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Hello to all my darling #Exvangelical fam. Thank you for being patient with me. I swear I WANTED to do a Dobson thread yesterday but I partied too much w/not enough sleep over the weekend and I am too old for that but also it was fun.
How is everyone? Surviving December? <3
So recap - I do threads on James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Honestly this book may kill me, or I may switch to a new topic for a while after it, but for now this is where we're at. The first book was a biography, you can find the threads here.

CURRENTLY we are working on "Preparing for Adolescence," mostly by request - I think a lot of us read this when we were younger. I know I did. I just go through the chapters as they present, although I do also read them in advance. Here's those threads -

Usual note - if anyone feels like you cannot handle this work right now, it's okay to walk away. I do a lot of quotes, I talk a lot about traumatizing material for many of us. The goal is to move towards healing, so if it doesn't meet that need for you, find something that does.
If, on the other hand, this is where you're at and being able to dissect these things from a new perspective - including no small amount of rambling and ranting - is helpful to you, I'm thrilled to have you here. I appreciate all of you very much. <3
Finally, these threads take quite a bit of time, so if you feel like buying me lunch or a Christmas present, I really do appreciate that.

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So last week we learned about The Secret of Self Esteem and then never ever mentioned self esteem again in the chapter. This week we are going to cover "Everybody's Doing It." It will be just as painful as you think it is. So let's all learn about conformity!
Dobson starts off by asking what the word conformity means to you? He tells his readers that while they may never have had to use the word before, it'll soon become very important to them every day.
Let's sigh with exhaustion and remember that he claims this book is for 10-20.
Why couldn't he have just said it was for 10-13? It would at least maybe make sense to ask a 10yo if they had ever used or heard of the word conformity before. He just loves to patronize SO MUCH he can't help himself and it is so annoying every single time.
Now DOBSON defines conformity for us as "the desire to be just like everyone else - to do what they do and say what they say, to think what they think and wear what they wear." Okay, first off conformity is not a "desire." You could desire to conform but... okay, whatever.
Second, let's look at some dictionary definitions.
1. action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices, etc.
2. correspondence in form, nature, or character; agreement, congruity, or accordance.
3. compliance or acquiescence; obedience.
So I think what Dobson is trying to refer to is the first definition. But even that isn't quite the same thing. It's ACTION in line with majority social standards. The social standards can differ. If you are raised in a church, you are expected to conform to different things.
Most of us Exvies probably recall that. Some of us may have been better at it than others (I was never very good at it). That 3rd definition interests me because I would argue that THAT is actually exactly what Dobson and every other Christian I grew up with wanted me to do.
Comply, obey. Conform to standards. The problem was never conformity, it was what I was conforming to. This is actually a really important thing that I didn't realize until just now, so I'm working through it. Because growing up I DID know the word conform - in one context.
The context of Romans 12:2. For anyone reading this who may not recall "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
This is actually an #EvangelicalIntoEnglish moment here. This was how I understood the idea of conformity, as something that was opposed to God. It was presented as something different. God didn't force you to CONFORM. God TRANSFORMED you... into following all of the standards.
Just me here with my repeated refrain - if you teach kids the wrong meanings of words and strip them of their ability to communicate accurately, it is much, much easier to abuse them. It is easier to force compliance. Easier to force CONFORMITY.
I know I'm really hammering on this point but it's important while we dive into this chapter in which he is teaching kids to fear "conformity." Remember he's lying. Remember he's teaching them to fear difference and individualism. Remember he's indoctrinating with a purpose.
So he begins in this process by talking about how adults ALSO face this process to conform. He tells us a story about how when he joined the Children's Hospital of LA, he had to go through orientation. He then explains what orientation is, again proving his audience is children.
Says that it is long and boring and the speaker drones on, etc. He says when he arrived that day there were 12 people there and he just happened to be the only man. The 11 young women were young and he thought they were probably secretaries or clerks starting their first jobs.
I guess I have no idea how orientations worked back then, it seems odd to have the same one for everyone but maybe. Seems just as likely, even back then, that some of them might have been say... nurses? But no. Probably not. He describes the room as "icy."
He then defines this by saying that the women were not talking and everyone seemed frightened and tense. I have no faith ever that Dobson is telling the truth but I've been in a lot of orientations and people are very rarely talking unless they happen to know each other.
