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July 19, 2012 1:07 PM   Subscribe

Why Polygamy is Bad for Society "A new study out of the University of British Columbia 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."
posted by bookman117 (190 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll go ahead and read the article, but as a homo I get really nervous when people start talking about what's "bad for society."
posted by hermitosis at 1:11 PM on July 19, 2012 [42 favorites]


Okay, I'm no fan of Romney but this is getting out of hand.
posted by hal9k at 1:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Okay, I'm no fan of Romney but this is getting out of hand.

I took this to be directed more at Chick-Fil-A's Dan Cathy's recently publicized support for traditional Biblical family units.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:14 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I heard an interesting observation Stephen Fry make on this issue, strangely enough, during a recent QI-reruns-on-Youtube binge. He pointed out that if a man was up front and honest and said "look, I think you're both splendid and I want to marry you both and have families with you both," that'd be illegal - but for that same guy to knock up those women and have kids with each of them, yet not marry them, that'd be skeevy, but legal. If he kept it all a secret he may even never get caught. And that state of affairs, he claimed, was wackadoo.

The situation is obviously a hell of a lot more complicated than that, but....dude had a point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:17 PM on July 19, 2012 [29 favorites]


Polygamy is one-percenter marriage.
posted by Winnemac at 1:17 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


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 Rick Santorum and 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.
I...just. Wow. Claiming that a polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage is anything, ANYTHING like traditional patriarchial polygyny is just super wrong and frustrating on multiple levels.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:18 PM on July 19, 2012 [66 favorites]


see Warren Jeffs.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mods, you have my sympathies.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:21 PM on July 19, 2012 [26 favorites]


Presumably polygyny could be stable if paired with male infanticide, so that there were no young, low-status males without wives.

This is not a suggestion.
posted by Segundus at 1:21 PM on July 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


as a homo I get really nervous when people start talking about what's "bad for society."

I can understand that, but it seems to me that it feeds into the right wing's "next thing people will want to marry their turtles!!" line if you claim that it's simply impossible to assess the general societal impact of certain kinds of marital/sexual relationships. The rock on which the gay rights arguments rest is a pretty solid one, after all--it's not that you can't make any such assessment, it's that when you do make that assessment it shows that gay relationships aren't, as a matter of demonstrable fact, "bad for society."

Presumably polygamy would be a more inherently stable social practice if it the society embraced polygyny and polyandry in roughly similar proportions--that way you wouldn't have the inherent problem of unattached partners. But I've spoken with anthropologists who studied with traditionally polygynous societies and they say that the tensions within the marital relationships were almost always intense--despite the fact that everyone involved had been raised to think of these relationships as the norm; so there does seem to be something inherently fractious in the model.
posted by yoink at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Polygamy as usually referred to in America has little or nothing to do with what this report is talking about.

I wish they had made that clear.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I get really nervous when people start talking about what's "bad for society."

Homosexuals have always been such a small portion of most societies that men or women pairing off and taking themselves out of the marriage/procreation pool has had a negligible impact on the availability of finding mates for heterosexuals.

Polygyny very much has the opposite record, which, if you'd read the article, would be fairly clear.

I've put a great deal into the thought of what would be necessary to prevent polygamy/polymarriage from becoming problematic, and I've come up with 2 potential items to implement to make the previous abuses less likely, the first of which is clearly problematic but the second of which maybe not so much:

- Disallow poly-married groups from having a gender ratio of more than 1.5:1 on either side (except for married groups of 3 -- i.e. in order to add more participants for 4 and above, you must include participants in both genders -- this is the more problematic idea).

- Absolute right of community property (prenuptial agreements would never be enforceable -- on entry into a poly-marriage all property, even historical assets, becomes community property). In other words if a man wants to marry two women, he would thereafter be entitled to only 1/3 of their combined assets should he want to leave the marriage, or 1/4, or 1/10. Everyone's share in the marriage would be equal to 1/max number of total participants.
posted by chimaera at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Presumably polygyny could be stable if paired with male infanticide, so that there were no young, low-status males without wives.

It works well for a while: marrying your daughters, sacrificing your sons to the White Walkers, but troublemakers inevitably show up.
posted by Behemoth at 1:26 PM on July 19, 2012 [65 favorites]


This article only represents half of the story. I would be interested to see an article on polyandry.
posted by windykites at 1:26 PM on July 19, 2012


So from this we can conclude that polyandry is THE WAY 2 GO
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:27 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm no anthropologist, but I wonder if polygyny is more stable in societies with lots of warfare and men killed in combat.

China is facing a gender imbalance going forward, with a birth ratio as skewed as 120 boys to 100 girls. Lots of speculation on how that's going to skew the society, not much hard information.
posted by Nelson at 1:27 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Presumably polygyny could be stable if paired with male infanticide, so that there were no young, low-status males without wives.

The end goal there would be changing the sex ratio from 50:50 to more like 80:20 or even 90:10 in favor of women. That could be done "ethically" by making most sperm X chromosomes and Y be the rare ones. Then we could have all the polygyny we want without killing babies.

This is also not a suggestion.

Also, what Behemoth said. Craster's is not a good model.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:28 PM on July 19, 2012


Isn't this similar to problems facing some countries/cultures where the number of unmarried young men outnumber the available women to marry ?

ISTR hearing this about China due to preference for male children, but also in regards to some Arab countries where the young men can't find work to have a wedding/pay-for-a-wife-house-kids type of situations as well. Both backup (I think) TFA's point that it's a powder keg having frustrated young men in large numbers. (see the oil well workers thread below)
posted by k5.user at 1:28 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


some feminists, lefties, and libertarians have wondered aloud whether plural marriage is really so bad.

I don't identify as any of the above and I think recognizing marriages with more than two partners (or serial two-person marriages) is fine. Then again, I see the question as mostly about math and self-limiting ("Two nagging/irresponsible spouses? Gah!") and I'm largely uninterested in how the idea fits with various politics and persecution complexes.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, isnt maintaining one marriage enough work?
posted by jonmc at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Cracking me up that "sexualfrustration" is a tag to this thread.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


China is facing a gender imbalance going forward, with a birth ratio as skewed as 120 boys to 100 girls. Lots of speculation on how that's going to skew the society, not much hard information.

No sisters. No aunts. No cousins. A generation of dudes who don't understand women chasing a dwindling supply. Note to self: invest in Chinese gay bars.
posted by Damienmce at 1:32 PM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


I thought everyone knew that if you legalize poly and gay marriage your society will be nuked by Cylons.
posted by localroger at 1:33 PM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


This article only represents half of the story. I would be interested to see an article on polyandry.

Well, in terms of actual historical/cultural examples, polygyny is a lot more than half the story. Polyandry has been relatively rare.
posted by yoink at 1:33 PM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the problem occurs when you allow polygyny but prohibit polyandry, a setup that's pretty obviously a patriarchal system: it seems like a great idea if you're one of the men who gets multiple wives, but not very well for men who end up effectively surplus, and potentially not for the women who end up with a 'share' of a partner and no option for getting an additional partner themselves.

That's how polygamy tends to work in "traditional" -- which I'm scarequoting because in many cases they're not really traditional at all, but reactionary inventions from well into the modern period -- societies, most famously in certain LDS sects. And not surprisingly, they have a big problem with Lost Boys and achieve stability only by periodically purging unmarried men in order to increase the female:male ratio. It's pretty shitty, to be honest, and it is accompanied by a heaping helping of sexism and very rigid gender roles that ought to be enough by itself to bring the whole setup into question.

But it's almost universally not how most modern, urban "poly" people that I've met do things. I think most modern polyamorous people would agree that it's unfair for one partner to be allowed to have multiple partners without the other partner being granted the same right (if they want it). And in doing so, that at least avoids the obvious problems of polygyny.

Multiple-wife polygyny is pretty clearly unsustainable, and it fails the Kant Test: if everyone tried to do it, we'd have to constantly be killing off young men (or doing sex-selective abortion, or something else creepy) to keep things from getting out of hand within a generation or two. But I'm not sure that's clear with a more modern, gender-neutral polygamous system. It might not work widely for other reasons, but it wouldn't necessarily result in large numbers of angry, exiled young men without sexual-partnership prospects.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:35 PM on July 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


it feeds into the right wing's "next thing people will want to marry their turtles!!" line

While that line is obviously used to try and equate gay marriage with pet marriage (and thus claim it's not real love/marriage), at the same time I wonder what exactly the harm to soceity of people marrying turtles would actually be.

The only thing I can come up with is that it would lower tax revenue, since most turtles are unemployed and single-income married couples pay less tax.

Obviously a job program for turtles would fix this.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2012 [41 favorites]


Presumably polygyny could be stable if paired with male infanticide, so that there were no young, low-status males without wives.

What happens when the old, high-status males start dying off?
posted by fuse theorem at 1:36 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The end goal there would be changing the sex ratio from 50:50 to more like 80:20 or even 90:10 in favor of women. That could be done "ethically" by making most sperm X chromosomes and Y be the rare ones. Then we could have all the polygyny we want without killing babies.

Read The Matter of Seggri by LeGuin for a fictional take on that exact scenario.
posted by emjaybee at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, surely this includes a detailed analysis of what happens in polygamous cultures which value equality of rights to a greater degree, right?

E.g., “[Iron Age] Celtic marriage was essentially contractual, social, not at all religious, but based on the freedom of the husband and wife. In Ireland and Scotland, there even existed year-long trial marriages that could be dissolved if they proved impracticable. Divorced women were not looked down upon and were always free to remarry. The ancient Celts were polygamous and certain Celts in Scotland were, according to Caesar, specifically polyandrous, meaning their women could have multiple husbands."

Oh, wait no, it's about how we'd all suddenly turn the clock back 100 years on social rights for some reason if we were allowed to marry more than one person?

How silly of me not to assume that would be the case.
posted by kyrademon at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Everyone likes to think they'll be the Barb or the Margene, but in practice everyone winds up being the Nicki, the Rhonda, or the Adaleen.
posted by hermitosis at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'll go ahead and read the article, but as a homo I get really nervous when people start talking about what's "bad for society."
posted by hermitosis at 4:11 PM on July 19 [9 favorites +] [!]


My first flippant thought was: well, if more men were gay, then polygyny would work better, wouldn't it?

But then my more serious thought it: the authors of the study are quite clear that they are not talking about polygamy or polyamory, but specifically polygyny - and how the inequality of polygyny (where men can have multiple wives, but women can't have multiple husbands) leads to an unbalanced society, which leads to all the problems. So really, the principle could be said to be: "unequal marriage practices are bad for society".

Which - as a strong supporter of gay marriage - I could totally get behind.
posted by jb at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


...the institution also causes problems for the young, low-status males denied wives by older, wealthy men who have hoarded all the women

You know in the old days, when a young man was a strong man, all the people they'd step back when a young man walked by. But you know nowadays it's the old man, he's got all the money. And a young man ain't got nothin' in the world these days.
posted by Killick at 1:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder if the mechanism isnt simply female shortages. Polygamy creates shortages in females assuming a balanced sex ratio in the population. Consequently, depending on the significance of that shortage, the excess unattached males could be the main problem. Without females, there could be reduced incentives to invest in education if there is a return to education in marriage markets which some economists have found.

The problem may not be, in other words, the polygamy, but the female shortage. If that is true, you may anticipate similar problems in areas with high female mortality, such as parts of Asia. I these places, there are very large numbers of "missing women" due to mortality, infanticide, and gender inequities. This creates excess unattached males, which could be the connection.

If this is the case and the mechanism is the excess unattached males, then the policy implications change. Hypothetically, an area with a balanced sex ratio could experience a conflict that killed a larger share of the men, leading to excess female, and in response, surviving males may absorb the unattached females into polygamous relationships. I such a situation, the sex ratio could actually be skewed in the opposite direction - too few males -- but because of the casualties, no excess males unattached. I need to read the paper carefully I guess.

Thanks for posting this. I would've likely never seen this as I don't follow this journal.
posted by scunning at 1:40 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


1 "but for that same guy to knock up those women and have kids with each of them, yet not marry them, that'd be skeevy, but legal"
um, in britain that would be normal. You either have kids with no-one, or with several women, or you're an uptight upper-middle-class person who has one kid and hothouses the poor brat like it lives in an intellectual bootcamp.

2 way back read an academic article on polyandry in -Tibet? - how it works is, one woman gets several brothers and enjoys life, provided shagging several men is your idea of fun, while lots of women have no husband and live as slaves working for the people who're married. Can't remember which people, but their relatives in some way. Any children they have, whether rape or affairs, are also born slaves. They have a special lower social caste. Anyway, they managed to arrange polyandry so that it was still far more awful for (most) women. Sharing a wife indicated poverty, as i remember.

3 Everything i've seen on tv involved men having children they couldn't feed and the wives/mothers fighting over the food.
posted by maiamaia at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Presumably polygyny could be stable if paired with male infanticide, so that there were no young, low-status males without wives.

Correct, or sex-selective abortion. This report is not news to most social scientists. The problem with polygyny is that high-status men get a larger share of the women, leaving lower-status men without sexual outlet and without a family to work as an incentive against sociopathy, so they cause social problems. Men like to think in a polygamous society that they would marry several hot babes, but the fact is that unless they have some degree of status, they would likely have no babe.

As another commenter alluded, polygyny could be somewhat possible in societies where the surplus males were sent off to war, hunts, or other positions that put them in mortal harm. We tend to have less of that in 21st-century North America.

Claiming that a polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage is anything, ANYTHING like traditional patriarchial polygyny is just super wrong and frustrating on multiple levels.

I am not a polyamourous feminist, so I have no idea what conceptions one would have of plural marriage. However, declaring something wrong does not make it so, and your frustration is an emotional reaction, not an argument.

Assuming that a polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage would be polyandry, we can expect this to be rare. This is largely for evolutionary reasons. A woman with three husbands can only bear one's child at a time at the expense of the other two. On the other hand, a man with three wives can make a child with one without infringing on the other two's ability to procreate.

I am sure someone will tell me what a "polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage" and then I will see that I am super wrong.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder what exactly the harm to soceity of people marrying turtles would actually be

O.K., O.K., turtles are in. But I draw the fucking line at tortoises, alright? We have to have SOME standards.
posted by yoink at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Claiming that a polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage is anything, ANYTHING like traditional patriarchial polygyny is just super wrong and frustrating on multiple levels

But they didn't claim that -- they just pointed out that proponents of legalizing polygamy come from both fundamentalist mormon communities and feminist/progressive polyamory communities -- that they are strange bedfellows.

I'm also in favour of legalizing polygamy: I'm of the opinion that consenting adults should be able to form whatever partnerships/marriages they like with other consenting adults, regardless of sex, gender or number. (I've heard good arguments why full consent might be more difficult to obtain in group marriages, but if they can do it, power to them).

