Where’s the Conflict Between Feminism and Polygamy?


As contemporary culture degenerates apace, a new reality show about a polygamous family has been trotted out on TLC. The target audience is obviously female. Any grown man who wants to watch a TV show about a household full of wives must be mentally ill, in my humble opinion.

Adding to the appeal of the show, the husband and his wives all declare themselves to be feminists.

It’s among the most patriarchal domestic arrangements you can sign up for. In polygamy, husbands are king.

But one polygamist family is insisting that it’s the exception. The Williams clan, which lives outside Salt Lake City, comprises wives Paulie, Robyn, Rosemary, Nonie, and Rhonda. There are 24 children. And, one other person … oh, right, husband Brady. He’s a construction manager and philosophy major who’s currently enrolled in a feminist theory course at a local college and who refuses to accept the title “head of the household.” He doesn’t like the sexist connotation.

A one-hour special about the Williamses aired on TLC last fall, and the family’s new 9-part series, My Five Wives, is set to debut on Sunday. Earlier this week, the six parents sat down for an interview.

When asked who among them identified as a “feminist,” six hands shot up as if propelled by jack-in-the-box springs. For the wives, this brand of feminism involves sleeping with their spouse only every fifth night, consulting their husband’s other wives if they want to adopt a child, and—as Rosemary puts it—fighting their own psyches to keep jealousy locked in a cage like the wild animal it is.

Brady insists that he’s about equality in his relationships. “And that can exist with more than a man and a wife. That can exist with a man and a wife and a wife and a wife and a wife and a wife.”

The kind of polygamy practiced by fundamentalist Mormons is not typical from an anthropological standpoint. Traditional polygamy has always been rare due to the roughly equal sex ratio at birth. It has usually been confined to apex males, such as rulers and the extraordinarily wealthy. Where it is institutionalized, there are certain protocols, including harems, eunuchs and rankings of wives, with the first typically being in charge. Institutional polygamy is pretty awful for all but the people directly involved. A good first hand account of it can be read in in the book White Gold, a biography of a Cornish man named Thomas Pellow who was kidnapped by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery. His master was the notorious Mulai Ismail, the 17th and 18th century Moroccan despot who is said to have fathered 888 children. His wives frequently plotted against each other and murdered each other’s children, children conspired to gain power, and when their father died a bloody civil war broke out, as is usual with polygamous ruling clans.

To ensure enough wives for rulers such as Ismail, ordinary men had to be either killed in battle, castrated or deprived of the chance to have a wife of their own, and slave raids were conducted as far south as Ivory Coast and as far north as Iceland, and possibly Greenland to procure slaves of both sexes — there has been some speculation that the the Norse Greenland colony was wiped out by Barbary Corsair slavers.

Mormon polygamy, on the other hand, was conjectured by English ethnologist Richard Francis Burton to have come about due to the need for labor in the early Mormon church. Rather than hire female servants, the solution was to marry them. While Joseph’s Smith’s supposed penchant for sexual variety may have contributed, there’s little doubt that the practical matter of rapidly settling and populating the Western Desert made polygamy an attractive option. In the long run, to continue with polygamy would have meant the gradual adoption of the slave society culture that has always traditionally sustained polygamy in mature societies.

Either way, there’s no indication that polygamy, taken as a whole, is any worse for women than for men. In fact, women’s station may be raised by it, as we see in the Sultanate of Women in the early modern Ottoman empire. In the 16th and 17th centuries, favored concubines and wives, many of Slavic origin, were often able to seize power and rule in the names of their minor sons and wield enormous influence over the vast Ottoman realm. From a feminist perspective, this may represent the height of female influence in a geopolitical context, and therefore should be of great interest to Western feminist theorists, however, they are not known to be the most historically aware of “scholars.”

So, I wonder why exactly is polygamy any less feminist than Christian patriarchal monogamy? It’s pretty clear that it is far worse for most men, but this doesn’t appear to be the case where women are concerned. In fact, Brady Williams’ self-professed feminism comes off as more credible and plausible than a de facto feminist Evangelical minister’s endorsement of monogamy would. He is more honest than the preacher who cultivates a flock of female parishioners while demanding that their husbands both support and serve them. Mr. Williams actually marries his flock and supports it with his own labor. And perhaps that explains feminist suspicions concerning honest polygamy; while it might be theoretically better to share one alpha than to own one beta, in practical terms it is easier to extract resources from one de facto cuckold while simultaneously sharing the patronage of a powerful man (or government).

What we have in contemporary America, therefore, is what might be best termed cuckold polygamy, in which women share a powerful husband andreap the benefits of a fully owned and subordinate manservant. It is truly the best of both worlds, but it is not monogamy.

