«

»

Jan 12 2009

CultWatch ’09: the happy harems of British Columbia

Just the other day you were saying to yourself, hey, I sure do wish Twisty would write an essay on Canadian polygamists.

Well, wish no more! The great day is come.

Having just slogged through a few articles sent down from British Columbia by blamer Mearl, I flick the Twisty chin at couple of Latter Day Saint cultists who are in chokey on accounta they have about 43,872 wives. Section 293 of the B.C. Patriarchal Penis Placement Code apparently forbids conjugality between more than two heterosexual persons at the same time.

But McGill law professor Angela Campbell says, hey, hold the phone! Lay off, nosy government! These women aren’t being exploited! Just ask’em!

Campbell knows because she interviewed “these women” in the field last year. Her findings? That they are “modern” after all.

Campbell appears to confuse “modern” with “liberated” (and indeed, to harbor some fairly eccentric ideas concerning the definition of the word “modern”).

But first, here’s a picture of one of the old horndogs currently up on polygamy charges. He’s flanked, at a respectful distance, by the cheery, modern fruit of his loins. Check out the sunny, chipper smiles! These future “sister wives” couldn’t be happier if they were clams. And the old coot is grinning because he’s sired him a passel of godly poontang to marry off to his buds. He’s got 26 wives and 80 kids.

One of the wives left him in 1999. She would have bailed out sooner, but she was afraid for her kids.

She says: “I was there for the needs of my husband, and that was about it. [...] I did what I was told. I had the babies and did the dishes and the wash, and cooked for all these boys that nobody knew what to do with…. There were times in my life I was cooking for 25 to 30 people, three meals a day, seven days a week.”

Meanwhile, Professor Campbell, who, you will recall, went on a polygamy-spotting tour last summer, cites the following conditions as evidence that the polygamist community is “modern” and that it is not, in fact, exploitative to marry off teenage girls to old coots as part of an ultra-patriarchal cult ritual:

The church used to arrange their marriages, but now the girls may “court” first (yup, this newfangled “courting” fad is all the rage with kids today; the next thing you know they’ll be doing the Mashed Potato at sock hops).

Once ensconced in the harem, the women develop “best friend” relationships with the “sister wives.”

They have figured out which birth-control options they can use without the Patriarch’s knowledge or consent (for some reason the fact that these women must resort to obfuscation regarding their own personal uteruses failed to send up a red flag on Campbell’s Patriarch-O-Meter. Perhaps it needs a new battery).

They manage their household finances, use cell phones, drive minivans, and even use the Internet!

Thus, says Campbell, we must question any critique of this quaint “lifestyle,” and the authorities need to change the law to reflect the wishes of the multiwives. Because lard knows that women can’t develop strong friendships unless they’re married as teenagers to the same middle-aged overlord, and besides, as long as they’ve managed to sneak birth control into the picture and drive those ultramodern minivans, who is the state to intervene?

Campbell, in what looks like a supportive attempt to give a voice to the Latter Day wives, takes a somewhat sanctimonious tone when she suggests that the B.C. government, in criminalizing plural marriage, hasn’t bothered to listen to the Women of Bountiful (Bountiful — that’s the name of this LDS community. No joke.). The wives, she maintains, are totally down with their indentured servitude and broodmare status. But what Campbell fails to consider is that women — not just LDS captives, but all women who are indoctrinated from the cradle with misogynist ideology — will go to the mat to defend it. The compulsion to sing lyric odes to the beauty of patriarchal authority * is understandable when you consider the depth to which women’s identities are invested in it.

We’ve seen it time and time again, this loony idea that it is a woman’s “right” to accept and embrace second-class status under patriarchal oppression if she so desires. This oldie-but-goodie is a classic argument against radical feminism, which ism is often vilified for refusing to “listen” to oppressed women when they claim they are not oppressed. Just look at any comment thread on this blog where I’ve stated that tiny handbags, or marriage, or prostitution, or the nuclear family are tools of the patriarchy. Holy armadillo quadruplets, do otherwise sensible women ever love high heels!

But the thing is, radical feminists do listen. It’s just that what we hear is not the dulcet tones of liberated personhood, but the doth-protest-too-much keening of Stockholm Syndromettes sticking up for their captors. Unlike Campbell, radical feminists have answered the clue phone. We know that within a patriarchal paradigm, women, as an oppressed class, do not, from the git-go, possess fully human status. Our “choices,” therefore, are not real. We are manipulated by the system to embrace false constructs as truth. The Bountiful Wives are no exception; they’re sure as shit not living in some patriarchy-free zone. This condition automatically renders bogus any “choices” they might make about “courting” or spending their lives in a closed society driving minivans for some godbag harem.

