Saturday, January 27, 2007

Feminism and Anti-Monogamy

I have had the unwanted privilege of watching the polyamory* movement grow before my very eyes, in friends, and in movements. It has become so strong that it helps define movements. I am an anarcha-feminist, so I was very disappointed to see an article on the anarcha-feminist community about "saying no" to monogamy, but none about being a strong, monogamous female. There is a big difference between being radical and denouncing something because of its inherent flaws, and being pseudo-radical and denouncing something because it is the status quo, and therefore must have been created by patriarchal society.

There are two key parts to this question:

1) Monogamous relationships and
2) Marriage, as defined by Western society.

The first is perfectly natural, and can be found in human beings and other animals, including some mammals. It is not about ownership, or power struggles. It is about finding a reflection of yourself, a soulmate, and for some people there is only one. I have the right to choose to be monogamous, just as I have the right to choose anything else as an individual woman.

The second is created by a patriarchal society, and possibly has an original purpose of tying the woman to the man, so he is the sole owner of her children. But that's how it is defined in Western culture, not how it has to be. My parents' marriage is incredibly egalitarian; my mother did not take on my father's name, and I have both of their names. They share in the work, although my father does cook more, because he enjoys it. My mother has a private practice, my father is a teacher. They are both strong feminists who don't shave :)

I understand that being a minority in this culture, polyamorists feel anger toward the status quo, just as homosexuals may feel anger towards heterosexuals, blacks towards whites, and so on. But that does not mean that monogamy is unnatural, just like heterosexuality isn't unnatural, and whites aren't evil. (This is a simplification; I am very aware of homophobia and racism). Just like striking out toward the oppressor isn't necessarily striking out toward all whites, or all heterosexuals, you don't denounce monogamy as a whole because a few monogamists sneer at polyamory.

Moreover, claims that monogamy has been proven to be destructive and not work, are completely unfounded, considering that I have yet to find a stable polyamorous relationship. This in no way suggests that polyamory is inherently unstable; it merely points out that humans have relationships, some of which do not go smoothly. If you have trouble in relationships, be it power dynamics, insecurities, jealousy, etc., those problems will show up in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship. Just like it is irrational to seek a lesbian relationship because you have trouble with men (even though you're attracted to them), you cannot seek polyamorous relationships just because you suck at monogamous ones. In my opinion, you must truly feel in your heart that you will be happier seeing more than one person. Some people become polyamorous because of fear of commitment. They say that humans are naturally sexual, loving creatures and therefore need more than one partner. This is bullshit. If Sally says humans are naturally non-monogamous, then it's because Sally is non-monogamous, and is confusing herself with the entire human race.

People like to blame the entire human race for their own natures. Some of the most angry, bloodthirsty people I know say that violence is human nature. Yet it is their nature that they're talking about. Humans are naturally:

Plastic (flexible)

That is true human nature.

I will end with four points, two of which I have made before:

Humans are naturally peaceful.
Humans are naturally violent.
Humans are naturally monogamous.
Humans are naturally polyamorous.

The "human nature" argument gets nowhere past me!

*Polyamory is a descriptive term (defined by contrast with monogamy) for the practice of being open to more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time, with full knowledge and consent by everyone involved. (Wikipedia)


  1. I am a polyamory advocate and agree with many of your points here, especially that monogamy is still a legitimate choice. I will add that I do know many polyamorists with successful relationships - and many that crash and burn. As a matter of fact, I teach a very popular class at polyamory conferences on how to avoid the latter. Poly relationships crash and burn for many reasons, but indeed one of them is that the participants enter them as unprepared in terms of relationships skills as they were in their monogamous relationships.

    Whether monogamy or polyamory are human nature is irrelevant to my mind, though it is true according to well-known, respected, and widely published anthropologist Dr. Helen Fischer that over time human behavior adapted in order to see that humans survive, by both pair bonding (thereby giving children the best chance to survive) and by mating with others outside the pair bond, again so as to enhance the chances of human survival. Historically and reproductively speaking, males have indeed always had a natural and misunderstood desire to spread their sperm amongst desireable females, and females have always had a natural and misunderstood desire to receive the sperm of desirable males. Fischer says that what we think of as desirable is really subconsciously a recognition of the healthiest partners most likely to produce the healthiest offspring.

    I agree that we all have free will and the freedom to exercise it. From an ethical point of view, we should abide by our relationships agreements, whatever they may be, and if we can't, we should renegotiate them, not break them.

    Best regards,
    Anita Wagner

  2. Great post. I find this sort of thing one of the most annoying among anarchists. Reject status quo, rejection of status quo becomes "cool" and in so becomes its own status quo. I think polyamory often in itself creates uneven power dynamics, because if one person is seeing more than one, than the other person (people) in the relationship may feel compelled to date more than one person, too. It further bothers me that polyamory is promoted under the guise of being feminist or anti-patriarchy, yet I get the feeling that a lot of "feminist" anarchist men are looking for excuses to sleep around. "What? I get to be an anarchist (which gives me automatic sex appeal), a feminist AND have sex with many women? Duuuuuuuuude. Polyamory all the way! If you like monogamy you're just perpetuatig the system, man!"

    It makes sense to bring outside inputs into in your relationship. It makes sense to me to raise children communally. It makes sense that people may need to seek out intimacy in other relationships. I'm sure there are plenty of contexts within which polyamory work. I would even be okay with it in this society if it weren't so hip (thus playig into capitalist competition and individualism).

  3. I can't thank you enough for writing this. After been involved with anarchists and some pretty sexist 'anarcho-femenist' theory from men I have struggled with my desire for monogomy. I have come to the same conclusion as you about the whole thing.

    I have friends in a poly relationship and they assume my partner and I are 'closed minded' because our relationship is monogomous. In fact we have discussed different types of relationships and discovered that we both wanted the same thing. To me that is the basis of a healthy relationship be it poly or not.

    It makes me so happy to know that there are other people out there who see some of the fundamental flaws in arguements about poly/mono relationships. We should all be free to decide what is healthy and fulfilling for ourselves. Being forced to participate in relationhips we don't enjoy is just as wrong no matter who is pushing it.

  4. Thank you, Shandy. To have relationships the way you choose is hardly closed-minded. If anything, it's closed-minded to have a relationship based on an ideology that doesn't fit your actual relationship needs.