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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Book Summary

Secrets and Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy

Sanjiv Bhattacharya




Bhattacharya visits a coffee shop in Centennial Park, AZ. He's asked to leave. And so begins his several month investigation of fundamentalist Mormon communities through the American southwest. Going door-to-door, like, well, a Mormon.

The stories have deep contrast -- the "in network" Mormons say fundamentalist communities respect free agency, provide a social safety net that enables 0% unemployment and homelessness, many wives can share duties in ways that allow liberation and freedom (and the few challenges of the arrangement are character-building), husbands are good fathers, but for all the positive that might be shown, Mormons have to stay wary and private because the media has a history of unfairness.

The "out of network" Mormons -- those that escaped -- say husbands tend to go round-robin for sex and brutal discipline, wives are not liberated but brainwashed and cowed, child marriages are not uncommon, a social hierarchy based on bloodlines uses the totalitarian system and lack of personal property to force child labor and low ranking families to work for a pittance in support for those above (no minimum wage laws), racism is standard, incest is used to keep pedigrees pure, children are trained to cover up atrocities, the phones are tapped, and everyone is being watched all the time.

Now, I don't know that it is, but I will say, if the truth is half-way between those extremes the cults seem not much worse or better than the mainstream world, where Hollywood dazzles and corporate leaders use their power and influence to gain access to women and cover up misdeeds, government is always watching, and the gulf between the rich and poor can be stark.

(My guess at reality would side with believing escapees, although perhaps admitting those that escaped might be a biased sample in the direction of people who experienced the worse abuse.)