I was wondering what I could write about today, when this bombshell landed:
For those of you not in the know, the Duggars are famous for having nineteen children and for having a reality show that follows the family on their non-adventures as very conservative Christians in the conservative state of Arkansas. The Duggars follow a very severe type of Christian homeschooling, known as the Advanced Training Institute, which is neither advanced or an institute. Neither does it provide any training, for that matter. It was founded by Bill Gothard, who has a history of sexually abusing and harassing young women who work for him. For more information on ATI and Gothardism, please see here:
When the Duggars first came to national prominence, I was largely neutral, but inclined to view them favorably, since I was towing the Catholic church’s line on birth control. As I grew away from Catholicism and religion in general, my views soured, especially as I learned more about the bizarre world of Gothardism that the Duggars were trying to soft-pedal via their show. I’ve suspected that the Duggars had some secrets they were keeping from the audience, although I would have preferred for it not to be incest/molestation.
I have never understood why the media has largely given the Duggars a pass, given how extreme their beliefs are. I think that much of this has to do with the fact that religion in general is given too much respect in the media, presumably because no one at the New York Times or CNN wants someone like Bill Donohue breathing down their necks if they can help it. The only groups that are heavily scrutinized in the press are those deemed “cults” like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, groups that are so unpopular and isolated that they can be vilified without anyone complaining. However, it has apparently never crossed anyone’s minds at People or the Today Show, outlets in which the Duggars have regularly appeared to ask, “Why do you have a pathological need to have as many babies as possible?” The gianntic elephants in the room — Gothardism and quiverfull — that appear everywhere the Duggars show up have remained unaddressed for too long.
I can’t say I’m surprised by this scandal, because these large, isolated families with fringe religious beliefs are a fertile ground for abuse to happen; I saw some bizarre and unhealthy family dynamics among the families at St F, and it must be even worse among the Duggars and their ilk, since they have so many more children and have even less contact with the outside world, despite having a TV show. However, I wish that the viewing public had been more offended by the Duggars’ reactionary views, such as their opposition to LGBT rights, their belief that women and girls need to be men’s slaves (including the belief that a wife must always have sex with her husband even if she doesn’t feel like it), their extreme anti-intellectualism, their disrespect for other cultures, and their comparison of abortion to the Holocaust. Given how many Americans share the Duggars’ views in some form of fashion, I guess that they weren’t as controversial as I would like to think. What this shows is that in the United States you can apparently never be too white or too Christian. However, child molestation is like a grenade that no TV executive wants to blow up in his or her face, so I think that the days of the Duggar family being a media draw are over. If the Honey Boo Boo scandal is any indication, 19 Kids and Counting will probably be cancelled by the end of the week.
What the media needs to get from this whole sad story is that quiverfull/Gothardism is not “cute” or “old fashioned” or “traditional.” It institutionalizes abuse and violence towards women and children, and views these victims as collateral damage in some half-baked plan to “win back America.” In these huge isolated families, abuse of some sort is almost always a given. Maybe it’s not sexual, but it can be in the form of educational neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, fomenting hatred toward other groups, etc. Do your homework, reporters, and find out the truth behind the poison this “wholesome” family has been selling for more than a decade.