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By Christy Mesaros-Winckles of Free Methodist Feminist. Originally posted here.  Please remember that while the contributors to this website are united in our belief that there are problems with the teachings of Vision Forum, we come from a variety of different perspectives.

Vision Forum DuggarsThe Quiverfull Movement has gained media attention in the United States due to the success of the The Learning Channel’s show 19 and Counting. The movement believes children are a gift from God and that using any form of birth control goes against God’s family planning. The subjection of women is also prevalent in the Quiverfull movement. Using a feminist perspective of televisual narrative analysis, I will examine four episodes from the show to argue that it provides a platform for legitimizing a radical Christian sect that oppresses basic human rights of the women who belong to the movement.

[1] “Barefoot and pregnant” lost cache years ago, but in the world of Quiverfull, a fundamentalist Christian movement, the adage is alive and well. Nowhere is the image of a barefoot and pregnant wife more prevalent than on The Learning Channel’s reality television show 19 and Counting which brings viewers into the home of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar and their 19 children. Due to the popularity of their show on TLC, the Duggars have become the unofficial spokespeople of the Quiverfull movement.

[2] Quiverfull adherents believe God should control family size; therefore, they do not practice any form of birth control and often have very large families. The movement is a relatively small branch of the Christian faith, with adherents in the thousands to possibly low ten thousands from many different fundamentalist and conservative evangelical denominations. 1 Yet, while the movement is small, the Duggars have brought it to the forefront of American popular culture. The television coverage of the Duggars has evolved over a five year period, with the family’s first television special in 2004, 14 Children and Pregnant Again!2 which premiered on TLC and was followed with three more television specials before the Duggars’ current television show premiered in 2008.3 As of June 2009, 19 and Counting averaged 1,409,000 viewers a week,4 illustrating that, while the cable show does not garner as many viewers as a network program, it still has a substantial following. Furthermore, until the Duggar family burst onto the cable television landscape, the Quiverfull movement had flown under the media radar for almost 20 years.

[3] While there may only be several thousand adherents of the Quiverfull movement, the Duggars have given it a prominent place in popular culture with more media coverage than many larger religious groups ever receive. The movement first began to gain traction in the late 1980s through the writings of anti-feminist Mary Pride and her book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality. 5 Pride preached that the decline of the Christian family was a result of women seeking jobs outside the home and allowing other people to have control of their children’s schooling and upbringing. While Pride’s notion that a woman’s sole role was wife and homemaker was first presented in the mid 1980s, the term “Quiverfull” did not come into widespread use until five years later, with Rick and Jan Hess’ book A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ.6 The Hess’ writings, and the writings of other Quiverfull advocates after them, have stressed the importance of Old Testament scripture and the lifestyle of the ancient Israelites (who had large families) as the primary justification for the movement.

[4] As a result of their belief that it is God’s will for Christians to produce large families, Christians who practice the Quiverfull ideology oppose any form of birth control, including natural family planning. Families who are a part of the Quiverfull movement are also strong advocates of traditional family roles that centre on male headship. Followers subscribe to a literal interpretation of Scripture, citing passages from both the Old and New Testament about a woman’s homemaker role and wifely submission to her husband’s authority. Homemaking and mothering are seen as the higher calling for women, who will devote their lives to raising godly children. As Samuel Owen notes in his book Letting God Plan Your Family:

A woman’s role as a homemaker gives her an important sphere of authority.

She is in charge of all the domestic arrangements. She must provide for the care

and well-being of the whole family. A wife’s responsibilities include planning and instructing her children. Anyone who has read Proverbs 31:10-31 knows that her

role is anything but mundane. She is active and significant, and she faces continual challenges.7

Thus, the Quiverfull movement places emphasis on Old Testament passages such as Proverbs 31:10-31 which shows a woman who buys her family’s food, runs a business from the home, cares for the children, makes her own clothes and helps the poor. The importance of viewing the Old Testament not through historical/cultural lenses, but as a document that must be interpreted only as written, is a central tenet in the Quiverfull movement. At the core of the Quiverfull belief set is a gender ideology that stresses male headship and compliance to the movement’s dogma in all family communication.

