Monday, October 6, 2008

The Relationship of Sisterwives

As I continued my research I came across Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny, the work of Janet Bennion. Bennion’s book, “is a study of women who convert to the Apostolic United Brethren (the “Allreds”), a highly rigid, patriarchal Mormon polygynous community in the Intermountain West” (Bennion, 1998). Bennion performed field work within this community and discovered much about the culture of polygyny.

One aspect of polygenic culture that I found particularly interesting was the relationship shared by sisterwives. Women admitted to feeling jealous of their new sister-wives at times and described how difficult polygyny could be but they reaffirm their feelings of agreement with the practice of polygyny. Plural wives viewed polygyny as positive and one of the benefits they described was the strong important relationships between sisterwives. “The significance of kinship among sisterwives is that women who live near female relations reinforce each other and protect each other’s interests, whether emotional, economic, or religious” (Bennion, 1998, pg. 91). The women see these relationships as unique and important. One woman compared polygenic and monogamous women and their relationships in a very interesting light:

In monogamy you are tied to a husband for economic sustenance, entertainment, conversation, comradeship, and emotional stimulation. But a polygynous wife is free and independent by necessity and makes her ties with other women. When a monogamous wife doesn’t have him [the husband] around, and with no other sisterwives around, she is helpless. Where does she get the friendship, the moral support? A polygynist wife has it all” (Bennion, 1998, pg. 96)

I have never thought of polygyny in this way; the relationship of sisterwives is a vital part of polygenic culture and is very unique compared to female relationships within monogamist culture. This is a type or relationship/bond that I will never experience. I have always thought of the negative, demeaning, aspects of polygyny, but I truly believe that sisterwife relationships are an important positive part of polygyny. This relationship is something that these women do in order to make polygyny work.

Bennion, Janet. Women of principle [electronic resource] : female networking in contemporary Mormon polygyny. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 1998.


3rd... said...

Hi there.. I found ur blog browsing for info on sisterwives and polygyny (I'm a 3rd wife of 4)

Are you conducting this research for your study? You're approaching it in such a rational / systematic way.. I'm wondering where your interest in the topic stems from..

Well, so far I found it interesting to read how you view the lifestyle. Maybe you can expand your research into more polygynous groups not just limiting yourself to Mormonism. There are also Christian, Jewish and Muslim polygamists.

Will check with you more often to see how the research goes.. Good luck!

AJM said...

I am writing this blog for an anthropology course that I am taking. We are assigned to investigate a cultural practice that we may not fully agree with and to discover its inherent logic. So far I have written completely from the outside. I have no real personal knowledge of this topic. I have never experienced this culture nor do I know anyone who has. It seems so different from the world in which I grew up, but I am beginning to understand that this assumption may not be true and that there are advantages to this practice that can't be found in my world. I would love to hear more about your personal views and beliefs; it would be nice to actually think of it individually and personally, not just as facts or opinions found in an old book. Thank you for your interest and any other suggestions would be appreciated.