On the Duggars and the Locus of Outrage

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on November 21, 2014.

I recently received the following email:

Hi Libby Anne,

I’m a long-time reader of your blog, so I know you occasionally write about the Duggar family. Well, recently I heard about a fairly popular petition to get the show “19 Kids and Counting” cancelled. Maybe you have also heard this, but if not, here is one news story about it:


Supposedly, this was due to comments they made against gay marriage. Perhaps you were already planning on doing a post about it. Either way, I (and probably others) would be curious to know: what do you think about this? Should TLC cancel the show? Are people calling for its cancelation for the right reasons? Is this a good opportunity to bring other harmful ideas promoted by the family to light?



Curious asks some very good questions, questions that have been percolating since I first heard about the petition a few days ago. So let me walk you through my current thought process.

Yes, the Duggars are homophobic. They are also incredibly sexist, carefully limiting and curtailing their daughters’ dreams. The Duggars have long supported cult-like organizations run by men who sexually harassed and molested teenage and young adult girls in their employ (Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard). Actually, the Duggars continue to support and promote one of these organizations (ATI), which has jettisoned its founder (Bill Gothard) but is run by the same leadership that spent decades covering up his sexual offenses.

The Duggars have for years promoted child rearing books that require parents to “break” their children’s wills and to shun “rebellious” adult children. They don’t allow their adult children to so much as go shopping without an “accountability buddy,” and don’t allow their adult daughters to text significant others without having a parent in on the conversation. And lest you think the adult children opt into this system entirely out of their own free will, did I mention the shunning “rebellious” children bit? That would be what this is about.

And have I even gotten to the question of what the Jim Bob and Michelle are doing with all of the money they get from TLC? They certainly don’t appear to be putting it in accounts for their children, whom they continually insist they cannot afford to send to college.

Oh, and Michelle Duggar says things like this:

In your marriage there will be times you’re going to be very exhausted. Your hubby comes home after a hard day’s work, you get the baby to bed, and he is going to be looking forward to that time with you. Be available. Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls.

In the Duggars’ world, women are not allowed to say “no” to sex. A wife’s duty is to always “be available when he calls.” Also part of the Duggars’ world is the belief that wives must submit to their husbands. You better believe that Jill and Jessa, both recently married, fully believe that they must obey their new husbands. They believe this because that is what their parents spared no pains to teach them. That’s how this works.

So I am at a loss as to why, out of all of this, it is only now and only with regards to their homophobia that people have a serious problem with the Duggars. It’s not even like this is the first time the Duggars have combined their opposition to gay rights with their politics—in 2012 they campaigned for Rick Santorum, emphasizing his opposition to marriage equality. Don’t get me wrong, I find the Duggars’ views abhorrent. But why this issue and this moment, and not other issues or earlier moments?

The petition itself was actually started months ago, when Michelle recorded her transphobic robocall, but didn’t gain much traction. It only began making real progress toward gaining signature last week, when the Jim Bob and Michelle posted a photo of themselves kissing and invited other married couples to post their own photos. When gay and lesbian couples became posting their own kissing photos, the person running the Duggar facebook page deleted them. And that, dear readers, is what actually caused the current outrage against the Duggars’ homophobia.

So let’s get this straight. The Duggars support an extreme version of patriarchy that holds that wives must be constantly sexually available for their husbands, and no one bats an eye. The Duggars promote child rearing practices that involve spanking infants and punishing children for frowning, and no one cares. The Duggars don’t allow their adult children to be unchaperoned or to text their beaus without daddy reading over their shoulders, and everyone smiles and calls it quaint. The Duggars support a sexual predator and continue supporting his ministry even after his actions are made public, and everyone yawns. Michelle Duggar records a transphobic robocall and most people just shrug. But the Duggars delete pictures of gay and lesbian couples kissing from their personal facebook page, and that is enough to bring a hundred thousand people out of the woodwork to demand TLC to pull the show.

Now for the million dollar question: Do I think the petition is a good idea? Would I like to see TLC pull 19 Kids and Counting?

Here is what I would like to see: I would like to see TLC be honest in its portrayal of the Duggars. I would like them to be clear about the fact that their star family supports the ministry of a serial sexual predator. I would like them to be clear that the girls are not given any semblance of true choice when it comes to leaving home or going out with a boy. I would like to see them be honest about the child rearing practices the Duggars support, rather than allowing the Duggars to smile and hedge every time someone asks them about spanking.  I would like to see them be brutally and painfully honest about what Michelle and Jim Bob are teaching their daughters about their role in life, as women. I would also like to see more attention paid to the quality of education the children are receiving, and why none of them have attended college.

