Monthly Archives: October 2011

sister wives*

This show is incredibly boring.  The kids go to school, the parents go to work.  They cook breakfast, they cook dinner.  They go on vacation.  Most of the time there is just nothing going on that keeps me glued to the screen.  And I think that’s the point.

It’s pretty clear that the show, for the Brown family, is a vehicle for them to demonstrate how Very Normal** they are.  It’s part of their strategy for going public about polygamy.

They announced their status as polygamists on the Today show in conjunction with the airing of the first season of the show.  One way to interpret this is that once the show aired, the cat would be out of the bag anyway — but I think it’s more likely that it’s the other way around; rather than going public because of the show, I think they did the show to allow them to go public.  Polygamy is illegal, and by announcing their situation they were inviting an investigation.  But if they are able to convince the general public that they are a Normal, God-Fearing, American Family, then there is a possibility that any investigation would shy away from prosecution for fear of a public outcry.  I suspect they ultimately see this as a civil rights issue and are hoping to get the laws changed.

In the era of the Duggars and Nadja Suleman,*** it may be that people in the Browns’ community are starting to think that the time is right for broad social acceptance of a polygamist family, particularly when the family lives a middle-class lifestyle with lots of adorable, well-adjusted children.  I would also argue that the growing acceptance of gay marriage and parenting**** is another factor, as a nontraditional family structure that more and more people are realizing is just fine.  If tolerance is a big tent (and I think it has to be), then the acceptance of single moms, single dads, blended families, gay families, foster families, and other family structures should certainly include families with more than two adults who love each other.

But.

The problems with polygamy aren’t about lots of loving adults and what they do or don’t do in the bedroom.  There are some truly dreadful things that go on, particularly in very isolated communities.  Coercion.  Child brides.  Welfare fraud.  Expulsion of some young men from communities.  Sexual abuse of underage girls.

The Browns are trying very hard to show that their family, and by extension lots of modern polygamist families, is not like the Warren Jeffs image most of us have in our minds.  And really, what they’re trying to say is that all of the problems are not a necessary result of polygamy as such.  Should we judge any community based on the behavior of its worst members?*****

But.

Although the adult Browns all seem to have chosen their marriages freely, there is something about their dynamic that gets my feminist hackles up.  The wives defer to their husband in everything; they all acknowledge him as the “leader” of the family; they don’t really have a say when he decides to add a fourth wife to the family.  They all accept each other, and they make the best of the situation, but it’s clear that Kody is the one who makes the decisions.  And the fact is that polygamy goes only one way.  Kody says on camera that the idea of one of his wives with another man is sickening to him.  What’s good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander.

The wives’ choices aren’t getting them a life that I would call feminist.  They are not on equal footing with their husband.  But just because I’m a feminist, does that mean everyone has to be?  Women participate in their own oppression all the time, and just because the Browns’ family exists on a continuum that includes Warren Jeffs and others like him, does that mean their choices are any worse than anyone else’s?  The wives are making choices that work for them — and I would hope that if ever those choices stopped working for them, they would be free to choose to leave the family.  And the biggest choice they’re all making, to go public with their situation, may in fact be extremely liberating for an entire community if they are able to convince people that what they’re doing shouldn’t be a crime.  And, and and and, you don’t have to have sister wives to be expected to defer to your husband.

And that’s what it comes down to.  Four intelligent women deferring to a guy who comes off as a big kid makes me feel icky, but my personal ick factor is not and never should be a test for legality.

I am partway through season 2 of this series on Netflix, and I just don’t know what to think.  Obviously welfare fraud, statutory rape, underage marriage, etc., are already illegal and will continue to be investigated — so really all we’re talking about with specific laws against polygamy is the kind of polygamy that seems to be practiced by the Browns.  Consenting adults.

Tolerance should definitely extend to nontraditional family structures, and if a family chooses to compose itself in this way, they should have the right to do so; but can we legalize polygamy without endorsing inequality?

It seems to me that when I say “choice means all choices,” I need to be including the Browns’ reproductive choices in that statement.  Just as I have a right to try to found a family with my husband despite what barriers biology might throw up in front of us, don’t the Browns (all of them) have the right to found their family as they see fit?

What do you think?  I just can’t seem to figure this one out.

*I don’t actually spend all my time watching reality TV.  Honest. 

**In a white-bread, middle-America, standard-issue-soccer-mom-minivan kind of way, which of course doesn’t line up with anyone I know.  But as always we’re not talking about me.

***I will not call her the dehumanizing name that everyone calls her.  She is a person with a name.

****Yay for growing acceptance; now where’s the analogous reality show with the extremely sympathetic portrait of the gay family?

