Critics are using the Josh Duggar trial to help deconstruct harmful beliefs: 'Dripping with the effects of purity culture'

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Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of sexual violence against minors. Please take care while reading, and note the helpful resources at the end of this story.

The first rule of r/DuggarsSnark is that there are no fans allowed.

The subreddit is dedicated to “snarking on” — playfully or sarcastically mocking — the Duggar family. The former stars of the megahit TLC show 19 Kids and Counting and its spinoff Counting On include a politician patriarch and his adoring wife, with focus on their 19 children and a number of spouses and grandchildren.

"I believe our community is a space for people from all walks of life to come together and share a common ideal: snarking on the Duggar family for their horrible views and actions," moderator cripplinganxietylmao told In The Know. They defined "snark" as "being witty when things are wack."

'What a quaint, wholesome family’

The Duggars first found fame in 2004 with a one-hour TV special called 14 Kids and Pregnant Again. They caught public attention because of their many children (whose names all start with the letter “J”) and their strict religious rules tied to a “cult-like” Christian sect known as the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).

One of the most distinguishing aspects of the Duggars initially was their unmistakable fashion sense, particularly among the female family members.

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A well-known image of the eldest daughters — Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger — shows the girls sporting uniforms, elbow-length permed hair and long skirts typical of modest dress.

Members of r/DuggarsSnark told In The Know they found their appearance to be unusual in a way that kept them coming back for more and more episodes of the family’s eventual series.

Credit: <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Howard Books;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Howard Books</a>
Credit: Howard Books

“When the show was airing, way back when, I remember my mom talking about what a quaint wholesome family the Duggars were,” estesparkranger, one of the original moderators for r/DuggarsSnark, told In The Know. “Later, once I saw the belief system beneath the glossy, perfect TV family, I started getting mad that no one knew they held all these archaic beliefs. A snarker was born.”

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As the Duggar girls grew up, the world watched and waited for them and their married brothers to decide whether they would break free from IBLP standards. That rapt attention is comparable to the way some audiences treat child stars, only instead of expecting a huge mental breakdown, Duggar followers just wanted to see who would cut their hair, wear pants or have fewer than four children.

How the Duggars helped normalize purity culture

Critics of the Duggar family and fundamentalist Christianity identified that the beauty standards they adhere to are known as “purity culture” — a movement that gained prominence in the 1990s that placed sexual purity as a virtue above all else.

It was not unpopular for Christians to wear “purity rings” as a promise to abstain from sex until marriage, but the Duggars faced even more intense rules. All dates between couples who were “courting” had to be chaperoned. Holding hands was reserved for engagement, and for many, the first kiss comes on the wedding day. Virginity was everything.

Credit: TLC
Credit: TLC

Purity culture shined through many episodes of the Duggar shows. Women had to dress modestly, covering their knees, at the risk of “defrauding” the men around them. Sexual sin appeared to be especially heinous compared to other moral boundaries they set.

Rachel Joy Welcher, the author of Talking Back to Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality, wrote that purity culture was well-intentioned but full of gross errors. It made sexual purity a prize that could be lost — in direct contradiction with the central tenant of Christianity that claims all will be forgiven.

It burdened women with the responsibility to control male lust, as well. Purity culture ultimately failed victims of sexual abuse, who would, by purity culture principles, be forever considered impure because of an offense committed against them.

How the Josh Duggar trial affected r/DuggarsSnark

Members of r/DuggarsSnark noticed this pattern in the Duggar family and often critiqued it.

On the forum, you’ll notice “snark” on the minutiae in the lives of the Duggars — Jill dyed her hair blonde, Jessa named her baby “Spurgeon,” Jinger wiped her daughters’ faces from social media, and so on. But since April 29, 2021, visitors may have noticed an influx of serious posts.

On that date, the eldest Duggar son, Josh, was arrested. Days later, he was indicted on federal charges related to the possession of child pornography, which activists say is better labeled “child sexual abuse materials” (CSAM), as it does not imply consent.

It was then that the public was reminded of the reason behind the Duggars’ first fall from grace that led to the cancellation of their initial series — when In Touch Weekly uncovered police reports in May 2015 that revealed Josh had molested his sisters in the past.

Two of the eldest Duggar girls and their parents spoke to Megyn Kelly following the incident noting that they forgave Josh and that the incident was in the past, but critiques surrounding the initial reporting of the incident emerged and have only become more pronounced after a witness testified during Josh’s December 2021 trial to a pattern of abusive behavior in his youth.

When the news of Josh’s 2021 charges broke, the r/DuggarsSnark subreddit had 80,000 subscribers. Now that he’s been found guilty, the subreddit has more than 130,000 subscribers.

The subreddit’s five moderators have been busy, but they found time to speak to In The Know about the role the subreddit has played in the trial and in the critique of purity culture at large.

APW25, who joined the moderation team just before the legal proceedings officially began, said the community “has broken down the trial in such a way that anyone could follow along without feeling stupid.” Users freely asked questions, and legal experts (like moderator and law student nuggetsofchicken) attempted to answer them.

“We covered aspects of the proceedings that wouldn’t make headlines. A response to a response to a motion isn’t really a great cover story for PEOPLE, but it was cool for us to read what direction each side seemed to be trying to take the narrative,” nuggetsofchicken explained.

