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Over a decade ago, Jinger Duggar’s father and mother, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, propped themselves up as the paragon of conservative Christian parents by showcasing their family’s sheltered lifestyle on TV. It was the perfect medium to sell their specific brand of fundamentalist Christianity to the masses: they got to decide which aspects of their lives were filmed, and editing could be used to cut out anything they didn’t want their viewers to see.
What viewers did see were patient parents who somehow managed to raise 19 seemingly respectful and well-behaved children who never questioned their mother and father’s authority, and always followed their lengthy list of rules, which included restrictions on everything from wearing pants to watching TV. The pious parents—a sex-obsessed father with a fake smile forever plastered on his face, and a birth-obsessed mother who insists on speaking in a soft, creepy whisper like she’s constantly cooing to a baby—were raising “arrows” for God’s army, and they wanted us all to think that they were going to make the world a better place by loosing those arrows upon it. However, this image was shattered when news of Josh Duggar’s incestuous abuse of his underage sisters broke in 2015, followed by the revelation that he was using the pro-adultery Ashley Madison website to be unfaithful to his wife. The Duggars had spent years promoting their hateful belief that the LGBTQ community was endangering Christians like them, when the real threat to their family was coming from inside their own house.
Fans often wondered whether any Duggar kids would ever rebel and reject their parents’ teachings, and they were always more interested in the girls than the boys. They began to question the girls’ loyalty to their family even more after Josh Duggar’s salacious scandal became national news; after all, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s restrictive rules hadn’t protected their daughters from being treated as sexual objects by their own brother, so how could the girls possibly trust their judgment anymore? Josh had molested four of his younger sisters, including Jinger Duggar, but only two of his victims spoke out to defend him and their parents. Jinger was not one of them, so it made some fans wonder if she remained silent because she felt like her parents failed her.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have never allowed their unwed daughters to work outside their family businesses, and they have never allowed any of their daughters to leave home to go to college. Instead, the demure, obedient virgins remain at home until they are married; it doesn’t matter whether they’re 18 or 28. They act as secondary mothers to their younger siblings, and they help out with housework. Basically, they’re unpaid nannies and maids. Jana Duggar is 29, and still lives at home because she’s unmarried, and she’s often referred to as “Cinderella Duggar,” because she does so much work for her siblings and her parents.
Jinger Duggar managed to “escape” her family’s Tontitown, Arkansas compound when she got married at age 22. Her husband, then-29-year-old Jeremy Vuolo, was a former soccer pro who was employed as a pastor at a small church in Laredo. After Jinger got married, she made some drastic changes to her appearance by trading her modest Duggar apparel for skinny jeans, short skirts, and tank tops. Michelle Duggar has been very outspoken about her belief that women should only wear modest skirts or dresses, saying that she is “defining who I am as a woman” by avoiding pants and shorts at all costs. She has also said that wearing short skirts is sinful because the Bible says that uncovered thighs are “nakedness and shame,” so it was quite a shock to Duggar fans when Jinger began wearing tight jeans, shorts, and shorter skirts regularly.
Jinger also dyed her hair blonde and moved to Los Angeles with Jeremy, where she became a paparazzi darling, and even posed on a red carpet at a Hollywood movie premiere. Fans noted that she was embracing a more worldly life after spending most of her life trying to avoid things that were of the world, and her evolution became a hot topic on the Free Jinger website, a forum where like-minded people can discuss the Duggars. It is not a fan site; most users are critical of the family’s religious and political views, and they enjoy snarking on their restrictive rules. They also discuss the actions of the Duggar offspring once they flee the nest, speculating over whether any of the adult children will ever reject their parents’ fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The site was named after Jinger Duggar because fans thought that she was the only member of the family who showed a “spark of life.” Their hope was that she would reject her parents’ religious teachings, break away from the “Duggar Borg,” and do her own thing.
Recently, members of the forum have started debating over whether Jinger Duggar really is “free” now that she’s married to a worldly man, wearing pants, and living in Los Angeles.
"I think Jinger is 'freer' than one could have reasonably imagined she would be. She’s in LA attending premieres in skinny jeans, and only has one child," wrote one user.
