In the last week, I’ve been putting a lot of time into memories of my time in the cult. Obviously, given all that’s happened lately. But while I’ve been writing, often up late because I’ve had terrible insomnia (related? I think so), I’ve become addicted to a new show. Sister Wives. I’d heard of it, but never watched it, assuming I would get the same annoyed, fairly disgusted feeling I got when I tried to watch 19 Kids And Counting.
I don’t really care what people do privately. Really, do what makes you happy, I could give less of a shit. Let me put it this way: I am snarky and judgmental about people, but I don’t think that I’m any better than they are, and I assume they would be equally judgmental of me. I’m not some open-minded saint here, I just don’t assume what works for me works for everyone else, and vice-versa. So when I sit down to watch a reality show, I sit down to make fun of people with a clear conscience.
When I tuned in, I thought I’d either be repulsed or mock the hell out of them. Especially from the religious angle; although I don’t hold anybody’s faith against them (provided they stay the hell off my doorstep and out of legislating), I can’t help being an Atheist smartass. Even though one of my dearest and oldest friends is Mormon and I respect the hell out of her, that doesn’t mean I don’t love the episode of South Park that makes fun of them. For what it’s worth, I also love the two-part episode that makes fun of Atheists, so there’s that.
Suffice to say, I was kind of blown away when I totally loved the Brown family. The show goes very, very light on the religious angle of it, which I think is a wise choice. Look at Mitt Romney’s campaign; there’s plenty of prejudice against Mormon’s as it is, and Fundamentalist Mormons (which is a totally different faith) have an even worse reputation. So it’s wise that there’s only occasional references to God, and usually in not-particularly-irritating venues. Unlike the Duggar family, where I had to stop watching when they visited the Creation Museum.
I’m not saying that I would live the same lifestyle. Not at all; I’m sorry, but I ain’t sharing my husband with anyone. But I can definitely see the appeal of that life. I covet their house in Utah. It was built by a polygamist (or “Plig,” as they affectionately joke) and has three separate apartments all adjoining. It really is amazing, the women each have their own household, but they all run together so they can also spend time as one big family. As Janelle (always credited as wife #2) put it, “Separate living spaces but interconnected. So the family functions as a whole, but we all have our own autonomy.”
The relationship between the wives is just amazing. They are supportive and loving and honestly, closer than sisters. They spoke out very clearly in the first episode about the sexual angle–that it is between Kody (the husband) and the wife he’s with, and “no funny stuff” between the wives. Awesome. I know people who have had open relationships, and whatever works; I’m just addressing it because they did, so it obviously matters to them. They all clearly care about Kody, but it really is about the Sister-Wives. The way they divide up childcare and grocery shopping and bill-paying (some work, some stay home). They way they fight and make up, the various little jealousies and how they overcome them. They look like the best friends a woman could ever have, with the kind of trust and (nonsexual) intimacy of true family. More than once they’ve teared up, talking about the comfort of knowing their children would be so well cared for if something ever happened to them.
It’s a nice change from the stereotype, where there are multiple abused wives and herds of cowed children. I do understand when families like this are investigated; there have been many, many horror stories of molestation and arranged marriages and child brides. But I’m pretty disgusted that the Browns are still under investigation, when it so clearly is a functional, happy family. I don’t think that the government should be intruding on something that’s just fine. I don’t like “the man” stepping in for no good reason, saying people can’t live the way they want, and that by “cohabiting” for 16 years, they’ve become “common-law” spouses and are therefore breaking the law (only his first marriage was legal). I don’t like loopholes being exploited to hurt people who are different, and I applaud the Brown family for their activism on behalf of “plural families.”
Thing is, there are real benefits to collective living, and it doesn’t have to be cult-related. I’ve lived in both healthy and unhealthy collective situations, and I’d honestly rather live sharing some of my space. In a cult-like situation, there is an established leader who makes all the major decisions and demands obedience (and often worship) from everyone else in the home. There isn’t privacy or independence; everyone is a cog in a machine that serves the master. When there’s a healthy balance, everyone has their own space and their own life, but there’s sharing and support and community. In short, you live with your village, and end up with extended family that is there for you. And because you’ve chosen each other (well, at least the adults have), there’s a different dynamic than when you’re just all siblings.
I’ve spoken of “the compound” where we live right now, and I still love every minute of it. We have our two houses and our central living space. Which is the carport/workspace too, and is unfortunately cold and drafty in winter. Maybe it’s facing that long cold winter, when its hard to hang out in the communal space. You’d think we’d just hang out in each other’s houses, but that ain’t how collective living rolls most of the time. Maybe someday we’ll all snap and remodel it into a proper garage that can be heated (or at least wind-proofed). It wouldn’t be the first time we did a group project.
I might not agree with their faith, and I might be skeeved out by the husband-sharing aspect. But I totally get why the Brown family is defending their right to live the way they want to live. I hope they are allowed to live freely, all together in the giant four-wife house of their dreams. Because they’re right about one thing: Love should be multiplied, not divided.