Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

February 20, 2017

Carrie Jenkins' book: "What Love Is, and What It Could Be"

Canadian philosopher Carrie Jenkins is a rising star for polyamory awareness (see previous post, and remember her piece about poly feet and the white duvet?). Now she's getting wider attention for her book out last month, What Love Is and What It Could Be, deconstructing romantic love for the 21st century. It's been getting a lot of reviews.

● In Quartz, A polyamorous philosopher explains what we all get wrong about romantic love. (February 11, 2017):

...But as Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, points out in her recently published book, [our] concept of [romantic] love is actually the product of a very narrow social script.

...“It’s harming people,” she says — not just those who, like herself, do not fit the conventional script of monogamy and marriage.

Though the social script of romantic love today has recently expanded to allow for same-sex romance, it still expects everlasting couples who stay together till death do you part. Such expectations are damaging for those who don’t wish to follow such a narrative, argues Jenkins. This applies to those in polyamorous relationships but also single people, and those who don’t want children....

Love is a hugely messy concept, and Jenkins argues that it incorporates both a biological side and a socially constructed side. The biological element refers to the physical behavior (the fluctuating hormones and shifts in brain activity) of those who are in love, and is a reflection of our evolutionary need for such ties. But it’s the social script that shapes our norms and expectations of romance, such as the contemporary belief that true love will be permanent and monogamous.

Though this social construct can shift over time, Jenkins says, that doesn’t happen easily. “Some people think it’s made up like fiction is made up, but I’m trying to say it’s made up like the law is made up. We made it, but now it’s real.”

...For example, the “Cinderella story,” in which a woman is rescued by a more wealthy, powerful, high-status man, is still a prevalent tale of what’s considered romantic... “feeding into these gendered stereotypes,” she says. “This is built into our ideas of who we find attractive, what it is to have a romantic story attached to your love life.”

...Jenkins believes that opening up the social construct of romantic love will ultimately be positive for everyone, even those who end up following the traditional script. “If you give people more choices and they choose to be monogamous, then that’s great. I think it’s better to do things with awareness rather than because it’s the only option available.”

● In Canada's National Post and other papers in its chain: From polyamory to marriage values, if you understand what love is to you, you’re more likely to find it (Feb. 13):

By Blair Mlotek

When new ideas threaten what we hold as truth, it is sometimes easier to stay away from them altogether. ...Vancouver-based writer and philosopher Carrie Jenkins sets out to tell us that love may not be what we think it is – a frightening notion at first, but Jenkins means no harm. In fact, this book is a testament to love.

Although Jenkins is a highly educated philosopher, What Love Is should be accessible to all. She believes that there is more philosophy in our everyday lives than we realize; it is there each time we wonder at the way things are.

But if you picked up this book to find out the definitive answer to what love is, you will not find it here.

...She writes, if we understand it, we can control it, and then change it. She asks us to be active readers, “not to passively absorb my ideas” but to question and challenge them.

Jenkins’s explanation of prevailing monogamy is that in the past people married for the purpose of relationships between families and countries; for financial reasons. Today, people are told to marry for love. Having a nuclear family was normalized and so the steps to get there had to be as well. To have kids, people needed to marry, to marry they have to fall in love.

It is our prerogative to change this....

● In her hometown Vancouver Sun: Unlucky in love? Try thinking critically about it, UBC prof suggests (Jan. 25). With a video.

By Stephanie Ip

...“Love hasn’t been viewed as central to modern philosophy, at least not in the traditions that I work in. That’s a problem,” said Jenkins.

“Without thinking critically about love, you’re kind of defenceless. If you just go with the flow, you can end up in some bad situations such as abusive relationships, or feeling like a failure just for being who you are.”

...“If we don’t have our critical-thinking skills switched on when we are surrounded by the Hallmark and Disney stuff, we just absorb it, and then it becomes our theory of what love is,” said Jenkins. “I think that’s dangerous, and it’s what I’m trying to arm people against.”

● On Valentine's Day, Jenkins was on Canada's popular radio talk show The Current: It's possible to be in love with two people, says philosopher (Feb. 14):

..."You know, it was partly prompted by people telling me if you're in love with two people then that's not real. That's not real love. ... And that didn't feel true to my experience, so I started thinking Well, what is it that they're talking about? What are they describing? That got me down the path of thinking about the way that socially, we police and prescribe certain normative models for romantic love."

