Waaay back during the days of the Obama administration there was a show on TLC called 19 Kids and Counting. The show was a reality TV series about the large, charismatic Duggar family. Mother Michelle Duggar and Father Jim Bob Duggar were the parents of 19 adorable kiddos. The girls were beautiful with long curly pre-Raphaelite hair and modest skirts. The boys were fresh-faced youths that epitomized young American manhood.
The Duggar family, a strict Christian conservative family, offered the world a vision of the happiness that awaited women who chose to give up feminism.
The show, 19 Kids and Counting, was anti-feminist propaganda. Its message was clear: Michelle Duggar and her daughters may have given up the freedoms that most 21st century women enjoyed but look how happy they are! None of the women on the show were anxious or worried or frightened or fearful or stressed about their paths in life. Their paths in life were ALREADY DETERMINED and oh what a relief that was.
Each year on the show mom Michelle Duggar would get pregnant and have a baby. For awhile the family was fairly uncontroversial. TLC made sure that the Duggars remained apolitical and not too obnoxiously preachy when it came to their ultra-conservative brand of Christianity.
The Duggars started to become controversial in 2010 when Michelle Duggar, at the age of 43, gave birth to Josie Duggar at 6 months gestation. Josie Duggar was severely premature, weighing just 1 pound at birth, and the public were confused as to why a 40-something woman with 18 children was still continuing to get pregnant. When, after giving birth to Josie Duggar, Michelle happily announced that she was pregnant again there was a lot of anger among TV viewers. It seemed like such an irresponsible act.
When Michelle Duggar later announced that she had miscarried her pregnancy public sympathy was in rather short supply.
Women’s rights advocates began to attack 19 Kids and Counting. Feminists could sense that there was a sort of darkness about the Duggars. Despite the family’s surface sunniness the Duggars’ family philosophy had an underlying harshness. Women following the Duggar rules had to be set on a narrow path in life that involved multiple dangerous pregnancies and complete submission to family patriarchs.
But still, the women seemed happy. Right?
I mean, is it really that bad to give up some rights in exchange for happiness?
Most people are aware of what happened next. In 2015 it came to light that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, had sexually assaulted several of his sisters. Jim Bob and Michelle had covered up the assaults and Josh Duggar had never faced justice. Later Josh Duggar was sent to prison on child pornography charges. He is currently serving a 12 year sentence.
The scandal was, as you can imagine, a massive blow to the anti-feminist movement.
The whole point of anti-feminism was that women received a life of happiness and safety in exchange for relinquishing their rights. They got the handsome protective husband and healthy, rosy-cheeked children. And in return the women would not complain or assert herself or occupy anything except a subservient position to the patriarch of the household.
If you kept sweet, you stayed happy. THAT was the deal!
The message turned out to be false. It doesn’t matter if you are a feminist or an anti-feminist. There is no lifestyle with a magical GUARANTEE of happiness.
With feminism, however, women are allowed to have safety nets if they encounter abuse. They do not have to remain at the mercy of whatever the family patriarch decides.
The anti-feminist movement pushed back against the Josh Duggar scandal. Come on people, all families have bad apples. Josh was an aberration. OVERALL the Anti-Feminist families yield more happy women than Feminism. Right? Look at the other Duggar women! They’re all happy and smiling.
The damage had been done, however. Even without Josh Duggar the Duggar family was full of the same woes as any other family on the planet.
Jinger Duggar revealed that this month.
Jinger Duggar (her name is pronounced like “ginger,” which surprised me. I always thought her name was like “JING- er” and thought it was a pity that her parents had given her such a stupid name) released a book, Becoming Free Indeed.
The title of Jinger’s book is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the website “Free Jinger.” The website was started in the early 20-teens after several 19 Kids and Counting viewers noticed that Jinger seemed to be a little more rebellious than the other Duggar daughters. Duggar critics were thrilled whenever they caught young Jinger roll her eyes at her parents’ words or declare she liked cities over the country. People became hopeful that Jinger would be the first child to completely break away from the Duggar cult.
By the way, please check out Fundie Fridays’ excellent video on Jinger Duggar here.
In Becoming Free Indeed Jinger has nothing but kind words for her parents. She remains a conservative Christian and her book is free of any of the satisfying “tea” that most Duggar haters were anticipating. That being said Jinger also strongly condemns the brand of Christianity that she had been raised in.
The Duggars followed Bill Gothard, the head of a fundamentalist Christian movement called the “Institute in Basic Life Principles” or IBLP.
Gothard was forced to resign from IBLP in 2014- one year before the Josh Duggar allegations were revealed- after it was revealed that Gothard had sexually abused at least 34 women (some only teens at the time) who worked for him.
Gothard had a lot of sexual peccadilloes that he forced on women as requirements for entry into heaven while Gothard ran IBLP. All godly women, according to Gothard, needed to have long curly hair, maxi skirts and dresses. This “little girl” look was how the Duggar women were also required to dress.
Frankly even back in 2012 I thought there was something fetish-y with the Duggar daughters’ style of dress. It did not seem quite the same as the “modest” style of dress that more conservative Jewish, Muslim and Christian women commonly wear in society. The Bill Gothard/ Duggar style of female clothing was designed for the heterosexual male gaze while cosplaying as “modest.”
The insistence on the long curly hair gives it away.
In Becoming Free Indeed Jinger Duggar talked about the mental health problems that ruled her childhood. Jinger Duggar suffered from eating disorders and severe anxiety that made her sob with fear over even meeting friends for lunch. “What I grew up in was very fear-based,” Jinger Duggar said in a recent interview, “Based on superstition, manipulation (and) control.”
“I was promised that if I followed these teachings from Bill Gothard- this man- that my life would be a success…. but if I didn’t follow every principle maybe God’s gonna kill me in an accident.”
Jinger Duggar talked about the internal agonies she went through for the “sin” of wearing “a borderline kneeling skirt that would come above my knee when sitting.” Jinger Duggar also revealed that she had an eating disorder due to an obsession with being “perfectly thin.”
It’s almost like complete female submission to a patriarch does NOT solve the anxieties and unhappiness women face in society. It’s almost like there is no magical cure-all.
The best you can do is help women by giving them safety nets when life goes sideways. That is feminism.
Anti-feminism is pretending that life NEVER goes sideways.
Jinger Duggar has broken away from Bill Gothard’s church and is talking about the abuses that the Duggar brand of conservative Christianity brought to women. She is frustrating Christian fundamentalists across the nation. Jinger Duggar, however, is still very much a conservative and still follows a Calvinist Christian church, frustrating Feminist Duggar critics. Jinger Duggar is not conforming to ANYONE’S notion of who she should be.
And that, my friends, is becoming free indeed.