When controversial topics are raised in conversation, I immediately give my full attention to the discussions. Polyandry (one woman, multiple husbands) and polygamy (one husband, multiple wives) have remained controversial topics for many years and will continue to be. Studies show that sexual jealousy often functions as a stressor in families around the world. Humans appear susceptible to sexual jealousy, and so it would not be unreasonable for many of us – men and women alike – to project an assumption that sexual jealousy would make poly-unions unsound.
There are some countries that have created environments whereby the chances of polyandry occurring are increasing. When a society is faced with a scarcity of fertile women, men are more likely to be found openly sharing women. So this raises the question of whether or not some places are more likely to experience a high rate of polyandry, such as places like India and China where the gender ratios have become totally unbalanced due to the prioritising of male babies over female.
Many people say cheating while in a relationship is very destructive to society. Some women consider it acceptable to have more than one husband, but do not condone males having more than one wife. Polygyny is not the only form of ‘unordinary’ marriage. Some people do not believe that polygamous or polyandrous marriage is for everyone, but say it has its place. There are some women who support the idea of polyandry in theory, but who would not practise it. Is this a double standard?
Women who are against polygamy say it is because they want to feel invested in. We live in a society today where many women feel cared for, but hardly ever invested in. On the other hand, however, you find men and women alike who believe that marriage today is nothing than an economic strategy or power play, having little to do with love and more to do with financial security. With that mindset, it is not too surprising that we have the high divorce rates that we do. It could also be the reason for why polygynous relationships have become popular in certain societies over the years.
The benefits of a polygyamous relationship are well documented: the distribution of work amongst women as well as the maintaining of land within the family is the priority. Many women in polygamous marriages have said that the set-up is much better than being in a plural marriage. They enjoy dividing the work and responsibilities for the kids equally amongst each other, rather than having an unfair heirarchichal system. In an interview, a man in Nepal explained the tradition this way: “You can even be rich living with a shared wife. Property has to be divided if you live with a separate wife. This makes you poor and you cannot have enough food to eat.”
Most women who favour the empowerment of their gender disregarded the whole thing completely, feeling that polyandry undermines them and stating that any women who supports it lacks self-respect. Outspoken feminists women want to be seen as equal to men when it comes to providing for their family and contributing meaningfully in the workplace. It is understandable that these women want to be treated as their partner’s equal in all aspects, at home or at work.
Regardless of what you or I may think, there are societies that practise various forms of polygynous marriages or relationships. In fact, it is probably happening right under your nose as the culture of sexuality has become much more exhibitionist. Whether you think it is morally or culturally incorrect or not, we are living in a world where many value money over people and how they choose to go about getting this money… well, that is up to them.
By Sizwe Shabalala