Sunday, September 09, 2007

Polygamy & the unwanted males

I got a fair bit of adverse comment for a post I made on how gender-balanced Muslim societies could deal with the sexual frustration that must affect those males that miss out on a partner where polygamy is practiced.

I suggested this frustration might spill over into aberrant social attitudes, a preference for religious stupidity and even a leakage of young men into the ranks of the terrorists. They might even then delude themselves by believing they can eventually ‘get it off’ with the 72 virgins in heaven if they do their duty on earth by massacring some innocent civilians and non-believers.

The standard argument by Robert Frank is that polygamy advances the interests of women by increasing their scarcity value. I don't buy this in Muslim societies where a female is initially the property of her father which is, on marriage, transferred to her husband. Indeed one might argue that these oppressive institutional arrangements that treat women badly are endogenously determined by the demand for polygamy which would otherwise give them enhanced scarcity value.

Oppression is then a mechanism for reducing what would otherwise be increased bargaining power. Women just lose out big and are treated badly as Ayaan Hirsi Ali (and others) point out.

No-one could possibly say that women in Muslim societies enjoy enhanced status as a consequence of polygamy. That is not so anywhere.

The Mormons in the United States have an interesting way of dealing with induced gender imbalances in their polygamous societies. The old guys just kick all the young men out and keep all the nubile young women for themselves. At my age it sounds like a conjugally ideal type of arrangement although I doubt I would have enjoyed it as a rootless young man. And my own daughters doubtless would dislike this way of organising their future marriages. I wonder if these ugly Mormons have any respect for their own daughters!

According to the New York Times:

Over the last six years, hundreds of teenage boys have been expelled or felt compelled to leave the polygamous settlement that straddles Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

Disobedience is usually the reason given for expulsion, but former sect members and state legal officials say the exodus of males — the expulsion of girls is rarer — also remedies a huge imbalance in the marriage market. Members of the sect believe that to reach eternal salvation, men are supposed to have at least three wives.

It is amazing how grown men can delude themselves and, indeed, how whole societies can come to fool themselves with non-functional religious beliefs.


dany le roux said...


the converse situation could be institutionalised in a new and better religion with a matriarchial based system of worship i.e. one woman shared sexually among many men.

When the young Mormon men are forced to leave the fold it must give added new meaning to the expression "on your bike".

hc said...

I understand this is happening in Pakistan. The 'sharing' does not seem to appeal to the ladies.