Monday, July 25, 2011

Freedom to Polygyny, Polyandry, and More

There are a couple of recent entries at The Pursuit of Harpyness of interest to this blog.

The first is annajcook’s review of Judith Stacey’s Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China.

I mentioned that book and author here.

What this book does do is encourage us (implicitly Western, largely heteronormative readers) to rethink the way our culture has elevated monogamous hetero marriage (and even same-sex marriage) to its status as the ultimate basis for family creation. Stacey does this by offering us snapshots of alternatives to that husband-wife-and-(maybe)-kids family formation: gay male families of many kinds in West Hollywood, polygynous marriages in South Africa (where it is legal for some) and the United States (where it is illegal for all), and matrilinial households of the Mosuo in China. By opening up a window onto the successes and failures of different strategies for family formation, Stacey suggests that “no family system is ideal, and no family form can be best for everyone.”

Which is why we should let everyone decide for themselves and not let some people decide for everyone else.

I am increasingly frustrated by the rejection of poly relationships (whether traditionally polygynous or queer) as a form that can, and should, be recognized as a legitimate family form — particularly when such rejections come from people who otherwise support the right of adults to form intimate partnerships of their choosing.

Me too. That’s why I encourage solidarity.

Is it so hard to believe that sometimes the family form that works best for those involved is one that expands to involve more than two people?

Apparently it is, for the narrow minded. Fortunately, more and more monogamists are seeing that poly people should have their rights, too.

I don’t precisely agree with Stacey that polygyny is inherently un-feminist. I would argue that what makes a feminist family has more to do with the egalitarian nature of the relationship(s) involved — including those between parents and children — than it does with the combination of bodies or gender expressions present.


The second entry is from BeckySharper, who asks, “Should We Defend Polygamists?” She cites the lawsuit by the Browns seeking the freedom of association.

I don’t for a second buy that women are empowered by sharing a husband. But I don’t think what they’re doing is criminal.

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?

She contrasts the Browns and others like them with Warren Jeffs.

There is no spectrum of private consensual relations — there is just a right of privacy that protects all people so long as they do not harm others.

That’s the way it should be, but we have various restrictions in different states on the right to marry that violate that in different ways, which is why a Marriage Equality Amendment would help.


I agree with you 100%. As consenting adults they have a right to live the way that they choose.


As someone who supports gay marriage, I have to accept I can’t have it both ways. If we allow all kinds of relationships, then we have to take in the polygamists, also. As much as it horrifies me to think of one man, a handful of wives and tons of kids, I have to deal with it. Like I tell those offended by gay marriage- fine, if you don’t like it, don’t do it, no one is forcing them to marry a same sex partner. So, as long as I don’t have to become one of five wives that service one man, I’ll survive.


I don’t have so much a problem with polygamy, but I have a major problem with the fact that girls are brainwashed to think polygamy is their way to salvation and that they should be happy to be married at very young ages. If consenting adults who have had access to a full range of information and opinions on the subject consent to polygamy, I have no objection and neither should the state. But children cannot consent.

Agreed. Assuming that it is true that girls are being brainwashed in isolated communities in the way feared, that should not mean that nobody should have the polygamous freedom to marry, any more than if these girls we’re being brainwashed to vote a certain way at age 18, that nobody else should have the right to vote.


And why does polygamy always end up being polygyny anyway? Why not a few more examples of polyandry, or multiples of both genders?

Those families do exist! They do not get nearly the same amount of attention, perhaps because it is usually not based on splinter group religion or because they keep a low or anonymous profile deliberately.

A woman should be free to marry a man who is married to, or will be married to, or will be at the same time marrying, other women (and/or men). She should also be free to marry multiple men (or women). For this to be possible, we have to have gender equality under the law, the right NOT to marry, and the right to divorce. This will help protect people from getting tricked or trapped into abusive marriages.
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