Feminist Polygamy Comes to Reality TV



Feminist polygamists? Why not? There's a strain of feminism that doesn't trust women to make their own (however atypical) relationship choices. I am not one of those feminists, and neither are the sister wives of the Williams family. But they are explicitly feminist—all five women, along with family patriarch Brady Williams, eagerly identified with the label in an interview with writer Natalie Dicou.

Why does this matter? Because the Williams family are the newest polygamous unit to grace reality television. My Five Wives debuted on TLC March 9, featuring Brady, his five wives, and their combined 24 children.

The family, based outside of Salt Lake City, are former members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect that believes polygamy is necessary to get into heaven. "The church's male-dominated doctrines didn't sit right with the evolving Williams parents who, over time, concluded they didn't want their kids to feel compelled to rack up spouses to please God," Dicou notes.

The Williamses teach their children that gender doesn't determine a person's value, that girls can be anything boys can be, and that it's okay to be gay — or even have "multiple husbands," Nonie noted — if that's your jam.

"Whatever form marriage and family comes in, as long as it's about love and commitment, that's okay," Brady said. "Where no one's a victim. Where no one's being compelled to be in it. Consenting adults who love each other should be able to express that in a family setting."

Where no one's a victim. It's a telling sentence, and an important one. Polygamous women are perpetually portrayed as victims, by both Christian conservatives and state feminists alike.

TLC's previous polygamy series, Sister Wives, and HBO's Big Love have somewhat changed the face of polygamy in pop culture, but many people still associate the practice with sexism, spousal abuse, child abuse, and fanaticism. And it's this unsavory image of polygamy that gets used to justify its ban in the United States, much in the same way that tales of homosexuals' depravity were long used to deny them priveleges reserved for monogomous, heterosexual, Christianity-abiding U.S. citizens.

Not to put too much faith in reality TV programming, but showing America that polygamists can be culturally progressive, egalitarian, and otherwise normal-ish could be a good step in overcoming social skepticism toward the practice. A practice that, as Brady says, really comes down to "consenting adults who love each other."

NEXT: Jerry Brito: When Copyright Smothers Free Expression

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  1. OT:

    Bud did Obama do the introduction for Cosmos In Name Only?

    Also, where did this smug notion that science must be dumbed-down for Americans to enjoy it on television? The genius of the original Cosmos is that it respected its audience. Of course, this was before “the Reagan 80s and the rise of American Anti-Intellectualism.”

    1. You’re blaming Reagan for anti-intellectualism????????

    2. where did this smug notion that science must be dumbed-down for Americans to enjoy it on television?

      When certain Americans started to question their be-lab-coated priesthood concerning the doctrine of anthropogenic global warming.

      1. When you say “question” you give them credibility. They’re not questioning anything. They’re denying settled science. I mean, some really smart people took a vote, so it must be true. Consensus is the new science.

        1. Consensus is the new science.

          Well, indeed, that’s why I’m pursuing a degree in Luminiferous Aether Dynamics.

          1. HM,
            if most of the class agrees on whatever hypothesis you are testing, it’s good. The question will have been settled.

          2. I am earning my certificate in Phrenological Studies!

            /Sally Struthers school attendee

          3. I’m planting this year’s garden using Lysenko’s techniques!

    3. To be fair, the Original Cosmos was pretty dumbed down too. Though not in the same way as newer science documentaries.

      Really, I’d like to see a lot more science docs that are sort of at an introductory college course level of sophistication. But most people seem to shut off as soon as they see an equation, so that probably doesn’t work.

      1. I don’t think Sagan thought too much of anyone without a doctorate.

        FWIW, is there any real difference between Sagan and Tyson? Sagan was a vaguely socialist technocrat who looked down on mere industrial research – kind of like a real-life Dr. Stadler.

        1. Sagan was a vaguely socialist technocrat who looked down on mere industrial research

          Really? I’ve never heard this.

  2. Simple math. If you want your religion or your beliefs to have more adherents, encourage large families.

    Libertarians could copy this strategy, except having 10 husbands and 1 wife doesn’t work.

