Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

October 30, 2014

More press about the feminist poly origin of Wonder Woman

Is polyamory inherently feminist? These days it is, at least in the self-identified poly movement. And you can argue that a philosophy based on equal freedom of relationship choice across genders — to choose to be poly or mono without apology, to be sexual or not without apology, and to enter or leave relationships by your own decision — has to count as feminist compared to mainstream society.

Maybe that's why women outnumber men more than 3 to 1 among the authors and co-authors of the 40 nonfiction books on polyamory published since the movement took shape 30 years ago.

Or maybe it's because of a founder effect. The movement was birthed and shaped largely by such women as Ryam Nearing, Deborah Anapol, and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart in the 1980s and 90s, following the burnout of the male-dominated free-love movements of the 1960s.

But maybe some of the founder effect began earlier. The polyfamily that created the Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s was on a visionary feminist mission to remake the world, as Jill Lepore explores in new depth in The Secret History of Wonder Woman just out this week. The book continues to get heaps of mainstream press. One theme that many reviewers are dwelling on is the weird tension between the family's advanced ideals and the fact that for decades, the two women stayed in the background — one bringing home the paychecks, the other running the home and raising the children — for a man who seems to have been a perpetual screwup but got all the recognition.

To continue from last week's press roundup

● If I had to pick the best article so far, it would be Paradise Lost, the big five-pager by Jenny Diski in the November Harper's magazine. It's behind a paywall for non-subscribers, but a friend sent me a copy. Excerpt:

The history and creation of Wonder Woman has [this] effect on me: astonishment at how little women seem to have achieved after so many brave battles. And frankly, it’s a comfort to tell the comic-book story rather than to face the rebellious, revolutionary, real-world hope that accompanied the creation of Wonder Woman, and to see how, again and then again, women struggled and failed to wrest the narrative from men....

Everything about Wonder Woman — her creators, her story, her style, her attitudes, and her development — speaks in undertones to the century-long failure of feminism to gel. Not that things haven’t gotten better for women; they have.... But look more carefully at women’s day-to-day lives — aping male behavior and affect while still being paid unequally, watching the top jobs go to men while suffering the shortfall of energy and effectiveness brought on by combining child care and work — and we can see that we are cartoon versions of liberated women... drawn in broad strokes that mesh perfectly with male fantasies of dominance and submission....

● On the National Public Radio website: The Freaky, Fabulous, Feminist 'Secret History' Of Wonder Woman (Oct. 26, 2014).

By Etelka Lehoczky

[William Moulton] Marston had been a committed feminist for decades by the time he created Wonder Woman in 1941. He'd been exposed to the women's suffrage movement while in college, and Sadie [Elizabeth] Holloway, whom he married in 1915, was "something of a revolutionary," Lepore writes. 25 years later, Marston's determination to depict Wonder Woman in chains was partly inspired by women's suffrage imagery. (He had a rather forced argument for why the chains actually represented liberation.) Wonder Woman's first artist, Harry G. Peter, had himself once drawn suffrage cartoons.

Without fail, Marston sought to make Wonder Woman an icon of a new, triumphant phase of female rule in human history. Like the suffragists, he believed women were inherently more peaceful and benevolent than men, and in 1937 he convened a press conference to predict that women would one day rule the world.

"Women have twice the emotional development, the ability for love, than man has," he told The Washington Post. "As they develop as much ability for worldly success as they already have ability for love, they will clearly come to rule business and the nation and the world."

This vision of womanhood was shaped by both Holloway and Byrne....

Lepore has assembled a vast trove of images and deploys them cunningly. Besides a hefty full-color section of Wonder Woman art in the middle, there are dozens of black-and-white pictures scattered throughout the text. Many of these are panels from Marston's comics that mirror events in his own life.... Many of the photos Lepore collected depict the Marston family's happy, if unconventional home life....

● The Christian Science Monitor: 'The Secret History of Wonder Woman' combines biography and cultural history to tell the story of Wonder Woman and her creator (Oct. 29).

One of the central challenges of 20th-century feminism was to reconcile the competing demands of motherhood and a career. The women Marston lived with did not solve this dilemma so much as subdivide it; Byrne handled the home front and Holloway had a career. Marston benefited from the situation without seeming to realize what it suggested about the ideal that women should not have to choose between a family and a career.

Time magazine: 7 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know About Wonder Woman (Oct. 28).

By Eliana Dockterman

...The book comes just as Wonder Woman is swooping back into the cultural consciousness with her invisible jet. Israeli actress Gal Gadot will play Wonder Woman in 2016’s Batman vs. Superman and will get her own solo film in 2017.

