What I’m Watching: Sister Wives


I am obsessed with Sister Wives on TLC.

I wasn’t sure I was going to watch that show  because I’m not sure polygamy is a super-good idea and maybe we shouldn’t glorify it, right? But who am I kidding? I watched The Girls Next Door, with the original girls and with the annoying Shannon twins. And Big Love. LOVE Big Love. Of course I was going to watch Sister Wives!

I’m kind of fascinated with polygamy and fundamentalist sects that follow that principle of Mormon teaching. I read Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer a few years ago and my head nearly exploded when I learned that Joseph Smith had his “testimony” about plural marriage shortly after confessing to a friend that he got horny when he looked at young hot women. I’m no theologian but I don’t think that religious leaders usually add to doctrine just because they’ve got a hard-on. If that were the case, the Catholic Church would have added pedophilia to Church canon rather than just covering abuse up. Just saying. Then just recently, I read Escape by Carolyn Jessop who was the first woman to retain custody of her children after escaping the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints compound led by Warren Jeffs. That lady? Should have her face on Mount Rushmore for having the bravery to decide that eternity with the man who abused her was worse than the hell she was told she be condemned to for leaving him. She was really interesting because she didn’t paint all plural marriages with one brush – she didn’t address any plural marriage but her own. Which was horrible. She also talked about Jeffs’ rise to power and the totally deranged way he led the FLDS. The man banned the color red. And the word fun.  Yeah.

I also watch Big Love because that show is awesome. At least it was until this most recent season when Bill was running for office and ran afoul of Sissy Spacek as a vindictive lobbyist who decided to ruin him. Um, hello? I work in DC. I know big time contract lobbyists. They would NEVER  piss off a potential lawmaker. Lobbyists make their living sucking up to everyone in sight. Revenge? Is not good for business.

Anyway, it might be safe to say that I have an unseemly interest in polygamist (and pseudo-polygamist in the case of Hef and friends) relationships. It might even be safe to say I should have gone into cultural anthropology to study polygamist relationships so that I could at least claim a serious academic interest rather than just being a weird voyeur. But the end result is the same: I’m obsessed with Sister Wives.

I’m going to go ahead and get my constant refrain about family-based reality shows out of the way right up front: PUTTING KIDS ON REALITY TV IS A BAD IDEA. Ya hear that, Kody? Bad. Idea. Bad one.

Anyway here’s the rundown for those of you who are not polygamist obsessed: Kody Brown is a guy who needs to accept his receding hairline with grace. He has three wives and 13 kids. They decided going on tv was a great way to show that polygamist families are wholesome and normal. He’s courting another wife who has three kids from a previous marriage. There are lots of conversations with Kody and different combos of wives on a couch. They all cry a lot.

The Girls Next Door never cried as much as these people.

The first wife, Meri, appears to be clinically depressed. If I had to guess, I’d say it comes from years of unexplained infertility (she does have one child and had one miscarriage) coupled with a husband who has two other wives who he knocks up regularly.

The second wife, Janelle, does not appear to like being around her 6 kids or any of the other ones. She talks a lot about enjoying her job, enjoying the freedom of letting the other wives care for her kids, and enjoys being able to go do her own thing when she wants to. There was a long sequence in one episode showing her son getting all her kids up and fed in the morning.

The third wife, Christine just had baby number 7 and named it Truley. All of her kids have weird names. She’s the only wife who doesn’t work so I guess she’s doing the bulk of raising the whole family.

The fourth wife, Robyn, was in a monogamous marriage before, has three kids, and was brought into the fold at Meri’s behest.

Kody, the husband, walks around like he has a golden ticket in his pants and drives a Lexus two-seater. He thinks he’s an awesome husband and father but I’d like to see someone give him a pop quiz on his kids’ names. He seems way more into interacting with the wives than the kids.

There is nothing I find appealing about him and I cannot for the life of me figure out why these four women want to hitch their wagons to him. But I also feel that way about Robert Pattinson and there are women all over the world lining up to throw panties at him so who am I to judge? I also don’t get why these women would sign up to only have a quarter of a marriage. There are already so many demands on individuals that make it difficult for spouses to connect, why add more by engaging in a polygamist marriage?

And don’t get me started on the inherent sexism of a system that allows men multiple partners but forbids women that same choice.

But at the end of the day, I find I just don’t care very much about the morality of a consensual, adult, polygamist relationships. Can’t get real fired up about the construct. If there’s abuse? If there are underage partners? If there’s coercion? I will call 911 on your ass. But this marriage? Meh. My main objection is how unappealing I find Kody. I mean, really he’s kind of a douche. With bad hair. Who dances like a tree in a hurricane. But if they like him, I guess it’s ok. Not jailworthy, certainly. But their county disagrees and is investigating them for felony bigamy because in Utah, even the pretend, not-legal marriage with spirit wives in addition to your one legal spouse is illegal. If I were a resident of that county I’d be grouchy about use of tax-payer funds for that investigation, especially if I had a big pothole in front of my house that wasn’t getting filled.

