I think there is an unexamined assumption that polygamy in general is misogynistic, as if there were an equation in our minds and three or four or five women were needed to be ‘equal’ to one man in a polygamous worldview. I am wondering if we might explore that assumption.
A few data points:
(1) I’m reading Arrington’s biography of Brigham Young and one thing that I learned is that while BY was open to granting divorces to women for reasons ranging from abuse to “incompatibility,” he did not grant divorces to men. (Hey you anthropologists out there: Have there been other societies where women but not men could divorce?) We often take women’s right to divorce (or lack thereof) as evidence of their rights in general. Do we want to do that in this case?
(2) Those fabled polygamously-married women who headed ‘back East’ for their medical degrees always come to mind. Most women today are less-than-thrilled with their choices for balancing work and career; might we see polygamy as one way to achieve balance? It does seem that polygamy created a system where (most) poly-married women had much greater freedom for decision making on a variety of topics.
(3) Contra the above, the only real exposure to a woman’s first-person narrative of polygamous life in 19th century Utah that I am familiar with is Mormon Mother: An Autobiography by Annie Clark Tanner. And to say that she wasn’t too thrilled with her polygamous marriage would be to put it lightly. (I know that other LDS women spoke about polygamy, but I have to confess that I am always slightly suspicious of their public defenses of the institution given the charged political environment.)
Was polygamy good for women? (I don’t know.) And does our answer to that question have any impact on our thinking about women in the Church today?