While channel surfing a few Sundays ago, I came across a 60 Minute story on the self proclaimed Rabbi, Phil Sharp (AKA the Rampant Rabbi) who has had eight wives. Of course in the eyes of the law he only has one wife. Sharp claims his polygamy is part of a divine plan, revealed to him by God, in which the End of Days judgement will start in his own house.
Polygamy refers to the practice of having more than one spouse. It is broader than polygyny, which refers to situations where one man has multiple wives, and polyandry, which refers to one woman with multiple husbands.
I don’t know who to feel sickened by, the polygynist man or the concubines who make up his harem. In today’s society why do women allow themselves to be in a situation where they share the man they love and the man they bare children with?
Why would you resign yourself to be wife number 2 or 3 or more?
It’s enough that we are given identifying numbers for many life situations. Everyone entering the workforce are given tax file numbers. After you start work you’re given an employee number. If you’re a member of a club you have a membership number. For goodness sake we’re even given queue numbers.
It’s little wonder that sometimes we feel that we are nothing more than a number. Why a woman would decide to become just another number in what should be a very personal role in life, that of a wife, be it in traditional marriage or de-facto relationship, goes beyond my capability to understand the reasoning behind such a decision.
Or is it that I’ve been conditioned by society, in particular western society that polygamy is wrong?
Although most Australians live monogamous relationships it’s claimed that 70 percent of all marriages experience an extramarital affair – 60% of men and 50% of women, however that figure differs depending on your age. In many cases these affairs can be long lasting and in fewer cases again can lead to pregnancies of the second female partner. The difference is that polygamy is open but not commonly accepted and having an affair isn’t open and more accepted.
Given that polygamy doesn’t cover up the concept of multiple partners as opposed to the closed or secretive aspect of affairs, why is polygamy condemned?
Firstly we should look at where does polygamy stems from. I blame religion for many things wrong in the world and my first stance is to blame religion for polygamist communities dragging on a ridiculous tradition, Mormons for example. However, polygamy stems way back before organised religion came about. For example, for Australian Aboriginals the concept of multiple wives is normal or at least it was normal until white man came along and changed things. There is no formal ceremony, wives are selected for the men from within the community, siblings and first cousins are not allowed to marry.
However, there are negative aspects of this arrangement and they are not confined to the Aboriginal example used here. Although, it has been suggested that polygamy stemmed from an imbalance of women to men, statistics suggest that the ratio of men and women were the same therefore leaving many men without a wife. Men who were left out were often found to be having affairs with the neglected wives of a polygamous relationship and also a wealth of sociological information points to the fact that single men commit the vast majority of violent crimes.
Historically, all religions have practised polygamy at some stage. Each religious text refers to polygamy. For example, in the Hebrew Bible polygamy was permitted only if a man has more than one wife, at the same time if a woman had more than one husband (polyandry), it was seen as adultery. The Quran states that a man can marry up to four women, however, in practice the first wife must give her permission. The Bible also has many references to polygamy with some of the main characters in the old testament having several wives such as David, Solomon and Abraham. However, during the early church period of Christianity polygamy was banned citing a few references in the bible that forbade multiple marriages.
In historical Chinese society where a polygamist family existed the child was considered to have more than one mother and they could have up to 4 mothers. The first wife was considered to be the official mother while the others were the unofficial mothers. There was one main wife, known as the ‘Queen wife” and she had a higher status than the others.
So what’s the affect of a polygamist relationship on women?
The more information I read about polygamist relationships it’s apparent that the women get the raw end of the deal no matter how you look at it and children don’t fair any differently.
Predominately, women of polygamist relationships are more likely to be from a poorer background and have limited education. As more and more wives are introduced to a family unit, the new wives are generally younger resulting in increased jealousies and ultimately affecting the family unit.
The affect on children is no better than that on women because men with lots of children and wives are spread too thin, and to make things worse, they’re compiling resources to attract their next wives instead of using it on their existing families. Also, it appears that child abuse is more prevalent as young girls become a commodity to barter with and many very young girls are married off to very old men.
On the flip side many women in polygamist relationships state that having multiple women on hand to help with the running of the family provides each wife with the ability to take time out for themselves and I sure all women in monogamous relationships would agree that this certainly would be a benefit, albeit the only one.
The countries that do accept polygamy are generally underdeveloped, their population is mostly illiterate, as well as having a cultures of oppressed women as polygyny is the only form of polygamy that is acceptable in these societies . Virtually all of the developed countries do not permit polygamy.
I do fear that polygamy is starting to be accepted with TV now popularising it with shows such as Sister Wives. Although shows such as this may not show polygomy in a bad light, I’m sure practised by a wider community the impact to women on a whole would certainly be a negative one with the increase in mental health and single mothers, not the mention the negative impact to children and the increase of crime amongst single males as studies suggest.
In conclusion, society doesn’t need these type of family dynamics in order to progress and prosper. I know many people who are against gay marriage think that legalising gay marriage will lead to legalising polygamist relationships but we’re not comparing apples to apples so I don’t see why the two are linked. Polygamist families are not good for women or the children born out of these relationships and it’s certainly not good for the young males who are left on the shelf.
The Perils of Polygamy by Christopher Kaczor
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