I probably don’t have to say it, but just to be clear: in casting a jaundiced eye at multi-marriage, I in no way endorse mono-marriage (straight, gay, or freeform). It’s just that this LDS stuff, as an extreme example of what many consider to be a normal state (i.e. married to a dude), so beautifully magnifies the absurdities and injustices of “normal” marriage.
__________________________________
* These odes, by the way, are not sung exclusively by women who are judged to be backward by mainstream Western standards; all women do it to one degree or another, whether it’s the multi-wives of some lunatic godbag cult, or sex-positive porntastic funfeminists in high heels, or progressive women married to progressive men who get gold stars for doing the laundry.

58 comments

3 pings

  1. Orinoco

    Rewriting the article using “slaves” where “wives” used to be, Campbell could make the exact same argument against slavery. It’s the apotheosis of liberal post-modernism. Because the stories of polygamists’ wives are “rich, complex, sophisticated and diverse” (the divine (and nearly empty) signifiers of post-modernism), the status quo must be upheld! Thank god for Campbell, because the status quo was needing some fancy new rationalizations.

    If slaves don’t complain, would that make slavery copacetic? If they got a chance to “use cellphones, e-mail and the Internet” while some “dress traditionally in full-length dresses” and others “sport T-shirts and jeans” would that mean that abolitionists are ignorant and misguided?

    This seems like the perfect case of someone’s mind being so open, the brains plum fell right out.

  2. K

    The article about/interview with Jane Blackmore, who left, is far out. I especially loved the last bit, and how it ends on an anything-is-possible note. Hope it’s allowed to quote it here.

    Interviewer: Have you ever been on a holiday? Have you ever travelled?

    Jane Blackmore: Nope.

    I: You have been in Creston your whole life?

    JB: Well I have been to Arizona. But Brittany and I are going on a cross-Canada train trip. We are going all the way to Halifax.

    I: Any other plans?

    JB: Oh yes, I’ve got lots of plans.

  3. Citizen Jane

    Sweet. I’ve been waiting ages for someone to fight for my right to have 26 spouses in domestic service to me.

    Oh crap, I just checked and it turns out I have a vagina. I’ll keep waiting then.

  4. Orange

    I can’t help wondering how much hot lesbian sex might be going on among sister-wives. I suppose there’s not much time for that when one is doing laundry and cooking for 30 but with that many women embroiled in the system, there must be a few who find their way to one another.

  5. estraven

    I actually have a female friend who complains about monogamy laws because she cannot marry both her living-in boyfriends: hence, they cannot take advantage of all rights marriage gives. Of course, since she’s a better feminist than I, she perceives that the right solution is to dismantle marriage entirely. Or, in the words of DTWOF’s Mo, “deprivilege all couple relationships”.

  6. liberality

    within a patriarchal paradigm, women, as an oppressed class, do not, from the git-go, possess fully human status. Our “choices,” therefore, are not real. We are manipulated by the system to embrace false constructs as truth
    This is why I continue to read this blog. Thanks for being radical enough to see the forest for the trees.

  7. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D.

    Well, I wasn’t actually pining away waiting for you to write this blog entry, but now that you have, I’m glad. I laughed my ass off reading it. This is smart, funny, and as always, even at my age I find I can learn something new from you every time. Thanks, T.

  8. Maren

    You’re right; reading this did make it a lot easier for me to see how “choices” in a totally stacked system are meaningless, which is often hard for me to do in my daily life as much as I know better. Obviously I don’t want to feel as powerless and limited as these women are, and thank god I’m not in a practical sense, but I know that in a larger sense all women are just as bound by pre-set rules over which we have no control. So thanks for giving me a parallel that makes that a little easier to see.

  9. VibratingLiz

    Perfect timing: I just finished reading Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints and also The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff. Fascinating horrifying stuff.

  10. Hedgepig

    “what we hear is not the dulcet tones of liberated personhood, but the doth-protest-too-much keening of Stockholm Syndromettes sticking up for their captors…all women do it to one degree or another”

    This is, in a lovely nutshell, the biggest problem in defeating patriarchy. The cleverest, most resiliant systems of oppression are those that train the oppressed class to defend the system, and most importantly, to pass it down to the next generation. This is why it is the mothers, not so much the fathers, who insist on and organise for their girls to have FGM (in, say, Africa), and it is why it is mothers, not so much the fathers, who insist that their daughters get married and have lots of grandchildren (in, say, the US). Because both these variants on patriarchal culture contain this self-propagating quality, they’re both hard to erode from within. If it wasn’t so fucking evil I’d have to admire its sheer brilliance.

  11. metamanda

    I actually thought Campbell’s article was kind of interesting, insofar as it’s not really productive to caricature polygamists as bonnet-wearing luddites, even if you’re opposed to what they’re up to. I didn’t entirely agree with it, but I don’t think it’s without value. How do you ever succeed in changing a practice without knowing how and why people experience it in real life?

