Sally and I sat down to watch TV last night, and we wound up watching this crazy reality show on NatGeo called Polygamy, USA. We were both fascinated.
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The show was pretty much exactly what it seemed like--a reality show set on a massive polygamous compound out in the middle of nowhere in, I think, Nevada.
At least in this first episode, the show focused on two specific families. One was a large family with three sister-wives and eighteen (!) children living in what I would have called a smallish, split-level ranch built using either 1960’s or ‘70’s-style architecture. The show chose to focus on that family’s oldest daughter, who at 17 they were choosing to call “marriageable,” but I’ll admit that I was personally more fascinated with their family finances. They admitted on camera that money was tight, and given all the kids--and four adults--living in a house that looked smaller than the one I owned as an Army lieutenant, I can well imagine that it was a little more than just “tight”. The father had just asked one of his wives to go back to work to help him support that huge family, but even then, I can’t imagine that these folks are gonna be above the Poverty Line.
The father worked as a teacher at the local high school, and it seemed like that school must’ve been on the group’s compound because he’d met all three of his wives there when they were still students, and no one had come around with either pitchfork or shotgun to set matters right once he’d started preying on the girls. I mean, the show goes to some trouble to make it clear that the women choose the husbands in this set-up, but they aren’t allowed to date--in fact, they’re barely allowed to talk to males at all--so who’re they gonna have a chance to ever meet besides their teachers and their fathers’ friends? Frankly, it looked to me like your typical cult-leader bullshit, with all of the old men keeping the girls for themselves while putting the young men to as much demeaning manual labor as they possibly could get out of them before the ones without wives eventually rebel and leave the compound. But it was all smeared with a thin veneer of freedom based on this doctrine of ladies’ choice.
It reminded me of a card trick. Yeah, the mark is allowed to choose any card he wants, but the trick is that you limit his choices to only the cards you want him to choose.
The father of that first family came across as a straight-up pervert who used standard cult-leader tactics to hold his family together. As we were watching, Sally wondered aloud if he wasn’t sexually abusing his oldest (“marriagable”) daughter, and I replied that I’d been wondering that same thing. The poor girl seemed weird, bewildered, and confused every time she was on camera, and it was clear to both Sally and me that she hated her father and could barely stand to be in the same room with him.
I mean, that ain’t proof, but it is evidence.
Thankfully, the other family was a little more normal. The guy was a roughneck on an oil rig or maybe a high voltage lineman working for a heavy-duty out-of-state contracting company. Something like that. He very obviously had a good, blue collar job that allowed him to provide financially for his (also large) family, but he was gone for six weeks at a time because of that job, so I’m guessing roughneck. His first wife also worked, and she was well-spoken, so I’m thinking that she probably had some college, too, but the couple had four kids together, as well. So they’d done what any polygamist would do in that situation--they’d brought in another wife, basically to do all of the household chores and to take care of the kids.
And that’s fine, right? Well, yeah, except that the two wives obviously hated each other.
I mean, the senior wife clearly realized that she needed the help domestically--she said as much right on camera--and she also clearly realized that bringing in a another wife was a cheaper, more effective solution than hiring both a nanny and a housekeeper. That woman was not dumb. But she wasn’t quite as cold as she needed to be, either. It looked like she really loved her husband, and she didn’t like sharing him, especially with a blond bimbo, and even more especially because he was gone so much.
As for the junior wife, she’d signed on for a lifetime of servitude and slavery for reasons that I cannot understand.
Both the husband and the senior wife made it clear that the senior wife was in charge. The junior wife did what she was told, period. What choice did she have? She had a kid with the husband, and she didn’t work, so she didn’t have any money of her own, and I doubt that she’d have any legal recourse if she’d decided to divorce the family. I mean, the law only recognizes single marriage, and I’m quite sure that the husband and the first wife were legally married, so it’s not like she could sue for alimony. She couldn’t even get the law to see her as a Common Law wife. Maybe she could get some child-support from the family, but that and a minimum wage job at MacDonalds aren’t much of an option compared to her current--albeit miserable--circumstances.
Anyway, after watching a little of this, here’s what I’ve learned about polygamy:
1. If you’re a woman, and you’re going to be in a polygamous marriage, you absolutely have to be the first wife. And you need to get legally married to your husband while you can. In the long term, this will give you absolute control of the household and make the junior wives your de facto servants for as long as their kids are in your house.
2. Along similar lines: if you are the first wife, encourage your husband to buy a house before he takes a second wife. Explain to him that he can’t take a second wife until he’s proven to the community that he is a stable provider, and home ownership is a rock-solid way to do that. Above all, make sure that your name is on the deed as co-owner of the house when he buys it.
3. If you’re a man, polygamy appears to be an attractive situation, but there are some real drawbacks. First, it is very expensive. And second, your wives are unlikely to get along, especially when they’re both relatively young. All that hate and discontent is very like to sap all the fun out of what ought to be an ideal arrangement.