Last fall a petition was created calling on TLC to cancel 19 Kids and Counting after the Duggars deleted photos of gay and lesbian couples from their facebook page (they had called for happily married couples to post pictures of themselves, but apparently only meant heterosexual couples). At the time, I wrote a post I titled On the Duggars and the Locus of Outrage. My words then are still relevant today, in the wake of revelations that Josh Duggar sexually abused five girls in two families as a teen:
So let’s get this straight. The Duggars support an extreme version of patriarchy that holds that wives must be constantly sexually available for their husbands, and no one bats an eye. The Duggars promote child rearing practices that involve spanking infants and punishing children for frowning, and no one cares. The Duggars don’t allow their adult children to be unchaperoned or to text their beaus without daddy reading over their shoulders, and everyone smiles and calls it quaint. The Duggars support a sexual predator [Bill Gothard] and continue supporting his ministry [ATI] even after his actions are made public, and everyone yawns. Michelle Duggar records a transphobic robocall and most people just shrug. But the Duggars delete pictures of gay and lesbian couples kissing from their personal facebook page, and that is enough to bring a hundred thousand people out of the woodwork to demand TLC to pull the show.
Now for the million dollar question: Do I think the petition is a good idea? Would I like to see TLC pull 19 Kids and Counting?
Here is what I would like to see: I would like to see TLC be honest in its portrayal of the Duggars. I would like them to be clear about the fact that their star family supports the ministry of a serial sexual predator. I would like them to be clear that the girls are not given any semblance of true choice when it comes to leaving home or going out with a boy. I would like to see them be honest about the child rearing practices the Duggars support, rather than allowing the Duggars to smile and hedge every time someone asks them about spanking. I would like to see them be brutally and painfully honest about what Michelle and Jim Bob are teaching their daughters about their role in life, as women. I would also like to see more attention paid to the quality of education the children are receiving, and why none of them have attended college.
The problem I have with TLC is not so much the fact that they run the Duggar’s show as it is the fact that they portray the family as all cutesy and happy and sweet, covering over the horrible things the parents believe and support and the impact these things have on their children.
Before I come back to this idea—and I will—I want to highlight the words of several of my fellow bloggers. I have really appreciated, this week, being surrounded by other bloggers who write with such power and honesty.
First is Micah J. Murray’s excellent post, which put into words much of what I’ve been feeling this week: “I’m Tired of Talking about Bill Gothard & the Duggars.”
What the gawkers and headline-makers can’t comprehend is that for every scandal splashed across their glossy tabloids, there are a thousand broken lives that will never make the news.
Sick as it is, sexual abuse sells page views. So they fire up the ol’ outrage machines and crank out a few thousand dollars worth of shock over the latest discovery.
But there will never be headlines for broken marriages and broken hearts, for eating disorders and suicidal depression. For innocent faith destroyed beyond repair. You won’t read in the news about years and years of therapy, about brainwashing and codependency and deprogramming. There won’t be stories about the way some songs still make us get up and walk out of church services, about the thirty- and forty- and fifty-year-olds still trying to believe that their childhood hearts were loved.
This is our normal.
Next there’s “Finally Heard? The Duggar Aftermath,” by Melissa.
We’ve called out abuse. We’ve talked about this. For years survivors of the fundamentalist christian homeschool movement have told our stories. We asked people to listen, we asked people to help, we asked for some sort of protections to get put into place for isolated homeschooled children. We’ve pointed out the dysfunction as one by one, the leaders of the movement covered up scandals or were toppled by them.
We were called bitter. We were told that we were the only ones, that we were alone in our experience. We were admonished that while one or two homeschooling extremists might have issues, we were sensationalizing to suggest that it was more than that. We pointed out the teachings that were considered mainstream and normal within the movement, and were told that our parents just went about it wrong, that those teachings weren’t inherently problematic, just enacted badly.
Then, another outspoken member of the movement got found out as a child molester, but this time he also happened to be a reality TV star. And for the first time, people seemed to hear. Articles on actual news sites finally started asking the questions, wondering if perhaps the fundamentalist quiverfull homeschool movement wasn’t the wholesome cute alternative lifestyle they thought it was. Finally, writers are shocked by the teachings we’ve been trying to explain the dangers of, for years. Finally. FINALLY.
Read the rest. It’s powerful—and so, so true.
Finally, blogger Elizabeth Esther reminds us that “It’s Not Just about Josh Duggar, It’s Also about an Entire SYSTEM of Abuse.”
The greatest mistake we can make right now is believing that this latest exposure of sexual assault is an isolated incident. I am here to tell you that the Christian church—as a whole—has a major, MAJOR problem with the physical and sexual abuse of children. It’s time we examined not only WHAT is happening but WHY this is happening.
Read on—Elizabeth Esther breaks down many of the harmful religious dynamics and abuse apologetics I’ve written about here over the past several years, and does so with clarity and righteous anger.
Micah J. Murray, Melissa of Permission to Live, Elizabeth Esther—for years now I’ve been standing beside these bloggers, and so many others, writing and speaking out and trying to make my voice heard. We all have. We are children of the movement, we have thoughts and experiences and concerns. And yet we’ve been ignored.
We’re tired of seeing the Duggars uplifted as “wholesome” and “godly” by people who don’t know anything about ATI, who have never heard of Michael Pearl, who don’t know that Vision Forum wasn’t about eyeglasses. We know the dynamics! We lived it! And yet, over and over, we have been dismissed. Our parents did it wrong, the Duggars smile so they must be happy, and besides, how would we know what goes on in their house when we don’t live there?
More than anything, I’m angry that the way women and children are treated within the ATI/patriarchal homeschool subculture has been ignored and overlooked and outright dismissed for so long.
Duggar fans find courtship quaint, kind of weird, yes, but also refreshing and sweet. Do they not realize that the father has absolute control over the courtship process, with the ability to call it off on a whim, and that it is common for courting couples to marry without really knowing each other, because how would you, when you never have a moment of privacy? Do they not realize that the Jill and Jessa are now expected to submit to and obey their young husbands? This is not “refreshing” or “sweet” or “wholesome.” It’s oppressive and toxic.
And then there’s discipline! If I see one more article shocked—shocked, I tell you!—that the police report revealed that Duggars spank their children with a rod, I’m going to scream. In what sort of world must you live to think that the Duggars can speak at ATI conferences and promote To Train Up a Child on their website and not use corporal punishment?! Of course they spank their children with a rod! That’s completely mandatory in this subculture! Where did you think those smiles came from?! When a “bad attitude” is grounds for a spanking (as per child rearing manuals the Duggars promote to this day), you learn pretty quickly to keep the corners of your mouth pointed up!
And if the Duggars follow the teachings they ascribe to, they have their older children spanking the younger ones, too. Think about that for a moment.
None of this is anything I haven’t said before! And it’s not just me—dozens of us have been talking about these things for years now. And yet this is what it took. It took Josh Duggar being outed for sexual abuse a dozen years ago. This is what it took to start the conversation.
It shouldn’t have taken this.
For Further Reading: