Reinstating Polygamy

Credit: Feminist Majority Foundation Blog & Flickr








“Egyptian Voices” on Twitter—such as feminist journalist Mona Eltahawy—are pissed. They claim that when Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the Transitional National Council, proclaimed liberty for Libya on Sunday—he spoke of lifting a ban so that Libyan men can have multiple wives. While Ms. Eltahawy and other Egyptians call for “democracy, not polygamy,” Jalil promised that the new constitution “will be based” on Islam, a religious template which appears notably ill-equipped to address numerous aspects of contemporary life, including women’s rights. Whether or not Islam is capable of stretching to become a more equitable foundation for the Muslim world, those using it to shape their constitution may not have the best intentions when it comes to their women. As it is, Ms. Eltahawy and others clarify that the polygamy ban was never enforced and Qadaffi’s brand of feminism was “cosmetic” at best, so perhaps this change would be more symbolic than significant to women’s lives. But when has a country’s laws pertaining to women not been significant in women’s lives?  

As of this writing, the New York Times reported on Jalil’s speech without even using the word polygamy, as did the Huffington Post. I find that interesting because journalists’ word choice controls article tone, readers’ reception of the article and key word searches!  The New York Times piece went on to briefly describe tension between “secular former rebels” and  the Islamists exploiting “the country’s power vacuum, infusing the conflict with religion and criticizing those not considered sufficiently pious, including women who do not wear the head scarf.” While I’ve nothing against Muslim women wearing headscarves, I believe it should be a choice. Ms. Eltahawy tweeted: “Headscarves and hymens: our paradigms. What’s on our heads and in between our legs.”  I hope those are the first two lines of her next article. Sadly, the brief nature of a tweet prevents any substantial discussion from developing and neither the New York Times nor Huffington Post articles allowed comments.

The New York Times quoted Yousef Amar, a Libyan man standing with his young son, both holding pre-Qaddafi flags. Mr. Amar said, “This is the beginning, like when the flower grows from nothing.” Yet, no flower grows from nothing. This flower, this liberty, grows from a paradigm created by and for Libyan men, not women. So why does it seem that vital, feminist dialogue about Jalil’s declaration of liberty are only happening, so far, on Twitter?

9 thoughts

  1. I’m in favor of polygamy in families that can afford it. It would be very helpful to have an extra wife and another husband or two.

    1. Agreed. The restrictions on taking another wife under Islam are so strict that it’s harder to have two wives than it is to just have a girlfriend. And of course, the women who want to have girlfriends.

      I think what you’re objecting to is not polygamy but the lack of gender equity. And that’s just not going to change for either gender. You can go to Baghdad and tell women that they’re being oppressed by a patriarchy, and they’ll just look at you and kind of feel sorry for you. And if you keep talking like that, they’ll get annoyed. It’s somewhat frustrating, but they are less interested in changing to a more Western ideal than we are in converting to Islam.

      1. Thanks for taking your time to dialogue with me. I’m curious to learn more about the restrictions you mention & will look into that. Personally, I DO believe that gender inequity–in the lives of both women and men–can be addressed and this is why I’ve spent much of my life learning, writing, teaching and advocating about sexism. Decades ago (and even today!), you could/can go to the U.S. and tell women they were/are being oppressed by a patriarchy, and they too would/will look at you like you’re nuts and possibly feel sorry for you. While I’m not interested in converting Islam, I support Muslim women who want to have the same choices Muslim men have, and more! Hope you’ll drop by again.

  2. I just have to add: it’s rather bizarre to debate Libya’s position on polygamy when the United States’ doesn’t allow me to have even one wife–including the woman I’m legally married to!

      1. Yes, except, I feel there IS a connection between my civil rights as a lesbian in the U.S. and Libyan women’s civil rights. What happens “over there” actually does concern me–enough to learn, write and dialogue about it. This is why I appreciate the fact that Ms. Magazine’s focus is more global than ever.

Comments are closed.