Here’s just some of what Lepore uncovered:

1. Wonder Woman was inspired by Margaret Sanger (and other suffragists)....

...When Marston hired a woman named Joy Hummel to help him write Wonder Woman, Olive Byrne handed her one book to use as background: Margaret Sanger’s Woman and the New Race.

2. There’s a reason she’s bound up all the time....

3. Wonder Woman was partly a response to the rise of the Nazis....

4. The Lasso of Truth had a real-life parallel in Marston’s life....

...Marston broke from the rest of popular culture by asserting not only that kids would be interested in reading a comic about a woman but that she would be essential to their education in teaching them about gender equality.

“Like her male prototype, ‘Superman,’ ‘Wonder Woman’ is gifted with tremendous physical strength,” Marston wrote in the press release announcing her creation. “‘Wonder Woman’ has bracelets welded on her wrists; with these she can repulse bullets. But if she lets any man weld chains on these bracelets, she loses her power. This, says Dr. Marston, is what happens to all women when they submit to a man’s domination.”

He concludes: “‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; and to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men.”

6. Despite that, she started out in the Justice Society as a secretary....

● An interview with the author (a Harvard historian) appeared in last Sunday's Boston Globe Magazine: Wonder Woman’s secret history and surprising lessons (Oct. 26).

Boston Globe: Wonder Woman “ran” for president in 1943, and we may finally have a female presidential nominee. Yet you end up on a dismal note about how far we’ve come.

Jill Lepore: Many women feel not that feminism has failed but that certain political and economic objectives have not been achieved, and many gains have been lost lately. Women and girls from 7 to 70 really adore Wonder Woman; many have an emotional or personal attachment to the character. Maybe that’s because we have so few female icons that are sources of strength and power  —  if you’re looking for a female superperson, there aren’t a lot of other choices. That’s not heartening.

● In the Kansas City Star: Wonder Woman is revealed … or at least her odd creator is (Oct. 24).

Gathered through years of historical sleuthing, Lepore’s material is solid, but her tone sometimes borders on breathless. This isn’t yellow journalism, and it isn’t yellow scholarship, but occasionally Lepore seems overly caught up in the juicier parts of what she found.

Still, this book is important, readable scholarship, making the connection between popular culture and the deeper history of the American woman’s fight for equality.... Lepore restores Wonder Woman to her rightful and righteous place.

● Flavorwire: Discover Wonder Woman’s Queer, Kinky Feminist History (Oct. 29).

The women in Marston’s unconventional life shaped the values and ideals found throughout his comics: his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston; his (scandal!) long-term live-in mistress and the mother of several of his children, Olive Byrne; and Byrne’s aunt Margaret Sanger, the pioneering feminist and founder of Planned Parenthood, who worked to make birth control affordable and available for women.

Sanger denied her influence on Wonder Woman; and the bohemian set-up between Holloway, Byrne, and Marston was, essentially, the hidden identity behind the psychological forces that created Wonder Woman. There’s a part of reading this book that’s frustrating — clearly Lepore had wonderful access to the Marston family, but she’s coy about what went on between the three. We’re only allowed to infer.* But going into the book, Wonder Woman was just a comic; where Lepore succeeds is when we close the book, with our visions of Wonder Woman changed completely. A true American weirdo, she’s a symbol laden with heady philosophies and ideas: bohemians, feminism, sex radicalism, suffrage, free love, androgyny, and the scariest idea of all — what would happen to the world if women were truly liberated?

*Actually, in a New Yorker article Lepore quotes Holloway, who was usually reticent about her household, as saying later in life that among the trio there was "lovemaking for all"."

● A Slate blogpost: The Gloriously Strange, Kinky, and Feminist History of Wonder Woman (Oct. 28):

Photo illustration: Slate
By Amanda Marcotte

...Last week, Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced that they are seeking a female director to helm the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. The announcement buoyed hopes that we might actually get a genuinely good Wonder Woman movie, something many of us doubted would ever happen after Joss Whedon was fired from a previous attempt. Still, the character has a notoriously inconsistent history, and there are many wrong turns any director could take. So what's the surest route to creating a 21st-century version of Wonder Woman worthy of her lasso of truth? Go back to the original Wonder Woman comics, which debuted in 1941, for inspiration.

And there are now reports in the entertainment press that the first of three WW movies will be set in the 1920s, and the second in World War II. A return to roots?

● The Wall Street Journal: Wonder Woman for President (Oct. 24; behind a paywall).

The New York Review of Books: Wonder Woman: The Weird, True Story by Sarah Kerr (issue dated Nov. 20).

