Politrix: Does Polygamist = Crazy?

So I went to Howard University for undergrad (Go Bison!). Most cats think of homecoming when they think of my alma mater, but there’s so much more to it: an amazing education, an extraordinarily international population (with students from more than 50 countries)… and mansharing.
Yup. With two to three women for every man, this practice runs rampant on the campus of the real HU (I second that–JBaker). It seems that when faced with the prospect of having no man at all or dating a dude from “the area,” splitting one with the chick on the third floor of the dorm next door really isn’t that bad a deal. We’ve already talked about the idea that a disproportionate number of the eligible men of color in this country are, shall we say, inaccessible. Could it be that polygamy is the solution?

In America, the mention of polygamy leads to frantic discussions of brainwashed, marginalized women and confused, ostracized children. Most recently, the topic has come to the fore in the case of the 1,900-acre Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints offshoot just outside Eldorado, Texas, where children have been seized amid suspicion of child abuse. More on that later.

Anyway, this polygamy stuff—which actually means “the practice of multiple marriage,” rather than the more specific terms polygyny (where men take multiple wives) and polyandry (where women enjoy the comfort of more than one man)—is not the invention of a rogue sect of Mormons. Polygamy has been practiced in other parts of the world for centuries, enjoying stints in China and India. It even reigned in Biblical times; Abraham, Jacob and his brother Esau, David. King Solomon and Moses all had multiple wives.

In Africa, plural marriages were (and in many Muslim countries still are) the flesh embodiment of the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” You’ve seen it on a small scale on HBO’s Big Love, where the moms take care of all the children and the man watches over the entire brood. It was only denounced after Europeans colonized the continent, and while many historians write it off as the province of rich men flaunting their power, the wealth is more a corollary than a cause: Think of the animal kingdom, where the alpha lion mates with all the lionesses in his pride. He’s born the strongest and the females and the food (the riches to us humans) have no choice but to come to him.

The benefits: At its best, the society is a community in the truest sense, where the group bands together to provide the best possible care for the members; the children grow up in a world that focuses on making them the strongest they can; the elderly are cared for, so there are no childless “spinsters” fending for themselves; and the entire family cultivates the land in rural areas, much like the large families of the American south in the last generation.

But any exploration of this practice must account for the worst case: First of all, as a feminist issue, the supposition that women need men to take care of them is outmoded and ridiculous. And I can’t fathom sharing my husband with another women (I refused to play ball at Howard). At the very least, polygamy needs to be an actual choice—and that brings us back to the compound in Texas. It seems girls as young as 13 were being forced to marry older men, and more than half the girls between the ages of 14 and 17 either have children, or have been pregnant. First, I’m not condoning taking advantage of girls who may not be old enough to make adult decisions, but in the words of Dave Chappelle, “How old is 15, really?” For real, chicks I grew up with were doing the do before we hit high school, and I know a couple of super-happy couples who married before graduation. That said, girls raised in these communities need to choose to be one of many wives, not be pushed into it out of fear of being shunned by the only families they’ve ever known.

The bottom line: For better or for worse, communities set their own values and mores. I can’t say what side of polygamy I come down on, but I can say that I don’t really need to choose sides—it’s not for me to decide. All I can do is defend the right for others to choose what works for them.


If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts here.

image via ABC News

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