*****That was a rhetorical question.

That’s entirely too many footnotes.

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movin’ on up

So, my husband has a Real Job now.  The kind of job you hope you get after grad school.  Because it happened so fast (an emergency vacancy after a tenured faculty member quit in what can only be described as a huff), the university had no time to do a proper search, so this is a temporary appointment for now and he will have to go through the whole search process this year.  That means there’s quite a lot of uncertainty about what will happen for next year — but since my husband is currently revamping the curriculum in his area to help this school meet the standards of the national accrediting body, we’re hoping that that will help him get the inside track for the permanent position.

I’m unemployed.  I haven’t been unemployed since I was fifteen.  So far I am LOVING IT.  For the first time in our marriage, I don’t have to panic about making the rent.  I am planning to start recruiting some private students, and I am looking into getting on the sub lists for the nearest orchestras, but if it takes me a while to build up a studio we STILL won’t have to move in with my mother.  Any money I earn can be … wait for it … saved.*

I’m not trying to be a jerk here and I understand that lots of people are doing much, much worse over the last few years due to the economy — but honestly, the economic downturn did absolutely nothing to us because we didn’t have any assets to begin with.  I was lucky enough not to lose my job, and we muddled through.  But now, for the first time we have reached a place of (temporary) security, and I just can’t believe my luck.  We are still years and years away from things like buying a house, but I can see IVF or adoption as realistic possibilities within the next 2 years.**

I am grateful.  Now that I am here and the moving expenses are finished, I’m going to start working on a budget that includes giving back.  My husband has already started by contributing to the symphony and the local chamber music series, and I’m thinking I can increase my Amnesty International contribution as well.  This brings up all sorts of thorny ethical issues — as in, how much do we keep in our savings?  How much do we give, and to what causes?  What exactly is our responsibility to society, and what constitutes selfishness?

But those are questions for another time.  For now I am just grateful.

*Yes, kids, apparently some families earn more money in a month than they spend on basic expenses.  This surplus can be “saved” in a “bank account.”  More research is needed.

**Can you adopt if you don’t own a home?  This is a serious question — everything I’ve read so far suggests that we would never pass a home study due to our lack of assets.

re-introducing myself

I wouldn’t blame my former readers if they had long since abandoned this blog like that creepy house at the end of the street where the shutters are always flapping and the paint is peeling and you just know teenagers are sneaking in to smoke pot and don’t they know about toxic mold for heaven’s sake?

That ginger and lime, she just comes and goes as she pleases.  Leaves us hanging with a post about freaking reality TV and totally drops off the face of the earth.

And when was the last time she commented on anyone else’s blog?

Really, the nerve of some people.

I feel like I’m starting new with this post — I disengaged from the whole blogosphere months ago and now I’m here in our new place, I think I can finally plunge back in.  The last few months have been hard, and all I could do was put my head down and barrel through.  No time for reflection, no time for sorting things out in paragraph form and interspersing them with out-of-date pop culture references.  Some things that have happened, in no particular order:

  • I quit my job.
  • My ensemble disbanded.
  • My husband and I lived apart for two (count ’em) two months.
  • I watched the entire run of Mad Men on Netflix.*
  • I packed up all of our stuff and moved 900 miles.

Some of these things are more important than others.

My husband is doing great in his new job.  I’m so proud of him.  He’s teaching the living heck out of those students, I tell you what!  And as of last Friday, we live in the same house again.  I really regret the way I handled the move.  We had very little time to think about how to work things — my husband got the job offer on a Monday night and had to be here teaching by the following Monday, so that was a hold-your-breath-and-hope-for-the-best situation.  There was no way I would be able to pack up all our stuff and be ready to move out within a week, so he hopped a plane and I stayed behind.

For two months.

Too long.  Much too long.

My (now former) boss found out about my husband’s job offer less than 12 hours after we did, and called me into her office to demand an explanation.  She wanted to know why I hadn’t told her (!), she wanted to know how it happened, and she wanted to know how long I planned to stay at work.  She backed me into a corner and, being the weak-willed spineless sea cucumber that I am, I spit out an ending date that was quite a lot later than it needed to be.

My mind was just racing with everything that was happening, and what I should have done was to tell her I needed more time to think about it.  But that’s not what I did, and she was immediately on the phone to our HR rep making it official.

I am so freaking glad never to have to go back to that office again.

But that’s another story.

What I have learned from this: my marriage is more important than any job, any work-related obligation, and any bullying boss.  It is my responsibility to put my marriage first — no one else will do that for me and in fact some people won’t hesitate to take advantage of me if I don’t speak up for my priorities.

I am so grateful to be finally home.

*Seriously, they’re going to stop there?  I need season 5 and I need it now.