Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

April 7, 2013

"Don't use Mick Philpott's case as a stick to bash polyamory"

New Statesman (UK)

The New Statesman is the UK's leading progressive weekly newsmagazine. A writer on its blogsite has written a rebuttal to a BBC reporter's perhaps deliberate confusion of polyamory with patriarchal polygamy in a horrific crime case, as described here yesterday ("Philpott fire deaths trial shines light on polyamory").

Don't use Mick Philpott's case as a stick to bash polyamory

I'm in a relationship with three men, says Charlie Hallam [who is female], and it's nothing like the controlling, coercive hold that Mick Philpott had over his wife and mistress.

By Charlie Hallam

One of the things about living as a member of a minority social group is that you tend to be on the lookout for things in the news that might affect how people think of you. It's not just about curiosity — it's also about fear, and pain. It's about the experience, time and again, of saying who you are and how you live and love, and being met with fear, confusion, misinformation and disgust.

...The reason the BBC article is so disappointing for polyamorous people is that it makes no effort to distinguish between religious and often (but not always) coercive polygamy, and other relationship forms under the umbrella of polyamory and ethical non-monogamy.

For example, the article claims that polyamorous relationships subordinate women. But Dr Christine Campbell, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at St Mary's University College, says: "This is absolutely without foundation. There is no research which has found this to my knowledge....

Sarah Brown, Lib Dem councillor for Cambridge, told me: "The BBC's article paints a very inaccurate view of polyamory. The concentration on women being 'pressured' into them by men ignores the existence of all-women polyamorous relationships, such as mine, as well as a number of other kind of poly relationship structures. Polyamorous relationships take many diverse forms.... The issue here isn't polyamory. The issue here is abusive relationships, and most of those involve only two people."

These misunderstandings have very real effects on polyamorous individuals and groups. In my family, we have told all four sets of parents about our living arrangements and that it is for the long haul, but with varying levels of skepticism....

Dr Thom Brooks, the academic approached for the BBC piece, is not an expert on polyamory, and was according to his twitter feed unaware of the purpose of the piece in which he's quoted. Throughout the piece, the terms polyamory and polygamy are used interchangably, and the title of the piece, 'Philpott fire deaths trial shines light on polyamory', clearly implies a link between ethical non-monogamous polyamory such as my family with the actions that led to the deaths of six children.

Dr Brooks is a reader in law, and his page on Durham University's website lists 12 areas of interest. But polyamory, ethical non-monogamy and polygamy are not on that list... Perhaps if Dr Brooks were more familiar with the field, he would have been aware of the wealth of research on the subject....

Dr Campbell [says} "Roping in notions of polygamy from other cultures and applying them to polyamory in the UK is entirely inappropriate. Polyamory and polygamy are not the same thing. As you know, polyamory is also often called consensual non-monogamy — highlighting the 'consent' that is at the heart of the relationships."...

Read the whole article (April 7, 2013).


MORE FOLLOWUP, April 18: People in the poly community have been sending Dr. Thom Brooks some impressively good correspondence, and his replies have been defensive. At this point he must know he stepped in something, and that if he does it again he'll be called to account to a degree he must not have expected.

For instance, this exchange between Michael Rios and him was just posted publicly:

Dr. Brooks-

I was concerned when I first saw your comments regarding polyamory in reference to the Philpott case as reported in the British press. I had later understood that you had claimed that the quote in the BBC article did not represent your views on polyamory. However, this page on your university website has much the same highly inaccurate comments about polyamory:


In particular, polyamory and polygamy could hardly be more different, except that both are alternatives to conventional monogamy. There are large academic working groups and networks of researchers who focus on polyamory; if you are not familiar with them, I would be glad to put you in touch with them.

Polyamory has been shown to be an outgrowth of the feminist movement. In the first fifteen years of the polyamory movement, nearly 90% of the books published on this topic were written by women, all of whom have multiple male lovers. These women include Deborah Anapol, Dossie Easton, Janet Hardy, Tristan Taormino, Francoise Simpere, Wendy-O-Matik, Christina Parker, and more. Seminal articles were written by Morning Glory Zell, Valerie White, and other women, and the magazine devoted to polyamory, "Loving More", was edited and published by Ryam Nearing, then Mary Wolf, then Robyn Trask.

In polyamory, women are just as likely (if not more so) to have multiple male lovers as men are to have multiple female lovers. Polyamory also includes many bisexual and gay individuals, so gender roles are exceptionally fluid, when they exist at all. A substantial number of polyamorous people, perhaps even the majority, are not in closed relationships; most commonly, all partners are free to develop other sexual and/or loving relationships.

If you do not agree with the statements made on the website above, I'm sure you can have the university modify them. If these com-ments do in fact represent your beliefs, you may benefit from more ex-tensive contact with both the academic polyamory working groups and the growing body of published research on polyamory, as well as with the writings and public positions of the many active leaders of the polyamory movement. I would be happy to direct you to some of the most influential and highly re-garded materials that are on the web. You may find many of these at www.polyinfo.org , in which I have compiled some of the best web-based material on polyamory.

There are also conferences in the US, and possibly in the UK, focused on polyamory. Attending any one of these would show how different the reality is from your statements as quoted.

If I may be of further assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Michael Rios

Brooks' reply:

From: BROOKS T.A. [mail-to:thom.brooks@durham.ac.uk]
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 3:47 AM
Subject: RE: Polyamory

The BBC contacted me about a paper that I published in a peer reviewed journal in 2009. They provide a link to a version of the paper in their story. I was not asked about any specific cases. Nor was I shown the piece before the BBC published it. If you are interested in my research, then I recommend you read the paper linked in the story. Again, my comments only pertain to this paper and not to any particular case.


Rios again:


I wouldn't be surprised if you have gotten a flood of mail about this topic, so I can understand that you might not have read my letter carefully. The quotes below are on Durham University's website. Is your university putting up material that you have no control over?

I've been misquoted more times than I care to recall, so I understand. But your university has on its website: Dr Brooks said: "Polyamory probably best describes the relationship between Mick Philpott, his wife Mairead and his 'former mistress' Lisa Willis."

If you did not comment on any specific cases, how did that quote come to appear on Durham's website?

Polyamorous people already experience enough discrimination and oppression without being wrongly conflated with patriarchal polygamy and linked to mass killers. If these statements that are attributed to you are not accurate, it may be worthwhile to issue a statement that *does* accurately reflect your perspective.

Thank you for your attention to the matter.

Michael Rios

Brooks' last reply:

I disagree. Polygamy is illegal in this country and he is/was not married to both partners in any event. Nonetheless, my comments refer to my paper which discusses polygamy and polyamory.

Thank you for contacting me about this and I will look into this further.

To which another commenter remarks,

At first this reply looked like a total non sequitur. Currently my "charitable misinterpretation" (phrase coined by a professor I had in grad school) is that he is saying that the Philpott situation is best described as polyamory because Philpott is not married to both of the women and thus the situation cannot be called polygamy.

That doesn't change the fact that he claimed not to be commenting on any specific cases, but the Durham University website includes a comment from him on the Philpott case.





Blogger kendermouse said...

It looks like the BBC article did allow for an opposing view to the so-called professional they asked to comment, but they gave her considerably less space, and gave him quite a bit more creedence. Sigh. They really could have done so much better with it.

April 07, 2013 10:39 AM  
Blogger kit said...

Happy with this article, though I'd take issue with Polyamory being "fundamentally new." ;)

April 08, 2013 2:06 PM  

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