A couple nights ago I got into an argument with Jean Paul and my 19 year old neighbor Abdoulaye about polygamy. Their view on the topic is that a man with multiple wives is more powerful and wealthy (more wives equals more money), and that he is doing a service to the world and his family in adding to the population by impregnating more women. My view is that having two or more wives would be about as fun as having two or more full time jobs that are constantly frustrated and disappointed with you, but I have to admit that I have zero marriages under my belt. I’d also argue that the number of wives you acquire and the amount of money in your bank account likely works on an inverse relationship, but again, I’m unmarried.
They pressed on about how I should have two wives because like all foreign people, I am wealthy, to which I finally explained that, even if I wanted it, I’d have a pretty hard time finding two women who would be into marrying the same guy. Jean Paul then dropped a piece of Burkinabe logic that has made me cringe since I first heard it over a year ago: « Since there are more women than men in the world, » he said, « marrying multiple women is our responsibility as men. » Y’know, since in places where polygamy isn’t practiced there are thousands of single ladies wishing that the married men would do them a favor and take second, third, and fourth wives. Jean Paul never made it through elementary school, so I laughed and looked to Abdoulaye who is currently in the equivalent of 9th grade. « It’s true, » Abdoulaye said, « in geography class we learned that women are 51% of the population while men are 49%, so yeah, men should have more than one wife. » Suddenly, this was no longer a debate on the morality of polygamy but an easily provable question of mathematics and logic, and it dawned on me that I have a degree in mathematics and philosophy from a prestigious east coast state school, so I ran inside to get some crayons (the golden tool of all math/phil majors), thinking I’d settle this once and for all.
I started by saying that, with the definition of a percentage, Abdoulaye’s fact about the population of the world (which I’m not even sure is true but am willing to accept) means that in a group of 100 people, we can assume 49 are men and 51 are women. I drew out 49 blue dots and 51 red dots. I asked Jean Paul how many women each men in this group should marry, and he said four. I drew four lines from each blue dot branching out to marry each red dot beneath it, and as the first five or six men took nearly half of the available women, Jean Paul interrupted me. « Wait, from now on each guy can only have two wives, » he said. Alright, now the remaining women are taken by the next dozen or so guys and we’ve got about 30 dudes here to the right who haven’t even gone on a date. I was pretty sure I’d proven my point, but just as I was about to call all my engineering friends and tell them that my math degree really was applicable to the real world, Jean Paul noticed something. « By this point though, » he started slowly, « these first guys with four wives will have had daughters of their own. The single guys off to the right can take their daughters as wives. » Abdoulaye agreed, my red chalk blue chalk model didn’t account for the ages of the men, so some could be in their late 50s with perfectly weddible* daughters that the left over single men would no doubt marry. Ugh.
I took a more basic approach, imagining now that that same group of 100 people are all in their twenties. Again we have 51 women, but now the 49 men are going to come along and each take one and how many are left? We all agreed that 51 minus 49 equaled 2, but I had already missed my chance to convince them: they were too focused on the fact that the first four red wives would probably have given birth to a half dozen girls between them by now so there would be women everywhere! What do we do with all of them!
It occurred to me that I wasn’t having a conversation with people who really cared to know the truth of things. The fact that there are more women than men in the world is a comfort to Jean Paul and Abdoulaye, and they weren’t going to see the other (only) side of that fact no matter how many different colored crayons I had. Realizing my math teaching skills weren’t enough to prove that if every man in the world aimed for polygamy we’d have huge global unrest was a blow, but I was outnumbered on my porch and let it go.
This un-winnable argument reminded me of another I’d heard a few times against homosexuality. The argument is simple: if your father was gay then you’d have never existed, therefore homosexuality is wrong. I have to say, of all the pathetic arguments against homosexuality, I kind of like this one. It’s valid and hilarious. I try to explain though that, while it’s true that if I went back in time and managed to convince my father to switch teams, I’d fade into the abyss à la Marty McFly. But, my dad’s not gay and I exist: the argument is based on a false premise (told ya I have a degree in philosophy). This is the same argument I heard when I was doing my sex ed lessons in the marche, that if your parents had used contraceptives you’d have never existed so like stop handing out those condoms and start thinking about all the babies that don’t exist yet. It’s pretty frustrating once you realize people are serious, and really frustrating when you see that, like Jean Paul and Abdoulaye, they aren’t interested in changing their minds.
Happy International Women’s Day! I’ve got my new Journée Internationale de la Femme 2015 pagne print pants on and I’m headed back to site soon to prep for tomorrow’s first annual 08 mars girls’ disc golf tournament. Women’s Day here is celebrated with a new fabric that everyone wears, women’s soccer games, dancing, partying, and dinners cooked by husbands. So cook a meal for your wife, mother, or lady today! Why not! And later this week when it’s not International Women’s Day maybe continue doing that because designating one day out of 365 to do the right thing is kind of silly.
*definitely not a word