Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

October 17, 2010

"Sister Wives" and polyamory's public image

We need more out, proud, public poly families willing to go on TV and set our public image.

Or so polyamory activists keep saying. Well, a brave family of originalist Mormons has stolen a march on us. For better or for worse, the face of multipartnered families in America is now the Brown family of Lehi, Utah, stars of TLC's reality show "Sister Wives."

These are the people your family, friends, and neighbors will likely think of when you tell them about serious multipartner relationships. And frankly, the Browns are the stellar poster family for their way of life. We should do so well.

The show's final episode — at least for this season — airs tonight (Sunday October 17th) on TLC at 10 p.m. Eastern Time; check your local listings or the show's schedule on TLC. All the episodes are also running as reruns.

USA Today says about the final episode:

In the finale of TLC's much-talked-about polygamy series Sister Wives, airing Sunday night at 10 p.m., Kody's current three wives help his fianceé Robyn pick a wedding dress, a cake, and a venue for the upcoming wedding. The big day arrives and everyone officially welcomes Robyn and her three children into the Brown family.

But the unusual lifestyle has not come without a price. Wife Meri cried this week as she told Oprah Winfrey that she has lost her job in the "mental health industry" since going public on Sister Wives. And prosecutors in Lehi, Utah, are weighing whether to charge the adults with felony bigamy.

Watch how well the family appeared on Oprah three days ago (video clips and long article).

Here they are appearing on ABC's Good Morning America day before yesterday (video and article).

Commentary from USA Today: "Unfamiliar world of polygamy is opening up in TV shows, films."

Salon covers the show by interviewing Anne Wilde, co-founder of Principle Voices, an effective and attractive advocacy group for the civil rights of polygamists. ("The Principle" is a Mormon term for Joseph Smith's plural-marriage doctrine.)

Google up lots more in the news about the show.

The Brown family is not living as part of the fundamentalist-Mormon FLDS Church — famous for its cultish rulers, 19th-century strictures, and flagrant abusiveness. The Browns are among the independent Mormons living in the Mountain West who simply ignored the official end of polygamy decreed by the mainstream Mormon (LDS) Church in 1890. The church changed course as part of its negotiations for the federal government to accept Utah as a state.

Polygamy was revealed as an order from God by the church's founder and Prophet, Joseph Smith. Today's polygamists are "fundamentalists" in that they reject the revised doctrine as a sellout for secular gain, and continue to follow the words of Joseph Smith.

Compared to us polys, Mormon polygamists build their households on an utterly different foundation: Old Testament patriarchy/sexism, religious sex-negativity, a rejection of self-determination (the church determines all private aspects of one's life), and the declarations of a self-interested megalomaniac from the 1830s and 1840s (Smith had hidden the fact of his own multiple women; he issued God's revelation about polygamy only after being outed as a "philanderer").

Nevertheless, as the camera follows Kody, Meri, Christine, Janelle and their children around the home, their daily lives and emotional issues sometimes look eerily like ours.




Blogger RevAllyson said...

Why is that so eerie though? They have different beliefs; so what? While I'm definitely not Mormon, and would probably stifle in that particular religion, it's THEIR religion. They're not saying *I* have to practice it. They're just stating *they* practice it, and it's what keeps them together. If I want religious and relationship freedoms, I have to grant them to this group, too, after all.

I think they do a pretty good job, of the few clips I've seen so far. My own household runs in very similar ways, perhaps even "eerily." :)

October 17, 2010 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

I watched one of the previews ...the tour of their house. I was puzzled by some of the inefficiencies of space (each of the three wives that live there has their own kitchen ... what's the point of that?)

Did the show cover financial details ... do they have one big family bank account, or does each wife maintain her own household budget?

October 17, 2010 3:20 PM  
Blogger Natja's Natterings said...

I have to agree with Tony about the space issue, though they said that the house was designed by a Polygamist and that many of the polygamists homes had the same sort of layout so I guess that is quite normal, I would hate that though and don't see the point. Some women have said that they couldn't 'share' their kitchens though so perhaps that is one reason for it, so the women feel like they have their own space?

October 17, 2010 7:30 PM  
Blogger freewomansholyinheritance said...

Rev. Allyson:

It is inherently oppressive. If you grow up in that culture, you are indoctrinated into those beliefs, and patriARCHal beliefs, at that, which is oppressive no matter HOW you look at it. Especially when you discover that polyandry is just as patriarchal as polygyny.

October 17, 2010 10:44 PM  
Anonymous Ivo said...

I was pleasantly surprised at the way non-monogamy has been so positively portrayed in this show. I had made some (quite hypocritical) assumptions that mostly broke down when I finally got around to watching it. Very little cringing ensued. Many similar issues as polyamory, handled in much the same way.

And very different in some expected ways. I think I can even get over the patriarchy -- it's clear all of them can't imagine it any other way. I had to shake my head when the new wife to be had to move into a temporary home in preparation for marriage, since moving in prior to matrimony clearly wouldn't be "appropriate".