I would not usually describe it as frightened and tense, I just think that there are a lot of social norms about approaching people you don't know. Everyone is waiting to learn the rules of the room. This is Dobson's point, of course, but there is a difference between our points.
Wanting to know the rules of the space and crowd you are in is not necessarily the same as a deep desire to conform to them. There is a safety element (that frankly Dobson probably has no concept of), and there's also often just a manners element. It's easier to observe at first.
And particularly for women, we often do this. Because we are socialized to be social and we have to be socially cautious in ways that men virtually never do. Certainly white, privileged, cis, het men like Dobson.
What I'm saying is I don't trust his lens for shit.
Anyway. They all sat around the table. In the corner of the room was coffee and donuts and it was obvious all the women were thinking about it because they kept looking over when it made noise, but no one mentioned it. And they all needed coffee!
Sidenote that I just find interesting - I have never been to a morning meeting where people didn't bring their own coffee and I suspect this is due to changing culture and the fact that I live in Washington where there are coffee shops everywhere. I don't drink it myself.
Like I have gone to meetings where coffee is provided but for the most part people are using that for their second cup of the day at LEAST. And they've probably got their own in a little travel mug. That's not saying they would have here, it's just a weird thing to me.
So the woman running the thing comes up and starts and goes on her endless presentation and doesn't mention coffee. And finally everyone is exhausted and she says "we'll stop and take a break for coffee and donuts." Which is very exciting for everyone, of course.
But for some reason she doesn't want everyone to go to the table at the same time, which is... bizarre. So she asks one woman if she would like to go get some coffee first and the woman says no. Now Dobson makes a big deal about the social stakes here and all of this.
And he's right! But it's not a stupid thing. The stupid thing is why anyone running a meeting would try to treat adults like children who can only be trusted to walk to the coffee table one at a time. Who wants to go to the table alone with everyone watching you? That's... weird.
He mentions that she might be worried she burn herself or trip, what he does NOT mention is the concern about being a woman who is eating donuts. How many donuts do you eat? Do you take a whole donut? A half donut? Look, this is all fat-shaming bullshit, diet culture crap.
A hearty fuck off to ALL of it and I believe anyone should eat as they choose. But women are absolutely brutal about what other women eat. Walking up in front of a bunch of women you don't know to stick food in your mouth is a lot of pressure. Also there's Dobson, a strange man.
I mean, I have no idea if this story ever happened or if this was part of what was going on if it did. But it is certainly a decent possibility and one that Dobson apparently never thinks of. He's too busy making fun of them. Because every one of those women refuses to go up.
He is the last one asked and he says he WILL go up and as soon as he gets up, they all follow after him and it takes him 15 minutes to get to the table, which is why they should have just let them all go at once to begin with, omg who was this person running the meeting???
Dobson says he finds the woman "amusing" and is generally condescending about the whole thing. He then talks about how amazing it is that we will go so far to avoid having people laugh at us, while... you know. Laughing at and encouraging his readers to laugh at these women.
He wants kids to know that for some of them ANY difference may feel like too much. If they wear the wrong pants or have the wrong hair, any deviation will be an insult and kids will make fun of them! Idk. I didn't go to school. Maybe it really was like this, just seems extreme.
He then talks about a study run on teenagers to study the impact of peer pressure. A group of kids is brought in, they are given instructions. 'We'll hold up cards with lines. Raise your hands at the longest line on the card please.' Pretty simple, claimed to be studying eyesight
However, when they held up the cards, all but one kid in the room had been told to vote for the SECOND longest line instead of the longest. The one kid would look around uncertainly but then go with the crowd. They repeat the instructions, try again. Again, go with the crowd.
Dobson marvels that 75%!! of the students behaved that way. I'm honestly incredibly impressed that 25% of them did not. Dobson doesn't value social intelligence, skill, or cunning. He doesn't value any of the things that teens are often best at. There's so much to weigh there!
What is the real gain of saying that all these people are wrong? Did they KNOW the other kids in the room? Were they strangers? How much social fallout could there be if they disagreed? Did that make a difference, did they test for that? Did it change if it was males vs females?
Dobson is claiming this is proof that an insecure kiddo can be taken down by peer pressure and sure, I guess. I think that almost anyone can be convinced they are wrong with enough effort, that's literally what gaslighting is. That's what Dobson's whole thing rests on.
