Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is polygamy a feminist issue?

Polygamy • n. the practice of having more than one wife or husband at the same time - Oxford Dictionary

Perhaps a more apt definition as seen by society both in the past and in the present would read something like this: ‘one man, many wives’. Highly unlikely that one would think ‘one woman, many husbands’. So yes, polygamy is a feminist issue, ultimately displaying inequality between men and women. It is a controversial topic, attracting attention on all scales of social consideration. Strictly considering whether it is a feminist issue, let’s start by looking at what feminism stands for, for what it promotes. It is the liberation of women, a social movement that strives to achieve gender equality. Ah…my point exactly.

In polygamous marriages, women are ranked according to what stage they are married into a polygamous marriage, with the first wife taking preference over all other wives. The first wife has a certain ‘entitlement’ to what and who is brought into to the family, how much time is spent with the ‘shared’ husband by collection of wives and so on and so forth.

Through generations of polygamous society, woman entering into polygamous marriages do so through religious and cultural beliefs. Thus views of the topic will differ, however the principle issue of feminism remains the same. We assume that the women entering into these marriages do so knowingly of what such a marriage represents but in truth, what it represents is different across cultures and religions. Polygamy is a feminist issue as women marrying into polygamous marriages are limited to what they may or may not do in the ‘family’ and, to a certain extent, with their lives. It is a fairly ‘brain washed’ mentality that woman today who are both smart and educated enter into a polygamous marriage based on religious and cultural principles.

The feminist issue of polygamy may also be seen in the suppression of women in a male dominant relationship. In most cases, particularly in South Africa, polygamous marriages are often entered into for the status of the male and for the ‘life of his name’, to be carried throughout generations to come. It is also perceived as an indication of wealth and opulence.

I do understand that apparent on all levels of such a marriage includes a person’s freedom of choice; Choice of self, culture and religion.
‘Personal choice’ – there is no ‘correct’ form of marriage. We are a global society now open to both a customary and cultural marriage as well as same-sex marriages, why discriminate against polygamy?
‘Cultural practices’ – there can be no judgment in its entirety of one’s culture, particularly in a country (like ours) where we are loving, living and working across cultures everyday.
‘Religious choice’ – religiously based, there are far worse things inflicted by religion such as self sacrifice Al-Qaeda and abortion however, not everything religiously motivated is a bad thing.

Yet polygamy as a feminist issue is more than this. That it is socially unacceptable for a woman to take on more than one husband, to father children by more than one man, to be the breadwinner of a household through ability and ambition, is a feminist issue. Polygamous marriages encompass a number of feminist issues, with a core saluting all that is a sexist and outdated way of thinking. So yes, while polygamy is a moral, cultural and religious issue it is also a feminist issue.

Polygamy will only cease to be a feminist issue when society amends their way of thinking, or supports Polyandry. Get back to me when that happens.

While bathing in her newlywed glow, the bride pondered her decision of taking on yet another husband...


  1. Nicely written Kerry! good points and I like the points raised about society's judgement of women on a number of different issues, whereas men don't seem to succumb to most of that kind of judgement, especially in a polygamous regime. Nicely argued.

  2. Very well written Kez! I like the way you structured it to have a good opening and conclusion!