I have recently gotten hooked on the TLC show “19 Kids and Counting,” a program that celebrates the recently popularized “Quiverfull” movement. My partner does not understand how I can stomach even five minutes of watching it, and is prompt to demand a channel switch whenever I dare to watch it in the room with him. I can’t really blame him, as self-proclaimed bleeding heart liberals we are hardly the demographic for which the show is produced. However, I have decided to rationalize my behavior in the name of social anthropological research.
The children represented on “19 Kids and Counting” seem to live perfectly satisfying lives, and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of their happiness. In the episode that I watched most recently, daughter Jill flew to Nepal with her father to meet a potential suitor. Jill was clearly bursting with excitement about the prospect of meeting the man she fancied in the romantic backdrop of a foreign land, and who could blame her? It really was a romantic setup, and her dad is due serious props for caring enough about his daughter’s happiness to travel halfway around the world for her.
I do not judge the Duggar parents because they have so many children, or their religious affiliations, or their obsession with female virginity, or for their unorthodox methods of educational instruction. In some ways I admire their family dynamic – the parents provide for their children’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs as well as they know how. They teach their children values that are important to them, and it is not at all what I take issue with.
In an attempt to explain myself clearly I’m going to ask that you take a closer look at the episode with Jill and her dad in Nepal. Dad is happy with the arrangement, future boyfriend is happy with it, Jill is happy with it, and the rest of the Duggar clan is happy with it. But what is the cost of this one dimensional happiness? How much intimacy can two people possibly develop under the close observation of a parental figure? I spent most of the episode cringing at the awkwardness of their attempts at intimate conversation. I felt so sorry for the poor guy trying to tell his new girlfriend how much he appreciated her beauty while her dad stares possessively at her from two feet away.
When my partner and I were dating we shared an emotional intimacy as well as a physical intimacy. I do not believe that there exists the possibility for real intimacy on a chaperoned date. The way a person behaves in front of a group is decidedly different from the way they behave when they are alone with an intimate partner. Certain personality traits don’t come to surface until after a couple has let their guards down. Sometimes it takes a heated argument for someone to reveal their true personality.
I remember this one argument in particular that my partner and I had at the beginning of our relationship. We didn’t know it at the time, but this argument would set the tone for every future argument in our relationship. At some point in the argument he started to raise his voice at me. I became very quiet until he asked me what was wrong. I told him that “yelling” was an unacceptable way for him to address me. (My father had yelled at me often as a child and as a result I developed an anxiety disorder.) I made it clear to my partner that I would not tolerate that behavior in relationship. He agreed to this new boundary in our relationship and it has never again been an issue. Somehow I doubt that my partner and I could have established this boundary during a conversation chaperoned by my father.
Maybe Jill really does enjoy being submissive to men and is genuinely looking forward to being a domestic slave for her husband. If that is something that she honestly wants then more power to her, she deserves exactly what she desires from her relationship. I think the crucial question is “how does she know what she wants?” How does Jill know to choose between an apple and a pear if an apple is the only fruit she has ever tasted? The Duggars have crafted a perfectly secure fantasy world for their children. Because Jill has never been exposed to alternative lifestyle choices she can only rely on the tunnel vision made possible by her life inside a manufactured fantasy land free from all challenges and all conflicts. A sugar-coated virgin princess culture cannot prepare this poor girl for the real challenges she will face in her marriage. Will her parents be just as warm and fuzzy toward their daughter if she comes home with a black eye because she married a man who excluded his “problem with anger” from the courtship equation?
The Duggar girls seem perfectly happy when they are being interviewed on t.v. They are also perfectly interchangeable and wear perfectly vacant smiles that cannot hide the retardation of their social development. My husband and I are expecting our first baby this summer. When she is born I will encourage her to grow into the kind of woman she wants to be. If she wants to be a powerful executive, than I will encourage her in that. If she wants to be a-stay-at-home mom with a quiver full of children, than I will encourage her in that too. Her life will be more challenging than the life of a Duggar daughter, because she will not be forbidden from experiencing all that the world has to offer outside of a sugar-coated fairy tale.