Papa Don’t Preach: Josh Duggar and the Psychological Consequences of Christian Patriarchy (Part 3)

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Image from TVGuide.com

Last night’s Kelly File interview with the Duggars confirmed many of the details about the Duggar scandal. Namely, Josh Duggar informed his parents of his behavior after he had victimized two of his sisters, and the Duggars did not remove him from their home until there were two additional incidents, involving three more girls. The interview was very Josh-focused, and when Kelly asked how Jim Bob felt about his daughters being molested, specifically as the father of those girls, again he brought it back to Josh immediately, saying, “I was so thankful though…that Josh came and told us.” That brings me to some of the most difficult issues associated with Christian Patriarchy: Sexism and Privilege. (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

5) Sexism- It is impossible to discuss these extreme religious movements without noting the marginalization of women. From constant pregnancy to assertions that men are more moral than women, many of the practices of the Christian Patriarchy movement are meant to keep women “in their place.” It’s also clear that women have little say in what happens to them in these male-dominated environments. The Duggars allowed Josh to live in the same home as several of his victims and rather than offering him psychological counseling, they sent him to Little Rock to remodel someone’s house. Living in a culture of sexism can be incredibly damaging to the psyche of young women, causing them to have lower levels of achievement, which is related to a lot of negative consequences, including poor mental and physical health.1,2

Benevolent sexism is one culprit for the position of women in Christian Patriarchy. Benevolent sexism is the belief that women need to be offered protection from men, and women often come to endorse this chivalrous ideology as well.3 This type of sexism endorses gender inequality and traditional gender roles.3 Hostile sexism on the other hand, refers to overtly antagonistic feelings about women, including views that women try to influence men with their sexuality.3 Both amounts of benevolent and hostile sexism predict women’s position in society across cultures.4 Since Christian Patriarchy affirms that women can “defraud” men with revealing clothing, and asserts that men must take care of women, combining both hostile and benevolent sexism, it results in something called ambivalent sexism.3 There’s also evidence that benevolent sexism increases system justification, or endorsement of the status quo, regardless of fairness.5 The type of socialization in Christian Patriarchy that focuses on very specific sex-roles for their children is known to contribute to issues related to sexism.6 In fact, there is evidence that men who are sexist are more likely to stereotype women, essentially seeing women in traditional roles as Madonnas and women in non-traditional roles as whores.7

In addition, the evidence is overwhelming that men are not more virtuous than women. The FBI estimated that over 12.4 million arrests were made in the US in 2011, and that 74.1% of those arrested were men. According to the DOJ, 95% of those arrested for sexual offenses are male. In fact, sometimes men make worse choices than women and act less responsibly. For instance, men are far more likely to die in fatal car crashes than women, with men accounting for about 70% of motor vehicle-related deaths. None of this is to say that women are better decision makers than men, but I think we can all agree that men and women both bring something to the head of the table.

6) Privilege- The Christian Patriarchy movement is predictably full of male privilege. Codifying a system where men reign supreme allows men to justify their superior position. While men often acknowledge that women are at a disadvantage, they are far less likely to admit that they are benefiting from male privilege.8 Part of the issue surrounding privilege is that people who are privileged are meant to remain unaware of the nature of that privilege, and how it affects others.8 Educating people about privilege has been shown to improve attitudes and decrease prejudice toward women.9 Which is good, since male privilege can be so powerful that it often introduces itself as an issue in family therapy.10 Since it is such an issue in families that don’t practice Christian Patriarchy, it’s obvious that these issues may be even more magnified when this privilege is purposely afforded to men.

Male privilege is bad for women, plain and simple. Some researchers assert that male privilege is the reason that crimes that affect mainly women, like stalking or sexual harassment, are still under acknowledged in society.11 Male privilege also often leads to favorable legal outcomes for men in domestic violence situations, downplaying violence against women while people go to jail for far lesser crimes.12 This legal advantage only serves to solidify and extend male privilege. We even see female athletes often delegated to second-class, as professional sports have traditionally been dominated by men.13 There are many ways in which being male affords one advantages that females don’t have.

However, people can be privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others. For instance, many people fail to acknowledge their white privilege because they also have an unprivileged status, due to gender, sexual orientation, wealth or status. For instance, I may not have male privilege, but I still enjoy white privilege, something that minority women cannot claim. Similarly, black men enjoy some aspects of male privilege, but they are disadvantaged by white privilege.

Privilege is incredibly complex, but it is important to acknowledge how privilege puts us in certain positions or grants us certain advantages. Specifically, in the Duggar’s case, male privilege allowed Josh Duggar to feel that he could violate young girl’s bodies and allowed Jim Bob Duggar to believe that instituting his own “safeguards” would end the behavior, and white privilege allowed the Duggars to avoid any legal consequences of these actions. Even now, the Duggars have not been charged with obstructing justice or visited by Child and Protective Services, and Josh Duggar has never been charged with any sex crimes. The fact that Josh Duggar has used his position to marginalize others, especially the gay community, shows that he is largely unaware of how his privilege has helped him to avoid legal consequences, and has helped him retain some support in the court of public opinion. It is hard to imagine the same legal and public response to the same transgressions in a minority family.

We have explored various psychological findings that may have been behind Josh Duggar’s actions. The constant refrain of “it’s more common than you think” and “the girls didn’t even know” from the Duggar camp goes to show how marginalized women are in Christian Patriarchy. Going forward, it would help to focus less on Josh Duggar’s specific actions, and more on the culture that molded him into someone who felt that he could violate women’s bodies, as long as he told his dad after.

NOTE: Jen wrote a great article on privilege and the Fundamental Attribution Error last year that you can read here. Also, Peggy McIntosh wrote a very famous piece about unpacking the backpack of privilege that everyone should read, especially those who are confused about ways in which they are privileged.

  1. Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (1986). Sexism in the classroom: From grade school to graduate school. Phi Delta Kappan, 512-515.
  1. Willis, S., & Kenway, J. (1986). On overcoming sexism in schooling: To marginalize or mainstream. Australian Journal of Education, 30(2), 132-149.
  1. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56(2), 109.
  1. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., … & López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(5), 763.
  1. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(3), 498.
  1. O’Neil, J. M. (1981). Male sex role conflicts, sexism, and masculinity: Psychological implications for men, women, and the counseling psychologist. The Counseling Psychologist.
  1. Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., & Zhu, L. (1997). The two faces of Adam: Ambivalent sexism and polarized attitudes toward women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(12), 1323-1334.
  1. McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege and male privilege. Privilege: A reader, 147-160.
  1. Case, K. A. (2007). Raising male privilege awareness and reducing sexism: An evaluation of diversity courses. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(4), 426-435.
  1. Vecchio, D. D. (1998). Dismantaling White male privilege within family therapy.
  1. Wildman, S. M. (2000). Ending Male Privilege: Beyond the Reasonable Woman.
  1. Johnson, J. R. (2002). Privileged Justice Under Law: Reinforcement of Male Privilege by the Federal Judiciary Through the Lens of the Violence Against Women Act and US v. Morrison. Santa Clara L. Rev., 43, 1399.
  1. Messner, M. A. (1988). Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain. Sociology of sport journal, 5(3), 197-211.
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