What I don't understand is why authorities haven't been able to prosecute more of the fundamentalist Mormon communities - not for polygamy, but for the true crimes: underage marriage and child abuse (eg kicking out their boys). And the age of consent for marriage really should be at least 18.
posted by jb at 1:43 PM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Presumably polygyny could be stable if paired with male infanticide, so that there were no young, low-status males without wives.

The end goal there would be changing the sex ratio from 50:50 to more like 80:20 or even 90:10 in favor of women. That could be done "ethically" by making most sperm X chromosomes and Y be the rare ones. Then we could have all the polygyny we want without killing babies.


One step closer to the ultimate goal:

"Life" in this "society" being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of "society" being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.
--Valerie Solanas. The SCUM Manifesto

This is also not a suggestion.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:46 PM on July 19, 2012


He pointed out that if a man was up front and honest and said "look, I think you're both splendid and I want to marry you both and have families with you both," that'd be illegal - but for that same guy to knock up those women and have kids with each of them, yet not marry them, that'd be skeevy, but legal. If he kept it all a secret he may even never get caught. And that state of affairs, he claimed, was wackadoo.

I don't know that I'd agree. The thing about marriage is that it gives you an awful lot of legal rights --- that kind of formal societal recognition of a bond has a lot of power (e.g. spousal support, medical decision making). If you're not willing to say, "yes, this person, now and forever, them and only them" maybe you shouldn't be the one deciding whether to pull the plug or not if they get hit by a bus and maybe they don't deserve half your stuff if you break up.

On the other hand, life is messy, life is complicated, there are people out there who love more than one person at a time. If they can work that out then bully for them. But even so I don't think it's necessarily wrong for a secular society to grant special privileges to the forms which produce the most stability for society.
posted by Diablevert at 1:46 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I now have a man crush on Heinrich. His vita is positively cool.

http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/pdfs/HenrichCV2012_Jan.pdf

Game theory analysis of culture and field experiments. Swoon.
posted by scunning at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2012


I'm no anthropologist, but I wonder if polygyny is more stable in societies with lots of warfare and men killed in combat.

As I understand it, the historical justifications for polygamy (specifically in the Muslim and pre-Christian Jewish traditions) tended to be in exactly that sort of circumstance. It was allowed less as a convenience for the men involved, but as a way of ensuring that widows could be taken care of and would have a place in a strongly patriarchal society where there were very limited roles for unmarried adult women.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


"But they didn't claim that -- they just pointed out that proponents of legalizing polygamy come from both fundamentalist mormon communities and feminist/progressive polyamory communities -- that they are strange bedfellows."

Except that this is sort of like saying that religious anti-abortion advocates and progressive advocates against corporal punishment of kids are both trying to "protect children" and are "strange bedfellows".

They are not arguing for the same things AT ALL, and anything more than a completely facile approach would reveal that very quickly.
posted by kyrademon at 1:48 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I am not a polyamourous feminist, so I have no idea what conceptions one would have of plural marriage. However, declaring something wrong does not make it so, and your frustration is an emotional reaction, not an argument.

What's your point, besides being condescending and unnecessarily argumentative about something about which you're admittedly completely ignorant?
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:49 PM on July 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


All of the Poly's could be done right. Could.

With our current income inequality gap, this (multi women to one man polygamous marriage) wouldn't be done right.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:51 PM on July 19, 2012


This is largely for evolutionary reasons. A woman with three husbands can only bear one's child at a time at the expense of the other two. On the other hand, a man with three wives can make a child with one without infringing on the other two's ability to procreate.

And what about in cultures where people presumably have children as a matter of choice? I really don't know that society should structure its legal reinforcement of social ties along the lines of "How can we maximize baby production".

(I'd also say that that's not necessarily the line of thinking which people tend to approach marriage on an individual basis, but I know that that is extremely culturally and temporally limited of a statement, so bring your own salt mine to bear on that side of things.)
posted by CrystalDave at 1:51 PM on July 19, 2012


Assuming that a polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage would be polyandry

It's not.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:53 PM on July 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


It was allowed less as a convenience for the men involved, but as a way of ensuring that widows could be taken care of and would have a place in a strongly patriarchal society where there were very limited roles for unmarried adult women.

I'm not a history buff, but the Old Testament definitely contains a part about men being required to marry their brother's widow. And if they don't marry her she gets to whack them with a shoe or something (it's been a while since I read Leviticus for fun.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:53 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except that this is sort of like saying that religious anti-abortion advocates and progressive advocates against corporal punishment of kids are both trying to "protect children" and are "strange bedfellows".

They are not arguing for the same things AT ALL, and anything more than a completely facile approach would reveal that very quickly.


I think you're kinda missing the implication of referring to "strange bedfellows" in regard to some particular social goal. There never is an implication that they want whatever it happens to be for the same reason or out of a shared vision of the total social impact of whatever it happens to be. To say that the polyamory people want this specific thing (legal polygamy) that the polygyny people want and to refer to them as "strange bedfellows" is precisely to make the point that they "are not arguing for the same things AT ALL" other than this one specific outcome.
posted by yoink at 1:54 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Assuming that a polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage would be polyandry...

Why would you assume that?
posted by griphus at 1:55 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd also like to hear from members of an existing poly relationship about whether, in their experience, this is a viable form of relationship in which all members are satisfied. I've never experienced or witnessed such a thing, but if it exists, out there in the modern real world, I would like to know how it's affected the socialization and economic behaviours of the members. How does it play out practically?
posted by windykites at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2012


Interestingly: even in historical societies where polygyny was legal, it wasn't necessarily practiced by many people. In China, for example, men could have many concubines in addition to one wife (two for the Emperor). But most men only had the one wife, unless they were very rich.

That said, I do believe that at times historic China did have gluts of young, unmarried men who caused problems - so even a few rich guys taking up so many women can be a problem.
posted by jb at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd also like to hear from members of an existing monogamous relationship about whether, in their experience, this is a viable form of relationship in which both members are satisfied. I've never experienced or witnessed such a thing, but if it exists ...

FTFM
posted by ZeroAmbition at 2:02 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think you're kinda missing the implication of referring to "strange bedfellows" in regard to some particular social goal.

I was trying to keep my comment concise, and ended up just having people misunderstand it.

What I meant is that both groups want the same goal - legal polygamy - not that their ideals of marriage are the same. Frankly, my ideal of marriage in a plain vanilla hetero marriage isn't the same as someone who believes in "bilblical womanhood", but we both live in the same legal institution.

The article does NOT say that progressive polyamory is the same thing as or even similar to traditional polygyny. What it says is that progressives who support polyamory have also questioned why we have laws against polygamy and question what harm polygamy could be to a society - and the article goes on to discuss why polygamy has been banned in many places (i.e. because polygyny was bad for society).
posted by jb at 2:03 PM on July 19, 2012


To say that the polyamory people want this specific thing (legal polygamy) that the polygyny people want and to refer to them as "strange bedfellows" is precisely to make the point that they "are not arguing for the same things AT ALL" other than this one specific outcome.

The issue is that he then goes on to say that those people are wrong or misguided about polygamy because institutionalized patriarchal polygyny doesn't work. The author doesn't know about or simply doesn't believe in the existence of other types of plural marriage. Meanwhile, polyamorous people have relationships in numerous configurations and talk about it all over the internet. It's not like the information is hard to find, if you have any clue at all what you're talking about.

The irony here is that I am not an advocate for legalized plural marriage, but this article was written by someone who has serious blinders on.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:06 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Except saying that they "both want the same goal - legal polygamy" is inaccurate. That's what I'm trying to say. The things they want differ so greatly in legal terms that they are effectively not the same.

Run a version of polygamy by a fundamentalist Mormon sect that includes easy divorce, well-enforced child support laws, polyandry as well as polygymy, equitable community property, relatively high age of consent, and a host of other factors to ensure equity and see how they react. You will quickly see that saying both groups want "legal polygamy" is a ridiculous conflation of the two concepts.
posted by kyrademon at 2:08 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am sure someone will tell me what a "polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage" and then I will see that I am super wrong.

If you'd tell us what it is you're basing your assumption on - readings? people you know? - then someone will likely be able to add to the information you're so clearly genuinely seeking.
posted by rtha at 2:09 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay, I'm no fan of Romney but this is getting out of hand.

I took this to be directed more at Chick-Fil-A's Dan Cathy's recently publicized support for traditional Biblical family units.


I'm not sure if the first was a joke, but since it's not in the comments nor in the Slate article, I would lay money on that article getting media time because it came out about 3 weeks before the BC court's decision in the Polygamy Reference, which was/is a BIG deal in the area, and had/has the potential to really change Canadian law.

This is, in my guess, also why the discussion focuses on traditional polygyny rather than modern forms of plural marriage - because that's what was up for grabs (the case was based on a religious freedom argument).
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:09 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd also like to hear from members of an existing poly relationship about whether, in their experience, this is a viable form of relationship in which all members are satisfied.

There are historical and modern examples of people in these kinds of relationships, and--this sounds snotty but it is not my intention--you can probably find them elsewhere on the internet. If someone wants to share here, great, but it's a shitty hostile environment for talking about it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:10 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Surplus males aren't always a problem. California and Australia both went through periods where the sexes were imbalanced. It wasn't so bad. Even today, California has more males than females.
posted by Human Flesh at 2:12 PM on July 19, 2012


The young rope-rider, I'm sure I could find people talking about what it's been like for them, personally, within such a relationship. I'm more interested in the social implications- how it affected the group as a whole and the society within which they lived to be in such a relationship... since the point of the article was whether polygamy is bad for society.

If anyone has this kind of info, and doesn't feel comfortable sharing here, I am interested and curious and would dig a memail. Otherwise, yeah, google it is.
posted by windykites at 2:19 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except saying that they "both want the same goal - legal polygamy" is inaccurate. That's what I'm trying to say. The things they want differ so greatly in legal terms that they are effectively not the same.

Run a version of polygamy by a fundamentalist Mormon sect that includes easy divorce, well-enforced child support laws, polyandry as well as polygymy, equitable community property, relatively high age of consent, and a host of other factors to ensure equity and see how they react. You will quickly see that saying both groups want "legal polygamy" is a ridiculous conflation of the two concepts.


That's the "strange bedfellows" part of the equation. Actually, I think a fundamentalist Mormon sect would be very happy with a law that included "easy divorce, well-enforced child support laws, polyandry as well as polygyny, equitable community property, relatively high age of consent" etc. etc.--those would be trade-offs that they could live with because it would make their social practices largely legal, and they would--rightly--think that the fact that polyandry was now legal too would have effectively zero influence on their own social practices.

Similarly, I'm sure many polyamory groups would welcome a law that made polygamy and polygyny legal even if it didn't happen to make any particular changes to age of consent, community property laws, divorce laws etc. etc. Those are, after all, things that may be seen as desirable, but they are also separable from the central issue.

To the extent that both groups would see the specific fact of legalizing poly-marriages as a step in the right direction, they are "strange bedfellows" united on that particular point if on no other.
posted by yoink at 2:22 PM on July 19, 2012


I am sure someone will tell me what a "polyamorous feminist's conception of plural marriage" and then I will see that I am super wrong.

To take a brief stab at it, the "feminist polyamorous relationships," in my limited experience, focus on the equity of all partners, as well as communication, consent, and respect. The relationships didn't necessarily center around a certain partner, although some partners were more closely involved than others. They involve dedicating a significant amount of time to things like scheduling and communication, to ensure that everybody's on the same page, nobody feels left out, and that quotidian conflicts didn't turn into longer-term issues.

Your assumption that "polyandry" would be the preferred mode betrays a conceptualization of feminism as being about "men at the expense of women," whereas the sort of feminism you're talking about isn't interested in the subjugation of men, but in moving past gender as a binary, entirely.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


(On not-preview: holy copyediting meltdown, Batman. Sorry about that.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:27 PM on July 19, 2012


It appears the IT sector picked this up and started talking about how they're going to hack into everyone's email unless they get girlfriends.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:27 PM on July 19, 2012


Polyamorous feminist here.

What I'm after, and all for, is for people to build their relationships with whoever they want, however many people that involves, without buying into artificial scarcity. This high-status/low-status business is false - no one's hoarding anyone, and it's not like every relationship leads to babies or marriage or wealth collection.

I find the idea that there can only be one person EVER who will be your "next of kin" for legal reasons rather baffling. Why can't I nominate multiple people? Why does the person I nominate have to be someone I romantically love - or, if given modern-day assumptions about who is "marriagable", someone who's mainly compatible sexually? Hell why do I need to have a social relationship with this person? Maybe I could hire someone whose job is to organise these matters, then I don't have to rely on being on a relationship to be taken care of.

That's what bugs me about marriage now - that there's so many legal rights tied up to a very specific pairing of people, accessible only by entering the partnership formally. I'd rather that the State get out of marriage - let people draw up however many or whatever sort of contracts they want for the financial/visitation/xyz issues with whoever they want, make up their own ceremony if they wish. In Australia there's already an option to nominate people as your Carer or Guardian without them necessarily having much to do with you (I was looking this up for a friend recently) so if the State provided options for those that can't afford legal help that'd be great! But don't force people to adopt particular relationship structures just for your benefit (I know at least one Centrelink-related marriage) or force people to partner up or choose one to receive care.

Quite a few of my close friends come from the local poly scene, and just about the only drawback socially is trying to find other sexyfriends/dates/potential partners who are OK with you being poly because of people's misconceptions about it. Otherwise it's pretty much like everything else. I tried to fit into conventional monogamy for a while and it was making me sick because I didn't feel the freedom to relate and connect to people however feels appropriate and right - sexually, companionate, emotionally intimate, pragmatically, affectionately, whatever. Different people pull different levers at different times at different levels and I want the freedom for that to happen. There was such a relief once I accepted open relationships as a model, because I didn't have to buy into artificial scarcity nor hold back as much, and it's greatly improved the relationship I have with my current partner, especially with regards to communication and negotiation.
posted by divabat at 2:33 PM on July 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


It seems as though one could solve a lot of the problems around marriage by increasing the social status of women such that women were equal to men both economically and psychically. In an equal society, rich dudes can only "hoard" all the women if the women want to be hoarded, and the incentive to be hoarded by a rich dude goes way down if you have the ability to support yourself in reasonable comfort. More, if there were a "shortage" of women but no stigma on "feminized" status, dudes could always have a polyandrous marriage and get theirs that way.

I also suspect that, absent the stigma against things perceived to be "feminine" and absent the sort of stupid, reductionist ideas about masculinity we have today, there would be a lot more male bisexuality. Hence, more dudes marrying dudes, etc.

I mean, all this "rich men hoard the women in polygynous marriages and "extra" women are enslaved in polyandrous ones" business assumes that women basically are not equal to men, so they can't refuse marriages they don't want or find work that's not slavery and just have to take the bad oppressive terms of society.
posted by Frowner at 2:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [22 favorites]


To take a brief stab at it, the "feminist polyamorous relationships," in my limited experience, focus on the equity of all partners, as well as communication, consent, and respect.

