Michelle Duggar, feminist?

April L. Brown AP Then-Arkansas state Rep. Jim Bob Duggar of Springdale front center, and his wife Michelle, right, lead … Continued

April L. Brown


Then-Arkansas state Rep. Jim Bob Duggar of Springdale front center, and his wife Michelle, right, lead twelve of their thirteen children to a polling place in Springdale, Ark., in this Tuesday, May 21, 2002 file photo. Duggar was running for the U.S. Senate against incumbant Tim Hutchinson in the republican primary election. Duggar’s sons Jason, 2, is pictured left, followed by Josiah, 5.

Michelle Duggar, of the Duggar family fame, is expecting her 20th child and the internet is not happy.

A quick glance at the comment section of the Daily Beast’s announcement of her pregnancy gives a general idea of how many in our culture perceive her decision to have yet another child. And it’s a reminder that our culture by and large views the decision to have a large family, to reject the use of contraception, and in many instances, to forgo a career to be a stay-at-home mom, as anti-feminist.

Michelle Duggar is an admittedly extreme example of a lifestyle choice that challenges today’s feminist norms. But can we write off her choice as anti-feminist? Or is that in and of itself a violation of feminism’s first principle: choice?

Back in 2009, Double X writer Noreen Malone reminded her feminist readers that Michelle Duggar, then pregnant with baby 19, had freely chosen her lifestyle. She even suggests that, “The word choice, when we’re applying it to the reproductive sphere, often ends up getting defined too narrowly.”

Over at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Morice-Brubaker writes that, “Shaming Michelle Duggar for not making the choices you personally would have liked,” is in fact, misogynistic.

Much of the debate centers around the Duggars’ purported adoption of a movement called Quiverfull, which essentially teaches that women should have as many children as is physically possible and rejects any form of family planning, be it artificial or natural. In fact, the Duggars are not part of the Quiverfull movement and have chosen their lifestyle based on their own personal religious beliefs. And most notably, in the Washington Post’s own interview with the couple, Jim Bob said that he leaves the decision of whether or not to have more children entirely up to Michelle.

So the choice is entirely Michelle’s. Is she not exercising her own personal decision to live in accordance with her vision of a happy and fulfilling life? And how is that anti-feminist?

Somehow, somewhere, feminism became a dirty word for many women, in particular political and religious conservatives. Perhaps this is because somehow, somewhere, the feminist movement became co-opted by an extraordinarily narrow view of woman, one as narrow as the previously prevailing view that a woman’s only place was at home barefoot in the kitchen. Now it would seem, the view is that a woman’s only place is at her desk, in a pantsuit, with a nanny at home watching her two children. She must be a card-carrying supporter of Planned Parenthood, or else she is complicit in the ever-illusive “war on women.”

That view presents a woman who is opposed to abortion, eschews contraception, opts out of a career to tend to her children, or has a large family (or all of the above), as anti-feminist, oppressed, and ignorant. It, ironically, makes her a second-class citizen, because of her choice.

So it is with Michelle Duggar. Feminists have by and large written off her choice as ignorant and backwards, merely because it does not fit the box they have created for what makes a feminist.

Furthermore, by focusing on such a marginalized example of alternative lifestyles, the seemingly obsessive conversation about Michelle Duggar presents women with a sort of false choice: either use contraception and have 2.05 children, or don’t and have 20.

But the reality is that many women, myself included, chose not to use contraception. Some do it for religious reasons, others do it for personal and health reasons. Catholics, for example, believe contraception is sinful because it subverts the procreative nature of sex. But our faith does not teach us that family planning is taboo. In fact, Pope John Paul II routinely linked natural methods of family planning with the “freedom and emancipation” of women, a stance that earned him the adulation of many.

Most of us won’t chose to be Michelle Duggar, whether that’s the having-20-kids part or the having-our-family-on-reality-tv part. But we are all shamed by what feminism has become today for the very thing that feminism claimed to be fighting for: respect for a women’s decision to break out of the box that society would otherwise cage her in.

Perhaps it’s time we revisit what exactly feminism entails. Rather than jump to label Michelle Duggar a disgrace to all that the women’s rights movement stands for, we can use her choice as a springboard for conversation about respect for women more broadly. Because all women suffer when society’s view of woman is too narrow.

Ashley McGuire is editor of AltCatholicah.com.

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  • amelia45

    this is a well done article. Michelle Dugger has made choices many of us would not, but she made them herself, for her own reasons. She even made them in the face of a world that looks at her as if she were crazy.

    I think she is a “wow” and totally a feminist.

