Women in Bountiful have more power than you think: researcher
Criminal polygamy charges against B.C., Canada religious leaders Winston Blackmore and Jim Oler were thrown out last Thursday — which, Canada’s National Post writes, means they can continue to practise what they preach: Accept multiple wives, including teenage girls.
But McGill University law professor Angela Campbell isn’t too worried. While she does not endorse polygamy, her research into the religious groups suggests Bountiful is neither a community of horrors nor a utopia.
Prof. Campbell is one of the few outsiders – and a secular, inquisitive, intellectual one at that – to have a well-informed opinion of the place, based on first-hand observation and experience. She has enjoyed direct, almost unfettered access to the women of Bountiful.
About 1,000 people live in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community.
The results of her work and the opinions she has formed are controversial. Reaction ranges from mild shock to anger. “I’ve received some hateful emails,” says Prof. Campbell, a Harvard law school graduate who is married (to one man) with children.
Bountiful’s critics, feminists especially, have trouble accepting that women there are not brainwashed, subjugated automatons “in need of deliverance,” which is how the media often portray them, Prof. Campbell says.
In fact, the Bountiful women whom she has interviewed are clear thinking, resourceful and in some cases well educated. Not to be underestimated. They “cast Bountiful as a heterogeneous and dynamic social and political space,” Prof. Campbell wrote in, “Bountiful Voices” an academic paper written earlier this year, “where at least some women are able to wield considerable authority in their marriages, families and community. Their stories thus seem inconsistent, at least to some degree, with pre-existing presumptions about polygamy and its harms for women set forth in conventional public discourse.”
But their experiences vary, she noted. Older women described being married off in church style while still in their early teens, to older men not of their choosing.
“Conventionally, spouses in the FLDS church had a very short (or no) prenuptial relationship,” Prof. Campbell notes in her 2009 paper, titled Bountiful Voices.
“This seems to be an ongoing practice for some; one participant described meeting her husband just an hour before their marriage.”