Some of the kids may just have been insecure. Some of them may have figured out something was up and it was safer to just go with the group. Some of them may have realized it really didn't matter. There's a lot of explanations, I'd need to see the study. Dobson doesn't care.
He only cares if he can twist a thing to fit his narrative. He also points out that the "power of a friend" is a big deal, that if there was one other person in the room voting correctly, it was way more likely (although he does not say how MUCH more) that the student would too.
And sure. That is true of most things. This is literally what being a social animal means. We do better in groups, we need relational support. All of that is pretty normal. And of COURSE as a kid when you are still figuring out your identity it feels a little less stable.
Dobson says this raises interesting questions of why social pressures are so great during adolescence. There are a lot of answers to that, it's a totally developmentally normal thing and part of separating from the parents is forming peer groups that you attach to and learn from.
Part of that is navigating and negotiating new social boundaries and structures and peer pressure is both a positive and a negative in those experiences. Peer pressure becomes particularly great during adolescence because it's usually the first time the peer group is so central.
That centrality becomes a part of defining your own identity and self-worth, so of course it is important what people think of you - after all you are not so sure yourself about all of it yet. We use people as mirrors, all of us do. It's just particularly important for kiddos.
Dobson... does not exactly say this? He goes back to his pet topic of "inferiority" and basically says that when you don't like yourself or feel badly about yourself you are going to want so badly for other people to like you that you'll do whatever they want.
He has a comment that "your greatest desire will be to behave in the 'safest' way possible." I just have to repeat this - the concept of needing to navigate and negotiate safety is only mocked or put in scare quotes by people for whom it has never been their daily experience.
A lot of us knew that shit wasn't a joke, it wasn't something without consequence, it wasn't "just" laughing at us. Many of us were at risk of losing everything. Many of us still are or have been recently.
Don't ever let anyone make you feel shame for staying safe. We need you.
He then quotes Dean Martin - "Show me a man who doesn't know the meaning of the word fear, and I'll show you a dummy who gets beat up a lot!"
This is a baffling quote to use and throws his whole point into question for me. He clarifies getting beat up isn't the concern of course
(although again, depending on the kiddo it certainly could be) but that what kids are actually fearing are being laughed at or being disliked or rejected. But the point of that Dean Martin quote as *I* read it is that fear is good! That if a man isn't afraid he does stupid stuff.
I may not totally agree with that (is Dean Martin really who we want life advice from?) but it seems counter to his point... unless he's saying that fear IS correct. Which leads back to my earlier point about how he DOES actually want kids afraid and conforming... just to Jesus.
He then talks about how if you look at teenage choirs every girl will look the same. Also about how one time there was a teenage choir singing and someone passed out. The choir director didn't want to stop so they kept going. More kids passed out. By the end 20 kids were down.
Now, I have SEVERAL questions here. Dobson claims that the reason the kids passed out was the power of suggestion, and that could be true. Could also be that they locked their knees, or that it was super hot under stage lights. But also WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE CHOIR DIRECTOR??
Who the fuck keeps directing your choir of children when 20 of them have passed out? I am skeptical about continuing when ONE has passed out but at 20 I hope you are fired and never get to teach choir ever again. The things Dobson finds amusing make me so annoyed.
He says that advertising makes everyone feel they have to conform that "the wethead is dead" so no one can use hair oil anymore and old people are made to feel bad for getting old even though obviously EVERYONE gets old. I can only assume these are personal grievances.
He then leads his way into a "suppose this happens" story, which are always his WORST stories (the bar is high). So suppose you are out with your friends one night driving around and you are all 16. Everyone is having fun and then one friend pulls out a bottle of pills.
Everyone takes one, you're the last one to get the bottle. Obviously you know it's some kind of drug, you know if you don't take it you will get laughed at. Sure enough, your friends start calling you sissy and telling you to just take the pill. You do and feel much better.
Because you took them once it'll be easier next time. And pretty soon "you will get a habit and be seriously hooked on drugs, all because of the pressures of conformity." So this is not... of course peer pressure plays a role in teen substance abuse but it is not the MAIN cause.
Substance abuse is a complex thing, not every kiddo who takes drugs becomes an addict. It's not a great IDEA for kids, fucks with their developing brains and all that. But this is nonsense scare tactics. Except he's not done! There's more!