Thank you for your response. My concern, however, is that this only describes those inside the particular relationship and does not address the sociological effects. Namely, an underclass of unmarried young men causing social problems. This is a problem in China thanks to a combination of the one-child policy and sex-selective abortion.

And what about in cultures where people presumably have children as a matter of choice? I really don't know that society should structure its legal reinforcement of social ties along the lines of "How can we maximize baby production".


It is not a question of wanting to have children. I am simply describing the evolutionary factors that drive human sexual behavior.

This high-status/low-status business is false

I am afraid you are not in touch with reality in that regard. It is well documented.

I'd rather that the State get out of marriage - let people draw up however many or whatever sort of contracts they want for the financial/visitation/xyz issues with whoever they want, make up their own ceremony if they wish.

I absolutely agree with this.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's just say these following factors were in place: easy divorce, well-enforced child support laws, polyandry as well as polygymy, equitable community property, relatively high age of consent, and a host of other factors to make poly marriages equal for everyone. How would consent between partners to taking another spouse work out in practice?

For example, say I am already married to "John" but I want to marry "Paul" as my second husband. Does John have to consent (assuming John isn't in a relationship with Paul) or do I get to say, "Suck it up, buttercup! I can marry whom I want and if you don't want to share, you can leave!" Somehow that doesn't seem fair.

Patriarchal polygamy (I'll call it PP) revolves around the subordination of women. In PP, a man can take a second (or more) wife without her consent and she has very little say in the matter. I would think that a feminist, equal-rights take on poly marriage would involve consent from all parties (as does modern polyamory, properly done). I wonder what form this consent would take in a legally binding marriage - a signed statement maybe?

Honestly, just from my POV, a fully-feminist, ethical poly marriage would require so much in the way of negotiation, interpersonal skills, patience and honesty that I can see a lot of people throwing up their hands and saying "Monogamy is easier!" I've known people in well-functioning poly relationships and IT IS WORK (at least that is how I see it). Even in most PP societies, monogamy is the norm and polygamy is for the wealthy few. The exceptions I recall were in North American Plains Indian societies where so many men were killed off in warfare that there was a huge surplus of women (George Catlin remarked that one village had 2/3 women). In the modern US, even New Yorkers who grouse about the sex ratio have to admit that the sex ratio isn't that imbalanced.

It would be interesting to see who would embrace a poly marriage given a feminist underpinning. Probably not so much the rich as people with terrific interpersonal skills!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:42 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Some have argued, since 9/11, that polygamy, as practiced in some middle east regions is the core motivation for some young men to join fanatical groups, whether those men are aware of it or not. Consider the 19 9/11 hijackers. While the broader media has ascribed at least some of their fanatical motivations to lack of economic mobility and/or poverty, none of these really applied to the 19. By Saudi standards, most were middle class and/or from relatively stable families. That is, they were not destitute cretins, orphaned at a young age by blood thirsty Israelis and their Anglo backers with a vendetta against the world. They did live in a region though where powerful men are permitted more than one wife (the King has 13 wives apparently.) In short, the culture permits the hoarding of women by a few so it should not be surprising if a few of the men left out of the Kings harem start to act out.
posted by otto42 at 2:42 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


My concern, however, is that this only describes those inside the particular relationship and does not address the sociological effects. Namely, an underclass of unmarried young men causing social problems. This is a problem in China thanks to a combination of the one-child policy and sex-selective abortion.

Frowner and divabat have already pointed out that your zero-sum approach to relationship types is too simplistic and not necessary in a society that allows women equal status and does not restrict them reproductively--therefore the "surplus male problem" need not apply, especially in a society that also values/allows open relationships and polygyny as well as polygamy. Not every human being needs to be paired up with another of the opposite sex for their entire lifespan, either. Many will be gay, or happily unattached, especially if they live in a society that doesn't punish them for being that way.

China's problems have nothing whatever to do with consensual polygamy.
posted by emjaybee at 2:46 PM on July 19, 2012


To the extent that both groups would see the specific fact of legalizing poly-marriages as a step in the right direction, they are "strange bedfellows" united on that particular point if on no other.

Sure, but as others have pointed out, the critique of legal poly* in the study is focused on patriarchial polygyny only.

Let me put it this way. I think what you and many others here are hearing is, "Both Reform Jews and Conservative Catholics want prayer to remain legal! What strange bedfellows!" That's a non-problematic use.

What I'm hearing is closer to "The prayer rites of the ancient Aztecs involved human sacrifice, and state sanctioned torture and murder! And yet both ancient Aztecs and Conservative Catholics believe prayer ought to be legal! What strange bedfellows!" That's a problematic use because part of why Conservative Catholics don't have a problem with legal prayer is because nobody's getting their heart cut out (despite Santorum's proposed reforms).
posted by Myca at 2:48 PM on July 19, 2012


just about the only drawback socially is trying to find other sexyfriends/dates/potential partners who are OK with you being poly because of people's misconceptions about it.

Speaking as someone who's been involved in numerous poly relationships, I just want to point out that a LOT of these "misconceptions" come from people's first- or secondhand experience with individuals who are really bad/irresponsible at being polyamorous and have poorly represented its ideals in their actions.
posted by hermitosis at 2:49 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


What I'm after, and all for, is for people to build their relationships with whoever they want, however many people that involves, without buying into artificial scarcity. This high-status/low-status business is false - no one's hoarding anyone, and it's not like every relationship leads to babies or marriage or wealth collection.

I think what's described here is men marrying women and making those women be exclusive with them. That's marriage. That's what's described. And that's where you get the efforts to expel the sexless males.

The other thing is that some people prefer and desire monogamy. That is their right. That creates what you describe as 'hoarding' and artificial scarcity. That's what is being talked about here.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:55 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


About the "unmarried men" thing: Nothing's stopping the poly women from acquiring more male partners, and besides that's assuming that marriage is the end goal and that support of whatever sort can't be given outside of marriage. People have babies WITHOUT GETTING MARRIED! Surprise surprise.

hermitosis: I notice hardly anyone says "well I had bad experiences with people who did monogamy wrong..." though it does annoy me when people also assume that *only* polyamory is right and healthy and natural blah (especially since much of contemporary polyamoury circles do tend to look down on Muslim or Mormon polygamous arrangements). Your relationship structures are not better or worse; they're different.

For example, say I am already married to "John" but I want to marry "Paul" as my second husband. Does John have to consent (assuming John isn't in a relationship with Paul) or do I get to say, "Suck it up, buttercup! I can marry whom I want and if you don't want to share, you can leave!" Somehow that doesn't seem fair.

This is where communication and negotiation of boundaries, highly common with polyamorous setups, come in. There's no stock answer, though if this was my situation I'd talk to John and ask him how he feels about it. If he's cool with it, great! If he's not, let's see why. At the same time I'll keep communication open with Paul.
posted by divabat at 2:56 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think a fundamentalist Mormon sect would be very happy with a law that included "easy divorce, well-enforced child support laws, polyandry as well as polygyny, equitable community property, relatively high age of consent" etc. etc.--those would be trade-offs that they could live with because it would make their social practices largely legal

The features that would ensure equality in a plural marriage would render the current fundamentalist Mormon version near impossible. The entire structure of patriarchal polygyny practiced by the FLDS would collapse if it depended upon the freely-given consent of educated 18 year old women with alternatives.
posted by ambrosia at 2:58 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, the desire for sexual exclusiveness is a feature, not a bug. Whatever my intelligence says, my hippocampus wants to be the only person impregnating anyone I want to impregnate. And animals would always like the exclusive control over a partner to provide for a child. They want to be sure they are no 1 on the "get child and partner away from oncoming flood" list. While we face that less than ever, our animal systems are set for conditions from some time earlier than ours.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:58 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find the idea that there can only be one person EVER who will be your "next of kin" for legal reasons rather baffling. Why can't I nominate multiple people? Why does the person I nominate have to be someone I romantically love - or, if given modern-day assumptions about who is "marriagable", someone who's mainly compatible sexually? Hell why do I need to have a social relationship with this person? Maybe I could hire someone whose job is to organise these matters, then I don't have to rely on being on a relationship to be taken care of.

There is something oddly over-optimistic and terrifyingly dystopian in the idea that money is completely fungible with blood, that if only I had enough cash I could hire a servant who would care for me just as well as kin. Call me a cynical bastard if you like but so long as it's basically true that even your averege con man would be less likely to kill his mother than a stranger it's worth privileging blood over cash.

Also, is the problem with multiple next of kin not obvious? Terry Schiavo. Who wins, when there is disagreement? The current system ain't free from snags no way no how, but at least there's a clear hierarchy which can regulate most circumstances.
posted by Diablevert at 2:59 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is where communication and negotiation of boundaries, highly common with polyamorous setups, come in. There's no stock answer, though if this was my situation I'd talk to John and ask him how he feels about it. If he's cool with it, great! If he's not, let's see why. At the same time I'll keep communication open with Paul.

What if John says no?
posted by Ironmouth at 2:59 PM on July 19, 2012


And animals would always like the exclusive control over a partner to provide for a child.

Not all animals - see Sex at Dawn. Also not everyone wants sexual exclusivity: I don't desire it for myself nor for my partner. It'd be exhausting otherwise especially since we have rather different sexual tastes - but that doesn't mean I should dump the great companionship and deep love we have for sexytimes.
posted by divabat at 3:00 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


China's problems have nothing whatever to do with consensual polygamy.

Correct, the cause of the problem are fertility policies that result in 100 females for every 120 males.

not necessary in a society that allows women equal status and does not restrict them reproductively--therefore the "surplus male problem" need not apply, especially in a society that also values/allows open relationships and polygyny as well as polygamy

It has nothing to do with the status of women. In the Shangri-La of polygyny and polyandry, polygyny will be much more common for evolutionary reasons.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You see this sort of thing in BDSM circles, which tend to be heavily poly in nature; poly families almost always have more females than males, which is one of many reasons why single males tend to outnumber single females in the scene.

In this case, however, I believe the trend is not driven by patriarchal influences so much as the relative predominance of bisexuality among females. In any case, I think the imbalance tends to encourage men (both single and partnered) to aggressively pursue single females, particularly those who are new to the lifestyle and thus inexperienced. A frequent subject of anxiety in the community is that of "predatory" males.

One would think that in an environment where social constraints on gender and sexual orientation are virtually nonexistent, there would be a more or less egalitarian partnership environment. But once again, human nature proves more complicated than expected.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:02 PM on July 19, 2012


Ironmouth: Given that the situation is devoid of context I don't know how to proceed further.

Have they talked about opening up the relationship?
Was the relationship to Paul news to John? Did John know of the speaker's relationship to Paul before it got to marriage? Is the marriage announcement the first time John's heard of Paul?
Do John and Paul know each other, or know of each other's existence? Are they OK with each other?
What are their ideas and issues regarding marriage? Exclusivity? Legalities? Social status? Are these assumptions that could be rethought?
posted by divabat at 3:04 PM on July 19, 2012


What if John says no?

If he were truly dedicated to full and frank openness, he wouldn't say no. Laws only exist because people don't communicate with each other in good faith, never from legitimate disagreements or differing perspectives. So let's keep the law out of it when Tom says no (because he's not open minded enough), then Paul moves in and they throw out Tom.
posted by chimaera at 3:05 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


dephlogisticated: Within the poly circles here, which are a mix of vanilla, kinky, queer, straight, etc the makeup's about 50-50. I think Frowner's point about bisexuality being more OK in women then men is a big factor.
posted by divabat at 3:06 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the Shangri-La of polygyny and polyandry, polygyny will be much more common for evolutionary reasons.

Perhaps since, as you have admitted, you have little experience with feminist polyamory, you could defer to those who do? I have been polyamorous for more than 10 years, and in my experience there is rough parity between women with multiple partners and men with multiple partners. (YMMV, of course)

Evo Psych is great and all (no, it's not), but if we're going there you should really check out Sex At Dawn, which makes a case for humans, men and women, as naturally non-monogamous.
posted by Myca at 3:08 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nothing's stopping the poly women from acquiring more male partners,
But see, this is assuming male and female sexuality are similar or that variations between individuals of either sex is greater than the variation between the sexes. This premise is probably false due to the evolutionary pressures described by Tanizaki above which have surely shaped the way human sexuality works. Also, I believe humans exhibit a fairly significant degree of sexual dimorphism which would suggest a violent and brutal evolutionary past where the majority of the males not getting laid was in fact that the norm and that monogamy was a relatively recent cultural innovation which was necessary for civilization to survive once agriculture got going. This is highly speculative and obviously has many, many unfilled gaps, but I'd be willing to bet that if you were able to break down the statistics for who has one night stands with whom among straight couplings it would look something like 20 percent of the guys having 80 percent of the sex.
posted by bookman117 at 3:10 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Sex at Dawn does provide a counterpoint to what I just wrote I think, though I've never read the book.
posted by bookman117 at 3:11 PM on July 19, 2012


"Whatever my intelligence says, my hippocampus wants to be the only person impregnating anyone I want to impregnate."

I am not sure why what your hippocampus says should have any bearing on who I get to marry.

"I think a fundamentalist Mormon sect would be very happy ... those would be trade-offs that they could live with because it would make their social practices largely legal."

That seems very unlikely to me, because ... no, it certainly would not. The differences between patriarchal polygyny and equitable polyamorous group marriage are huge and pretty much legally incompatible with each other.

"In the Shangri-La of polygyny and polyandry, polygyny will be much more common for evolutionary reasons."

I do not know what the case would actually be, but people who blithely cite evolutionary biology for this kind of thing usually have little to back them up other than just-so stories.

"I would like to know how it's affected the socialization and economic behaviours of the members. How does it play out practically?"

I have to admit I'm not sure exactly what you're asking. Um ... we split the rent three ways?
posted by kyrademon at 3:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


In an equal society, rich dudeschicks can only "hoard" all the women if the women want to be hoarded, and the incentive to be hoarded by a rich dudechick goes way down if you have the ability to support yourself in reasonable comfort.

I mean, why not, really? Magic Mike's doing gangbusters. If women and men were completely equal in terms of their ability to compete and succeed in the workplace, I still don't think that'd do much about the power of money. Henrietta Hefner might be the social equal of Hugh, but her coterie of Jack Rabbits would still be lower-status than her, because they'd be poor. Money is power.
posted by Diablevert at 3:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because everyone is heterosexual and aiming for a house with a picket fence and 2.5 kids.
posted by divabat at 3:17 PM on July 19, 2012


Yeah, Sex at Dawn does provide a counterpoint to what I just wrote I think, though I've never read the book.

The gist is that the reproductive competition between early humans was not, biologically, competition between people so much as competition between sperm ... so rather than beat each other bloody with sticks so as to get to be the one who fucks the girl ... we just all fuck the girl and let the sperm sort it out.

