book reviews, religion

Repost: Kathryn Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Here’s a reposted book review from Epinions, which I wrote in November 2009. It appears as/is. Bear in mind, this was written many years before the Duggar scandals! I have since changed my mind about the Duggar family and their so-called “normalcy”.

It seems like the older I get, the weirder society becomes. Maybe it’s because nowadays, everybody has access to 24 hours of news. Indeed, it’s becoming almost impossible to escape the headlines these days, which by their very nature of “infotainment”, seems to focus on the weird. I remember several years ago when Arkansas mother Michelle Duggar made the news for having her fourteenth baby and being named Arkansas Mother of the Year. It seems like that was the first time I heard anything about the so-called Quiverfull movement, the idea that men should reclaim ultimate control of the government, churches, and their families and women should be strictly relegated to the home, where they would be expected to bear and raise as many children as possible.

After Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar came on the scene with their ever expanding brood of telegenic children (she’s currently pregnant with #19), it seemed like more people involved with the Quiverfull movement started coming out of the woodwork on television, Internet blogs, and in communities. Suddenly, the Quiverfull movement, which had seemed to be an obscure anomaly in American culture, was getting a lot of press. I imagine that’s at least part of the reason why Kathryn Joyce wrote her 2009 book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.

I will admit, I was attracted to this book, in part, because of watching the Duggars on their soon to be yet again renamed reality TV show, 18 Kids and Counting. While the Duggars seem to be relatively normal and even somewhat egalitarian for fundamentalist Christians, I have also had some exposure to fundamentalists who seemed less “normal” in terms of how they viewed gender roles. I wanted to learn more about the roots of this movement and the people involved. I think Kathryn Joyce did a fine job of covering those subjects in her book. She writes about meeting and talking to some of the movers and shakers in the Quiverfull movement and includes some fascinating anecdotes about real people who subscribe to Quiverfull as well as some who fell away from the idea.

What I liked about this book

I think Kathryn Joyce has chosen a fascinating and timely topic to write about. She traveled around the country, collecting stories about people who wholeheartedly believe in letting God be in charge of family planning. I was especially interested, and somewhat dismayed, by her discussion of people who had had tubal ligations and vasectomies reversed so that they might fulfill God’s plan for reproduction. It seemed the pervasive attitude among Quiverfull folks is that messing with one’s fertility is a recipe for disaster; the only way to gain God’s favor and be blessed is to let God’s will dictate family size.

Joyce also discusses patriarchy and the idea that all women should be submissive and subservient to their husbands. Indeed, Joyce writes about some of the issues that can come up when a church encourages absolute submission in a marriage. She relates the story of one unfortunate woman who was abused by her husband. When she sought help from the church in dealing with the situation, she found the church was firmly on her husband’s side. She was admonished for not being submissive enough and for speaking ill of her mate. Another woman, who had actually gone from being a devout liberal to a pioneer in the Quiverfull movement, ended up losing absolutely everything when she and her husband split up.

Joyce also discusses the fact that many people involved in the Quiverfull movement see their children as warriors for God. Each child is like one of God’s arrows, supplied by their faithful parents, in the fight for world domination. She describes one Quiverfull family who frequently shopped at a Middle Eastern grocery store in Nashville, Tennessee. They were friends with the proprietors and happy to give them business, yet they couldn’t help but realize that if radical Islam took hold in the United States, their way of life would likely be threatened. It occurred to them that their Islamic friends would have to “get in line” or be the subject of jihad. So, in many cases, all of the babies born to Christian fundamentalists are, in fact, seen as a source of manpower for the Christian movement.

Joyce also discusses some of the common perceptions and misperceptions people have about families who choose to be mega-sized. She is particularly careful to explain that despite common belief that such large families often end up on welfare, Quiverfull followers actually strive to live debt free and avoid government assistance. They are often masters at thrift and recycling out of economic necessity. I was glad to read this, since I know that other groups that tend to encourage large families– like the FLDS– encourage members to “bleed the beast” by accessing all of the government progams they can.

What I didn’t like about this book

First off, I found it hard to get into at first. I started reading this book several weeks ago and managed to get through it in fits and starts. Some parts of it were really interesting and easy to read. Other parts were somewhat drier and took more effort. Kathryn Joyce writes fairly well, but I found this book somewhat uneven.

Secondly, while I think Joyce tried to present a balanced view of the Quiverfull movement, I kind of got the feeling that she was very opposed to it. The book seemed somewhat biased against the Quiverfull movement, as most of the anecdotes presented in this book were negative. I was left wondering if there were any people out there who were happy with their choice to let God be their fertility counselor. In other words, it seems like Kathryn Joyce had an agenda and, while I might agree with a lot of her observations, I still can’t say this book succeeded in presenting an equal view.

I got the feeling that deep down, the admittedly feminist Joyce felt these people with deep religious convictions were freakish, and no amount of talking with people who followed the Quiverfull movement would change her way of thinking. When it comes down to it, that would make her as intractable as some of the right wing Christians she’s written about. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice the interesting font in this book. The “Q’s” in the typeface all had long, phallic looking tails on them. It sort of came across as a subliminal message.


I found Quiverfull a basically satisfying read and I learned a lot in the process of finishing it. While I found small parts of it a little slow and larger parts of it less than objective, I think Joyce did a good job in presenting Quiverfull to those who want to read about it. And I’m guessing that many people who choose to read this book are going to pick it up because they do agree with Joyce and her feminist viewpoint. On the other hand, those who are in the Quiverfull movement and have the time to read this book will probably read it with a defensive attitude… and if they really believe in Quiverfull, they’d be right to be defensive.

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