But mostly? I just want them to get their kids off tv. And I really want Kody to get a haricut.

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I’m not the only  one talking about Sister Wives! Check out stark.raving.mad mommy and Minky (moo) too!

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19 comments for “What I’m Watching: Sister Wives

  1. October 18, 2010 at 9:03 am

    You bring up a good point: Hef’s situation is legal but polygamy is not?

  2. October 18, 2010 at 9:11 am

    I hadn’t seen an episode before the marathon late last night.

    So not only am I exhausted because I watched until after 1am, but I could not agree with you more.

    Especially regarding the hair!

  3. October 18, 2010 at 9:14 am

    ok, yes we need to cut Cody’s hair! he whips it around like he is some hot surfin’ dude rather than a 40 something horn ball. something about polygamy interests me way more than it should. i have read many books about it including ones from women who escape it. big love is one o my favorite shows. with all that being said………….

    could TLC have found a more boring family to follow? Meri clearly needs some help & Janelle seems very out of place.

    but, i still watch!you got me there TLC!

  4. October 18, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I have it on the DVR to watch during naptime today. I saw them on Oprah last week and it sucked me in.

  5. Erica Snipes
    October 18, 2010 at 9:54 am

    While I appreciated stark raving mad mommy’s take on the advantages and disadvantages of poligamy, I have to say my two biggest beefs with this whole Sister Wives things are one, which you have pointed out, that I absolutely disrespect the idea that this system allows for multiple relationships for men, but not the same for women. If you’re going to allow polygamy in the rules of your religion, allow it for both genders. But I guess that’s not “biblical”. Jacob did have all those wives after all. Second, as you absolutely correctly say, reality tv is a BAD PLACE for children, no matter how many wives or kids (Jon and Kate, Duggars, etc.) you have.

    But…hey, all of this makes great TV, doesn’t it?! And we wonder why society is so dysfunctional sometimes? 🙂

  6. Janae
    October 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I only saw two episodes of this show and I couldn’t look away but it was still bothersome. The part where the other wives sent new wife Robyn a “Kody Survival Kit” was disgusting. Four women to cater to his needs while he ignores them and their feelings (ahem Meri). It just made me sad for them. I know its consentual on their part but they deserve better than that. I still have to sort through all my emotions on this. I really want to read that Carolyn Jessup book too.

  7. Kristen
    October 18, 2010 at 10:23 am

    nice post…except the remark about the Catholic Church…..kind of out of place…

    But really, I totally agree with the idea that if them men are allowed multiple wives….why can’t the women have multiple husbands? Did you see the episode where Meri asked Kody about this and he got all creeped out…yet he thinks her jealousy issues are completely unjustified….wow…what a hypocrite!

  8. October 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

    I am totally sucked into this show and it’s amazing how much Big Love really mirrored this way of life – that fiction wasn’t too far from reality in comparison to this “family.”

  9. October 18, 2010 at 11:04 am

    OK, so, I recorded this on DVR since I loved “Big Love”. I work weekends as a nurse, and just got off work. Needless to say, I am still watching, and I am on the show where Robin is moving. They are engaged. Well, I guess I am hooked.

  10. Mandy
    October 18, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Besides cutting his hair – can we ditch the yellow dye??? He is just gross…and he acts about 16!

  11. anthrogrrl
    October 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Hi, I’m the resident cultural anthropologist who can comment on this from a cultural perspective, plus I live in Utah and just moved from the town next to where the Sister Wives live, so I hope everyone is really interested in my opinion. *grin*

    Technically speaking, this is polygyny, specifically men with multiple wives (polygamy is just multiple marriages, period, but it’s the term most people know). The majority of human cultures around the world, historically speaking, have been polygynous, although that usually means that only the richest men have multiple wives, and everyone else aspires to having them. In many cases, a man will marry sisters, because they get along better and have a genetic motive for helping raise each other’s children, since they share genes (if you take a evolutionary view on the whole thing).

    Only a very small handful of cultures have engaged in polyandry, which is women having multiple husbands. The case I know of is in Tibet, where land is very scarce, and in this case several brothers will share a wife. Yes, in this situation, the guys are still in charge. The anthropological theory on this is that several brothers sharing a wife helps keep the farmland from getting split up, since marriage is typically a way of deciding who inherits what in families.

    In societies where women have more power, I don’t think you ever see polyandry. Instead, you see matrilineal societies where land and goods are passed through the mother’s line, and women have the right to kick their husbands out and find a new one if he’s causing problems. Again, from an evolutionary perspective, there’s no good reason for a woman to have multiple husbands, since she can only have one kid at a time. Men can have more kids if they have more wives. But, in most cultures, men can’t have multiple wives if they can’t support them and their children, which is why only the rich guys get them.

