Polygyny and Democracy

In my reading for the latest Sunday in Outer Blogness, I came across an interesting article about the differences between gay marriage and polygamy. It’s interesting because of the stuff the author gets right:

Here’s the problem with it: when a high-status man takes two wives (and one man taking many wives, or polygyny, is almost invariably the real-world pattern), a lower-status man gets no wife. If the high-status man takes three wives, two lower-status men get no wives. And so on.

This competitive, zero-sum dynamic sets off a competition among high-status men to hoard marriage opportunities, which leaves lower-status men out in the cold. Those men, denied access to life’s most stabilizing and civilizing institution, are unfairly disadvantaged and often turn to behaviors like crime and violence.

Yep, the more males are actively engaged in raising families, the more peace and stability a society will enjoy. Having a huge underclass of males with little or no opportunity to attract girlfriends or wives is not only bad for these men themselves, it’s bad for society.

But I felt like there was one really glaring omission in the author’s analysis of the anti-democratic nature of widespread polygyny. Go read it carefully and see if you notice it too.


There was one sentence stating that polygyny is bad for women, but there was no indication that the author had considered whether women want to be in such marriages. Presumably most women don’t. So why would they do it? Why would women enter into such marriages? Remember, we’re not debating the legality of forcing people into polygynous marriages — merely talking about whether consenting adults should be allowed to do it.

If women are autonomous people whose consent is required for the marriage to take place — and if they don’t want to be in polygynous marriages — why would legalization cause polygyny to become widespread? And if women do all want to be married to the same rich dude for some reason (and that guy wants to marry them), then why should the poor guy’s right to a bride trump the bride’s autonomy? How is that democratic?

I’m not being facetious here. When we’re talking about a society where women are legally people and not property, the women’s own motivations are very central to any reasonable analysis of the dynamics of polygyny.

With regards to the polygyny practiced by Mormon fundamentalist sects for religious reasons, I think there’s a very strong component of indoctrination, and simply legalizing simultaneous multiple marriages isn’t going to make such religions suddenly look more attractive than they do now. They’re a sufficiently small and socially-isolated minority that I think we can safely consider them negligible when analyzing the effects of polygyny on society as a whole.

In the larger society, though, it is absolutely legal for men to monopolize multiple women — as long as they’re not legally married to them simultaneously. It’s not only legal but common for a wealthy man to have multiple mistresses and/or to raise a family with one wife and then later marry another twenty-something women, taking her out of the marriage pool. From the perspective of the low-status males who are shut out of romantic/sexual/relationship opportunities, this has the exact same effect as if the rich guys were legally marrying multiple women simultaneously.

So why do women do that? Why would a woman choose another woman’s sloppy seconds when other men are available?

Think about it.

I think a big part of it is economics. If your livelihood depends on economic input from your romantic partner, then being a “gold-digger” is a perfectly rational strategy. Then there’s the gigantic disparity between the rich and the poor. If the sugar daddy has literally a hundred times the economic power or more than the woman and her young boyfriend put together can hope to earn, then that position as the rich guy’s third-string mistress starts looking rather tempting. On the other hand, if a woman can expect fair pay, then she can afford to pick that handsome, vigorous young man that she gets all to herself over old moneybags.

I’m not saying women are necessarily making these calculations consciously, but economic self-interest is going to play a factor in relative attractiveness of different options.

It’s a pretty simple calculation, really. Feminism and decreasing economic disparity are good for women, good for men (except maybe some guys like Trump), and good for society.


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at @chanson@social.linux.pizza or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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2 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    Point 1: just checking to see if comments are working yet
    Point 2: the link to the article sends to be missing and I couldn’t find reference to it in your Sunday post

  2. chanson says:

    Thanks for catching the error!

    I think links and comments are working. I just made a mistake in adding the link in the text. I don’t have it on this computer, but I’ll add it as soon as I can.

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