Wednesday, September 02, 2009

On The Duggars Phenomenon

The Duggar family are expecting child number nineteen, at the same time as the eldest son in the family is preparing for his first-of-the-series. The Duggar children all have first names beginning with the letter "J", but the son is going to break with tradition and use the letter "M" for his series!

I know all this because the Duggars -- and their fertility choices -- are on the television. You can follow their lives that way. Indeed, the television pays for their fertility choices which is something those who wish to emulate them might not realize.

How does the audience view the Duggars, in any case? As a freak show? As curiosities which nevertheless deserve our respect for being so very thorough about that increase-and-fill-the-earth bidness? As a teaching program for other mothers who have failed by not multiplying enough? As something similar to the Big Love series, a way to familiarize us with various anti-woman arrangements in this world and to make us see them as normal and cute and quite AOK? I wonder.

The Duggars appear to be part of the Quiverfull movement, which advocates this:

Don't you see that children are God's best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior's fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don't stand a chance against you;
you'll sweep them right off your doorstep.

I chose the version which replaces "men" with "parents", to make it all as fair as possible. The Quiverfull also advocate male dominance in the families and argue that it's God who owns women's uteri, not the women themselves, and to assume otherwise is a sin. Hence their anger at feminists and such. Only God can determine when a woman becomes pregnant. Of course the lack of parthenogenesis is ignored in that view or the power it gives to man-the-head-priest in deciding when his wife should bear again.

Kathryn Joyce has written extensively on this movement. Here's a snippet from her work:

Quiverfull parents try to have upwards of six children. They home-school their families, attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship--"Father knows best"--and female submissiveness. They refuse any attempt to regulate pregnancy. Quiverfull began with the publication of Rick and Jan Hess's 1989 book, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ, which argues that God, as the "Great Physician" and sole "Birth Controller," opens and closes the womb on a case-by-case basis. Women's attempts to control their own bodies--the Lord's temple--are a seizure of divine power.

Though there are no exact figures for the size of the movement, the number of families that identify as Quiverfull is likely in the thousands to low tens of thousands. Its word-of-mouth growth can be traced back to conservative Protestant critiques of contraception--adherents consider all birth control, even natural family planning (the rhythm method), to be the province of prostitutes--and the growing belief among evangelicals that the decision of mainstream Protestant churches in the 1950s to approve contraception for married couples led directly to the sexual revolution and then Roe v. Wade.

"Our bodies are meant to be a living sacrifice," write the Hesses. Or, 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." This rebuttal of the feminist health text Our Bodies, Ourselves is deliberate. 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.

I found one woman's essay about her journey into the Quiverfull quite upsetting:

God used a ladies' Christian email list to bring me to the conviction that God should be in control of our wombs.


The excuses that I gave for not wanting more children were all selfish and unBiblical:

1. " I can't handle the ones I have...I'm so tired! " - I truly needed to cast my cares upon the Lord. I was so wrapped up in "poor me" that many times it caused me to take my eyes off of Him.

2. "We can't afford more children...."- God supplies for our needs. If I am truly trusting him and acknowledging that all we have comes from Him, then I should be confident that He will supply what is needed for each additional child that He places into our hands.

All this segues into the wider question of what female reproductive rights mean when the woman has completely relinquished them to some divine power for whom her husband performs as the avatar.