TLC's "Sister Wives" Brings Polygamy to Reality TV

7 years ago

When it comes to polygamy or men with multiple wives, you can put me down solidly on the side of thinking: WTF!? My feminist hackles rise, my righteous indignation flares and I start to spout off about religions created by men, run by men, that promote men presiding over multiple women, keeping those women in degradation and oppression.

Yeah, I know that's a little over the top, but I'm giving you my gut here.

Sister Wives
Photo Credit: TLC

So here comes the new TLC reality TV show, Sister Wives which chronicles the lives of Kody Brown and his three wives: Meri, Janelle and Christine, and their thirteen children.

Now tell me, have you ever wondered what it would be like to be part of a plural marriage? Just think about it: you always have a babysitter handy, there's always someone else to make dinner if you work and she doesn't, and you've got a full time girlfriend on call.

Well those are just some of the things the wives in Sister Wives say is so great about being part of a plural family. In fact Christine, the third wife, says that the rule of thumb is if you have two wives and there's tension in the family, marry a third one and that'll fix the problem.

I had a chance to watch a preview of the hour-long premiere of Sister Wives, and though my feminist hackles got a good work out, I gotta say, Meri, Janelle and Christine came off as quite normal. It's kind of like when I see a wife whose sole idea of marital happiness is taking care of a home and children and never setting foot in a workplace -- I know that's not for me, but I respect any woman's right to choose that life for herself.

I almost felt like that about these three women. Almost.

These women aren't being abused, and the kids look ridiculously adorable and well adjusted. A couple of the wives grew up in plural households, so they're used to the whole lifestyle, but I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable at this worship of the man as the end all and be all of a family, with multiple women available to serve him.

And I gotta tell ya, watching as Kody bed-hopped from one wife to the next while joking about having to shower in one living area and find his clothes in another, made me think, "Well don't you just have it so tough!"

As a TV show, it's a little sleepy, though I saw a preview episode, and it may change before it airs. The real drama in the seven-part series will come as Kody announces his plans to take on a fourth wife, Robyn. While the other wives like the new prospect and her three kids from a previous husband, they're a little apprehensive about upsetting what has so far been a harmonious triple union.

Then you've got the small problem that polygamy is illegal in the United States, including in Utah, where the Browns live. I took a look at the website of the Utah attorney general and found the section on polygamy quite interesting. Though it's listed as a crime, the attorney general's office "decided to focus on crimes within polygamous communities that involve child abuse, domestic violence and fraud."

Writer Brooke Adams, who covers polygamy for the Salt Lake Tribune, did an interview with Kody Brown and his wives last year, and she evidently asked for a comment from law enforcement officials about the show. This is the response she posted last month:

"This afternoon, Craig Johnson, deputy Utah County Attorney, said he had no "official" comment on “Sister Wives” or the Brown family, which lives in the county."

In the Mormon blogosphere, there didn't appear to be much about the show but I did find some mentions. At the blog Introspection of a Plural Wife at Heart, MPB says:

I'm really looking forward to this show. This is a lovely family with a great sense of humor and a lot of love to go around.

Rebecca J of By Common Consent is curious about how the new wife will be introduced:

I’ve always been interested in how that works, and how the existing wives figure into that decision. Do they all four sit down together and go, “What about Robyn? She seems nice, doesn’t she?” Or does Kody (jeez louise) try to feel things out with each of the wives individually? Or do the three wives get together and say, “Robyn is so fun, we should totally get Kody to marry her”? Or does Kody just come home one day and say, “Honeys, great news! This is Robyn and she LOVES to pick up after other people!”

Amanda at Scholaristas, a women's religious history blog, loves reality TV and is very excited about Sister Wives:

In my excitement, I posted a link to the new TLC show Sister Wives on my Facebook show. I was surprised at the number of comments that my status update received. Most of the concerns surrounding the show surrounded its legality. One friend, however, brought up the possible connection between it and other alternative lifestyles. As someone who supports gay marriage, she felt that she had to be accepting of polygamy as long as everyone in the relationship consented and there was no abuse of women or children.

However, Rosie at  For Your Consideration, who has been witness to several polygamous unions, is appalled:

At the risk of sounding square, possessive or close minded, I'm just going to declare on the internet that I am not a fan of polygamous, or so-called "polyamorous" arrangements. Watching one in action makes me stir with the same discomfort as learning that a friend is shooting heroine or honestly believes dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together.I'm sorry, but I just find it to be wrong.

And Colleen at the blog College Candy is wondering what the good folks at TLC are smoking:

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it was possible for TLC to get any more messed up. Growing up, I used to watch A Wedding Story and A Baby Story, tears filling my eyes as I saw how a baby was born or what it took to pull off the perfect wedding. Nowadays, though, I legitimately cannot remember the last time TLC taught me much of anything ... besides what it looks like for a happy marriage to go up in (Ed Hardy) flames or when a little person gets a DUI.

Sister Wives premieres on TLC on September 26th at 10/9c.


Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television/Online Video.. Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock and Meg's Rad Reviews.

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