● The Buffalo News picked it as "one of the most notable books of 2014." (Oct. 25).

Cosmopolitan lists it as one of 12 New Books All Twentysomething Women Will Be Obsessed With (Oct. 28).

Highlights from an NPR interview with the author (Oct. 27; text and audio).

Update: Jill Lepore is interviewed on Colbert (Oct. 29).

You can search up lots more.


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October 23, 2014

The Secret History of Wonder Woman — more news, many reviews

Jill Lepore's new book The Secret History of Wonder Woman has gotten a lot more press since my last roundup a week ago. The book is the most thorough account yet of how Wonder Woman originated in a lifelong poly triad to promote William Moulton Marston's vision of utopian feminism and kinky free love — with help and role modeling from his wife Elizabeth Holloway and their partner Olive Byrne. Lepore argues (unconvincingly, I think) that Wonder Woman was the bridge between the feminist movements of the early 1900s and the 1960s.

Wonder Woman had her purpose stripped away after Marston died in 1947 (DC Comics rebuffed Holloway's attempt to take over the writing), and this is surely why her many portrayals since then have been so confused and contradictory — compared to her DC contemporaries Superman and Batman, who have kept their identities intact. Yet another version of Wonder Woman will get her own superhero movie in 2017.

● On The Atlantic's website, Noah Berlatsky scrutinizes Marston's poly menage: The Free Love Experiment That Created Wonder Woman (Oct. 17). He takes a more critical view than Katha Pollitt does in her article for the print edition of The Atlantic, which went online just three days earlier: Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots (Oct. 14). No matter how well the Marston-Holloway-Byrne triad turned out for everyone, it had a coercive and unhappy beginning, as Lepore turned up in newly available papers. Berlatsky writes:

Marston's personal life also raises questions about his feminist commitments. In the first place, he met Byrne when she was his graduate student; it's not entirely clear if he started sleeping with her while she was under his supervision, but if he did, that certainly raises ethical questions. The way he introduced Byrne into his marriage is also disturbing; according to Lepore's archival research, Marston told his wife that she could either accept Byrne into their marriage, or Marston would leave. "Holloway was devastated," Lepore writes. "She walked out the door and walked, without stopping, for six hours."

Another interesting excerpt drawing from new material:

Jill Lepore
Lepore reports... that the Marstons had a polyamorous relationship with another woman, Marjorie W. Huntley, before they met Byrne, and that she remained an on-and-off member of the family long after Byrne arrived, helping out with the inking and lettering of the Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s, and occasionally staying with Holloway and Byrne after Marston's death. Further, Huntley, Byrne, Holloway, and Marston all participated in what Lepore describes as a "sex cult" in 1925-26 at the home of Marston's aunt Carolyn. Participants celebrated female sexual power, dominance, submission and love by forming “Love Units” consisting of multiple partners, including Love Girls who "do not … practice … concealment of the love organs" (translated from New Age, that means they didn't wear clothes.) Among the topics of discussion at these meetings was the work of Olive Byrne's aunt, Margaret Sanger — and one of Lepore's central accomplishments is to show just how close Byrne and Sanger were, and to describe how Wonder Woman sprang from an intellectual milieu that included both New Age free love and a radical commitment to reproductive rights.

Cover of Wonder Woman comic, issue #1
1942: Storming a German trench.
As Lepore says, Wonder Woman was born out of "feminist utopia" and "the struggle for women's rights." But Marston's vision of feminist utopia — complete with love leaders, dominance, and bondage — doesn't necessarily look like the feminist utopia most people imagine today. Marston — and Sanger too, according to Lepore — believed that women were purer and better than men. That's a view that sits very uncomfortably with the current feminist movement, which often (and with justice) sees discussions of feminine purity as an excuse to restrict what women are allowed to do. Feminist success, in our day, is generally seen in terms of empowering women to achieve equality with men — not in terms of a naturally superior femaleness, the purity of which will transform society spiritually and ethically.

Harper's magazine (The Atlantic's direct competitor) reviews Lepore's book in its November issue. The review is only available in the print edition and online for print subscribers, but the blurb says,

Even in the seeming feminist doldrums of the 1940s, there was a contained but noisy demand for birth control from the working women who kept the industries going while the men were at war. Surely that shift could only have ended in liberation and financial, social, and sexual equality for women — but it didn’t. What we did get from the 1940s was the advent of Wonder Woman, one man’s vision of, and later several men’s caricature of, female liberation.

