Friday, June 8, 2012

Polygyny: Why it Doesn't Work

I broke down and started watching the TLC show Sister Wives.  I know.  I know.  I thought it was going to be way worse than it actually turns out to be.  Most of the show doesn't dwell on their religious beliefs but they're every day lives and digs into the down sides of being polygynists (that is a man with multiple wives).

This naturally sparked a debate with my husband about whether plural marriage is sinful or not.  Obviously I know it is.  I could go into it, but I defer to far great apologists on the matter.  The point of my post is to take the religious aspects out of the debate and focus on the practicality or rather the lack of practicality of plural marriages. 

Let start at the this point.  Of all couplings, the husband's family converted to their sect of Fundamental Mormonism and one lady came from the LDS church.  The other women were all brought up in polygyny so they have no real inner understanding of how a relationship intent on monogamy looks like.  This is apparent in how the women speak.

The tag line of the show of the wife, Christine, says "I wanted to marry the family not just the man."  it's a loose quote.  Oh, Christine.  I married my husband for his family too.  Not in the same way, but yeah.  My husband often talked about his family and how he wanted kids.  I knew he was the family man type, without even having a family of his own.  I also wanted his close knit extended family, which is something not even seen during the first season.  But all that aside, why do you need someone to be sleeping with your husband in order to call them family or be close to them?  It's a serious question.

Then in one tearful episode Meri talks about her sister who died from cancer.

1)  "My sister's sister-wives were there for her.  They took care of her."  My mom is a cancer survivor so I have personally experienced what it's like to watch a loved one suffer through chemo.  I'm sure dear readers you see the problem with this statement.  Let me give you a clue if it's still not obvious.  When my mom would go for chemo treatments, my grandmother, my mom's best friends, and my dad would take turns taking her.

Now do you see it.  Meri makes no mention of her sister's husband being involved in her care.  While I think it's great that her sister had support, it begs the question why the husband is swept under the rug.  Was this an editing trick?  Or did Meri simply forget his role?  Or is this some slid of hand to make sister-wives seem more appealing than traditional family units?

I understand that the Browns do not want to continue to experience ridicule and prosecution, but in their quest to seem normal they are making monogamous relationships in which the husband plays a large role seem ridiculous.  Furthermore it seems the familial runnings are placed heavily upon the wives and not so much the husbands.  Isn't this a slap in the face of the husband being the head of the household?  Men are capable of much.

Just because Meri's sister had help doesn't mean that monogamous relationships also don't come with built in help.  So how is having sister-wives practical?

2) "When I die, I know that Janelle and Christine will take care of my kid and raise them the way I want them to be."   Hubby and I have discussed this before.  Hubby has plans to raise our children Catholic, to make sure that they go to Mass and learn what needs to be learned, even though he is not, nor was brought up a Catholic.  And I figure if he remarried upon my death, than my children's step-mother also knows that that is part of the deal.  I also imagine that my MIL and her family, plus my parents and brother, plus my children's godparents will make sure they are raised Catholics since they are all Catholics themselves.    

While I think it's great that Meri has such built in reliability, monogamous relationships do too.  I rely on my husband and his judgement, which is sorely lacking in this statement and the one previous to it.  Why isn't Kody considered a care-giver?  And how exactly is it more practical to have a sister-wife raise your children versus your own husband?  Doesn't seem to be any difference.

Jealousy also appears in the first season.  To me jealousy, while a sin itself, reveals something more insidious underneath it.  Either it's insecurity or infidelity that these women feel.  They seem to be experiencing both when it comes to Kody's engagement.  They mention how pretty Robyn is calling her the "trophy wife."  But Christine also gets upset when she hears that Kody has been kissing Robyn before the marriage ceremony.  Infidelity for three?    I think there is definitely something to be said for the jealousy thing.  Since Mormons believe in continuous revelation, wouldn't you think they would realize that this jealousy is a form of revelation that their relationships are based on infidelity and adultery?  Again, this is a legitimate question.

Then there's the fact that Kody has to rotate how much time he spends with each of his wives to be fair and equal and not show favoritism.  This isn't always great.  Sharing your husband can lead to a lot of lonely nights and hurt feelings.  I don't see how this can be practical.  

And lastly, are they one big family or four small families with one head of household?  This is also a legitimate question because throughout the first season they use the term family in two ways: to denote their polygyny or to denote each individual wives children.

Examples of the small family:  In the episode where they talk about their days, both Janelle's son and Christine say they make breakfast usually for just their families.  The women frequently talk about their children as "my children" see the example quote about Meri talking.

Examples of big family:  Through the season, they talk about "our family" and Robyn says she's excited to be joining "the family."  Then they say they feel like all the children are their own children.

So which is it Browns?  Are you one big happy family or four?  How do you explain it?  I'm totally confused.  For a monogamous relationship it's simple, you have extended family and immediate family.  Are your sister-wives' children your extended or immediate family?  Please explain.  I'd like to know if your marriages are one marriage with one family or multiple marriages with multiple families or multiple marriages with one family?  I can't keep any of it straight.

And this is why, my friends plural marriages aren't practical.  Even the Koran limits the number of wives for good reason.  Jealousy, confusion over your household relationships, shared time, and excluding the man as a care-giver all make plural marriages seem like more work and not very practical. 

There doesn't seem to be a legitimate argument made that polygynous couplings are any better or more practical than monogamous ones.  In fact because of the number of interconnected relationships within a marriage bond, one could argue that polygyny is far less practical and more difficult than monogamous relationships.

So if you take the religion out of it, it's far easier to deal with one spouse than it is to deal with multiple ones.


  1. I haven't seen the show yet (admittedly am curious)... but pretty much agree w/ you here w/ a twist.

    Dh and I have talked about it a few times (LOL the conversations we have) and religion aside, I think it actually can work or serve a purpose... in other cultures/circumstances. Places where its common tend to have reasons it would be needed, skewed number of men to women, need for larger families, etc. Not that it doesn't have problems there, because it does... As I'm now thinking of a khanga saying (quote on bottom of cloth worn as skirt/baby carrier/etc) that translates to "co-wife! Ha! Just shove it!". Sorry that quote still cracks me up... but yeah def has problems either way, but it still makes sense in theory.

    But... in practice it'd be difficult. And it'd be beyond difficult in our culture. Not to mention unnecessary. I'll give you I saw a post the other day joking about wanting a cowife the other day that I was totally on board with, teh idea of having help around the house sounds like a dream... but would I actually go there? NO! Extra support would be nice, but def not the way to go about it... and the main "reasons" for it just aren't here.

    1. Hubby jokes about the help but then there are also problems with that. Financial ones. If we were to get preggo at the same time. etc. etc.

      For extra help, extended family or hiring someone else to help saves you the head ache and the heart ache.

    2. Completely agreed. At some point I think we're going to have to bite the bullet and hire some help around here. Not major, just an occasional thing... We have a ton of family here, but despite him thinking they'll help it just doesn't happen. Noone ever comes over here period.

  2. I've been watching this too. :) Something quite fascinating about the whole thing. And even though it's nice for the women to have so much support from each other, I agree that the show demonstrates how this model simply does not work. It's impossible for the husband to meet the needs of all of these wives and children.

    I will say that I do enjoy watching shows featuring people that incorporate their faith into their lives, even though in this case it's in a way that I totally disagree with.


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