Sunday was a “take meds and curl up with the colouring book” day. Thanks to the pain and the pain meds it was also a day where I wanted to have something without much substance to watch. Thankfully the entire Sister Wives reality show was available through Netflix and OnDemand.
Because of events in my own personal history I’m always fascinated with polygamy (More specifically: polygyny) as a social construct. How does sharing romantic, familial, financial and sexual attachments to one man affect the relationship between the women? Thankfully these fundamentalist Mormons* decided to celebrate the new American Dream and live their lives on television for my edification and their pocketbook.
I will warn you right now, however, that this is going to be a long post with a lot of opinions. It’ll go a bit past the 500 words and I’m putting in a jump.
Still here? In that case, I’m going to break these into sections that deal with my various opinions on different aspects of the show, the Brown family and the idea of polygamy/gyny in general.
Christian Libertarianism and Polygamy
As a Christian Libertarian I am of the belief that Christianity cannot be legislated. Adults’ choices should be between them and God, regardless of how wrong or sinful I personally believe that choice to be. After all, determining sin is specifically NOT my place (Matthew 7:1-5) unless the person shares a bonded relationship with me through blood or faith (Luke 17:3). After all, God is big enough to deal with each person individually.
The only caveat to that is that those choices shouldn’t harm another, and if they do they cannot be included in a society. This is why we libertarians are just fine with laws against murder, rape, incest, child pornography, etc.
So what does a libertarian do with a relationship like the Browns? In polygynist families like the infamous Warren Jeffs, where one man is married to many underage girls I think it’s just fine for the our society to put the brakes on. But here? Each of the Brown wives is well into her majority and has made her choice. Legally and morally I don’t have a leg to stand on. They have as much right to their “spiritual marriages” as I do to not have children. How a person decides to construct his or her family should be that person’s own business.
Here’s the thing, though. Marriage–civil–should never be an option for a polygamist family. Civil Marriage is and always has been about a limited partnership between two people. For more than two people to be in a legally-recognised marriage there would be disasterous tax complications. And Civil Marriage is all about tax and inheritance structure. So please don’t think that if folks argue for gay marriage that Polygamy is next up. I’ve seen Kody Brown himself use the “gay marriage” argument as a way to talk people into thinking that it’d be just dandy if his family could all be married. Nope. Not buying it, as live-and-let-live as my politics are.
Christianity and Polygamy
Yes, I know the Bible is chock full of examples of polygamist marriage. I don’t think it’s an accident that each of those examples is provided as a cautionary tale. The cattiness between Rachel and Leah is apparent even to children being introduced to the story for the first time. The bitterness between Sarah and Hagar is no secret. And from what I’ve seen of the Brown family, not much has changed in 6000 years. Sure, they may put on a brave face for the initial Meet The Browns segment, but after that the jealousies, the cattiness, the bitterness is all front and center. While Kody Brown bounces from woman to woman with his creepy Chucky Doll grin, each wife waits her turn with glowering impatience. The sister wives all admit that they have to put all thoughts of their husband’s sexual congress with the other sister wives out of their minds in order to survive.
None of that really sickens me. It makes me sad for those women** but it doesn’t gross me out.
There are, for me, several stomach-turning moments and each of those is when Kody Brown pulls his “God has revealed to me” schtick as a trump card. God reveals to him that he needs to take a fourth wife now that the other three are getting old and used up. Conveniently the woman God tells Kody to take is a young, skinny brunette who is nothing like the three blonds whose figures have been well-padded by birthing Kody’s children and eating the cheap, calorie-laden food that is a staple for the poor. God reveals to Kody that he should go on TV to become famous and make TV Money in spite of the real jeopardy in which it places his family of 21. When the boom drops and Kody faces a possible fine and prison sentence for bigamy in Utah, this same convenient God reveals to him that he should pack up his wife and kids and flee to Las Vegas.
Do you see a pattern here? I do, and it’s a pattern that I know caused great harm to someone I’m very close to. Weak men use God to bully their wives and children. I personally don’t believe that God is going to reveal to a person that he should break the law or hurt his family. I loathe it when people take the name of the Lord in vain, which is precisely what Brown does over and over again. He uses God’s name to justify his vainglorious pursuits, whether that’s moving to Vegas or winning an argument with his teenage child.
