"Polygamy is harmful to society"
The National Post, a major conservative newspaper in Canada, has picked up a Slate article about patriarchal polygyny and a new study on why it's bad for the societies that host it. The article gives a backhanded acknowledgment to us polys. But it fails to discuss the radical distinction between multiple wife-ownership in religious and pre-modern cultures, and today's egalitarian, secular polyamory — in which both sexes are independent and empowered and form multi-relationships that are, as best I see, gender-balanced 50-50.
Still, the article presents a good summary of the anti-polygyny case and has lots of links.
The study in question is by Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia, who provided crucial anti-polygamy testimony in last year's reference case testing Canada's anti-polygamy law. (Summary of his day in court by "Polly Amorie," who was there.)
Polygamy is harmful to society
By Libby Copeland
These are boom times for memoirs about growing up in, marrying into or escaping from polygamous families. “Sister wives” appear as minor celebrities in the pages of People magazine, piggybacking on their popular TLC reality TV show of the same name. And oh yes, American Republicans have a presidential candidate whose great grandfather was an actual bona fide polygamist.
Sister-wives Valerie and Vicki serve breakfast to their children in their polygamous house in Herriman, Utah in 2007. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)
Americans are fixated these days on polygamy, and it’s fair to say we don’t know how to feel about it....
...The practice of plural marriage is so outside mainstream Western culture, so far in the past for many Westerners, that it has come to be regarded as almost quaint. What’s so wrong with it, if it “works” for some people? In counterculture circles, the practice of polyamory, or open partnerships, is supposed to be having some sort of moment. All of which explains why, in response to the argument by conservatives like GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia that gay marriage could be a slippery slope leading to polygamy, some feminists, lefties and libertarians have wondered aloud whether plural marriage is really so bad.
History suggests that it is. A new study out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) documents how societies have systematically evolved away from polygamy because of the social problems it causes. The Canadian researchers are really talking about polygyny, which is the term for one man with multiple wives, and which is by far the most common expression of polygamy. Women are usually thought of as the primary victims of polygynous marriages, but as cultural anthropologist Joe Henrich documents, the institution also causes problems for the young, low-status males denied wives by older, wealthy men who have hoarded all the women. And those young men create problems for everybody.
“Monogamous marriage reduces crime,” Henrich and colleagues write, pulling together studies showing that polygynous societies create large numbers of unmarried men, whose presence is correlated with increased rates of rape, theft, murder and substance abuse. According to Henrich, the problem with unmarried men appears to come primarily from their lack of investment in family life and in children. Young men without futures tend to engage in riskier behaviors because they have less to lose....
As marriage historian Stephanie Coontz has pointed out, polygyny is less about sex than it is about power. Rich old guys with lots of wives win twice: They have more women to bear them babies and do household work, and they also gain an advantage over other men. After all, in such societies a young man... winds up having to do work for a more powerful, polygynous man, bringing him gifts and tributes, in hopes of someday being rewarded with one of that man’s many daughters. “Often the subordination of women is in fact also a way of controlling men,” says Coontz, who was not involved in the study out of UBC....
Read the whole article (Feb. 2, 2012).