Because apparently he was recently talking to 13yo girl who takes drugs every day and he thinks it is so sad that she has wrecked her "youthful body" (ew) this way and "how unfortunate that she didn't have the courage to reply to the person who first offered her drugs..."
This was about the point where I saw red.
She is 13yo. Assuming this was a real person, which... ehhhh. But if it was. THIRTEEN YEARS OLD. It is not an accident or the fault of a literal child if she ends up in that kind of addiction at 13. Something terrible has happened.
Probably many terrible things. I've seen kids who started at those very young ages. They've always undergone tremendous trauma, repeated traumas. This is a child and a tragedy, not a fucking parable for your bullshit scare tactics, Dobson you useless... okay, we're backing away.
Also he would like to point out that smoking is the same, because kids just lacked the courage to say no! I... sigh. Yes, of course peer pressure is important in smoking. But there are OTHER FACTORS. Not that Dobson cares. He doesn't care at all.
Again he wants kids to remember that everyone else is as scared as they are, everyone else is ALSO nervous not to do the same thing as the group. Dobson wants kids to know that the ones who don't conform will probably become leaders because other kids respect them so much.
Okay, so like... there is some truth to that. Like certainly some of the "leader" kids I knew when I was young were kids who seemed to be fearlessly themselves. But Dobson doesn't WANT kids to be fearlessly themselves. He wants them to lead Bible studies and proselytize.
He wants them to look down on their peers and tell them why what they are doing is stupid and wrong, in the same sneering tone that Dobson himself uses *all the way through this whole fucking book.* I knew those kids growing up too, a lot of them. I promise. They weren't leaders.
Next we enter a terribly ableist section. If it seems like I'm jumping all over the place, I promise it is because the book does too. It's all in these weird tiny sections and they don't flow very well and it's all just terribly written and it makes me mad he made so much money.
Anyway. Ableism.
So basically he talks about how kiddos with disabilities (he calls them handicaps) may feel very badly about themselves because of conformity. Which... okay, his examples are a girl at the school he worked who was blind who wouldn't accept help.
She apparently walked into things and wouldn't feel around or use a dog or a cane because she was afraid of being different. I am skeptical about this story (or at least I think there is a lot more to it). Also he talks about a 4yo who buried his glasses because he hated them.
Here's the thing. Disability is not about conformity, at least not in the way HE is describing it. He is turning disabled people into pity porn. Like everything he does, he also sounds like he is mocking them. "Poor silly blind girl, she walked into a post!"
It IS about conformity, as the real problem is not the disability but a world that is intent on not making room for a wide variety of bodies and all types of abilities, but Dobson isn't interested in anything changing the world - he thinks these kids need to change themselves.
He thinks they DO need to conform, because they don't fit the mold ascribed to disabled people, they aren't fitting in the space they need to be in. He will help them. They need to fit in the world as it is, and stop causing trouble. Stop being silly. I hate him very much.
He ends this section by saying that "this is the discomfort felt by those who can't conform. They need our understanding and kindness." Again, the conforming isn't REALLY the problem there, is it? It's that they are unable to. Fuck him.
Now we get to hear about a time when Dobson was a bully as a kid. Are we ready? Very exciting.
He starts by giving us the AMAZING revelation that he wasn't always kind to his peers and he had to learn about that when he was a child. Everyone try to contain your shock.
Apparently when he was 9 in Sunday school, a young boy came to visit. His name was Fred. He was very quiet and didn't talk to anyone. Dobson noticed that his ears were kind of a funny shape and, for some reason, they reminded him of Jeep Fenders. He told this to all his friends.
They all laughed at him and started calling him Jeep Fenders. Fred sat and smiled for a while but then he jumped up and went running out of the room crying. He never came back.
Dobson wants to make sure we understand that he was completely ignorant of Fred's feelings that day.
He says the reason he was so mean to Fred is that no one had ever told him that other people were as sensitive about being teased as he was. This shows a remarkable lack of natural empathy, in my opinion. He thought he was the only person who didn't like being laughed at.
We know that Dobson DOES hate being laughed at. It has come up often in his personal story. But he's never talked about crying from it. He gets furious, he yells at people, he makes THEM cry. Again, he has never shown any sign of having much in the way of empathy.