The problem I have with TLC is not so much the fact that they run the Duggar’s show as it is the fact that they portray the family as all cutesy and happy and sweet, covering over the horrible things the parents believe and support and the impact these things have on their children. I grew up in a family like the Duggars. I was the oldest of twelve children, homeschooled, courtship, the whole thing. There is so much there that the TLC crew doesn’t even touch on as they fall all over themselves giving the family a happy friendly smiling glaze.

I don’t think we should require families on TV reality shows to support gay rights. I do think we should demand that the networks that air reality shows be honest about their subjects. And while we’re at it, let’s demand that TLC set up accounts for each of the children rather than simply handing the cash over to their parents. But where’s the outrage pushing that cause?

20 thoughts on “On the Duggars and the Locus of Outrage

  1. Wolf November 26, 2014 / 8:13 am

    I don’t own a television (I have other things to do with my time, and I have the Internet) and shows like “19 and Counting” make me glad that I do not. Simply hearing about the Duggars second-hand makes me shudder; how these people are being held up as anything but a symbol of repression of women and the brainwashing of children, I do not know.

    Should we ban the show? It wouldn’t affect me, so I can’t offer a huge opinion on that one. But should we demand more reality from their “reality tv show”? Absolutely. Provide some countering voices. Talk about how strenuous on the body it is to have 19 children, talk about how the older children lose their childhoods to being parents, and the younger children have a tendency to disappear into the crowd. Bring the oppression of women in the “quiver-full” movement into the spotlight.

    Discuss what happens when children are treated like property, as if the parents own their children’s lives, as opposed to the concept that people, who happen to be children, have a right to own their own lives and their futures, from the moment they become sentient beings.


  2. Headless Unicorn Guy November 26, 2014 / 9:03 am

    In the Duggars’ world, women are not allowed to say “no” to sex. A wife’s [woman’s] duty is to always “be available when he calls.”

    Because in Porn, all women’s duty is to always be available for the Audience Self-Insert, and to NEVER EVER say NO. (No matter what, no matter when.)


    • jenna December 1, 2014 / 6:18 pm

      Huh? This is not related to the topic.


  3. Avonne Smith November 26, 2014 / 1:58 pm

    I’ve often wondered about the dad!!! He seems just a little over protective!!!


    • Sisi Smith November 27, 2014 / 12:30 pm

      I don’t think he is overprotective. He is obsessed with his daughters’ sexuality and their ownership. I think what might seem as over protective is actually an unnatural sexual interest in his children. He is also an arrogant and little man with a need to exert authority over someone and his wife and children are the only people he can force into subservience.


  4. April K November 28, 2014 / 6:22 am

    I think this show should be cancelled because it is harmful to the children. I grew up in a conservative home, and I would have been absolutely mortified to have my parents’ lectures televised for the world to see. These kids are under a microscope; they aren’t free make mistakes or have a bad day without embarrassing themselves or their family in front of millions of people. It’s just plain sick and abusive. They should be free to have their privacy.


  5. Lauren S. November 28, 2014 / 8:46 am

    Since reality tv is just another avenue of entertainment, I’m afraid calling TLC to be responsible is ridiculous. The whole basis of reality tv is to give “reality” a script so that it says exactly what the viewer wants it to. My guess is that all of this hubbub is nothing more than a lot of free advertising for the show, from TLC’s perspective.
    Unfortunately, I believe the responsibility lies in the viewers hands, to understand that there is nothing real about reality tv. But, if there is nothing real about the show, then the viewer’s fantasy is shattered, so the the viewer has no motivation to end their own entertainment by acknowledging it’s real danger.


  6. Anna December 1, 2014 / 2:09 pm

    Reblogged this on A Reckless Mind and commented:
    I’ve never seen this show and nor do I ever want to see it. Fortunately, we don’t subscribe to cable TV so no risk there in that regard. However, this show seems utterly absurd in that it depicts a family living in a bubble of lies, manipulations, abuse, sexism, bigotry, and quite dangerous fundamentalist ideals and beliefs – all taught by a subservient mother and a demeaning, creepy little man is the father of nineteen (!?!) children and adult children.
    This relatively brief op-ed blog piece I’ve re-posted, makes some very, very good points throughout. It’s sad that society will act so PC about one thing, especially when something more “niche” is trendy and in vogue at that particular minute, yet will casually look the other way in regards to this family’s fundamentalist lifestyle that rejects such basic human mores and awful gender-biased-roles that are blatantly frowned upon by most in our current, modern society. This blog post I’ve linked points out all of this really well.

    And there’s no financial accounts set up for each child individually by TLC? Isn’t that going against child labor laws (or something)?! What a perverse network TLC has become over the last 2 decades! Yuck.


