Salvage is the story of Parastrata Ava, a “so-girl” on a deep space merchant ship who commits an unpardonable sin. A so-girl is something like an assistant manager but in this case, Ava can only manage other women. That’s because the deep space merchant ships have been in operation for so long that each one of them has become its own little polygamous tribe. Think of it like a cross between the Taliban and the FLDS church traveling the Silk Roads of the galaxy. Every now and again, two merchant ships will dock at a space station above Earth for some genetic swapping, er, marriages. This involves sending some young 16 year old girl as a bride to the other ship. She has no idea who she is going to marry or whether she will be a first, second or fifth wife of her husband. There’s no choice in the matter and she’s not supposed to ask questions. Virginity is highly prized and, as you can imagine, sometimes these weddings go disastrously wrong. Without giving too much of the plot away, this is what happens to Ava and she is forced to flee the space station or face an honor killing via the airlock.
In spite of the fact that Ava has never been on earth before and has no cardiovascular conditioning, she manages to survive her abrupt introduction to gravity. Ava’s story starts to resemble many hero narratives complete with a wise guide character who teaches her some basics and then dies tragically, leaving her to figure the rest out for herself. Ava has been raised in a fundamentalist religious society but it’s remarkable how quickly she manages to discard all of that indoctrination. I think it’s the fact that she is forced to survive on her own that makes it so easy for her to see how useless the religious dogma is to her new circumstances.
One such revelation occurs when she tells a young earth friend one of the foundation myths of her ship. It’s about a ship on a voyage that was trying to hide from a marauding ship in the vicinity. One of the women was singing and the men on the ship told her to shut up or she would attract the attention of the pirates. But the woman said that was nonsense and kept singing. Sure enough, the pirate ship found them and havoc ensued. And that’s why women on deep space vessels were forbidden from singing on penalty of death! Ava believes this story like it’s Eve’s curse until her young friend points out that her science book says that sound doesn’t carry in space. Then it dawns on Ava that the myth was just another clever way to blame women for everything and keep them in their place.
It also dawned on me that there are a lot of silly myths that women are supposed to swallow without question even today that are intended to keep them in their place. The Genesis creation story is just one. The biblical obsession with virginity is another. Maybe 3000 years ago it was important for inheritance rights, because, after all, you could only be sure of who your mother was back then and even up until blood typing, you could never be 100% sure who your father was. But in the 21st century, we have genetic testing to keep everyone honest. The notions that a woman must guard her virginity or be considered worthless coupled with all of the societal baggage that goes with being a female just seems antiquated in the light of new technology and contraceptives. It does make you wonder who it is that fundamentalism is trying to protect. It also makes me cringe when I see even women on the left who claim to be feminists consistently deferring to men, ignoring their own concerns. The indoctrination is very, very deep.
Anyway, I immediately thought of Jill Duggar, Duggar family valedictorian, now Jill Dillard, when I read this book. As many of you may know, she is the first of the Duggar girls to get married. She and her hubby tied the knot on that non-Christian holiday, Midsummer’s Night Eve, and they saved their first kiss for the altar. A lot of people think that’s correct and virginal and special but I think that saving such an intimate thing as a kiss for a spectacle in a church full of a 1000 people who all but “hubba-hubba!” and cat-call in the pews, is a bit on the obscene side and looks like a violation of their privacy. Rather than looking uber Christian and sacred, it reminds me of something pagan, barbaric and tribal.
Yeah, I think the so-called Christians out there should know what some of us see during these Quiverfull weddings. We have a completely different interpretation of what we are witnessing and it’s vaguely horrifying, not spiritual. What did we miss? The parading of the blood stained sheets the next morning? Was there a contract to return the bride to Jim-Bob if Jill’s hymen turned out to be too easily ruptured? Why not actually watch to make sure the marriage is consummated like royals did thousands of years ago? These people are way too involved in their children’s private lives. A Duggar wedding, while preceded by a chaste courtship that’s supposed to be all about getting to know your future spouse’s character, turns out to be focused almost entirely on sex and not companionship. It seems strange and the reverse of what most everyone we know does these days. We know that when it comes to relationships, the thrill is gone all too quickly and it’s only when you decide there are other things to keep you together that you get married. That’s the sacred that the Duggars seem to miss. And it’s not like the Quiverfull movement doesn’t have it’s share of miserable marriages and those that end in divorce. Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering is a testament to the failure of these unions and the destruction they wreck on the young people forced into them.
This isn’t the first time that our old friend has mentioned the Duggar family. I know this is true because the first time I ever heard of the Duggars was in one of her posts way back when TC was one big happy dysfunctional family.
In case (like me) you didn’t know, the Duggars star in a reality television show on TLC:
19 Kids and Counting (formerly 17 Kids and Counting and 18 Kids and Counting), rendered graphically as 19 Kids & Counting in its onscreen logo, is an American reality television show on TLC. The show is about the Duggar family, which consists of parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children—nine girls and ten boys (including two sets of twins), all of whose names begin with the letter “J”. The series began on September 29, 2008.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a show on TLC. But who would want to watch a silly show like that?