    I also think it is a good thing that there are not many women who would have all those children. World population growth would sink us all.

  • Amelia5

    Wow – I don’t care how many children anyone has, but I don’t understand all the nasty comments. How is she “forcing” her daughters to live a lifestyle ANY MORE than you other parents are forcing your daughters to live your lifestyle? Maybe time spent on facebook or driving 10-year-olds all over the D.C. area for their “all-star” sports teams is something that I think is disgusting and stupid. Do I lecture you on how to raise your children? Do the Duggars? How arrogant you all are.

    Sheesh. These people are taking care of their family. Stop being so nasty to them.

  • betsys2003

    Michelle Duggar’s choice to have 20 children of her own is not inherently anti-feminist.

    Her view that those making different choices from her are wrong makes her anti-feminist. Her insistence that her daughters follow her choices makes her anti-feminist. It’s the imposition of her views on other women that makes her anti-feminist, not her own actions.

    A woman who personally has an abortion but publicly campaigns against the rights of other women to have them is is anti-feminist. It’s not what you do, it’s what you say about others’ rights.

  • nadi1010

    I’m sorry, but I disagree with this article.

    Feminism does not just come down to the simplistic notion of choice. That would mean that girls on their Spring Break stripping nude for “Girls Gone Wild” cameras while heavily intoxicated are feminists, because they made that “choice.”

    To be a feminist, one must challenge patriarchal norms embedded within various cultural institutions. Whether the politics take place on an individual level, a societal level, or somewhere in between, and in how this political change is developed varies across feminist groups. The key issue though is the challenging gendered norms that restrict the range of choices people believe they can make about their identities and lives.

    So, I may “choose” to have 20 children or wear a string bikini because I feel “empowered” by this choice. But, if I don’t examine the patriarchal influences that have shaped these decisions and the ways other’s respond to me when I make those decisions, then it is a false freedom serving to reproduce traditional norms.

    Did anyone notice that in the picture, the little kids are being escorted by the older girls, and the older boy isn’t escorting one of them?

    In that “little” practice we see a prime example of the reproduction of gender.

  • nadi1010

    Take a look at the picture. Do you notice that the older girls are leading the little boys hands, and the little boy isn’t taking care of anyone else?

    In that little practice, we have a prime example of the reproduction of gender…

  • KarenLS

    They are a mentally ill couple. And for years they have been aided and abetted in their mental illness by the Press that like the tabloids give them page space, often front page, and air time.

  • RethaFaurie

    Sorry for repeating my earlier comment. I thought it did not go through, because of a small loading error on my computer.

  • Amelia5

    But WHY does that bother you? I agree that the family wants their children to follow their beliefs. But I want that for my children, too. And so do all those people bringing their children to pro-choice rallies. That is what parents DO – guide their children. Do you only think it’s ok when people raise their children in a manner in which you agree?

  • Cubby2

    Have the Durgans personally paid all of the expense of raising this large family? Certainly by featuring themselves on a reality show they are exploiting the children for financial gain. And I find it hard to believe that they have not received in-kind contributions from sympathetic sponsors or organizations. As for choice, the older Durgan children don’t seem to have much choice about providing free child care for their sibs. In fact, they have no psychological choice. We know that even overtly abused children will lie in court to protect the relationship with the parent.

  • cassandra9

    The Duggar family keeps the daughters undereducated and discourages them from going to college. Michelle expects her daughters to follow in the life she has chosen based on her interpretation of th Bible. That writer Ashley McGuire defends this as feminist or uses Michelle Duggar to condemn feminism (which she is doing is not entirely clear) is reprehensible. That the Post is publishing Ms. McGuire’s tripe on this topic is equally reprehensible.

    The essence of feminism is that women not be forced into roles, not be barred from pursuing their interests and talents, not be limited or assumed to be subservient. Michelle Duggar is purposely limiting her daughters. There is nothing feminist in this.

    While the Vatican forbids artificial methods of birth control, not even the Catholic church limits women to motherhood. Ms. McGuire is misguided in using the Duggars’ fringe-y, isolating, borderline-cult lifestye to discuss childbearing choices and feminism. That the Post is giving McGuire’s sophomoric reasoning a gloss of credibility by publishing it is disappointing, to say the least.

  • Lola-at-Large

    Good article and straight up the truth. Feminism has such a bad rap not because of what men say about it, but because of what so many of the women who adhere to the ideology DO and SAY to other women. Who wants to hang out with such obvious hypocrites?

