|Name Janet Bennion|
|Born October 2, 1964 (1964-10-02) Vernon, Utah|
Residence Vermont and Beartooth Mountains, Montana
Occupation Professor of Anthropology
Organization Lyndon State College, Vermont, United States
Books Polygamy in Primetim, Desert patriarchy, Women of principle, Evaluating the Effects of Polyga, Polygamy in Primetime
Janet Benson Bennion (born October 2, 1964) is Professor of Anthropology at Lyndon State College, Vermont, United States. She specializes in gender dynamics in Mormon fundamentalist communities which practice polygamy. Bennion is one of the world’s leading ethnographers of North American plural marriage. She has raised the question of decriminalization of plural marriage in a variety of radio and television forums and several international scholar venues at Brandeis University and the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
Early life and education
Born in Vernon, Utah, Bennion received her B.A. in Anthropology at the Utah State University, an M.A. in Social Organization at Portland State University, and her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Utah. She splits her time between her home in Vermont and a cabin in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana.
In 1994, Bennion received a Dean’s Scholarship Award for her ethnography, published by Oxford University Press, Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny. At the time of book's publication, Bennion was an assistant professor of anthropology at the Utah Valley University. With her appointment to Lyndon State College, in Northeast Vermont, she received the Vermont Women in Higher Education Scholarship and the Carol E. Moore Merit Award. Most recently, she was recognized as an individual of distinction for her latest comprehensive look at polygamy, Polygamy in Primetime, published in 2012 with Brandeis University Press. The book covers twenty years of ethnographic work, examining the variability within fundamentalist polygamist societies in the Intermountain West.
Until the last decade, North American polygamy was seriously examined by only a handful of scholars, including Bennion. In her first book, Women of Principle, she recorded the experiences of female converts in the Montana Allredite order, finding that many women are attracted to polygamy because of the socioeconomic support it offers, replacing a rather difficult life in the mainstream where their status as divorcees, single mothers, widows, and "unmarriageables" limited their access to good men and the economic and spiritual affirmation that comes from a community of worship. In addition to using polygamy as a tool for marginalized women to marry and improve their social standing, she found that women in some communities hold positions of religious or political power in the community, often exercising considerable independent power. They can raise their children with minimal oversight by their husband, manage their household, and work in the all-important female support networks. Finally, Mormon fundamentalism balances the deprivations and difficulties of the lives of polygamous wives with a promise of an afterlife as queens and priestesses. In Desert Patriarchy, Bennion examines the lives of women in the LeBaron polygamous group, located in northern Mexico, where she finds an interplay of the desert and the unique social traditions and gender dynamics embedded in Anglo patriarchal fundamentalism. Bennion identifies the variability in all four major polygamous movements in the West in her latest volume, Polygamy in Primetime (2012), finding that some Mormon women experience more individual satisfaction within the dynamics of a polygamous family than they could in any other marital form. Polygamy in Primetime responds to [polygamy’s] new visibility [in the media] with an overview of the subject that, despite occasional academic language, will appeal to general readers seeking more details than the soap operatics of Big Love can provide.
In her early work, she produced the first ethnography of modern-day Mormon polygyny in her masters' thesis. For her dissertation, she explored the factors contributing to female conversion patterns and investigating the intimacies between co-wives in the holy wedding ceremony which bonds women to each other and to one man. She also contributed to several chapters in books. Her examination of the atrocities following the Texas raid on the YFZ Ranch, where 460 children were removed from their homes is found in Cardell Jacobson's anthology and in her Mellen book. Her analysis of O'Dea's shortcomings in evaluating the experiences of women can be found in another of Cardell Jacobson's works. Bennion also evaluating the factors causing sexual molestation among Mormon polygynists in an Oxford work.