Cover of Wonder Woman comic, issue #7
1943, 29 years before the Ms. magazine cover.
● At SFGate, a website of the San Francisco Chronicle:

By Audrey Bilger

...The story behind Wonder Woman is sensational, spellbinding and utterly improbable.... An extraordinarily gifted huckster, Marston was a self-proclaimed feminist who believed women should — and would someday — rule the world. He insisted that the underlying meaning of all Wonder Woman stories was “a great movement now under way — the growth in the power of women.” According to Lepore, he “wanted the kids who read his comics to imagine a woman as president of the United States.”

...[Lepore's] partial list of source material provides an indication of the Herculean labor she performed:
“[T]housands of pages of documents, manuscripts and typescripts, photographs and drawings, letters and postcards, criminal court records, notes scribbled in the margins of books, legal briefs, medical records, unpublished memoirs, story drafts, sketches, student transcripts, birth certificates, adoption papers, military records, family albums, scrapbooks, lecture notes, FBI files, movie scripts, the carefully typed meeting minutes of a sex cult, and tiny diaries written in secret code.”

As a gender studies professor who has spent more than two decades introducing young people to feminism — with each new crop of students discovering afresh that the struggle for women’s rights has a rich and varied history — I am acutely aware of the difficulty of keeping past accomplishments alive. Lepore notes, “One tragedy of feminism in the twentieth century is the way its history seemed to be forever disappearing.”... By the ’70s, long after the death of Marston, most of the feminism of the Wonder Woman comics had been watered down considerably, and she seemed like an odd choice of icons for the burgeoning late-20th century women’s movement. Had her true history been known then, perhaps it could have served as a caution for the so-called second-wavers and beyond: Constant vigilance is required to maintain the goals of feminism. Amnesia equals lost ground....

Read the whole review (Oct. 22).

● In Entertainment Weekly:

By Melissa Maerz

Wonder Woman used to be a warrior princess. Now she's often just a pretty girl. When director Zack Snyder released an image of Gal Gadot as the Amazonian princess in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one critic quipped, "During production, we had to ask ourselves so many tough questions. Like, for instance, which size-zero bikini model is best suited to play this strapping superhuman?" Only a few years ago, David E. Kelley wrote a Wonder Woman pilot that found the freedom fighter crying over a boy while eating ice cream....

The whole article (Oct. 15).

● In the Los Angeles Times:

By Laura Hudson

...After years of sifting through unpublished letters and diaries, Lepore has written the authoritative work on William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-educated psychologist best known for two things: inventing the lie detector test and creating the world's most famous superheroine.

Wonder Woman as rendered by her first artist, Harry G. Peter, for
Marston's 1943 essay "Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics."

Marston advocated fiercely and often radically in his comics for the recognition of women's strength while simultaneously delighting in their bondage and submission. But the most irresistible irony lies in the revelation that the father of the modern polygraph was himself a prodigious liar....

The dual inspirations for Wonder Woman, Holloway and Byrne were tremendously bright women who not only shared Marston's free-thinking ideals but provided the labor necessary to maintain his lifestyle. Although he tried his hand at everything from academia to motion pictures, Marston was something of a chronic failure; it was Holloway who served as the primary breadwinner for the family while Byrne raised the children — neatly dividing the superheroic double shift of the "modern woman" between them.

...Although Lepore isn't the first writer to uncover Marston's polyamory or the less-than-subtle kinks of his comics, The Secret History of Wonder Woman is the fullest and most fascinating portrait ever created about the complicated, unconventional family that inspired one of the most enduring feminist icons in pop culture.

The whole review (Oct. 23).

● A disapproving piece in the New York Times:

Her Past Unchained

By Dwight Gardner

Jill Lepore’s new book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” is a long, strange thing to chew on.

On the one hand, the story it relates has more uplift than Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane or her eagle-encrusted red bustier. It’s a yea-saying tale about how this comic book character, created in 1941, remade American feminism and had her roots in the ideas and activism of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.

On the other hand, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” is fundamentally a biography of Wonder Woman’s larger-than-life and vaguely creepy male creator, William Moulton Marston (1893-1947). He was a Harvard graduate, a feminist and a psychologist who invented the lie detector test. He was also a huckster, a polyamorist (one and sometimes two other women lived with him and his wife), a serial liar and a bondage super-enthusiast.

How into fettering was Marston? Allow Ms. Lepore to count the ways, in a long but fascinating passage that shows off her neatnik prose style.