It's possible that my summary is an oversimplification. :P

They've got science and shit to back it up. It's worth a read.
posted by Myca at 3:18 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The gist is that the reproductive competition between early humans was not, biologically, competition between people so much as competition between sperm ... so rather than beat each other bloody with sticks so as to get to be the one who fucks the girl ... we just all fuck the girl and let the sperm sort it out.
Hmm, I guess that would make sense given the relatively large human penis compared to other primates.
posted by bookman117 at 3:23 PM on July 19, 2012


I've read Sex at Dawn - it's fantastic. I note that the scenarios described in that book assume that marriage is neither as binding nor as closed as modern US marriage. That is, even monogamously married men and women had affairs on the side. They would have a spouse, then have sex with someone at a festival or whatever.

We have a different and more complex society (more at stake than who gets the family arrowheads and seashell necklaces) and so it would be a lot tougher to establish an equitable poly system. And, given the stakes, most people WILL probably prefer monogamy. I myself choose monogamy not because I think anything is wrong with polyamory, but because I'm an introvert who thinks that one relationship with one man at one time is all the emotional energy I want to invest in. Honorable polyamory (not the drama kind done badly) is not the kind of thing I can do well without burning myself out. That's just how I see it.

Patriarchal polygamy sucks for the women and kids involved; even if the "patriarch" is rich and kind it's still a patriarchy and they still don't get a say in additional wives, additional children, distribution of resources, etc. It sucks to be an "unfavored" wife and her unfavored kids if the wife has no way of redressing that power imbalance.

Responsible feminist poly relationships would be fulfilling for all involved, but take loads of work. Marriage takes work. Multiply that times three.

It occurs to me that some form of single-payer health care would be necessary in order to have a workable feminist poly setup. Right now the whole notion of getting health care through one's spouse opens up a huge can of worms when legal poly marriage is involved. Would companies discriminate against poly-married folks because they'd have to cover one more person? Would there be cries of "it's not fair to make an employer responsible for TWO spouses!"?I don't see how legal feminist poly could happen without single payer health care.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:24 PM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


It is not a question of wanting to have children. I am simply describing the evolutionary factors that drive human sexual behavior.

Also, the desire for sexual exclusiveness is a feature, not a bug. Whatever my intelligence says, my hippocampus wants to be the only person impregnating anyone I want to impregnate. And animals would always like the exclusive control over a partner to provide for a child.

In the Shangri-La of polygyny and polyandry, polygyny will be much more common for evolutionary reasons.

This is what I love about evolutionary biology. Anyone's speculation about the evolutionary origins of our behavior is probably no better than what actually is passed off as scientific knowledge in peer reviewed biology journals.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:27 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Let me put it this way. I think what you and many others here are hearing is, "Both Reform Jews and Conservative Catholics want prayer to remain legal! What strange bedfellows!" That's a non-problematic use.

What I'm hearing is closer to "The prayer rites of the ancient Aztecs involved human sacrifice, and state sanctioned torture and murder! And yet both ancient Aztecs and Conservative Catholics believe prayer ought to be legal! What strange bedfellows!"


Since I'm the person who made the comment, perhaps my interpretation holds a little bit of weight?

Neither I nor the article in any way said that consensual polygamy is the same as traditional polygyny - and I really wish that people would stop trying to read it in.

What both I and the article noted is that progressive polyamorists support the legalization of polygamy. I went on to mention that this makes them "strange bedfellows" with Fundamentalist Mormons, in that both groups have testified in the same venues, making similar arguments (because the FLDS do not make the argument that they wish to have sex with lots of underage girls, at least not in public, but instead make marriage equality/freedom arguments).

I have nothing polyamory - I explicitly stated my support for marriage equality without regard to sex or number. Nor does the article make any argument against polyamory. The article reports on research which finds that polygamy - as traditionally practiced AKA polygyny - is correlated with social problems.

I feel like I'm being turned into straw and then a bunch of people are sticking pitchforks into me to forward their own agendas. Criticism of patriarchal polygyny is NOT criticism of equal polyamory -- and getting upset about criticism of patriarchal polygyny in the name of defending equal polyamory does nothing to help people understand the difference.
posted by jb at 3:30 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Haven't read comments yet but:
I'm one generation away from a polygamous family. My father grew up in one. What Mefites don't realise is just how hard life is for subsistence farming communities. My grandfather officially had three wives. One did in childbirth, another died young. Without the structure of a polygamous family their children would have had no chance of survival at all.

The ideal is that the wives get on and support each other. "My father's children didn't even know they had different mothers!" is a phrase I've heard often - that is the ideal but of course as humans we are all imperfect. But I think people now-a-days are so far removed from that lifestyle that they don't understand very well how different family structures have been necessary at different times.
posted by glasseyes at 3:31 PM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sure, but as others have pointed out, the critique of legal poly* in the study is focused on patriarchial polygyny only.

Is there currently any other legal poly?

Where polygamous marriages are legal, they are set up in a patriarchal form. Men are allowed to marry multiple women without the consent of their other wives, and men and women do not have equality within the marriage. The research being reported on demonstrates why patriarchal polygamy is a bad idea.

and I think we need to take it seriously and ask - if we want legal polygamy, what kind of protections do we have to put in such that we do not enable unhealthy patriarchal polygyny? For me, I would say that all members of the marriage must consent - it cannot be a series of concurrent two-partner marriages (as traditional partiarchal polygyny is practices), but a true group marriage.
posted by jb at 3:35 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The ideal is that the wives get on and support each other. "My father's children didn't even know they had different mothers!" is a phrase I've heard often - that is the ideal but of course as humans we are all imperfect. But I think people now-a-days are so far removed from that lifestyle that they don't understand very well how different family structures have been necessary at different times.

I wonder if traditional family and marriage will slowly fade away altogether as technology and social structure make parenting and child raising easier for all involved.

Is there really any need to have marriage involve legal contracts, especially in a poly arrangement?
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there really any need to have marriage involve legal contracts, especially in a poly arrangement?

yes, for all the same reasons that we need marriage equality for same sex marriages, like kin-rights (visiting in hospital, etc). Someone should be able to visit their second/third wife/husband in the ICU. Legal marriage is like adoption -- it's a way to create a family bond with someone else that is recognized by all of the other institutions in our society (or should be).
posted by jb at 3:43 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because everyone is heterosexual and aiming for a house with a picket fence and 2.5 kids.

And yet the government still shut down my genetic experiments.
posted by griphus at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


My concern, however, is that this only describes those inside the particular relationship and does not address the sociological effects. Namely, an underclass of unmarried young men causing social problems.

Apples, meet oranges. A couple things:
-I don't think that it's possible to assess the widespread sociological effects of polyamorous relationships, since polyamory itself isn't particularly widespread in our society.
-The people I've known who are in polyamorous relationships haven't been interested in the idea of polyamorous marriage.
-That said, even if a legal framework for polyamorous marriage was established (fraught as it would be), I don't think it would necessarily result in an underclass of "unmarried young men," specifically because, as I mentioned, polyamory tends to involve networks of individuals, as opposed to a bunch of people of one sex glomming on to an individual of the opposite sex. You don't generally end up with, say, four females, each having one relationship with the same male, but two males and three females having various combinations and permutations of interrelationships, some of which aren't simple pairings, and some of which are same-sex relationships.
-I don't think a legal framework for polyamory would result in an underclass of "unmarried young men," in part because of the differences in relationship structures, and also because I doubt that such relationships would become the norm. As others have mentioned, they can involve an insane amount of work.
-Your concept of evolution's role is pretty questionable and reductionist in its assumptions, from thinking that people will default to entering relationships that maximize procreation, to thinking that all females will seek permanent and stable relationships with an individual male.
-Your assessment entirely disregards same-sex relationships.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:46 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


yes, for all the same reasons that we need marriage equality for same sex marriages, like kin-rights (visiting in hospital, etc). Someone should be able to visit their second/third wife/husband in the ICU. Legal marriage is like adoption -- it's a way to create a family bond with someone else that is recognized by all of the other institutions in our society (or should be).

Couldn't these legal arrangements be separated from marriage? Just have a list of legal kin and legal guardians, etc.
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:48 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


A big part of having only one next of kin/spouse/etc is a matter of convenience for society. It makes things easier for the doctor having to decide whose instructions to follow if you are out of it, or for the court to decide who should get your estate if there's no will.

To my mind those are far from deal-breakers - we have legal forms for this kind of thing too. But they point to the larger cultural/legal issues that are implicated. Not just single payer health care, but some kind of uniformity among states as to what counts as a valid health care proxy form, for example.

The current one spouse=one bucket of automatic rights and responsibilities keeps things (relatively) simple, which is why gay marriage is a fairly simple legal (if not cultural) step. That simplicity especially benefits people without the financial or social/educational capital to deal with creating customized legal forms/arrangements (though they are also the most vulnerable to it).

It's a challenging and interesting problem, but as far as I can tell it really doesn't have much to do with the negative effects traditional practice of polygyny in patriarchal societies.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:49 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Men are allowed to marry multiple women without the consent of their other wives, and men and women do not have equality within the marriage."

Yeah, in the tradition I'm aware of, such a man would be a fool who would only have himself to blame for resulting fireworks. Convention is one thing but individuality and strength of character mean life is a little bit more unpredictable than convention would admit.
posted by glasseyes at 3:52 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


About the "unmarried men" thing: Nothing's stopping the poly women from acquiring more male partners, and besides that's assuming that marriage is the end goal and that support of whatever sort can't be given outside of marriage. People have babies WITHOUT GETTING MARRIED! Surprise surprise.

Gorillas do this, and I'm not just referring to having babies without marriage! In troops which have multiple males, the silverback is supposed to be the only one that mates with the females. But genetic studies have confirmed that a hefty percentage of the offspring in these groups (like 40 or 60%) do not belong the the dominant male.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:59 PM on July 19, 2012


I am not from a multiple-spouse family tradition and am not in a poly* relationship, yet I think that poly* relationships would do better without set legal entanglement.Extended families who live locally in general can sometimes provide a lot of help that the so-called 1-man, 1-woman model of people cut off in little boxes in suburbs need paid help to pull off.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 4:06 PM on July 19, 2012


glasseyes - I read a fascinating article which compared 19th century Mormon polygamous marriages to contemporary FLDS marriages, and they were apparently completely different in all sorts of ways, including age of marriage and choice of spouse. this is from memory, but I believe that the women in the 19th century polygamous marriages were older at the time of the marriage than 19th century averages and definitely older than currently FLDS, and also have personal choice of spouse, unlike current FLDS. (I'm sorry - I would link to it, but it was a book of sociology essays that I was reading at a friend's house - I can't remember the reference and google is failing me).

I'm not sure exactly why it was so different - maybe because not all Mormons practiced polygamy at the time (unlike in FLDS communities)? Maybe because lots of women were joining the LDS church in the 19th century and the community was not closed as the FLDS ones are now? Some were even divorcing their first husband to marry another man as a second wife, or marrying as a older widow.

But the way that marriages are shaped in the contemporary FLDS communities, or at least the closed ones I am familiar with, there are serious problems, or they wouldn't be in the news.
posted by jb at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2012


Alternately, a first-hand explanation of polyamory.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2012


jb, I have not been trying to attack you.

My problem with the "strange bedfellows" comment is that it can imply to some that fundamentalism Mormons and feminist poly groups would be happy with the same set of laws on the issue. In fact, that interpretation of the term happened in this very thread.

Patriarchal polygyny and feminist polyamory get conflated together a lot, here and elsewhere, so I thought it was important to point out that the are "strange bedfellows" in only an extraordinarily broad definition of the term.
posted by kyrademon at 4:18 PM on July 19, 2012


From TFA: polygyny is less about sex than it is about power

Isn't this also true of other social institutions -- like monogamous marriage as a social norm/legal thing -- that historically formalize sort of illegitimate power relationships? Isn't part of the point of the rule of law to minimize the extent to which raw coercive power plays a role in individuals' lives?

How about: any collective of at least two consenting adult humans is free to sit down with a publicly-compensated lawyer and make a contract to divide or make common their property, the custody of any child, both of whose parents are in that collection, as they agree to see fit, and assign all of the other legal privileges and responsibilities currently enjoyed/borne by spouses to members of the collective in whatever proportion they all agree on, and have done with "marriage" as a monolithic legal entity, completely?

Marriage, as its own special legal institution, seems (to NAL me) redundant and anachronistic and the type of oppressive social engineering in which the state is not supposed to engage. To me, one lofty (and hereby slightly caricatured) utopian goal of a legal system is to beat the random traditionalism out of people and replace it with a worldview based on transparent, pragmatic axioms: "predicate your life on your oppressive, ancient, centuries-long 'telephone' game in the privacy of your own home, asshole, but in public we're about justifiable principles, not arbitrary power", is supposed to be the spiritual upshot of things like constitutions and the specific legislation they control. I don't happen to buy into that ideology completely, but I do adhere to its requirements in practice, and I don't think it's consistent with that spirit to enshrine in law practices which are based on tradition rather than on principles that can be explained to a good-faith, but insistent, skeptic.

Frowner raised an important point:

It seems as though one could solve a lot of the problems around marriage by increasing the social status of women such that women were equal to men both economically and psychically.

I can't imagine that the goal of eliminating gender-based inequality is furthered by maintaining in law vestiges of ancient practices which are probably the source of some of that inequality. Why not discard the shit with the historical baggage and proceed artificially and formally, at least as far as the law is concerned?

I'm imagining being in a coma and having the Association of Spouses of kengraham show up to form a consensus on whether to unplug me. My own private death panel!
posted by kengraham at 4:28 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obviously we just need to create highly realistic robot spouses for the low status males.
posted by humanfont at 4:55 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think that any social construct of relationships - polygamy, monogamy, what have you - is bad if it's forced on everyone all the time. Some percentage of people just don't fit into what society wants, and it's unfair to disenfranchise them.
posted by dethb0y at 5:13 PM on July 19, 2012


How about: any collective of at least two consenting adult humans is free to... make a contract to divide or make common their property, the custody of any child, both of whose parents are in that collection, as they agree to see fit ... and have done with "marriage" as a monolithic legal entity, completely?

Because "if you want to enter into the polymarriage with $rich_person, you have to waive custody and spousal support rights should you leave" falls under "as they agree to see fit" and things are complicated enough with 2 parties in a marriage with one screwing over the other party that a poly-marriage without strict legal protections of less-powerful members would be no better than Saudi-style polygyny.
posted by chimaera at 5:24 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who wants to invest in a relationship where one partner might change the parameters change completely two years down the road without giving the explicit roadmap of what they have in mind?

How is that different from any other relationship? No one knows for sure what they will want in 2 years. You can both agree on how your relationship will go / what you want 100% at the start and end up in totally different places in 2 years. This is after all one of the most common reasons people get divorced...
posted by wildcrdj at 5:25 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


How is that different from any other relationship? No one knows for sure what they will want in 2 years. You can both agree on how your relationship will go / what you want 100% at the start and end up in totally different places in 2 years. This is after all one of the most common reasons people get divorced...

