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Monogamy, Polygyny, and Polyandry: Three Cultures in Comparison

Marriage is a practice that has been known since ancient times, and its customs, functions, and characteristics still vary significantly from culture to culture. Traditionally, matrimony was supposed to ensure financial stability, property rights, and paternity, whereas nowadays more and more people emphasize psychological aspects such as romantic commitment, mutual support, and personal growth. Regardless of the approach, be it traditional or modern, some claim that only monogamous marriage can be long-lasting and gratifying. However, the world still knows many examples of unions where one man is married to several women, and vice versa. This paper sheds light on three cultures, each of which represents one particular type of marriage, and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of monogamy, polygyny, and polyandry.

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Monogamy in People’s Republic of China

Before the Communist revolution in 1949, China had had a rich history of marital polygyny alongside rigid traditions that allowed for arranged marriages, emphasized the role of the elders, and prescribed a woman to be obedient to their will. The founders of Communism were concerned with the woman’s role in society and wondered how it might be altered to align with Communist ideals. Although initially, monogamy was rejected as an institution that solidifies the class structure, later the political leaders saw how this form of marriage could aid gender equality. Indeed, the 1950 Marriage Law brought sweeping changes: it “equalized wives’ rights and interests with those of husbands” (Xie 4). Male supremacy was put to a halt as well as arranged marriages that were seen as a violation of a citizen’s free will. Economically, both spouses could share the expenses of setting up and maintaining a household, to which they both had equal rights.

For all that, marriage practices in China are not devoid of controversies. Although monogamous matrimony brought the freedom of choice, this freedom might be arbitrary as the social pressure to find one partner for life is present. Furthermore, in a phenomenon known as “marriage squeeze,” because of the male-to-female ratio and very specific, culturally determined requirements women set for their future partner, many men are left out (Quanbao et al. 193). All in all, China underwent tremendous changes that both brought about gender equality and created new challenges.

Polygyny in Uganda

Uganda is one of the few Christian-majority countries where polygamous marriage is legalized. Since 1987, there have been numerous attempts to make polygamy illegal, but the protesters never succeeded. On the contrary, the proponents of any restrictions have been successful; for instance, in 2005, they demonstrated against a legislative initiative that would require a man to seek his first wife’s permission to marry another woman. In general, polygynous marriage still thrives in this African country and is prevalent among Muslim communities, where men have up to four wives.

One may find both advantages and disadvantages of polygyny in Uganda. On the one hand, farming there is incredibly labor-intensive, and the presence of many adults in a household may lighten the burden. On the other hand, a big family may experience a shortage of resources. Furthermore, a cohabitation of several women may lead to jealousy and competition, which, further fueled by male chauvinism, may result in domestic violence (Amone and Arao 50). Therefore, for its economic benefits, the practice may be psychologically damaging.

Polyandry in Tibet

Polyandric “fraternal” marriages have existed in Tibet for many generations and can be described as a marital union between one woman and several brothers. Polyandry is not compulsory, nor is it legally binding for a family with many male siblings to find one wife for all of them (Stolz 606). Moreover, even within an existing marriage, one brother, usually a younger one, may decide to proceed with “partition” and quit the arrangement. What is indeed fascinating is that Tibet has barely ever experienced the shortage of females; thus, polyandry is practiced for other reasons. First, it is easier to handle Tibet’s harsh environmental conditions with several men in a household; this way, an efficient division of labor is also more plausible. Second, male siblings do not need to fight for their parents’ property as it is inherited by one polyandric family (Stolz 608). For all that, a woman’s possible favoritism decreased sexual access, and difficulties with determining paternity may pose a threat to the integrity of such marriage.

Conclusion: Discoveries and Comparison

While researching for this paper on Google Scholar, I made a few discoveries. I was already familiar with the concepts of monogamy and polygyny and what they entailed in general, but studying them within specific cultures was revelatory. Probably the rarest marriage arrangement, polyandry came as a surprise, and I was fascinated by its “fraternal” element in Tibet. I also came to the realization that each type of marriage has its vices and virtues; however, one may argue that the overall tendency nowadays is toward monogamy. It is easier to define the legal statuses, rights, and responsibilities of each person in a monogamous marital union. At the same time, it spares psychological damage of the partner’s search for another spouse and consequent jealousy and resentment. However, polygamy may be advantageous under certain circumstances. As it was shown in the examples of rural Uganda and Tibet, farming is much more surmountable when several adults contribute. In my opinion, none of the discussed practices should be judged or frowned upon; however, it is imperative to make sure that each person enters a marriage of their own volition and their rights are not violated.

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Works Cited

Amone, Charles, and Monica Arao. “The Values of Polygamy among the Langi People of Northern Uganda.” Global Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, vol. 3, no. 4, 2014, pp. 48-52.

Stolz, Jonathan. “The Ethics (and Economics) of Tibetan Polyandry.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics, vol. 21, 2014, pp. 601-622.

Quanbao, Jiang, et al. “Marriage Squeeze, Never-Married Proportion, and Mean Age at First Marriage in China.” Population Research and Policy Review, vol. 33, no. 2, 2014, pp. 189–204.

Xie, Yu. Gender and Family in Contemporary China. 2013, Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Monogamy, Polygyny, and Polyandry: Three Cultures in Comparison." January 7, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/monogamy-polygyny-and-polyandry-three-cultures-in-comparison/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Monogamy, Polygyny, and Polyandry: Three Cultures in Comparison." January 7, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/monogamy-polygyny-and-polyandry-three-cultures-in-comparison/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Monogamy, Polygyny, and Polyandry: Three Cultures in Comparison'. 7 January.

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