“Not a comic book in which Wonder Woman appeared, and hardly a page, lacked a scene of bondage. In episode after episode, Wonder Woman is chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered and manacled. She’s locked in an electric cage. She’s winched into a straitjacket, from head to toe. Her eyes and mouth are taped shut. She’s roped and then coffined in a glass box and dropped into the ocean. She’s locked in a bank vault. She’s tied to railroad tracks. She’s pinned to a wall. Once, so that she can be both entirely bound and movable, her fettered feet are welded to roller skates. ‘Great girdle of Aphrodite!’ she cries. ‘Am I tired of being tied up!’ ”

...Wonder Woman suffered indignities. When, in 1942, she became the first female superhero to join the Justice Society of America, alongside Batman, the Green Lantern and others, she was merely its secretary. But Ms. Lepore is pointed about how Marston’s comics attacked political issues.

Wonder Woman led political rallies over a milk-pricing racket. She had an adventure involving a textile workers’ strike inspired partly by Sanger’s labor activism. Wonder Woman protested the low wages of female employees at an elite department store. These employees are ecstatic to hear, “Girls, starting now your salaries are doubled!”

She was always an imperfect feminist icon, however. “Who needs consciousness-raising and equal pay,” Ms. Lepore writes, “when you’re an Amazon with an invisible plane.”

...Looming over it all is Marston, a big, odd, frisky fellow who comes to seem like Alfred Kinsey’s well-meaning but weirdo cousin.

The whole review (Oct. 23).

● In the Boston Globe:

By Buzzy Jackson

Who is Wonder Woman? She is, of course, the Amazonian superhero fighting for women’s rights, with a secret agenda that included securing access to birth control, free love, and the importance of erotic bondage — preferably chains — in uniting two (or more) lovers in polyamory....

The first half of “The Secret History of Wonder Woman’’ tells the story of these three and the world of radical politics in which they lived. They were activists in the struggles for women’s suffrage, access to birth control, and equal rights of the early 1900s, participating in bohemian Greenwich Village salons in which socialism, androgyny, and free love were explored.

They also shared a belief in what Lepore describes as a “cult of female sexual power,” a vision of a woman-centric world not too different from the kind you’d find in Amazonia, Wonder Woman’s hometown. It was a thrilling time; women were granted the right to vote in 1919, and the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1923. The prospect of legal gender equality seemed inevitable.

...What Lepore does so well is to show how Wonder Woman’s career mirrored the hopes, progress, and eventual disappointments of the American women’s movement in the 20th century. When American women began entering the workforce during World War II, Wonder Woman was at her strongest, battling evil and refusing to settle down and get married (Amazonian law forbade it). After the war ended and women were hustled back into the home, Wonder Woman’s power likewise faded.

The big changes took place after Marston died in 1947 and other writers took over the series. No longer a crime fighter, now she was “a babysitter, a fashion model, and a movie star. She [also] wanted, desperately, to marry Steve.” By the late 1960s she had lost her superpowers altogether. Although she was reclaimed by feminists in the early 1970s and appeared on the cover of Ms. magazine’s first issue under the banner, “Wonder Woman For President,” her status as a feminist icon withered.

Marston’s widows lived into the 1990s and remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. They “never broke their silence” about the truth of their relationship or of Wonder Woman’s radical past. As women who were young when the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced to Congress in 1923, you have to wonder what they thought about the fact that it was never ratified. And were they depressed by the fact that Americans were still arguing about abortion a century after Margaret Sanger began fighting for women’s reproductive rights? There’s a new Wonder Woman movie coming in 2017. If Lepore’s “secret history” has proved one thing, it’s that at least so far each era has gotten the Wonder Woman it deserves.

The whole review (Oct. 23).

More to come I'm sure. The book's official publication isn't until next Tuesday.



October 20, 2014

Research news: "12 Surprising Facts About Non-Monogamy"


Sex researcher and public educator Zhana Vrangalova has a new research-news article up:

Open Relationships Reduce Jealousy? 12 Surprising Facts About Non-Monogamy

By Zhana Vrangalova

Zhana Vrangalova
Consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships... are slowly gaining visibility in the media.... Here are 12 things that recent research reveals about these relationships and the people involved in them. (Some of this research is so brand new that it hasn’t yet been published, only presented at professional conferences, so you’re getting a sneak preview.)

Here are the article's 12 section leads:

1. People in CNM relationships may be more prevalent than gay people.

2. Up to 40% of men and up to 25% of women might consider CNM.

3. Desire for (non)monogamy exists on a continuum.

4. Stigma against CNM is strong, robust, and incredibly pervasive.

5. This stigma is so pervasive, that even people who are themselves in a CNM relationship think that CNM is inferior to monogamy.

