Marriages based on couples falling in love and voluntarily choosing to be bound to one another is not an ancient tradition. In fact, it’s relatively new and lifetime marriage is quickly going the way of the dodo. Yet, religious radicals proclaim that paternalism, monogamy and marriage are species norms and part of a noble tradition. No so.
Historically marriage in some regions amounted to a patriarch of one family negotiating and eventually handing over his chattel (daughter, and a dowry) to the son of a patriarch of another family with whom he had negotiated the “settlement”. Look deeper still and we find the traditional practice in these regions was an older man being gifted with a “child bride” in marriage. In other regions, marriage amounted to stealing a woman from another tribe.
Look farther and discover diversity. According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of the 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous, 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had (polyandry one woman having multiple husbands). At the same time, even within societies which allow polygyny, the actual practice of polgyny occurs relatively rarely. There are exceptions: in Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.
Paternalism is the root of the sexual double standard
In ancient societies there was no question who your mother was, but who your father was remained a guessing game until DNA testing was developed. When we carefully explore the monogamous model we uncover that it all revolves around paternity, power and position.
In ancient societies who your father was as well as his power and position in society was where his offspring drew their social position from. And using Paris Hilton as a present day example that hasn’t changed much, has it?
Without doubt it is women who have been historically expected to remain monogamous so the paternity, power and position model could not be upended. Using the European example virile and powerful men were expected to have at least one mistress but were likewise expected to maintain the family “honor”.
Monogamy is rooted in paternalism
Monogamy is a paternalistic social power, position and money construct that has been used for millenniums the world over to keep women and children “in line”, to insure that elders were cared for, and to insure that the will of patriarchs with regard to disposition of their estate following their demise continued beyond the grave.
Paternalism is the root of the sexual double standard. Those who are members of and who support paternalistic organizations are loathe to look the evidence. The traditional marriage they refer to is one wherein old men possessed of power and position were gifted with child brides of friends and/or business associates and/or even family members by other men in positions of power in the same or other regions and countries for the purposes of establishing alliances.
As the monogamous model revolves around paternity, power and position, in some areas, the “Laird” (Lord) traditionally possessed the right to deflower all virgins before they were and sent off to their husbands.
Given the societal constructs and the fact that women had no say when it came to who their father or male relatives would choose to marry them off to, and in fact, that this is still the case for many women, when I hear anyone professing that marriage has always been a model of a man and a woman in love agreeing to spend their lives together, I laugh out loud. The tradition, which still endures in some locations amounted to one old man handing off a child bride to another old man.
There is no indication that monogamy is “natural” or “normal” among youth. The indication is the opposite. Polygamy during youth appears to be the species “norm” and probably always has been. Multiple pairings insured that the gene pool was large and the species was robust. Pragmatically speaking the societal and religious solution to unwanted and uncared for children and unwanted and uncared for elders was monogamy.
Today we are bearing witness to:
(1) both male and female youth being polygamous;
(2) in the case of females, monogamy becomes increasingly more attractive as pregnancy occurs or is likely to occur;
(3) in the case of both males and females, monogamy becomes more attractive with age;
(4) serial monogamy has become the status quo in our society, as 6 of every 10 marriages end within a decade of registration, and on average common law relationships only last a few years longer.
Conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair. These figures are even more significant when we consider the total number of marriages involved, since it’s unlikely that all the men and women having affairs happen to be married to each other. If even half of the women having affairs (or 20 percent) are married to men included in the 60 percent having affairs, then at least one partner will have an affair in approximately 80 percent of all marriages. With this many marriages affected, it’s unreasonable to think affairs are due to the failures and shortcomings of individual husbands or wives. — The Monogamy Myth by Peggy Vaughan
Monogamy going the way of the dodo
Monogamy, which is really no more than a useful social convention, will not survive. It has rarely been honored in practice; soon, it will vanish even as an ideal. I do not believe that society will return to polygamy. Instead, we will move toward a radically new conception of sentimental and love relationships. Nothing forbids a person from being in love with a few people at the same time. Society rejects this possibility today primarily for economic reasons—to maintain an orderly transmission of property—and because monogamy protects women against male excesses.
But these rationales are dissolving in the face of powerful new trends. The insatiable demand for transparency, fueled by democracy and the free market, is placing the private lives of public men and women under greater scrutiny. The reality of multiple lives and partners will become more apparent, and society’s hypocrisy will be revealed. The continued rise of individual freedom will permanently change sexual mores, as it has most other realms. — Monogamy by Jacques Attali
Monogamy, marriage and womens’ issues
Women since the dawn of time have had to cope with the predispositions of men. Women tend to be more risk-averse than men because they usually live with men who accept risk and even seek it out. Women tend to be less confident than men because they usually live with men who are overconfident. Because of this balancing effect, better decisions might be made if men and women were making them together. — Good Riddance by Valerie Hudson
Here we are in 2009 and women still aren’t equal to men. Listen closely and you will hear religious women, who uphold the patriarchy trumpet about their “freedom” and “equality”. This is despite the fact women still do not have the right to mind their own reproductive affairs and make their decisions in privacy with their doctors in America.
Indeed the big daddy state and corporate kings have assured that the paternity, power and position model continues. Not surprisingly the pharmaceutical corporations which are an intrinsic part of the paternalistic model are pre-occupied with making sure the old guys can still get it up.