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19 Kids and Shooting: Jessa Duggar, Her Trip to the Gun Range, and Anti-Choice Rhetoric in the Quiverfull Movement

Jessa Duggar provides a pretty face for ugly ideology.

Tamara Watkins

The Duggars, stars of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting, have been in the news for the past several years for various reasons, including high-risk pregnancies, marriages and courtships, their unsurprisingly conservative political views. The Duggars' real-life ability to court attention through the use of secular media is quite impressive. They have infiltrated various media—television, books, social media—and created a successful family empire. Not bad for a family that proudly declares that it does not consume much secular media in their home. Given that the Duggars make their money from the very thing that they try to keep out of their home, it seems a wee bit hypocritical.

When Jessa Duggar, an adult and the fifth-born Duggar child, posted a picture on Instagram of herself holding a semi-automatic assault rifle, the Internet erupted. Jessa Duggar stares into the camera. Her hair is perfect—of course, she's a Duggar daughter—and she has a slight pout on her lips. Her now-betrothed, Ben Seewald, posted the picture on his Facebook account, providing the caption "My AWESOME girlfriend. #dontmesswithJessa." On Seewald's account, the picture received more positive than negative feedback. Interestingly, this picture now seems to be missing from his account, or perhaps is no longer shared with the public.

After the picture went public, Jessa's father, Jim Bob, reportedly told, "We believe it is important for children to learn safety about guns and knives. To learn how to use them properly and to learn not to use them to hurt others but to use them as a tool," and added (of course) that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own guns. Yes, yes. The Second Amendment. That old thing. The Duggars' support of conservative politicians, as well as Jim Bob's own career as a Republican state senator, indicates that the Duggars (at least JB and Michelle) are likely strict constitutionalists, so it's not shocking that he namechecks the amendment. Jessa quickly became the poster girl for conservative gun owners. At least this poster girl won't claim that she can see Russia from her state. It's worth noting that this is not the first time a Duggar has been seen with a gun. In the episode "Duggars Shoot for the Sky," the family celebrates Jessa's eighteenth birthday by going to the shooting range.

However, the presence and use of weapons in Quiverfull culture takes on a more sinister and metaphorical meaning once one knows a bit more about the movement's rhetoric. The Quiverfull movement is filled with militaristic rhetoric, in addition to all of that "make as many babies as possible" business, and that certainly cannot be separated from the Duggars' interest in guns. As Kathryn Joyce points out,

"In [pro-Quiverfull texts] this is reflected in their description of patriarchal families as the basic "cellular units of society" that form a bulwark against Communism, as well as in the military-industrial terminology they assign to biblical gender roles within such "cells": the husband described as company CEO, the wife as plant manager and the children as workers. Or, in alternate form, the titles revised to reflect the Christian church's "constant state of war" with the world: "Commander in Chief" Jesus, the husband a "commanding officer" and his wife a "private" below him. And the kids? Presumably ammunition, arrows, weapons for the war."

Indeed, it seems that individuals in the Quiverfull movement are only pro-choice when it comes to choosing which guns to keep in one's home. The culture is vehemently anti-choice. One can't ignore the anti-choice subtext present in most of what the Duggars do publicly. Heck, sometimes it's not even subtext—at times, it's outright lying to their audience and ignoring scientific facts and fudging of historical facts offensive rhetoric.

While it is unclear whether Jessa and her fiancé will carry on the Duggar tradition of filling their quivers full of children, it seems likely. In fact, her opinion might not even be all that important when the time comes for little Seewalds to enter the world. In the culture in which the Duggars are raised, such decisions are technically left up to a family's (always male) headship—in Jessa's case, Ben. Once they marry, of course. Until then, good old JB calls the shots. The Quiverfull movement has no room for assertive women. Mary Pride, a Quiverfull proponent, declared feminism to be "a one-way ticket to social anarchy."

Given the militaristic and anti-choice rhetoric often employed in Quiverfull culture, seeing a vocally anti-choice woman holding an assault rifle takes on a new meaning. I'm certainly not asserting that the Seewalds are going to shoot up abortion clinics, rather than take a cruise or something more traditional, for their honeymoon. However, one cannot ignore the history of anti-choice violence that has plagued the United States. Even if Jessa Duggar did not intend for this image to become a representation of violent anti-choice activity, it is simply because Duggar and her family are so outspokenly anti-choice and anti-feminist. Jessa provides a pretty face for scary, anti-woman ideology. 19 Kids and Counting does not delve into the nitty gritty details of the Quiverfull movement, but TLC has allowed, even enabled, the Duggar family to become wholesome, all-American representatives for a dangerous religious cult.

It is debatable how much the general audience of 19 Kids and Counting understands about the Quiverfull movement. It is a fringe movement, and the Duggars never explicitly mention the "Q" word. In fact, the family denies any association with the movement. This is easily refuted by just a simple Google search. The Duggars are associated with Bill Gothard, a controversial pro-Quiverfull leader whose organization publishes the homeschool materials the Duggars use. However, it is not debatable how much a general American audience would know about the history of anti-choice violence in post-Roe v. Wade America. Even if the audience does not consciously connect the Duggars' pro-gun and anti-choice rhetoric, unconsciously, at least, Jessa's image connects the two phenomena. That is what makes Jessa problematic: She's beautiful, she's armed, and she doesn't care about your right to bodily autonomy.

Tamara Watkins is a doctoral student who enjoys watching reality television. Photo courtesy of Ben Seewald's Facebook page.

Copyright © Tamara Watkins. All rights reserved.