[5] Fundamentalist views on male headship originated in New Testament passages such as Ephesians 5:22-23:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He himself being the Savior of the body. (New American Standard Version)

The Quiverfull emphasis on wifely submission can lead to cases of spousal abuse due to the movement’s emphasis on accepting only a literal interpretation of Scripture.8 The New Testament passage I Peter 3:1 is often cited by Quiverfull advocates to encourage wives to be spiritual examples for their children and spouses. According to 1 Peter 3:1:

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without word by the behavior of their wives. (New American Standard Version)

This passage, when interpreted from a literal perspective, encourages women to follow the will of their husbands regardless of the circumstances; thus, often leading to an extreme interpretation of male headship in the home.

[6] Women who believe in male headship and traditional family roles see nothing wrong with a literal biblical interpretation.9 While more mainstream evangelical families have found ways to maintain the traditional Christian rhetoric of male headship in a society that increasingly requires dual-income households 10 the Quiverfull families have shied away from compromising on the belief that a woman’s role is as a mother and homemaker. Any attempt to adapt towards American culture is seen as giving in to secular society.11

[7] In addition to the belief in many children and male headship, the Quiverfull ideology is deeply rooted in dispensational Christian rhetoric that focuses on the need to populate the world with Christians so, when Christ returns to earth, the children of these families will be “like arrows in the hand of a warrior.” Bible passages such as Psalm 127: 3-5 have become the foundation for Quiverfull dispensational dogma:

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord:

the fruit of the womb is the reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;

They shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate. (New American Standard Version)

The movement’s emphasis on creating a Christian army to fight against depravity and the moral downfall of society also places importance on creating the “right” type of Christian families, which takes on a decidedly racist overtone. This image is made up of middle-class, Caucasian families who will try to out-populate the Muslim, African and Latin American countries to keep “enemies from the gate.” 12

[8] Yet little to none of the warlike Quiverfull rhetoric is at the forefront of the Duggars’ show. On the contrary, the Duggars paint a serene, pleasant picture of life in a big, Quiverfull family. The show captivates both secular and Christian audiences alike with the family’s devotion to their children and the family unit. Yet subtle, disturbing messages emerge in the course of the show that many viewers might easily overlook. Conformity and a very rigid male leadership hierarchy often place women associated with the Quiverfull movement in subservient roles. Thus,19 and Counting provides a platform for the Quiverfull movement to gain legitimacy by attempting to highlight the idyllic notions of the movement while downplaying gender roles and strict family conformity. The subtexts of the Duggars’ show make a feminist narrative approach crucial to draw attention to the subtle themes of male headship in the Quiverfull movement. The purpose of a feminist approach also allows themes of oppressive religious ideology towards women to be explored in more detail and provides a framework to reveal potentially harmful themes that the show promotes.

[9] Televisual narrative analysis 13 provides a rhetorical framework to analyze the moral messages presented in a television show from both a visual and textual perspective. This methodology allows 19 and Counting to be examined on multiple of levels, such as the nonverbal communication between family members, the set, clothing and dialogue on the show. Televisual narrative analysis relies heavily on Fisher’s narrative paradigm, which believes all rhetoric is laden with values, and that what determines the persuasion of these values is what Fisher terms narrative probability and narrative fidelity. Probability is defined as what establishes a coherent, logical story. Fidelity is defined as the truth behind those stories, as is true in the lives of the storytellers and the audience.14 In the case of 19 and Counting, the probability is the Duggar family life played out on camera. The religious beliefs of the family, which receive prominent airtime during the show’s first season, 17 and Counting, provide fidelity to the story as the Duggars’ attempt to convince the audience that their way is the best way to raise healthy, godly children.

