Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

If women had their way, would there be a lot more societies with polyandry?

Asked by wundayatta (58596points) February 22nd, 2011

Based on the number of children who are not the biological child of their mother’s husband, it seems like there is a lot of fooling around going on out there. One estimate I saw said that 22% of men and 14% of women had extra-marital affairs as of a decade ago. This article suggests the rate might be higher now.

I’ve copied a quote from the first article that suggests a reason why women might be unfaithful:

“Being unfaithful enables females to have their cake and eat it,” says the zoologist and author Matt Ridley. “In many species of bird, the female needs a male to help bring up the kids, but she’s unlikely to get the best male in the world to hang around for that. She’s much more likely to end up with a boring one with a straggly beard. But why should she settle for his genes?” With infidelity, she needn’t. And there is much evidence to show that she doesn’t.

We know that there is a fair amount of polygamy in the world. There are countries where it is legal for a man to have several wives. Based on this, I think it is fair to say that if men could get away with the double standard, there are some who would probably do it.

However, women, too, benefit from having multiple male partners. So my question is, if women were running the world, would there be a few nations that would legalize polyandry? Or, if not polyandry, at least remove the stigma from feminine infidelity?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

27 Answers

incendiary_dan's avatar

Considering that I believe (and I might be remembering this wrong) that most, if not all, matriarchal societies have allowed for women to have multiple husbands, I think it would be the case.

crisw's avatar

I am reading an interesting book right now, Sex at Dawn, that posits that prehistoric humans may have lived in just such a multi-mate culture and that monogamy is not the natural state of human affairs. It’s a controversial hypothesis, but an interesting one. There is no other group-living primate that is monogamous, for starters.

bob_'s avatar

Well, they’re the majority, so they have the votes. Why don’t they make the changes now?

Hobbes's avatar

@bob_ Because all women don’t have the same opinions? Besides, you can’t really vote on culture.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Polyandry is not for me, but I don’t see why others shouldn’t be able to do what they want to do. So, for me, sure I’d legalize it for men and women to have multiple spouses if that is what they wanted.

Infidelity though, is another issue. I don’t really agree with the article about why women cheat and I think saying it’s all about women wanting to have good genes for their offspring is a bit off considering the number of people that aren’t more careful about who they reproduce with (for both men and women). I view infidelity as being wrong and don’t think that should change. It’s not just about cheating though, it’s about keeping your word and not breaking promises.

bob_'s avatar

@Hobbes My point exactly.

nikipedia's avatar

Most women I know claim not to be interested in having multiple partners.

tranquilsea's avatar

I am, and always have been, a one man woman.

Hobbes's avatar

Of course, most women today were raised in a culture which strongly supports and normalizes monogamy.

crisw's avatar


Exactly. If the societal strictures were removed, I suspect that monogamy would become as rare among humans as it is among almost all other mammalian species.

nikipedia's avatar

@crisw: But the societal strictures probably came from somewhere. I can imagine monogamy contributes positively to social cohesion and potentially has advantages for child-rearing.

When it goes right, anyway.

Hobbes's avatar

I think it also has to do with the rise of Patriarchy. In a matriarchal society where women have multiple partners, power can still be passed down through the mother’s line because all her children are still obviously hers, even if they have different fathers. In a society where power is transferred through the father’s line, monogamy becomes important because there is no other way to tell whether the child “belongs” to the father.

nikipedia's avatar

Wait. Why isn’t this question, “If men had their way, would there be a lot more societies with polygyny?” Are we assuming men do have their way, that there are a lot of societies with polygyny, or that when it gets right down to it, men don’t actually want more than one woman?

bob_'s avatar

Maybe men don’t want more than one mother-in-law?

Hobbes's avatar

Well, polygyny was pretty common in early Patriarchal cultures. I really have no idea why it disappeared, but perhaps it’s related to the influence of religion? The whole “sex is bad and you should feel bad for having it” thing?

choreplay's avatar

Haven’t read through the whole thread so don’t know if this has been covered, but given the psychological propensities of each sex which would be more likely; one female and multiple males or one male and multiple females. Let me add that every time I see an unmarried female friend it’s real difficult to find decent males.

Brian1946's avatar

If there was a religious group preaching polyandry, could it be called the Morwomon church? ;-)

wundayatta's avatar

The ones who are into polyandry. If there are an equal number as men into polygamy, then 20% of societies would have polyandry. One could think at that level, or one could think at an individual level—if one, personally, would like several husbands.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@wundayatta Again, this is about economics – are women in our society as financially well off? And you know, I mean besides white women.

wundayatta's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Let’s assume they are well off, no matter what their race. Let’s assume men are also well off, but it’s a matrilineal society.

everephebe's avatar

I strongly believe in pair bonding as soon as offspring are produced. Can’t you tell I’m a romantic.

I don’t think polyandry would work because of the numbers, more women than men; but I like the idea polyandry more than polygyny, based only on the results. Polygamy is not my thing.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@wundayatta Oh, so we’re not living in our world – I can’t predict how it would be – I don’t know if women’s minds have been reset from thinking men are better, I don’t know any of it..I’m thinking that yes, some would go for polyandry – I know I would but I’m not a good example.

wundayatta's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir What-ifs are a problem, because as you say, we’re not living in our world. I think it’s interesting that you would go for it (not that I’m surprised) in the sense that I wonder how many other women might think the way you do (another what-if).

I wonder how polyandrous and polygamous households are organized differently. If only I hadn’t used up all my questions for the day.

Haleth's avatar

Personally, I would. I’d prefer it over serial monogamy because if everything goes right, you could end up with lasting bonds with multiple partners. I want to settle down emotionally and build something lasting with (at least) one other person. But I think that expecting your emotional match, sexual match, and the best partner for childrearing to be all the same person is way too much pressure to put on any given relationship. That’s why so many marriages end in divorce. I wouldn’t mind if the tables were turned, either; I’d be okay with having multiple husbands or being a multiple wife, as long as we work out an even balance of power.

sst_girl's avatar

Polygamists have the same reasons why they think only men would be sucessful in this kind of relationship. They think that women cannot handle having multiple husbands.
I say this is absolute rubbish!
The real reason why there are no polyandrous relationships (that I am aware of) is not because women are incapable of handling multiple men.
It is because men are incapable of handling a relationship where they are one of a few men competing for one womens attention.
Mens fragile egos are incapable of dealing with such a situation….pathetic.
It just goes to show….if you cant take it, then dont give it.
This is just one more example of how infuriatingingly unequal the balance of power is between men and women still….

Hobbes's avatar


I mean, my ideal relationship would be one with me, a woman, and another man. It’s just that sort of thing is hard to set up, and is extra stigmatized on top of the homosexual thing.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther