Debating Polyamory


First, Laurie Penny in the Guardian:

[n]on-monogamy is stereotyped as a bad deal for women and girls, all of whom actually just want a white wedding, because we women are all the same, simple creatures with simple desires. When abuse happens within polyamorous relationships, outsiders often assume that the non-traditional relationship structure is to blame – but the same assumptions are rarely made when a “traditional” marriage turns violent, despite the fact that the practice historically treated women as property and until recently made it legal for men to rape their wives. For plenty of women, that's reason enough to consider other options.

Of course, polyamory isn't always political. People do it for all sorts of reasons, from grand ethical statements to boredom – managing the drama of multiple relationships is a great way to kill time on a Sunday afternoon. Personally, I started practising non-monogamy in my early 20s as a statement against the tyranny of the heterosexual couple form and the patriarchal nuclear family – but then again, I did a lot of silly things for similar reasons in my early 20s. If you'd asked 21-year-old me why precisely I was hanging half-naked out of a fourth-floor window on Holloway Road, I'd probably also have answered “as a statement against the tyranny of the heterosexual couple form”. Nowadays, from the wise and serious vantage point of my mid-20s, I practice non-monogamy because it works for me. It doesn't work for everyone, and I might not choose it forever.

Julie Bindel responds, also in The Guardian:

Polyamory is the latest subversive and a la mode sexual practice toreceive extensive media coverage. It appeals as a subject for to those interested in alternative lifestyles, but also attracts commentary from some deeply unpleasant folk who have trashed it alongside gay marriage. “What next?” ask the bigoted opponents of equal marriage. “Polygamy and marriage to your brother/cat/hedge trimmer?”

It is neither my business or concern as to how many sexual partners anyone has at any one time, and I genuinely could not care less how folk organise their relationships. But the co-opting and rebranding of polygamy, so that it loses its nasty association with the oppression of the most disadvantaged women, is as irresponsible as suggesting that because some women chose to enter high-end prostitution as a social experiment, all prostitution is radical and harmless.

Caroline Humphrey, a professor of collaborative anthropology at Cambridge University, has argued in favour of the legalisation of polygamy because, according to a number of women in polygamous marriages in Russia, “half a good man is better than none at all”.