    1. “having 10 husbands and 1 wife doesn’t work.”

      this is why you-know-what

      1. I was just going off the observed ratios.

    2. Polyandry is very, very unpopular with males of our species. We don’t care for it much.

      1. Not officially. Now, if the woman were to label herself a high end call girl and limit herself to 10 wealthy clients, the men might care for it enough to pay her insane amounts of money.

        1. That’s a good point, prolefeed. Maybe prostitution is a form of polyandry.

          1. I would phrase it that marriage is a form of prostitution, but the causation can go either way.

            1. …are you married?

              1. I am technically married, but separated, and living with my Vietnamese girlfriend … who wants to get married.

                1. It’s almost polygamy. Which one is more expensive?

        2. Polyandry doesn’t increase procreation rates, though.

      2. I wouldn’t like the arrangement either, I was just kidding.

      3. Polyandry is very, very unpopular with males of our species. We don’t care for it much.

        I think it’s more that women tend to strongly desire monogamy, so any men that would be OK with polyandry find themselves going for alternate arrangements.

        I for one would be OK with polyandry if the woman was sufficiently hot, smart, and interesting.

        And de facto polyandry gets tried time and time again — a married woman having a long term affair — but it tends to end because the woman tends to really desire just one of the men.

        1. I don’t think we’re wired for polyandry. As a grunting primate, I don’t like sharing my women with anyone. I want to know that my procreation juice is the only juice going in there, if you know what I mean.

          1. That’s why your penis is shaped like a snow shovel.

            1. I can clear a sidewalk like you can’t believe.

              1. What if you had the opportunity to share a really hot chick like the one in the movie “Open Your Eyes”?

                I think a lot of guys would sign up for that deal.

        2. I saw a documentary about a family in Tibet, where one of the younger brothers fell for this girl, and so she agreed to marry him. But the oldest brother got first dibs, every night, and he was always exercising his right to…um…first dibs, petty much every night.

          That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched. A lot of guys turn into homicidal maniacs when they think their wife is cheating on them; in this case, it was more like three way cuckolding (Is that the word?), cause there were three brothers, and they all wanted to kill each other.

          Women are often portrayed as being more jealous than men, but I think that might be because for guys, sharing is so unthinkable that the jealous condition just doesn’t last for very long. It quickly escalates to a conflict, but then the winner gets the girl, and then it’s assumed that she just belongs to him, now.

          Maybe male jealousy is so far off the chart that it compels immediate resolution.

      4. Then why are there all those DP videos on the internet?

      5. Polyandry is very, very unpopular with males of our species. We don’t care for it much.

        Homosexuality is very very unpopular with males of our species.

        Doesn’t mean it doesn’t or can’t happen.

    3. No but having say 3 husbands and 2 wives does.

      I still hold that given the economic shitstorm that decades of borrowing against future earnings is about to heap on us that some form of polygamy is likely to become necessary as it will be the ONLY way that you will be able to afford to have children

      1. I’ve seen where science is leading the way on this outcome with various efforts into using DNA from more than two people in fertilizing eggs.

        1. Are you thinking of mitochondrial DNA? Yes, still DNA, but different from nuclear DNA.

          1. I’m pretty sure that’s the only they’ve used genes from 3 people. I don’t think we are near having custom gametes yet.

          2. IIRC, nuclear DNA from what we would normally consider the mother and father, plus mitochondrial DNA from a donor egg whose nuclear DNA has been removed.

  3. What attracts people to watch this drivel? I guess there could be a certain schadenfreude to be gleaned from watching that guy get pecked to death by those five clucking hens, but I could think over at least one hundred and sixteen other things I could do in that hour that would bring me greater joy and satisfaction.

    1. Have you seen the show? I haven’t, but Cody in Sister Wives seems to me to be neither hen-pecked nor domineering, just one generally insanely happy dude.

      1. K. Just remember that what they show you on TV is always just like how it happens in reality. That’s why it’s called Reality TV. It’s just so realistic.

