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.