We must be getting close-ish to the end of this season of Sister Wives, because the producers are pulling out all the stops. On last night’s episode, they actually had a polygamist / anti-polygamist debate, aka all my wildest dreams came true, and things got pretty heated.
But they also got pretty confusing (although thankfully not quite as scary as last week), so I wanted to make sure I laid things out for you in a way that was as easy as possible to understand. Minus the part where we’re arguing over how many wives a man can have while taking it as gospel that women can only ever have one. Let’s just put that argument out of our heads for the time being.
So. Kody Brown and his four wives have volunteered to be on the ‘for’ side of a debate about plural marriage. Only, at the time, they apparently don’t realize that it’s going to become a debate; they think it will be a calm, collected conversation about plural marriage. Which is a beautiful idea, Browns, but impossible, considering that the ‘against’ side consists of four former polygamists, who suffered under such abuse in the community that they felt compelled to leave it, and their families, behind.
So one side feels that their family values are being attacked, and the other side feels like their painful experiences are being devalued. Not a great combination if you’re hoping for a mellow discourse, but let’s see what happens. Here are the background stories for the four panelists who left the polygamist community:
KRYSTYN. She was born into the polygamist community; her father had thirteen wives, of which her mother was the first, and twenty-three children. She herself was married at age seventeen, at which point her husband almost immediately started flirting with other women, looking for his next wife. She was in the marriage for thirty-three years, during which she experienced depression and suicidal thoughts, until she left at age fifty. — father had thirteen wives, twenty-three children. Her mother was the first. Married at seventeen, and then he was flirting with other women right away.
COLLEEN. Her mother had twelve kids, and was teh seventh of fourteen wives. Colleen’s sect was small enough that it tended toward incest; she was forced to marry her second cousins, and one of her sisters on her father’s side recently married her own half-brother.
WILLIE. Willie is from the FLDS, the fundamentalist branch of the mainstream Mormon church, that believes in polygamy and is led by Warren Jeffs, currently serving life in prison for felony accomplice rape after arranging multiple marriages to underage girls. Willie comes from a family of forty-two, and his mom had fourteen children. When he left polygamy, he left with nothing.
CHRISTINE MARIE. A member of the mainstream Mormon church, Christine was ‘led astray by a self-proclaimed prophet’, and spent nine months in what she believed at the time was a polygamist relationship. In reality, she was monetarily supporting her husband and his real wife.
On the other side is obviously the Brown family, who resent the fact that polygamy is being given a bad name simply because these four people had negative experiences within it. They assert that these problems are possible in every iteration of marriage — whether monogamous, non-religious, or religious — and got heated trying to defend their own situation when what was actually up for discussion was the institution of polygamy as a whole.
Krystyn and the other ‘anti’ panelists were trying to point out that the Brown Family is unique, and a fluke, because it seems to be a happy, healthy situation.They just want the Browns to acknowledge that they are lucky and not representative of the whole, which of course they aren’t willing to do.
The example that Christine Marie used was of a person who can drive drunk and not get into an accident — that person is unique, but even though nothing bad happened, their behavior isn’t something we should advocate for others. You can imagine how well that analogy went over with Kody, and with Christine, who was so blindly angry that she was just about out of her chair. The only wives who I thought handled it appropriately were Meri and Janelle, who really couldn’t care less what was said to them, which is exactly how it should be. If you feel the need to defend your choices, then doesn’t that suggest you have some reservations about them yourself? No one was specifically targeting the Browns, they were just trying to get them to admit that polygamy as a whole is a largely corrupt system.
According to the professor who organized the panel, of the plural marriages he’s come in contact with, about 30% are good, 35% are working on it, and 35% are completely dysfunctional, which he says are very similar to the statistics for monogamous marriage. He says that the families that did work all had three things in common:
- They were economically well-off.
- The husband works very hard to manage his affection, i.e. if he has a favorite wife, he keeps that information quiet.
- The sister wives themselves had become friends.
Without all three of those things, it’s unlikely for a plural marriage to be a happy one. Which is scary, because that’s a lot of stuff that’s difficult to control or predict.
One thing that does give me hope, though, is that Aspyn, Christine’s daughter who wanted to attend the panel, was able to see that the parents just weren’t understanding the points that were being made. She was able to think for herself and draw her own conclusions, which gives me great hope for her and the other kids’ futures.
And actually now that I’ve looked at the show’s history, it looks like this season is likely to be about twenty-one episodes, so we’re not even halfway through it. Hold onto your sensible shoes and your high-necked dresses, ladies.