And his explanation here is pretty breathtaking - "The teachers of my many Sunday School classes should have taught me to respect and protect the feelings of others. They should have taught me to be more Christ-like."
I'm sorry, what? Did you just blame your TEACHERS?
First, let's not forget that Dobson's father was a pastor, a pastor that he worshiped in a very weird way. And he always claims his mother was very godly even though he kind of seems to have hated her (and she was probably abusive). But no. It should have been the teachers.
I will grant that the teachers should have done something that DAY. Where were they when this poor child was being mocked by EVERY OTHER KID in the class? That is very bad adulting. But they are not responsible for Dobson's moral development. That's not how that works.
He says he is writing this for that reason, so that the kids reading it will understand that other people have feelings and will never do that to anyone else. If other people have a big nose or feet or whatever, they know that and you have no business making them feel worse. K.
He then gets racist! He is really hitting most of the isms today.
He tells a story about a little boy named Jeff. Apparently his teacher contacted Dobson, telling him the little boy wouldn't take off these thick gloves. They didn't seem to be special but he always wore them.
There was much confusion until Jeff's teacher "casually mentioned" that he was the only black child in a school of white children. The reasoning became clear, that when he was wearing pants and shoes, the only part of his skin he could see was his hands.
Dobson then makes an astounding assertion. He says, "His black skin certainly didn't make him feel inferior but it made him feel unusual..."
There is no indication that JEFF said his black skin didn't make him feel inferior. It seems to ME that a child not even wanting to see...
his own skin is a very concerning sign of internalized self-hatred. Jeff may be being teased or maybe not. But being the only child of color in a school of white children was probably incredibly hard for him and it sounds like a lot more than feeling "unusual."
But here's the thing, evangelicals don't want you to believe in racism. They don't want you to ever look at even the possibility that a child like Jeff might have systemic reasons to feel out of place or might be learning to hate himself inside a white school system.
Dobson spoke out against "civil disobedience" in his first book, Dare to Discipline, less then 2 years after MLK was shot. He may never have actively spoken against school integration (he was a bit young and not a public figure) but he has helped create a white supremacist system
Evangelicals are typically only taught to believe in interpersonal racism, and only that as a sign of our "fallen" natures. There is no larger picture here and he is taking a blatant leap to assure us that is true. Jeff just feels unusual. He also doesn't tell us what happened.
Instead he just goes back to God's view of conformity. He of course quotes Romans 12:2 that we cited earlier. As I said, it is the main Christian touchpoint for that word. He also quotes Jesus saying that "the world may hate you" and claims it is obvious what god wants.
As a note, it is probably never obvious what an imaginary being wants, but whatever. He assures us that god wants us to say NO to all the things "of the world" and peer pressure and only say yes to Jesus. "In other words, 'I will not conform!'"
Except that is NOT what that means. As earlier discussed, it actually just means that he wants you to conform to a very specific set of standards. Just not the ones of a more mainstream culture. Or at least what they ASSERT the standards of a mainstream culture are.
The last section includes the sentence "I also hope that you'll keep your pressure off other people (especially the handicapped) so they will be able to be happy and secure too." Dobson, I don't... sigh. I just can't. I just can't.
We end with a tale that is absolutely, 100% for sure made up. A young man goes to a state university where he meets one of those "godless professors" we've all heard so much about. The professor asked if anyone thought of themselves as a Christian, of course. As they ALWAYS DO.
This brave kid said yes and the professor made him stand in front of the class to mock him AS ATHEISTS ALWAYS DO. He said that he was stupid and ridiculous and ended with "Besides, I read the Bible and it didn't say a thing to me." This is all tracking, right? You are buying it?
The boy "bravely" said, "Sir, the Bible is God's love letter to Christians. If you didn't understand it, that's what you get for reading somebody else's mail!"
I mean... no he didn't. Also, that doesn't even make sense because the Bible is supposed to speak to everyone.
This fucking apocryphal nonsense they all love so much. Whatever. Dobson hopes that when the kids get into college they will never let anyone make them feel foolish for belonging to a Jesus cult, and will remember that god only likes conformity to himself because he's a dick.
That's all from me for this week, friends. Thanks so much for reading, I appreciate you all SO much. Please feel free to DM or tweet at me. I love every response I get, makes me feel like there's a reason I'm doing this to myself.
Have a good week!
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