Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Duggars 19 Kids and Counting: Family Scandal

By Sara Niles

Reality television has brought the everyday lives of regular people, as well as not so ‘regular’ people into our living rooms, and along with the reality shows, we are faced with true realities that are bringing popular culture face to face with issues that have been diluted and avoided in the past. It is uncomfortable to face culturally based ideas about religion, and social issues such as sexual abuse of children, so society has avoided direct confrontation whenever possible. In the case of The Duggars of the television reality show 19 Kids and Counting, recent information about what People Magazine  has called The Duggars Dark Secrets   has transformed an adoring public in a virtual lynch mob. The Duggars were amazing and popular people three weeks ago, and two weeks ago when the story of Josh Duggar's childhood sexual molestation of five female children  that occurred when he was fourteen years old leaked to the public, the societal view of the Duggars changed overnight. Trolls on popular discussion sites called the Duggars ‘crazy’ and ‘hypocrites’ while supporters said Josh 'made a mistake and God can forgive it'. Although neither view represents the middle view, but only a section of the left and right-to-middle, there is truth in both points of view. In order to be fair and impartial, it belies justice if both sides are not examined and the whole picture of the Duggar Family is presented. In order to do that, religion, cultural bias, and sexual abuse must all be examined in light of the Duggar Family Scandal.

The  Duggar Family and The Bates Family  are members of religions that adhere to the Quiverfull movement in which children are considered blessings and gifts from God, leading to the belief that the use of contraception would be a lack of faith; therefore the Quiverfull faithful have ten, fifteen and twenty children, like the Duggars and  the Bates. Although Michelle Duggar denies they are officially members of the Quiverfull movement, they certainly are in practice. The lack of power allowed females within patriarchal Christian religions is a dangerous sign that something is unhealthy afoot.   The view of females as perpetual ‘givers’ and males as the entitled ‘takers', provides a conditioned view that children absorb as members within the family culture.  Most children learn to be happy believing what they are taught by their parents because it is all they know... but is the teaching provided by their parents healthy for them when they join mainstream society. No loving parent will deliberately harm their children, but will give them the best of what they have. The Duggars appear to firmly believe they are giving their children the best they have, in belief and action as they provide a life model by example.

I greatly admire the physical and emotional work Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have obviously poured into their families, as well as the level of success they have had  handling a super-size family of 19 children. It takes a lot of work to maintain a household and feed and clothe three or four children, and it takes a monumental effort to get most children safely through childhood and successfully into adulthood. The idea of being responsible for the physical care and emotional nurturing of 19 children is overwhelming, which leads to the obvious question: is having as many children as humanly possible a wise thing?

This is where religion comes into the picture: Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar believe it is God’s will that they have as many children as possible and that they have them as long as possible. In addition, Michelle Duggar professes to believe in submission to the will of the husband even to the point of being available whenever he needs sexual servicing and to do so with a smile. Michelle is definitely not a feminist. Michelle and Jim Bob also espouse the idea of females having the responsibility of covering themselves fully so as not to tempt a man. I noticed Michelle wears cotton T-shirts under her blouses, no doubt to make certain a button does not pop or a blouse pucker and reveal a hint of cleavage.

There is nothing wrong with adhering to a philosophy that others find illogical as long as it is a personal choice made without the pressure of religious group-think and repeated conditioning that amounts to brainwashing away healthy self-direction only to replace it with the will of another. The Duggars religion is the foundation of their belief system in everything that they do, from how they wear their hair to how they educate their children. The logical expectation is that a strong religious foundation, along with hard work and vigilant parenting would result in a loving and cohesive family free of the sins of the outer world. The homeschooling, controlled isolation from public school, and worldly contacts who do not share the Duggars pure ideals should have prevented the Duggar Scandal that occurred from within the home; at least that was probably the expected outcome. This is doubtless why the scandal  is so shocking: if a sexual scandal can happen within the wholesome Duggar home, then is no one safe? Why did the protective cover of religion not protect them, could it be because there is a flaw in the logic? Could it be that extreme religious views along with unquestioning allegiance to a belief system make people more vulnerable to harm? The idea of hiding within the safety of religion is a myth. The act of isolating children from mainstream society is usually driven by an unreasonable fear that society will harm them and make the children harder to control and protect. In the case of the Duggars who obviously love their children, the act of isolating their children as obedient followers of Bill Gothard teaching and life principles. Isolation is not protection, especially when it comes to sexual abuse. Bill Gothard taught solid principles but evidently did not live by them, but used his status to sexually abuse young girls in his flock of followers.

