I have stated several times before that I think the Duggars are a very nice and sincere family and I have heard from people who know them personally that they don’t put on an act for the show – that they really are like that.
But I do see a general problem with the show and that’s the public image of the general P/QF movement. 19 kids and counting actually makes it look really good. I watch the show on a regular basis because it makes me feel a bit like… home. But I can’t stop myself from critizing the image of the typical P/QF family as shown in this show.
First off, the Duggars are a rich family. That’s a simple fact you can’t deny. I honestly believe that they practice their “buy used, save the difference” mantra and I believe that’s partially why they don’t have financial struggles, but let’s be honest here: That show makes them a lot of money, and so do their books, their meet-ups and their visits on multiple conferences each year. Did you realize that Jim Bob rarely ever seems to “go to work” in a traditional sense? He’s almost never really “busy”. He has lots of time to spend with his kids and wife. And this is why I believe that the family structure and the family relations are so much better within the Duggar family than they are in a normal QF family where the man of the house has to work all day, multiple jobs, to provide the basics for his large family.
Conclusion 1: The Duggars actually have time for their kids.
Let’s look at the way they dress: The Duggar girls aren’t dressed in an old-fashioned way. All of them wear pretty, modern clothes. I know that they say they buy only at thrift shops, but I think they’re talking about the upper-class thrift shop here. Not the ones with really outdated clothes for very little money, but the ones were you can find clothes from the latest seasons of fashion. Of course, this costs more. Not as much as new but this difference is a big deal for the normal QF family. The Duggars needn’t sew their own clothes or alter old clothes, they can buy fitting, modern stuff. Another point in the dressing issue is that not every QF girl is allowed to wear this type of stuff. I remember getting into a big discussion with my parents if jeans skirts and shirts were ok. In some families this isn’t possible, it’s too worldly. Jeans is considered men’s clothing in some families (forbidden in the bible). And on top of it all, the girls don’t always wear ankle-length skirts. Sometimes they just cover their knees. Dressing-wise, I’d consider them on the liberal end of the fundamentalist dress code.
Talking about the Duggar women, let’s look at Anna Duggar. Remember when Josh and Anna were courting/engaged? Anna never wore make-up. Her hair was long and didn’t look like she ever put much work into it. Her clothes were looser-fitting and plainer. Not that she looked bad, but she looked more like a typical QF girl. Look at her now: She cut her hair to shoulder length (VERY short for QF standards!), it’s always straightened and I believe she had some highlights and color put in (she was much more blond during engagement), her make up is noticeable and beautifully done, her clothes are much more modern, colorful and tighter. Her entire personality seems happier, bubblier, more outgoing (though this could be rooted in her shyness towards camera at first). She changed from this little wallflower into a blossoming, beautiful and seemingly strong woman. She is the walking image of how great the QF lifestyle is. I really like Anna Duggar, I think she was beautiful before and still is, that’s not the point. The point is that I get the feeling that she’s supposed to be a walking commercial for the P/QF lifestyle.
Conclusion 2: The girls don’t look crazy and weird, but worldly (though modest and nice). The show depicts women rather worldly looking, but happy and fulfilled in their traditional role.
And another thing about the Duggar girls: They don’t give this submissively oppressed vibe. The interviews with them are fun, they joke around, do funny faces. They seem to be running the place, have authority over decisions and their own opinions. They aren’t weird around others, they are open, talkative and funny. They have a great way to interact with people outside the movement. They never come across as judgemental and scared. This type of behaviour simply isn’t true for many girls who aren’t allowed to be so loud and outgoing. Many QF families see this as a problem in girls, that girls should be shy, quiet and meek.
Conclusion 3: The girls portrait QF as a fun, normal, fulfilling lifestyle for every girl.
The activities of the Duggars aren’t exactly boring either. They have a huge house with tons of options for the kids, a huge garden with fun activities. They go on trips all across the world, sometimes as family, sometimes just the parents or the kids. The boys and girls are members of the local volunteer fire department. They live in a world with lots of action and fun, while it is at the same time full of purpose and meaning. They put a heavy emphasis on learning through these journeys and activities. And that’s just not possible for many normal families, even secular ones. Plus, I think the fact that the girls too are members of the fire department is very strange. I don’t know any girl who would’ve been allowed to do such a thing. It’s men’s work. And that just doesn’t add up for me. I think it’s utterly unrealistic for the vast majority of P/QF families.
Conclusion 4: The show depicts meaning through fun, exciting activities and doesn’t show the boxes of men’s and women’s activities (like it would be the case in a normal P/QF family).
Probably the biggest minus of this show is that it doesn’t show actual problems and struggled in the matter of family and/or spousal relations. There are no glimpses of how the kids are “trained” or disciplined, neither are there fights between Jim Bob and Michelle. Everyone seems to be so close, so happy with each other, never getting into a serious fight. It’s not shown HOW the Duggars resolve conflict, between kids, kids and parents or between just the parents. Life looks peaceful and filled with joy and mutual respect and understanding. I don’t even believe there is much fighting in this family, after all they are well off with little worries for money, so not that much to fight about. The only struggle shown in the show was Michelle’s last pregnancy, and that was handled with almost inhuman strength and understanding from every member of the family. They make it look easy and natural when in reality that’s simply not true for most families. The show entirely ignores the struggles and fears of wife dealing with submission, child discipline, overwhelming amount of duties and so on. To the outsider, or to a person who’s playing with the thought of following the fundamentalist teachings, this show is extremely appealing.
Conclusion 5: The show doesn’t talk about struggles and problems with people in their “biblical” role and between people within the families. With God’s help, it seems, everything is easy and good.
Looking at this short and incomplete list of things that simply don’t appear in reality, I can no longer wonder why ex-P/QF people have such a hard time being accepted as abused. People have this beautiful image of the Duggars in mind and of course wonder “What was so bad about that lifestyle?”. They say things like “Get over it, let it go” because they don’t know how life REALLY is in the QF movement. I think the Duggars are to be seen as their very own version of QF and shouldn’t be used as example for all QF families, but that’s hard to understand for outsiders. I’m glad the Duggars seem to have found a way to get it to work more or less, but it makes us others, from families where nothing worked, look like whiney girls raving on about something that wasn’t as bad. And that, in my opinion, is an image in desperate need for a reality-check and some change.