6. Not all CNM types are perceived as equally bad.

7. When having sex with other people, CNM folks are more responsible regarding health than supposedly monogamous people who are cheating.

8. As a result, CNM people do not report more sexually transmitted infections than monogamous folks. As I reported in a recent Playboy article, unpublished data presented at by Justin Lehmiller suggests that people in CNM relationships report virtually identical rates of STIs as those in monogamous relationships – about 20%.

9. Swingers report more exciting and satisfying lives — sexually and otherwise — than the general population.

10. People in CNM relationships experience less jealousy than those in monogamous relationships.

11. CNM couples usually report similar (and sometimes higher) relationship quality than monogamous couples.

12. Perhaps more critically, it may be the lying and hiding that’s linked to worse relationships.

There is so much more to be learned about CNM and the people involved in it, but science is finally starting to ask these questions.

Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, is a NYC-based sex researcher who studies casual sex, nonmonogamy, and sexual orientation, and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at New York University where she teaches Human Sexuality.

Here's the article (Oct. 15, 2014).



October 18, 2014

*Polyamory: Married & Dating* reviewed in its afterlife


Showtime's Polyamory: Married & Dating reality series remains available for streaming if you're a Showtime subscriber. A year after it disappeared from TV (there was no Season 3), it got a very favorable review this morning on Decider.com, which bills itself as "the first entertainment and pop culture destination site created to help today’s on-demand generation discover the best streaming content."

‘Polyamory': Part Documentary, Part Soap Opera And Part Softcore Porn

By Brooke Moreland

When I first came across the Showtime original series Polyamory (available to stream on the Showtime Anytime app), I didn’t know what to expect.... Pretty much everything I knew about polyamory I learned from the Dan Savage podcast or from a few hippies I knew in Austin in the early aughts, but I was very interested in how a mainstream premium cable network would handle a subject like this. Turns out, it does it very, very well.

The Hollywood triad from Season 2 of Polyamory: Married & Dating

The series is the perfect balance of a fascinating anthropological documentary, a juicy soap opera, and a titillating softcore porn. I’ve never seen anything quite like it anywhere in television and film.... This brand of polyamory — sex-positive, female-empowered, and focusing on honesty above all — includes more than a few “processing” conversations. The emotions and dynamics are nuanced, and the characters are deep, smart and seem like actual humans. Just normal people who happen to be super hot and have very untraditional love and relationship setups.... And the range of emotions we see are just spectacular... makes for great TV.

The whole review (Oct. 18, 2014).

The show's afterlife online and on demand (paid in all cases) may explain why I keep get search hits for the nonexistent Season 3. I covered the series pretty closely in 2012 and 2013, including recaps/spoilers and video clips.



October 17, 2014

Katha Pollitt on Wonder Woman's kinky polyfamily origins

The Atlantic

DC Entertainment

Feminist writer Katha Pollitt delves into the character and household that, in 1941, brewed up Wonder Woman as a utopian feminist power-bondage icon. Pollitt draws from Jill Lepore's new book The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Lepore also wrote the magazine articles about Wonder Woman's background that I posted about last month.

...How the underemployed, emotionally demanding [William Moulton] Marston got to remain the overbearing patriarch is a bit of a puzzle.

It can’t have been an easy life, but their big house in Rye, New York, seems to have been a jolly place, with lots of pets, tipsy parties, and, [wife Elizabeth] Holloway said much later, “love making for all.” Still, it is sad to read of the way both women’s ambitions were slowly squelched. Holloway, as smart and energetic as Marston, got a law degree but couldn’t find work in the field. She and [Olive] Byrne each started on the path to a doctorate in psychology, but saw the handwriting on the wall: It was nearly impossible for a woman to get a good academic job, so why continue? Of the two, Byrne seems to have paid the bigger price for their unconventional arrangement. For decades she pretended to be the widow of a fictitious Mr. Richard, a kind of housekeeper or distant relative; ultimately she even allowed Marston and Holloway to adopt her children. The heavy bracelets she wore, so like Wonder Woman’s “bracelets of submission,” were all very well, but socially, a wedding ring was what really counted.

...Marston died in 1947, and though Wonder Woman forged on, she was soon shorn of her feminism.... Holloway and Byrne, on the other hand, lived together happily for 43 more years, raising their children and working, Holloway for Metropolitan Life, Byrne, eventually, as [Margaret] Sanger’s personal secretary. When they visited Sanger in Tucson, they slept in the same room. Perhaps they found their Paradise Island in the end.

Read the whole article: Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots (Oct. 14, 2014).

