It can be difficult to keep up with the Duggars. The famous family at the center of TLC's 19 Kids & Counting attracts the attention of many viewers eager to watch the life of a family with 19 children and while most episodes seem to be pretty staged, sometimes fans are able to get a glimpse into the Duggars' real life and beliefs. That's where things get interesting. The current season's overarching theme has been courting, as two of the Duggar daughters are in courtships, or were, since Jill just announced her engagement on Wednesday. As the series follows 22-year-old Jill and 21-year-old Jessa in their strict courtships, their father Jim Bob has exhibited some behavior that may at first seem normal, but is actually pretty disturbing.
Much of 19 Kids & Counting's emphasis on courting has focused on the differences between the Duggars' practice of courting and standard, modern dating. As Independent Fundamental Baptists, the family's courting practices are heavily based in religion and dictates that couples cannot kiss or have sex until their wedding day and may choose whether or not they want to hold hands once they are engaged.
As for the actual process, the girl's father plays a huge role, so in the case of the Duggars, any men interested in one of the girls must go through Jim Bob and if he thinks they are suitable, he may introduce them to his daughter. If a girl is interested in someone, she can tell Jim Bob and he'll get to know the guy and decide if a courtship can be pursued. Before they enter official courting, the two get to know each other through supervised conversations and if either of them does not think they are a fit, they can stop.
If there is mutual interest, however, real courting begins. This consists of supervised dates and many serious, still supervised, conversations about goals, faith and the future. Courting was complicated for Jill and her now-fiancee Derick Dillard, as Derick was doing missionary work in Nepal for much of their relationship, so they communicated through supervised Skype dates and texting (group texts with both of her parents, of course). Now that they're engaged and Derick is back in the U.S., the only difference is they can go on real dates, always with her parents carefully watching and as you'll see, taunting.
Jessa is still in the courting phase with Ben Seewald, whom she met at the family's church, so they are still getting to know each other and going on double dates with her parents. In a recent episode of 19 Kids & Counting, Ben, Jessa and her parents went mini-golfing together and Jim Bob decided it was the perfect occasion to rub his own enforced modesty rules in her face. Multiple times during the date, Jim Bob would become very affectionate with his wife, Michelle, and comment to Jessa and Ben that they can't do that yet.
Whether kissing his wife or suggestively showing her the right way to hold a golf club, Jim Bob would immediately turn to the young couple and remind them they they aren't to do anything like that—or touch at all, for that matter. The only acceptable contact is a super awkward side-hug, and that's to be saved for greetings and goodbyes. But lest his daughters forget that anything goes when you're married (except birth control), Jim Bob loves to display some of the other types of affectionate love right in front of them.
Look at all the sexy fun you can't have because I said you're not allowed to! The entire idea of courtship is obviously problematic in its own right, but Jim Bob's bizarre habit of taunting his limited daughters, by being overtly sexual towards their mother, is just gross. Even when Jill asked her parents if she could visit Nepal to meet Derick in person for the first time, Jim Bob kissed Michelle and said Jill and Derick won't be doing that when they meet. Why?
Is this his strange way of reinforcing the rules? Both Jill and Jessa are already very aware of the enforced boundaries, and neither has shown any sign of crossing them. Jim Bob's behavior doesn't seem necessary in that context. And if he just wants to mock his daughters' partners, that's both cruel and disgusting. It's like telling a kid they can't eat sugar and then digging into a bowl of candy while they watch, except in the case of Jim Bob, he's essentially talking about his daughters as sex objects.
The Duggar children, all 19 of them, already face such intense control and oppression from their parents, by actually mocking the limitations he's placed on them, Jim Bob is taking an already extreme practice too far. Hopefully Derick and Ben will treat Jill and Jessa with more kindness throughout their courtships than their own father has.