      2. I haven’t seen that show, but I have watched Sister Wives, and while Cody does seem pretty chill, there have been times when his facial expression is classic “Imma choke a bitch!”

        1. But that happens when you have one wife too.

          But I agree with your original assessment. I think watching paint dry would be a better use of an hour.

      3. If you weren’t easy-going, you could never handle living with four women.

    2. It makes people feel better about themselves, HM. As in, “gee, my life may be bad, but at least I don’t have their problems.”

      But I don’t get it either. I’ve never been drawn to sob stories.

      1. I’ve never been drawn to sob stories, or even just stories about people’s lives.

        People are boring.

    3. “What attracts people to watch this drivel?”

      The thought that somebody out there might be having his cake and eating it too.

      Once you get older and realize that sex without responsibility is pretty much impossible, the idea that you could have multiple partners, and kids and family, too, seems to a lot of guys like hitting the jackpot.

      They want to know his secret.

      I bet the secret is willing females. The fundamentalist Mormons get away with it by teaching their women that they won’t be allowed into heaven unless their husband agrees to let them go. But the secret is probably willing women, by feminism, Mormonism or however they get there.

      In a free society, that’s how it probably has to work, anyway. In Saudi Arabia, if your wife gets mad as hell about you getting another wife, there’s very little she can do about it–other than raise hell. And I understand that’s what they often do.

  4. But they are explicitly feminist?all five women, along with family patriarch Brady Williams, eagerly identified with the label in an interview with writer Natalie Dicou.

    I think the commenters at Jezebel will decide who’s feminist and who’s not, thankyouverymuch.

    1. Jezebel comments – the gift that keeps on giving.

  5. End state-recognized marriage.

    Can you imagine going through 24 pregnancies? Can you imagine shark week x 5? Is this guy ever left alone enough enough to take a proper Sunday afternoon dump?

    1. Nobody wants to hear about your intestinal journeys, douchewad.

      1. Look Epi, he only gets to do it once a week. The least you could do is humor him when he decides to share it with us.

        1. “My dump is more than you can handle. It’s epic.”

  6. I hope none of y’all are polyphobes who think that, if the guy dies, only one of his wives gets to collect the Social Security benefits. Since abolition of Social Security is politically unfeasible, then the next best thing is for the governmentt to be strictly nondiscriminatory as among different lifestyle choices. That means full Social Security benefits for all widows. For that matter, if one of the wives dies, not only the widower but the remaining four wives should get full benefits.

    Or are you all bigots?

    1. Nope, you also get equal protection under the law is his SS survivors benefits are divided up equally among all spouses

      1. So a widow or widower would get *lower* benefits than if (s)he had been in a two-person union?

        Don’t you see how that disincentivizes alternate lifestyles?

        1. And doing the opposite creates a huge incentive for them. They are all one household, and this have a lot of shared expenses. Under your plan he’d be worth more dead than alive.

          1. “your plan”

            I prefer to call it a modest proposal.

            And what if the household breaks up? The survivors would no longer be pooling their resources, and they’d need the benefits as much as if they’d had lone spouses.

          2. Why do you think I haven’t doubled my life insurance policy yet?

        2. Doesn’t matter, the law could either define the benefit given to the surviving partner or the benefit created by the deceased.

          Either way would be equal treatment under the law

    2. Anything to keep these icky marriages illegal, amirite?

      1. The concept I’m going for here is non-state-recognized.

        1. If the country is at a point where it’s willing to do away with state marriage licensing, it should be trivial to amend social security so that it no longer pays benefits based on marriages that don’t legally exist anymore. Make all benefits individual.

    3. “Since abolition of Social Security is politically unfeasible, then the next best thing is for the governmentt to be strictly nondiscriminatory as among different lifestyle choices. That means full Social Security benefits for all widows.”

      I suspect many of these “feminist” polygamous women are working. That’s probably one of the big draws–you get free daycare in a polygamous marriage. Anyway, that means they get their own damn social security.