Update Oct. 19: That article is in the print Atlantic. This more penetrating examination of the Marston menage has appeared on the Atlantic's website: The Free Love Experiment That Created Wonder Woman, by Noah Berlatsky.



October 16, 2014

Poly Problems as seen by Dan Savage

Many alternative media

This week Dan Savage devotes his Savage Love column to readers' poly messes. Aside from his almost impossibly strict definition of "triad," I don't see much to disagree with. How about you?

Joe Newton
...And now the real problem: His desire to bring another woman into our relationship borders on obsession.... I have this fervent wish that he doesn't find someone. So do I sit back and hope that he doesn't find another woman, or should I be upfront with him and tell him that I'm not interested in threesomes anymore? I'm afraid that if he finds someone, my jealousy — which I work very hard to hide from him — will break us up.

Just Wants To Be Monogamous

Ask yourself which conversation will be more difficult:

A. After a frustrating and protracted search, your boyfriend finally manages to find a woman who's interested in being your "friend and lover," JWTBM. At that point you tell him you're no longer interested and he needn't have bothered.

B. You tell your boyfriend today — now — that you're not interested in bringing a third into the relationship.

...I would argue that having the conversation now would be preferable.... And who knows? An honest and open conversation about the state of your relationship — including the fact that you're dissatisfied with the once-a-week routine and the waning of D/s — may [reignite your] interest in a third. Would you feel differently if it turned out she wasn't for him, but for you?...

I'm not telling you that you have to agree to the third — if it's monogamy you want, then it's monogamy you should ask for — but keep your mind, your options, and those lines of communication all open.

I'm a middle-aged, fat, and happy gay man. My partner has a best friend, and they share everything — including our bed. Most weekends, we tromp through town together, watch TV together, and share waking and sleeping moments together. Recently I referred to us as "poly and in a triad," and I was shocked by my partner's response. He claims that we aren't a triad; I say that if we're sharing home, heart, and bed, we're in a poly relationship. Sign me...

Honest Accidentally Poly Person, Yep

Perhaps it's the triad designation that makes your partner uncomfortable. That particular label implies that you're all equal partners — not just equally attracted to each other and in love with each other (which three people rarely are), but equals on the emotional, social, and financial fronts as well, i.e., equally obligated to one another....

I'm a married 28-year-old male. My partner and I are conflicted over the level of openness in our relationship. She describes herself as "post-mononormative." I consider myself GGG....

I reject the polyamorous notion that love is limitless — when she has misinterpreted conversations and transgressed boundaries, it has always coincided with the neglect of our own relationship. I have given up seeking the moral high ground and just want to find a solution. Should I have polyamorous relationships of my own? Or should I focus on cultivating shared erotic experiences with my partner? And do her transgressions mean that the boundaries we've set are not explicit or generous enough?

Non-Normative Problems

I don't think retaliatory polyamory is healthy or sustainable.... And while you can focus on cultivating shared erotic experiences, NNP, your partner has made it clear that she needs — and intends to have — novel experiences that don't include you. And while her transgressions may mean the boundaries you've set aren't explicit or generous enough, NNP, it's likelier that your partner gets off on transgression. Some people do.

I think you're confused, NNP, and your confusion stems from the fact that your partner is negotiating with you about her nonnegotiable terms.... Accept her terms or divorce her ass, but stop deluding yourself.

Read the whole column, which is more nuanced than these excerpts. (Oct. 15, 2015).


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October 11, 2014

*More Than Two* in the media: new roundup

Cat with book *More Than Two* by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
More shameless cat-pic promo
I'm still waiting to see reviews of More Than Two in mainstream media by book reviewers outside the polyworld bubble. Within the bubble, people are raving about it. But a month and a half since its official publication date, I'm not seeing a breakout yet.

Meanwhile, authors Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert have reached the desert southwest in their cross-country book tour, driving a 22-year-old vehicle with an unplanned new radiator. This evening (Saturday the 11th) they're appearing at Santa Fe's Op Cit Books.

Here's a roundup of the latest non-major-media coverage.

● Rave review by Cross at xcBDSM:

I began reading the book expecting it to be good. I expected to read a lot of things that I already knew, though perhaps articulated better than I had read before.... I planned to highlight a few passages to quote in the review and say some nice things about it.

But I was wrong.

Yes, at first, much of what I read was familiar to me. But the amazing thing about this book, and why I am ready to buy a couple dozen copies to hand out to my friends, is that it truly does break new ground. There were ideas that I had never considered before, approaches that were new and interesting.

