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TV Review: Sister Wives – Defending Polygamy

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With this episode of Sister Wives, we see the Brown family becoming a bit more comfortable with their celebrity as reality TV stars.  The cameras interact more with the people around them, and Kody and most of the sister wives seem to enjoy being able to be open about their lifestyle in public, and are quite generous and fairly comfortable in answering questions.  (Janelle has more trouble with this, but she does fine.)

They seem to be starting to respond more to their public audience this season altogether.  This week they go right for the question of polygamy’s social acceptability by taking the cameras into Kody’s hometown, meeting with his childhood friends.

The whole crew caravan for the 15-hour trip from Las Vegas to Lovell, Wyoming, where they attend a parade and fireworks, go boating with one of Kody’s oldest friends, and see some other friends at a get-together that basically seems to have been created for the purposes of the show.  Throughout this, the Browns go everywhere together as a polygamous family, openly talking about their lifestyle, which is fairly new for them for such public events.

The cameras interview random people on the street about their reactions to the Browns.  People in general are accepting, but most do not approve.  As several of the residents made sure to make it clear when interviewed in the episode, Lovell is not a place where polygamy is commonly practiced or accepted (where is?!).

Still, the reactions of Kody’s friends are mostly benign.  What they express seemed quite real, ranging from incredulity to acceptance, with some admitting initial shock that they have since gotten over.  One woman says that it makes sense to her that Kody would want sister wives and lots of kids, because he has always liked to be the center of attention!  I think this has certainly shown itself to be true—Kody is a great guy to take polygamy public because he actually thrives in the limelight.  Even though that quality is off-putting to some, people in general are fascinated.

Ken, his boyhood best friend, seems to still have a lot of animosity, even though they’ve supposedly come to a truce.  Ken is still upset about Kody leaving the LDS church to join a small fundamentalist Mormon sect.  He admits he feels threatened, and afraid that the Browns will proselytize and “confuse” other Mormons, since the basic tenets of their faith are so similar.  He claims to feel duty-bound to ensure that Kody knows he will be going to Hell at death.  Personally, I’m not sure this is the kind of friend I’d want around much!

The Mormon history with polygamy has always fascinated me.  Polygamy was a big part of the early Mormon culture, but after much of the Mormon population relocated to Utah, it became clear that polygamy was a political liability.  The church leadership ended it, at least for earthly existence (even in the mainstream church, a serial monogamist who remarries after a wife’s death is still believed to be married to all of them in the afterlife—for eternity!).  Mainstream Mormons today are eager to distance themselves as much as possible from the “fundamentalist” groups who continue the practice of polygamy.  I’ve never really heard whether there are any theological differences between the LDS and FLDS churches except for this practice.

I can’t really understand why polygamy would be a tenet of a religion—I totally respect their right to religious freedom, but to me polygamy is more a matter of personal lifestyle choice.  I have chosen a polygamous situation just because it works best for me.  Doing it for religious reasons, I would think that some people might choose it idealistically rather than really looking at what will work for them.  I don’t believe polygamy is for everyone, even though I think it’s great for those it’s right for.  In the Sister Wives family, I think the man and women involved are in it because they were attracted to the lifestyle as well as for their faith, and I think that’s why their situation works.

The wives talk about being very offended when people assume polygamy is about sex.  The Sister Wives family chose their lifestyle because of their religion, but I think there is an element of personal orientation at play here too—these are people who prefer to live in a poly-fidelity circumstance.  That doesn’t mean it’s about having more sex, but that they have these commitments to multiple people (the wives also have commitments to each other, even though they are all only sexual with Kody).  Kody talks in this episode about being attracted to polygamy early in life, even while he was in a religion that did not advocate it.  I think it’s just part of his personal orientation, and that the wives also are attracted to the lifestyle itself.

I disagree, in this episode, when the women refer to Kody’s relationship with each of his wives as monogamous.  Obviously, he is polygamous.  I think they are just saying that he has individual relationships with each of them, and that he’s invested in and committed to each one.  They have a commitment and they are loyal to it, so it’s not about promiscuity or casualness, or a lack of ability to be in an intimate relationship.

The Brown sister wives say that women are always asking them how they do it, and what they really seem to want to know is why anyone would want to do it!  It’s true that people want to know this; that’s why I’ve created my site, to provide some of those answers.

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About Polygrrl

  • ruthann blank

    I think that polygamy is disgusting and for this family to show this smut on television is absaultly disgusts me.

