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Co-Wife Conflict and Co-operation

William Jankowiak, Monika Sudakov and Benjamin C. Wilreker
Ethnology
Vol. 44, No. 1 (Winter, 2005), pp. 81-98
DOI: 10.2307/3773961
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3773961
Page Count: 18
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Co-Wife Conflict and Co-operation
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Abstract

Conventional wisdom holds that the polygynous family system is as sexually and emotionally satisfying as a monogamous one. Ethnographic accounts of 69 polygynous systems, however, provide compelling evidence that the majority of co-wives in a polygynous family prefer pragmatic co-operation with one another while maintaining a respectful distance. Moreover, there often is a deep-seated feeling of angst that arises over competing for access to their mutual husband. Co-wife conflict in the early years of marriage is pervasive, and often marked by outbursts of verbal or physical violence. Co-wife conflict may be mitigated by social institutions, such as sororal polygyny and some form of "social security" or helath care. Material wealth may be divided more or less equally, but as a husband's sexual attention (a primary source for increased fertility) and affection cannot always be equitably distributed, there is ongoing and contentious rivalry among co-wives.

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