how the Radical Feministsâ„¢ made me mad today

A brief change from writing about gentrification (just wrote a response to Paul Brady’s comment in my last post that is basically a post in itself, with how long it got.)

Lately, I tend to avoid the blogs of self-proclaimed “radical feminists” (in which “radical” apparently means “more feminist/less brainwashed than thou). While we probably agree on a great deal of feminist thought and philosophy, the frequent posts and subsequent debates about how all pornography and BDSM are inherently patriarchal and evil, well, they just give me headaches, so I’d rather not partake.

Yet today, I wound up reading a lengthy indictment of polyamory over on Angry for a Reason. (I got there by following an old Technorati link; seems that there used to be a link to my blog on the blogroll there, but it has since been removed, probably because of my rampant misogyny and all.)

Lost Clown’s article, which was published in off our backs, begins thusly (after the requisite Dworkin quote and a definition of the word polyamory):

I believe in polyamory, but only in a society where everyone is equal, where everyone is allowed to be human. Polyamory, therefore, cannot exist in our society.

I have been a polyamorist all my life, before I had knowledge of the word polyamory. I am still a polyamorist today, but I cannot bring myself to practice anymore, because polyamory as a mutually fulfilling practice cannot exist in a society that does not see me as human. The rise of polyamory as the preferred lifestyle in the radical leftist/anarchist circles parallels the “sexual revolution” of the late ‘60s movement. This supposed sexual freedom for women is done not for our benefit, but for the benefit of men. The ultimate goal for these “radical” men is still the fuck.

The article continues as such, with nary a mention of, you know, polyamory that maybe doesn’t involve men and is not all about “the fuck.” Despite the grand pronouncements of polyamory at the beginning of the article, it looks only at heterosexual relationships (in which, of course, polyamory only serves the interest of the men involved, and women are stripped of all possible power and agency because, hey, the patriarchy exists!)

In the comments, I criticize Lost Clown for this narrow, heterosexist dismissal of polyamory; she responds by saying that obviously she was only talking about heterosexual polyamory, despite never explictly saying that anywhere in the article. Funny, it seems like when you say things like “polyamory cannot exist in our society,” without any qualifications, you might be read as talking about polyamory in general. Unless, somehow, one is supposed to understand that by polyamory, she means heterosexual polyamory – heterosexuality being the default, which is a thoroughly heterosexist approach. If you’re going to completely disregard non-heterosexual relationships, please own that and say it outright, instead of assuming that everyone will just understand what you meant. Or, better yet – just don’t disregard them.

I suppose the whole thing hits a rather personal sore spot for me, since I am polyamorous. And, while I do not think that polyamory is some perfect philosophy, or that it is easy to navigate without fucking up or hurting people, or that it is inherently better than chosen and intentional monogamy, I also think that chosen, intentional polyamory that is pursued in an open, honest, equitable and kind way is far preferable to societally-enforced, by-default monogamy. Everyone always seems to think that polyamorous relationships are destined to blow up in people’s faces, but hey, monogamy doesn’t seem to have that good a success rate, either.

Edited to add: Some dialogue continued in the comments of Lost Clown’s post, in which she wrote that she sees my point and that, if or when she re-edits her article, she will try to make it clear that she’s talking specifically about leftist men’s practices of polyamory. I still disagree with her on many points, but I appreciated her seeing my point and planned efforts to make the article more clear; I also do think that, though I probably wouldn’t take the same approach as her, it is important to discuss the problematic aspects of polyamory. Though I haven’t experienced it myself, it seems like there is clearly a lot of sexism going on in certain polyamorous communities. And one problematic thing I have seen is this faulty view of polyamory as sort of “more radical” than any other relationship configuration, privileging polyamory as an inherently more enlightened practice than monogamy. Um, no.

28 Responses to “how the Radical Feministsâ„¢ made me mad today”

  1. 1 chris

    “(in which, of course, polyamory only serves the interest of the men involved, and women are stripped of all possible power and agency because, hey, the patriarchy exists!)”

