Polygamist wife offers perspective, but one could argue vision still blurred

For those of us who aren’t polygamists, relationships between multiple wives sharing one husband are difficult to fathom.

So often, and the weekend events in Texas are a perfect example, anything that makes the news regarding polygamy focuses on an underage girl and an older man.

The weekend events at Yearn for Zion Ranch in West Texas were sparked by a 16-year-old girl — who had a baby when she was 15 — supposedly telling authorities that she was abused. Authorities are investigating whether she was married to a 50-year-old man.

Warren Jeffs, imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, founded the YFZ Ranch. Las Vegans are familiar with Jeffs because after his capture near here, he was tried and convicted of rape as an accomplice in St. George, Utah, for arranging a marriage between an unwilling 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old first cousin.

From the outside, these incidents look like they’re all about sex, power and control.

A polygamist’s wife in Arizona, writing under the assumed name Stacie Lee Hewitt, wrote a 90-page book published last year that describes her experience marrying a 40-year-old man when she was 20. The book skips the sex parts and focuses on power and control, describing the tough life of being a second wife.

"He Loves Me — She Loves Me Not" is a quick read from one insider’s perspective and the heavy is the first wife. Stacie calls the first wife her "tormentor" and dubs her "Sybil" in a deliberate, unflattering reference to multiple personalities. The husband remains nameless.

Since December, the book has been on my 2-foot-high pile of books I’m going to read "next," sinking lower and lower. But the events in Texas suddenly pulled it to the top as I searched for insights into an unfamiliar lifestyle, one the Mormon church has discouraged since 1890, but which still flourishes.

Stacie, now 46, married willingly when she was attending college. She is one of three wives whose husband fathered 39 children, now ages 46 to 6 months. The third wife in this quadrangle is Stacie’s younger sister, Jane, who married at age 18. These two didn’t have the experience of marrying as young girls. "I haven’t seen that side," the author said Sunday. She grew up in the Jeffs group but now belongs to another faction. "I watched a community completely devastated by him personally."

Stacie wrote her book to rebut those who portray polygamous families as one big happy family. She decided to explain what it’s like when wives don’t get along and compete over everything from who gets hubby for the holidays to which wife makes the best gravy.

"I didn’t love my husband when I married him and he didn’t love me," she wrote. "But now? He is the dearest person in the world and I can’t imagine what I could have done if I had married someone else." But she does share the horrors of living in the same house as a woman who continually hopes Stacie’s marriage will fail.

Work is the heart of the book. She talks about how Sybil viewed her as a baby sitter and housekeeper for her 10 children and said that was one of the reasons why after two years, she moved into a separate home.

The family set rules for children’s chores. One example: Those ages 4 through 6 would dress themselves, make their bed, empty the dishwasher, empty the garbage and help tend to the toddlers.

Does this happen in your household? I thought not.

"If you think about it, if just four or five of my children get a job and pay even one of our bills each, how helpful that would be. Imagine how many people I will have to take care of me as I grow older," she wrote. "With this many children, I shouldn’t end up in a nursing home, should I?"

Stacie portrays polygamy as a pyramid scheme for perpetual care, one that demands hard work by every member of a family.

Teenage girls forced to marry older men and breed for the sake of keeping the sect going probably don’t see being a polygamist’s wife through that same prism.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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