in the movement but it does happen. Some fathers may really mean to be looking for the best place for their girls by choosing men with better homes and means. Few will admit that that's not always the best way to find a match. What about personalities or goals? It's not even the best system for the boys! One of my brothers was told he was marrying a certain girl. They were pushed together because it was a mutually beneficial situation for the futures of both families. A business deal, in reality, but oh hey look, these adorable kids of ours are only six months apart in age and of course they both want to live this lifestyle! They were tossed together for courting to begin, under the watchful eye of the parents, where they could never speek freely or engage in deep conversation. They married and were unhappy for the first year. They didn't even consumate the marriage for six months because they didn't know one another and my brother was too nice to "collect his prize". They had nothing in common except their faith. When my brother brought this up to someone in our church circle, he and his wife were sent on a retreat. They came back defeated and resigned to staying together "until they fell in love" with the commandment to start having children. It makes me so angry to think that any Christian advisor would tell a young couple who were so unsuited to start having children because there was no way to go back and undo their marriage vows. My brother and his wife had a child and found a way to like each other, but love took another four years and two children. They're still together and both families see them as a "success" story. They're even asked to share their testimony with other couples in the same situation. It's wrong! This is what happens when you take these choices away from young men and women. It's fine to have morals and convictions. If you want to wait for sex, then wait for sex. All I'm saying is it's wrong for parents to choose these convictions for you and a twelve year old is in no position to choose to let the parents have the authority on this for the rest of their lives. It would be okay if it were a "we'll help you save yourself until you're an adult and then it's your choice". That's not what is being said with a purity ring and courtship promise. What's being said is, "You will give the authority for these decisions to your father." until you are married (at which point it is too late to go back).