It’s no surprise that the Duggar family is critically important to TLC. The long-running hit show “19 Kids and Counting” attracts millions of viewers every week — and by extension, millions of ad dollars — and has already spawned one spin-off.
And as the series debuted a new special on Tuesday night (“A Duggar Leaves Home,” in which Amy Duggar goes to Nashville to pursue her singing dreams), it’s very clear: The Duggars — parents Jim Bob and Michelle and their dozens of kids, grandkids, aunts, uncles and cousins — have quietly become one of the most powerful families on reality TV.
We mean this in the “under-the-radar” sense of the word “quiet. (With 19 kids and multiple grandchildren, the Duggars don’t really do anything without a lot of noise.)
While the unusual family gets its fair share of tabloid coverage, it’s not nearly as much as, for example, the Robertsons on “Duck Dynasty.” Plus, the antics of the Arkansas-based Duggar clan can’t begin to compete with, say, the Kardashians. The Duggars are deeply conservative, religious people who don’t kiss before marriage. The Kardashians … do other things.
Still, “19 Kids and Counting” has developed an extremely devoted fan base over the many years on the air: It started in 2008 on TLC as “17 Kids and Counting.” The series was in the Top 15 of cable shows across television last week, regularly tapping into key demographics.
I think I’m beginning to understand why our old friend has a problem with the Duggars. She has more issues than National Geographic, and many of them have to do with a certain religion. Let’s see what someone who is a little less biased against religion thinks.
Take it away, Amanda Marcotte:
The far-right Christian Patriarchy—brought to American audiences by the Duggar family—is on the verge of collapse after a series of alleged sex scandals involving the movement’s leaders.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have put many years and a lot of work into putting a smiling, nearly normal-seeming face on the extreme Christian right. The couple adheres to a fringe strain of fundamentalist Christianity dubbed the “Christian patriarchy” or sometimes the “Quiverfull” movement, and while there is a lot of internal diversity to the movement, they generally preach a combination of beliefs that run counter to mainstream America: absolute female submission, a ban on dating, homeschooling, a rejection of higher education for women, and shunning of contraception in favor of trying to have as many children as humanly possible. The movement is controversial even within Christian right circles, but the Duggars have tried to counter that with their popular reality TV show 19 Kids & Counting, where they present themselves as a wholesome everyday family that just happens to be a little more fecund and conservative than average.
The strategy has been surprisingly effective, with Michelle Duggar being able to act like she’s just like any other reality TV star, giving sex tips and sharing recipes. Jim Bob has also been able to turn their fame into an opportunity to get political power, chumming around with presidential candidates and speaking at more mainstream conservative events. While many in the Christian right are still skeptical of Biblical patriarchy’s extremism, this charm offensive has clearly softened up resistance and is giving this fringe an ability to throw their political weight around. The fact that Republicans have started to step up the anti-contraception rhetoric lately appears, in part, to be the result of this tiny group of extremists Christians putting a smiley face on absolutist anti-contraception sentiments.
But right as the Duggars are beginning to cash in on all this hard propaganda work, it seems the world they come from—the tiny but growing world of strict Biblical patriarchy—is in real danger of collapsing. While adherents to this form of Christianity, like the Duggars, like to paint an uber-wholesome face on their families and beliefs, ugly truths are finally starting to leak out regarding the problems of infidelity and alleged sexual abuse in the community.
The latest scandal is a doozy. Back in November 2013, Doug Phillips, who, in his capacity as the president of Vision Forum Ministries, is probably the most important leader in the world of Biblical patriarchy, confessed to cheating on his wife and resigned as president of his ministry. “I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman,” he wrote. “While we did not ‘know’ each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.” Shortly after his confession, Vision Forum Ministries closed up shop, unable to continue with the stink of sex scandal upon them.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of Phillips in the small world of extreme fundamentalists. His father is one of the most critical founding fathers of the Christian right movement generally, and Doug extended his work by largely building this culture of the far Christian right as we know it, especially if you watch 19 Kids & Counting. The Duggar family are friends and acolytes of Phillips, and Vision Forum, in turn, has used Michelle Duggar in their efforts to demonize contraception, including giving her an award for “Mother of the Year” for having so many children.
Okay, I was making a funny when I said Amanda Marcotte is less biased against religion. Anybody who knows anything about her knows she foams at the mouth at the mere mention of Christianity.
There is a deep gulf between the progressive left and the religious right in this country. Having spent some time in both camps I have come to realize that the hysterical hatred for fundamentalist Christians is really misplaced. They are not evil.
The Duggars’ religious beliefs and lifestyle is not my cup of tea, but that doesn’t make them wrong. They don’t seem to be hurting anybody. They may seem weird to most of us, but they also appear to be happy and successful. Like the Romneys, they probably would make good neighbors.
Frankly, if I had to choose between nanny-state socialism and libertarian/capitalist Christianity I would take the latter. At least Christians understand forgiveness. If you want to go after an oppressive patriarchal religion that abuses women, start with Islam.
I had more I wanted to say but I’m running late so I’ll stop here.