Feminism and Polygyny
The part of my feminism that believes women should choose their own path also believes that women should expect to deal with consequences of their choices. But in spending hours peering into the Brown family it sure looks like the women’s choice is limited only to how they respond to dealing with the consequences of the man’s choices. At one point one of the mothers, arguing with a little girl about going to church, says “you can choose your attitude, but that’s it.” Somehow I believe this is a Brown Sister Wife Mantra.
The most glaring example–which I thought was really telling–is that at one point the incoming fourth wife Robin takes her three Sister Wives with her to look at wedding dresses. They make a whole day of it, and are shown having a typical girls’ day out at the Bridal shop. Then in the talking heads on a couch segment Kody announces that he himself had picked the dress for Robin well in advance of the (now phony) girls’ day. He picked it because God revealed it to him in a dream. Of course. (Does anybody else see this as the dude’s go-to sledgehammer?) That’s the simple truth of their lives in a nutshell. The women playact at making choices, but the reality is that Kody will either use his cockamamie God Revelations or his charm to manipulate the choices to his satisfaction. The wedding cake flavour was chosen when he charmed Robin into picking his choice and outvoting the others. Meri’s ended up with a couch she didn’t want or like or feel comfortable with because Kody charmed her into picking the one he wanted instead.
I’m in a submissive relationship, a Biblical marriage. I made that choice for myself knowing full well that it would limit my future choices. I made that choice because my husband-to-be was very clear that he was accepting a partner-wife whose choices he would respect. It sounds like a fine line and is indeed complicated to explain to outsiders. The upshot of it is that my husband respects me and I don’t think he has once pulled the “I’m The Husband” trump card. On the other hand, I’ve willingly made some choices along the way to go with his desires.
It’s so sad to me to see how these four women in the Brown family have allowed themselves to be so cruelly treated by Brown, so cruelly demeaned by the God they believe in.
Americans And Polygamy
If I hear Kody Brown refer to Las Vegas as “[his] Plymouth Rock” one more time, I’m going to fly there and pull the messy blond locks from his head one by one. With duct tape. He is using this reality show as a way to fight for polygamists’ rights . While I agree that his family shouldn’t be prosecuted (see above re. Libertarians) for their sexual choices, I’m getting awfully tired of him acting as though his quest for multiple wives is striking some sort of blow for religious freedom. In reality he’s someone who broke the law and fled the state to flee the consequences.
I am perfectly willing to live-and-let-live with polygamists as long as they don’t expect others to pay the consequences of their lifestyle. Yet it’s common practice for the non-legally-married Spiritual Wives in a polygamist family to apply for welfare and food stamps for their broods. They are, after all, “single mothers.”
I don’t know all the details of the Brown’s religion, because there are differences between sects of Fundamentalist Mormons not unlike the differences between the various Amish sects. Yet many of the sects share a belief in what they themselves call “bleeding the beast”. That’s an encouragement to strike back at the government they see as persecuting their beliefs, and to do so by claiming as many funds from welfare programs and tax dodges as possible. So you’ll excuse me if I’m not going to sit back and join in the Kody Brown, Freedom Fighter movement.
At one point, when the family is packing to flee to Vegas, the fourth wife looks tearfully at the camera and says “This is not the America I learned about when I was a child.” Yes, Robin, it is. In that America polygamy was illegal. I’m quite tired of seeing all these folks appeal to our patriotism, our belief in self-government and our ideals of freedom. I’m tired of seeing them liken their struggle to that of folks in interracial or gay marriages. Especially since I strongly doubt that many–if any–of those folks have a stated belief in undermining the economic system as part of their lifestyle.
In conclusion, I think the Brown family have every right to do whatever they want behind closed doors. But they opened those doors to the TV cameras and should be willing to shoulder whatever consequences come their way. However, Kody Brown excels at offloading his consequences on others. Maybe he ought to grow up a little.
*Yes, I know they aren’t REAL MODERN Mormons. But they call themselves FMs, so that’s what I’ll call them. If you go to any message board or news article on the web there’s at least one LDS person screaming “they aren’t Mormons!” So my LDS friends….no need to remind me.