Let me be clear from the beginning. I have never liked the Duggars. I remember watching their first couple of specials when they were still 14 Kids and Pregnant Again! and their particular brand of wholesome never sat well with me.
I don't believe God uses miscarriages to communicate his dislike of birth control. I don't believe God sends daughters first to help take care of the sons who come later. I don't believe a woman's hair is her "glory" or that modesty is important not to "tempt" men.
I don't believe a lot of these things. I also don't begrudge Michelle Duggar's right to subscribe to this particular set of beliefs. To me, feminism means choice. If you want to vacuum every day in pearls like June Cleaver, go for it! Just don't tell me - or your daughters - they have to.
The hard truth about the Quiverful and other fundamentalist Christian belief systems is obedience is built into the foundation. You can't allow your children to explore lifestyles and belief systems outside your own if you believe God requires strict adherence.
With the recent admission by Josh Duggar that he sexually abused young girls, we see that the implication of the Duggar's adherence to strict fundamentalist principles goes FAR beyond restricting their daughter's education or children's lifestyle choices.
Libby Anne of the blog Love, Joy, Feminism does an excellent job of discussing why basing one's sexual ethics around religious law has dangerous repercussions for victims of sexual assault in her post Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes.
She states: "Progressives do not have ethical or moral problems with premarital sexual intercourse—but they very much have a problem with child molesting. To conservatives this can look like an inconsistency—even hypocrisy—but it’s not. Progressive sexual ethics center around consent. Sexual contact that is consensual is okay. Sexual contact that isn’t consensual is not okay. And because children below a certain age do not have the necessary understanding and lived experience to be able to consent, child molestation is de facto nonconsensual.
There are all sorts of problems with putting any sexual contact outside of marriage in the same category. For one thing, victims of sexual assault, including children, may end of feeling that they are in some way guilty of what happened—after all, sexual contact outside of marriage is considered sin. For another thing, a teenager sexually molesting children may be treated as a similar offense to a teenager having consensual sex with his girlfriend."
Elizabeth Smart, abducted as a child and raped during her nine-month captivity, has openly discussed how her fundamentalist upbringing - which emphasized purity and sex inside marriage - made her feel worthless after being sexually abused.
That is what it was for me the first time I was raped. I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and a wife who loved each other. And that's how I'd been raised, that's what I'd always been determined to follow: that when I got married, then and only then would I engage in sex.
I grew up in a conservative Baptist church that emphasized sex inside marriage. I signed a True Love Waits card and remember vividly the youth minister's wife telling a story about how she wanted to give a dozen roses (representing her sexual purity) to her husband on their wedding night and how would he feel if she slowly gave each rose away to another man?
I was lucky to have a mother who conveyed a more honest and realistic message at home but I still internalized the message that my virginity was my worth. My favorite phrase was, "I can be like you whenever I want but you can never be like me again." I felt special. I felt valued.
I cannot fathom what sexual abuse would have done to me in that state of mind. In fact, I had the exact opposite experience. I did have premarital sex and NOTHING bad happened.
Not a broken heart. No hurt feelings. I didn't get pregnant or get a scary STD. I didn't have so much as a pang of regret. I had sex outside marriage and everything turned out just fine.
And it STILL left me feeling angry.
I felt lied to. I felt like I had spent my entire adolescence being sold a bill of goods. I was told sex was dangerous and scary and only belonged inside marriage. I have friends who waited until marriage and found it incredibly difficult to flip and switch and treat sex as this beautiful thing when they'd spent their entire lives avoiding it.
This is why I left my conservative sexual ethics behind. This why my children will be taught progressive sexual ethics - based around mutual respect AND CONSENT.
This is also why I never liked the Duggars. I wish I wasn't right. I wish the worse that happened to the Duggar girls were missed opportunities and frustrated dreams but so often that is not the case inside fundamentalist environments.
I also want to say that I do not believe villanizing Josh Duggar or his family is the answer. While he should absolutely be held responsible for his heinous acts, pedophilia is a mental disorder and the longer we cast those who have it as monsters the longer they will hide in shame and not feel safe asking for help.
I have never liked the Duggar family but I have no desire to see them suffer. We can honestly discuss the beliefs they espouse and the repercussions of the current scandal without making them two-dimensional characters undeserving of our empathy.
However, the two-dimensional characters they portrayed on television must come to an end.
Extreme beliefs and lifestyles make for great reality television, but the reality is not so great for those left behind after the cameras stop rolling.
Are you a fan of the Duggars? What do you think of the current scandal?