I’m writing about the Duggar family because I think what the situation is a good one for shining light on the different ways people interpret things. The Duggar family need to decide how they will handle it, and they will decide that but everyone else who hears about the case gets to decide how they will understand the story. For some that comes very quickly and easily, while for others the situation is a bit more challenging. For some it is a story about a bad man from a good family, and others about a man from a bad ideology. I want to explain why I think the ideology is partly to blame, and why just saying “don’t judge” doesn’t help.
My thoughts here are drawn from replies I made on a facebook discussion the other day. The discussion took place in a somewhat religious facebook page, and so many of the people commented about how we are all sinners, and only God gets to judge the sins. Others replied to the effect of, “Umm… no, he’s an abusive jerk who was trying to be a public figure, so yes, we get to judge.”
The discrepancy between those two positions can be understood by looking at the LoveJoyFeminism blog’s post about the two boxes. Basically the theory in that post is that a certain strand of Christians believe that all sexual activity is divided into two categories: what God wants people to have (monogamous martial-sex) and what God doesn’t want people to have (lustful thoughts, non-martial sex, polygamy, homosexuality, bestiality, rape, etc). Lumping lustful thoughts in with sexual abuse means that people put them both in the same category: sinful and everyone sins. Therefore, no judgement. They are equivalent.
Progressive sexual ethics separates things differently, on the basis of consensual vs non-consensual activity, so those with progressive sexual ethics are not going to see Josh Duggar’s abuse of young girls or his putting his wife at risk of STDs as equivalent to the lustful thoughts or day to day sins of everyone. Those with progressive sexual ethics are going to see his actions as deviants. It isn’t a question of “atheist” vs “Christian” views either. Many of the people who embrace progressive sexual ethics are Christian.
So that is one issue. The next issue is the question of whether Josh Duggar is just a ‘bad man’ or part of a ‘bad ideology.’ The discussion on facebook was actually started by someone posting a link to an article that argued that Josh Duggar was actually proof that his family is right: we need family values and Christ. Basically the article said “he did wrong, but the solution is still to do what his family tried to do, just do it more.” Double down on the ideology.
I can’t help wondering if the desire to double down on one’s ideology is part of why the Duggar’s went on television. They went on tv around the same time or slightly after they were dealing with (or not dealing with, as it happens) Josh’s actions towards young girls. So it looks a bit to me like the Duggar’s were doubling down, praying that if they took up that job of being religious spokespeople even more seriously God would somehow fix their family. Or maybe hoping that if their public image was clean and bright enough, they wouldn’t feel as bad about what how they really were failing. Maybe that wasn’t what they were doing. Maybe they were just going for the money. Anyway, it seems to me that there isn’t much more one can double-down and go further in the religious thing than they did. But that is a side issue.
The issue is whether the way they taught Josh actually increased the likelihoods of him being abusive to others, or whether it was just bad luck that he did what he did and their ideology still works. I’m on the side of believing it does not work. Check out this post about how the modesty doctrine hurts men. It helps excuse bad behavior. It encourages men to think that their sexual urges are all-powerful and can’t be controlled, and that women are there for their pleasure. You can read some about how their type of religious beliefs deal with sexual abuse over here. I firmly believe that the ideology that Josh Duggar was taught increased his likelihood of getting into these problems.
Even if his ideology increased his chance of getting in this problem, there are people in the same problems from all walks of life. So my next thought is: how do different families handle it? In progressive settings the woman is given support if she decides she needs to leave her husband. Instead it sounds like the Duggar family is pressuring Anna to stay with her husband and to claim responsibility for his failings.
Another difference in how families handle things comes out in the types of institutions that abusers might be sent to for help. The religious counselling is based on religious beliefs, and their failure to work is excused as satan’s interference or the person’s lack of faith, or other things rather than recognizing when the counselling being given is inappropriate and ineffective. You can read about the place that Josh Duggar just checked into. The progressive secular families will send their members to counselling based on research of what works or does not work to help the family (and the offending member). Researched based counselling isn’t necessarily anti-religious either. They can be respectful of people’s religious beliefs while at the same time helping to hold people accountable for their actions and pinpoint specific beliefs that are problematic.
In the online discussion the topic of Josh Duggar’s affair with Danica Dillion came up. I’ve heard her referred to in many ways. Some people call her a hooker, a prostitute, a sex worker, a porn star, a prostituted woman. Each of those carries different connotations. For some people the fact she accepted money for sex with him more than once and then waited until after the Ashley Madison leak to come forward is a sign that she is just looking for her 15 minutes of fame. I know that women engaging in prostitution are at great risk of abuse because the men who pay feel entitled to do what they want. So to me, the fact that she was a sex worker or a prostituted woman does not discredited her in my mind. I’ve read things where people try to dismiss her concerns saying it was just rough sex, and she went back to him so obviously she wasn’t too scared, and that there is nothing wrong with hiring someone to have rough sex. To me that overlooks a couple of things. She claims to have hidden her phone under her pillow the second time, in case she needed to call 911 quickly. That sounds like a terrified woman to me, and her downplaying it now sounds like she might be trying to justify (even to herself) why she went back to him. What stands out to me is that she described being scared and hurt at the time, and no man has the right to make someone scared and hurt. He was rougher than she wanted. Her going back does not change the fact that he did something to her she did not want. Nor does any amount of consent on her part excuse the fact that Anna Duggar did not consent to be exposed to the risk of STDs through her husband’s infidelity.
Some people want to defend Josh Duggar’s actions with the prostitute because they support the idea of prostitution. They see it as being action between two consenting people and therefore in the “acceptable” category of progressive sexual ethics. Others see prostitution as men taking advantage of vulnerable women. That a small number of women come out publicly talking about how wonderful they find their sex work does not, for me, make it acceptable. The whole premise that one can buy the right to do things to someone else’s body is offensive to me.
I support the idea that consent has to be “enthusiastic consent.” It is not enough for a woman to not complain, or to put up to it, or to agree to do it because her other option is homelessness. There is a good blog post about how the consent johns describe receiving sounds less than enthusiastic.
The Duggar scandal is interesting because talking about it brings up all the different presumptions people have. I am a big believer in trying to understand where points of agreement and disagreement are between different groups of people to try to bridge conversation between them rather than simply having opposing sides speaking past each other.