"This time next year she may well be photographed in yoga pants dropping Felicity off at a nature preschool co-op. She is certainly going to be exposed to more than any of the rest of them, and she has put thousands of miles between her and bank Daddy."
However, other members of the forum disagreed, with one user writing, "Jinger will never be free if she's married to Jeremy, doesn't matter what flavor of Christian they are."
The forum user's point seems to be that Jinger will never really be allowed to think for herself. Her parents taught her that a wife must always be submissive to her husband, so Jinger will always defer to Jeremy when it comes to religion, politics, and even fashion. Jeremy has made it clear that he has no problem with women wearing pants, so the only reason Jinger is now rocking skinny jeans and tennis skirts because her husband has pre-approved them.
So while Jinger was applauded for sticking it to the patriarchy by occasionally choosing pants over skirts, her views on the LGBTQ community, abortion, and religions that differ from her own are going to be just as toxic as her husband's. Unfortunately, Jeremy isn't as open-minded about the interpretations of other Biblical passages as he is about the one that warns women away from wearing men's garb, and some of his sermons have been extremely problematic. He’s made racist comments about Hispanic people, criticized parents of transgender children, called Catholicism a "pagan" religion, claimed that abortion leads to suicide, and compared LGBTQ acceptance to a gun. He’s also made it clear that he endorses the belief that wives should be submissive to their husbands. In other words, while Jinger may be free to wear pants, her religious and political beliefs probably haven’t changed much since she left Arkansas for California.
Another sign that Jinger is not free from her family’s toxic views and their literal interpretation of the Bible (well, literal when it’s something they agree with) is what seems to be her husband’s response to the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. It's odd that neither Jinger Duggar and Jeremy Vuolo have issued responses to the shootings, particularly the one in El Paso; after all, the couple used to live in a Texas border town. Instead of mentioning the shooting, Jeremy Vuolo posted the tweet below.
The verse reminding Christians to “be submissive to rulers and authorities” could be seen as a call for Jeremy's Twitter followers not to waver in their support for President Donald Trump, who has been accused of contributing to the rise of virulent racism in America, and empowering white supremacists by making racist remarks and false claims about undocumented immigrants. As noted by the New York Times, much of the racist language that the El Paso shooter used in his manifesto echoes that of Donald Trump.
Fans have long wondered whether any of the pro-abstinence Duggars or their spouses support the presidency of Donald Trump. The Duggars constantly preached about the importance of spouses being faithful to one another before Josh Duggar’s sex scandals broke and exposed their hypocrisy, and Donald Trump is a serial philanderer. He's also paid off at least one porn star he had sex with; he has bragged about grabbing women "by the p*ssy;" and he has been accused of sexually assaulting 24 women. The Duggars have been careful not to sing Trump’s praises on social media, but they've subtly hinted that they support the president. Jeremy’s tweet could be viewed as a show of his support for the unpopular president. And if he votes for Trump in 2020, so will his wife.
In response to Jeremy's tweet, one Twitter user noted how dangerous it is to follow leaders without questioning their actions or beliefs.
"You go ahead and be submissive and obedient to a white supremacist," the tweet read. "Would you have followed Hitler too?"
If anything, Jinger Duggar’s superficial makeover makes her and her husband even more dangerous than her famous parents. By blending in with the masses, she may make their hateful views seem more palatable to those who would be scared to embrace Biblical beliefs about outward appearances that would make them stand out, like Jim Bob and Michelle’s insistence that girls wear long dresses and grow their hair long. To some 19 Kids and Counting viewers, the Duggars were a frumper-wearing freak show that was fascinating because they were so odd and backwards in their views. However, people think that Jinger and Jeremy look “normal,” and this helps to normalize their toxic religious views—including the belief that Christians should submit to the president, no matter what he says or does.
Jeremy is currently attending seminary school, and he and his wife still appear on the Duggars’ revamped TLC reality series, Counting On, so he’s certainly interested in spreading his beliefs to the masses. I fear that he plans on using his wife’s fame and her LA makeover to make his dangerous religious views palatable to more people, and the superficial changes that Jinger has made (with his permission) will help him be successful in spreading it further.