This is going to be good for polyamory. In fact, I would recommend all poly people take some time to watch the show to get an idea of what most people are now going to think about non-monogamy -- now that they're seeing it exposed by a sugar sweet TV family. It shortens your elevator speech if you can just say, "It's like Sister Wives, but secular, egalitarian, and sex positive." That alone will put polyamory on higher ground for probably 80% of the population -- not a bad outcome.

October 18, 2010 2:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is funny. I wasn't aware that the poly community was saying that "We need more out, proud, public poly families willing to go on TV and set our public image."

My wife and I are a beautiful poly couple with an offer from a producer waiting on just one small hitch. We need a single attractive functional poly couple who are already living together to do just one episode with us for the show to be approved.

Can't even find that.

October 18, 2010 5:17 PM  
Blogger RevAllyson said...

Freewoman: I have friends that are Mormon fundamentalist in a very similar way to the group being discussed (though in one big house, with one kitchen etc). They certainly don't feel oppressed. Dad works at an office job. Mom 1 is a stay at home mom. Mom 2 is a nurse. Mom 3 happens to be some kind of engineer. Most of the people they know who are poly live the same way - as educated, intelligent human beings who made a choice to go into the relationship.

We're not talking about child brides and abuse of minors, here. None of the women were children when they decided to join in the group. While I personally think the Principle is a bit creepy, to me, I am sure they probably find some of my religious rituals to be funky, too.

I see no abuse or oppression involved. In fact, I'm actually kind of disturbed by your comments. :(

October 19, 2010 3:22 PM  
Anonymous R_of_RMC said...

As a polyamorist I cringe whenever someone gets Mormon-style polygamy confused with what I'm doing.
As happy as they tried to seem on TV, it was clear this was a patriarchal double-standard situation where the man rules. Unfortunately Oprah only briefly asked about the double-standard that none of the women could ever have another man (He called it "vulgar" and an "abomination"), yet he can just keep on adding to his harem to his heart's content. Women's opinions be dammed.

So, yeah, I'm kinda wishing this TV show never went on the air. Or at the very least, TLC gave some balance by showing another series with true polyamorists showing there is a BIG difference between the two.

October 20, 2010 8:57 AM  
Blogger RevAllyson said...

I haven't seen the show, so it's hard for me to comment... However, I really try to shy away from statements like the one you've made above: "As happy as they tried to seem on TV, it was clear this was a patriarchal double-standard situation where the man rules." The reason is, there are plenty of people out there who seem to think all sorts of odd things about my poly family, none of them based on anything real or educated. It's a guess at best. An assumption. It's just as "clear" to them that *I* am living in some horrid situation where I'm forced to share.

As to continuing to add on... I think if you had an actual look at Mormon Fundamentalism, you'd find that isn't true at all. You'd also see that according to that same doctrine, they're supposed to have the permission and joy of all previous wives before adding a new one (and the number is generally said to end at 4).

While I understand the squick factor for you, I also have to look at this family through the same lens that others look at me. If I don't want to be damned, I can't condone damning them... or making assumptions, accusations, etc. Does that make sense?

After all, how many people have said that we can just "keep on adding to our harems" without ever looking into the responsible polyamory that many of us practice?

I agree with you 100% that TLC should put a show on with polyamorists (I don't like saying "true" because they never presented themselves as polyamorous... they said polygamous, which they are, and so therefore the statement "true", with or without quotes, is unnecessary). It would be wonderful to see people brave enough to put up with the court nonsense and child abuse allegations that would come up. I know I'm not that person, though I wish I were. We're lucky in that we live openly as poly, but not "national news media" open. :)

October 20, 2010 10:49 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

What's the point of separate kitchens? Isn't it obvious? Even in a non-poly household of adults it's nice to have a few kitchens. Yes, kitchens are the center of a household, but all the more reason to have separate kitchens where you don't need to be in the center of everything.

October 21, 2010 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I think that it would be nice to show the incredible variety of combinations and relationships in the poly community, I think this is a great start. While it bothered me when he called his wives having extra relationships vulgar, it also bothers me when people in the poly community look at a good example of polygamy like this and say things like this isn't "true poyamory".

They are in an open honest relationship, they are all consenting, generally happy and at least he is in more than one romantic relationship. While it isn't the way I would prefer, it is polyamory. Everyone's polyamory is different... This is theirs. Now let's see a show about yours, mine, and all the others.

October 28, 2010 2:12 AM  
Blogger RevAllyson said...

Anonymous - exactly. There is no "one true way" to do things. Frankly, my own life probably looks more like theirs than like "mainstream" poly life. *shrug* It's just how we live. We're polyfidelitous, something that is often frowned upon in parts of the poly communities, but since we're not asking (or expecting) anyone else to be poly the way we are, I figure it isn't their business. What I find funny is how quickly opinions change when people actually VISIT us, and enjoy our homey hospitality, the beauty of our farm, and the warmth of our various relationships with one another (and not all of them are romantic in nature). Suddenly we're stand-up guys, and people are making happy noises that we've been together for over 8 years. I guess we must be doing something right. :)

October 28, 2010 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Jamie said...

I would love to have separate kitchens! It's currently just my wife and I, but on those days when we are cooking separate meals (which is fairly frequent, because we like very different foods) the kitchen can get very crowded. When we lived with our girlfriends, it was even worse.

October 31, 2010 6:27 PM  

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