Polygamy versus Monogamy

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 9 November 2016

Polygamy versus Monogamy

In the United States the federal and State penal codes describe marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. Most little girls dream of a fairy tale wedding to their knight in shining armor. However, in other locations around the world the concept of one-on-one marriages is not considered the norm or even preferred. Even in the United States, there are religious factions that believe in what is called a “plural marriage” (CITE). While the idea of monogamy and polygamy range from continent to continent, and from nation to nation, both of these institutions have evidence to prove the usefulness or the detriment to the community.

How are they different and how are they the same? Looking at the two institutions gives insight into the concepts of monogamy and polygamy. Monogamy used to be the institution of marriage to a single partner of the opposite sex throughout a lifetime. However, in the face of death and divorce, a new term of serial monogamy changes the concept ever so slightly. Serial monogamy is to have a single mate of the opposite sex for a specific period of time (monogamy, 2008). So even from the beginning of human understanding this ideal has changed to really have to meanings.

Polygamy, on the other hand, has not changed in definition over the years. This concept is a marriage where one part of the couple, male or female, can have more than one spouse at the same time (polygamy, 2008). While the definition has not changed, additions or explanations explaining different types of polygamy have been instituted. For instance, polyandry is the marriage of one woman to several men (polyandry, 2008). Polyamory is the idea of two or more females being married to two or more males, or group marriage (polyamory, 2008).

The final separating definition is polygyny, which is the state of a male having more than one wife at the same time. This is the type of polygamy that is found in almost every area of the modern world in some way and is the focus on which to evaluate the differences between monogamy and polygamy (polygyny, 2008). Monogamy History United States history is still considered in its infancy, but from the beginning of this civilization certain ideals and concepts were implemented by the new society. One of the first ideals was the concept of monogamy.

Even though polygamy was still wide spread in many countries, the western Europeans were starting to enact laws condemning polygamy and imposing monogamy on the citizens. These laws from Europe were the influence for the laws of the United States prior to the Constitution and definitely after its signing. The important thing is that the imposition of the monogamous marriage is completely a nation/State/tribe concept and is not necessarily a natural concept for any living being (Sanderson, 2001). Theories of Monogamy

The imposition of monogamy by government is obvious as to the basis of the foundation. First it regulates the amount of children born to those in the community and provides a possible spouse for all inhabitants. This imposed monogamy is what those of democratic systems, and higher education, believe is best for the larger picture, the unity of the nation (Kanazawa & Still, 1999). However, there are other theories in regard to monogamy that are just as possible, even in communities and societies where monogamy is not a laws. One such theory is the woman compromise to polygamy, mainly polygyny.

The theory states that if a woman believes that she is better off and more stable being a second wife to a man than the first and only wife of another man, she will opt to be a second wife (Kanazawa & Still, 1999). In essence it is a logical evidentiary proof of survival of the fittest. The woman goes in the direction that will benefit her and her offspring the best. There are people who believed that this is a viable option when considering the acts of polygyny, and should be studied further in the future. The opposite theory is the male compromise.

Within theory, the males decided to have only one spouse each so that all male member of a society will have an equal chance of marriage. It is this theory, most social scientists believe caused the societal imposition of monogamy in countries that are industrialized and have higher developed civilizations (Kanazawa & Still, 1999). Community So how is monogamy working in the community and marriage? The fact is that children of monogamous relationships are more likely to be mentally healthy with a high self-esteem and better relationships with others.

However, that does not really answer the question. In monogamous societies the children fair better, but do the spouses? Some would say no. The reason is that monogamous marriages spur extra martial affairs which lead to divorce, or lying, or both. These affairs are not healthy for the individuals or the rest of society. These actions can cause the community to break down, rather than to be strong and prosper (Al-Krenawi, & Slonim-Nevo, 2008; Arrington, & Bitton, 1979; Anwar, 2005; Callahan, 1994; Goodwin, 2003; Kanazawa, & Still, 1999; Philips, 2005; Sanderson, 2001; Smith, 2004; Weiner, 2004).

It is this aspect of the monogamous marriage and relationships that those who practice polygamy use to show why their way of life is better. They focus on the rampant cheating of both spouses, and the detrimental effects these actions have on the children. It is there strong belief that it is this reason and this action that proves polygamy is fundamentally more sound and better for everyone involved in the community. The United States looks down on polygamy and still has its condemnation on its law books, but other countries, even when they impose monogamy legally refuse to condemn those who chose a polygamous existence.

Polygamy History As far back as the beginning of Christianity with Abraham, and probably further back from that point in time still is the concept of polygamy. Through the ages an in almost every culture, especially aggregarian cultures, the practices of both polyandry and polygyny occurred. Many researchers believe the ecological, environmental, social and religious factors help to create a preference for one type of polygamy over the other.

