I recently read that Michelle Duggar, of "18 Kid And Counting," is pregnant with number 19. She didn't even realize at first that she was pregnant (did she think she was going through menopause?) but is reported to be excited about it. I wonder if deep down there was just a bit of regret when she found out, if she was maybe in a little denial, since she more than anyone should recognize the signs of pregnancy.
I don't say that to judge her, or the Duggars in general. If she is truly happy then that's wonderful. I admire her patience. Their show is certainly a guilty pleasure of mine, and I love how organized, frugal and polite the family is. I disagree with them in just about every possible way in terms of ideology, but I do like them. They seem like great parents, but the more I read about their beliefs, the more worried I am. And that's where the "guilty" part of the guilty pleasure comes in for me - because as sweet as they may be individually, the values they are trying to peddle scare me.
I worry about any family that raises daughters to be "submissive." I worry about this is ultra conservative countries, such as Iraq, and I worry about them in in ultra conservative families. This comparison might seem inflammatory, but in terms of what they expect of women - modesty, obedience, fertility - they aren't all that different. The Quiverful followers and the Taliban would probably agree on what a woman's place is, even if they disagree on many or all others points.
I worry because if these girls decide that maybe their husbands' decisions are really stupid and they can make better ones, well too bad. He's the boss, whether or not he's really more capable. God apparently says so. Even though God did not actually write the bible, men who lived in very different, very conservative times did, apparently everything in it must be straight from "his" mouth.
I worry because if their parents counsel them to behave a certain way, after they reach the age of 18, and they refuse, will they be cast out entirely? Is there room for dissent? If the girls decide to wear pants and use birth control, will they still be welcome in the family? Will they still be allowed contact with their siblings and will they still receive the financial support that a non-dissenter would? If they decide that they do want to kiss boys, and put off marriage and child birth for a career, even a serving one such as a doctor, will their parents have "failed?"
I ask because I believe in choice. I believe that if a woman chooses to stay at home and raise kids, great. If she chooses to be a working mom, great. If she decides to limit the number of kids she has, or if she doesn't, fine, that's up to her. I'm on the liberal end of the spectrum when it comes to family planning. I believe if you don't find Mr. Right and you can financially and emotionally support a child yourself, go for it. I believe in choices. And that's why I worry about the Duggar girls. Because I wonder if those choices are there.
Every parent tries to raise their kids to share their values. I don't fault the Duggars for that, though I DO believe in evolution, birth control, the rights of women to choose whether to keep a pregnancy and so forth. I disagree with them, but hey, they disagree with me. The thing is, if I had a daughter who decided to get married young and have twenty kids, and who always "obeyed" her husband I would still love and support her. She would still be in my life. I would be very disappointed in myself for not raising her to feel that it is ok to be equal to her husband, and wonder how she had turned out that way, but if that was her choice, so be it.
Do the Duggar girls have that choice? Do they understand that they can do everything their brothers can, that their judgement is just as good, they are just as capable, and that there is no reason they should "submit" to a man? That they don't need marriage and children to be worthy? That men and women might be different physically, and maybe even mentally and emotionally, but not in any kind of way that makes women subservient, submissive, or sub anything else either.
And that is the crux of my dilemma with the Duggars, and watching them. There is a lot to be admired in their lifestyle, but the only reason they can have 19 kids is because some families out there are having 1. They can live the way they live precisely because other people choose to live differently. If everyone had 19 we would in just a few generations be bursting at seams. China didn't institute its one child policies because it hates babies. Who hates babies? It had to, because they ran out of room and resources. And I think it's awful and there is nothing more contrary to democracy than having the government tell you how many kids you can have, but if everyone was having 19 they probably would eventually have to step in here too.
There is a yin and yang here, a balance, and it is important for it to be maintained. Conservative religious people who want to have large families, who believe in accepting what life throws at you as a challenge and blessing from god, who want to keep things as they are or revert things to how they were, well good for them. But good for us liberals too. Good for us for civil liberties, for religious freedom, for embracing the rainbow, for seeing that different is not lesser and for always pursuing change. This valuing of the past and the future are complementary in a way. If everyone was super conservative or super liberal the world would be a worse place. None of us are right all the time.
That's kind of where I'm willing to fight though. I'm not telling them what to do. But they, namely the Quiverful movement and other ultra conservatives, are trying to tell ME what to do, and that's where I have a problem. Don't tell me to be submissive. Don't tell me that birth control is a sin. Don't tell me how I should live my life if I want to get to heaven, because that's both a bribe and a threat, and I don't appreciate that. I'm not a donkey - I don't need a carrot on one end and a whip on the other. You live your life, I'll live mine.
I'll even watch your show and grow to like you. But I truly hope, that when these children get old enough to choose, that they have a choice to make. I hope that Anna Duggar is as happy as a second generation Quiverful follower as Michelle is as a first generation one, who got to wear short skirts and go to public school and choose.