Are there ties between non-monogamy and feminism?
Many of us believe that non-monogamy is a contemporary concept blasted into different subcontinents with the tempest of westernization, but then again, we say that about almost anything and everything which makes us even slightly uncomfortable. Every time Indians spot a phenomenon that strays from the tedious conventional way of life, we disown it immediately because “it pollutes our culture”
If we are to assert that non-monogamy is a brand new ‘western trend’ that erupted out of the volcanoes of online dating apps and the hook-up culture then where does Draupadi (from the ancient text Mahabharata) with her five husbands fit under this narrative? This, in turn, also shuts down the Islamophobic claim that non-monogamy is a ‘wretched’ practice introduced by the Mughals and their Islamic practice of Polygamy.
Since we are on the subject, it is crucial to note that non-monogamy does not restrict itself to the practice of polygamy. Non-monogamy is an umbrella term- under which also comes polyandry- which is yet again often mistaken to be identical to polygamy.
• The religious practice of polygamy entails a man having multiple wives- in this dynamic, the wives or the women involved are usually not allowed to have partners other than their husband while the man does not need permission or consent from any of his spouses; he can, at will, bring a new woman into the household if he believes himself to be capable of providing for each of them equally.
• While on the other hand, polyandry does not have any such requirements of ‘divine’ origin, the romantic and/or sexual dynamics of the arrangement completely depend on the terms that all partners have agreed upon; A person might have one primary relationship with one partner and other secondary partners in the agreed upon arrangements but as has been stated previously these terms vary from relationship to relationship. The most vital aspect of a polyamorous relationship is the consent of all parties involved- man or woman- each person ideally has equal freedom to get involved with other partners in such types of relationship.
Our society has become sexually repressive to an extent that even spelling out the term itself is considered blasphemous, but things weren’t always as taboo. As flabbergasting as it is, India was one of the most sex-positive sub-continents in the world and Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra is a case in point; the Khajuraho Temples, the Sun Temple, the Virupaksha Temple were a few of the temples that had sculptures of orgies on their walls, and people considered the act of sex to be a spiritual pursuit.
It appears that so many things that have become stigmatized were originally a way of life without all the commotions of labels and terminologies; we might have regressed into a repressive, judgmental, and asphyxiating mass of people and made things too complicated for each other, but that’s a whole other discourse altogether. Contemporaneous to this regressive derailment was another significant development- that of monogamy becoming normative; gender roles were enforced and adhered to by most married couples, and sex came to be viewed as a means to the only one acceptable end, that is, of procreation, the women who were allowed to explore their sexuality without popping out an offspring at the end of a span of 9 months were concubines. Non-monogamy came to be perceived as anti-feminist if we were to equate it to polygamy since it is limited or mostly no sexual freedom for women and the male in the equation has an upper hand, hence, girls grow up feeling that it is formidable to even think about sex or even masturbation but non-monogamy in the form of polyamory has different key features and therefore, different outcomes as well. Polyamory, if practiced fairly, can lead to the sexual liberation of women, since all partners involved have equal freedom and say in the relationship. While most people believe that polyamory is a lewd way out of commitment, one can also perceive that polyamory may result in equal- or if not equal- some minimum degree of commitment by a person to each of their partners. In fact, polyamory has been a feminist power move in history as well-
“Historically, though, there’s been an exception to the rule about plural marriage being bad for women. Polyamory, in which people openly take on multiple relationships, sometimes in the context of group marriage, has a radically different history. Nearly as marginal on the left wing of our culture as polygamy is on the right, modern-day polyamory is intertwined with the rise of feminism, and its roots go back to the ’40s— the 1840s. It’s hard to believe, but during the heart of the Victorian era, during a time when chastity was the rule, divorce was unheard of and petticoats were unmentionables, the most radical American women renounced monogamy as an instrument of their servility. A progressive attitude toward gender roles continues in the modern-day polyamory movement, which has been shepherded by women writers, historians, and organizers.”
This is not to assert that polyamory is without its flaws and that jealousy and emotions do not surface from time to time, all those who have been in polyamorous relationships will admit that they have felt jealous or insecure on multiple instances through the course of their relationships, but that happens with every relationship- non-monogamous or not.
If we are to conclude that the hookup culture and the dozens of dating sites are undervaluing commitment and the concept of ‘one true love’, it is important to keep in mind that they are actually enhancing the values of the aforementioned, in the sense that people would stop taking consent, commitment, and love for granted, as the only ways of life; they can now actually choose for themselves if the commitment to a single person for the rest of their lives is the kind of responsibility that they would be able to take on or not.
The stigma surrounding non-monogamy stems out of apprehension towards fornication more than anything else, as the philosopher and scholar Bertrand Russell aptly narrates in his famous (or rather infamous) book Marriage and Morals-
”It is in this spirit that St. Paul recommends marriage. He does not suggest that it is quite as pleasant as fornication, but he thinks it may enable the weaker brethren to withstand temptation; he does not suggest for a moment that there may be any positive good in marriage, or that affection between husband and wife may be a beautiful and desirable thing, nor does he take the slightest interest in the family; fornication holds the center of the stage in his thoughts, and the whole of his sexual ethics is arranged with reference to it.”
[Source: Marriage and Morals by Bertrand Russell]
All in all, deciding to stay open in your relationships with the consent of all those involved not only liberates you sexually and emotionally but is far better than pretending to commit to one person while having multiple secret affairs and cheating on your apparent ‘one true love'.