Polyg­a­mous dy­nam­ics


Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - MARY McNAMARA TELE­VI­SION CRITIC

I have seen the fem­i­nist revo­lu­tion and it is … polygamy?

Watch­ing “Sis­ter Wives,” TLC’s lat­est ad­di­tion to its col­lec­tion of Very Large Fam­i­lies, I found my­self think­ing not so much of HBO’s “Big Love” as Mar­garet At­wood’s “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” in which a pa­tri­ar­chal revo­lu­tion has left women lit­er­ally sec­ond­class cit­i­zens, as­signed tasks by the govern­ment.

The book came to mind not be­cause Kody Brown, his three (and count­ing) wives and their 13 (and count­ing) chil­dren re­sem­ble such a so­ci­ety but be­cause they seemed to em­body its op­po­site: a ma­tri­archy.

Oh, sure, Kody bounces around kiss­ing kids and keep­ing the con­ju­gal sched­ule even-steven but he’s a far cry from “Big Love’s” au­thor­i­tar­ian Bill Hen­rick­son. All floppy hair and Hollywood smile, Kody’s way too surfer­dude to take very se­ri­ously as a pa­tri­arch.

It’s the three wives — Meri, Janelle and Chris­tine — who form the solid cen­ter of the fam­ily and the show. Their bonds ap­pear far stronger than the ca­sual fond­ness with which they treat Kody. All three of the women were raised ei­ther in or sur­rounded by po­lyg­a­mist fam­i­lies and are tired of hid­ing or apol­o­giz­ing for a “life­style” that al­lows them more free time and fa­mil­ial sup­port than any non-polyg­a­mous mar­riage.

Janelle and Chris­tine say that it was Meri, Kody’s lik­able, or­ga­nized and very di­rect first wife, who drew them to be­come Browns. Janelle is un­apolo­get­i­cally grate­ful that she can work long hours out­side the home, be­cause Chris­tine is happy to care for the kids. Chris­tine never had any in­ter­est at all in be­ing an only wife, or even a sec­ond wife. The third wife is emo­tion­ally the eas­i­est, she says, adding that dur­ing her teen years, “I wanted the sis­ter wives more than the hus­band.”

It’s im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that things work as smoothly as the Browns would have us be­lieve — for one thing, there are 13 kids, rang­ing from teens to tod­dlers. And when Kody de­cides to go a ’courtin’, his wives swing be­tween lov­ing the po­ten­tial new sis­ter-wife and hat­ing the dis­rup­tion it will cause in their lives.

But it’s the mat­ter-of-fact as­ser­tion that one man is quite enough for three (or four) women be­cause what a gal re­ally needs around the house is more women that takes your breath away.

In­ter­est­ingly, re­li­gion is not at all a part of “Sis­ter Wives.” Be­yond Kody’s earnest (and no doubt lawyered) ex­pla­na­tion that he is not a Mor­mon and that the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints re­jects polygamy, there is no dis­cus­sion of any sort of re­li­gion. “Life­style” rather than “the Prin­ci­ple” is how the Browns re­fer to polygamy. Though “child­care choice” might work just as well.

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