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The Politics of “19 Kids & Counting”

August 20, 2010

Anytime I read something about the so-called quiverfull families, I am fascinated – sort of the way some people can’t help but slow down and watch bad traffic accidents.  I haven’t watched the TLC show “19 Kids and Counting,” although I may give in to its lure one of these days. 

This new piece at RH Reality Check pretty well summarizes exactly what terrifies me about the quiverfulls: the entire movement is built around teaching girls to negate their selves.  The Duggars from TLC, and all quiverfulls, teach their children JOY – Jesus first, then others, then yourself.  The truth is that for girls, the last piece disappears.  They have no choices in life other than to help their mother parent younger siblings, marry a man of their father’s choosing, and then bear as many children as possible.

I want to be clear: I respect the rights of a woman, like Michelle Duggar, to make the personal decision not to use birth control.  My dad was fond of (mis)quoting Voltaire: “I may hate what you have to say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it.”  I may completely and passionately disagree with Michelle’s reasons for having so many children, but I would never want to see politicians impose a limit on the number of kids that any person has, for any reason. 

But as a fierce feminist and advocate for full reproductive justice, I know that women’s choices are always constrained.  No one chooses freely.  Every decision about childbearing is influenced by outside forces like your family and partner, if they are even part of your life; finances, education, the culture you live in, and your own hopes and dreams for your life.  Not to mention whether you are actually pregnant – more women facing unplanned pregnancies choose to parent than choose to have an abortion. 

The quiverfull movement is patriarchal, and Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar believe that birth control pills cause miscarriages (they don’t).  They even advertise this myth as part of their family story on their website.  They now make money based on the fact that they have this impossibly large family.  All these facts just don’t add up to free choice, in my judgment. 

Their book is advertised as a way for other parents – quiverfull or not – to learn how to create a loving family.  Their lingo (“our blessings” instead of “our children”) is being used by non-quiverfull families, including Sarah Palin.  So in addition to worrying about the individual women and girls who suffer at the hands of the quiverfull movement, I worry that the acceptance and portrayal of these families in mainstream media just adds to the rightward shift of U.S. culture.  Am I alarmist?  I hope not.  Then again, their movement seems pretty political.  Jim Bob Duggar himself held elected office in their home state of Arkansas, and had an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 2002.  Putting yourself out there for elected office – provided you are male – is completely in line with the convictions of the quiverfulls:

Quiverfull advocates Rick and Jan Hess, authors of 1990’s “A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ,” envision the worldly gains such a method could bring, if more Christians began producing “full quivers” of “arrows for the war”: control of both houses of Congress, the “reclamation” of sinful cities like San Francisco and massive boycotts of companies that do not comply with conservative Christian mores.

Kathryn Joyce, Newsweek

Maybe I won’t give in to the lurid temptation to watch the Duggars on TLC.  Underneath the large, happy, loving family are convictions that truly scare me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Laurie M. permalink
    August 22, 2010 3:55 am

    If you haven’t listened to it already, you might find this 2006 episode of the 92nd St. Y on “The Rise of Christian Nationalism in America” interesting, informative, and, well, disturbing: And I say that speaking as a Christian. From what I can see from my vantage point this movement is still gathering steam.

    I do not consider myself a feminist, but by the standards of Quiverfull folks I am. I too am troubled by the misinformation they spread about the birth control pill and the mechanism by which it prevents pregnancy, but that misinformation is spread widely throughout fundamentalist circles. (They say it prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, when in fact what it is proven to do when taken correctly is to prevent ovulation – even my doctor fed me that bit of misinformation. I took home the box and read all the tiny print inside and found out he had it wrong too!) The most militant Quiverfull folk tend to go way beyond not using birth control to actually limiting breastfeeding to ensure a more rapid return to fertility, encouraging very early marriage for girls, discouraging even the removal of ectopic pregnancies “trusting God” for the outcome, and risking continued pregnancies in women who have already had life-threatening complications.

  2. August 27, 2010 4:23 pm

    I agree — I respect every woman’s right to have or not have as many children as she wants, but the “quiver of arrows” lingo, the misconceptions about birth control, among other things is concerning when you see the huge impact that they have on American culture. That said, I don’t know how to counteract it – how can you without being accused of infringing on their choices, their religious freedoms, freedom of speech, etc?


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