Many feminists bash polygyny, seeing it is an oppressive institution that devalues women. If you change perspective just a bit, though, it will become apparent that it isactually quite liberating.
Think of a career woman who doesn’t really wish to be a homemaker – forever struggling to balance a home/husband/family that demand her full attention and a job/boss/career that also demand her full attention. Polygyny is the perfect answer in such a situation. Or a woman who doesn’t wish to have children could marry a man who already has children with his first wife and doesn’t want more.
In the Western system of pseudo-monogamy, men often keep a mistress or even a whole slough of illicit partners. These women’s rights are not protected in that their lover does not have to support them in any way, and can dump them whenever the mood strikes him with no legal consequences. On the other end of the spectrum, a man having an affair can leave all his money to his mistress, thus leaving his legal wife with no inheritance. Not to mention that pseudo-monogamy by definition involves lies and betrayal. The chances forinjustice and injury are mammoth in a system where the only rule is monogamy but a large percentage of the population ignores it.
Polygyny offers many liberating benefits that make it an equal choice along with monogamy. All wives must be supported equally, inheritance is specified, and the burden of secrets and betrayal is lifted (some men do marry behind their first wives’ backs, but this is ill-advised and it can be argued that such a secret marriage is not even valid. I’ll write more about that in an upcoming post, insha’Allah). In addition, a woman with a co-wife has a built-in extended family, which is a great blessing in these times where nuclear families are often on their own with the closest relatives living in far-flung places. Child-rearing can be shared which means that a career-minded woman may be better able to work because her co-wife is caring for her kids and if one co-wife wants to be a homemaker there is more of a chance that she’ll be able to realize that goal; indeed she can even contribute to the family financially by caring for her co-wife’s children.
Having a co-wife also allows a woman time to explore talents and interests she might not otherwise have time for. Perhaps she could take an art class or start writing, and there’s nothing better than checking out a good book from the library and thinking, “Oh, it’s not my night tonight! I can read all evening after the kids are in bed!” The bottom line is that polygyny offers women more choices in their lives – and isn’t “more choices” one of the main goals of the third wave of feminism?
Some of the benefits I’ve discussed are built in to polygyny, but others can only be experienced if women stop looking at polygyny as some sort of evil monster that might come get them someday and instead look at it as just another style of marriage that has its own advantages and disadvantages. And women who considerthemselves feminists should really look into the liberating aspects of polygyny.
I’m not sure what all to share of my story. When my husband first mentioned polygyny, I laughed. And he laughed. Because he was joking, and we both knew it.
My husband has a cousin who found herself unable to have children. In a very Sarah-like fashion, and in what I still rate as one of the most difficult things a woman could ever do, she suggested her husband marry another wife so he could have children. He did, and he and his second wife now have four children. My husband’s cousin, who is an engineer, mind you, spends lots of time with them and cares for them as if they were her own. This is not a close relative, and I don’t get to visit my husband’s country, so I’ve never been able to speak with this selfless woman. But I have always admired her from afar. There is a level of respect for someone who can put others’ interests above her own like that that cannot be attained any other way. A first wife who is humble and kind and accepting of her co-wife(ves) is a woman to be envied, because she must have reached a very lofty plane, spiritually. That’s what I thought when I heard her story, Allah hafezzha.
So when I found myself in a position, several years later, where my husband and I began talking about polygyny without the joking, I wasn’t threatened. I looked upon it as something to aspire to. A great way to try and learn to put Allah first in my heart. If I don’t have a spiritual challenge I tend to become complacent, so I figured what better way to ensure a constant challenge? I also liked the sister who was to become my co-wife, and she was simiarly open to polygyny, so we went ahead, and all prayed for the best.
Alhamdulillah it has been five and a half years now. I still have never been able to talk to the woman who was my role-model, but I pray for her a lot.