Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Prostitution is a Good Idea, and Polygamy Is Not

Now, I'd like to take a moment and discuss one of the more asinine political beliefs I've been exposed to. I'm not going to stand here and say that this particular belief has any sort of following, but there is a certain person in my life whom I love dearly, but who has some of the wackier political opinions I've come across. This person tried to sell me on this ideal something like three years ago. It has stuck in my brain, and I think about it far more than is probably necessary.

Once upon a time, I expressed the feeling that prostitution should be legalized in the United States so it could be regulated and taxed. I feel like prostitution is going to happen anyway, and at least some of the exploitation that goes on could be reduced if there was some kind of agency to pop in every once in a while and make sure everyone's consensual and disease-free. It wouldn't completely eradicate exploitation of minors or human trafficking, but I feel like it would probably help. But we're not here to talk about me and my progressive social ideals. 

Upon expressing this opinion, I was informed that the solution to the prostitution in our society is ....wait for it... polygamy. 

Now, this might maybe in some way make sense if people became prostitutes as a substitute for a marriage-like relationship, or because they didn't have a man to take care of them, but neither of those explanations make any sense. This idea first makes the assumption that all prostitutes are heterosexual women. It next makes the assumption that no prostitutes are married. It thirdly makes the assumption that people prostitute themselves to feel an emotional connection with the people they're having sex with. Finally, it makes the assumption that everyone who prostitutes themselves does so because they want to. None of these are the case. 

In France, a developed country much like the United States, prostitution is legal. It is not uncommon for a woman facing a brief financial crisis to go out and hook for a few nights, make some quick cash, and return to her regular life. Her regular life that often includes a husband and children. Clearly, it is not a lack of marital attachment that motivates these women to prostitute themselves. I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say it's probably the money.

I probably don't have to tell you that hearing this opinion voiced completely boggled my mind. It still boggles my mind. I have no idea what sort of education and life experiences would lead a person to believe that legalizing polygamy (which, by the way, is more illegal in the US than prostitution is. Prostitution at least has Nevada) would eradicate prostitution. 

Assuming that everyone is entering into these polygamous relationships of their own free will, I don't really see polygamy having any effect on the number of prostitutes in this country. If people are being forced into polygamous relationships and locked in a compound, then yes, I suppose I can see that. What I don't see is how that's any sort of improvement at all. As far as I'm concerned, both situations are equally degrading and frankly, I'd take the one that pays. 

Prostitution and polygamy have co-existed in cultures for thousands of years. The ancient Hebrews were all about polygamy, but there were also multiple times when the Lord called people out for consorting with harlots. In modern Saudi Arabia, a man can have up to four wives, but the US State Department specifically called out Saudi Arabia as a destination country for both men and women trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In summation, polygamy is totally legal, and prostitution is a major crime, but both manage to co-exist in the same society. I suspect that the person who came up with the theory I've been discussing would say that it's because they're Muslim and they're not doing polygamy right.

Quite honestly, I think the Muslim way of polygamy is one of the better ones. The husband is required to treat each wife equally, to the point that if he has sex once with one wife, he has to have sex once with all the other ones so they're all on the same page. I would find that way more trouble than it could possibly be worth, but different strokes for different folks. If you want four mortgages, by all means. 

But what you don't end up with is one guy with twenty-seven wives that he has no way of taking care of and some that he favors over others. I mean, so these women are married. Big friggin' deal. That doesn't mean that all of a sudden they have adequate income. That doesn't mean that the husband has the means to shelter these women. That doesn't mean that some of these women won't be exploited for sex in return for economic security from their husband. That doesn't mean that any children who are born into this union will feel loved or secure. I'm a little bit at a loss as to what problems polygamy could possibly solve, actually. 

Polygamy makes sense in societies where women are property. It doesn't make sense anywhere else. If the idea is that the more women you have, the more powerful and prestigious you become, then I suppose I understand (although it disgusts me). It doesn't make economic sense, it doesn't make genetic sense (hello, inbreeding), it doesn't make legal sense. The divorce rate in the United States is already absurdly high. Is throwing another woman into the mix really going to improve matters? I'm inclined to think that adding a third person to a marriage would make it less stable, not more. If the appeal for polygamy is purely sexual, I hardly think it would be worth the trade. You would become saddled with a whole new set of financial issues, emotional issues, interpersonal issues, and the only benefit would be sex. For God's sake, just buy a copy of the Karma Sutra and spice things up a little bit. It'll save money in the long run, I promise. 

It baffles me, as the person who posited this theory is a woman. I really don't see how having another woman in my relationship with my husband would be anything but damaging. I would find it absolutely demeaning and degrading. It upsets me just to think about it. I would much rather Nate go out and hire a hooker than decide to marry an additional woman. I would be way less hurt and offended.

Although, and this brings me to my final point, I don't really understand the connection between prostitution and polygamy. To my knowledge, there's not a correlation. It's true that there may not have been prostitutes among the early Mormon settlers, but I suspect that would have less to do with the fact that everyone was polygamous and more to do with the fact that everyone was Mormon. According to my research, the first brothels in Utah opened in 1858, a mere eleven years after the Utah Valley was settled, when Mormon polygamy was still going strong. I don't understand how or why polygamy would "solve" prostitution. I don't get where that mental leap would come from. It's been years, so I don't recall the justification (although to be honest, it might have just been "Yes it would!"), but I think about this a lot and I'm not really coming up with anything. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm not exactly sure how this person made the connection that polygamy would nix out the market for prostitution. I've been mulling that one over in my brain for a bit, and I still don't really see how they came to that conclusion, but oh well.

    The Muslim population that practices polygamy varies greatly by region. We have a large amount of practicing Muslims in my area, and it usually goes one way or the other. There are a lot of Muslim Africans here that work at Cargill. In that culture, the women rule the roost. The man may have three wives, but he is absolutely at their bidding. Frequently the wives are even the ones who pick out the next woman their husband marries.

    The men from the Middle-East countries generally seem to practice polygamy in a more patriarchal manner. I have no idea what created this difference, or if it's something that is just common in my area.