  • Lola-at-Large

    Did you not read the article? They are not Quiverfull. You, like a lot of people who commented here, should probably look inside yourself and ask what it is that makes you such ugly people on the inside. Because judging other people for their legal choices is just a sign that something is not right with the person being so judgmental. It does not reflect at all on the person being judged.

  • greenmansf

    Speaking of ugly on the inside, that was quite ugly of you Lola. And I say that because of your harsh judgement of the poster here, calling people ugly on the inside when you know nothing about them does reflect poorly on you. Nothing about your harsh judgements and insults shows you to be pretty on the inside, so deal with that.

  • Lola-at-Large

    Oh, goodness, whatever shall I do? Some greenman thinks poorly of me! / rollseyes

  • HearMeRoar

    The discussion has gotten off track. it’s turned into “Duggars: For or Against?” instead of dealing with the article’s assertion that feminism = choice. I don’t buy it. If you subscribe to a philosophy wherein there is no choice except God’s supposed will, and rear your children accordingly, then no, that’s not choice. Choice happens when an individual is exposed to opposing points of view, which the Duggar kids aren’t. And to those of you who say, “Watch the show”, as if the show is the ultimate authority, I have one word for you: Editing.

  • RobLeesburg

    I find it a stretch to define the incredulity that people show at Ms. Duggar’s decision to bring 20 new humans into the world as a narrowing of feminism. Having this many children is a burden to the society, there’s just no getting around it. Choosing does cut both ways, but choosing to go too far also has its consequences, and they are borne by the family as well as the healthcare providers, schools, and other institutions this family calls upon to serve their extremely large families. Feminism gone wrong? How about strict adherence to religious doctrine gone wrong? It seems it’s okay to criticize feminism for giving society the opportunity to experience the positive aspects of womens’ involvement in things other than child-rearing, but it’s anathema to criticize blind faith in holy books that contain guidance clearly aimed at a different societal time and place. What god would require all of us to breed so prolifically that we cannot sustain ourselves? At least feminism attempts to balance our own interests, society’s interests and the interests of the children we choose to bring into the world with informed choice. But when “I believe only what this book tells me to do, regardless of objective observation” is the argument, it’s hard, and political suicide, to counter that. Why not just accept that a lot of people don’t feel it’s appropriate to have 20 children, instead of trying to craft this into an insidious plot by feminism to bring down a Religious person.

  • HearMeRoar

    This thread has gone off track; it’s turned into “The Duggars: For, or Against?” instead of the question asked by the article, i.e., is Michelle Duggar feminist? My answer would be “no”, her decisions are made in a vacuum, as will her daughters’. In order to truly choose, one has to be exposed to opposing points of view, which they’re not. So in my book, she’s not a feminist. Also, for those of you who say, “Watch the show before you judge”, are you kidding? Ever heard of editing? And the question begs to be answered: How can a TV-free family star in a TV show? They’re depending precisely on an audience that doesn’t share their views to support them. Hypocritical, no?

  • scamozz

    Seriously. A feminist? Anyone striving to maintain Catholic values which are inherently male-dominated and anti-woman and anti-choice, cannot possibly be considered a feminist. This woman, who has no concern for overpopulation, uses having children as a means of definiing herself. And she wracks up lots of cash playing this persona as well. This is “reality” television at its worst. We don’t need these people clogging up another avenue on the already-overindulged information highway. Go away, Duggars, please go away!

  • mcintosh2

    My problem with the Duggar family and others who have multiple children has nothing to with choice or being a feminist. The issue revolves around the overpopulation and environmental destruction that bringing more and more children into an already overburdened world is selfish and ignorant. It just shows a lack of understanding, education and general disregard for life.

  • Apoorsinner

    What a great article: thanks, Ashley McGruire! I shuddered when I saw that On Faith had an article on Michelle Dugger, expecting the usual “what a stupid, ignorant woman” diatribe from this usually skeptical-religious site. But instead, Ms. McGuire has written a thoughtful column that calls into question the usual feminist ideal of choice, and what a great job she did! In my opinion, the earth needs more children raised into a loving Christian home, and I thank the Duggers for their loving and cheerful example.

  • LeslieDowney

    To me, it is irrelevant whether or not Michelle Duggar is a feminist. Having 20 children is not being a good steward of the earth. The earth’s population is now at 7 billion and projected to grow to over 9 billion by 2050. People create pollution, the main cause of global warming, and deplete the earth’s resources. If we in the U.S. think life is difficult in this economy, just imagine the challenges our descendents will face. It is time all citizens of the earth adopt a norm of bearing children at no more than replacement rate.