TLC's reality show Sister Wives, now in its second season, follows the life Kody Brown and his wife Meri, and his wife Janelle, and his wife Christine, and his wife Robyn, and all their children. Yes, that's right the Browns are fundamentalist Mormons which means they still subscribe to the practice of polygamy which more mainstream LDS Mormons have long since abandon.
Sister Wives is perplexing to say the least. The Browns are really weird because... well, they aren't weird at all. They are a perfectly modern, middle class family who live in a house in the suburbs.
Meri, Christine, Janelle, and Robyn are not women shackled under the oppressive tyranny of patriarchy. They are not forced or pressured to dress in baggy, ankle length dresses like the images we usually associate with polygamy.
While they dress modestly the Brown wives wear jeans and t shirts, they care about fashion and functionality like any modern liberated woman. They are career women, hard working moms, and stand as equals with their husband.
While the Browns value modesty and purity they do not seem to be suffering under a patriarchal demand for it. Robyn, the family's latest edition was actually previously married and divorced before joining the Brown clan. Though it is not favorable situation, Robyn's divorce and her children from her first marriage were in no way a major obstacle for first wife Meri, who set her up with Kody.
In fact, Meri's insistence that Kody pursue Robyn, while disturbing from a monogamist standpoint, points to the underlying matriarchy in the Brown household. The four wives work together (with Kody... sometimes) to raise the children and generate income for the household. In fact, while Kody works, his main function in the family seems to be to provide love and affection to his wives and children. The women call the shots, which makes sense since they outnumber him four to one.
This completely turns the tables polygamy as a patriarchal institution as it is usually portrayed in media. The matriarchy in the Brown household is undeniable.
Even if Sister Wives puts to rest your moral hangups with polygamy there is another problem. It is, in fact, illegal to engage in polygamy. Even though Kody is only legally married to Meri, he and all four of his wives violate the law by presenting themselves as married. This is a constant source of tension for the family, which during season one causes them to abruptly leave their home in Utah in the hopes of a more accepting atmosphere in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Browns fear that if they are prosecuted their family will be separated, an event they say they have seen in their community many times.
All of this is really very confusing for a monogamist culture but here is the big question. Is Sister Wives exposing our own prejudice or perpetuating polygamist propaganda?