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Why Polygamy is Good for Women


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Just read this article. What do FJers think about his position (no pun intended!)?

 

 

[slate]

 

Why polygamy is good for women.

By Tim Harford | Posted Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006, at 2:27 AM ET

| Posted Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006, at 2:27 AM ET

 

Slate.com

 

After more than a decade of war between separatist rebels and the Russian army, there are not many marriageable men to go around in Chechnya. So, acting Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, probably not a feminist, proposed a radical step: "Each man who can provide for four wives should do it."

 

Polygyny (having more than one wife, as opposed to polygamy, which is having more than one spouse) is admissible under Islamic law but not Russian law, so Kadyrov is unlikely to make much progress with his proposal. But what difference would such a law make? It's natural to assume that polygyny is bad for women, partly because most of us would rather have our spouse to ourselves, and partly because we look at a place like Saudi Arabia, where polygyny is not uncommon, and note that women aren't even allowed to drive.

 

I'm not quite so convinced. A lot of the knee-jerk reactions against polygyny are from people who can't add up. In a society with equal numbers of men and women, each man with four wives gives women the additional pick of three men—the poor saps whose potential wives decided they'd prefer one-quarter of a billionaire instead. In the Sahel region of Africa, half of all women live in polygynous households. The other half have a good choice of men and a lot more bargaining power.

 

It's hardly surprising that in most polygynous societies, the bride's family gets large payments in exchange for her hand in marriage. If polygyny combined with women's rights, I bet we'd see more promises to wash the dishes. Not everybody would have to share a husband, but I can think of some who might prefer half of Orlando Bloom to all of Tim Harford—including my wife.

 

In a society such as Chechnya, where there is a shortage of young men, we would expect the reverse effect: Men get to pick and choose, playing the field, perhaps not bothering to get married at all. We don't have good data on Chechnya, but we have excellent information about an unexpected parallel.

 

A little over one in 100 American men are in prison—but there are several states where one in five young black men are behind bars. Since most women marry men of a similar age, and of the same race and in the same state, there are some groups of women who face a dramatic shortfall of marriage partners.

 

Economist Kerwin Charles has recently studied the plight of these women. Their problem is not merely that some who would want to marry won't be able to. It's that the available men—those not in prison—suddenly have more bargaining power. Goodbye to doing the dishes and paying the rent; hello to mistresses and wham, bam, thank you ma'am. The women whose potential partners have had their ranks thinned by prison are less likely to marry, and when they do marry, are likely to marry a man less educated than they are. Meanwhile, the remaining men, finding a surfeit of marriage partners, suddenly seem in no hurry to marry. And why would they?

 

The women's response makes sense: girl power. The women affected do everything to make the most of single life, including staying at school for longer and hunting for more paid work. The American prison system hasn't left them much choice.

 

When men are taken out of the marriage market by war or by prison, women suffer. The reverse is probably true, too: When women are taken from the marriage market, men suffer. In China, the policy of one-child families coupled with selective abortion of girls has produced "surplus" males. Such men are called "bare branches," and China could have 30 million of them by 2020. Perhaps polyandry—women with multiple husbands—would be the logical response to the situation in China. What will happen instead is that these lonely, wifeless men will end up sleeping with a relatively small number of women—prostitutes—with severe risks of sexually transmitted disease all around.

 

All this suggests that Kadyrov has a point about Chechnya. And perhaps the new HBO series Big Love will help to rehabilitate polygamy's reputation in the United States. Nevertheless, I am resolutely against the practice of allowing several women to marry one man. We men are downtrodden enough already.

 

The Undercover Economist appears on Saturdays in the Financial Times Magazine.

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That article has a weird tone that I can't quite put my finger on. But he seems to be saying that all women need to marry and all men want sex and I am not really a fan of that attitude. Now I am going to go to do some research on who this guy is...

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I have heard that argument before.

IMO, it's more like a flawed answer to a slightly more serious problem. Soooo....maybe it is, given certain circumstances, a more comfortable life than singleness would be. That doesn't make it "good for women" as an institution. Possibly "less worse than it otherwise would be". One big problem is that when you no longer have circumstances that would make it "less worse", if it is institutionalized, normal, or even considered preferable, it creates a different set of problems.

