If you follow real news, fake news, celebrity news, or own a computer, you probably heard something recently about the Duggar family, and eldest child Josh’s past “mistakes.” His family wants to use the label “mistake” for what most activists, police officials, and grown-ups would more fairly call “sexual abuse.”
This story is heartbreaking — a teenage boy repeatedly touching his younger sisters (and a family friend) in a sexual manner…and even more sad when you attach this story to an iconic reality TV family. Because of the fuzzy and inconsistent details shared, paired with the admission that there were several victims, I can only assume this abuse went on for a very long time.
What Josh did was wrong, plain and simple; but instead of spending a few pages beating a dead horse, I just want to take a moment to say something that I haven’t read about this anywhere:
In the fight against sexual violence, the Duggars were always incredibly problematic. And though Josh Duggar’s behavior is upsetting/illegal/unacceptable behavior is certainly newsworthy, he is only a small part of a larger issue.
For the record, I will be the first to admit, I found the Duggars mostly delightful and fascinating for a long time — the kids were polite, the family flaunted positive values, and cool, let’s look at a giant house and car that can handle a family of 20+ people! Fun times to be had by all! So many names that start with a J! Jubilantly joyous jewels, juxtaposed in a jarring world of jaded junk. How could we not have fallen in love with these people?
But there was always one thing in particular that gave me a bad feeling. It started with a simple word: “Defraud.”
If you consult a dictionary — you’ll see that to Defraud is to Swindle or Cheat, but the presumed Biblical meaning may be different. According to the Duggars themselves, the word means “to stir up desires in others that cannot be righteously fulfilled.”
On an episode early in the Duggar’s reality career, I watched one of the younger girls comment on how girls needed to avoid “defrauding” men. Or was it defrauding themselves? I remember being a little baffled by what I heard — and I am purposely writing it out in this fragmented way because I still find it all baffling. Not just baffling, but, for lack of a better word… icky.
Again, according to the Duggar’s — defrauding others is bad, and that is why it’s important to behave like a lady — to dress and act appropriately. I feel like I should use a more scholarly word than icky, but that just feels like the right thing to say.
As someone who speaks out a lot on the topic of sexual violence, here is what this brings up. Teaching women (and especially little girls!) to cover themselves for the purpose of shielding boys and men from temptation is a hugely problematic issue.
Want to cover up from head to toe? To each their own. Many religions and groups have all kinds of rules and customs and it’s not my place to comment on them. But I respect others’ rights to dress in any manner they choose as long as it doesn’t’ hurt anyone.
But there is a point of view mixed in here that does hurt people, and gives them the wrong idea. Because it’s a point of view shared through reality TV, I can’t imagine how many people were witness to (what I think is) a sad, oppressive, and dangerous way of thinking.
Again, modesty is an admirable quality. Most grown-ups have their own varied view of modesty and how (or whether) we want to execute it in our lives. This is also a private thing that parents can (and should) educate their kids on, and that schools sometimes chip in on for obvious reasons.
But the message shared by the Duggar’s reveals some really scary things. Critically speaking, years of Duggar observation leads me to think that their point of view looks something like this:
1. Grown men (and young men) literally cannot control themselves.
If they get turned on, that’s a problem for them and the people around them.
2. It’s a woman’s responsibility to protect herself AND protect the men around her by not setting off the dangerous switch in a man that gets him excited.
Cover those gams. Keep the makeup minimal. And cleavage — Were you raised in a barn?
Now… Do men see pretty/sexy women and get excited/turned on/aroused? Sure.
I don’t have kids — though I hope to someday. I do work with kids often, but these topics don’t always come up. So, let’s make a rundown for my future kids and the world I hope they’ll grow up in.
We are all responsible for our behavior.
Sometimes things are shiny or pretty or sexy and that doesn’t give any extra reason or permission to have these things. Does a girl in a sexy dress “defraud” a man? Or does she “defraud” herself? Yikes. When you’re angry, you don’t get to destroy property. When you’re hungry, you don’t get to walk into restaurants or private homes and help yourself, and when you’re turned on you don’t get to make a beeline to the sexiest thing in your radius.
No, gals, it’s not your job as a woman (grown or young) to protect men from falling under your spell. Sorry, not sorry.
If a person acts in any inappropriate way, especially if they touch another person in a sexual way that is not consensual, that happens to be called abuse. It doesn’t happen because a woman (young or old) failed to button her top button. It happens because someone made a choice — typically someone who knew better — or should have known better.
So next time this brews for years in reality TV — let’s not wait for the problematic family’s oldest child to be revealed as sexually abusive to realize that something stinks in suburbia.
We “Duggar” own grave here. Pun intended. Now, what are we going to do about it? It may sound easier to start covering every inch of our bodies, but I don’t think teaching consent sounds that hard. What do you think?
Thanks to the Duggars, I will listen to my gut a little bit more. I will fight a little harder for the voiceless, and I will pray for all those J-named girls to understand that if they are not as “over it” as they claim, that’s totally okay. The abuse they went through at home, however? Not okay.