Are Women Brainwashed Into Polygamy?

Kathy Jo Nicholson began sewing her wedding dress when she was fourteen. If she faithfully served her husband, and accepted at least two other wives, her husband would invite her to join him in heaven. But if she refused polygamy, she would be damned to hell.

Are women brainwashed into polygamy?

In some ways, polygamists aren’t so different from the rest of us. Those who accept “plural marriage” simply accept the way of life that lies before them. Most of us do the same thing.

Why?

When we’re born we don’t have many thoughts in our heads. Knowing nothing, the world around us seems pretty chaotic. So much information! What to do with it? We need to know how to cope and put order to chaos.

Unconsciously, the brain notices patterns and it starts categorizing things. “Oh, usually it’s women who stay home with children. I guess women are family oriented,” the brain concludes. Scientists, presidents, artists, and corporate managers are usually men. White ones. “I guess scientists, presidents, artists, and corporate managers are white males,” surmises the mind. In the 1950s this is how the world looked. It seemed normal and natural and few thought to question it. The oversimplification is also the source of stereotypes.

If we start to understand that people from other cultures can think differently, we might open our minds. The Western world is multi-cultural. We are plugged into the world wide web and connected to satellites. So we know that there are other ways of seeing, even if we don’t necessarily agree.

Isolated groups like polygamists aren’t much exposed to alternate ways of thinking. And that limits possibilities.

Kathy Jo grew up in isolated southern Utah. Her prophet warned against the world’s wickedness: “Leave television alone. Do away with videos. Do away with headphones and listening to radio. Hard metallic music is the devil.”

She didn’t know people who didn’t practice polygamy. It was just how the world was supposed to be. How God wanted it.

Some polygamists live in suburbia, but are isolated amidst the masses. Harassed and ostracized, they keep to themselves. Persecuted people bond more closely together.

But something rocked Kathy Jo’s world. Her prophet had prophesied he’d live until Christ’s second coming. But then he died.

“How can you trust the Prophet,” she asked her father, “if he doesn’t keep his promise?” She was told to stop questioning.

“The key to living the Principle was unquestioning obedience,” Kathy Jo explained. “Never question Father. Do as he says. Never question the Prophet.”

But she kept wondering, silently. Some personalities are more inquiring than others. That some do question is the key to social change.

Later she fell in love and fled the fold to elope. But she could barely cope in the outside world – so used to every decision being made for her. Kathy Jo also worried about going to hell. After many years, she eventually got over it.

Now she worries that her nieces and nephews are trapped in an oppressive world they did not choose.

Are polygamists brainwashed?

Not exactly. That would involve washing something out of the mind that had previously existed there. A synonym is “thought reform.”

What polygamists undergo is similar to everyone’s socialization. We all live with our culture’s understandings in our heads. Every time we feel any sense of racism, sexism, or homophobia (you’ll be surprised how much you do; go to Harvard’s website to find out), or simply believe that the feminine ideal is skinny with large breasts, we have internalized our culture. That is, society’s beliefs now exist in our own minds.

But the polygamists’ experience is more extreme because they hear few competing voices, have a fierce focus on obedience, and are more likely than most to believe that their ways are God’s ways.

But if you want to call it that, we are all brainwashed into our cultural ways of knowing. Some are just more brainwashed than others.

Note: Kathy Jo’s story comes from “Escape From Polygamy,” Glamour

First posted on December 9, 2010 by

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Polygamy is Heavenly says Pedophile Prophet
I Could Have Been A Polygamous Wife
Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 21, 2011, in gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. The blog makes interesting points in which I never considered. For example in the blog their is a comment on the basis of all people being brainwashed by their culture. From my point of view that’s exactly correct. In many cases polygamy is all people know so it’s the norm in their society. The way of life is embedded into their religion, so asking if the method of longevity with several people can be considered brainwashing is degrading and offensive. When it’s practiced in the states it’s illegal, but in other countries it’s acceptable. Being “fat” or in this case in a polygamy relationship is appreciated/glorified; the United States has a very narrow minded perception of the world. In this country people are suppose to be free to express themselves in every aspect including sexually or culturally. In many ways we (U.S.) contradict the American dream by the laws and restrictions we place on people, and their values. No polygamy isn’t brainwashing the women of certain cultures learn that as being the way of life monogamous relationships is frowned upon we should learn to respect the way others live without being so judgmental.

  2. This is a tiny piece of a much larger debate, but I think you’d appreciate a post I wrote on the laundry burdens imposed by FLDS patriarchs:

    http://feelingelephants.wordpress.com/2008/04/13/polygamy-of-fasion-and-servitude/

    It is a small example of how non-women-centered lives in these communes are, and how unpleasant the male heads-of-houses can make the lives of women who don’t obey.

  3. Does it matter? Any kind of enforced behaviour is horrible, but if they are happy with their choices, and free to live there lives as they would like, how can we judge? We all have a right to our religious beliefs, or lack thereof. Great blog.

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