  • http://www.polygrrl.com polygrrl

    You are welcome to your opinion. It would be interesting to hear more about what it is that disgusts you – do you think that monogamy is the only “moral” type of relationship, is it about the FLDS religion, or is there something else that’s bothering you?

  • etsjedi

    Well, according to THE LAW of every state in the country of the USA that you can only be married to one person at a time both versions of marriage whether it be time living together to marriage licence. It is riduclous that tv enables shows about drug use, bigamy and other lawless behavior, but they are not held accountable. You film someone using drugs, but don’t call the police you are aiding and abetting a crime. I don’t care how they twist the “living” together rules around they know it is a bigamest situation and is morally and legal wrong, don’t justify it with calling someone old fashioned or out of tough. Remember that thought when your daoughter or son join a cult and disavows all knowledge of you!
    TV producers and so-called news journalist need to be held accountable!

  • http://www.polygrrl.com polygrrl

    The law is not as straightforward as you might think, as it relates to the family on Sister Wives. It is illegal in all of the US, to my knowledge, to be legally married to more than one person at once – bigamy. It is not illegal in most places to have multiple relationships at once, as long as you don’t try to make them legal marriages.

    Utah has unusually rigid laws around these things. The Browns were being investigated because it is illegal in Utah to have a marriage-like relationship to more than one person at a time, whether or not you try to make it legal. Most places, that is not the case.

    I understand that it is also illegal in Utah to live with your monogamous boyfriend or girlfriend without marrying them, or to have some fairly common kinds of sex, even in the privacy of your own home, and even if you are a heterosexual married couple.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    I fail to see what’s so terrible about polygamy other than that having one wife is challenging enough, never mind several!

    There’s certainly nothing inherently “disgusting” about it, especially since it’s been practiced for as long as humans have had the concept of marriage. If one is to believe the Old Testament, it was standard practice for much of the biblical era: many of its most prolific exponents (Solomon, anyone?) are now revered as prophets and saints.

    Speaking of Utah, it’s apparently illegal to fish from horseback there as well. Since Ruthann and Etsjedi seem confused between morality and legality, perhaps one of them could explain what makes catching a salmon for one’s supper with Trigger’s assistance immoral.

    You film someone using drugs, but don’t call the police you are aiding and abetting a crime.

    With a few exceptions (a teacher with knowledge of a child abuse situation, for example), there is actually no legal obligation to report a crime as long as you don’t actively conceal it. The producers of Sister Wives are doing nothing illegal.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Very interesting perspective on a subject I know next to nothing about. Looking forward to more, Polygrrl.

  • Annastacia

    If God wanted men to have more than one wife, wouldn’t he make more women than men? It just seems logical, but the ratio to men to women is about the same.

  • Annastacia

    According to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2009 there are 1.1 males to females which works out to about 50.25% males, 49.75% females given the total population of world being approximately 6,790,062,216.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Um, according to your numbers, there are slightly more men. I guess god wanted a few women to have more than one husband. ;-)

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    By my calculations using your logic, god wants about 3.5 million women to have two husbands…or possibly 1.75 million women could get 3 husbands….or maybe one woman might take 3.5 million husbands????

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Interestingly enough, in some of the world’s big box office religions you get major cool points for being celibate, especially if you’re a man. In an ideal world, that would work out quite nicely, since the men who ended up without any wives (as a result of other men having several) wouldn’t want them anyway!

    The snag is that the religions which endorse polygamy are not the ones which encourage celibacy. There are no monks or nuns in Islam, a polygamy-friendly faith, for example. And indeed, in mainstream Christian theology, which holds polygamy to be a serious no-no, the whole purpose of marriage is as a legitimate sexual outlet for all those fiends who can’t control themselves.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Of course the major snag with Annastacia’s theory is that it is based on a fictional notion…

  • http://www.polygrrl.com polygrrl

    My understanding from several sources is that the ratio is different in different places, and in most Western countries, there are slightly more women than men, especially when you get to the marriageable years. At birth, there are more boys, but girls live longer than boys. By the time you get to the early twenties, there are more men. As people get older, the number of men decreases, until it’s quite a bit larger at middle age.

    This also doesn’t account for the the small percentage of celibates, and the larger percentage of men who are gay (my understanding is that there are more gay men than gay women).