Sexual abuse occurs within the context of religion and in the ‘safety’ of religious insulation possibly more than in the general public. The scandals of the Catholic Church should be proof of that, and if it is not, then consider the case of Warren Jeffs, the polygamist FLDS cult leader convicted of sexual abuse of children and sentenced to  life in prison Life in prison in 2010.
Watch Documentary about Warren Jeffs: YouTube documentary: Mormon Cult

The loyal followers of Jeffs are still under his control while he remains in prison, because they believe what he tells them in the name of ‘religion’ to be the word of God. It is the belief system that opens the followers up to harm, and the context of religion provides a subset of society in which its  rules run counter to that of  mainstream society. Religion is like salt, too much can kill you while just enough can be good for you. Religion is prominent in the Duggar story, both as a guide that is behind their whole behavior and as an impetus in their need to control their children.

There are three elements of religious control that the Duggars have presented through their family blog and reality television show that may have created a climate in which Josh Duggar was able to  sexually molest younger children:  the attitude toward females fostered by religious beliefs, belief in the male entitlement to power, and  the drive to become isolated and insulated from the ‘outside’ world, or mainstream society.The responsibility placed upon an older child to become a parent to younger siblings gives them too much power, the power of a 'parent' when the older sibling is still a child. The older child that habitually is expected to take care of  younger siblings may secretly resent sacrificing their personal freedom and play-time, but  repress that anger  while plastering on a smile. The mantra of always smiling appears to be a Duggar creed, which is good if it is genuine. The child needs to feel authentic feelings in order to be genuine, not act happy in order to please. While older children in every home are expected to help out with younger children occasionally the older child should not be expected to parent a sibling on a regular basis.

Most children raised in homes in which normal parent and child roles keep the boundaries of sibling relationships within healthy ranges would think of sexual acts with a sibling as disgusting and 'yucky' even as a thought.  Josh Duggar was a child of 14 when the sexual offenses reportedly occurred, albeit he was old enough to have developed healthy sexual attitudes toward his sisters and other younger children when he molested the younger children. The majority of sexual offenses enacted by children and young teens are a result of having learned to violate boundaries from someone who violated their boundaries, as sexual molestation of children by adults often ruins the child’s healthy sense of sexual boundaries. There is no way to know if Josh was abused by an older teen or adult unless he admits to it; so this is mere speculation based upon the statistics of juvenile sexual offenders. The parental training that is exhibited by the Duggar parents via their family blog and reality show is filled with love, character development, and religious devotion. The obvious presentation is that of loving, humble parents doing their best under a tremendous heft of responsibility, who trusted in the religious guidance of their church instead of availing themselves of the resources within mainstream society. Josh Duggar needed serious counseling by professionals, as did the victims of abuse, as well as the Duggar family and the victim’s families. The root cause of the problem that led to Josh viewing his own sisters as sexual objects instead of people should have been uncovered and examined, resolved and corrected. Josh should not have been simply forgiven, but ‘fixed’, so the problem did not get repressed instead of eradicated. Perhaps this was accomplished, hopefully, it was.

Is the Duggar family now a ‘bad’ example for everyone, or is this a time to learn from what happened to them.  The issues of too much religious control, a view of women as mere baby making machines and work mules, and female children as sexually toxic time bombs that have to be covered up at all times, are part of the Duggar scandal. The Duggar Culture contains all of the beliefs that make them healthy and unhealthy. The Duggars do not profess to be perfect and we should not expect perfection from them, but we can learn from them. The fact that a man and woman can have twenty or more children, with the woman giving birth every year or so for two decades, is not proof that Quiverfull family ideals are the most healthy alternatives to family planning. It takes time out of every day for a parent to touch bases with the children in the home, and if only one child is in need of more attention, but can’t access it due to parental limitations, that child becomes emotionally endangered.
In supersize families the older children are usually required to help parent the younger children which  limits each child's emotional freedom to ‘just be a kid’.  I honor the Duggars as tremendous positive influences in their children’s lives, yet there is only so much time in a day, and so much parent in a parent... sometimes less is more.