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Baby — and Dogma — on Board!

mspencers Icon Posted by Miranda Spencer

September 24th, 2007

In my last post, I noted that the “Miss Teen USA Pageant” sold bikini-clad photos of its not yet (or barely) “legal” contestants . In a nation that criminalizes child pornography and where NBC’s Dateline stages stings on internet pervs, it seems hypocritical that pageants proffer high schoolers as sex objects. Where do we draw the line?

And where do the media draw the line when it comes to extremist religious sects? Particularly when their tenets include subjugation of women? Many news broadcasts over the years have reported, soberly and disapprovingly, on polygamists. Polygamist communities advocate multiple wives (which is illegal), retrograde gender roles, and very large families.

So why, then, is it not just OK but jim-dandy to belong to a radical Christian movement that has similar values and tenets – except multiple mates? One that dictates not only that women should devote their lives to having as many children as possible but also that any form of fertility control — even “rhythm” and abstinence — is wrong?

That’s the philosophy of the Quiverfull movement, reported in depth by The Nation, Nightline and, most recently, Bitch magazine (available at bookstores).

As Kathryn Joyce wrote in “Arrows for the War,” (The Nation, November 14, 2006):

Quiverfull women are more than mothers. They’re domestic warriors in the battle against what they see as forty years of destruction wrought by women’s liberation: contraception, women’s careers, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and child abuse, in that order.

These families “…home-school…attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship — “Father knows best” — and female submissiveness. They refuse any attempt to regulate pregnancy. … Women’s attempts to control their own bodies — the Lord’s temple — are a seizure of divine power…as Mary Pride, in another of the movement’s founding texts, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, puts it, “My body is not my own.”

Sin of Omission
That’s a pretty extreme philosophy. But you wouldn’t know it watching “Raising 16 Children,” a special now in rotation on The Learning Channel.

“Raising 16 Children” profiles Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of Arkansas, the parents of 15 boys and girls with another on the way (since the show, they’ve added No. 17). In mock ‘50s sitcom style, the show merrily — and seemingly approvingly — introduces the clan, their cleancut, organized lifestyle, and the hustle-bustle of moving into their new, much larger home. The excessively cheery tone and softball questions (how many loads of laundry do you do each week!?) serve to bolster the positive spin TLC puts on the Duggars’ unusual household. There’s even a family recipe for yummy ice cream pie! All in all, the viewer gets the impression their story is simply another addition to TLC’s profiles of well-meaning, often courageously “different” people (“Woman with Half a Body,” “Born Without a Face,” etc.).

But look a little closer. The Duggars don’t just happen to love having kids – though to be fair, it’s obvious they do. They also believe that a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant. A little Googling will reveal that the Duggars subscribe to the Quiverfull philosophy. In fact, it’s right on their website .

TLC’s program, however, simply glosses over the extremism. While it’s noted that the Duggars’ huge and growing family stems from their religious faith, that’s as far as it goes for context.

Worse, TLC is building a Duggar franchise. There’s a sequel, “On the Road with 16 Children,” and another special on the way. Plus, the affiliated Discovery Health website has “fun” features on the family, such as the “Name That Duggar,” game: “Test your knowledge by correctly naming all 17 Duggar children and their proud parents.”

The Cheerleading Continues
The Learning Channel, unfortunately, isn’t the only media outlet that glossed over the the couple’s religious zealotry in its “golly, that’s a lotta rugrats!” reportage. For example, when babies number 16 and 17 were born, the Associated Press report and Fox News noted only that the Duggars feel each baby is “a blessing from God” and will have more if the Lord so dictates. There’s no mention of building an army or upending feminists’ progress.

There’s obviously a disconnect between the truth about the world in which families like the Duggars exist and the conventions of feature writing and entertainment segments. So in case you caught “Raising 16 Children” and didn’t know, I’m telling you now: If you see a family on TV with upwards of 10 kids, they’re not charming eccentrics. They’re probably religious fanatics whose reactionary faith emerged from a backlash against feminism.

And if you think that’s their business, consider: They believe you don’t have the right to control your own body, either.

*Note: If you’re curious, the next rerun of “Raising 16 Children” will be broadcast October 23.

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