Friday, April 18, 2008

Polygamy and Abuse

I found this series of video clips on CNN very interesting. Interviews with escapees from polygamist cults and those still involved with the compound at the centre of the recent FLDS (a kind of Mormonism) raid. And some more, also from CNN. Personally I am horrified that people are allowed to mistreat children in this way and that nothings been done about it for so long.

What is strange for me about the coverage is how much of it focuses on the subject of polygamy. I am not all that horrified by polygamy. Obviously in this case it's been a marker for a number of other types of abuse, but in general taking more than one consenting wife or consenting husband (polyandry) is not something I care much about. Lots of people maintain several relationships at the same time and as long as all concerned parties know what is going on I don't see anything wrong with that. For me multiple marriage is no more or less of a crime than having multiple partners and multiple families, the relationships themselves are what is important, not their legal status.

And the focus on the "horror" of polygamy for me is a distraction from the obvious follow-up question: How many other insular communities are getting away with mistreatment of their women and children in this way too? What about those who abuse children and force young girls into early marriage but do not have multiple partners? Is that somehow ok?


steven edward streight said...

I have a problem with polygamy, since it causes confusion in parenting, strife between sister wives, and it means using women as baby factories.

Multiple partnership is not the real issue. It's the sexual predators disguised as prophets and priests. Pedophiles and sadistic abusers must not be allowed to hide in cults, religions, or day care centers.

Women and children are being abused, exploited, oppressed. Why hasn't NOW taken a stand against this?

Cruella said...

I think you're confusing the actual issue of polygamy with the other issues that often come with it. The fact that many sexual predators promote polygamy is about as relevant as saying the nazi's wore green. I mean it doesn't mean you shouldn't wear green. Being polygamous doesn't MEAN using women as baby factories, it means having multiple wives.

As for causing confusion in parenting...? I really don't understand. Actually I think it is hugely advantageous for children to grow up with more than two adults in the house - rather than just two. Gives them a much bigger range of experiences and people to learn from.

As for NOW, I guess they are focusing on the issues they care about most. But if you object to polygamy (or if you object to abuse of women which it sounds like you do) - go ahead and make a stand - I'm sure others will join you.

kaberge said...

I certainly agree that child abuse is the major issue, but is polygamy totally unlinked to this? Are women involved in such relationships in a strong position of power? (I suspect, though I have no statistical evidence, that the majority of "plural marriages" are polygynous rather than polyandrous.) The Mormon church stresses that all parties should give their consent, but their doctrine also states that polygamous relationships lead to heavenly reward. Is this any different to other religions that reinforce male hegemony through cultural practice? Or maybe Joseph Smith Jr. - and his 34 wives (eleven of them aged 14-20) - was just a groovy old guy preaching free love to all?

Cruella said...

Oh I agree that the PRACTICE of polygamy is often an abusive situation. However I just think that what's abusive about it isn't the multiple partners issue. A guy with one wife who he mistreats and one set of children who he abuses is - to my mind - just as guilty of just the same crimes as a guy who does that two or more women. I think there's a very old fashioned shock-horror reaction to unconventional family structures that obscures the real issue. The real issue is spousal and child abuse. And I think that's how we should look at it.

kaberge said...

Unconventional family structures are fine. I'd be perfectly happy if this were Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. But the reality of polygamy is that a woman must keep herself for one man, whilst he can have as many other wives as he pleases. It is an arrangement which only occurs because of religious indoctrination. Would a woman, without the enlightening message of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, choose to do this?

Polygamous marriages engender a fundamental asymmetry of power that, even if it doesn't lead to actual abuse, is hardly conducive to women leading equal and fulfilled lives.

It doesn't make the abuse worse that it occurs in a polygamous marriage. But it may well make it more likely.

I guess my two points are:
(1) Even without abuse, polygamy is bad for women.
(2) Polygamy is causally linked to abuse.

I agree that abuse is the major issue here, but I don't think you should dismiss polygamy so easily. It is not about being shocked at alternative lifestyles. It is about recognising the reality of polygamy for what it is: a religiously driven practice that is harmful to women.

Cruella said...

I guess I am just a bottom line liberal. I don't think that the laws of a country should dictate the structure of relationships. I think polygamy and polyandry should be legal. And actually one advantage of that would be that it would be easier to gain access to these families and look for signs of abuse.

But I agree that a religion which allows men to take multiple wives but restricts women to one husband is sex discrimination. But then religions the world over are forcing women into horrific inequalities. And I have no idea why religions should be allowed to discriminate (even here in the mainly atheist UK, women cannot become bishops...). So maybe the solution is to say that no religion can ban polyandry without banning polygamy too.

kaberge said...

Sounds like we are on the same wavelength. I don't seek to ban polygamy. The women involved have freely consented - except, of course, those who are minors - and that is my bottom line, too. But it doesn't stop me thinking that it is a sorry state of affairs that should be spoken out against, in the (perhaps forlorn) hope that some of the potential polygamists will realise that it is against their interests.