    Her suggestion that prosecution isn’t the way to go might be right. Do you think that tossing these patriarchs in jail is the best way to improve women’s quality of life in Bountiful? Or will they end up impoverished because they’ve been deprived of an income and you can only get insurance for single spouse? (I’m assuming that improving women’s quality of life and agency is a positive, but the methods of best doing so should be up for discussion. I’m also assuming that being a law professor, Campbell is more concerned with such practicalities than with bringing about a revolution. She’s not arguing that radical feminists don’t listen to women, she’s arguing that *lawmakers* don’t listen to women, which is one point on which she probably agrees with many people here.)

    I ask myself all the time, is there room to tell stories about the agency demonstrated by oppressed people who game a system that is stacked against them, without implying “hey the status quo is a-ok and no one’s being oppressed”? Campbell’s attempt was pretty clumsy. I think it’s really hard to tell those kinds of stories well, and with the right amount of nuance.

    Don’t get me wrong. Religious polygamy squicks me out. Yet everything you all are saying about fake choice can be applied to monogamous marriage as well. Is it effective, and is it feminist, to single out polygamy (as opposed to statutory rape, rape, abuse, etc.) as the thing that should be prosecuted? Or are these prosecutions more about conventional patriarchal mono-marriage trying to assert itself as the only game in town?

  12. Lexie

    Citizen Jane is on the right track.

    Why is it that all of these things like this that are harmless for women and so great only “enjoyed” by women?

    Where are the men who are lining up to be married off as teenagers to some old lady/man and share their brotherly duties with 38 other husbands? Can one of these women of “Bountiful” up and decide to fetch her some fresh teenage male action? And have them do the laundry/dishes/childcare/housework on top of that for free with no money, career, property of their own? No? Well, then of course there is no patriarchal oppression going on here.

  13. metamanda

    Just to add: Twisty, I know you’re not a supporter of mono-marriage, and that typically when you say “this is oppressive” that’s not the same as you saying “this should be legally prosecuted”. I just wanted to point out that Campbell’s concern is about what should be prosecuted, and she believes that prosecuting polygamy is a silly idea. She doesn’t exactly say “polygamy is grand”, but in failing to tell stories of oppression alongside her stories of agency, she can very easily be read as supporting the practice. That omission troubles me, but doesn’t necessarily invalidate her point about prosecution.

  14. Starlight

    When the oppressed live with and wait on the oppressor, it’s well nigh impossible to overthrow this system. Whether it is hetero marriage or polygamous servitude and girl sexual slavery, the situation remains the same.

    It is no accident that some early 19th feminists were the most radical because they lived in small whaling communities where the men were at sea for long stretches of each year. Thus, these women were free long enough to foment feminist revolution.

    You literally have to be away from oppressors for long periods of time, to see what life is like when they’re not there oppressing you.
    You can feel the difference immediately when men aren’t in the room to ruin women’s conversations, interrupt and overtalk, and that’s a simple form of male social control.

    This article is so right on, it gets the Armadillo award of the year!! Holy quartuplets indeed!

  15. yttik

    Interesting comments. Everyone makes some good points.

    The BC polygamists really highlight how women don’t have choices, even when they try to convince themselves and others that they do.

    I had a good discussion with a horrid abstinence-only woman, LOL. Actually I completely agreed with her up to a point. We teach girls from day one that their entire value is about being available for sex. The media, the role models, everything reinforces this message. Then she turns 16 and we pretend she gets to make choices about her sexuality. To add insult to injury, we even call it “choice.” She doesn’t have a real choice, she’s been trained for this role her whole life! What’s she going to do, say no and not fulfill her entire life’s prophecy? Have absolutely no value in society’s eyes? Anybody watch the Disney channel lately?

    Oh, but isn’t it lovely that we let her have occasional access to birth control or abortion and call it “choice”? Ironically if she makes the “wrong choice” and manages to self impregnate herself as girls are known to do, we log her “failure” with the Centers for Disease Control. Yes, teen pregnancy is regarded as a disease, kind of like smallpox. (Unless she gets married as which point it becomes a miraculous conception and not a disease at all.)

    So the moral of my endless rambling is that I have learned to no longer dismiss some of the points being made by those who I usually regard as the enemy of reproductive “choice.” Yes, ultimately abortion can be a very misogynistic concept, you have the “right” to be available for sex and to not cause any inconvenience should there be consequences.

  16. Twisty

    I didn’t address this in the post, Metamanda, but I should have. What should be prosecuted in these polygamy cases is not plural marriage per se, but the sick godbag dudes raping these teenage girls who have little choice but to go with the flow. I couldn’t give a fig how many spouses a person has; marriage of any sort is antifeminist. I would be fine if the whole danged thing got criminalized, since, for reasons I have discussed ad nauseam on this website (some of which, such as the forced dependence on men for sustenance, you bring up in your comment), marriage largely marginalizes women as the sex class.

  17. slythwolf

    Except that’s not what the right to abortion is, yttik. That would be the right of men to insist on abortion. The right to abortion and other reproductive choice is me being able to say who or what gets to camp out in my uterus, if anyone/thing, and for how long.