..."If you don't understand that both biology and society are playing a role, you might mistake some of the things that are really coming out of the social construct side of things for biological or natural reality and I think gender is a huge part of this."

Listen here (23:34). Here's a transcript.

● A fellow philosopher, writing in the Times Higher Education section of The Times in London, is disappointed by the book's lack of rigor: "Polyamory could shed light on whether love is mainly biological or social" (Feb. 9).

By Jane O'Grady

...This book opens with her morning musings, as she walks from her boyfriend’s flat to the home she shares with her husband, about whether or not she can be said to be in love with both of them. Impatient with the way romantic love is presented as mysterious, and therefore unchangeable, she reminds us that loving is something we do, and can perhaps do differently and better. Whether we can depends on how far love is biologically hard-wired, and therefore subject to the slowness of evolution, and how far socially constructed. Jenkins seems to promise a key debate, which, although hardly new, will be conducted from the original angle of polyamory.

Unfortunately, this book is slipshod, repetitive, and full of rambling assertions rather than fine-grained philosophical analysis....

“I propose a new theory of romantic love,” Jenkins declares.... love’s dual nature is instantiated in “ancient biological machinery embodying a modern social role”. But how does that work? Jenkins never fleshes out her airy claim, and annoyingly conflates the origins of love in human history and in the history of a particular human. The crucial allied question of how romantic love fuses genitals and sonnets is never touched on.

Polyamory provides a promising tuning fork for sounding the nature of romantic love, and whether focusing exclusively on one person is essential to it. Jenkins arouses expectations that she will philosophise on this and similar questions via her own feelings, but ultimately offers little in the way either of emotion or philosophy.

● Another philosopher, in the L.A. Review of Books: Illuminating Love (Jan. 28):

By Skye C. Cleary

...Helen Fisher also argues that monogamous romantic love was an evolutionary solution to “female neediness”: once women became bipeds and, arms full, could no longer carry babies on their backs, we needed males for protection. Because men couldn’t protect whole harems of women, heterosexual monogamous nuclear families emerged as the norm. With swift and graceful logic, Jenkins points out that this is highly unlikely, primarily because,

if over 1 million years passed between the arrival of bipedalism and the evolution of love, then there must have been other solutions to the problem of having one’s hands full of babies that worked well enough to keep hominid evolution going for over 1 million years […] And if bipedalism posed such a problem for female ancestors specifically, how come we didn’t end up with male-only bipedalism?

● Quill & Quire: What Love Is: And What It Could Be (Jan. 20).

The philosopher describes What Love Is as “an exercise in critical thinking out loud,” and blends thorough research with personal experiences to present a readable and highly informative book. Jenkins in no way “spoils” love, but rather stimulates an essential, relevant conversation in a novel, inspiring way.

● At the American Spectator, a paleo-conservative organ, Robert Stacy McCain is fuming: They Even Hate Love (Feb. 14):

...Feminism’s goal is to achieve equality through androgyny, eradicating masculinity and femininity so that men and women become exactly identical and, in such an egalitarian post-patriarchal utopia, what basis could there be for romantic love?

None whatsoever, as feminist Carrie Jenkins explains in her new book.... Professor Jenkins, who teaches philosophy at the University of British Columbia, is an advocate and practitioner of polyamory. Her book has been praised by her fellow feminists as an argument against “traditional, heteronormative, monogamous, pair-bonded, procreative, romantic love.” It is wrong even to imagine that kind of love, Professor Jenkins recently told an interviewer: “This idea that it’s very romantic to be swept off your feet by a Prince Charming figure and rescued from a life of poverty or whatever by a wealthy man, is feeding into these gendered stereotypes. This is built into our ideas of who we find attractive, what it is to have a romantic story attached to your love life.”

● Announcement on Booklist (Dec. 1, 2016):

...Equally important to its subject matter, the book is a master class in how to think and why. Jenkins researches, questions, unpacks, considers, and examines. A philosophy professor, Jenkins uses her readable book to advocate for thinking both critically and in great depth as a form of self-protection and self-advocacy. Tolerate no one admonishing you for overthinking love, she advises. Love is an “extreme sport,” and we need parachutes. In so arguing, she empowers her readers in regard to not just their love lives but also their whole lives.

● Continued in Additional post.

More reviews are linked to from the book's website, with highlights of glowing quotes.

Further recent news coverage.


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