[10] The ideology of the Duggar family is most prevalent in the show’s first season, when the family first introduced themselves and their beliefs to the American public. In subsequent seasons, the religious beliefs of the family are downplayed as the show shifts its focus to the family’s large size and the daily difficulties of managing such a large family. Therefore, this analysis will focus on episodes from the first season, 17 and Counting. The strict dating and relationship guidelines of the Quiverfull movement are shown in the episodes “Josh Gets Engaged,” “Duggar Dating Rules,” and “A Very Duggar Wedding,” while the family hierarchy and role of women in the home are illustrated in the episode “When Big Families Collide.”

Quiverfull Dating

[11] The popularity of Christian courtship has gained widespread acceptance in both evangelical and fundamentalist Christian circles due to the success of books such as Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye. 15 Adherents of the Quiverfull movement also follow this courtship routine, which is popular in many of the denominations they belong to.

[12] Using a courtship approach to finding a spouse requires both the man and woman to spend long hours with each other’s families. Only after the man has declared his intention to marry will the couple be allowed to go on chaperoned dates without parents. The courtship process focuses heavily on the man taking the initiative and the woman responding to his overtures. This concept of male leadership in courtship reinforces the Quiverfull ideology of male headship in the home, which results in women having limited control over family size and family decisions. In the Duggar family the courtship rules are very rigid, as is evidenced when the oldest Duggar boy, Joshua, gets engaged to Anna.

[13] Josh and Anna met at a home schooling conference when she was 17 and he was 18. They corresponded and met at family get-togethers for two years until Anna was 20, the age that was approved by her family for her to marry. Anna comes from a very conservative Free Will Baptist family of eight children and shares Josh’s Quiverfull beliefs about family planning. When Josh and Anna get engaged in “Josh Gets Engaged,” Josh flies down to her family’s home in Florida for her 20thbirthday and proposes to her at a local restaurant. Throughout the entire engagement planning process it is Anna’s father, Mike Keller, and Josh who provide the most input for planning Anna’s future life. For example, the following exchange occurs between Josh and Mike Keller on the phone before Josh travels to Florida:

Josh (in an interview with filming crew): I just made a phone call to my future father-in-law, and I ah kind of formerly asked him for his to ah permission to um become engaged to his daughter, and ah to pursue a serious relationship with her.

Josh: Hey Mr. Keller this is Josh Duggar, how are you?

Mike Keller: Good, hey Josh, good to hear your voice, how’s everything going?

Josh: Okay, going really good

Josh (to Mr. Keller): I know I’ve talked with your daughter quite a bit, and I really feel like the Lord would be leading me into a relationship with her, and I was, ah, wanting to ask your permission to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.

Mike Keller (speaking with filming crew): Months ago before we even knew anything she just felt like he was the one. But I said, “Don’t say anything. Let’s just pray about it and wait.” We didn’t drop any hints to the Duggar family at all. We just prayed and were quiet and God did a work in Josh’s heart.

Josh (in interview): I was just like, “Whoa, I’m so nervous.” But I knew it was the proper way to do it.

Mike Keller: Well, my wife and I have been thinking about this, and we think you’re the one. And, um, yes, we give you, um, to court her. And um, we’re excited. 16

[14] After Josh gets permission from Anna’s parents he heads down to Florida. As he stops to buy balloons for Anna as an engagement and birthday present Josh notes:

The way I look at is you have your whole heart when you’re a young person. And when you date, you’re giving pieces of your heart away to different people. And so, when you finally find that one, it’s like “Oh, here’s what I have.” But you’ve given part of that away. And what I wanted to do was save my whole heart for the one that God would have me in marriage. Courtship for me means boy meets girl, and then that young man goes to the father of that young lady and expresses his interest in his daughter and once the father has given the permission then this young man can then enter into a relationship with the daughter and get to know her better, and that’s what I did with Anna. 17

Josh’s courtship narrative focuses on the male dominance of the courtship experience. The decision to date and marry is not left up to the girl, but is instead decided by her suitor and her parents. Anna is not even consulted until after the decision has been reached.