    As for the part about girls’ and women’s sole value being as a fuckdoll for various dudes, we call that the rape culture. Anti-women’s-ownership-of-own-goddamn-uteruses may also be agin the rape culture, but I haven’t seen them do much about it other than try rilly rilly hard to set themselves up as the Good Girls so that someone else gets to get raped. (This doesn’t always work, of course.)

  18. Bob Doublin

    “Amen. No adult human being can “choose” to be less than a person, even if they want to ever so badly. Women can’t be children or house pets or decorative figurines, because they are actually autonomous, fully-grown humans, even if they’d rather not be, and to celebrate certain women for “choosing” to be slaves and/or objects is to further enmesh all women in the wide net of patriarchy. As long as it’s possible to regard a woman as either a person or an object, the “choice” is in the eye of the beholder and we’re none of us free.”

    Billie, this is sheer brilliance and one of the best bits of writing on ethics I’ve read in my life.
    Same for what Starlight wrote.
    Twisty, I start going into withdrawal when you don’t blog for longer than a day-not merely for the wit and what I can learn from just about every post but because of the extremely high quality of the comments Feminist women post here. Thank you all.

  19. yttik

    You’re right, slythwolf, except men don’t even have to “insist” on abortion, it can just become a built in cultural message, so girls learn to do what is expected of them. Cause as little trouble as possible, don’t be an inconvenience.

    But what triggered my rant was the thought that the rape culture on the outside of that polygamist cult really isn’t any different than the one inside of it. I suppose you could even argue that at least plural wives get food and shelter, some benefits of being considered “wives”, on the outside young girls just get exploited and tossed away.

    I understand about wanting to prosecute these polygamists who take teen wives, but I believe we should start first by prosecuting those not in cults who impregnate teen girls. It’s statatory rape when somewhere around 72% of teen pregnancies are caused by older men. It’s supposed to be crime. We kind of don’t see this stuff unless it’s highlighted by something culturally bizarre, like the BC cult. Everybody wants to prosecute the polygamists, they’re weird, but not so much the gym teacher.

  20. Arianna

    If anyone is looking for more information about this particular group, Daphne Bramham’s The Secret Lives of Saints is very informative. She listens to the women all right – the women who escaped from the cult and their stories documenting the rape and abuse that goes on in Bountiful and their recommendations for what do about it, as well as providing some history of fundamentalist mormonism both in the US and in Canada.

  21. Veganrampage

    Once again, I come to the conclusion that Twisty is the only sane and relevant writer in the internet or elsewhere. She is also extremely funny, even when writing about such tragic things as homosapien relationships.
    These women have invested so much of their lives in a sick system, that to wake out of their denial now might cause them to have a psychotic break with reality. I say go for it. They might be stronger then they think they are. It isn’t that easy to go psychotic if you don’t have the right brain chemistry, trust me, and you just might learn something.
    As for Campbell she must really hate other women to write this tripe:
    “The power dynamics in the community are complex.”
    Really, are they so complex that I must explain them? The men have all the power. There. Does that boil it down enough for you?
    Campbell fails to mention the possibility of prosecuting the child rapers, further proof of her limited thinking. As a woman, I really hate women who hate other women, and hate her.

  22. Veganrampage

    *As a woman, I really hate women who hate other women, and I hate her.

  23. another voice

    Now, I’m just depressed again.

  24. Thealogian

    “Do you think that tossing these patriarchs in jail is the best way to improve women’s quality of life in Bountiful? Or will they end up impoverished because they’ve been deprived of an income and you can only get insurance for single spouse?”

    1st off, the husbands DO NOT SUPPORT their families–the 26 wives and 80 children, one man’s income? Even if I didn’t know how the women’s labor is farmed our (or cabin industried out) from my research, I’d know that there is absolutely no fucking way one man supports 26 wives and 80 children in an Ozzy/Harriet manner. The men control the money, sure, but the some of the women are put to work in the outside world or make goods on these compounds that they sell–as well as farm the land and take care of the children in cooperatives. The men mostly fuck, consort with other men, fuck some more, and then show favors or discontent into order to keep the “wives” emotionally off balance.

    So, do I think these assholes should be arrested? Well, when they fuck and otherwise abuse teenage girls, hell yes they should be arrested. Marrying multiple women in a spiritual context can no longer be prosecuted as such–and since these mother fuckers only legally marry one women at a time (and thus set up a hierarchy that furthers the discord, status anxiety, and self-repressive cycles), what these men can and are prosecuted for is raping children, abusing children, and participating in the abuse/rape of children.

    Anyway, disclaimer: I’m related to 19th Century Mormon polygamist. One of my great great whatevers had 5 wives and 47 children. I’m actually related to the 1st wife (she had 21 children, 16 survive to adulthood), I’m related to the oldest child. He (thank the flying spaghetti monster) left the Mormon Religion the first chance he could get and that side of the family has been agnostic/atheist since the 1860′s at least. Regardless, my sister and I have a morbid curiosity in all things Mormon Polygamist (check out Under the Banner of Heaven). Not only do we have a facination with it, I sometimes wonder how many distant cousins I’m related to are probably still stuck up in this crazy cult. Considering my radical feminism, it really just makes it all the more clear how culturally determined are lives really are unless we’re exposed and nurtured in the ways of the Twisty (or at least the Friedan).

    peace, nighty-nite.