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I am hoping it's satire, based on his ending comment about men being downtrodden enough already. However, the rest of the article makes me wonder.

He makes no real sense. We no longer live in a world where marriage is a necessity for security and a happy life. Sure, it's nice, if that's your thing (I am married and sometimes wonder if I was ever really the marrying kind), but women can take care of themselves these days.

I agree that the article has a weird tone to it.

That said, I could use a few more husbands to keep me in the manner to which I'd like to become accustomed. ;)

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I think the author misses the larger issue: that polygyny or polygamy only superficially "solves" problems that are a result of an unequal society. Where gender discrimination exists, an unmarried woman who can't experience the economic and social advantages of a male spouse is considered a "problem." Polygyny only superficially addresses the problem by giving some women the security of a male partner, which could be more thoroughly addressed by creating a more equal society.

Likewise, his example taken from Chinese society in which men outnumber women is also the result of gender discrimination against women. More Chinese families chose to keep male children vs female children under the one-child policy. A woman having multiple husbands superficially addresses this problem but does nothing to counter the belief that males are preferred to females.

I think consenting adults should have the right to engage in multiple-spouse partnerships, but I think polygamy as practiced in patriarchial societies is really bad for both men and women. Women are second-class citizens, many without legal spousal rights, and since there aren't enough women to 'go around,' young men are driven out of their communities. I don't buy the argument that polygamy is a solution to social problems although I wouldn't have a problem with its practice among consenting adults. I'm not so sure that polygamous relationships should be given legal status equal to marriage, however. Polygamists aren't prevented from marrying one person they love - they're just prevented from marrying "everyone" they love, and I haven't read any compelling arguments yet that have convinced me to change my mind on this issue.

(edited for spelling)

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The big argument in favor of polygamy is division of labor.

If there's one person to homeschool all of the kids, one person to do the cooking, one person to manage the rest of the housework, and three people bringing home a paycheck, I can see how that would work out great for everyone involved. If one of the adults wants to go to work, take time off with a baby, go back to school, or just not do 40 hours of paid work plus another 40 hours of unpaid work, that option is open.

It reminds me a lot of how families like the Duggars operate, only with consenting adults instead of 12-year olds.

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The only kind of polygamy that is good for women is the version where a woman can have more than one husband. Because, frankly, one guy can't always cut the proverbial mustard when it comes to proverbial emotional and physical support.o It might also be handy to have an extra 'wife' or two around when you needed one. A girl should have options. On Star Trek Enterprise, the Denobulans could have have like four spouses, and the spouses of spouses were considered co-spouses. It was also acceptable to have sexual relationships outside of marriage. Talk about being able to find your support and comfort when you needed it.

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The better to be the second or third wife of a powerful man than the only wife of a poor one is a longstanding arguement for polygynous relationships. It's a very historically apt argument, and applicable when marriage wasn't strictly a companion model. Historically, it probably did make some women's lives easier.

But I think that argument noways, when marriage is about companionship, doesn't work quite as well. you can have a very different one, about why should we limit our legal companions to just one other person, but that's a whole different argument. And it's more about polygamy rather than just polygyny.

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It's hardly surprising that in most polygynous societies, the bride's family gets large payments in exchange for her hand in marriage. If polygyny combined with women's rights, I bet we'd see more promises to wash the dishes.

Yes, how strange that societies that see women as property exchange money for their transfer. How I wish our society could be like that! :| The man's an idiot.

I'm in a weird place on multiple marriage because I have zero problem with equitable polyamorous relationships, and with all the partners therein being able to get married. The problem is that allowing that would mean also legitimising the crazy fundamentalist patriarchs and their abusive systems. I don't have a thought-out position on it yet.

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But I think that argument noways, when marriage is about companionship, doesn't work quite as well.

Money, education, and class are still huge factors in marriage.

Would you marry someone who had no education and was flipping burgers at McDonald's at age 30? If you were willing to marry this person, would you have kids with him or her?

A big part of what makes most fundie marriages such train wrecks is the lack of financial stability on the part of the participants coupled with way, way, way more children than they could ever provide for.

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