    I don’t think you can say that without saying that all heterosexual relationships only serve the interest of men. Being in one, I don’t see that as true at all. And I’ve seen polyarmory serve the wants/needs/interests with heterosexual/bisexual women, even at the expense of the wants/needs/interest of the man. I guess one could argue that isn’t true polyarmory at all as much as it is manipulation, but I don’t think it has much to do with sexual orientation.

  2. 2 lost clown

    As I noted in the comments, the title of the piece is Polyamory and Activism: Leftist men’s self serving cureall for sexism. To me that made it fairly obvious that it was about female/male relationships. (And because I’m a woman I feel strange writing about male/male polyamorous relationships.) Apparently not.

  3. 3 Jack

    Yes, your subtitle specifically mentions men. But, as I’ve written, you quickly follow that with unqualified pronouncements about polyamory. Did you really mean that heterosexual polyamory cannot exist in our society, or that heterosexuality polyamory as a mutually fulfilling practice cannot exist in a society that does not view you as a human? Because, no matter what you meant, it’s not what you wrote. You didn’t say “polyamory with men” or “heterosexual polyamory,” you said “polyamory,” as if that, by default, meant heterosexual polyamory. Can you also see the problematic and heterosexist nature of making unqualified pronouncements about polyamory without ever even mentioning the existence of queer polyamory?

    Perhaps it’s not “fairly obvious” to me because I’m not heterosexual, and I’m very aware of how queers are often marginalized and left completely out of the picture, and how heterosexuality is the unnamed default in most cases. And it pisses me off. So when I see it happening, I call it out.

    Though I’d still likely disagree with much of what you wrote, I wouldn’t have had this particular problem with your article if you’d just said somewhere something to the effect of, “I am only talking about heterosexual polyamory here; I acknowledge that I am not discussing queer polyamory or anything outside of the bounds of female/male relationships.” I think it’s absolutely necessary to explicitly acknowledge and own what you’re doing when you’re focusing only on a dominant group and ignoring a marginalized or oppressed group.

  4. 4 Jack

    I totally agree, Chris; it does seem like a logical continuation of this line of thinking. I acknowledge that, yes, patriarchy and sexism are very real and probably have an effect on every single relationship between a man and a woman (and probably every single other relationship as well.) However, I refuse to go along with the line that, because sexism is so prevalent and virulent in our society, no heterosexual relationship can serve the interests of men and women equally, and can be empowering and fulfilling to a woman. That’s like saying that, because racism exists, my relationship with my white girlfriend cannot be an equitable, fulfilling relationship. Yeah, she benefits from white privilege and has the same racism (passive as it may be) as any other white person, and that effects our relationship; but it’s something we work and struggle through together; to say that, because of racism, it can’t possibly be equal or non-coercive or fulfilling to me as a person of color would strip me of my power and agency, and no thanks, I’m not very interested in that.

  5. 5 EL

    I don’t really have anything to say now except that, Jack, I couldn’t agree more and I love that you are willing to confront some of these biases head-on.

  6. 6 Maegan la Mala

    As a generally heterosexual woman in a chosen monogomous relationship, yeah I got to have your back on this one. The assumption that certain types of relationships work/don’t work only within certain gender/sexual orientation paradigms is totally played out in what is not stated, in the assummed, everything is lesser , invisible other no?

  7. 7 Jack


  8. 8 belledame222

    >Because, no matter what you meant, it’s not what you wrote. You didn’t say “polyamory with men” or “heterosexual polyamory,” you said “polyamory,” as if that, by default, meant heterosexual polyamory. Can you also see the problematic and heterosexist nature of making unqualified pronouncements about polyamory without ever even mentioning the existence of queer polyamory?>

    Exactly. And I see this sort of shit so often on the “radical” sites!

    onec again, I have to ask: how and when did “radical feminism” become the purview of so many het women (and their boyfriends, in some cases!) I mean, I know Dworkin was quietly living with a man, and MacKinnon…and Jeffrys defines “political lesbianism” as being more about *not* sleeping with men than actually fucking, you know, women…

    uh. maybe that answers itself right there.

    even so: weird.

    i mean, to me, it doesn’t matter how “radically” opposed you are to Male Hegemony (and no, I don’t care who you sleep with): if you NEVER FUCKING SHUT UP ABOUT MEN, and never even seem to acknowledge that other people might have other things on their mind…yeah, I do have to wonder. i mean, negative energy is still energy, yeah-yeah?