      Incidentally, I’d be worried about abuse the other way. If three of your wives die, do you get to collect three survivors’ benefits?

      And I’m sure there are abuses with regards to welfare. If you register as four families with three children each, I bet you get a lot more welfare support than if you pooled your four incomes together and said you had 12 children.

      I bet that kind of abuse is common amoung fundamentalist Mormons.

  7. “Polygamous women are perpetually portrayed as victims, by both Christian conservatives and state feminists alike.”

    It’s generally the surplus of young single men who are the victims in polygamous societies. Women make out pretty well. Rich old guys make out the best.

    1. Polyandry is pretty rare. It’s mostly found in societies with scarce property resources, where the property inherits through the male line, and can’t be split, else the property becomes incredibly small.

      1. do you mean polygamy?

        1. I’m pretty spaced out right now. I thought we were talking about polyandry for some reason. I need to smoke some more weed.

          1. That’s ok. It was an interesting fact. I didn’t even know there were any societies that practiced polyandry.

            1. As I said, it’s pretty rare, mostly because straight males do NOT care for it. I try to be a step above a chimp, but I can tell you that polyandry is unappealing to male humans, while we’re perfectly fine with polygamy in a theoretical sense.

              1. Yeah, I’m thinking it wouldn’t be so hard to get dudes to sign on to Polyandry these days.

                More guys around means not so much pressure to earn every dollar possible to support the household, someone to take some of the BS social responsibilities off your chest (you get this parent teacher conference, I’ll get the next one), more disposable income for buying toys, more free time to play with said toys (Dude, you go antiquing this weekend while I play golf and I’ll do that Gallery thing next weekend so you can go fishing).

                As for the sex, well lets face it by the time you’re old enough to be getting married as long as she isn’t a cold fish or screwed up in the head it’s not like even the two of you will be able to out last her meaning you can swap nights meeting HER needs while the other gets some sleep or some quality HALO time in.

                1. you can swap nights meeting HER needs while the other gets some sleep or some quality HALO time in.

                  Or, you get 6 women bitching at you for how much time you spend with your buddies.

                  I could see it going either way, honestly.

                  1. We’re specifically talking Polyandry here, 1 woman multiple males.

                    Kinda hard getting 6 of em bitching at you when there is only 1 at home.

                    1. You guys need to pick a subject and stick to it. Sheesh.

                      Are gang bangs optional in polyandry? That is why people get into these things to begin with, right? For the kinks.

                2. I’m intrigued by your ideas and would like to inquire about your newsletter.

            2. India has a long tradition of polyandry and it is still practiced in some areas.

              And there is also Fraternal Polyandry, where the woman marries all the brothers of a family, either all at once, or by marrying the eldest and then each brother as they come of age. If one of the brothers leaves the marriage, his inheritance is stripped away.

              1. Look, shithead, I have a degree in anthropology and have studied polyandrous societies. My worthless fucking degree makes me more qualified to talk about chicks than you!

                1. Bring it, little man. I ain’t afraid of your fancy book-learnin’!

      1. That reminds me of a study published in Science Daily a couple of years ago about the increased crime in polygamist societies…..093142.htm

        It makes you wonder if that’s why those cultures have harsher penalties for criminals.

        1. Well, the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa have a double whammy with also having a strict preference for elders. Thus, after they finish their education, many men are stuck in “waithood” and are forced to work menial labor jobs (if they can get those) until they are considered “old” enough to be taken seriously in the field they want.

          Add that to the fact that to secure a wife, you need to have a good job, and the social status it brings, and you have a large community of men 18 to 45 who are frustrated as hell, which history has proven never ends up well.

          1. you have a large community of men 18 to 45 who are frustrated as hell, which history has proven never ends up well.

            Easy to fix.

            Just outlaw all decent except for blaming Jews and hating the US.

      2. Jebus! No wonder those Jaish al Mahdi dudes fought so hard, they were …. hard up.

        1. There is a lot to be said for that. If you were part of a historic warrior culture, where they only way you could marry and start a family was to prove yourself in battle…well, there’s a lot of incentive there. Likewise, those cultures tend to have rather sensual afterlives for those who fall in battle.