  25. goblinbee

    metamanda: “Or will they end up impoverished because they’ve been deprived of an income and you can only get insurance for single spouse?”

    I think they’re mostly already impoverished. In the reading I’ve done on Mormon polygyny (meaning specifically more than one wife, as opposed to polygamy, which means more than one spouse; it does not cut both ways for Mormons), the women and children are heavily dependent on state welfare agencies. I’m not sure what you meant by “can only get insurance for single spouse.”

    yttik: “I suppose you could even argue that at least plural wives get food and shelter, some benefits of being considered “wives…”

    Again, they are mostly providing that food and shelter by the sweat of their own brows.

  26. leah

    “You’re right, slythwolf, except men don’t even have to “insist” on abortion, it can just become a built in cultural message, so girls learn to do what is expected of them. Cause as little trouble as possible, don’t be an inconvenience.”

    *nods*

    I saw this a lot when I was younger…girls choosing to get abortions because they were afraid of getting in trouble (like, beaten by their parents or kicked out of the house or worse), and of adults knowing they were sexually active (i.e. the anti-slut abortion). I also saw girls literally forced or coerced into abortions by their parents (usually) or their impregnators, so that the girl wouldn’t cause “trouble” for them (i.e. the “I didn’t raise no slut” abortion). In fact, as a teen, every single girl I knew who had an abortion, it was for one of the above reasons.

    There are two sides to every issue, and even abortion is a tool of the patriarchy with no real choice*. We can’t pretend that, just because the politics is arranged around the word choice, there actually is one. There are no choices in the patriarchy. Choose to be pregnant? You slut. We will punish you with shame, poverty and ridiculous medical bills. Choose to abort? You baby killer. We will punish you with shame and harassment, and we’re trying real hard to punish you with a high probability of death. For many girls, at least with the second option there’s a chance they won’t be noticed by the branding machine (and in my opinion, this is the biggest objection of anti-choicers – if they miss labeling just one female, if just one female beats the system, then the system is imperfect and in danger of collapsing).

    *Not to say it shouldn’t be save and legal of course. IBTP

  27. Cycles

    “Why is it that all of these things like this that are harmless for women and so great only “enjoyed” by women? Where are the men who are lining up to be married off as teenagers to some old lady/man and share their brotherly duties with 38 other husbands?”

    That’s a great point, and in a world of equality, it would be hard to argue with.

    But here we have women as the weaker sex, the vessels, the sweet innocent lambs, the gentle subordinates to men. So it makes sense that old codgers rape teenagers, and keep dozens of women in a harem, because it’s god’s law. Women are so fundamentally different and alien from men that a completely different set of standards applies to them. One of which is, men get multiple wives but women don’t get multiple husbands. Women shouldn’t even want a harem of men, really, and if they do, there’s something horribly wrong with them. It’s unnatural. Burn the witch. Is how that works.

  28. wisewebwoman

    I did a post on this myself, Twisty, on Jan 9th, but I focussed on the underlying reality of it all: paedophilia, which sickens me.

    http://wisewebwoman.blogspot.com/2009/01/legalizing-rape-and-sexual-exploitation.html

    These young girls are raised to be unquestioning victims of these old perverts.

    And the boys resulting from these unions are tossed out to fend for themselves at puberty.

    There is no defence acceptable. Ever.

  29. angryyoungwoman

    Excellent post. Like Thealogian, I have polygamist forebears. I actually was raised Mormon, but left the church because it was so damn patriarchal. The interesting thing to me is that the modern LDS church claims that polygamy was only practiced to protect women whose husbands had died, or who had joined the church in far greater numbers than men (I don’t really buy this excuse, but whatever), but the LDS offshoot groups practicing polygamy don’t really have any reasoning behind it–there aren’t enough women to go around so they have to send the boys away.

    Religion and religious marriage are so weird. Seriously, people get all worked up and angry because their god told them they could only fuck one way, but not another? Or they could only fuck with certain people, but not other people? Right. Sounds like something you should base your life on.

  30. thebewilderness

    Her suggestion that prosecution isn’t the way to go might be right. Do you think that tossing these patriarchs in jail is the best way to improve women’s quality of life in Bountiful?

    Absolutely! The first step to stopping rape and pedophilia is to separate the perp from society so that they cannot continue to perpetrate crimes.

    Speaking from personal experience, I would call that a major improvement to the quality of life for these women.
    I don’t much care about the quality of life of the patriarchs in Bountiful.

  31. SoJo

    I love you Twisty. You’re a genius!

