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How the TLC Show Sister Wives Makes Polygamy Seem Appealing

We're thrilled to present our favorite Double X story here on TrèsSugar.

News broke this week that police in Lehi, Utah are looking into prosecuting the Brown family, stars of TLC's new reality show Sister Wives, for being bigamists. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah code "defines bigamy through cohabitation, not just through legal marriage contracts." As Sister Wives portrays the happily polygamist relationship of the aggressively cheerful Kody Brown and his wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, it's not surprising that local cops don't appreciate the show—it not only celebrates an illegal relationship taking place in their town, it's also been receiving positive publicity from national publications.

And the show does show this polygamist family in a pretty glowing—and mesmerizing—way. Sister Wives is edited to make a four-wife household seem not only normal and relatable, but the wives also use the language of choice to make clear that their lifestyle is a conscious, wise decision—they're not being coerced into sharing one man.

In terms of how they normalize their unusual family structure, anyone who has watched other reality shows about large families (Kate Plus 8; 19 and Counting) will recognize the domestic scenes in Sister Wives: Watch them cook breakfast—just like you do, but supersized, with obligatory shots of enormous condiment containers! Watch them do yard work as a merry, laughing team! Listen to them talk about the nitty-gritty details of their family arrangement in a way that is familiar and appealing!

On this last point, I was especially struck by Janelle's narrative. Janelle is the second wife, and the only one who did not grow up in a polygamist family (she grew up Mormon—the show is careful in distinguishing Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, who practice polygamy, from mainstream Mormons). She works long hours outside the home, and she loves her job. "I get to be the mom but I don't have to do the cooking or the chauffeuring," Janelle explains—she has five kids of her own, out of 13 total, and while she is away the third wife, Christine, takes care of them. Kody and the first wife, Meri, also work outside the home, and Christine looks after Meri's teenage daughter as needed.

Their arrangement sounded blissful, and dare I say, almost strangely wonderful in a bizarro fantasy world kind of way. It is the sort of situation that Sandra Tsing-Loh described in a New York Times op-ed from January, in which she said she wanted a wife: "A loyal helpmeet who keeps the home fires burning and offers uncritical emotional support when I, the gladiator, return exhausted from the arena." Maybe what Sandra really needs is not a wife, it's a sister-wife.

But back to actual life, in which I am a critically thinking person who realizes that reality shows are not real and that sharing one's husband is not tenable or desirable (watch the Sister Wives describe how they negotiate sex in the below clip). It's worth noting that two out of the three wives featured in the first episode (Kody Brown tells his family he is bringing on the fourth wife at the end of that episode) were raised by polygamists. The editors go out of their way to show that the decision to be in this union was a conscious, thought-out, even empowered choice by all the wives—they were not forced into it. However, one has to wonder how much of a "choice" it was for the women raised in polyg families, who have never known any other sort of relationship.

The well-oiled machine of the Brown household is thrown into some turmoil when Kody decides to take on a fourth wife. Meri and Janelle are accepting—but the third wife, Christine, is clearly pissed about it. "[The fourth wife] just has to be absolutely amazing, or it might be a little difficult," Christine says while screwing up her face. Though two of the wives say they are fine with the new addition, they're not happy about the time Kody has been taking away from the family to court her. Robyn, the soon-to-be fourth, lives four hours away, and Kody is shown taking her on dates. "Jealousy is something I can overcome," Meri says, stoically. Of course you don't hear much from Kody about the difficulty of changing his life to accommodate a new wife and three new step-kids. He merely says, "Love should be multiplied, not divided." Even though the wives say they entered into the polygamist lifestyle by their own volition, it seems like many other major decisions aren't theirs to make.

Check out more from Double X:

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janneth janneth 5 years
I think they would have vetoed beautiful thin wife #4 if they could have. The husband goes out to dinner 4 nights a week taking turns with each wife and drives a lexus convertible.
stephley stephley 5 years
You're right Snookyx, he's only legally married to one. Which creates even bigger issues - if one of the other wives is hospitalized in some places, he wouldn't count as immediate family, probably the other children wouldn't either. I'm not clear - do polygamist's wives have veto power over any newcomers? (Sounds like no, but if someone thinks it should be legal, how should the other wives and children be legally protected?)
stephley stephley 5 years
You're right Snookyx, he's only legally married to one. Which creates even bigger issues - if one of the other wives is hospitalized in some places, he wouldn't count as immediate family, probably the other children wouldn't either. I'm not clear - do polygamist's wives have veto power over any newcomers? (Sounds like no, but if someone thinks it should be legal, how should the other wives and children be legally protected?)
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 5 years
The only thing I would like about the situation is that fact that if something happened to me (hit by a bus etc) all my kids would still have a normal functioning home with a back up mom ;)
Gdeeaz Gdeeaz 5 years
Is he legally married to all of them? I read on another site that he is only legally married to one of them and the others are only through church.
stephley stephley 5 years
These women legally aren't anything to each other, or to each other's children, while the children of different mothers are half-siblings. I could see that getting sticky.And, knowing he's married to three women at home, he still goes out, finds and courts number 4 - sounds close to infidelity to me. He never has to divorce a wife he gets tired of, just doesn't have to spend much time with her. What happens if he (or any polygamist) decides to divorce one wife? Got to be bad for all the kids to see auntie-mama X told to leave - does she get custody of her kids? It'd take a whole separate court to deal with this crap.
stephley stephley 5 years
These women legally aren't anything to each other, or to each other's children, while the children of different mothers are half-siblings. I could see that getting sticky. And, knowing he's married to three women at home, he still goes out, finds and courts number 4 - sounds close to infidelity to me. He never has to divorce a wife he gets tired of, just doesn't have to spend much time with her. What happens if he (or any polygamist) decides to divorce one wife? Got to be bad for all the kids to see auntie-mama X told to leave - does she get custody of her kids? It'd take a whole separate court to deal with this crap.
stephley stephley 5 years
Sharing a husband is a pretty steep prize for babysitting help. I'd rather raise and care for my own family, with all the stress that involves.
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