    • Sarah J December 31, 2014 / 10:20 pm

      Regarding the compensation and child labor laws… It depends on the state laws. Some states have laws that protect child entertainers, at least to some extent. But even then, reality shows are considered more like documentaries than scripted works. Children starring in a reality show might be considered participants in a documentary rather than having the same status as a child actor or singer, so they may not be entitled to compensation.


  7. Heather Seaton February 1, 2015 / 5:48 pm

    The children are not deprived of choices, rather they are lovingly and carefully guided toward the morals and beliefs held by the parents. This is normal parenting.The women who have married have made personal choices with a great deal of reflection and prayer that should be respected. The girls are not forced to dress this way;they chose it and like it and would be embarrassed otherwise because they believe in modesty. Those of you who get focused on the “submission” bit should understand that mutual submission in love is what they are referring to; it works both ways and involves, trust, sacrifice, and generosity. Nothing to do with the forced stuff you are implying. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that there is a great deal of good behind what they do.


    • Teresa May 20, 2015 / 9:21 pm

      How do you know the girls aren’t forced to dress that way? Do you live in the home? As for modesty, they had no problem doing a makeover for People and being objectified because they happen to be attractive.


      • Dorcas May 21, 2015 / 8:28 pm

        The thing that confuses me is people get so stressed over crimes, younger girls having abortions, rampant STDs…. Then they are so mad at people like the Duggards that are raising children that are actually are not making unwise choices. Can’t stand one side, can’t stand the other. Don’t watch TV, don’t stress over people’s lives , tart a hobby to fill your free time, and find out what ou can do to help the persecuted people on the other side of the world. One of the problems of USA is that they are more concerned that their dog is soo trained, and any one who trains a child to be mannerly and respectful is crazy.


    • Marilyn June 10, 2015 / 12:57 am

      What? They are raised to believe that a good Christian girl doesn’t defraod men by wearing tight clothing or clothes above their knees. They are literally trained – look at the youngest girls they wear pants under their dresses- to cover themselves and are told they are guilty if a man looks at them. They must decorate their hair in ways to draw men’s eyes to their “countenance” and not their body. Their taught that they must wear their hair in a feminine (long, curly) and when married fix their hair whatever way their husband likes it. Free choice? These children are in a cult, there is no free choice


  8. lmanningok May 26, 2015 / 9:39 am

    Where to start…First, let’s define the term “spanking.” Hitting a crawling infant with a plumber’s line to keep it on a blanket is not spanking, disciplining, or training. It’s BEATING. The Duggar parents are ignorant sadists who have been indoctrinated by their extreme religious views to keep their children, even when grown, so close to themselves, physically and mentally, that their children will never have free choice in their lives. The Duggars are tyrants who force their twisted, misogynistic values (what I call “Christian Sharia”) to their children. Shame on them.


    • Emilee June 8, 2015 / 6:37 pm

      This is so rude and in appropriate. Check your facts before you comment so harshly.


  9. Emilee June 8, 2015 / 6:36 pm

    First, the Duggars are friends with many of my friends. They are doing an excellent job raising their children, despite what the media says. The Duggar girls are intelligent and kind.

    Second, several of the Duggar girls have studied and worked toward becoming liscenced midwives and doulas. They also do have a child in college currently.

    Thirdly, Christian women and men should to dress differently, and I agree with the Duggars as we accept a dress that is different than the world’s immodest “men and women wear the same things and have the same role” kind of standard. God did not create men and women with the same role, but our purpose- to glorify God- is the same.

    Speaking ill of the Duggars is not only rude, but not in line with Ephesians 4:29.


    • Albert June 10, 2015 / 9:58 am

      Ephesians 4:29 But that which is good – Profitable to the speaker and hearers. To the use of edifying – To forward them in repentance, faith, or holiness. That it may minister grace – Be a means of conveying more grace into their hearts. Hence we learn, what discourse is corrupt, as it were stinking in the nostrils of God; namely, all that is not profitable, not edifying, not apt to minister grace to the hearers.
      I have found their speech and such on the show to be a such as stated above here, but on the political platform and such they have shown no grace and have actually vilified people, even those who are nonbelievers.


  10. Marilyn June 10, 2015 / 1:02 am

    What the heck? Are you delusional? They are so worried about premarital sex that their courting and engaged kids can only side hug but when Josh fondles the breasts and vaginas of his little sisters for more than a year it’s ok?
    Nio biggie? And after he fondles them on the flesh the mom says the little ones “probably didn’t know what was happening” so, you know, it was ok and just a boy being curious. A 15 year old fondling a five year old om his lap for storytime is just age-appropriate curiosity? No two 14 year olds making out is age appropriate. Forcibly fondling your little sisters repeatedly is not


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