The XX Factor

Brady Williams Has Five Wives. Also Says He’s a Feminist.

The Williams family tree.


Never underestimate the human capacity to hold contradictory ideas in one’s head, as long as both ideas are self-serving: That is the lesson I learned from reading about Salt Lake City resident and self-identified feminist Brady Williams and his five wives in the Atlantic. Williams and his wives are fundamentalist Mormons living in a polygamous marriage, and, of course, upcoming stars of their own TLC show, My Five Wives. But even though they are members of a religion that has revived a form of Old Testament patriarchy, Williams and his wives insist that outsiders should not judge him as sexist. After all, Williams is a “philosophy major who’s currently enrolled in a feminist theory course at a local college and who refuses to accept the title ‘head of the household.’ He doesn’t like the sexist connotation.” There’s more:

When asked who among them identified as a “feminist,” six hands shot up as if propelled by jack-in-the-box springs. For the wives, this brand of feminism involves sleeping with their spouse only every fifth night, consulting their husband’s other wives if they want to adopt a child, and—as Rosemary puts it—fighting their own psyches to keep jealousy locked in a cage like the wild animal it is. 

Brady insists that he’s about equality in his relationships. “And that can exist with more than a man and a wife. That can exist with a man and a wife and a wife and a wife and a wife and a wife.”

To be fair, it does seem the Williams clan used to belong to a deeply sexist church, but “they ditched their fundamentalist ways and went indie largely for the sake of the kids,” even teaching that anti-gay beliefs are wrong. One of the wives, named Nonie, went so far as to tell Natalie Dicou of the Atlantic that they would be OK with the idea of “multiple husbands,” if one wanted such a thing. 

However, forgive me if I retain my skepticism. It costs one nothing to say that you’re just as fine with women having multiple husbands as you are with men having multiple wives. But what would happen if one of the Mrs. Williams actually up and spirit-married another man? There’s five of these women. You can’t tell me that none of them ever looks at the empty bed she sleeps in four out of five nights a week and doesn’t wonder what it would be like to get some other man in there to warm it up for her. Saying the right thing to an Atlantic reporter is all fine and good, but I’ll buy the idea of feminist polygamy when the women start collecting husbands just as they themselves have been collected.