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n 1946 a young, post-war Italian businessman from Valenza, Gino Amisano, began producing leather seats and motorcycle saddles. One year later he repurposed his skills to start AGV SpA (helmets) designing some of the earliest motorcycle protective leather helmets on the market in Italy. As safety testing and standards were not commonplace in this time of history, Amisano was one of the first to begin producing protective motorcycle racing helmets with his 1954 model 160 helmet. Fast forward sixty one years and worldwide the AGV name is living legend. After the production of the first leather “pudding bowl” shaped, crisscross inner lining and harnessed helmet, which would mold to the riders head, AGV had thus separated themselves from the competition, and Gino Amisano would soon be known as the “King of Helmets” in the European industry. To attain such a high status, a “King,” AGV had to establish their dominance in the helmet industry. They started with a riding helmet, but what was to follow? Their first step was by producing a protective jet helmet in 1956, later signing the best motorcyclist to ever participate in the sport in 1967, Giacomo Agostini, who would go on to win 14 World Championships while wearing AGV helmets. The first AGV full faced helmet worn in racing was in an Italian race, worn by Alberto Pagani, in 1969. And finally by creating and sponsoring the now famous “Clinica Mobile, this mobile clinic which would treat injured riders at the race track starting in 1977. It was clear that AGV had a commitment to excellence, both in safety of their products and the sport itself. It was right about this time that Michael Parrotte began riding motorcycles while attending the American School of Paris for three years. During this time AGV was the undisputed King of the helmet world in Europe while Bell Helmets reigned supreme in North America. During this time in Europe AGV Helmets were worn by many of the top Grand Prix Riders – Giacomo Agostini, Barry Sheene, Angel Nieto, Johnny Cecotto, Steve Baker, and Kenny Roberts. AGV was not just the sponsor of racers but of race series. The AGV World Cup consisted of 200 mile events at Daytona, Paul Ricard, and Imola. Shortly after returning to the US Mr. Parrotte wrote a letter to Mr. Amisano enquiring about the possibility of importing AGV Helmets into the US. Communications continued and in late 1976 AGV granted the exclusive rights for the AGV brand to Mr. Parrotte and his new company AGV USA. The first helmets arrived in the port of Baltimore in the spring of 1977. As an avid road racer Michael traveled the race circuit promoting and selling AGV as well as participating in races. During this first season AGV USA sponsored their first racer, an up and coming fourteen year old from Louisiana-named Freddie Spencer. After years of operating as the exclusive importer of AGV helmets, Parrotte saw yet another opportunity in the motorcycling market by producing safety apparel for riders, particularly club racers who needed very durable and safe products and who did not have unlimited budgets. In 1985 Mr. Amisano licensed the use of the AGV tradename to begin a joint venture with Mr. Parrotte in this new sector. In the first year American GP rider Randy Mamola began wearing AGV gloves, the CX-1. AGV road race suits and boots quickly followed, all handcrafted in Italy at the time. After only a couple of years of business in the US motorcycle apparel industry Yamaha Motor Canada became the first international importer of the AGV apparel. After the success of the AGV motorcycle safety apparel in the United States and Canadian markets, the decision was made to expand the name from AGV to AGVSPORT for cosmetic reasons particularity the Suits, Jackets, and pants. The AGV logo was perfect for helmets and worked for Gloves and Boots but was too short for use on arms and legs. So in the late 1980’s the AGVSPORT brand was born. For a number of years products were branded both AGV and AGVSPORT depending on their styling requirements. In the early 1990’s Italian designer Sergio Robbin designed the AGVSPORT logo. Sergio was the top designer for AGV and Spidi and had done extensive design work for Ducati and Bimota. One of his first creations was the Bimota V-Due 500cc two stoke sport bike. The company may have been young in age, but with the years of helmet industry knowledge that AGVSPORT founder Michael Parrotte brought with him from his early years with AGV SpA proved to be invaluable when creating high performance safety apparel. As many other producers focused of fashion, Michael focused on safety, performance, and value over all else. In 1992 AGV SpA purchased a majority ownership of AGV Sports Group. The reputation for durability spread throughout the club racing world and it is not uncommon to see AGVSPORT suits twenty years old or more still being used by club racers today. This ultimately led to a great and long-lasting partnership, now for more than 25 years, with Keith Code and the California Super Bike School, where all instructors would be suited up in AGVSPORT leather suits. The California Superbike Schools’ instructors and students have been using and abusing AGVSPORT leather suits for more than quarter century. These suits are put to a stress test like no other often being used for days on end, rain or shine year after year. These instructors and students often remain in their suits for the entirety of the day’s lessons, and essentially are living in our leathers. You may think the top sponsored riders would be the best example for why our suits are of the highest quality, but it is the instructors and students at this school that showcase how our suits can literally handle the heat and take a beating, all while staying safe, cool and comfortable. Throughout the 1990’s AGVSPORT apparel began to explode on the racing scene, beginning with Loris Capirossi wearing AGVSPORT apparel while winning an FIM GP World Championship in 1991. Back in the US the list of sponsored riders started to look like a who’s who of the racing world: from the US the riders Ben Bostrom, Eric Bostrom, Thomas Stevens, Kurtis Roberts, Aaron Yates, and Roland Sands; from Canada Miguel DuHamel, Pascal Picotte, and Steve Canadians; and from Australia Troy Bayliss, Sean Giles, Craig Coxhell, Josh Waters, Jamie Stauffer, and 7-time AMA Super Bike Champion, Mat Mladin. It was now time for AGV Sport Group Inc. to become an independent entity and all the shares of the company were purchased back from AGV SpA in Italy. But it was not until the fall of 2001 that AGVSPORT was officially recognized by the Italian helmet company as an independent brand, owned by entirely by AGV Sport Group Inc. Today AGV Helmets is owned by famed Italian apparel manufacturer Dainese. Since that time AGVSPORT has enjoyed a comfortable position in the apparel industry. By continuing their age old business model “Designed by Riders, for Riders,” and “The Science of Safety” which combined years of helmet industry knowledge. AGVSPORT has always been on the cutting edge of the safety apparel design and construction. AGV Sports Group has always been, and will always be, a company of avid riders and enthusiasts who are wearing and always developing AGVSPORT apparel. This ensures that you, the customer, will experience the best and safest products we have to offer, and we hope that you will actually be able to feel the history of Gino Amisano and progress of AGVSPORT every time you ride and are wearing any of our AGVSPORT leathers or textiles. Each AGVSPORT product is designed by riders for riders, and function is never sacrificed for aesthetics. By keeping product development and design in house and using experience riders, we are staying true to the dedicated following of discerning motorcycle enthusiasts who respect the quality and value of AGVSPORT performance driven products. We at AGV Sports Group are among the sport’s greatest enthusiasts.

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