I must admit that I was ambivalent when I first learned that TLC would be doing a reality show featuring a polygamist family. Fundamentalist compounds are hotbeds for abuse and exploitation, and they must be exposed for what they are. This family is not a product of this. All of the women involved are mature consenting adults and while their choice to live like this disturbs me, I recognize that supporting women means supporting the choices of women.
Cameras were allowed at the reception and not the wedding, because that is considered a part of their religious ceremony. The Brown family is currently under investigation for felony bigamy at this time, though Cody is only legally married to the first wife. He has used the phrase “coming out” to describe what he and his wives are doing, but I find it offensive because it evokes the sort of oppression faced by the GLBT community, when in fact polygamy as more commonly practiced by fundamentalist Mormons is extremely oppressive to girls as women — as well as creates a community of “lost boys,” who are thrown out of their homes upon puberty — if they are seen as sexual competition.
My worry with Sister Wives is that it will create the situation of the Brown family as representative of Fundamentalist Mormonism, thus obscuring the real pain that women and children are suffering through at this moment. Even in this situation, wherein the women have the freedom to choose, and are all adults, there are still ramifications for the children. In one episode it was revealed that the children attend a polygamist school that would not furnish them with a high school diploma upon completion. In fact, children “graduating” from this school have to take a GED. This limits their options for higher education. In an economy that is becoming more and more dependent on highly skilled workers, how does this enable their children to compete? It seems to me, that at least in terms of education, that these kids are paying a price for their parents lifestyle choice.
I understand that the cameras don’t catch everything, but there seems to be little to no interactions with people of colour. Given that Mormonism is a racist religion, I cannot help but wonder what else these children are being saddled with? They already walk through the world with White privilege, but as the population changes from White majority to White minority, it is doing them a disservice to have such an extremely sheltered circumstance.
On occasion the wives have complained about the bigotry of others when it becomes publicly apparent that they are sister wives. To me this suggests that the public disdain is without merit and that is a falsehood. Certainly if the lives these women are living are accurately depicted by TLC, it may not apply to them, but it certainly applies to a great percentage of FLDS families. Even though they have chosen their family configuration, the show still revealed hypocrisy as Cody (the husband) admitted that the could not tolerate the idea of his wife with another man. He expects these women to be patient and allow him to be sexual active with his multiple wives and date other women, but they do not have the same freedom. Of course, this hypocrisy is wrapped in religion and that somehow justifies it. From what I have seen of him, he is a very selfish man, even though he is their choice.
It will be interesting to see if Sister Wives will have a second season, now that the shock value has worn off. I also look forward to seeing how the criminal justice system treats this family of open polygamists. Relationships between consenting adults should not be the business of the government, but the FLDS continues to make it both a legal and social concern because of the various engages in, in the name of patriarchy disguised as religion.