    So, now to Sister Wives in Utah. Most of the FLDS groups I have heard of are incredibly repressive, controlling, and often abusive to women and children, and they do not give women the ability to choose their partners. And teenage boys are kicked out, to keep the man-to-woman ratio favorable. So overall I completely disagree with their way of life and support those who help individuals leave that life.

    This family is choosing this lifestyle, which I also find no different from Hef or others living with open marriages, and as long as it’s consensual I have no problem with it. I would never choose it for myself, but I have no problem with someone else choosing it.

    As for the felony bigamy charge, mainstream LDS-ers are, understandably, VERY SENSITIVE about polygamist groups. They have gotten a lot of abuse about that practice over the years, even though mainstream Mormons gave it up a very long time ago. So, yeah, they might be overreacting in this case. However, I am sure that they see the show as a way of rubbing this lifestyle in everyone’s faces, and how can they ignore that? Everyone knows they’re here, but they don’t really like it. I think if they’d stayed out of the spotlight, they could have gone ahead and lived as they please. But getting themselves on TV has forced the authorities to at least make it look as though they are taking action. I mean, if someone in Humboldt County, CA started a reality show about an unlicensed pot farm operation, don’t you think the authorities would feel forced to react?

  12. October 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I watched four episodes last night, because I too find it interesting, in the way that you find a train crash interetsing–you can’t look awaya. Seriously, though, I wanted to see what it looked like from the inside (though from what I’ve seen I get the impression we’re only getting the tip of the emotional iceburg and it gets mighty frosty in that house at times!

    Kody is kind of a bumbler, isn’t he? I see a lot of jealousy on the surface, so there must be more down below. And although in the intro to the show they talk about the love and family and they’re always crying about how something ‘touched’ them–what comes across, more than anything else, is that it’s a tenuous relationship all around.

    My biggest worry would also be the kids, especially Robyn’s Aspie child. I felt my stomach tighten when that realization came to mind and can’t imagine bringing my two autistic kids into that kind of situation after being in a ‘two parent’ one.

    On a moral level, I don’t care. Marry who you want to marry–the more the merrier! But it doesn’t seem to be all that ‘merry’ in Kody’s house, it feels forced for the camera.

  13. October 18, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I need to find this Oprah segment to watch! I cannot stop watching this show. It is a trainwreck. And your character descriptions sound like words from my head. I didn’t realize that Meri was the only one legally married to Kody.

  14. October 18, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I had so much to say earlier but I don’t remember any of it.

    I think that in a situation where it’s 100% choice…it’s ridiculous to press criminal charges. If there was ANY evidence where it was FORCED or where the women weren’t given any choice to leave…well that would be chargeable.

    Also I think that Wife 4 was in a single-wife-marriage but they didn’t intend to keep it that way. I think she said once that they believed in the idea of plural families, but it just never happened. Maybe that’s why they got a divorce? IDK

    And again, I say…even after her over sensitive walk-off on last nights finale…Wife 4 is still my favorite. Cody said that he thought that Wife 1 looked the most carefree (but I think that’s the Mexican vacation she just too).

    Oh and a question: Do you think there’s a ranking system? Wife 1 is the highest ranking and then down the line where wife 4 is the lowest ranking? Or do you think they are all equal. Because if I was wife 1 I’d feel entitled to be the highest ranking wife. Also I think I’d need to be the favorite wife, I’m sure he has a favorite.

  15. October 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Wait — one of Robyn’s kids has Asperger? How did I miss that?

  16. October 18, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I meant wife 3 was my favorite. Not wife 4. I actually don’t like wife 4.

  17. Jenny
    October 18, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    This show is like a train wreck – I watched a couple episodes cause I just couldnt’ look away. Kody is seriously a misogynist douchenozzle and yes he needs a freaking haircut. However, in my little rather lesbionic corner of the world, we sometimes half-joke that we’d love to start a big lesbo enclave with lots of sister-wives, just for the practical aspects. More parents to deal with kid stuff? YES PLEASE. More potential wage-earners so those who want to be SAHM or pursue not-so-lucrative careers can do so? YES PLEASE. That said, I think that while human beings do tend to be polyamorous it is really hard to execute it so no one gets hurt.

  18. October 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    i started gagging… GAGGING when kody stood up and started dancing like an asshole when they all went for the cake tasting.

    he’s a tool. an immature tool.

    and it’s sad to see all 4 of them fawning over that used tampon.

  19. October 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    I’m so terribly, terribly glad you share my obsession.

    And yes – far more than finding it weird the women are into polygamy, I’m so weird-ed out that in a culture where there must be a surplus of men they’ve chosen Kody!

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