I am a feminist agnostic only child of divorced parents who grew up in the '80s -- you might not think I'd have much in common with a patriarchal Mormon-offshoot polygamous family of the '40s and '50s. But when I read Dorothy Allred Solomon's Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up In Polygamy, I found some unexpected similarities.
I believe in polyamory, myself, so my main objections to the groups who splintered off the LDS church so they could continue to practice polygamy is that only men are allowed to have multiple spouses (and women are supposed to marry for the purpose of being mothers) and that they seem to require plural marriage, instead of just allowing it as a choice. The author grew up in a family of one husband and seven wives, but herself chose a monogamous marriage despite opposition from some of her extended family members. She says that in her earlier biographical writings, she wrote that "persecution came from outsiders, not from members of the family. But now I had discovered another story to tell." Nonetheless, the lives of Rulon Allred and his many wives and children did seem as if they could have been nearly idyllic if it weren't for the outside world's hostility. (This, of course, is ignoring the first, sole wife who left Allred when he announced his new belief in plural marriage, and considering only those women who married him knowing what they were getting into.) Allred spent six months in prison of a five-year sentence for polygamy before Dorothy's birth, and both before and after that, Rulon and his wives fled to Mexico or scattered across several states when "polygamous roundups" threatened. While the father hid out from the authorities, he could not work, and his families scraped by in extreme poverty. Having to keep the structure of the family a secret meant no birth certificates for most of the children, no insurance or hospital visits for routine health care, and an atmosphere of secrecy that made real wrongs difficult to divulge. For example, in the household of one wife who was on her own with her children during the scattered years, there was a son who sexually abused his younger sister. Might it have been more likely that this sister could have told someone who could have stopped the abuse if they had been with the rest of their family, or at least if secrecy about things happening at home had not been so deeply ingrained into the kids? (Indeed, would the abuse have happened at all if that wife and children hadn't been packed off to an isolated house seventy miles from their nearest family member? One can never tell what makes a person develop into an abuser.)
But during these scattered years, the children's experiences seem to have been very much like mine, growing up with first separated, then divorced parents. Dorothy's feelings now about telling the family's bad times as well as good -- "silence is the death within death that none of us deserves" -- echoes my own feelings in speaking out about having been sexually abused.
Given some of the tragic things that happend either due from monogamists tearing themselves out of the family , or because of Dorothy's family's acquaintance with people whose polygamy was the least of their religious oddities, the author would probably have trouble seeing how I could see positives in the polygamy shown here. Indeed, things might not have worked even this well for some people in this situation. But it seems to me that the loving extended family whose bonds survived all the events they went through is an example of how responsible non-monogamy really does work for those who truly believe in it.