When it comes to sex everyone has hard limits and soft limits. If you know beforehand that somebody's long term goals push your hard limits, you can refuse to invest the time into them. If their goals push your soft limits, then it might be worth an investment. But if somebody says something nebulous like "I want to sleep with other people at some point in the future" - with no categorization or limitation whatsoever on what that definition consists of - then you have to err conservatively and assume they plan to do anything they want, with no limits.

And come on, let's be realistic here. Most people have SOME idea beforehand of what turns them on. For example, it's not like I'm currently going to start liking gay sex or experiencing pain in bed. And I think most people have a similar capacity to predict their own tastes. So a refusal to offer ANY sort of boundaries and categorization beforehand (as in the example I provided) seems very dishonest to me.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:33 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


lumpenprole writes "Polygamy as usually referred to in America has little or nothing to do with what this report is talking about.

"I wish they had made that clear."


It's like UBC isn't in America at all!

Damienmce writes "No sisters. No aunts. No cousins. A generation of dudes who don't understand women chasing a dwindling supply. Note to self: invest in Chinese gay bars."

This is fairly offensive, Hetros aren't going to choose to be gay anymore than Gay people have.
posted by Mitheral at 5:37 PM on July 19, 2012


Really? Polyamorous relationships have boundaries negotiated beforehand?

Really. Your sample is just small/biased. Mine is probably also biased, but I know....I dunno, lots of people who are or have been in poly relationships and the amount of processing and negotiating that seems to go on is a lot. Of course, I live in the Bay Area, which is possibly home to the highest per capita number of people likely to find processing fun in the country.
posted by rtha at 5:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Because "if you want to enter into the polymarriage with $rich_person, you have to waive custody and spousal support rights should you leave" falls under "as they agree to see fit" and things are complicated enough with 2 parties in a marriage with one screwing over the other party that a poly-marriage without strict legal protections of less-powerful members would be no better than Saudi-style polygyny.

So, don't marry rich assholes?
posted by emjaybee at 6:00 PM on July 19, 2012


Whether the practice of having multiple partners is good for society is none of the state's business.

However, marriage is something granted by the state which exists largely to provide financial benefits. It's the right of the state to decide that the financial math doesn't work out for marriages involving more than two people. You don't want to end up with the whole of Utah filing as a single household.

If we accept that the state can issue marriages, they can place limits on the nature of marriage where there is a compelling practical need for those limits. "These guys are too gay to receive the benefits" is not a compelling practical limit. "These guys are too numerous to receive the benefits" just might be.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:01 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just to inject some context into this discussion, especially about this scholar and the impetus behind the research.

Joe Henrich was contacted in March of 2010 by the B.C. Ministry of Attorney General (counsel advocating for the constitutionality of the law prohibiting polygamy). He was asked to study polygamy and its purported harms and draft a report which would be used as evidence for the government in the trial. He had not published anything on polygyny prior to this request. Henrich spent 4 months with a research assistant conducting an academic literature review of the subject, and later served as a consultant and expert witness for the B.C. M.A.G. at trial.

Not suggesting anything by this -- I'm sure he was selected by the M.A.G. because his prior research trajectories indicated that he would be favourable to the Crown's position. At the same time, it is at least worth considering an element of confirmation bias here. Although he was instructed to conduct his research with neutrality, he was being called as an expert witness by the government and it is no surprise that his conclusions advocated on their behalf.

Here's a link to the reference.
posted by ageispolis at 6:05 PM on July 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


To add on to rtha: it's pretty common in Brisbane, not just with poly people but with anyone who is up for looking at their relationships more critically (which does tend to run thought some level of queer/poly/kinky, but not all). I suppose my social circle tend to be more critically-minded and activisty than most, but it's not an unusual occurrence.
posted by divabat at 6:09 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


o a refusal to offer ANY sort of boundaries and categorization beforehand (as in the example I provided) seems very dishonest to me.

Fair, but I'm with rtha in thinking that is very uncommon even in poly circles (which I have hung out in socially most of my adult life, although I'm not really poly myself).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:13 PM on July 19, 2012


But if somebody says something nebulous like "I want to sleep with other people at some point in the future" - with no categorization or limitation whatsoever on what that definition consists of - then you have to err conservatively and assume they plan to do anything they want, with no limits.

Hmm. No, you don't have to assume anything. This is a place where negotiation can start, if it's an issue you feel open to negotiating on. If it is, this is the beginning of a long series of conversations. I mean, there's a vast territory of "sleep with other people at some point in the future" that ranges from "NSA one-night-stand at a conference once a year" to "I'd love to find a third for us and have them move in!" You're a negotiator, right? If someone said to you in a professional context, "I want to [blah] at some point in the future," wouldn't you, at minimum, ask them more about what exactly they mean by "blah" and "future" before deciding whether or not you want to work with them, and if so, how?
posted by rtha at 6:28 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Both Reform Jews and Conservative Catholics want prayer to remain legal! What strange bedfellows!" That's a non-problematic use.

Yes, how utterly bizarre that two major, mainstream religious groups should have a shared position on a matter of religious freedom. It's cats and dogs living together!

No one would refer to those two groups as "strange bedfellows" in that context. They are utterly predictably the kind of organization and the kinds of people who one would expect to be in favor of legal prayer. The term is used, precisely, to describe groups who are seen as radically opposed to each other finding common cause on some one particular matter of policy, even if their understanding of the significance of that issue is radically opposed to each other. Noam Chomsky and Nazis are "strange bedfellows" on the issue of the rights of Holocaust deniers to advance their views in public, for example.
posted by yoink at 6:49 PM on July 19, 2012


From my own, limited experience: polyamory is a fun thought problem, like Objectivism. In practice: it's not that simple.

I've never felt worse, about myself or about people in general, then when I imagined my partner was with someone else. I don't justify this; this is how it was for me, emotionally, and no amount of rational consideration could chill the fires of my rage and shame.

(I don't want to even think of children caught in this environment. That's where "Abduction Alerts" come from.)

I wonder if, in any extended family relationship, it's possible to accommodate our primate desire for hierarchy and not feel like a gaggle of winners and losers. Polyamory may be great for some, and I would hoist a toast to any able to find so much love in this world. But I'm skeptical that such love can survive the tides of the human soul.
posted by SPrintF at 7:27 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dang. When I hear about more than 2 people having a relationship mostly because of the sex, I think "you go...girls. Or guys. Or combination of girls and guys." When I hear about more than 2 people having a relationship in order to have a big family, kids, etc., Mormon-style, I think "Ugh. No good. Messed up. Very Bad."

Needless to say, this is a precarious position, cognitively speaking. I'm worried there's no way to make it tenable...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:39 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


wolfdreams01: How is that unique to polyamoury?

SPrintF: look up compersion (or frubble).

Fists O' Fury: I'd start with examining why I'd hold such assumptions, as well as consider that those are not the only two reasons people are in relationships, nor are they mutually exclusive.
posted by divabat at 7:54 PM on July 19, 2012


Lifetime Polygyny is pretty unnatural,

In nature polygamous species are made of rounds of both polygyny AND polyandry - polygyny may last a year or two, but then younger males come in and the female's aggregate to them. So polygyny within a season but polyandry between seasons. I do not think there is a single polygamous species on earth that does not do this (assuming individuals live long enough to go through multiple breeding seasons). It's either this or monogamy (okay or just random spawning....).

I'm not saying that unnatural always equals bad, but as the article says, it's unnatural to the obvious detriment of its participants. Females are permanently tied to males that are losing fitness and fit males are not allowed mating privilege. Bad vibes all around. The funny thing is, they speak almost as though society has advanced beyond this when, in fact, it was society that implemented it in the first place (well, one can assume due to it's uniqueness in humans).

BUT they SHOULD really change the title - it's imbalanced polygamy - i.e. polygyny sans polyandry, that has caused these problems.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 7:58 PM on July 19, 2012


So, don't marry rich assholes?

There are issues where the person in question does not have this choice - the rich asshole is paying your parents for your hand, and if you refuse you'll be cast out onto the street without a penny to your name. It is unlikely you could find work to support yourself, either, as no one would hire you.

Remember, there are places that will send you to jail if you refuse to marry the man that raped you.

I would guess (although it's just a guess) that polygyny is more common in places that have similar rules. After all, the rules for enforcing polygyny without polyandry and enforcing a "defiled" woman be removed from the pool of eligible women are taken from the same chapters of the (usually religious) book.

So yeah, choosing who you marry is not always an option.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


and by not directly stating her goals

Not to put too fine a point on it, but did you ask her? If she wouldn't or couldn't articulate that, well, that doesn't actually say anything about polyamory. It says maybe that she's not very good at articulating what she wants. And for whatever reason, that alone wasn't a dealbreaker for you. None of that is polyamory's fault, you know?
posted by rtha at 8:43 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Presumably polygyny could be stable if paired with male infanticide, so that there were no young, low-status males without wives.

I believe the traditional term for this is warfare.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:06 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I favor recursive binary marriage. John marries Jane, who marry Tim and Tony, then all four marry another foursome, etcetera. This would allow clear degrees of spouseness to be used for allocating shared resources and splitting assets during divorce/death, every kid would have two clear parents (and aunts and uncles!), and it would fit within the current tax code. Also it would require only logn relationships for n participants, far less than other forms of polygamy. Of course over time some branches of the marriage tree would grow larger than others, putting them at a percapita disadvantage in shared property... This would necessitate a periodic and somewhat traumatic ritual known as The Great Rebalancing in which everyone swaps partners.
posted by miyabo at 9:53 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I favor recursive binary marriage.

This could give new meaning to "we are all one big family" and "six degrees of separation"-- we are all just six husbands or wives away from any other person on Earth, unless they are one of the sexless males left to commiserate with each other on their way out of the gene pool.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:04 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eco psych rainmen always think they're going to be the ones with multiple wives, so those paleo-eating misanthropes are always like "yeah, multiple wives!" when in reality they're the ones who'd be the lonely, angry anarchists who's plots would be foiled before they reached the planning stages, and they'd most likely die as virgins.

It's like the people most interested in survivalism are always the most unbearable neurotic bastards who'd starve because their neighbors with food would hate their guts.

Although I suppose I should be thankful for them, because misanthropeflesh is usually the most tender.

They rarely get enough exercise.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Because "if you want to enter into the polymarriage with $rich_person, you have to waive custody and spousal support rights should you leave" falls under "as they agree to see fit" and things are complicated enough with 2 parties in a marriage with one screwing over the other party that a poly-marriage without strict legal protections of less-powerful members would be no better than Saudi-style polygyny.

This objection has nothing to do with the number of people involved, though. In an environment in which people are generally in fact (not just in law) fairly free to enter into contracts, it would be a small problem, and it would be a big problem for people not entering into the contract on their own terms, or under coercive conditions. This is already true of legal marriage (or any other type of contract-making) everywhere, as far as I know. So detaching marriage, the legal construct, from marriage, the cultural construct, wouldn't really introduce new problems, but it would:

1. Eliminate the arbitrary rules governing who may get legally married. (Even beyond the obvious Heterosexuality Hypocrisy, there is also the issue of why one can't assign legal privileges related to one's personal business to someone one does not fuck. Why, other than cultural habit, should a pair of (platonic) friends, living together and sharing expenses, not be able to avail themselves of the legal advantages of being married?)
2. Detach the useful practice of recognizing such "self-organized life-teams" for important legal purposes from an inhuman, anachronistic tradition of treating women like property.
3. Help prevent the state, which is supposed to exercise its power impartially and pragmatically, out of the business of social engineering, arbitrary moralizing, and lifestyle favouritism.

The "they" in "they agree to see fit" refers to everyone in the group. It's certainly possible that a preexisting power imbalance in the group could end up being made law in some contract, but this can happen in marriage as currently practiced, too. At least under the suggested system, there wouldn't be preexisting power imbalances built into the system itself. (In practice, I think the legal system codifies so many different preexisting arbitrary power relationships that nuptial law is not necessarily the hill on which I would die if I were to decide I had real meatspace-exercisable power to change anything.)
posted by kengraham at 10:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Evo psych)

fucking autocorrect
posted by Afroblanco at 10:13 PM on July 19, 2012


@the young rope-rider


It's SO unfortunate that polyamory & polygyny's sharing of a root word deceives people into not realizing they are completely and utterly different on every taxonomical axis.

o_O
posted by lastobelus at 10:20 PM on July 19, 2012


Your choice of replacing "prevent" with "keep" or replacing "out the business of " with "from engaging in" in item 2. in my previous comment!
posted by kengraham at 10:23 PM on July 19, 2012


Here's the study itself (pdf), on the UCLA website of one of the authors.
posted by Anything at 10:34 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's SO unfortunate that polyamory & polygyny's sharing of a root word deceives people into not realizing they are completely and utterly different on every taxonomical axis.

True, and it would be cool if people wouldn't use "poly" (or "bi", or "hetero" etc.) as a full-fledged adjective, modifying a person, for exactly the sort of reason you alluded to, because they are widely used general prefixes and associating them with a single specific word has potentially unpleasant consequences. Other than laughing at the Ali G/Noam Chomsky "bilingual" bit, this type of issue never occurred to me (and certainly never bothered me) before, but I can imagine it having real effects, especially in a society whose conversation with itself is very noisy and impressionistic and all about jumping on perceived gaffes and innuendo for one's own sick ends. It's not hard to imagine the abbreviation "poly" being used by some sinister spinmeister to link polyamory and polygyny in the mass imagination for their own nefarious ideological ends. You know, "Poly people want 100 wives ZOMG Sharia encroaching" and that sort of shit.
posted by kengraham at 10:36 PM on July 19, 2012


From the study:
Making the second linkage, the electronic supplemen-
tary material also shows that the greater the percentage
of unmarried men in the national population, the greater
the rates of rape, murder, assault, theft and fraud,
controlling for the same variables in the regression
described above. The percentage of unmarried men is
a highly significant predictor of all these crime rates,
except assaults where it is only marginally significant.
In fact, the percentage of unmarried men is the only pre-
dictor that is consistently important across all five
felonies. For rape and murder, adding the percentage
of unmarried men to a regression with all the other vari-
ables increases the variance explained from 33 to 45 per
cent and from 12 to 24 per cent, respectively. For assault,
theft and fraud, the variance explained increases by
about 5 per cent when the percentage of unmarried
men is added as a predictor.
posted by Anything at 10:39 PM on July 19, 2012


There's a difference between the 'moral' aspect and the 'practical' aspect. Given the gender balance, if men can have more than one wife, then you'll have too many men who can't have wives at all. But that doesn't mean it's "immoral" on an individual level. If you look at the breakaway Mormon groups that do this, they actually just dump 'excess' men out of their society if they're not up to snuff or whatever. I don't really know how they pick.

