Prepare yourselves for a ridiculous amount of victim-blaming, financial abuse, sexual and reproductive coercion, and food insecurity. Ain’t being an FLDS wife great?
Eleven months into her travesty of a marriage, Carolyn Jessop becomes pregnant. She suffers horrible morning sickness. In the best traditions of religions everywhere, she’s promptly blamed for being ill:
Within the FLDS, any personal problem is seen as the direct result of sin. Serious emotional or physical problems were considered a curse from God. It was also dangerous for a woman to show any incapacitation related to pregnancy because it was viewed within her family as a sin of rebellion – unless, of course, you were Barbara, for whom the double standard applied with regard to her crying bouts during her pregnancy.
Not only do her sister-wives think God has a mad because Carolyn must have fucked up somehow, they also accuse her of being violently ill several times a day just to get attention. And women in this culture, reduced to virtual property and valued only for how many babies they can manage to squeeze out, are often the ones most keen to tear a fellow wife down. Women are pitted against each other in a precarious struggle for pitiful scraps of power. These systems could not survive if they didn’t get their victims to willingly participate in their own victimization, and help keep each other down. No one’s going to encourage women to band together and help one another find their power. The system is set up to reward backstabbers and crush revolutionaries. And, while one woman can acquire considerable power by playing by the rules, she’s at risk of being torn down by the jealous others if she gains too much of their husband’s favor.
Despite being horribly ill and treated like crap, Carolyn manages to stay in school. Her son is born during the winter break. He assuages her loneliness: now she has someone who gives her life meaning. She hadn’t wanted to get pregnant, she can’t stand his father, but Arthur is her delight. But that doesn’t mean she wants to endure another pregnancy. When her period returns after just three months, she’s terrified: her body is too exhausted for another go-round, but if she refuses to have sex with Merril, he’ll cut off her money. It’s common for men in the FLDS to control their women through cash: they take all the women’s income, including their welfare checks, and dole out a pittance in return.
Merril allows the wives only $500 a week for groceries, which sounds like a lot – but they have to feed 30-50 people daily on that amount. And since he lets his teenage daughters do the shopping, that money isn’t spent wisely. Carolyn is getting so little food that Arthur was low birthweight, and this baby probably will be, too. She has no one to turn to for help.
Complaining was out of the question. While I could tell my mother that I was hungry and not getting enough food, if I became at all critical of Merril, she’d refuse to hear any more and would stop listening. A man has the absolute right to control his house in any way he chooses.
So much easier to believe this way of life is right and just and God’s will than to admit the whole system sucks dysenteric donkey ass and you’ve been duped all your life into being a willing accomplice to your own oppression, right?
Carolyn arranges child care and returns to school. People, you know how I keep telling you to show some loving kindness to women and children trapped in these religions? This is why:
I didn’t want more children right away, but was too intimidated to ask any of the women at school about birth control. I felt insecure among them. When I walked into a classroom everyone looked as though they were afraid I might sit next to them. In my long dresses, I stood out as strange, someone from a distant century, if not a different planet. No one made any effort to associate with me, and I lacked the confidence to try to connect with them.
And so, when her bloody awful husband pressures her to get pregnant again, she has no choice. She’s still not recovered from birthing Arthur when she’s impregnated a second time. She loses a drastic amount of weight, and is targeted for abuse by the other wives because, remember, a woman’s illness is her own damn fault.
Think of how different her life could have been if just one woman in one of her classes had treated her as a person rather than a freak. If just one person had been cordial enough for Carolyn to reach out to, and been willing to help her. You don’t have to condone someone’s faith in order to treat them with dignity. And you could be that safe harbor they need when they begin to question their faith and need to escape.
In the midst of her second pregnancy, Carolyn gets into an accident on black ice during a terrible snowstorm. She almost goes over a cliff. She’s pregnant, alone, freezing to death, and her first thought is to make sure she finds all of her books for college, and the next is that Merril’s going to be furious she crashed his luxury van. Then the terror that she killed her baby sets in. But she has one hell of a survival instinct, and keeps moving to prevent herself from succumbing to the cold. She finds help and is rescued. For a long time after, she’s too afraid to drive. Fortunately, the one bonus of an enormous family is having a pool of eager drivers always at hand.
Carolyn finishes college, a huge triumph. But now she’ll have to live in Colorado City full time as Merril’s wife – a less happy prospect. But she gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, and her son and daughter provide her an island of happiness.
At 21, she has something few other FLDS women have: a college degree. But she doesn’t yet have a bright future.
I’m reviewing Escape chapter-by-chapter. Pick yourself up a copy if you’d like to follow along. The full list of reviews to date can be found here. Need a chaser? Pick up a copy of Really Terrible Bible Stories Volume 1: Genesis or Volume 2: Exodus today!