re: a recent Slate article: polygamy

This article said that a study showed polygamy to be detrimental to society.  What in hell?

My first thought:  how could they possibly know?  Is there a statistical universe of solid data?  Or is this some woolly conjecture on the part of people who heard about something sometime?  The study itself is not available to me, but I am trying to think of multiple known societies that crumbled because polygamy took hold and could not be eradicated.  Name five.  (Even three would not be sufficient.)

Second:  while the article clarified that it meant polygyny (and I didn’t notice that it addressed polyandry), it didn’t separate religious polygamy from civil, which is inappropriate.  The two main religions the populace reads about are fundamentalist Mormons (FLDS; a fringe group at best, designed to function as an extremely male-dominated cult of personality) and Muslims (who are enjoined to take only as many wives as can be dealt with justly, and never more than four.)  Of course, polyandry is prohibited by both religions and was not addressed in this article.  Again, if the study reported on a vast wealth of reliable data regarding modern polyandry, the article didn’t mention it — and if it did, I wouldn’t trust it.  Source?

But back to religious polygamy.  Polygamous Muslims have existed all over the world, outside of North America and mostly along the equator, for generations.  Regardless of my qualms about the status of women in some areas of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, polygamy hasn’t seemed to cause a breakdown of society there.  Women may be taken on for breeding purposes, as status symbols, and as servants, but that is no different from marriages of single individuals.  Not ideal in either case, but present wherever anyone gets married, even in traditional pairings.

Fundamentalist Mormons (FLDS) are another story altogether.  I’m inclined to regard them as an unhealthy aberration all around, and bar them from consideration.  If it’s what you are brought up thinking is normal, you will generally follow right along; if you are taught that women are mentally and physically inferior to men and must accept them as gods, you will.  There are some rebels in all walks of life, but it’s standard operating procedure for humans to believe what our parents taught us, not because it was tested and true and the smartest way to do things, but because Mama Said.  Also, brainwashing girls to be doormats is a common habit in many cultures, and girls who are brainwashed grow into women who brainwash their kids.  Self-perpetuating cycle.

But I digress.  The problems of FLDS marriages (women as property to be hoarded and bartered; boys to be exiled or reared to think they are gods; scams involving manipulation of welfare benefits for legally single mothers; etc.,) are really part of a much larger pathology.  It’s ridiculous and unscientific to assume that all polygamy follows the pattern of a fringe group of backwards religious extremists.

Both of the described polygynies are unsuitable for modern, civilized folk.  Very few adults I know, neighbors or coworkers, find themselves yearning for horrid oppression and religious extremism, even during back-to-basics fantasies involving self-sustaining farms and homemade soap.  But many of them realize that their needs might be better met by more than one person.

On the upside, plural marriage puts less pressure on one person to be the be-all-end-all/sole source of all emotional and physical needs.  It provides more companionship and the potential of a more stable emotional environment.  There is greater financial stability with multiple incomes.  If there are children, there is more grown-up attention available for their upbringing, which is important, as well as less chance of needing to send a kid to daycare during working hours.  If one parent dies, there is more than one grown-up left for moral support and childrearing.  There is a greater pool of common resources.  And consider that many men seem to want more sex than they can get from one woman, and women want more nurturing.  Polygyny offers more sexual variety for the man, and more emotional support and companionship from the other woman or women.

My personal hypothesis is that many women would also enjoy multiple partners. I think the female biological imperative that includes childbearing also makes us crave multiple partners to ensure that the strongest survive, and with the most genetic variety  But women are conditioned more strongly to monogamy than men are.

And yet, not all men are hypercompetitive bulls who can’t escape the pecking order and live without sexual jealousy.  Some guys enjoy male company more, even if they are only sexually attracted to women.  Why not marry your best buddy AND your best girl?

This is obviously not for everyone, but for those who might benefit, why should they live in secrecy?  There are more than a few three-cornered marriages out there, but they get no attention.  They are not people who are part of a fringe religion who occasionally escape; they are consenting adults who get together, last as long as the relationship is healthy, and break up from time to time — just like regular couples, but without the legal protection of spousehood.  At most, it would be a teensy fraction of the population, just like gay marriage is and interracial marriage used to be.  It used to be that married couples who were childless by choice were a wee minority, and even they took flack for it.  But no one said they shouldn’t be able to marry.  At least not to my knowledge.

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2 thoughts on “re: a recent Slate article: polygamy

  1. Scout says:

    Have I told you lately that I love you? And not in a polygynous way. Just ’cause, well, words. Lotsa words, put together all purty.

  2. pawnyourhalo says:

    Love you, Sister! Not in a sister-wifey, way, or clan-and-sept way, more like a “Hair: The Musical” way. Big love, but not Big Love. You know. 🙂

    The only real complications to legitimizing poly marriage, in my opinion, are administrative. Our current insurance, tax, and inheritance laws are not set up to accommodate this reality. It’s easily done, however, and those systems have needed to be modernized in other ways for some time. Universal / single payer health care, for a start. Legal audits of wills prior to signature rather than waiting for probate. That sort of thing.

    I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I could run its business office. Just gimme a chance, Coach!

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