Movies + TV

One Big Happy Family

A chat with the teenage sisters of a polygamous family, as seen on My Five Wives.

Like many viewers, I started watching My Five Wives, TLC’s new reality show, because I was fascinated by the family structure of Brady Williams, his five “wives” (he’s not legally married to all of them, but they live as partners), and their 24 kids. They are former members of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church), which denounces “plural marriage,” but some fundamentalist splinter sects encourage and live by it.

The Williamses practice what they call “progressive polygamy,” which for them includes embracing beliefs that don’t align with their former religion, like supporting marriage equality, believing it’s OK for women to have multiple husbands, and supporting feminism. Brad Williams and his wives—Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie, and Rhonda—say they entered a plural marriage because they believed it was commanded by God, but that they continue to practice it because they love one another.

The Williams brood includes 10 girls ages 13 and above, 4 younger girls, and 10 boys. While the prospect of living with that many other people is overwhelming to this only child, the love and commitment the Williams clan have for one another is palpable on every episode of the show. Their family structure may not be mainstream, but their ambitions, mutual support, and excitement over going through life’s adventures together are what any kind of family aspires to, and that kind of love, I think, is universally inspiring.

Recent episodes of My Five Wives have showcased the Williamses’ teenage daughters as they explore dating, fill out college applications, and move out on their own. I wanted to find out how it feels to be a teenage girl living in a publicly polygamous family, so I called Eden (who’s 13), Maura (13), Rachel (13), Taylor (15), September (15), Madeleine (17), Lauren (17), Kimberly (18), and Hannah (20) to get the scoop. (Although they were all on the line with me, some of them were too shy to speak up, according to their more talkative sisters.) Here’s my conversation with the girls.

JAMIA: As an only child, I’ve often fantasized about what it would be like to have lots of siblings. Is it just one big slumber party all the time?

TAYLOR It is a big huge party every single day. It has never been boring!

HANNAH: Once you’ve been in a family our size, it’s just normal. And once you’re away from it, you really miss it—all the noise and all the chatter. If one person’s missing, you notice.

Part of my fantasy of being part of a big family was that my older siblings would share their cool music and stuff with me. What music do you guys like to listen to?

HANNAH: Right now, I’m really inspired by Lily Allen and Janelle Monáe. They both make interesting music, and they talk about relevant issues of the day.

SEPTEMBER: Falling in Reverse. They are more of a punk band.

What do you think people misunderstand most about your lives?

KIMBERLY: I think a lot of people don’t think a man can love more than one woman.

MADELEINE: Sometimes people question whether my dad can be a good enough dad for 24 kids. But he’s really the best dad. I think he’s great. We all do.

HANNAH: He’s better than a lot of other dads, who leave their children.

The Williams family.

The Williams family. Photo courtesy of TLC.

I saw that your father recently posted a picture on Facebook of a bunch of feminist texts by writers like Luce Irigaray and Simone de Beauvoir. Do you guys talk about feminism around the house?

MADELEINE: We talk a lot about feminism because my dad is learning about it in college, and he shares what he’s learning with us. Feminism means that women are equal to men and they can do anything men can do.

HANNAH: I’m in the same college class my dad is in—the feminism class. Feminism isn’t what a lot of people think it is—it’s not only that women are equal to men. It’s obvious that men and women are different. People give us an image of [feminists as] women in pantsuits asking for a fair wage. But we can wear dresses and be feminine. We can still be feminine and figure out what [it means to be] equal to men.

You live just outside Salt Lake City, Utah, which is home to a robust Mormon population. Your parents have mentioned on the show that they want to expose you to diverse cultures. They also support gender and marriage equality. Is it challenging to have such open-minded parents in such a conservative community?

MADELEINE: I really like it, because we kind of get to see both sides. We get to see the more conservative side when we’re with our friends in the community, then we come home and see [the other side], and then we can make the decision about how we really feel.

Are there any issues facing girls and young women today that you think are particularly important?

KIMBERLY: I think an important issue young women—and all women—share is stereotypes. We always have to look beautiful and have perfect bodies. Some of it is ridiculous. No one is as perfect as society tries to hold women up to.

HANNAH: There’s a standard all girls think they have to live up to. The fact is that all of the images [in the media] are computer-enhanced. There have been a lot of blowups from actors who see their pictures in magazines and say, “That’s not me—you cut off 50 pounds!” A lot of girls need to find out what’s inside themselves and not just what’s on the outside.

For those of you who are headed to college, what are you most excited about as you start your new adventure on your own?

LAUREN: I’m most excited to meet new people and new personalities.