The subreddit is rife with in-jokes that only insiders with a wide knowledge of Duggar lore would be able to understand right off the bat, but that just proves the sense of community that has developed among Duggar snarkers.

As further proof the subreddit isn’t just there to poke fun at celebrities or gawk at a sensational trial, members helped raise more than $12,000 for the Children’s Safety Center in Northwest Arkansas, which empowers children to overcome abuse. The center received so many donations, it filled up a mail truck with Amazon packages, and had to repeatedly replenish the wish list because it kept being bought out.

Dismantling purity culture and the future of r/DuggarsSnark

The trial may be over, but r/DuggarsSnark’s work isn’t done. Many members of the Duggar family still adhere to the same patriarchal standards that treat women and girls as vehicles for temptation and shame those who have “lost” their sexual purity that it makes it difficult for victims of abuse to come forward.

In a TikTok video shared to r/DuggarSnark as well as r/FundieSnarkUncensored and r/ExMormon, a woman who provides resources to people working through their religious trauma explained how pedophilia and purity culture can sometimes go hand-in-hand.

“Some of the standards of purity culture are innocence, which pretty much means ignorance about sex; submission, which for women means submission to men; virginity as the ultimate standard of worth; and modesty, which for women means that we are not allowed to wear anything that reveals our adult curves,” TikTok user Jo Luehmann said. “Purity culture makes the desirable standard a child. It makes child-likeness desirable in regards to sexuality.”

She clarified that, of course, not every man raised in purity culture is a pedophile. It just attempts to rewire the brain to desire childlike qualities and makes it a lot easier for pedophiles to have access to people with such qualities.

Purity culture also discourages comprehensive sex education, which makes it challenging for young people to discern what’s appropriate and what isn’t. It also shames people for sexual thoughts or behaviors, which makes people who might be vulnerable feel afraid to speak up about possible abuse.

“Dismantle absurd notions that virginity and worth are connected,” Luehmann continued. “Women inside fundamentalist Christianity are also expected to rely on men financially while they are out in the world and not to get a formal education. They are expected to be grown children … if we really want to protect women and children, purity culture has to go.”

Moderator nuggetsofchicken said purity culture comes up a lot on r/DuggarSnark, even if it isn’t explicitly called that, because “so much of the Duggar show and livelihood was built on that core value.”

“The original [Duggar] show showed very little of the older boys but very much highlighted the older girls. ​​The topics thus naturally gravitated to discussions on purity because the girls had very few other defining interests, and I’m sure their parents thought that their chastity would be a great thing to highlight [in order] to minister to people,” they explained. “But it’s such an obsession. Someone once described the show as, ‘I have never seen people who talk about sex this much who don’t actually talk about sex.’”

Estesparkranger noted that Josh’s case is “dripping with the effects of purity culture.”

“I could write a dissertation on how the beliefs [that] the Duggars held directly impacted Josh and Josh’s victims. Sexual desires are repressed, physical and emotional punishments are used as a means of controlling sexual desire,” they said. “If a woman or girl is violated, the blame goes to the woman for evoking ‘desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled.’ The Duggars believe this. They teach and preach this.”

The moderators and snarkers of r/DuggarSnark don’t see any problem with poking fun at the family because they believe the Duggars have truly harmful beliefs. Though the elder Duggar sisters have gained respect from members for their resilience in facing their abuser, the subreddit still isn’t for fans. In fact, there’s a comprehensive guide as to why each of the Duggar kids still “suck,” from anti-LGBTQIA statements to child endangerment to sexism.

Moderator larakf critiqued the Duggars and other fundamentalist Christians for living “prescriptive lifestyles” that demand others assimilate to their own religious beliefs.

“At the end of the day, these are cult members AND public figures. By nature of being a public figure, people become fans,” they told In The Know. “We find it in our human nature to call out ideas and beliefs we don’t agree with … [and] that’s what the snarking is about. It exposes who these people are for what they believe.”

Nuggetsofchicken noted that snark can help dismantle oppressive belief systems from a “purely capitalistic standpoint,” too.

“If the Duggars face enough public ridicule, it significantly limits their opportunity to profit from TV shows, books, sponsorships, etc,” they said.

At the end of the day, the five r/DuggarsSnark moderators oversee the subreddit because they know it’s important. It’s fun making fun of the patriarch’s hairpiece, sure, but it can make all the difference for survivors and people who don’t even realize what beliefs have been passed down to them.

“It’s just funny. It’s always fun to mock people who operate outside of our existing schemes of how people ‘should’ be behaving in the world,” nuggetsofchicken said. “It’s for sure a coping mechanism for many and helps take back some of the sting of what they’ve experienced in that kind of religious institution.”

“I think there’s value in calling out problematic behavior for the victims involved,” they added. “It’s sort of a meme-y way of reminding victims that ‘what happened to you is not OK.’”

If you or someone you know needs support after experiencing sexual violence, contact the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673 or chat online with a trained counselor. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741.

The post How a ‘snark’ subreddit is helping people unpack the harmful effects of purity culture appeared first on In The Know.

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