Are the Duggars Pro-Family — or Just Anti-Woman?

What allegations against Josh Duggar taught us about America's most ubiquitous Biblical patriarchy.

The Duggars

The Duggars

In general, I try not to dissect why I care about the lives of strangers on reality TV shows. Best-case scenario, I don’t have enough going on in my own life. Worst case, I have a sneaky crush on Dr. Dubrow that’s about to surface and cause worlds of pain and confusion.

But 19 Kids and Counting has always been a little different. It’s hard to be a woman in 2015 and not be interested (or, in my case, morbidly interested) in the Duggar family, who are followers of an ultra-conservative brand of Christianity that adheres to the Biblical patriarchy movement.

After this weekend, it’s impossible not to be afraid of them.

It’s not simply that the family’s oldest son, Josh Duggaris alleged to have molested several underage girls when he was a teenager. As evidenced in a heavily redacted police report from 2006 first obtained by In Touch magazine, Joshua was investigated for “forcible fondling” of five female minors as they slept, which allegedly happened on multiple occasions between 2002 and 2003. Disgusting, yes, but Josh Duggar is a human, and humans are frequently awful.

And it’s not because the Duggar family swept the incidents under the rug, avoiding authorities until an incriminating letter was found and the statute of limitations had conveniently passed. Parents do strange things to “protect” their children — including, in this case, sending their offending son away to a “Christian program” — and anyone with a family knows that they’re fascinating little Petri dishes for dysfunction.

You can pretend to be shocked that TLC developed 19 Kids And Counting while almost assuredly knowing about the allegations, or at least turning an extremely blind eye to them, as they’d been swirling around online for years and were brought to the attention of Oprah’s producers. But, well, this is the same network that brought us Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Jon & Kate Plus 8 — TLC is, from what I can tell, run by bored vampires with nihilistic streaks.

What you should be afraid of are the insensitive, tone-deaf explanations that the Duggar family offered up on their official Facebook page. Although there are copious shout-outs to God — who apparently was cool about the whole thing and forgave them, so no worries — noticeably missing is an apology to the young girls who were allegedly assaulted in a home where girls aren’t allowed to wear bathing suits because “it’s just too hard for the guys to try to keep their eyes averted in those situations.” (Note to TLC: When are you guys going to take down mother Michelle Duggar’s creepy modesty post? Am I really “defrauding” men at the beach? If so, does that mess up my credit score? I have questions.)

Josh also offered an apology of sorts, which included this maddening line: “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.” Maybe I’m asking too much from a family that doesn’t believe in access to birth control, but I think there are some women who are owed some apologies here.

One fan who was satisfied by the apology? Republican presidential candidate and Duggar family friend Mike Huckabee, who dedicated a lengthy Facebook post that, again, seemed to forget about the underage victims, but did have plenty of shout-outs to Buddy Christ. “Janet and I love Jim Bob and Michelle and their entire family. They are no more perfect a family than any family, but their Christian witness is not marred in our eyes because following Christ is not a declaration of our perfection, but of HIS perfection. It is precisely because we are all sinners that we need His grace and His forgiveness.”

The Duggars, you see, aren’t just some hillbilly reality circus show. They’re a politically connected family — father Jim Bob served in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and Joshua was executive director of FRC Action, the political arm of the Family Research Council — with an agenda that you can call “pro-family,” but you can just as easily call “anti-woman.” And while it’s tempting to label them extremists and question the water in the Midwest, it’s a bit difficult to do so here, in a city that has its own issues with child abuse and institutionalized, God-approved, we’ve-got-this-under-control patriarchy. (Here’s hoping Pope Francis doesn’t skimp on luggage fees and just bring the travel-size Holy Water when he visits in September.)

TLC has pulled 19 Kids and Counting, and the Duggars have been booted from the TLC Block party next Saturday at Penn’s Landing. But, as their friend Mike proved, we can look forward to hearing more about their mind-numbing brand of religious conservatism all election season.

I’ll leave the last, haunting word to Michelle Duggar, who in 2014 recorded a robocall protesting a bill that would have allowed transgender Fayettville, Arkansas, residents to use the gender-specific bathroom they were most comfortable with. She took issue with it, arguing that giving these women a choice would create an unsafe environment. Take it away, Michelle:

I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space… Women, young ladies and little girls deserve to use the restroom or any other facility in peace and safety.”

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