More on marriage privileging: Propping up a dying model?
Following up on my last post, Poly Marriage or Poly Freedom, here's more on the theme of marriage privileging.
Andrea Zanin sparked a lot of discussion with her piece last January The Problem with Polynormativity. By "polynormativity" she meant arrangements that look "as similar to traditional monogamy as possible, because that’s the least threatening to the dominant social order." In other words couple-centric, hierarchical, rule-bound, marriage-like:
...At its most basic, I’d say some people’s poly looks good to the mainstream, and some people’s doesn’t. The mainstream loves to think of itself as edgy, sexy and cool. The mainstream likes to co-opt whatever fresh trendy thing it can in order to convince itself that it’s doing something new and exciting, because that sells magazines, event tickets, whatever. The mainstream likes to do all this while erecting as many barriers as it can against real, fundamental value shifts that might topple the structure of How the World Works.
An article in the UK's progressive Guardian, one of the world's leading newspapers, talked about the marriage ideal as something to reconsider, rather than to embrace and privilege in the gay-marriage debate:
Is compulsory coupledom really the best way to live?
By Priyamvada Gopal
Now that parliamentary sanction finally extends to gay couples who wish to marry, could the floor be opened for a different sort of discussion?...
...What we rarely do... is question whether pairing off into hypothetically permanent monogamous or even serially polygamous units are really where we must all want to end up. Given its less than inspiring statistical showing... should permanent coupledom really continue to be touted as the best possible way of organising our emotional, sexual and social lives? With tax breaks likely for all who obtain state-regulated matrimony, gay or straight, and with pressure to extend civil partnerships to straight couples — are there any dissident relationship possibilities left?
...To not conform willingly to the curiously uniform arrangements of modern coupledom is to be not so much dissident — you are certainly not accorded the dignity of choice — as either psychologically deficient or, in benevolent Channel 4 lingo, "undateable"....
To question the unchallenged primacy of the couple form isn't about advocating 60s-style "free love" or hip polyamory (itself not necessarily a radical option). Human beings, after all, have infinite ways of expressing love and being committed to ideals. But... it is unlikely to be an accident that a government that wishes to be seen as progressive in its extension of traditional matrimonial domesticity to all, seeks at the same time to viciously target those who are simultaneously economically vulnerable and living outside of the cosy middle-class ideal.... The disgrace that is the bedroom tax will overwhelmingly penalise those whose domestic arrangements fall outside of the idealised format — single parents, the widowed, the elderly, the disabled and carers.
The narrowly defined "love" and "commitment" touted by David Cameron and his ministers is so severely contingent on economic privilege and security that it is nothing more than rampant individualism in pairs with the recommended option of reproducing. You can certainly choose to be single if you can pull it off economically — no mean feat. The most gutting Valentine you will read this year is to Cameron from a fibromyalgia patient called Julia Jones who will now lose the 1.5-bedroom bungalow she shared with her husband who died of cancer and whose ashes are buried in the garden. Childless and living on £70 a week, she cannot afford the punitive tax [being now unmarried] to stay on and retain her loving local support network....
Read the whole article (Feb. 13, 2013).
Interestingly, the deepest objection I've seen comes from Deborah Anapol, one of the founding mothers of the poly movement. She has always come from a wider spiritual viewpoint and is not thrilled with how her poly-movement child has grown up to imitate mundane ideals. She sent a letter around to her mailing list and now has made it into an article on her blog at the Psychology Today site:
A Message in a Bottle
Thirty years ago a vision quest, my prayers, and my life experience led me to devote my life to liberating loving relationships from the limited mental concepts we humans had attempted to impose upon a primal force of nature. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about myself, about love, about sex, and about relating since I put this message in a bottle which came to be known as polyamory.... Now this bottle has arrived at the distant shore of mainstream culture, and those who’ve retrieved it are imagining that consensually non-monogamous relationships, aka open marriage and group marriage, might be the salvation of the family.
I am not rejoicing. Why? Because the powers that be, whether they be liberal or conservative, whether they be mainstream media or academia or corporations, have gotten interested in polyamory because they are hoping it will be the salvation of a way of life that is fundamentally flawed. The institutions of marriage and family are in trouble and many are desperate to save them. I understand — I felt the same way thirty years ago. Now I see it differently. The old must crumble so the new can emerge and yes, that means relationships as we know them, including non-monogamous ones.
...I’ve been talking about the potential benefits of polyamory for personal and social evolution from the beginning, but this is not the message that’s being seen. That part seems to have been washed away by long years in a leaky bottle. More love, more sex, more pleasure may in fact be what’s needed for marriage to survive and the evolution of patriarchal culture to continue. And pleasure alone cannot substitute for consciousness, more sex does not automatically result in more awareness, and propping up the status quo is not what I had in mind at all when I helped launch the Polyamory and Sacred Sexuality Movements....
Read on... (March 25, 2013).