  32. thebewilderness

    I did that whole quote thingamy, but I appear to have done it wrong.
    The first paragraph should have been a quote.

  33. goblinbee

    Twisty: “I couldn’t give a fig how many spouses a person has…”

    I DO care. In this case, I do, because as I alluded to above, it isn’t a free-wheeling polygamous lifestyle that fundamentalist Mormons are promoting, it is the narrower polygyny. Polyandry is not allowed (although there was a bit of male-initiated polyandry in the early days of the Mormon church; Joseph Smith asked to marry a number of already-married women).

    It is the double standard I object to, which Citizen Jane, Lexie, and Cycles all take on so eloquently.

  34. CJ

    How I wish I had something constructive and witty and worthwhile to say.

    All I’ve got right now is FUCK THE PATRIARCHY.

    So there.

    CJ.

  35. Kathleen

    “answered the clue phone.”

    (wiping eyes) Twisty, you are the feline’s pajamas and the stripedy, buzzy bug’s knees.

  36. Twisty

    goblinbee, I think we’re actually in agreement. Of course I am aware that these LDS pervs are exploiting women and teenage girls on a much grander scale than in the typical mono-marriage, and that this is, you know, bad. But even in a mono-marriage situation, there’s nothing to prevent those dudes from raping teenage girls, via pornography, prostitution, or what-have-you. The LDS pervs are merely seeking to normalize their participation in rape culture by making it a religious ritual.

  37. Alderson Warm-Fork

    “Do you think that tossing these patriarchs in jail is the best way to improve women’s quality of life in Bountiful? Or will they end up impoverished because they’ve been deprived of an income and you can only get insurance for single spouse?”

    I know this comment has drawn flak already, but reading it made me instantly think “If we get rid of the rich, who will contribute to charity to support or the poor people left behind? If the workers chuck out their employers, won’t there be no-one left to pay their wages?”

  38. phiogistic

    From the “Leaving Bountiful” article:
    “My oldest son has two wives; my other two married sons have one wife, and when a man is assigned another wife, it is kind of a prestige thing. They have been this wonderful good person, and well favoured by God and the prophet, and so “Here is your reward” kind of a thing.”

    Giving a woman of any age as a prize or reward to signal prestige constitutes slavery.

    Also from article:
    “Are men allowed to insist [on sex]?

    Yes. And then not even spend the night with you. You know?”

    That’s rape.

  39. speedbudget

    “and cooked for all these boys that nobody knew what to do with….”

    I know it’s been mentioned above, but this jumped out at me. They just shove these boys out, typically when they’re young, because the old coots can’t have competition for the pussy.

    All should read John Krakauer’s _Under the Banner of Heaven_. He does some good research into where this polygamy came from and it’s a disturbing read.

    And Metamanda, these women actually do more supporting than the men. You see, they can’t legally marry these men. So they are single mothers. So they get all kinds of support from the state and federal government. Which is what keeps these men in their nice clothes and lifestyle. Actually, if they could legally marry, the men might have to work harder to support them. And these cults that claim to want to have their religion without state interference can STFU. Cause they are living off the state and by goddess, I want some say in how my money is spent and it CERTAINLY should not be spent to support a fucking pedophile.

  40. Beth

    And what ever happened with that polygamous cult from near here (Austin)? CPS got some bad publicity for taking the children and then the story fell off the radar.

  41. Anastasia

    that place was called yearning for zion ranch. the children were removed on suspicion of sexual and physical abuse but the prosecturos didn’t have sufficient evidence to convince the court. the kids were returned.

  42. metamanda

    OK, when I ask “is throwing these dudes in jail the best thing to do?” I really did mean that as a question, not a statement disguised as a hypothetical question. On thinking about it, I agree with y’all that the answer is yes. (And I think it was obvious to everyone that I was having a hard time coming up with a real-world scenario in which a woman would actually be worse off with her asshat abusive husband in jail.) Where there is evidence of rape, statutory rape, abuse and coercion, there’s plenty of reason to throw those guys in jail where they belong.

    And yes, I’m aware that the Yearning for Zion ranch did “marriages” that were not licensed by the state, precisely so the technically-single moms could pick up state assistance and the men did very little in the way of financial support. This also means that the men were not technically bigamists, since all the extra marriages weren’t really marriages in the eyes of the state. Bigamy is never the charge that sticks. “Rape” and “Accessory to Rape” are the charges that bring them to justice.

    So how are these guys different from Fred Phelps, who forced his (one) wife and (like 13?) kids to support him financially while he went about his attention-getting but not very lucrative business of preaching hate? How are they different from rich and powerful men in mainstream society who feel entitled to have mistresses? How are they the same as the handful of people I know who are kind, considerate, egalitarian, and polyamorous?

    I think the press’s singling out of polygamy itself is a red herring, a way to label them as freaks, and thus exoticize the abuse, the lack of meaningful choice, the rigid patriarchal power structure. Because if you don’t exoticize it then maybe people will notice the ways in which these things mirror mainstream society.