What I wonder about is the fact that we can scientifically adjust gender ratios. You could maybe do something like filtering sperm for X-chromosomes only, or sex selective abortion or who knows what to increase the sex ratio to 2:1 or something like that. I'm wondering when some crazy group might try that. I mean, the Raliens whent so far as to try to clone someone for religious reasons. Why wouldn't the fundamentalist Mormons try to add some science to their crazy?
The gist is that the reproductive competition between early humans was not, biologically, competition between people so much as competition between sperm ... so rather than beat each other bloody with sticks so as to get to be the one who fucks the girl ... we just all fuck the girl and let the sperm sort it out.
Hmm, I guess that would make sense given the relatively large human penis compared to other primates.
And in fact the ridge on the top is believed to have evolved to actually pump out other sperm that might be in there. It's not present on any other animals.
posted by delmoi at 11:16 PM on July 19, 2012


1. Eliminate the arbitrary rules governing who may get legally married. (Even beyond the obvious Heterosexuality Hypocrisy, there is also the issue of why one can't assign legal privileges related to one's personal business to someone one does not fuck. Why, other than cultural habit, should a pair of (platonic) friends, living together and sharing expenses, not be able to avail themselves of the legal advantages of being married?)

But marriage isn't just a contract. It's a formal societal recognition of an existing emotional bond, not merely an agreement to enter a mutually beneficial relationship.

It seems sort of hand-wavey to me to just be like "and of course, all parties would have to agree to all the terms." People change their minds all the time. People's circumstances change all the time. Part, as I understand it, of the attraction of a poly lifestyle is the ability to freely form and dissolve new bonds with new parties (subject to the consent of one's other partners, etc.) Serial monogamy --- which is our current default mode, I'd say --- already presents a number of fraught complications when bonds shatter. What happens when A marries B and C and a couple years later B and C have a biological child and a couple years after that A decides that the child has drawn B and C closer together and they want to move across the country with D? Does A end up paying child care costs for the next twenty years for a child they have no genetic or emotional relationship with? What happens if it's B that wants out, or C? What if D wants in and A's okay with it and B's okay with it but C's not? Can C unilaterally decide that's not okay? What happens when one partner wants to move for a job and take the kids with them?

I mean, don't get me wrong, i'm sure there plenty of happy, healthy poly families raising happy, healthy kids. But it seems blind to me to just sort of start from the premise, "oh, of course, everyone will have to agree to everything." It just seems obvious that introducing polygamous marriage exponentially increases the complexity of the types of problems family law has to deal with, and the law is a blunt instrument. Law itself is an inherently coercive instrument, with the power to bind people to a course of action without their consent, upon pain of punishment if disobeyed. As it is now, law gets involved when things have already gotten ugly. I tend to think making the problems horrendously more complicated will not make the solutions prettier.
posted by Diablevert at 11:33 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems bizarre to me to be quibbling over the societal impacts of polygamy. Within the context of the cited concerns, it's already a commonplace, widespread practice. We like to call it "sex before marriage" and "remarriage" and "dating as a single parent" and many other terms.

Children, too, appear to suffer in polygamous cultures. Henrich examines a study comparing 19th-century Mormon households, 45 of them headed by wealthy men, generally with multiple wives, and 45 headed by poorer men, generally with one wife each. What’s surprising is that the children of the poorer men actually fared better, proving more likely to survive to age 15. Granted, this is a small study, but it’s consistent with other studies, including one from Africa showing that the children of monogamous households tend to do better than those from polygynous households in the same communities.

What. We begin with a bold, declarative general statement that children appear to suffer in polygamous cultures. We then clarify that we're talking about a tiny study of 19th century Mormon polygynous households as compared to a single unnamed study some unnamed African culture. Oh. I see.
posted by desuetude at 12:19 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I suppose another way would be a society with many eunuchs. Or maybe even just many monks.

Possibly alternative problems rather than solutions.
posted by Segundus at 1:31 AM on July 20, 2012


Assume for a moment there was a society that was perfectly equal and fair for both men and women, and also for any heterosexual or transgendered people. And also assume that society was open to any kind of relationship pairing, and in any combination of any multiple.

Now, lets also assume men who can not find sufficient sexual outlet become problematic for society. Not I'm not talking about marriage, nor am I even saying they get absolutely zero sex over the course of their lives. I'm just saying that the amount of women sexually available is under a threshold that makes them feel they have sufficient opportunity in that very important aspect of life.

Women who do not find sexual outlet are also unhappy, of course, but just for the moment, let's just say unhappy women tend not to wreck stuff as much as unhappy men.

Last assumption: If there are enough unhappy males at any one time, say 20% of men, just to put a number to it, let's say society becomes destabilized. With 1 in 5 males running around raping and pillaging, you'd quickly have a society that was fearful, obsessed with security, possibly at war, possibly in civil war... etc...

I could be wrong, of course, and I often am, but it seems to me that such a society, built on the good intentions of everybody being as equal and fair and open to whatever relationships of whatever number people want, is at risk.

As time and generations go on, people will ebb and flow in their relationships, and since there is no way to guarantee that men and women will distribute their attachments equally, just by eventual random chance and nothing else, you could end up in a state where it just so happens that there are more women bound to less men, and a chunk of male society frustrated.

All of which is not to say that a society that regulates peoples attachments is necessarily better off or more just. I'm just putting a thought experiment out there, because I thought it was interesting that even with all the best intentions you could end up in a bad place.

Just for the record, I'm all for people hooking up with people however they want. Not just sexually, but why not be able to name one person as your next of kin, another as the guardian of your child, another as the person you sign a mortgage with, and so on.

I'm even okay with marrying your turtle... as long as you can prove the turtle consents.
posted by ebisudave at 1:47 AM on July 20, 2012


Cultural concepts of marriage aren't even universal or even consistent within the country! In my lifetime, with my family and extended family and friends and so forth, across three countries, I have seen the following:

* Marriage as alliances of families, sharing wealth and furthering family names
* Marriages centering companionship and providership; sex is undiscussed
* Marriages on deep romantic love that also grows to a companionate love (the Western ideal, I suppose)
* Marriage to obtain Centrelink/social security
* De facto marriages, sometimes claimed on long-standing housemates who don't have relationships with each other
* Marriage for immigration
* Marriage centering sexual attraction/compatibility
* Marriage from "love at first sight" (hardly any time to really get to know the person)

A friend was talking to me about how she and her (yet to be at the time) husband were organising Centrelink stuff as they were being declared a "de facto" (which affected their payments and taxation). She said the process was really invasive, with tons of questions about their sex life and day-to-day living and really personalthings. I also have friends that have gone through the Immigration process for spousal visas and they've all had to declare private love letters, emails and webchats, photos, "what colour is your spou
se's toothbrush".

So much of this was rested on a very culturally-specific assumption of marriage or coupledom. Why does the state need to know every last detail? Who are they to vet whether a relationship is "legitimate" or not?
posted by divabat at 3:48 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Assume for a moment there was a society that was perfectly equal and fair for both men and women, and also for any heterosexual or transgendered people. And also assume that society was open to any kind of relationship pairing, and in any combination of any multiple.

Now, lets also assume men who can not find sufficient sexual outlet become problematic for society. Not I'm not talking about marriage, nor am I even saying they get absolutely zero sex over the course of their lives. I'm just saying that the amount of women sexually available is under a threshold that makes them feel they have sufficient opportunity in that very important aspect of life...

Last assumption: If there are enough unhappy males at any one time, say 20% of men, just to put a number to it, let's say society becomes destabilized. With 1 in 5 males running around raping and pillaging, you'd quickly have a society that was fearful, obsessed with security, possibly at war, possibly in civil war... etc...

All of which is not to say that a society that regulates peoples attachments is necessarily better off or more just. I'm just putting a thought experiment out there, because I thought it was interesting that even with all the best intentions you could end up in a bad place.


Do you see that what this thought experiment is leading up to is the idea that women's sexual freedom and sexual choices should be constrained by/for the sake of placating a small minority of the population? This is just a slightly dressed-up story about sacrificing your virgin daughter to the angry monster to protect the city.

Your assumptions are so tenuous that even from a practical perspective they don't merit being engaged with until you are able to provide some kind of decent practical evidence about how your theory about the behavior of 'sexually unsatisfied men' holds any water at all in a more fully egalitarian society than has every been recorded, and that that society is really so powerless against them, as well as some theoretical grounding that ethically justifies subordinating even a single individual's bodily integrity/sexual integrity/equality in response to even an established, let alone entirely theoretical 'demographic threat'.

Perhaps something along the lines of "They who can give up (someone else's) essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve both." (What did Benjamin Franklin know?)

I wonder how willing you would be personally to sacrifice your sexual integrity to benefit, say, your parents, by having regular intimate relations with someone who you physically are uncomfortable with but who will pay for their health and nursing care. Let alone for the theoretical abstract good of society as a whole. For that matter, I wonder why you seem to think that society should have apply less coercive power to these men (ultimately about 10% of the population, or less than many effectively subordinated/suppressed/jailed/enslaved/ostracized minorities), than on the women (or peaceful other men) whose sexual and romantic freedom would be sacrificed to appease this minority.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:04 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Children, too, appear to suffer in polygamous cultures. Henrich examines a study comparing 19th-century Mormon households, 45 of them headed by wealthy men, generally with multiple wives, and 45 headed by poorer men, generally with one wife each. What’s surprising is that the children of the poorer men actually fared better, proving more likely to survive to age 15. Granted, this is a small study, but it’s consistent with other studies, including one from Africa showing that the children of monogamous households tend to do better than those from polygynous households in the same communities.

What. We begin with a bold, declarative general statement that children appear to suffer in polygamous cultures. We then clarify that we're talking about a tiny study of 19th century Mormon polygynous households as compared to a single unnamed study some unnamed African culture. Oh. I see.
posted by desuetude at 3:19 AM on July 20 [+] [!]


that's the way science/research works - small study, look for general principles. Then test those principles again in other circumstances to figure out how general they are. They don't say this *IS*, they say it *APPEARS* - aka evidence suggests x (nothing is ever PROVED).

I feel like this conversation is getting to be a re-hash of that thread on social science and women watching sports -- people don't like what research finds, so they dismiss the research.

The two unnamed studies (news isn't obliged to provide citations, that's what academic publishing is for) sound like they have found a good methodology to look at something which can be very hard to study: by comparing richer and poorer people in the same communities, they were able to control for a whole bunch of factors (environmental factors like climate, contemporary medicine, etc) - something that is very hard to do in non-experimental research. They didn't control for wealth, but since that should have benefited the children of multi-wife households, that's not a problem (had they found the opposite result, it would have been a problem and something that could be interacting).

What you are really complaining about is that the author used the word "polygamous" instead of "polygynous". Fine, make that point - write to the editor and ask them to discriminate between polygyny and polygamy. But that doesn't make the findings of either study less valid: they found that children had better prospects in monogamous families than in polygamous (which were all polygynous, given that is the form of polygamy that is by far the most common), despite the fact that the polygamous families were wealthier. We don't have research on polyandry - and we're unlikely to get much, given its rarity - but here is good evidence to present why our society should debate whether we should allow polygamy to be legal -- because legal polygamy will include patriarchal polygyny as much as it includes progressive polygamy.

Like I said above, I personally support legal polygamy - BUT that doesn't make this research any less valid.
posted by jb at 8:25 AM on July 20, 2012


Also, 90 families is not a "tiny" study for historical research. At a historical family size of maybe 4-5 children born per family, with 2-3 surviving (and that's too small, given that I've pulled those numbers from research on monogamous families in Britain c1600-1700, and families in 19th century America would be larger, and polygynous families larger again), we're talking at least 300-400 children born. The social science study I am currently working on has a sample size of 350 people, and we have enough statistical power to study what we want to. (Not that I know the stats stuff, but I trust the statistician who does the data-analysis).
posted by jb at 8:30 AM on July 20, 2012


It turns out that the guy who made this report has good reason to espouse his beliefs... he was a highly paid expert witness in a Canadian case recently.

And yes, while the social ills that he mentioned are problems, he fails to mention that *ALL* of them are lessened in societies that don't view women as property to be acquired solely for the purpose of producing children. When you compare monogamous cultures to each other, instead of simply comparing monogamous to polygynous cultures, those cultures that treat women as autonomous adults do better on many if not all of those measures.

So, as people who are polyamorous would say, the real problem is religiously-based polygamy, because that is where you will find the coercion and abuse.

As a polyamorous person who lives with both my wife of nearly 15 years and my girlfriend, all I can say is that my relationship hardly means that I am some rich bastard exercising power over hopeless chattel. Rather, it keeps costs lower for everyone. We all come into the group dynamic with unique skills and knowledge that make the quality-of-life better for everyone.

Household chores are considerably easier, and there's even more of an impetus to keep on top of them, as the space is shared. Household improvement projects also tend to get planned and done more effectively, because they're easier to do and affect the quality-of-life more dramatically in a shared environment. We have absolutely no plans for having any children, but if we did, then they'd receive a greater degree of parental attention and oversight, with more diverse skills they could draw from.

The idea that a surplus of single women should be institutionalized by the state, in order to lower crime rates for men is frankly pretty abhorrent, especially given that as women get older, they have a *much* harder time finding relationships. Are we to ignore the unhappiness and disadvantaged status of a *huge* group of people, in order to see to it that some men are more productive, and don't turn to crime? Wouldn't it be more ethical and more humane simply to remove the testicles of repeat offenders, rather than punishing innocent women?

By insisting that all marriages should be monogamous pairings, the state actually reduces the power of women who would choose to focus on their education or careers early on in life, rather than on finding a partner, having kids, etc. It institutionalizes a status quo which is already unfair for women, encouraging them to stay in less-than-ideal relationships, rather than allowing them the power to define relationship structures that are appropriate for them.

But really... why should the state be able to deny any human being basic choices about the relationships they lead? It would be an easy thing, perhaps, to use similar "historical examples" to condemn homosexual relationships and promiscuity as indicative of, say, failing governments / falling empires, in order to shoehorn everyone into a one-size-fits-all definition of relationships.

In short, the emphasis being made in the court cases that this "expert" testifies for have nothing to do with improving society, or making sure that the relationships in question are healthy. Indeed, there are no restrictions or requirements whatsoever in order to make existing marriages healthier.

The emphasis here isn't to encourage healthy polygamous relationships, but to ban them outright. It's a judgmental, moralistic -- but not a practical -- decision that is being made, because it overlooks the fact that there are lots of healthy examples of polygamous relationships that should be encouraged, and lots of unhealthy marriages that do great damage to society.
posted by markkraft at 11:12 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


"What you are really complaining about is that the author used the word 'polygamous' instead of 'polygynous'."

No, we are complaining that a study of polygyny is being applied to polygamy in general. As when people say things like, oh for example:

"... here is good evidence to present why our society should debate whether we should allow polygamy to be legal -- because legal polygamy will include patriarchal polygyny as much as it includes progressive polygamy."

No it would not, as the two require pretty much mutually exclusive legal frameworks, a point that has been brought up a number of times in this thread.
posted by kyrademon at 11:49 AM on July 20, 2012


Desuetude, you seem to be confusing polygamy and serial monogomy. They're not the same.