[15] Soon after Josh proposes, the couple drives to Arkansas to see Michele and Jim Bob. Anna’s parents, Mike and Suzette Keller, later arrive at the Duggar house to meet their future in-laws and share in the celebration in “Duggar Dating Rules.” As Mike Keller notes when asked about Anna and Josh marrying young, “She loves children, she’s excited. And, you know, it’s their decision. They want to have – you know – they want to trust the Lord also like Michelle and Jim Bob. They want to have all the children that God wants to give them.”

[16] This ideal of submission to familial norms is further evidenced by the way in which the children interact with their parents and the women interact with the men.17 and Counting and subsequent seasons of the show, 19 and Counting, use an interview/observation format. The documentary crew interviews the older Duggar children and parents to help provide a framework for the day-to-day activities portrayed on the show. In “Duggar Dating Rules” a just-engaged Josh sits down with the camera to share his philosophy on dating and knowing he is ready to marry:

18 years old, typical young man having those desires. Just knowing that I wanted to move in that direction, but not really knowing how. And my parents are very wise. I went to them. They knew what was involved in getting married. They got married young. My dad was 19, my mom was 17. So, it wasn’t unusual. I don’t think that the age was really important to them. I think it was more the maturity. [In a later interview during the episode about relationships and parental oversight Josh notes:] I read in the paper the other day that 97% of couples have premarital sex, and that’s staggering. When a parent says, “You will not go that way.” The child rebels and goes that way anyway. And so my parents are very wise about knowing how to restrict their children from certain activities but also knowing when you just have to let the child make their own choices. 18

Josh’s narrative illustrates a traditional conformity approach to family communication. The Duggars, like many other Quiverfull families, stress strict adherence to certain family rules. Josh has been raised to ask his parent’s permission before any major life decisions. The beliefs of his parents are emphasized as Josh continually stresses the importance of listening to his parents first and foremost. The conformist ideology is further emphasized when his parents sit down with Josh and his fiancée Anna to welcome her into the family:

Michelle: Anna, since it was your 20th birthday, and you had made that commitment to the Lord that you wouldn’t court or (Jim Bob interrupts: or get engaged) get engaged or whatever until you turned 20. Your daddy had said he really wanted you to keep that commitment. So, I guess Josh and your daddy figured all this out together to surprise you on your birthday. Would you have ever dreamed on your 20thbirthday…

Anna: No, I would’ve never dreamed that on my 20th birthday I would be engaged, and it was just– It was really special.

Jim Bob: Hey Josh, what did I always tell you?

Josh: You always told me “Find someone like your mom.” She reminds me so much of my mom in so many ways. That was the number one thing that attracted me to her. And, uh, I found her. 19

Careful analysis of this scene indicates that, as Michelle and Jim Bob talk to Josh and Anna, the two women sit quietly next to their men, nodding their heads in agreement as their spouse talks. The women initiate or respond to conversation, but only in a manner that affirms the opinions of the men. In Anna’s case, she continually looks at Josh with an adoring gaze, absorbing everything he says and nodding in agreement.

[17] In many fundamentalist Christian families, specifically Quiverfull families, this dominance of the man within the family communication is prevalent. The mindset of Anna, Michelle Duggar and Suzette Keller to allow the men to dominate the conversation and lead the family in major decisions is common. As the fundamentalist Christian writer Nancy Wilson notes in her book The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman: “What a great protection it is to have a head to submit to, rather than being swayed by our own emotions, whims, and fears. A woman must cultivate a high view of her head, both the position God has given him over her as well as the authority God has given him.”20Headship in the Quiverfull movement is further emphasized in “A Very Duggar Wedding.”

Quiverfull Marriage

[18] On the day of Joshua Duggar’s wedding, Anna is left to handle any last minute wedding details while Josh and Jim Bob go off to the junior church room to have a man-to-man chat. Jim Bob sits in a tall chair while Josh straddles a child’s chair and looks up at his father waiting for advice:

Jim Bob: This is a book that Dr. Ed Wheat, who was my doctor growing up, wrote (Staying in love for a life time), he counseled Michelle and I before we got married and taught us everything we know. So, when I give this to you, you’ll know everything we know.

