“Non-monogamy is practised mostly by feminists/is a feminist act.”
“Non-monogamy is misogynistic, male-centric and abusive towards woman.”
If I had a pound for every time I’d heard one of these two – clearly contradictory – takes on non-monogamy, I would be a rather rich woman by now.
But it cannot be both. These two ‘facts’ cannot co-exist and both be true. So which is it?
…..In and of itself, it’s neither. It has strong potential to go either way.
Non-monogamy can certainly be misogynistic and male-centric, and all too often does indeed seem to fall into becoming so. Traditional (usually religious though not always) polygyny falls squarely into this category, in my book. (Sister Wives, anyone?) A form of non-monogamy in which The Man can have all the partners he wants, but the women must be faithful to him only screams of this.
(I’m not talking about actual, negotiated mono-poly relationships here, which I tend to be sceptical of but know can work, if done correctly. I’m talking about the enforcing of this kind of dynamic through any kind of system of unequal power.) I find this doubly frightening when it’s sanctioned by religion, law or some other ‘governing body.’ In these systems it’s about control, it’s about ownership, and that’s really Not Okay.
A really big part of this is, I think, tied up in the issues surrounding the ways that female sexuality is often viewed by our culture as being all about men. There are certain ways I see this manifesting over and over again in polyamorous or non-monogamous set-ups. These include, but are not limited to, the One Penis Policy, the ideal of the hot bi babe, and typically male-centric views of female/female attraction/sex/relationships (any other bi/lesbian/queer identified women who’ve ever been asked by a man “can I watch?” will understand what I mean here!)
The partner who told me I was ‘ruined’ because I’d had a penis that was not his inside me… the male partners who assumed any girlfriends I had would be down for threesomes with them…. the partner who lied to my girlfriend-at-the-time and told her he had romantic feelings for her “to get free sex” (yes, this actually happened, I find it hard to believe too)… all of these are manifestations of a form of non-monogamy which is highly misogynistic, sexist, and was specifically damaging to me as a woman. Once again, all things which bought into horrible societal systems of men owning women, of women owing their bodies to men, of women having no sexuality that exists independently of men. And these examples are just from my own experience – I’ve heard similar from countless other women.
Only in a system in which potentially unequal power dynamics are recognised and steps are taken to negate them is it possible to create a healthy and feminist (whether you want to call it that or not) form of non-monogamy. This really doesn’t require huge, radical steps. It’s as simple as partners negotiating things as equals, truly listening to and communicating with each other, regardless of gender. It’s as simple as a man accepting that a woman’s sexuality is her own; that he does not own her, and she does not ‘owe’ him anything. (Surprisingly, though, there are huge areas of society in which these simple notions are seen as radical.)
So what does a feminist-friendly non-monogamy look like? I’m sure everyone will have slightly differing opinions on this, and I’d love to hear some of them.
For me? It’s largely simple things. It’s…
…when Nomad reassures me that he loves and values me, even if I’m not dressed up in a sexy outfit or wanting to have sex at that particular moment in time. It’s being wanted for more than just my body, being secure in the knowledge that my personality and mind and thoughts and interests are important.
…being given freedom to express my wants, needs and desires, and an equal voice in making any decisions or resolving any issues.
…not having my worth as a person determined by my sexual choices (either “too slutty” or “too prudish,” depending upon who you ask.)
…the freedom to date a woman, if I want to, without the assumption that this gives my male partners some kind of free pass sexual access to her (or, conversely, gives her male partners access to me!)
…being able to say ‘no’ to somebody, and not have them stop talking to me or fly off the handle about it.
There are many more examples, but these are just a few of them.
In conclusion, then, non-monogamy isn’t necessarily feminist-friendly, but it can be. And it’s so easy to practice a form of polyamory that isn’t sexist or misogynistic. And I sure as hell know which way I want my non-monogamy to go! (For that matter, if in some parallel universe I changed completely and decided to be monogamous, I’d want my monogamy to be feminist as well.)
 I’ll do a longer post on my issues with this eventually.
 I’m aware not everyone reading this, and certainly not everyone who practices a healthy, respectful form of non-monogamy identifies explicitely as a feminist – so I’m going to use the term ‘feminist-friendly’ in addition to ‘feminist.’
 Term used loosely – I fully expect to come back to some of these issues and write more on them at some point!