    Anyway, sorry to unthinkingly post a silly question. Unfortunately, it took attention away from a question that I thought was less silly, which is, how does one talk about oppressed people exercising some agency (as Campbell tried to do) without coming off as denying their oppression (as Campbell did)? Having interviewed folks in relationships that looked really unequal to me, and trying to understand their experiences, I’d venture that victimhood, resistance and capitulation often coexist, messily and uneasily, but the vocabulary for talking about it all at the same time seems so limited.

  43. Deanna

    As someone who lives in BC, I have been stomping up and down the blogwaves arguing with (mostly male) commenters that a “parental right to raise their children the way they see fit” does not trump children’s rights to not be indoctrinated to believe that they are a second class citizen.

    Polygamy as a concept is a red herring on this one – it’s the indoctrination, lack of real female consent, and a new twist on slavery that is the problem. Yes, polygamy is against the law, but honestly, there’s no ethical reason 3 consenting women shouldn’t be able get married if they wanted to (or 3 men, or whatever combination). If you happen to be into marriage for legal etc reasons. There are plenty of open marriages and happy non-married but co-habitating triplets out there.

    Oh, and Canada allows same-sex marriage, so the heterosexual comment, though funny, isn’t accurate (although I’m sure Bountiful isn’t up on the gay marriage.

  44. Hedgepig

    Metamanda said “how does one talk about oppressed people exercising some agency (as Campbell tried to do) without coming off as denying their oppression (as Campbell did)?”

    Darn good question, well posed. I find that radical feminists tend to be accused of peddling that old Marxist ‘false consciousness’ idea, which has apparently been generally discredited. Pity, as I think it’s a genuine phenomenon. Also think metamanda is right that “victimhood, resistance and capitulation often coexist, messily and uneasily.” I’d say this describes any situation where women live among men.

  45. Spiders

    Says Campbell “But the practice of plural marriage does not seem to be the cause of systemic exploitation.”
    No dear, it’s the result of it.

    Something about her tone just grates on my nerves. It’s almost paternalistic; reminds me of the documentaries I saw in primary school, the ones whitey made about Aboriginal communities. “See how modern the Kooris really are? They have yoyo’s and coca cola!”.

  46. Twisty

    I am well pleased with the high level of advanced blaming goin’ on here. You guys are an excellent reason to get out of bed in the morning, which I hope to remember if I ever find myself in need of such a thing.

  47. coogee

    And since discovering IBTP a mere five days ago, I now find it impossible to start work in my home office until I have got my now daily fix of blaming.

    Thank you so much Twisty for creating a space to explore these issues and everyone else for contributing.

    (hums to self, presses blame button)

  48. Was Coogee now AdmirerOfEmily

    Hmm, on reflection, I just thought for all you non-aussies out there I should explain how you say the blogging name I’ve chosen.

    Cos, I realised AFTER I pressed the blame button, that, what with this being a feminist site an all, and youse mob not being so familiar with our orstralian pronunciation, you might think I am ‘coo-ing’ and ‘gee-ing’.

    Which is not especially appropriate here (or anywhere eh?).

    No, Coogee is the name of a beachside suburb in Sydney. I used to live there. It’s an Aboriginal word. I just looked it up for the first time ever and found it means ‘smelly place’ because of all the seaweed that gets washed up there.

    The ‘coo’ is pronounced as the ‘cou’ in ‘could’.

    (Reminds me of a couple of TV comedians who, during the Sydney Olympics, would wander round with a large map of Australia asking out-of-towners to pronounce place names such as Wolloommoollo, or Goondiwindi or Wagga Wagga. Got a few laughs I havta say.)

    Hmm, getting way OT here….

    No, I think I might just change the name I use. Cos one day real soon now this explanation will be buried in the archives and still the coo and the gee could confuse.

    Say hello to AdmirerOfEmily

  49. Twisty

    Thanks for the clarification, Was Coogee now AdmirerofEmily, but it was probably not necessary. The Blametariat consists almost exclusively of Australians.

  50. orlando

    “The Blametariat consists almost exclusively of Australians.”
    From here on the earth’s red underbelly we get a clearer view of the stars.

    AdmirerofEmily: Pankhurst or Dickenson?

  51. mearl

    The one thought that crept into my pointed head when I read the Campbell article was that the underpinnings of her argument remind me of the ideologies behind the ‘choice’ to have your vagina sewn shut by a severely misogynist asshole for the sheer joy of it (usually as long as a fistful of cash is involved somewhere). Where does Stockholm end and feminism begin? Or does it?

    *Ducks head in anticipation of the shitshower from funfeminists*

  52. Ron Sullivan

    Point being: It ain’t the poly; it’s the gamy.

  53. admirerofemily

    Pankhurst, haven’t made acquaintance with the poetic one.

    I’ve got a book entitled ‘Suffragettes in pictures’. The stuff those women got up to!