Within many aggregarian and preindustrial developed countries families relied on the number of children they could produce rather than the educating and teaching of their children (Al-Krenawi, & Slonim-Nevo, 2008; Arrington, & Bitton, 1979; Anwar, 2005; Callahan, 1994; Goodwin, 2003; Kanazawa, & Still, 1999; Philips, 2005; Sanderson, 2001; Smith, 2004; Weiner, 2004). This idea fostered the concept of polygyny and meant one man had many wives in order to produce many children. Economically speaking, this made the female a scarce commodity and of great value (Kanazawa & Still, 1999).

The children were needed to help with farm and house chores and with younger siblings. There are often times that the females were also offered to members of other tribe, clans, and such as a way to gain an alliance between the families or tribes (Al-Krenawi, & Slonim-Nevo, 2008; Arrington, & Bitton, 1979; Anwar, 2005; Callahan, 1994; Goodwin, 2003; Kanazawa, & Still, 1999; Philips, 2005; Sanderson, 2001; Smith, 2004; Weiner, 2004). However, societal and economically needs were not the only reason people practiced polygamy.

In Islamic nations, the Koran, the book of worship, allows for every man to have up to 4 wives. There are stipulations that have to be met prior to taking additional wives. For instance, the husband must be able to treat all wives equally, and must be able to provide for each financially. The one aspect of the religion that is lost in the concept is that it was to be used to ensure that no widows and orphans were destitute if their husband or fathers were killed in battle (Al-Krenawi, & Slonim-Nevo, 2008; Callahan, 1994; Goodwin, 2003; Kanazawa, & Still, 1999; Philips, 2005; Sanderson, 2001; Weiner, 2004).

Theories of polygamy So, in Islamic nations, the theory is to protect those who need protection, mainly widows and orphans. In non-Islamic nations, polygamy theory is explained that children are the output or the commodity desired. The woman is the manufacturer, in the lowest sense of the word. More women per man, allows for more commodities to be produced, and will make the man wealthier. In non-Islamic countries there is not guideline about how to treat the wives, but it is really fair or just.

This goes for Islamic nations too. For a religion that gives so much protection of its women, it is also the most oppressive and polygamy rules are not enforced very well (Al-Krenawi, & Slonim-Nevo, 2008; Arrington, & Bitton, 1979; Anwar, 2005; Callahan, 1994; Goodwin, 2003; Kanazawa, & Still, 1999; Philips, 2005; Sanderson, 2001; Smith, 2004; Weiner, 2004). Community Islamic children from polygamous marriages often times have problems with self-esteem and find it hard to relate to others in the house and the community.

The idea that surrounds this weakness in mental health is believed to be cause by the lack of attention from the father when he finds a second, third or fourth wife. The children of the first wife will be pushed aside for the children of the second wife and so on. Another view is that when the marriages are not public to the first wife, a funeral can create a nasty problem when other wives and children appear.

In either case, the children suffer, unless that father/husband can provide equally, which more often than not does not happen (Al-Krenawi, & Slonim-Nevo, 2008; Callahan, 1994; Goodwin, 2003; Kanazawa, & Still, 1999; Philips, 2005; Sanderson, 2001; Weiner, 2004). One fact that is true in Islamic countries is that by having extra wives or concubines, and then there is no adultery, because the wives are legally married to the man. The idea is not to look for newer and younger wives, but that is usually what occurs.

Or the man will temporarily marry a woman, which allows him to have a relationship with her, but not be committing adultery. Therefore, the number of extra martial affairs is low in the country, but that does not mean non-existent. Many people from monogamous societies view the extra wives, concubines, and temporary wives as the extra marital affair. Some one is bound to be hurt by the actions, but Islamic men view it as their right and their duty.

They believe it is what Allah wants and requires of a good Islamic man (Al-Krenawi, & Slonim-Nevo, 2008; Callahan, 1994; Goodwin, 2003; Kanazawa, & Still, 1999; Philips, 2005; Sanderson, 2001; Weiner, 2004). Conclusion The United States has seen its own version of polygamy throughout its existence however; no community was so blatant about the belief as the Mormons in the 1800s. Even today, there are Mormons who practice what they call plural marriage.

One thing that does occur in many of these plural marriages is equality between the wives and only men of means and wealth are allowed to take more than one wife. While polygamy is not a dead concept in the United States, it is dying out. However, in other countries, there is a resurgence of the use of polygyny and more men in the Islamic religion are taking up to four wives but they do not always treat them equally. How can they treat the wives equally? In a place where the first wife is usually an arranged marriage and the second wife is for love, there is no equality.

Even with the resurgence of polygamy in Islamic countries, many women are crying out that it is wrong, and that the Islamic male is taking it out of context. The Koran does give way to take up to four wives, but in the verse before states that monogamous marriages are preferred. This shows that even thousands of years ago there was an urge to marry only one spouse that was not based on economic, societal or legal terms, but on the basis that only one spouse is necessary.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 9 November 2016

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