Having been abroad since early 2006, I became disconnected with American pop culture, falling behind the curve and only learning about things via the internet, often late. For example, I looked up Duck Dynasty only after it kept coming up in news just because I was confused by the name. At first I jokingly thought it was some kind of animated show set ancient China but with ducks instead of people, but when I learned the truth, it was more horrifying than I could ever imagine. I think that was the moment I realized how fortunate it is that I am so disconnected from the world of American television.
The Duggar family was another thing I had the misfortune of learning about thanks to the internet, and it only confirmed my convictions about American TV. When I first heard about them I could not for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to watch a show about Christian fundamentalists with too many kids. They barely crossed my mind again until recently, when a totally unsurprising child molestation scandal brought the family into the news.
What is key to remember about this case, wherein one of the sons was found to have been molesting underage girls including some of his sisters, is not so much what he did but the family’s response- i.e. they covered it up for over a year and had the perpetrator talk through his problem with a man who is now serving prison time for possession of child pornography. Takes one to know one, I guess.
If it just ended there, I’d say the whole thing is typical and move on, but of course various conservatives have been putting their feet in their mouths, calling the Duggar boy’s sick crimes “mistakes,” and admonishing the press for airing the family’s dirty laundry. To me this just serves as another perfect example of what “traditional family values” actually means. Allow me to explain.
Conservatives, in almost any country, love to talk tough about punishing people, especially for sexual crimes. “We should just shoot the rapists and the pedophiles! Then the others’ll learn!” Chances are you probably have heard something along those lines. Personally I think it would be better to, you know, stop those rapes or molestation incidents from happening in the first place, because you can’t undo crime, but I guess I’m just a limp-wristed, bleeding heart liberal or something. Anyway, the point is, Mr. Traditional Values knows how they dealt with this in the “good old days,” and he thinks we need to return to that.
Except he doesn’t know. See when things like child sex abuse and rape actually happen in conservative, patriarchal societies, if often goes entirely unreported and unpunished. Far from taking the pedophiles out back and shooting them, the typical historical response seems to be quietly sneaking them out the back door and never discussing the issue again. Remember the scandals that rocked the Catholic church? People forget that the issue wasn’t the priests in question, but the fact that the church knowingly and willingly covered for the perpetrators, shielding them from justice. That’s a far cry from burning somebody alive, isn’t it? Take a look at the conservative reaction within the Duggar family. Where are the calls for street justice a la the Toby Keith song “Beer for my Horses?” All we see are apologetics and defenses, including one claim from a Duggar family member who says we’re really all child molesters at heart. Speak for yourself there, buddy.
Conservatives, both in the US and in Russia, love portraying progressive societies as degenerate, and they point to things like sex abuse scandals or rape cases as being proof. The technique is totally dishonest, because first, the media exaggerates crime all the time, focusing on sensational crime usually involving strangers when in fact the most likely rapist, kidnapper, killer, etc. is usually going to be someone close to the victim. Second, and more importantly, conservatives are basically “cheating” by taking advantage of the “availability heuristic.” In a more progressive society, things like rape and child molestation are big news. Reactionaries will use this to “prove” that modern or urban societies are somehow more degenerate, implying that in their own “traditional” societies this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.
The problem is that it does happen, frequently, and the perpetrators often get away with it. All these horrible crimes happened just as often and usually more so in the past, but they weren’t reported because the more conservative values of those times encouraged people to cover them up. “Was little Johnny molested by an older cousin? Let’s make sure those two are never alone and never speak of this again. Mary says she was raped by the neighbor?! Could she have led him on? What was she doing over there alone, at that hour?” Truth be told a lot of these attitudes, especially in regards to rape, are still quite common today. But which side of the political spectrum is pushing to help rape victims report crimes and fighting the tradition of victim blaming, and which side is terribly interested in what the victim was wearing, whether she had been drinking, and more concerned about not ruining a fine young athlete’s bright future as opposed to seeing justice done?
Russia, which about two years ago suddenly discovered it was a bastion of “traditional morality” to the surprise of many, is another perfect example of this phenomenon. While Russian politicians talk tough against consenting homosexuals, they defended the potentially-forced, polygamous marriage of a 17-year old girl to a man who’s nearly in his 50’s. The kind of sexual escapades that go on in Russia wouldn’t just make a normal person blush, it should make them red with rage. I’m talking massive sexual abuse in the group home system, prostitution exploiting orphan girls, etc. Yet the Russian government has never been too keen on doing anything about that. Far from it- they’re more concerned about repressing consenting LGBT adults and making sure children stay in those group homes instead of being adopted by countries which tolerate said LGBT people. “Russian girls being forced into sexual slavery? You know those are just naive, stupid girls with no education. They probably got involved in that willingly for the money.” Those words pretty much encapsulate what I heard dozens of times, from Russian women no less, when this topic came up. Incidentally, throughout all his Ukraine crisis I have never seen Russian or Ukrainian nationalists ever address this problem. If the topic ever comes up, each side insists that it’s the other side’s women who are prostitutes, and that are totally willing at that.
One would think Islamic societies actually put their money where their mouths are, but even then you’d be wrong. Rape and forms of prostitution are common in these societies, only it’s even worse because there the victim is pretty much assumed guilty and liable to the severest forms of punishment. It’s almost as if the more conservative you get, the worse it gets.
In fact that’s basically the truth. Conservatism is about trying to preserve the past, though typically an ideal past that never existed. American conservatives dream of the 1950’s they saw on Leave it to Beaver, i.e. a fantasy, totally unaware that teen pregnancy in those days was actually higher than it is today. Child abuse was hushed up because it was a “private family matter” and nobody wanted to “air dirty laundry.” If we go back further, to the 19th century, we see that while society was indisputably more religious, things like alcoholism and prostitution (including underage prostitution) were rife. Cities like New York, London, Manchester, and yes, Moscow, were home to hundreds of brothels, operating openly in various states of legality or de facto legality. In fact, at the opening of the American Civil War, Washington DC entertained gathering US armies with no less than 400 brothels, so many that local newspapers published reviews, recommendations, and warnings about them. Middle and upper-class women might have been chaste, but their future husbands got their practice with prostitutes long beforehand. Hey if that sounds bad for you fans of “traditional values” out there, I’m going easy on you. In the Middle Ages people got into some really kinky shit.
When we compare progressive societies to “traditional” ones, insofar as the latter are actually traditional at all, we see that in terms of justice being served and crime being prevented, a progressive society will come out on top. Obviously if society encourages rape victims to speak out and press charges, it’s going to look like we have more incidences of rape, if only because it’s being widely reported. But if we encourage this, and rape victims start getting justice more often, over time potential rapists might think twice about committing the deed, with the knowledge that they are far less likely to get away with it. By contrast, conservative societies that shame victims of abuse and prefer to keep things “in the family” enable and favor perpetrators, be they they pedophiles or rapists.
With that in mind it is hard not to have deep pity for the victims of Josh Duggar and the poor teenage bride in Chechnya. No doubt while the parents were covering up their son’s deeds, they probably interrogated his victims and possibly made them feel responsible for the crime that was committed against them. Likewise that bride was probably being told how lucky she was to be married to a man of such a high position, position being very important to survival in today’s Chechnya. She has no doubt been instructed on her “duty” as a woman. As infuriating as these things ought to be to any 21st century human being, we must never forget this ugly reality whenever we hear the hypocritical blather about “traditional values.”