  54. D.

    I linked to this. Mostly because you had the words for this and I had a lot of sputtering.

  55. jael

    metamanda
    Jan 12th, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I ask myself all the time, is there room to tell stories about the agency demonstrated by oppressed people who game a system that is stacked against them, without implying “hey the status quo is a-ok and no one’s being oppressed”? Campbell’s attempt was pretty clumsy. I think it’s really hard to tell those kinds of stories well, and with the right amount of nuance.

    metamanda, I think the answer to this question is yes. More than yes – necessarily yes. But I think we have to go about it very carefully. I think part of the problwm with telling these stories is caught up in language and meaning.

    One: the idea of the innocent victim; one must be without any responsibility at all for the situation that befalls them.

    Two: the idea that if one has a degree of agency they have a responsibility to act in a way that is not detrimental to their own interests (which of course is always defined by the person making the analysis – in this case, us) . Otherwise, see above.

    I think both of these notions are false. We can be act in a way that contributed to our misfortunes; this doesn’t make it our fault. We can chose to act in a way that harms us; it does not somehow make acceptable the harm outcome; it just means we chose to act in a certain way.

    short version : agency and victimhood are not mutually exclusive.

    i think if we can convince – first ourselves, and then – others of this idea that having agency over some aspect of our behavior does not mean we are responsible for the situation that befalls us we create the space in which we can tell these stories.

    i mean: you could tell the story of viet girl going to korea to marry a farmer as victim – in country where she doesn’t speak the language and has no rights; throwing herself at the feat of chance; who could be beaten; abused; used as the household servant; who is sold by her parents to her husband

    or, the story of a young woman finding a way to get the hell away from her rural village and see somewhere other than her own country; of her bravery in facing the unknown; her independence in leaving her close knit community ; the potential for a happy ending.

    and no matter if she ends up happy and sending good money back to her family, and raising one of her own, maybe getting decent work and having a wonderful life in korea – or returning to vietnam in a coffin after being beaten to death by her husband – it’s not her fault; she is not responsible for what happens.

    but at the point at which she made the decision to marry a korean – she clearly exerted agency, demonstrated independence and faced the unknown. that the patriarchy builds a world where the odds are stacked against individuals doesn’t mean that we can’t act with agency within the limitations of our existence.

  56. Tigs

    Ah jael, I have missed you!

    I think that the question of agency within constraint is so problematic at least partly because of the dominance of the liberal tradition in Western discourse.

    The Lockean conception of the acting individual doesn’t actually leave any room for existing as both subject and object. I think in Twisty’s writing we’ve seen this idea most clearly exposed in the matter of holding ‘consent’ as a non-functional category for engaging in sexual relations.
    In this tradition there really is no possibility for the separation of agency and subjectivity. Either you can act freely or you’re just not fully human, and therefore society doesn’t have to care about you. Humanity is definitively contingent on agency.

    I think there’s some response in the Hegel-Marx-Lukacs line, I’ll report back if I can think of it (/find the proper citations).

  57. jael

    Tigs; back at you. I cobbled together a response to the above, but being woefully ill versed in theory in any of its manifestations I figured it’d be better to not talk about that which I knew not of. And every now and again I am wise enough to take note of said voice in the head which reminds me I should shut up.

    None the less, seems to me a horrendous line of reasoning (then, locke stuffed up property rights well and properly, didn’t he?): if humanity is dependent on agency, what happens if the whole notion of free will is questionable (if you maintain that everyones behaviour/choices are the product of their environment, not of independent action) – are then none of us human/possessing humanity?

    that’s a rather horrible thought. though it creates a more even playing field, if nothing else.

  58. Serene Wright

    While I’m thrilled to live in an era where I can carve out my own opportunities on my own terms, precisely why do those of us who want to build unique lives think we can liberate those who embrace their own oppression? If men hate us, women hate us and most of have no clue we aren’t free, aside from embracing the fact that we can create choices, where does any of this get us?

    I’m glad that there is at least a minority who does see the truth. Thinking there is any way to unravel a system that self perpetuates down to the genetic level, well . . .

  1. As Usual, Twisty Is Dead-on « But I Could Be Wrong

    [...] to calm the rage within.  The only problem is, I always want to quote each and every post in full, and today is no exception: But what Campbell fails to consider is that women – not just LDS captives, but all women who are [...]

  2. Love Meter | Crush Blogg

    [...] CultWatch âÂ?Â?09: the happy harems of British ColumbiaJust the other day you were saying to yourself, hey, I sure do wish Twisty would write an essay on Canadian polygamists. Well, wish no more! The great day is come. Having just slogged through a few articles sent down from British Columbia by blamer Mearl, I flick the Twisty chin at couple of Latter … Read more… [...]

  3. It’s All A Rich Tapestry: Coercion and Choice « She’s a Carnivore

    [...] January 19, 2009 by shesacarnivore This oldie-but-goodie is a classic argument against radical feminism, which is often vilified for re… [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>