This week, I discovered that I am complicit in supporting a family and a movement that is bigoted, homophobic, deeply misogynistic and that blames girls and women for being sexually abused.
I am deeply ashamed – and I am not the only one.
There’s a longstanding joke in the Mamamia Women’s Network office that I am obsessed with the Duggars, the family who have 19 children and their own hit reality show. Their fame (and fortune) has sky-rocketed in the past couple of years as those 19 children have grown up (if you consider 19 years old to be grown up which I don’t), got married and started having little Duggars of their own.
America’s highest-selling magazine People have been drooling with excitement at having an entirely new franchise of celebrities to put on their covers. So many weddings! So many pregnancies! So many babies! It’s the holy grail of publishing:
You know how when something becomes wildly popular, people who were into it early are at pains to point out they were early adopters?
That was me. For years, way before they had their own reality show, I was mad for the Duggars, mad for them.
I can’t recall how I first learned of them but I was instantly fascinated by the premise of a family with 16 children (this was several children ago, they now have 19), all of whose names began with the letter J and whose parents had no intention of stopping breeding until the Good Lord put a natural use by date on matriarch Michelle’s uterus.
They dressed in an Amish way, they home-schooled and were a quirky object of interest by virtue of the fact they were like a little time capsule of retro in a fast-moving world that was all technology, tits and twerking. The logistics alone were mind-boggling. How do you feed and organise so many children? I had one child when I first learned about the Duggars and I was struggling to manage that.
Reading about them and then watching their quirky little show was like watching the Discovery Channel.
I wasn’t the only one who was captivated. A series of one-hour specials that began in 2009 quickly turned into a series of weekly shows. As their fame grew, they became held up by politicians and conservative groups as beacons of wholesome living. The anti-Kardashians.
Their funny clothes and odd customs became objects of fond curiosity and they were feted for their all-American family values at a time when 40% of children in the US are born to single mothers and 50% of marriages end in divorce.
Michelle Duggar received a “Mother of the Year Award” in 2010, from a Christian organisation who praised her as having “modeled for millions a passion for God’s gift of the fruit of the womb and a tenderness and wisdom in raising her 19 children that have been downright inspiring.”
Religious dogma aside (the show was always very very careful to edit those bits out to make the family seem almost secular) the Duggars seemed harmless and quaint. An entertaining curiosity.
I shared funny memes about the family like this: