Defending Monogamy at Jezebel

My column last week at Jezebel looked at the increasing number of books and articles calling into question the viability of monogamy. Excerpt:

Talking about a “War on Monogamy” can come across like Fox News lamenting the “War on Christmas.” Monogamists still seem to dominate the cultural debate, and those who are open about wanting alternatives still get shamed. The problem is that very few people are making the brief for monogamy (with or without state-sanctioned marriage) as just one among many equal goods. Either monogamy gets held up as an ideal to which all ought to aspire, or it gets denigrated as an “unhealthy” and “unreasonable” straitjacket that we would do well to avoid. It often seems as if the only people defending the viability of monogamy are the ones who insist it is the only morally legitimate (or at least the psychologically healthiest) option. Their sanctimony is an easy target. But there’s an obvious problem in confusing the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of monogamy’s traditional advocates with monogamy itself. The former deserves to be rejected. The latter, perhaps not.

Writing in the Guardian this week, Jill Filipovic makes sense: “Marriage should simply be one model among many for human kinship and a strong family. ” The problem, of course, is that we haven’t yet found a way to talk about monogamy (and marriage) as “one model among many.” After so many years of being told that monogamy is the only legitimate option, we’re now facing a barrage of books and articles suggesting that lifelong sexual exclusivity is something to which no rational modern man or women ought to aspire. “Let people do what they want,” says Filipovic. She’s right: we should let people do what they want. The problem is that as long as we make the case for monogamy’s alternatives by denigrating monogamy as unreasonable, we’re a long way from giving people the full range of options they deserve.

3 thoughts on “Defending Monogamy at Jezebel

  1. An implicit theme I am seeing crop up in a lot of current gender issues is some real, unchallenged, “zero-sum thinking” (i.e., all or nothing). Women must have sex with everyone or no one, allowing gay marriage means permitting marriage to anything and everything, it’s strict monogamy or nothing; it’s a kind of uncompromising binary thinking that truly borders on the absurd at times, and yet, it’s culturally pervasive.

    While I welcome the discourses that challenge these binaries and re-frame them in terms of spectrum, or “one model among many” as Filipovic describes, I also wonder if it’s high time to start re-engaging with issues of the physical body as metonymic for the social body and women as the repositories of culture (and thus the focus of “protection” narratives). I say this primarily because, once we start getting into the relationships of gender and kinship networks (esp. marriage, sexual exclusivity, and cultural reproduction) these concepts might help better illuminate why zero-sum binaries seem so tenacious.

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