Everybody who’s known me for more than a few years knows that when I start talking about polygamy in the United States, I can really GO ON about it. It’s disturbing that something like this is going on in this country in this day and age, especially the parts about the arranged marriages involving young teenage girls. It started with reading, “Under the Banner Of Heaven” (another Jon Krakauer book), but continued with reading Benjamin Bistline’s “A History of Colorado City”, and Kaziah May Hancock’s “Prisons of the Mind”. I also read every article I could get my hands on, at the time. A five page essay that I wrote about it for a psychology class in college was recently published in “The Book Your Church Doesn’t Want You To Read”, 2nd Edition, which was edited by Tim Leedom and Maria Murdy (my sister). I finally felt like the story and the problem was getting out there and heard, although it’s also all over the media now, in part because of the arrest of the leader of the Colorado City/Hildale sect, Warren Jeffs.
During the later part of my fanatic research, I started feeling like there is a huge chunk of the story that still isn’t being told, and is essential in understanding the big picture. The less sensational, more neutral stories, the ones that explain in a more in-depth way why people stay in Polygamous communities, are not often told. Among other reasons that women aren’t doing a lot of speaking out: the fact that they are born into it, are subjected to a form of brainwashing, geographically isolated, and the many side effects of working with a small gene pool. Also, allegedly, education for women ending in the 8th grade can absorb some of the blame. This would get in the way of being able to articulate one’s own story in a way that feels comfortable. Self-esteem issues, too, would certainly get in the way of a woman standing up and talking about her life in this kind of environment.
So yesterday I ran into an article in Glamour Magazine about a woman’s exodus from polygamy, excerpted here . I had never heard of her, nor had I run into anyone with the same last name as her in my reading. Nonetheless, all of her stories have the same elements. Being called a “Polyg”, by outsiders and being stared at like the Amish, the repeated use of the phrase “keep sweet”, the knowledge that she would get assigned to a husband without much warning, and having female teenage friends and relatives vanish into another household and rarely seen again. These absentee women are nicknamed “poofers”, and their childhood ends when they are assigned to a husband. No more barbies, no slumber parties, no girl time, no high school. Women are taught to suppress and ignore any emotions that might tell them to question their circumstances. I liked this article, because she really talked about her relationships with the other women in her family, and in a very compassionate way. It really made me glad that they didn’t go all Waco on Warren Jeffs and his followers. Instead, they put out a warrant for his role in the arranged marriage of a fourteen year old girl, and as a result, he left the community and went into hiding. He was arrested last year, and is currently awaiting trial. Obviously the members of his sect were not following his orders at gunpoint, all these years. They all live according to “The Principle,” and it’s The Principle that tells them to continue believing that they will go to hell and be unable to walk beside their families and friends in the Kingdom of Heaven (here is where fundamentalism and mainstream mormonism start to overlap) if they don’t follow the rules dictated in their family’s religion. What it basically boils down to, is the strong family ties that we can all relate to. If your family lives a certain way, and you love that family as much as or more than you love yourself, as I do and many people do, then it’s a hell of a lot easier to embrace their beliefs and lifestyle. The roots of the healing of many of these families lies in cooperation, and side by side helping educate themselves and each other to learn how to live in a way that won’t hurt their sons and daughters.
So the women who leave the community now, are in for a world of hurt, uphill battles and alienation. There will, however, be a world of benefits, chief among these being their daughters’ ability to choose who they want to marry, freedom not to have to deal with abandoning their siblings and families in order to get out, and the fact that their sons won’t have to face being pushed out of the community to avoid competition for older polygamous men.
Freedom is not without a price tag.