    I am working on an article for my polygrrl site that will have more details on all of this, because there is quite a lot to say.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Not sure if there really are more gay men than women, or if it’s that women tend to remain in the closet more than men do. It’s certainly more socially acceptable nowadays to be male and gay than to be a lesbian, although that is changing.

    Back to my previous topic, I’m intrigued as to what the thought process is in those Islamic cultures that endorse polygamy (for men), all the while urging God to make all of their children boys. Where do they think all these wives are going to come from?

  • zingzing

    doc: “It’s certainly more socially acceptable nowadays to be male and gay than to be a lesbian…”

    i’m a bit perplexed as to what makes you think that’s true.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    zing, look at popular culture, in particular at the number of openly gay male vs. female celebrities there are. (Yes, there’s Ellen, who is one of the most awesome people on the planet, but she’s a rarity.) And reality shows, which almost always have gay male contestants but rarely lesbian ones. And fashion or design-based TV shows, on which many of the hosts or co-hosts are gay men – but never gay women. And having a gay male friend, which is considered kind of cool, especially if you’re a straight woman. The widespread perception of gay men is that they’re fun. That’s not the widespread perception of lesbians.

    And no, none of this represents my personal attitudes. And yes, it is shallow. But then so is popular culture.

    Sadly, I think the main reason women don’t tend to come out as freely as men is that in our culture men have always been able to do pretty much what they like, whereas women haven’t. Happily that too is changing, but it will take time.

  • zingzing

    that’s true doc, but popular culture is not the entirety of what’s “socially acceptable.” look at the amount of crap gay men have to put up with compared to gay women. yes, some of the same stigma applies, but i don’t think we’re talking about the same level of vehemence. i mean, everyone loves lesbians, right? or at least some sexualized idea of lesbians.

    and i get the feeling that when a homophobe goes all homophobic, he or she is probably not concentrating on lesbians. just a feeling. i don’t have any numbers to back that up, but i would think violence towards gay men just because they’re gay is greater than violence towards gay women just because they’re gay.

    there do seem to be less “out” gay women than men, that’s for sure. but what’s the lesbian equivalent of a “beard”? how come you rarely hear about closeted lesbians suffering through loveless marriages? i dunno. i’m sure it happens, but i think there’s just less awareness of lesbians in pop culture, and that’s the difference you’re seeing.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    i mean, everyone loves lesbians, right? or at least some sexualized idea of lesbians.

    Exactly, zing: in that particular fantasy, it’s not the lesbianism per se that people are in love with; it’s the idea of getting two for the price of one, as it were.

    Real lesbian culture, because a lot of it is aligned with radical feminism, is often perceived as threatening, or at best ridiculous.

    i don’t have any numbers to back that up, but i would think violence towards gay men just because they’re gay is greater than violence towards gay women just because they’re gay.

    You’re probably right. I also think you might find that a large proportion of homophobic violence against lesbians is committed by women. The reason why it’s less than violence against gay men is probably simply because women in general are less violent. But if you were able to somehow compensate statistically for that, I wonder what you might come up with.

    how come you rarely hear about closeted lesbians suffering through loveless marriages?

    I’ve actually heard quite a lot of such stories, in part thanks to my wife religiously DVRing Oprah… and now Rosie. Again, because men have traditionally enjoyed enjoy greater social freedoms, they’ve got a jump on the whole acceptance thing, and I think the pressure for a gay woman to put on a facade of “normality” remains more intense.

    i think there’s just less awareness of lesbians in pop culture, and that’s the difference you’re seeing.

    Agreed, and that was more or less my point.

  • zingzing

    “because men have traditionally enjoyed enjoy greater social freedoms, I think the pressure for a gay woman to put on a facade of “normality” remains more intense.”

    that may be true, but don’t you think that if lesbianism is connected with feminism, as you state above, they’d be out of the closet all the quicker?

    anyway, i think the stigma against gay men and the acceptance of gay men is, paradoxically, higher (than it is for gay women). although it’s not really a paradox, i guess. homosexuality in males creates stronger emotional responses in society, i suppose. lesbians just aren’t seen the same way. possibly because they don’t threaten the patriarchy you’re claiming is the source of the pressure (to maintain “normality”). why they wouldn’t threaten it and gay males would is beyond me, but i guess it’s the case.

    either way, i still don’t believe that lesbians have it harder than gay men in this society. at least not when it comes to prejudices about their sexuality. the level of hatred once geared towards gay men has lessened in number if not in intensity, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not dangerous in the wrong spots.