Josh: I think I kind of know this works…

Jim Bob (interrupting): Yeah, it’s kind of like Legos. (Both laugh). It doesn’t have pictures or anything.

Josh: Aw man, no, no I’m joking, I’ll have a working model, no pictures necessary.

Jim Bob: I think the main thing, Josh, is that married life is not about like a physical relationship. (Josh chimes in) It’s not about getting everything you want when you want it.

Jim Bob: That’s right, it’s about both of you giving 110 percent to each other, and there will be times when you don’t agree, in life, and have conflicts. Always resolve your conflicts before the sun goes down (Eph 4:26) every day.

Josh: Yeah, we put that into our vows.

Jim Bob: Yeah, always do that. To you one of the most important things about life will be having a physical relationship, but to your wife one of the most important things will be to talk and share her heart every day with you, and to you some of these things might seem kind of trivial things that went on in her life, that they don’t seem important, but to her for her to be able to express it to you and for you to respond that you care about her that you care about the little things in her life, this will show her that you love her, and cherish her and care about her. Women speak a different language then men, women want to tell all the details of everything that happened to them even before they get to the main point, and sometimes they tell you everything that happened in a given situation and you still don’t understand the main point, and I pray that you will work hard and be a provider for your wife, that you will go and just be sensitive to her. You’ve got a wonderful bride here, we’re so thankful for Anna, and I think both of you will complement each other wonderfully and this will be a dynamic marriage. I love you Josh. 21

Towards the end of the scene, as Jim Bob gives advice to Josh, pictures of Anna flash across the screen as very tender, soft music plays in the background. Anna is shown working in the kitchen, preparing for their wedding, looking adoringly at Josh, saying “I love you,” and helping with children. The images reinforce the marital roles Anna and Josh are about to step into—Josh as head of the house and provider and Anna as wife and mother who takes care of domestic duties. Throughout the wedding episode the idea of men and women speaking different languages is continually reinforced as Jim Bob talks to Michelle and as Mike Keller talks to his wife and daughters about wedding preparations. Both men laugh and note that their wives and daughters are all caught up in the romance of the occasion, while Josh continually make references to his wedding night and wanting to escape from the fuss as soon as possible.

[19] Both Josh and Anna have committed to following the example of their parents and conforming to the ideology they have grown up with. When it comes time to say their vows they are explicit about their marriage roles:

Pastor: Josh and Anna as you enter the scared institution of marriage do you seek to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).

Joshua, placing yourself under the headship of Christ, faithful to lead Anna in the ways of the Lord as her priest, protector and provider.

Anna, placing yourself under the leadership of Joshua, submitting to his authority as his helpmate, being loyal, supportive, following his direction through Christ in your lives.

Also, do both you commit to trust God with the size of your family? Allowing him to determine the timing of each child and as parents training them in the ways of God. 22

In their vows Josh and Anna clearly state their intention to follow the Quiverfull lifestyle, and within a year of their wedding they are expecting their first child.23Quiverfull families place emphasis on Psalm 127 which says that children are a blessing, but also on Old Testament passages such as Genesis 1:28 which outlines God’s command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. 24 The literal interpretation of these verses plays a large role in the Quiverfull ideology as any form of family planning is considered a direct violation to God’s command to populate the earth with Christians and a restriction of a potential “blessing” in the form of a potential child that God had intended for that family. The Quiverfull belief in children as a blessing is further evidenced in the episode “When Big Families Collide.”

Quiverfull Family Roles

[20] The Duggar family home schools their children to control their exposure to certain concepts, such as evolution. Through home school conventions the Duggars became friends with the Bateses, a large Quiverfull family with 16 children and one on the way. In the episode “When Big Families Collide” the Bateses come to visit the Duggars for an extended stay. The conservative beliefs of the families are evident as the girls in both families wear only dresses or skirts. However, while the Duggar girls are usually shown in casual t-shirts with jean skirts, the Bates girls wear home-sewn dresses reminiscent of 1800s prairie dresses. The Bates girls all dress alike and their mother, Kelly Bates, notes that their dress is directly related to their religious beliefs:

We just felt like that would be pleasing to the Lord for us to begin wearing dresses, and the girls always love dress-upping anyway, so my daughter likes to sew. That just happened to be a pattern that she created that she likes to sew. It’s wide enough they can ride horses and play around and we can find everybody sizes. We don’t have to worry about is it too big up to or too small below or vice versa. It’s easy ’cause it’s custom-made. And they all match. They love to match.25

The Bates, unlike the Duggars, are a more typical example of a large Quiverfull family. When traveling in public the Duggars get noticed for their large family, but the Bateses come across as large, backward and very conservative. During this episode, the older Bates girls smile shyly at the camera and seem to either not know how to or not want to engage in conversation with the film crew. The Duggar girls, on the other hand, are always willing to share their opinion on camera, even though their opinions always line up with what their parents believe. Additionally, the Duggars have always shied away from directly stating their beliefs on family planning on their show. When the Bateses visit, Gil Bates is more than willing to share his views on large families:

My wife said one day “I think we ought to just trust God,” and I said you can’t just do that we’d have 20 kids. We’d have more than we could afford, and then I began to really look. I really wanted to know what the Bible said. What’s God say about it? I began looking for evidence to back up my point of view, is what I was looking for, to not have so many. And I was, um, I came to the conclusion that God said children are a blessing. In the beginning I didn’t believe it. But now it’s been 21 years, and I believe it’s really true. They are a blessing. 26

[21] Gil Bates’ ideas on family planning almost directly mirror Psalm 127:3 “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord: the fruit of the womb is the reward,” the foundational Quiverfull verse. The Bates family’s presence on 17 and Countingprovides a framework for viewing the beliefs of the Duggar family. In the opening sequence of each 17 and Counting episode, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar note that they are a conservative family who limit their children’s exposure to the Internet and television. The Bateses support this belief, explaining it in more detail by stating:

Gil: We made a decision a long time ago regarding any influence that comes into our home, whether it be magazines or television or even now the Internet to do all we could do to protect them from awakening desires that could be awakened too early as a young person. 27

Just as with Michelle, Anna, and Suzette Keller, Kelly Bates also does not contradict her husband. She sits next to him as he explains the family’s beliefs, nodding her head in agreement. Thus, while the Duggars state that they use their show as a platform to share their religious beliefs, they always steer their show’s content away from directly stating that they associate with the Quiverfull movement. Even the Bateses, when portrayed on their show, do not specifically state they adhere to the Quiverfull ideology. Yet the continual references to large families and Quiverfull verses on the show, as well as the family hierarchy portrayed on 17 and Counting,paint a different picture.

[22] The Duggars’ hesitation to verbally confirm their association with the movement draws attention to the negative aspects of the movement such as lack of opportunities for women and the restriction of a woman’s right to control her reproductive functions. In the first season of the show, the opening sequence shows them as a very conservative family, but by the third season of the show, the opening sequence has changed to focus on the size of the family and not their religious and child-rearing beliefs.

[23] The switch to a more neutral opening sequence draws attention to both TLC’s and the Duggars’ desire to downplay their religious beliefs to create more widespread appeal for their show. In recent interviews, the Duggars have stated that the reason they allow the show to document their lives is to provide a platform for sharing their Christian faith and beliefs on family life.28 However, while the Duggars might be open about their faith, they do not want to admit they follow the Quiverfull ideology. Yet their show has become a platform to help the movement gain widespread tolerance and is recognized by Quiverfull activists as an outreach tool to promote the Quiverfull lifestyle.


[24] Christian use of popular culture as a promotional platform for religious rhetoric is not a new occurrence. It is only natural that a media format that has become an intrinsic part of the American experience has evolved into the ideal format to promote a religious ideology. As Quinten Shultze notes in his essay “Secular Television as Popular Religion”, “Television programming is religious because its stories are the shared narratives of American culture.” 29 The Duggar family story is a perfect example of this, as the family’s story is relatable to anyone, no matter what their religious affiliation, who is interested in putting family first. However, while the Duggar narrative is appealing to a broad audience, it also takes the opportunity to reinforce a conservative Christian worldview on family hierarchy.