...The book could be accurately described as a tool box. Unlike previous books on the subject which focus very heavily on establishing the shape and structure of your open relationship, this book begins and ends with two very important tenets: “1. The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship, and 2. Don’t Treat People as Things.” These two axioms are repeated throughout, and the authors give special attention to all of the individuals involved. With these things in mind, they provide a wealth of tools, techniques and strategies for successfully navigating the (still) largely uncharted waters of polyamory.

The book revolves around five central themes: Trust, Courage, Abundance, Ethics, and Empowerment. These themes provide the heartbeat for the book, and while they aren’t discussed individually or explicitly... the authors [made] sure that everything they wrote reflected them....

Read the whole article (Aug. 25, 2014).

● Jessica Burde published an article on the book, including how it came about, in the unconventional-lifestyle online magazine The Plaid Zebra:

...The authors advise that couples shouldn’t go into polyamory intending to “try” it. The book lays out some solid logic in opposition [to this] — it isn’t fair to use your new partners as guinea pigs for your relationship experiments, and polyamory is a lot like skydiving. You can’t ease out of the plane, sit on the wing for a while, cling to the landing gear until you feel safe....

“When you leave that plane,” Franklin says, “there is no going back. Even if you decide poly is not for you, you may go back to monogamy, but you’re probably going to approach your relationship differently after that, and that is okay.”


As Eve puts it,

“The early stages of a poly relationship are very hard if you are not prepared to confront that struggle and move through it. When you hit that struggle, which is going to happen, you are going to put other people at risk. And it is really worth it to sit down beforehand and discuss [how you will handle the struggle].”...

Read the whole article (undated; September 2014).

Review in the student newspaper of the University of Texas/ Austin:

...Any time we try to create relationships outside of traditional cultural scripts, we can expect to face problems we are unprepared to solve. But what I really appreciated about More Than Two is the authors' insistence that all the tools necessary to be successful at poly are actually just relationship tools more generally....

● An audio interview at Kinxr Podcast (with the mic going live way too soon, IMO. The interview proper begins around 11:45). Length 1 hour 16 mins. Skip ahead; it gets more solid later:

● In the Santa Fe Reporter, in advance of tonight's stop on their book tour:

Three Questions (Oct. 9, 2014):

Q: Personally, what was the most enlightening part of writing this book?

A: ...For a long, long time I had written about polyamory, but I’d never actually written my own story. I had always written about the conclusions that I have drawn about how to do poly well, but I’d never written the story of my poly experiences personally. My partner Eve decided that was an important part of this book, and that was kind of an awesome experience.

● And a nice callout in the weekend arts & culture section of the Santa Fe New Mexican: Two is the loneliest number: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory (Oct. 10, 2014):

...Poly is a relationship style, not a sexual practice, and many configurations exist within it. Being poly doesn’t necessarily involve group sex or anything particularly adventurous in the bedroom, although for some people it does. Poly people are also not all pagan or into New Age spirituality, and many dislike the assumption that they are naturally more emotionally evolved or open-minded than monogamous people. Successful polyamory requires that everyone in a given relationship be willing to listen, learn, and grow to sustain long-term commitments to one another — the same as in any happy, lasting relationship....

● Eve and Franklin were interviewed from Brazil for the new magazine Revista Mandala: Amor Multiplicado – Para Quem Ama Do Um (October 2014).

● A review in Russia, by a writer who must stay anonymous, on the Russian poly site polyamory.progressor.ru. Open it in Chrome, and Google Translate will offer to turn it into machine English. As cleaned up a bit by me:

Non-monogamy for normal people

Dear friends! I know that many of you, one way or another, are involved in relationships that do not fit traditional notions of monogamy — having read Heinlein, or hiked in Sinton, or under the influence of alcohol or friends, or even maybe you came to the idea independently.

I know that many of you have not just been or are involved in non-monogamous relationships, but also that you prefer not to discuss it. Or even studiously ignore it. I have often noticed from the corner of my eye (and a couple of times not the corner) an attitude toward me among friends and acquaintances as to being an abnormal pervert, because I talk about this topic, and look for information....

So, I suggest you at least think about how to read a book that was written for normal people who just consider some conventions to be limitations....


Moreover, the second section of this book and, in part, the third, I would recommend to all people who want their relationships to be happy, even if the relationship is strictly monogamous. What it says about the obstacles to healthy communication between people and what contributes to it, I have not seen expressed in such a systematic and concise way anywhere in literature addressed to married couples, although at one time I read a lot of it....

This book, however, has a very significant drawback: it is thick and it is written in English. And it is unlikely to be translated into Russian in the coming years, especially in light of the current struggle against spiritual buckles....

Past coverage.


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