The XX Factor

The Duggars Are Doing It Again

Reality TV stars Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar appeared bashful and smiling on the Today show Tuesday morning , along with their gaggle of 18 blondish, slightly bewildered children, to tell Meredith Vieira (and the world) that another sweet Duggar baby is on the way. Naturally, there was a round of congratulations and giggles, because the Duggars are the kind of good-natured people who inspire well-wishes and smiles. Amidst the more immodest, tabloid-ready shows devoted to particularly unflattering snapshots of enormous families (ahem, Jon & Kate Plus 8 ), 18 Kids and Counting stands out as some sort of emblem of the American family ideal. Sure, they have their creepy moments-on Tuesday night’s episode, the family visited a Washington, D.C., Ethiopian restaurant and stared at the dancers there with the discombobulated facial expressions of Stepford robots whose chips are flashing “Does Not Compute.” But despite their sheltered life and evident religious conservatism, one thing is clear: They know how to raise a family. Particular moments of the show-say, for example, when 10 of the kids are outside tending the garden together without a word of complaint-seem straight out of a fantasy 18th century PSA proselytizing the importance of populating the great American frontier with hard-working Puritans.

But at the very least, it’s problematic to see the Duggars in the spotlight, and to watch Meredith Vieira congratulate Michelle and Jim Bob as if the new addition was just a little surprise for a delightfully folksy American family, and not part of an evangelical movement that aims to populate the country for Christ. Because it’s both. The Duggars adhere to a Christian fringe philosophy called Quiverfull , necessitating that they use no form of birth control or attempt to curb conception in any way. It’s a movement that was born out of a Psalm highlighting the value of birthing heaps of Christian children to use as religious warriors, and one that positions the woman’s body as a function of God’s will, not her own. Of course, reality TV has a way of making everything seem innocuous-it’s just entertainment, after all-and for the most part, I don’t actively think about how the Duggars’ way of life is contrary to oh, just about every modern value I hold dear as I watch 18 Kids and Counting (soon to be called 19 Kids and Counting) . But as Vieira grinned at the family and congratulated Michelle on her pregnancy, I couldn’t help but remember-Mrs. Duggar never had any choice in the matter.

Photograph of Michelle Duggar is a screenshot.