Thinking about “Sister Wives”

It’s like an accident–I know I should turn away, but I can’t help looking. That’s how I feel about “Sister Wives.” I know it’s voyeuristic, I know it’s trashy–but I can’t help watching the show. Part of my fascination is that I am a descendant of polygamists. My great-grandfather, James H. Hart, had three wives. At the same time. He lived in Bloomington, Idaho, and each wife had her own house. Here is a photo of him:

My great-grandmother, Sabina, was the second wife. Just like Kody Brown’s first and second wives, my great grandfather’s first wife could not give him a lot of children–well, she got pregnant a lot, but she either miscarried, or her children were sickly and died in infancy.

I watched Meri, Brown’s first wife, talk about her jealousies of the new fourth wife (Robyn) and I thought of my great-grandfather’s first wife, who had similar emotions when James married my great-grandmother (Sabina). She wrote in her journal “How can I bear it? He promised he would help me bear it.” It makes me cry when I read her journal from that time period. Soon, however, the two women were good friends, although it must have been hard for the first wife to see my great grandmother with her many healthy babies. They seem to have bonded in jealousy when James married wife #3.

So it occured to me, that technically speaking, since only his first wife was his legal wife, that my grandfather was illegitimate–according to the law of the land. How could I have never had that thought before? Perhaps because I know they were such well-intentioned and good people. I don’t think polygamy was an easy choice for them. They were doing it because they truly believed it was what they were supposed to do.

The whole thing is so mind boggling. People doing weird things because they believe God wants them to do them–and because they seem to have believed the more suffering the better! And now I watch “Sister Wives” and wonder how much of what they are doing and feeling was what my ancestors did and felt.

Although I think the practice of polygamy is fundamentally injurious to women and children, I have to look at Kody Brown and his four wives and think that they are happier and more functional than many monogamous families I know. And I have to think that in the same way that laws against gay marriage are unconstitutional, laws against polygamy and polyandry are probably unconstitutional as well–not that I want to participate personally! Just making an observation.

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4 responses to “Thinking about “Sister Wives”

  1. I had to google Sister Wives! I didn’t know there was a reality show, and yeah, it’s entertaining, in a voyeuristic sort of way. I admit I was the most horrified at the meal that consisted of tater tots, fish sticks, tortillas, and corn. Everything yellow.
    The funny thing is that just yesterday, Derek and I watched the first episode of Big Love, and he remembered a comment you made once about liking the idea of having a sister wife, to take on some of the home duties or something like that.

    • See how unsullied you are? That’ s pretty funny (and telling) that the food was the most horrifying part of the show! I have always thought it would be nice to have a clone–and maybe a sister wife could have been sort of like that. Somebody who liked to stay home and cook and clean so that I could go to work guilt-free! And somebody who would be a second mother to my kids. It probably has some advantages (but to my mind, many more disadvantages! I’m not a good sharer.)

  2. This is exactly how I feel when I watch BIG LOVE–this sort of fascinated repulsion mixed with a smidgen of admiration. The dedication to a belief system that asks people to sacrifice so much, and the sacrifice itself becomes somehow the reward, in part because suffering makes us a feel holy. Like yours, my ancestors also practiced polygamy, but so do several of my living relatives, and I wonder if this is how their lives feel. I love the diary entry from your grandmother. So telling and evocative. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I think that’s very insightful, Sheila–about the sacarifice becoming the reward. The women on the show often comment about how it makes them “better people,” or “less selfish,” and I think you’ve got something there. As for me, I’ve decided sacrifice is overrated. I’m into selfishness for a while, and it feels pretty good.

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