  • christa

    polygamy is disgusting. I have been married to the same and for 8 years and he had an affair. programs like that make men think that having more than 1 woman is okay and it’s not. it is against the law to be married to more than 1 person. for a television network to air a program about something that is against the law is horribly immoral!

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Christa, you seem confused about the distinction between law and morality. If a law is unjust, there is nothing immoral or disgusting about defying it, and I can give you countless examples of people doing just that.

    Personally I can’t see why any man in his right mind would want to be married to more than one woman at a time, but at least there is openness and honesty in the Browns’ arrangement, which clearly hasn’t been the case in your own marriage.

  • Amanda Noelle H

    How do you possibly feel loved in a relationship like that?? That’s really sad cause I couldn’t imagine sharing my hubby with anyone else. I don’t even believe in 3 somes.I think that is truly disgraceful. This is worse than lesbianism. I am very sensitive, personal & overprotective of my relationship …..not understanding the world! That’s sick & there’s a million more men in the world & they’d whether share one! I like all the attention on me& me only.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Amanda, that’s a rather daft statement. There’s no reason a polygamous husband should love his wives less just because he has more than one of them, any more than a man loves his kids less because he has more than one.

    And what, may I ask, is so terrible about lesbianism?

  • Cindy

    Dr.D,

    Allow me to help you follow what I think is the reasoning.

    Since there are more men than women in the world, god clearly wants a one woman per man arrangement. Now those left over men indicate that god does intend for some men to be gay. However, since there are zero left over women, god finds lesbianism disgusting. That works for me.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Hmm…

    But as discussed in earlier comments, Cindy, celibacy rather than gayness appears to be the preferred role for the leftover men. (Or, alternatively, being sent to wars to be slaughtered en masse.) In religious circles male celibacy is much more admired than its female counterpart.

  • Cindy

    In religious circles male celibacy is much more admired than its female counterpart.

    Yes, well that is easily explained. Given the choice of males within those same circles, women would naturally be celibate. It would be getting them to be uncelibate that would be the challenge.

    (Perhaps that is why lesbianism is despised. One faced with an appealing partner, women might no longer be ‘naturally’ celibate.)

  • Cindy

    one = once

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cindy –

    Last I recall, there’s more women than men in the world, largely thanks to men’s tendency to engage in high-risk behavior: fights, crimes, really stupid stunts, and wars. OTOH, the greatest criminal threats to women come from their husbands and boyfriends.

    We men often are indeed a sorry lot.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And Cindy –

    Among men, lesbianism is much less despised than gay (male-male) sex. Make of that what you will, but in my experience men are more than willing to watch lesbian sex but the vast majority are almost violently opposed to watching gay sex. Call it the hypocrisy of the y chromosome.

  • roger nowosielski

    It’s because voyeurism on the part of males.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger –

    Voyeurism in and of itself is not the point – it’s the engagement in and particularly the acceptance of voyeurism of acts involving one gender to a far greater extent than that of acts involving the other gender.

  • Dr Dreadful

    No, it is voyeurism. Straight men aren’t generally interested in the idea of two men getting it on. Two women, on the other hand – you’re getting two for the price of one, so to speak.

    And there’s less acceptance than you would think. Faced with the reality of a female-female romantic or sexual relationship that involves actual people, rather than the pneumatic sorority sister couplings of fantasy, and many men become a lot more uncomfortable if not downright hostile.

  • Dr Dreadful

    And Glenn, there are more men than women in the world, although the difference is tiny – about 101 males to every 100 females – and probably disappears altogether when one adjusts for aggressive sex selection in certain cultures.

    Slightly more males are also born than females. Nobody really knows why. It may be natural compensation for males’ higher tendency to die prematurely, although I don’t think anyone has identified the natural selection mechanism that brought this about.

  • Cindy

    Glenn,

    You know what they say about having to explain a joke? I guess I will “keep my day job”, as the saying goes. ;-)

  • Cindy

    The funny thing is, I thought I was being absurd enough to make my tongue-in-cheek intent evident. The only conclusion I can draw is that Glenn apparently thinks I am ALWAYS absurd, and so he didn’t notice. lol

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Well, I spotted that your tongue was shoved into your cheek even if Glenn didn’t. Still, it did spark an interesting little flurry of discussion.

    And Glenn is absurd pretty often himself. You know that saying “it takes one to know one”? In his case, not so much… :-)