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Comparing Family Forms.

Comparing Family Forms.


Title: A Comparative Analysis of Polyandry, Polygyny, Matriarchy, and Patriarchy in Family Structures


The concept of family has evolved over time and varies across cultures, reflecting the intricate interplay of social norms, values, and power dynamics. In this essay, we will explore and compare polyandry to polygyny and matriarchy to patriarchy in terms of culture and power. We will also reflect on how these family forms differ from our own experiences.

Polyandry vs. Polygyny

Polyandry, as depicted in the first film, is a family structure where a wife takes multiple husbands, often involving the brothers of her primary husband. This practice is observed in certain cultures, and its legitimacy is maintained through cultural artifacts and values. In societies that practice polyandry, it is often associated with resource scarcity, where sharing a wife can be a practical solution to preserve family resources. This cultural norm is reinforced through symbols such as shared property and a strong sense of collective responsibility for the family unit.

On the other hand, polygyny involves a husband having multiple wives, and its legitimacy is often maintained through different cultural artifacts and values. In many societies that practice polygyny, it is associated with the accumulation of wealth and power. Symbols of legitimacy include the display of material wealth and the notion of a man’s ability to support multiple wives and their children.

The determination of power in these family forms varies. In polyandry, the wife may have a degree of power as she is central to the family’s survival, while in polygyny, the husband typically holds more power due to his role as the primary provider and decision-maker.

Matriarchy vs. Patriarchy

In the case of matriarchy, as observed in the Mosuo society in the third film, women often hold significant power and authority within the family structure. Cultural artifacts such as matrilineal inheritance and strong female kinship networks contribute to the legitimacy of this family form. Values of cooperation, consensus-building, and nurturing are emphasized, and these norms help maintain matriarchy as a social norm.

In contrast, patriarchy, exemplified by the Fundamental Latter Day Saints in the second film, places men at the center of power. Patriarchal societies often use religious ideologies to legitimize male dominance within the family. Symbols of male authority include religious leadership roles and control over familial decision-making.

Comparison to My Own Family

In my own family, which follows a monogamous structure, the cultural artifacts, symbols, values, and norms are deeply rooted in the idea of partnership and equality between spouses. Our culture emphasizes individual freedom and personal choice in matters of family formation. The power dynamic within my family is relatively balanced, with decisions made through mutual consent and respect for each other’s opinions. Gender equality is a key value, and both partners contribute equally to the family’s well-being.


The comparison of polyandry to polygyny and matriarchy to patriarchy reveals the diversity of family forms across cultures and their distinct ways of maintaining legitimacy in society. These family structures are deeply intertwined with cultural artifacts, values, and norms. Power dynamics vary significantly between these structures, with women often holding more power in matriarchal societies, while men dominate in patriarchal ones. Comparing these family forms to our own highlights the importance of cultural context in shaping family dynamics and underscores the significance of individual values and norms in determining how families function.

Comparing Family Forms.



The Social Construction of Family

Review the videos on family forms we watched.

The first film introduces fraternal polyandy – where a wife takes as her husbands brothers. Notice why they do this.

FILM 1 Polyandry (Fraternal)

Fraternal PolyandryLinks to an external site.

The second film combines religion with family. It focuses on a cut called the Fundamental Latter Day Saints, a spin off from the Mormon religion. This is an example of patriarchy and a cult. Some of the images and conversations are quite difficult as the deal with incest, rape, and violence.

FILM 2 Patriarchy Cult

“Damned to Heaven”Links to an external site.

The third film is a documentary on the Mosuo society, which is a matriarchy. This society is ancient and is balancing their culture with modernity.

FILM 3 Matriarchy

“The Women’s Kingdom”Links to an external site.


Write your observation as an essay that compares polygyny to polyandry, and matriarchal to patriarchal families on these dimensions:

Culture – how do each of these family forms maintain legitimacy in society? (Refer to cultural artifacts of symbols, values and norms. How does ideology help secure these family forms as “normal”)

Power – who has the power in the family? How is this determined?

Then, compare these families to your own on culture and power.

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