      3. Jesus Christ, muslim church is weird.

  8. Polygamy is a lot of work and the payoff is rare. No thanks.

    1. I didn’t think you could be more of a dork, but you proved me wrong.

      1. Get used to it. Dork.

        1. Wait until the “Rajas of India” DLC hits.

          1. I’m excited. I’m pre-Cheetoing my neckbeard in anticipation.

        2. You guys are old.

          You are supposed to be accusing each other of being fake dorks.

    2. Just murder your children as often as possible, and all will be well. CK2 is awesome for dinner stories with friends.

      1. “Lemme tell you about the time I hanged the Pope as a sacrifice to Odin!”

        1. My (real) wife is still annoyed about the time when I had to murder my loving husband and four year old son in order to marry a horny 17 year to to get impregnated before my menopause kicked in. That’s how I learned about matrilineal marriages.

          1. I learned about that game mechanic when I had to murder my husband and all my children to preserve my inheritance.

            1. Yep. It makes people see the value of divorce. But if you are a 30 year old Duchess, you are out of options, and (biological) clock is ticking…

  9. Feminist polygamists?

    Sure. Three or more lesbians, all married to each other.

    1. I thought they called that a cuddle party.

  10. Just thinking about being married to five women makes me tired.
    Very, very tired.

    1. Makes me feel broke.

  11. Five wives who are self-professed feminists? What in the actual fuck?

    I think that dude may be one of the biggest manginas that’s ever walked the face of the Earth.

    1. Depends on what kind of feminist. Could just mean that the reject the strict Mormon gender roles. There is some space between alpha-male-asshole and mangina.

    2. Or, he just really likes pegging.

  12. The word feminist no longer means anything.

  13. Where no one’s a victim. Where no one’s being compelled to be in it.

    Yay! No compulsion!

    I mean, except for your 24 kids, right? Or did they consent?

    1. You really are the worst.

      1. Look. My mom is the worst-worst. Imagine if I’d had five.

        1. Mothers and daughters:

          The world shudders at the thought of getting between their perpetual war.

    2. Well, no one consents to be born into any situation. There’s always suicide, I suppose.

  14. If libertarians had 24 kids each, we’d take over New Hampshire in no time.

    We’d just need some kind of transhumanist technology to skew our offspring female–since, naturally, there’s only one libertarian female for every 20 guys.

    1. there’s only one libertarian female for every 20 guys.

      I think that’s an optimistic estimate.

  15. I have yet to meet a woman who didn’t describe herself as a feminist, and I have yet to meet 2 women who agree on what that means.

    1. You have yet to meet a woman?

  16. were long used to deny them priveleges reserved for

    Remember that nice young lady who used to work here and participated in the comments? Lucy…something?

  17. I can conceive that a western, secular society MIGHT be able to do polyamorous relationships correctly, but Brown acts as if there is NO reason why those evil wing-nuts should be concerned about women in Poly relationships being victims.

    How about a little dose of reality.

    Sister wives notwithstanding, the vast majority of societies where polyamorous relationships were common tended to be pretty shitty places to be a woman. In Polygamous societies, you had a couple guys locking up all the women, stripping them of their rights and crowding out competition from other males. This wasn’t just a reflection of the society where Polygamy happened to be legal- it was a direct consequence. There are various Indian and Middle Eastern examples of this, but also examples in the US. In these places, you saw a few men come into power, lock out or exclude other men, and systematically remove the choice from women as to who they would court (arranging marriages).

    In societies with Polyandry, impact to women’s rights don’t seem as brutal, but there are plenty of polyandrous references in history where the women aren’t equals in the relationship, but rather chattel shared among men, akin to a whore-house relationship.

    Again, I am not saying that a western society is incapable of dealing with these issues, but given the recent history of polygamy- even here in the US- those people assuming that the women are victims in such scheme are likely to be right.

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