[25] Television programs such as 19 and Counting often contain a traditional family structure, with all other family structures portrayed as the “before conversion” example of secular society. 30 When women are portrayed on religious programming it is usually in conjunction with domestic roles and never as independent from the family structure. 31 In the Duggar family, Michelle is relegated to the role of housekeeper, teacher, and caretaker while the husband leads the dominant family narrative. The subtle themes regarding a woman’s role in the home, marriage, and society at large are the dominant narratives of the show. However, to the casual observer, these themes are not immediately discernible in a show that seems the picture of idyllic family life.

[26] Consequently, the themes of repression and traditional gender ideology are easily overlooked on a cable network such as TLC where the target audience is females and the network’s line up of reality shows reinforce traditional gender roles. TLC’s formatting is part of a larger reality trend that focuses on traditional heterosexuality, marriage and family life.32 Therefore since the average TLC viewer is already prone to agree with a traditional family structure, they would think nothing was unusual about the Duggar family structure. As Jennifer Maher (2004) notes in her study of the TLC shows A Wedding Story and A Baby Story:

A Wedding Story and A Baby Story reveal the discontent of perfect love as we’ve been coached to feel and live it as well as the repetition of compulsion such dissatisfaction engenders. If feminists could politicize this dissatisfaction, we might go far in breaking the hold that compulsory heterosexuality has over our culture.”33

Like A Wedding Story and A Baby Story19 and Counting plays into normative gender roles in the United States. The show only exemplifies Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar as a loving couple, devoted to their family. As the show has progressed since its first season the loving nature of the family unit is the central theme while the religious convictions influencing their lifestyle are rarely discussed. Thus, 19 and Counting presents a subversive oppositional discourse 34 that implicitly argues that large families where the women are relegated to purely domestic functions are acceptable.

[27] Until recently, the Duggars’ narrative painted only a positive picture of the Quiverfull movement. However, in December 2009 the premature birth of their nineteenth child, due to Michelle Duggar being diagnosed with preeclampsia, has brought the Quiverfull lifestyle under increased scrutiny in the mainstream media. Baby number nineteen, Josie Duggar could suffer from life-long health complications due to being born three months prematurely.35 Even after Michelle Duggar and Josie Duggar’s health complications, both Jim Bob and Michelle announced they were open to having more children if it was God’s will. 36

[28] Yet, even with news coverage of the dramatic and complicated birth of the Duggars’ latest child, there is still a lack of public understanding and knowledge about the darker aspects of the Quiverfull movement. More research is needed to fully understand the stress this lifestyle can have on a woman’s physical and psychological health. For instance, Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who received national attention in the United States for drowning her five children in a bathtub in the 1990s, is a perfect example of the mental and emotional strain the Quiverfull lifestyle can have on a woman. Few people realize Yates and her husband subscribed to the movement’s beliefs, 37and this places further emphasis on the need to highlight the ideology of this movement. While women such as Michelle Duggar and Andrea Yates seem willing to comply with the Quiverfull lifestyle, it must be noted that there is a difference between accepting a lifestyle because of a choice and choosing a lifestyle based on religious propaganda. Women like Yates and the women in the Duggar family often do not learn about life beyond Quiverfull and the emphasis on a literal interpretation of the Bible places pressure on them to continue in the Quiverfull lifestyle in order to maintain their Christian faith. In the lives of many Quiverfull families there is little separation between religious salvation and their lifestyle. So, while the Duggars paint a peaceful picture of the Quiverfull life, all is not as it seems, as is evidenced by the underlying narrative in the Duggar story.


    1. Kathryn Joyce, “Quiverfull Conviction: Christian Mothers Breed ‘Arrows for the War’.” Nation (November 27, 2006), 11.
    2. 14 and Pregnant Again!, television documentary, Kirk Streb (2004, Carrboro, Figure 8 Films, 2006 Discovery Channel).
    3.  “About the Duggar Family,” The Duggar Family,http://www.duggarfamily.com/aboutus.html , accessed October 22, 2010.


