Dan Savage has a really good piece—and I’m not just saying this because he quotes me—at The Stranger regarding the Duggar family and the bizarre media handling of them that treats them like a bunch of quirky folks instead fundamentalist theocrats who sincerely want to force the rest of us to live by their bizarre religious rules. The impetus for the piece was that Savage was getting harassed by the Twitchy machine, which probably was the single most important reason I gave up on Twitter mentions, because he made a silly joke about them on Twitter. The theme of the Twitchy abuse is that Savage was overstepping his bounds in commenting on the “private” sexual choices that the Duggars advertise loudly and from every corner they can:
For a week, angry Twitchy readers scolded me for having the nerve to even think about the Duggars. More than one said I was bitter because a nice girl like Jill would never marry a sad, angry man like me. Twitchy readers who knew I was gay called me a rude and filthy cocksucker and told me that I should leave the Duggars alone and stick to sucking rude and filthy cocks.
Culture war is a funny thing. Most of the conservatives who are in love with the Duggars wouldn’t dream of actually living the sad, constrained lives of Quiverfulls. Most of them are not stupid enough to think it’s a good idea to have a bazillion children. And yet here they are, licking the asses of people that, if they were being honest with themselves, come across like religiously addled misogynists even by extremely right wing standards.
That Duggars believe that women should have no sexual agency at all is not an exaggeration. 100% of your sexual decisions are made for you. When you have sex and who you have sex with is never your choice. Your dad picks your husband for you, though most “generously” allow women to at least voice an opinion on this. Your aren’t allowed to have sex or even kiss or hug before your wedding, but even after it, you have no say in when you have sex. That decision is solely your husband’s:
And once a Duggar girl is married, says Mom, she is never allowed to say no to sex. “Duggar women don’t get headaches,” Michelle told Us. “You always need to be available when he calls.” And if you’re not always available—if you do get a headache, or you’re just not in the mood one night, or if turns out that your husband prefers Dad’s auditions—then you’re to blame when your husband cheats on you.
And because you are not allowed to use birth control, that means that you have literally no say whatsoever in your reproductive life. You are, quite literally, not a person, but simply a tool for which a man relieves himself sexually and an oven in which he bakes his offspring. Your opinion on the matter is of no more value than a refrigerator’s opinion on what food you store in it.
Savage makes the good point that because the Duggars put their sex life out there in hopes of being role models, those of us who reject this misogynist idiocy are within our rights to say so. I would add that, even if they didn’t put themselves up as role models, we are well within our rights to speak out against a religious faith that teaches that women have no sexual agency and that “yes” and “no” are meaningless words coming from a woman’s mouth. That is abuse. Religion is always up for public discussion, since it’s an idea and that’s how ideas work, but when religion argues that abuse is the ideal for marriage, we have double the obligation to speak up about it. Savage also notes that they organize politically against other people’s non-abusive sex lives, so there is no way you can argue that anything they do is outside of the bounds of public criticism.
This double standard that conservatives are pushing, where religious fanatics like the Duggars get to say and do whatever they want to interfere with our sex lives but we are not supposed to even make jokes about their unhealthy, misogynist ideals is more than just culture war posturing, though. The Duggars are useful as a political tool for the right. They are held up as an ideal by right wingers because they make an excellent cudgel to beat women with. They help instill the idea that it’s normal and okay to demand that women relinquish 100% of their sexual and reproductive autonomy, and therefore the usual conservative demands that we just lose, oh, 50% of our basic autonomy sound more reasonable in comparison. They also encourage right wingers to strive for more. While I doubt we’ll ever be living in Duggar Nation, by holding them out as an ideal, conservatives can push themselves and their followers to dream big, to not be content merely restricting abortion but to think long-term and big picture: Attacks on legal contraception, restrictions on women’s education, remaking marriage ideals so women are cringingly submissive. By setting the bar high, they reach further. And that is the purpose of the Duggars, and why I take them and the threat they pose very seriously.