KIMBERLY: I really love learning. I’m excited about learning new things. ♦


  • Miko May 13th, 2014 8:47 PM

    I understand it would have been a touchy subject for them to comment on, and that they are not their parents choices, but it would have been interesting to know how they feel being a part of such a “controversial” family and if they are going to enter a polygamous relationship when they are older?

    • interestingrosie May 14th, 2014 10:49 AM

      I was thinking the same thing about whether they were going to have polygamous relationships, I don’t know if their family expect it or not, I might start watching the series it looks really interesting

  • CBM May 13th, 2014 8:47 PM

    This was a fascinating article! I’ve never thought about “progressive polygamy” and the Williams family brought up a lot of interesting questions/thoughts for me to personally consider. What I love so much this article though is that you asked the Williams sisters interesting questions about their family and ideologies but there was never any judgement, which was felt in the 1st video clip. This adds so much to the loving Rookie community! :)

    • Jamia May 14th, 2014 5:40 PM

      Thank you! I enjoyed talking with them and learning about their lives.

  • nnora May 13th, 2014 9:05 PM

    This is really interesting to read after never having heard anything about feminism and polygamy going hand in hand. Sister Wives certainly doesn’t deal with a lot of this stuff. This interview shattered the stereotype that polygamy is sexist — and I’m willing to admit I believed that stereotype. Wow.

  • meganthehuman May 13th, 2014 9:18 PM

    This was such a mind-opening read! I was pleasantly surprised to learn that their music taste includes punk rock, in addition to Lily Allen and Janelle Monae, whom I admire for their subversion of expectations and unique musical styles. Also, it’s exciting to learn that they think about the same things that I think about! Unfortunately, I did not expect feminism from a polygamous family with a Mormon background. Even though I’ve always believed that people should love in any way they would like to, I expected traditional, stereotypically-midwestern beliefs. These girls rock! Thank you for introducing me to this aspect of the show, Jamia, I think they’ve gained a new watcher :)

  • Jes May 13th, 2014 9:19 PM

    This. Was. AWESOME!!!!

  • soph16 May 13th, 2014 10:15 PM

    This article really conflicts me. As someone who has family in Utah, more specifically an aunt who is a public defender and sees countless cases of unimaginable abuse, brainwash, and more in polygamist communities, this article comes across as a little one-sided. It had a similar tone of “liberation” as other Rookie articles about free-love and unconventional relationships, completely disregarding so many of the extremely complex and downright oppressive issues of polygamy. But then I was led to question myself and say “if done lovingly and consensually, is polygamy just another form of love??” I think Rookie would do well to open a more informed and broad discussion on polygamy, because it unignorable the disgusting, oppressive aspects of polygamist communities.

    • NotReallyChristian May 14th, 2014 9:22 AM

      I think that the point is that the bad things are the things people usually think of when they imagine polygamy. The article wasn’t trying to give a balanced view, just to explore what this family’s experience is. I don’t think that people who read this article would come away thinking polygamy is always 100% OK, because they already know the unsavoury side of it, just that they’d learn not to always make assumptions about people based on their lifestyle.

  • NotReallyChristian May 14th, 2014 9:19 AM

    This was really cool! I don’t think we get this show in the UK but I’d be interested to watch it if I can find it online.

  • Mae85 May 14th, 2014 10:46 AM

    Loved reading this! I’m always super curious about the Mormon community. That being said, I don’t agree that the commitment everyone has for one another is palpable. There’s certainly more humanity in these relationships than in other more traditional polygamy stories, but the women all admit to not wanting to ‘go there’ in their minds when asked if they think about their husbands relationship with other women, so it isn’t something their totally comfortable with. There are probably some really sad and lonely moments for these ladies :s

  • saramarit May 14th, 2014 2:58 PM

    What I learned from watching Big Love is basically all I know about Mormons and polygamy but isn’t it illegal? How is it possible for them to make this show?

    • Hannnah May 14th, 2014 3:33 PM

      I don’t know but I’m guessing that since (as it says up there), Brad is married to one wife legally and the other four are his wives in everything but the law. I doubt it’s illegal to live with someone as if you were married to them.

  • starship-millenia May 15th, 2014 1:47 AM

    Although I understand that you wanted to highlight the somewhat unconventional aspects of this family, I do not think your portrayal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was very fair. As a Mormon, I consider myself a feminist, and I don’t see the two as being inherently at odds. I also don’t agree that Mormons are too conservative to appreciate diverse cultures, considering people from all over the world are a part of the church. I realize you didn’t explicitly write these things, but the implications of your statements bothered me. I just want to offer another perspective so people can see both sides.