Thursday, 13 February 2014

Monogamy as a Western Invention? | Dragons and Pandas | Big Think

Monogamy as a Western Invention? | Dragons and Pandas | Big Think

January 20, 2014, 10:07 AM

When the Western powers colonized Asia, naturally they
enforced their own views on sex, gender, and relationships onto the
subjugated civilizations. This is from a chapter on ‘Gender’ taken from
the East-West dichotomy.

Monogamy – It’s a White Man’s Thing

Almost alone among barbarians they [the Germanic people] are content
with one wife, except a very few among them, and these not from
sensuality, but because their noble birth procures for them many offers
of alliance. (Tacitus, AD 92)
In the preceding chapters I talked about the common metaphor of
culture as a living being (e.g. Oswald Spengler, 1922; Arnold Toynbee,
1958 etc.). In this chapter I go further by exploring the gender, sexual
orientation, and maturity of that culture.

Among the many things that impressed Marco Polo in the thirteenth
century, and what captured his readers’ imagination throughout the
centuries, is the absolute correct observation that a Mongol man, like
the Mussulman, could take as many wives as he wanted: “When a husband
leaves his wife to go on a journey for more than twenty days, as soon as
he has left, she takes another husband, in this she is fully entitled
to do by local custom. And the men, wherever they go, take wives in the
same way” (Polo, 2007).

Now, I believe Marco Polo often confused the Mussulmen with the
Mongols, and the Mongols with the common Chinamen (of whom there were
countless clans), as there were many hundreds of cultures existing side
by side in thirteenth century Cathay (China). The Mongols took over
Cathay and established the Yuan dynasty (1264-1368) under Kublai Khan,
who ruled from his court in Beijing, but they did not introduce polygamy
in China. Far from it: Although polygamy was accepted in many societies
around the globe, nowhere was it as common as in Asiatic societies.
However, by far more popular was the phenomenon of concubinage, that is,
the maintenance of mistresses.

Concubinage does not mean having multiple wives, like in traditional
polygamy, and it is certainly not a form of prostitution either. I will
discuss this shortly. Having multiple wives, as long as a man could
afford such a costly status symbol, was common in Hindu societies, too
(the mythical Krishna had 16,108 wives!), but since monogamy was
introduced in the nineteenth century by the British Imperialists, having
multiple wives became illegal in many parts of India. Yet in the Muslim
world, it is often legal. Until the Marriage Act of 1953, the ideal
household in China consisted of “one man, many wives, and as many
children as possible” (Gu, 1922; Xia et al., 2003). In Japan, polygamy
was declared illegal only after the country was defeated in World War II
and occupied by the U.S. army. But I will stop here and turn to more
important facts…

Next post: Western sexual dominance versus Asian sexual submission

Image credit: Jonathan Kos-Read/