Feminism and The Moral Animal
In “The Moral Animal,” Wright argues that feminist anti-polygyny is misplaced. Feminists often argue that polygyny is misogynistic because it places women in a subservient and oppressive system that does not consider their well-being. Wright counters this argument from a Darwinian perspective, noting that women are statistically more economically stable and better cared for when the wealthiest members of society take on multiple wives. Excessive resources get more evenly distributed, benefiting both the traditional wife and children. This is not to say that polygyny is not harmful to society. When the poorest men have no access to wives, there is a drastic increase in violence within a society.
What is interesting is how this relates to contemporary Western society. We do not actually live in a society built on monogamy, but on serial monogamy. In polygamous communities, a man must have the proper resources to take on extra wives. In serial monogamy, men are welcomed to leave their first wives (and children) and move on to a second set with little or no requirement to support the first set. Not only are economic resources withdrawn in divorce, but also so are the social advantages to having a present father. Wright suggests that our current state is actually the worst of all possible worlds. Women have limited (and not guaranteed) access to economic resources and there is a high probability that they will be the sole parent as stepparents are often more problematic to households and estranged fathers rarely provide the social support necessary for the well-being of children. To make matters worse, the poorest and least desirable men have little access to women (as the most powerful men *** multiple women), increasing the violence in society.
Of course, Wright fleshes out these theories in full detail and recognizes that social practice is not explicitly theory realized. Yet, in reading this, what struck me was the placement of these theories in relation to feminism. Access to divorce and freedom from non-monogamous husbands was all thought to be beneficial for women. Opening up the job market to women was going to provide equality and opportunities for social dominance. Yet, a half a century into these massive changes, Western women face a whole new set of challenges, and it is hard to say whether they are better off. There are less social structures in place to provide for emotionally enriching child support, making raising children a much more daunting practice. Since women bear the brunt of this work even when they have jobs, careers are an added struggle as opposed to an alternative. Even in marriages, women practically need to maintain job capabilities so that in the case of divorce, they are not left stranded and destitute.
Of course, Wright does not argue for a return to Victorian times, but a reflection on what has changed and its impact. Regardless of warped Republican rhetoric, instituting family values requires more of a social change than a legal one, as parental involvement must be genuine, not simply economic. But i have to wonder – in turning our social structure topsy-turvy, what have we lost? Perhaps i have the freedom and privilege to be a doctorate student, but what new challenges am i facing? And in instituting Judeo-Christian values on other cultures, are we actually causing the women more harm? Are my arguments for eliminating gender-based oppression improperly structured? Or more interestingly, can culture help evolve away from the Darwinian perspective?