"Polyamorous women aren’t just ‘pleasing their man’ – it’s a choice"
Author Laura Smith, writing from a feminist viewpoint in today's Guardian, defends polyamory against some classic criticisms from the clueless.
With an emphasis on the most-famous-ever feminist open couple.
Polyamorous women aren’t just ‘pleasing their man’ — it’s a choice
The open relationship between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre is frequently and wrongly written off. Such arrangements have women-friendly roots.
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were together for 51 years, until Sartre’s death in 1980. (STF/AFP)
By Laura Smith
“People have had open marriages for ever … But they never end up working long-term.”
That statement by the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher must have been news to Simone de Beauvoir, the famously non-monogamous French feminist existentialist.
Fisher’s pronouncement, quoted in the New York Times recently, would also be questioned by the numerous celebrities said to have “arrangements”, and the half million or so of Fisher’s fellow Americans giving polyamory a try.
De Beauvoir considered her open relationship with Sartre the “one undoubted success in my life”. In terms of longevity, they had about half of us beat: their relationship, which allowed for affairs while they remained essential partners, lasted 51 years until Sartre’s death in 1980. Now, 30 years after De Beauvoir’s death, many of the criticisms of polyamory are rooted in the same stifling beliefs about female sexuality that she strove to dismantle in her day.
Take for example, the bias that “women only open up their relationships to please variety-seeking men”, which Anna North admitted was often assumed to be the case in an article on why we should be less “freaked out” by polyamory.... At the core of the assumption that non-monogamous women are doing what men want – not what they want – is a more pervasive assumption about female sexuality: it is men who have complex sexual needs, not women.
But as Libby Copeland argued, polyamory has woman-friendly roots: “Free love rejected the tyranny of conventional marriage, and particularly how it limited women’s lives to child-bearing, household drudgery, legal powerlessness, and, often enough, loveless sex.”
In an article on straight poly-relationships in Seattle, Jessica Bennett writes that, “the community has a decidedly feminist bent: women have been central to its creation, and ‘gender equality’ is a publicly recognised tenet of the practice”.
The actress Mo’Nique says that her open relationship was her idea. Simone de Beauvoir didn’t see herself as a tag-along polyamorist either. Attracted to both men and women, her open relationship meant that she didn’t have to choose between them. She felt the “urge to embrace all experience”, saw the ability to act on desire as essential to liberating oneself from male sovereignty, and was seeking to answer the question that we still grapple with today: “Is there any possible reconciliation between fidelity and freedom?” Polyamory, according to Copeland, was not just about sex, but about “remaking one’s own little corner of the world”, a terrifying prospect to those who want the world to remain the same, especially when it comes to established gender roles....
Read the whole article (April 19, 2016).