Ebisudave, I'm pretty sure that the socially beneficial aspects of marriage as relates to the socialization of males has less to do with sexual frustation- unmarrieds of either gender are still going to be sexually active, whether or not it's socially sanctioned- and more to do with the male responsibility and emotional ties to their family giving them a vested interest in engaging in and enforcing pro-social behaviour rather than socially destructive behaviour.
posted by windykites at 12:01 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


No it would not, as the two require pretty much mutually exclusive legal frameworks, a point that has been brought up a number of times in this thread.

I've seen that point made, but not supporting evidence for it. Where is the proof that a legal framework providing all the rules outlined above (easy divorce, relatively high age of consent, etc.) would completely override the cultural framework in place in FLDS communities? If they're already* performing illegal marriages of underage girls with limited or no power of consent and limited or no power to dissolve the marriage (which is outside of the current legal framework), what is to say that legalizing polygamy would compel those cultures to respect and follow the new laws when they don't follow the current ones?




*This is oversimplification in the extreme, as virtually every FLDS community has its own rules and traditions, and in some there are no underage brides, in some the women do the proposing, in some the women do have power to dissolve marriages. Not all of the fundamentalist Mormon groups are run like Warren Jeffs and Rulon Jeffs ran their group.
posted by notashroom at 1:21 PM on July 20, 2012


markkraft: And yes, while the social ills that he mentioned are problems, he fails to mention that *ALL* of them are lessened in societies that don't view women as property to be acquired solely for the purpose of producing children. When you compare monogamous cultures to each other, instead of simply comparing monogamous to polygynous cultures, those cultures that treat women as autonomous adults do better on many if not all of those measures.

Can you actually cite studies that find similarly large effects in rape, robbery etc. between monogamous societies along the lines you mentioned? The first problem is to find enough monogamous societies where the level of subjugation of women is close to what it is in many polygamous societies, so you can make comparisons in the first place.
posted by Anything at 2:00 PM on July 20, 2012


notashroom, those illegal marriages to underage girls etc. etc. WOULD STILL BE ILLEGAL.

I'm honestly puzzled by your argument. It kind of reads to me like:

"Assisted suicide and murder are not the same thing."
"Yes, but murderers ignore the law now! Why wouldn't they still ignore the law when assisted suicide is legal?"

Yes, I'm sure they would continue to defy the law. And I have no idea why that's relevant to the discussion.
posted by kyrademon at 2:27 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure we're just talking about child marriages and other things that would also be illegal in a monogamous context. Instead, for example, you already have perfectly legal patriarchal monogamous marriages, in which a wife who might prefer to have a divorce is not kept from doing so by law but by cultural and social expectations. I presume many patriarchal polygamists would be perfectly happy for legal recognition for such relationships would be extended to polygamous marriages.
posted by Anything at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2012


would -> to
posted by Anything at 2:57 PM on July 20, 2012


Although I think this is sort of a red herring -- whether or not liberal & patriarchal polygamists can fairly be called 'strange bedfellows' is not really relevant to the question of broader social implications of polygamy, if any.
posted by Anything at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2012


kyrademon, because you're arguing that "the two require pretty much mutually exclusive legal frameworks," which is untrue. The two might require somewhat distinct legal frameworks to both operate fully inside the law, but it's clear that full legal compliance is not an issue to at least one of these group, whose members would still benefit from the more liberal framework proposed, as they'd (based on historical evidence) still be free to operate outside the law when it suited them, yet could have all of their of-age marriages legally-recognized and benefit from that.
posted by notashroom at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2012


I think there are good reasons not to recognize polygamous marriages, provided we focus on it as practiced rather than some ideal which rarely exists. People can live in these arrangements, but I think it's better that they arrange their affairs via contract or other methods. Same-sex marriage is about parity (and eliminating separate but equal treatment) to me at least, and could be accomplished the same by eliminating civil marriage whereas polygamous marriage creates a whole new institution.
posted by PJLandis at 9:00 AM on July 21, 2012


If you're thinking of reading Sex at Dawn after this, note that it's an uneasy blend of a poorly-written, scattershot, Euro-snide-cliché polemic about how marriage sucks, on one hand, and an excellent survey of literature about primate sexuality on the other. It doesn't quite make the argument that it wants to, though it certainly hands off a basket of evidence to support anyone who wants to make such an argument. Polyamorists will find it pleasant. People in happy monogamous marriages or long-term relationships might see it as correct, but if they're like me (in a hap. mon. marr.) they might not find their experiences rendered with anything even remotely resembling empathy or insight.

I was moved by the book, but not to a belief in the workability of polygamy in the modern world -- it's arguably a stealth sequel to It Takes a Village.
posted by waxbanks at 11:22 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some poly dude sez:
We have absolutely no plans for having any children, but if we did, then they'd receive a greater degree of parental attention and oversight, with more diverse skills they could draw from.
This is an optimistic view at best. There's an essential difference between biological and nonbiological motherhood -- surprise, a 'biological' difference! -- and it's just Way the Fuck More Complicated than 'Instead of two parents we'll just have three.'
posted by waxbanks at 11:25 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's an essential difference between biological and nonbiological motherhood -- surprise, a 'biological' difference!

So do you think that non-biological-parents are capable of forming long-lasting parental relationships with children?
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:43 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It has nothing to do with the status of women. In the Shangri-La of polygyny and polyandry, polygyny will be much more common for evolutionary reasons.

Men and women can both have multiple relationships. If you're claiming that women don't want multiple relationships with men, you are wrong. We are just as evolutionarily driven to get the best sperm that we can and secure resources for ourselves and our offspring as men are to fertilize the hottest woman and ensure that she has enough resources to carry a successful pregnancy and care for a young child.

Mammals, in general, are not monogamous pretty much ever. Birds often are, but they cheat. Some bird species end up being essentially polyamourous, with a male and female bird that each have an additional male and female partner. And they still cheat.

There is no evolutionary evidence suggesting that women would not, given equivalent societal power, choose to partner with more than one man at a significant rate. Given that men and women in relatively egalitarian societies cheat at about the same rate, I imagine that the rates of partnering with more than one person would be similar between the sexes as well.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:51 AM on July 21, 2012


Eco psych rainmen always think they're going to be the ones with multiple wives, so those paleo-eating misanthropes are always like "yeah, multiple wives!" when in reality they're the ones who'd be the lonely, angry anarchists who's plots would be foiled before they reached the planning stages, and they'd most likely die as virgins

And they are also the types that "know" that in the deep past, sexual relationships conformed to their exact fantasy of what they want today.

All I know is what I see--when people's love-matched partners are known to be with another person sexually, quite often pretty powerful negative emotions are generated.

The other thing is, for all of this talk of "nature" there sure as hell wasn't much birth control back then. Kinda changes the equation when your partner runs off with some woman he got pregnant, leaving you to care for your four children you had together by yourself or your partner gives birth to someone else's child that you are now expected to risk life and limb to protect and feed.

A lot of this is a luxury we didn't have before. And one of the problems with actual polygamous societies is children, specifically the males that have to be expelled from the group. Warren Jeffs' group was rent asunder by these tensions.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:05 PM on July 21, 2012


What I wonder about is the fact that we can scientifically adjust gender ratios.

This makes sense (not saying I agree with the idea, just that it would make sense in addressing the problem). The irony, though, is that societies that support polygyny still prize male sons more highly, so infanticide/feticide is then practiced on girls. It used to be that there were more women in the world than men (50% XY and 50% XX, but when something goes wrong with the Y, the fetus defaults to female) but the numbers are slowly moving to more males, because of female infanticide. ....Because it's the best male who's going to get all the girls, and no one wants to admit their son won't be the BEST male in the lot. It's also a matter of lines dying out - this might be prevented from allowing women to carry on family names.

In the Shangri-La of polygyny and polyandry, polygyny will be much more common for evolutionary reasons.

No - there is no evolutionary benefit to having polygyny without polyandry. As I mentioned above, you might have polygyny within a season but polyandry between seasons. If we're speaking of polygamy evolution (and not monogamy, or love, or human free will) it makes evolutionary sense for a 20 year old woman to have sex and reproduce with a fit 20 year old male. It does NOT make evolutionary sense for that same woman to be mating and reproducing with that same male 10 years later when there are younger, fitter males to mate with. If polygamy is in effect, he will be mating with other females when he's twenty, but when he hits thirty, his females will leave him for younger men.

I mean, according to evolution, and not evo-psych.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 1:56 PM on July 21, 2012


It does NOT make evolutionary sense for that same woman to be mating and reproducing with that same male 10 years later when there are younger, fitter males to mate with.

This genetic thing, I think you do not get it. While there is a certain advantage for women to reproduce young, the same is not true for men; I have the same genome today at 48 that I did when I was 16. Plus older men are more likely to have proven out their potential. Which might be why IRL older successful men don't seem to have much of a problem finding hot young girlfriends if they are so inclined.
posted by localroger at 2:47 PM on July 21, 2012


This genetic thing, I think you do not get it.

Again, no. Although there's been a stigma of women reproducing later, newer research has been showing it's not just a female thing. After all, where would multiple Y syndrome come from if not from nondisjunction in spermatogonia or primary or secondary spermatocytes? Although your society as told you that you are as genetically perfect at 40 as you were at 20, I'm sorry to inform you that this is not the case. For centuries older women were blamed for birth defects, but most of them were mating older males, weren't they? It's a bit akin to how it was assumed that women were solely responsible for determining whether a baby is a boy or a girl.

It is a genetic thing - that I will grant you, but just not how you think it is. Observe other species' polygamous habits, and then take a look at what the common evolutionary theme is.

Plus older men are more likely to have proven out their potential.

I think this is the problem - you are looking at it from a social, not evolutionary, standpoint. Younger men will have "proven their potential" by being able to run fast, bounce back from disease, and, all in all, look appealing (which is linked to testosterone production, which is linked to immunity - as testosterone counteracts the immune system, so the more testosterone a male is capable of producing, it means the stronger his immune system is). After a certain age these males will not run as fast, be more prone to disease, and lose their looks. Older males in societies may be more situated in jobs and careers, which is what I believe you're talking about, but the idea of jobs and careers is foreign to evolution - it's a social, not a biological or genetic, construct.

If you want to say socially polygyny will be more common, I'll agree - it is. But evolutionary? It's simply not. I'm serious - look at every species that has polygamy through multiple mating seasons and you'll see strict polygyny is not, as you claim, more common.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:01 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also - I forgot to mention, even if there is a relatively low rate of mutation within the male sperm, the high energy investment in reproduction for the females would press for her to seek the absolute fittest mate available. So for example (and I'm making up numbers for the sake of argument), if a woman in her 20's has a 5% chance of producing mutated eggs and in her 30's a 20% chance, while a man in his 20's has a 5% chance of producing mutated sperm and a 10% chance in his 30's - well an older man may be having a lower rate of sperm mutation compared to a woman's egg mutation, but from a 30 year old woman's perspective she is faced with a 25% chance of a mutated baby with the 20 year old man versus a 30% chance with the 30 year old. Considering the energy investment involved, every percent counts, and it's in her best interest to go with the 20 year old. The male, however, has very little energy investment in reproduction, and so it does not matter to him whether the female has a 5% or a 20% chance of mutation.

Also, with the idea of older men "proving their potential" - if, as I suspect, you are referring to careers and long-term support of mates and offspring, this is a trait associated with monogamous species, not polygamous, so I think you are getting those two confused. This is also when males become more choosy about their mates - not as choosy as females, but choosier than polygamous males. In a polygamous relationship there's very little support so a male mating with any female that will have him is fine, but in a monogamous relationship the father provides a larger energy investment (just long-term) and in the long run has to assess that 5% vs. 20% mutation of his offspring.

(of course, again all of the above is in reference to the evolution side only, not human free will. Evolution has made me want to eat salt and butter all day, but that doesn't mean I have to.)
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:22 PM on July 21, 2012


Lt. Bunny -- you seem heavily invested in this. I am not.

It is very obvious that there is a much lower risk for older men to reproduce than for older women. The risk of major birth defects for women goes up very sharply starting at 30; there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the same is true for men. There may be a slight and gradual increase in the chance for genetic corruption for much older men but it's a very minor thing by comparison.

Outside of age-related egg and sperm rot and the rigors of physical childbirth, fitness in the evolutionary sense has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with age. However, evaluating fitness can have a lot to do with the age at which you collect your data.

By "proving potential" I meant exactly what that sounds like. Is a man's fitness based on his steadiness of aim, concentration, ability to remember patterns, and other such skills? Ask the NFL about the relative worth of a proven quarterback like Drew Brees compared to a younger but unproven rookie no matter how good his high school and college record. My football team just spent $100 million saying that you are wrong.

And while my normal instinct is to say such things aren't even genetically programmed, I can't ignore the fact that Archie Manning, widely regarded in his day as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL despite the suckiness of his team letting him down year after year, sired Peyton and Eli. Maybe there's something to that evolutionary thing after all.

If so, it certainly has nothing to do with men reproducing at 30 instead of 15.

of course, again all of the above is in reference to the evolution side only

Yeah, well according to my childhood test scores my IQ is somewhere around 185 and the original attraction between me and my wife was that neither of us wanted to reproduce. Some people think that's tragic on my part, but then they don't know the rest of my family.

That IQ thing probably isn't genetic.
posted by localroger at 3:48 PM on July 21, 2012


And while my normal instinct is to say such things aren't even genetically programmed, I can't ignore the fact that Archie Manning, widely regarded in his day as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL despite the suckiness of his team letting him down year after year, sired Peyton and Eli. Maybe there's something to that evolutionary thing after all.

Yes, I'm sure modern medicine, good nutrition and sanitation, social stature and the abilty to pass along hard-learned skills and already existing connections had nothing to do with it! It was superior, if aging, sperm! EVOLUTION WINS AGAIN.

Now I don't really buy that our ancestors were doing evopsych calculations about fertility rates in their heads. It seems far more likely that mating with different individuals who appeared fit was a good rule of thumb for ensuring that at least one of them would give you a fit offspring. Among animals, coercion of females is a strategy used by males to reduce competition, but females, oddly, seem overwhelmingly inclined to sneak around this prohibition--presumably because of an equally strong compulsion not to be tied down to one reproductive partner.

Because, in reproduction as in so many things, it pays to spread the risk out.

And if you want to be evopsych about it, perhaps that's why jealousy and sexual repression are a losing battle; women are just as compelled to have a say as men are to prevent them having one. Better for all of us if we just recognized that letting everyone have a say and not trying to coerce them is less likely to result in bloodshed, and finding other ways to deal with our monkey hormones.

If that means letting consenting adults multiple marry, then great.
posted by emjaybee at 8:07 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lt. Bunny -- you seem heavily invested in this. I am not

Yes - as a biologist that's studied for years on how evolution actually occurs, I am heavily invested in people understanding what evolution actually entails when they, theymselves, claim their stance is based in evolution. If you are not invested in having a discussion on evolution, I suggest you do not bring up evolution.