  1. Bill Gorman, “TLC is all Jon and Kate Plus 8,” TV by the Numbers (June 9, 2009). http://tvbythenumbers.com/2009/06/09/cable-network-spotlight-tlc-is-all-about-jon-kate-plus-8/20358, accessed October 22, 2010.
  2. Mary Pride, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1985).
  3. Rick and Jan Hess, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ(Brentwood,TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1990).
  4. Samuel A. Owen, Jr., Letting God Plan Your Family (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 51.
  5. Nancy Nason-Clark, “Religion and Violence against Women: Exploring the Rhetoric and Response of Evangelical Churches in Canada,” Social Compass43,4 (1996): 515-36.
  6. Yoav Lavee and Ruth Katz, “Division of Labor, Perceived Fairness and Martial Quality: The Effect of Gender Ideology.” Journal of Marriage and Family 64,1 (February 2002): 27-39.
  7. Melinda Denton, “Gender and Marital Decision making: Negotiating Religious Ideology and Practice,” Social Forces 82,3 (March 2004): 1151-80.
  8. Margaret Bendroth, “Fundamentalism and the Family: Gender, Culture, and the American Pro-Family Movement.” Journal of Women’s History 10,4 (Winter 1999): 35-54.
  9. Kate Dixon, “Multiply and Conquer,” Bitch 37 (Fall 2007): 38.
  10. Janis Page, “Towards a Theory of Narrative Analysis: What We See on HGTV,” International Communication Association, Conference Paper, Annual Meeting, 2006, 1-26.
  11. Walter Fisher, Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value and Action (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 64.
  12. Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Sisters,OR: Multnoma Books, 2003).
  13. The Learning Channel, “Josh Gets Engaged,” 17 and Counting, episode 3 (October 6, 2008).
  14. Ibid.
  15. The Learning Channel, “Duggar Dating Rules,” 17 and Counting, episode 4, (October 6, 2008).
  16. Ibid.
  17. Nancy Wilson, The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman(Moscow, ID: Cannon Press, 1997), 17.
  18. The Learning Channel, “A Very Duggar Wedding,” 17 and Counting, television special, (January 25, 2009).
  19. Ibid.
  20. Mike Celizic. “Duggar Family: Another Baby on the Way!” TodayShow.com, (April 13, 2009), http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/30156915/ns/parenting_and_family/ (accessed October 9, 2009).
  21. Owen, Letting God Plan, 44.
  22. The Learning Channel, “When Big Families Collide,” 17 and Counting, episode 5 (October 13,2008).
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Dena Ross, “Duggars: The Most Wholesome Family on TV: Interview with Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar,” Beliefnet.com (n.d.), 1.
  26. Quinton Schultze, “Secular Television as Popular Religion.” R. Abelman and S. Hoover, eds., Religious Television: Controversies and Conclusions (Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1990), 243.
  27. J. Corbitt, “The Family as Seen Through the Eyes of the New Religious-Political Right,” Religious Television.
  28. Robert Abelman, “The Depiction of Women in Religious Television,” Journal of Communication and Religion (September 1991): 3-4.
  29. Kirsty Fairclough, “Women’s Work? Wife Swap and the Reality Problem,”Commentary and Criticism 4,1 (November 2004): 344-46.
  30. Jennifer Maher, “What do Women Watch? Tuning in to the Compulsory Hetrosexuality Channel,” S. Murray’s and L. Ouellette, eds., Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 212.
  31. John Fiske, Television Culture (New York: Methuen, 1987), 47.
  32. Luchina Fisher and Lauren Cox, “Michelle Duggar has Premature Girl in Emergecy C Section,” ABCNews.com, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Television/michelle-duggar-birth-19th-child-emergency-section/story?id=9311401 (accessed December 11, 2009).
  33. Alicia Dennis, “The Duggars: Our Hearts Haven’t Changed,” People Magazine(February 15, 2010), 80.
  34. Dixon, “Multiply and Conquer,” 39.