After noticing the mainstream representation of polygamous relationships in reality TV shows such as “Sister Wives” and “Big Love,” Kaylee Llewellyn ’15 wanted to explore the perception of these relationships amongst Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
As one of four Brace Center for Gender Studies fellows, Llewellyn presented on the strict code of conduct for women in the FLDS and the religious importance of polygamy in the community.
“Women’s sole purpose [in a FLDS polygamist community] is to satisfy her husband because [FLDS] believe that the more wives a man has, the higher exalted status he’ll have in the afterlife,” said Llewellyn in her presentation.
Explaining the different arguments for the legalization of polygamous relationships, Llewellyn described how one of the biggest arguments has been the evolution of the role of marriage within society.
“Before, it was really important to carry on the family name and have as many sons as possible, but now that we’ve kind of evolved away from that, or at least now that marriage has kind of changed…we need to look at marriage as a way to fulfill oneself and make you happy,” said Llewellyn.
Llewellyn also examined the lifestyle and experiences of women within the FLDS community, focusing on the impact that the hierarchy between men and women in polygamous relationships has on younger girls.
“Young girls are put in a really unfortunate position because they grow up with no idea of another option. These communities are so isolated – there’s no cell phone, no internet, no radio. There’s really no kind of communication with the outside world, and so there’s difficulty to understand that there’s a different choice for them,” said Llewellyn.
Llewellyn said that the people hurt most within polygamous communities are young girls, as they often undergo abuse and are constantly pressured to marry older men. To help resolve this, Llewellyn proposed the legalization of polygamy.
“In that way, it might be possible for people to have polygamous marriages and do so without the abuse because currently, it’s so secretive that women are unable to speak up about it because their lifestyle is so ostracized by society,” said Llewellyn.
Although Llewellyn’s presentation was largely centered on the role of women in the FLDS polygamist community, she also tackled the stigmatization of polygamy by those outside of the FLDS community.
“I hope people took away [from my presentation] the fact that we should not attach stigmatized biases of practices that are less common. We need to examine these practices outside of our personal biases in order to determine whether or not they should be legalized,” wrote Llewellyn in an email to The Phillipian.
Sarah Schmaier ’16 said she attended the presentation because she wanted to know more about polygamy, a topic she was intrigued by after seeing its portrayal in the media.
Schmaier said, “[Llewellyn’s] presentation was really extensive and examined lots of different perspectives on the issue, and one moment that stood out to me was her conclusion. She tied together all the complex ways that FLDS polygamy affects the members of their communities as well as our country as a whole. I now believe that this complex legal and ethical question should be discussed and debated further.”