I can't ignore the fact that Archie Manning, widely regarded in his day as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.... sired Peyton and Eli. Maybe there's something to that evolutionary thing after all. ...If so, it certainly has nothing to do with men reproducing at 30 instead of 15.

....Are you saying you can't ignore that physical traits are determined by genes? This has been known since the 19th century (well, Mendel called them particles, not genes) I think you're misunderstanding the connection but distinction between "mutation rates" and "genes". Someone can have a fantastic allele, but as they get older the chances of that allele becoming mutated begin to increase - again, male or female, it is unlikely you are genetically identical to what you were a year ago, nevermind ten. Also mutation rates are just that - rates, not guarantees. Just because Manning produced two strapping sons (I'm inferring based on your use in your argument, at 30?) doesn't mean he wasn't subject to that 10% mutation rate - it simply means he hit the larger 90% both times. This is similar to how women over 40 are warned to be careful when planning children due to the increased mutation rates, but in actuality women over forty routinely have healthy children. It's a probability.

But, really, the topic is on polygyny in nature - so instead of using one quarterback as your example, again, look at species that are actually polygamous for multiple mating seasons. You can attempt to derail the main point of the post if you want, but seriously, don't claim genetic or evolutionary reasoning.

If you want to talk social constriction, religious reasonings, etc., fine - I'll admit that I'm passionate but not well-versed in those areas. But seriously, there is no evolutionary (and by that, genetic) basis for a preference for polygyny sans polyandry through multiple seasons - none, zero, zilch.

I think this is turning less into a discussion on the article of polygamy in society and more into a basic Genetics lecture, so I think I'll end this line here. Mememail me if you want more background on genetics and probabilities.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 12:09 AM on July 22, 2012


but females, oddly, seem overwhelmingly inclined to sneak around this prohibition--presumably because of an equally strong compulsion not to be tied down to one reproductive partner

I don't think it's just the fear of being tied down to one reproductive partner - it's the fear of not having the best reproductive partner.

I think it's pretty telling that human females do this as well. Typically in nature there aren't direct repercussions for females that cheat, certainly not to the extent we see it in the human world. That women are willing to risk beatings, exile, and death to step out shows how important it is.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 12:38 AM on July 22, 2012


I'd agree that monogamy should increases the risks of genetic disorders, creating equal evolutionary pressures for non-monogomous behavior in both genders. In particular, bird populations could mix over wider areas than land animals, making monogamy less dangerous, while social mammals mix amongst fewer individuals than non-social land animals. There is an evolutionary pressure for human females to convince males about the parentage of offspring, but apparently this impacts only their most over displays, not actual mating behavior.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:14 AM on July 23, 2012


All the evo psych stuff is interesting hypothetically, but not much more beyond that. A whole lot of social constructs that exist because of the sex->pregnancy linkage fall apart pretty quickly once you have reliable contraception. And one lesson I think you can get from history is that we have a very high degree of social plasticity; our societies change in response to new factors. So even if we take the various evo psych arguments on premise (which I don't think is a good idea anyway), that doesn't really mean that we've found any deep truths about the human condition, only some (possible) truths about some very specific human conditions that (may have) existed in the past.

Reliable, user-transparent contraception has only existed* for a few generations and even then, only in the industrialized West and really only in higher social classes due to the expense. We are nowhere near the steady state, in terms of its social effects.

I think it's fair to assume that the female sex drive is the equivalent of the male, when you remove a lot of concerns over becoming pregnant and give the woman in question complete control over whether and with whom she'd like to do that, separate from who she wants to have sex with. There's no particular reason that I can see why polygyny would be more common than polyandry in a steady state civilization that had more fully separated sex and reproduction.

* In recent history. It's alleged by some that the ancient Romans may have had reliable hormonal birth control (or possibly just abortificents) in the form of silphium, or laserwort, a now-extinct plant which has some modern relatives with estrogenic properties.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:24 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"No sisters. No aunts. No cousins. A generation of dudes who don't understand women chasing a dwindling supply. Note to self: invest in Chinese gay bars."

This is fairly offensive, Hetros aren't going to choose to be gay anymore than Gay people have.


There are way, waaay more bisexual men out there than anybody admits. Or I could say, willing to be situationally/behaviourally bisexual. There are many people who are 100%, even as a horny teenager (no circle jerk, etc etc), entirely Straight, or entirely Gay.
Then there's everybody else.

And, y'know the straight females who mack on each other at bars to attract the guys? In the right social circles (goths, alternative, etc), it's also common with the guys. Not everyone is bisexual, but there is something to be said for the fluidity of sexual expression.
posted by Elysum at 6:48 AM on July 24, 2012


Isn't warfare the traditional solution to excess males? I'm curious if China ever considered simply making family names matricidal, maybe you could pay a tax to use the father's family name.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:46 AM on July 24, 2012


> Desuetude, you seem to be confusing polygamy and serial monogomy. They're not the same.

I admit that I got a little too general in my hyperbole. But I was talking about relationships between people, not just sexual activity. Most notably, if you have shared custody of a child with an ex, that's a pretty much permanently significant relationship, even if you move on and find another partner.

It is very obvious that there is a much lower risk for older men to reproduce than for older women. The risk of major birth defects for women goes up very sharply starting at 30; there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the same is true for men. There may be a slight and gradual increase in the chance for genetic corruption for much older men but it's a very minor thing by comparison.

Sure, but consider the result of those little swimmers. There's an advantage to also having a partner around who is young enough to chase the tyke all day.
posted by desuetude at 8:26 AM on July 24, 2012


Sure, but consider the result of those little swimmers. There's an advantage to also having a partner around who is young enough to chase the tyke all day.

For 99% of human history that task was shared by the villagers.
posted by localroger at 9:20 AM on July 24, 2012


No sisters. No aunts. No cousins. A generation of dudes who don't understand women chasing a dwindling supply.

OK, leaving aside the following "invest in a gay bar" sentence, this gave me pause. I really wonder what the psychology of a generation of men who grow up with few or no female relatives besides their mothers, and who still live in a fairly traditional society where men and women are not encouraged to be platonic friends, will be. In most Western societies, smaller families are compensated for by mixed-gender workplaces and friendship networks. A generation of men who only know women as mothers, sex partners, or subordinate wives, is not going to be well equipped to function in a world that - imperfectly, yes, but increasingly - sees women as equal human beings.

I don't worry about roving packs of sex-starved men so much as I worry about men who aren't connected to social networks; not necessarily marriage and children, but some kind of family. I don't think it's women's job to civilize men, but I think it's society's job to have single men feel connected to others. For whatever reason, women seem to find that much easier when they don't have families. Here's where a feminist poly setup might do a world of good - not by slaking men's sexual appetites without which they go nuts and kill people *eyeroll* but by enlarging the concept of "family" to include people who need one.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:31 AM on July 24, 2012


For 99% of human history that task was shared by the villagers.

For 99% of human history there was no such thing as accumulated wealth and healthy, strong men bringing in resources for the family would be more important than the dude's bank account as cultivated over the last 30+ years.

Besides, in relatively egalitarian societies people marry other people who are highly similar to them in age. The May-December romance-for-resources thing is an artifact of patriarchy and a sexist wealth-based society.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:02 AM on July 24, 2012


For 99% of human history there was no such thing as accumulated wealth and healthy, strong men bringing in resources for the family

For 99% of human history there was no such thing as a nuclear family and it did not matter whether any particular child had a healthy strong father because those tasks were performed by whoever could for the entire village. This is how just about all remaining hunter-gatherer tribes that still exist live; the healthy strong young men hunt, the healthy strong young women gather, and the old people raise the kids. So there is no selective advantage to having a young strong father. Maybe there has within the last few thousand years, but that's barely enough generations to even start noticing a trend in evolution.
posted by localroger at 12:12 PM on July 24, 2012


there is no selective advantage to having a young strong father.

Many tribes are strongly collectivist, yes, but men still specifically direct extra resources towards their suspected offspring.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:15 PM on July 24, 2012


but men still specifically direct extra resources towards their suspected offspring

[citation needed]

Look, this whole insistence in the selective pressure for young fathers is daft. It makes no sense, it's not supported by anthropology, it's not supported by biology, and it's not what is observed in practice with actual women.

Male media stars like Sean Connery often trade on their sex appeal well into their fifties and sixties despite not looking young at all, in ways women can't unless they really look unusually youthful. That's not conjecture about the past or lost social habits, that's observable modern fact. Young women are considerably more likely to find older men attractive than vice versa.
posted by localroger at 12:31 PM on July 24, 2012


> Look, this whole insistence in the selective pressure for young fathers is daft. It makes no sense, it's not supported by anthropology, it's not supported by biology, and it's not what is observed in practice with actual women.

Hi, we're discussing the advantages and disadvantages of various polygamous arrangements. Where are you?
posted by desuetude at 6:55 AM on July 25, 2012


"Do you see that what this thought experiment is leading up to is the idea that women's sexual freedom and sexual choices should be constrained by/for the sake of placating a small minority of the population?"

No, because the thought experiment is not postulating anything about what should be. Only what could be.

Put another way, of course I'd rather live in a society in which there was full equality for women and everyone else, even if there were risks.

I'm only playing with the concept that being fair doesn't equal utopia.
posted by ebisudave at 10:52 PM on August 3, 2012


I'm sorry for the eleventh-hour nature of this comment, but this thread has been making my teeth itch on and off for the last few weeks and I wanted to try to articulate why. Please believe me when I say that I'm just trying to get my own thoughts in order and am not trying to get in any passive-aggressive digs at anyone, okay?

Okay.

I feel like the course of this thread was just... off from the very start. A major sticking point of the Slate article and the study it's based on, for example, is that the blame for higher levels of crime gets laid at the feet of unmarried men a bit too casually for my liking. I'm not trying to dispute the raw crime data; what's bothering me is that I can't see any analysis of what that data may reflect about the polygamous societies in general.

It's like a phenomenon that has been pointed out in recent MetaFilter threads about mortgage practices and foreclosure rates in the U.S. over the past years, where damaging, exploitative, and predatory practices were written into the financial system, but the opprobrium frequently falls on the individual homeowners for buying into a pre-rigged game. It's like the way that "zero unemployment is unachievable in a free labor market" but people still stigmatize the jobless as parasites and lazy bums. What kind of social forces are generating men of this type in such large numbers, and why should their unmarried status even be an issue, to themselves and to society in general?

The problem, as I see it, is this: one of feminism's goals-- very laudable, and beneficial to everyone-- is to decouple women's social standing from their relationship status. Why should a woman's sexual, romantic, and/or marital history have any bearing on the public's perception of her? The job is nowhere near done, but the basic idea is making headway, right?

Well, where's the parallel for men? grobstein's comment still holds true. A man's worth to his society is still very much a function of his perceived virility or desirability in a pervasively sexist way that pretty much nobody is working to change or persistently question. (Ugh, at this point I could scour AskMetafilter for examples, but I'm short on time: nothing personal, cairdeas, but part of a comment you made in a sidebarred thread sort of stuck in my mind when I thought about this one:
The weird thing about being in the "uncool" group is that we weren't actually any less popular than the "cool" group. There were lots of us and we had plenty of friends. I would say also most of the girls in the "uncool" group were prettier than the girls in the "cool" group even though our guys were pretty dorky. (emphasis mine)


That gave me high school flashbacks! More often than not, the women in my dating pool were/are aspirational in an unremarked-upon way: their low social status is undeserved, but the low status imposed upon the guys well, that goes without saying. Remember the "Single Ladies" Atlantic article from a while back? The same weird social gradient behind that article-- women who advocate for free social movement, but ALSO harbor a preference for equal or higher-status men, will contribute to skewed gender ratios similar to the ones that polygamous societies develop.

Yeah, that's what's irritating me here-- the loadedness of that idea, as it puts unmarried males forth as a problem to be solved. So hermitosis was on to something: there was way too much focus on unattached males, and the possible selective culling thereof, for my liking.

(Yes, I recognize the "not a suggestion" caveats that often came up in those same posts, but if a questionable and distasteful solution like that is your only idea, maybe it would be better off left unsaid to begin with?

And the something about the whole "feminist polyandry" angle that strikes me as a "let them eat cake" sort of reply-- so men who have trouble acquiring one girlfriend should just go out and get three or four in a nearby collective? How plausible is the theorizing in this thread? Are polyandrous communities working extensively behind the scenes in, say, prisons, the military, or homeless shelters-- places where the patriarchal society is dumping its excess males? If not, then where's this idea that women would just naturally be more egalitarian coming from)

TL;DR: MetaFilter repeats the phrase "the patriarchy hurts men too" like a mantra, but threads like this make me wonder just how seriously anyone is actually considering its full impact.
posted by tyro urge at 11:52 PM on August 18, 2012


Crap, I wanted to preview! Sorry for the editing errors. Also, I wanted to plug Geoffrey Miller's The Mating Mind as an alternative to all the evo psych theories here: the premise is that sexual selection has had a much larger role in human evolution than most people take into account.
posted by tyro urge at 11:58 PM on August 18, 2012


Well if this is STILL open I'll try one last time:

1) The premise of the article sounds like the argument about gay marriage being a huge threat because it's so sinfully delicious: it says more about the speaker (or the culture) than the subject. Most societies place a huge stigma on "low-status" males in a way that doesn't get fully addressed here, but I think it matters quite a bit.

(Ah, and the paper itself, while more detailed, still sidesteps that point: "However, the selective forces generated by group selection do not 'care' why marriage reduces criminal behaviour, only that it somehow does" (6). The paper speculates about reduced testosterone levels for married men, but why would that not be an issue for unmarried men who were cohabitating with women? How hard would it have been to include the data on childbearing for the Nebraska inmates? Childbearing might be a biological factor, but the flat-out social recognition as an "upstanding" married man could also be a reason for these men settling down-- comparing the crime stats between married men with children vs. married men without children within this group might have made sense here. A researcher referenced later presumes that a desire for children plays a factor, but it's never proven, and I really wish it had been.)

2) I am NOT trying to imply that the burden for resolving this falls on the women in patriarchal societies, or that they should serve some sort of mandatory role as "comfort women" to sate the lusts of these menacing rogue males. I just think that really eradicating deep-rooted sexist beliefs and behaviors in our society would take a lot of seriously careful planning and introspection on everyone's part. Patriarchy is a cultural thing, and we're ALL tainted by it-- men AND women.

3) On the evo psych front, I'm not sure I'm buying the sexual dimorphism angle: the variation between men and women is nothing like the extremes that can be found between, say, male and female black widows, or male and female elephant seals. Geoffrey Miller makes a convincing case that sexual selection within the human race has been a relatively evenhanded affair, I think.

All right, all this posting is getting Swingers-ish, so clear or not I'm really backing out now!
posted by tyro urge at 7:08 AM on August 19, 2012


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