Thursday, 24 October 2013

Becoming Sister Wives, by Kody, Meri, Jenelle, Christine and Robyn Brown

Why I read it: The show is one of my many guilty pleasures.

Podcasts: Life on the Swingset, which I'm sure the Browns would be thrilled about.

Brow: It's an autobiography by the stars of a reality show on TLC. This is about as low brow as it gets.

Summary: Kody Brown and his 4 wives trace their story from the realisation that they believed in polygamy (Kody and Jenelle were not raised in polygamy), to meeting each other, forming a family, and becoming famous on TLC. Along the way, they trace their many ups and downs, as always without giving away too many details.

What I liked about it: The Browns are somewhat more open about their relationships in the book than they are on the show. For instance, Meri admits that her relationship with Christine 'has no depth' and that she basically doesn't talk to Jenelle except for work. She doesn't even like Robyn that much, for all that she claims she saw her as a potential sister wife from day one. They also open up about their past: Meri and Jenelle's relationship was so bad that Jenelle lived 30 miles away for several years, and Meri and Christine had an enormous fight that their relationship has never recovered from. Christine is not over her bitterness at Kody for picking out Robyn's wedding dress after the ladies had all gone shopping together as a sort of bonding exercise. When Jenelle and Kody first got married, Meri and Kody kept on as if they were a monogamous couple, cuddling on the couch while Jenelle sat in a separate chair. Actually, at no point do they make plural marriage sound attractive, or show that they've mastered the thing that polygamy is supposed to teach them: suppressing one's jealousy.

What I didn't like about it: Just as in the TV show, the Browns are in total control of their message. While they say they agreed to do the programme so that people would see that polygamous families are just like yours and mine except they have more wives and more children, they never actually open up about their religion or how they actually support themselves. They take great pains to point out what's good in their religion - they ban child marriage, for example, even though at one point Kody and Meri wanted to add a 17 year old wife - but they never tell us what happens to the surplus boys in their community. Looking at the proportions of the Brown family children - they have 7 boys and 10 girls - they reproduce with the same statistics as anyone else, and clearly if both Kody and Jenelle are converts, women are not joining the religion at twice the numbers of men, so exactly how each man can have 2 or more wives without pushing at least half the boys out is unclear. And saying, 'Well, not all of them will want to be polygamous,' doesn't cut it, because again, I don't think the boys drop out at twice the rate the girls do unless it's made quite clear to them that they have no hope of getting married if they stay in the religion. In addition, the closest the Browns ever come to talking about their financial situation is to say that 'money was tight' quite a bit. They never mention that they have all declared bankruptcy or that Christine and Robyn were on food stamps as single mothers, despite their religion saying that they don't take advantage of the welfare system.

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