Why (my) Polyamory is Feminist
When people who have no experience of polyamory find out I am in a non-monogamous relationship their first reaction is often pity. After my colleagues at a new job found out I had two boyfriends one of their first reactions was to assume that the reason for me not being monogamous was because neither of my partners was willing to commit. They thought that if one of them became willing to settle down that I would give up on the other one and set off into the sunset, (I suspect that if I was male the reaction would have been quite different). This view of my relationships could not be further from the truth. By being poly I feel empowered as a feminist and I have written this article to explain why.
When we enter into any relationship with another person we enter into a series of expectations of how that relationship will function. Most of the time these expectations are not voiced, they are considered to be obvious. To borrow an example, you don’t hug your waiter or tip your mother. When we enter into a monogamous romantic relationship there are a whole bag of expectations and obligations that come with that, and most people don’t ever negotiate or discuss these, they are considered to be part of a ‘natural’ package. We may expect our partner not to sleep with anyone else, to meet our parents, to buy us a present on valentines day. We will feel justified in being angry and upset if these expectations are not met, even though they were never agreed on.
What being poly does is it forces you to vocalise and negotiate these assumptions. We can no longer default to societies ready made package of expectations for our relationships. Society hasn’t got round to creating packages of expectations for poly relationships yet. It forces you to break down what about a relationship is important to you and your partner and write a new set of expectations. Do you both actually want to meet each other’s parents? Do either of you even like valentines day? Do you want to have sex with other people? Do you want to have sex at all?
This is a great process because it means you and your partners end up with awesome communication skills that many people never develop. And communication is a fundamental part of a happy relationship with reasonable expectations. And you have both formally and actively agreed to this relationship, not just passively agreed to it by default.
So what does this have to do with feminism? Well for many people the package of expectations that society provides for their relationships is based on heteronormativity. It might include assumptions about which partner will do the housework, which partner will buy the other one flowers, which partner will take care of the bulk of any childcare responsibilities.
For me a feminist relationship is one where partners sit down and talk to each other about what relationship package they want. They do this on equal terms and their wants and needs are equally respected. If they are of opposite genders and both want a relationship where they get married, and the male partner goes out to work and the female partner stays home and raises children, then that is a feminist relationship. If they both want a relationship where the male partner stays home and looks after children and doesn’t sleep with anyone else and the female partner goes out and works and dates other people, then that is a feminist relationship. If they both only want to see each other once a month for sex and never go out on dates then that is a feminist relationship. As long as the negotiation is done on equal terms, then anything is possible.
Being poly is not the only way to have these kind of conversations, many monogamous people have amazing communication skills and some poly people have poor communication skills. But being poly is an almost sure way to open up the dialogue. And that’s why my polyamory is feminist.