• Tue, Oct 19 2010

Would You Try Polygamy?

All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Oh, Leo. You never watched Sister Wives.

The polygamist group on there are not like other families – but they do seem happy. I mean, one of the wives seems like she’s unhappy about her life in general, but I think that’s just a character trait, not a polygamous marriage thing. What they’re doing seems like it works for them.

Now, generally, my inclination is to shrug my shoulders at everything and say, “eh, different strokes for different folks.” And I can imagine that there could be benefits to having other women in your house, especially if you had lots of kids. If you sort of regarded the other wives as live-in housekeepers, it really seems like it would be a blast. There would always be someone to leave your kids with if you wanted to go out, and someone to help you with all the chores that go along with running a household.

But when you consider the fact that your live-in housekeeper  will also be sleeping with your husband, and you’re going to have to help raise her offspring, well, suddenly it seems a lot less appealing.

And I also worry, from reading books like Escape by Carolyn Jessop, that in polygamous cultures, women can end up taking a frighteningly secondary place and that the power plays within a given household make Versailles look like Grover’s Corners.

So I asked my intern Hannah how we feel about it, and this is what she says.

“It doesn’t bother me, because I don’t think it’s the governments place to tell people how they can live. But I think there’s a lot of jealousy and anger that would go along with that kind of arrangement.”

Okay, but when, say, my cat-husband, Mr. Whiskers, wants to go hang with another human being it’s not the hanging out that kills me. It’s not that he sits on their laps while they watch endless re-runs of Law and Order: SVU. It’s that he did it behind my back. Maybe there’s something to be said for people who are willing to be open and honest with each other.

But an open marriage seems very different from polygamy (and honestly, I don’t think I could ever deal with an open marriage, either).

Why? Because, within polygamy, there still seems to be a double standard at work, insofar as the women can’t take any more husbands. On Sister Wives the husband says that the very idea of a woman being with another man is “unnatural.” And that attitude seems, well, if not unnatural, a little unnerving to anyone who thinks of their sexual desires as being on par with their husband’s. And it’s that attitude that bothers me more than anything. Because that seems to go along with the notion that the husband is somehow more deserving of having his desires fulfilled than his wife.

Does the concept of polygamy bother you? Or does it just seem like a different, totally valid living arrangement?

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  • Jessica Poolt

    Excellent Tolstoy quote usage.

  • drea

    Polygamy sure as hell does bother me. I mean, I can understand it’s practical implications in certain cultures, but in most casses I just can’t for the life of me figure out what the women are getting out of it. I have heard polygamists swear up and down that polygamy isn’t a sexist institution and doesn’t favor men over women, but if that’s the case than why can’t it be done the other way around.
    Looking at it from a purely psychological perspective, it seems like being in a polygamist marriage is exactly like being in a cult. The women want to feel like their selfless parts of something bigger and more important than themselves (i.e. a family) and the men want to feel like the center of the univers and have several other peoples lives revolving around them while having to give little or nothing in return.