    >I believe in polyamory, but only in a society where everyone is equal, where everyone is allowed to be human. Polyamory, therefore, cannot exist in our society.>

    Again: Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today. Clearly we must all wait for the Promised Land before trying, however imperfectly, to live in a way that feels authentic for ourselves. whatever.

    at this point I’m just feeling like, as once quoted by a friend in another context:

    “The burden of your yoke of disapproval is light.”

  9. 9 jen

    Found your post by following a technorati link, as a female who practices open relationships and ahve for 15 years, i can’t believe there are people out there who think that heterosexual polyamory benefits only the needs of men.

  10. 10 hexy

    To be completely honest about it, I didn’t get the same vibe from LCs article, but it’s highly likely that that’s because I directly recognised everything she was talking about. On re-read, I can imagine that if the article had not directly appealed to my experiences, I may have felt the same way as you do.

    I knew immediately what groups and behaviours she was discussing, so I didn’t need the extra clarification. Perhaps LC had the same idea and, rather than ignoring non-hetero models of polyamory, simply overlooked them as not being relevant to her point?

  11. 11 belledame222

    Per the whole “Polyamory, [or whatever] therefore, cannot exist in our society” business, I found this relevant, from Amber Hollibaugh (“My Dangerous Desires”:

    GAYLE RUBIN: “I firmly believe that sexuality is not natural, not an unchanging, ahistorical item in the human repertoire of behavior. Which means that after the revolution, in utopia, it would obviously be different. However, that idea, that sex will change if social reality changes, is confused in a peculiar and perhaps fundamentally Christian way. The idea of sex after the revolution is so removed from anything that we do now that it transcends the flesh itself. It becomes an absence of anything that we do now, all of which is contaminated by this earthly, fleshly existence. So “sex after the revolution” becomes a transcendent image of celestial delight.”


    >Perhaps LC had the same idea and, rather than ignoring non-hetero models of polyamory, simply overlooked them as not being relevant to her point?>

    But that’s exactly the problem. That’s what heterocentrism *is.* You make sweeping statements, overlook anyone who doesn’t fit but might have stories of their own as “not relevant,” an assume that everyone will identify and immediately know what you’re talking about. Of coruse *some* people are going to know what you’re talking about; if it weren’t so you wouldn’t be writing it in the first place.

    What’s objectionable here (and not just for being hetcentric, although that’s certainly part of it) is that instead of saying “look, I’ve ecnountered such and so, and I find it sexist and problematic,” by saying something as sweeping as

    “Polyamory, therefore, cannot exist in our society.”

    you are effectively declaring yourself the standard-bearer; your experience is apparently the universal one. Anyone whose experience doesn’t jibe with yours, well, (rhetorically), you’re the exception to the rule, not really worth mentioning (at best).

    I mean, if that’s what you believe, then that’s what you believe (I’m Every Woman, pretty much); just don’t be surprised when other people respond with annoyance.

  12. 12 belledame222

    …I mean, you know, polyamory is already a pretty marginalized expression of sexuality; who knows what percentage of poly relationships are queer? In fact, I think, *any* poly relationship that isn’t a particular v-shape with both genders (i.e. woman having a relationship with two or more men who aren’t having a relationship with each other, or man having a relationship with two or more women who aren’t having a relationship with each other), well, it’s pretty much queer (or however you’d like to call it) by definition, nu? That is, if it’s a relationship wherein people of the same gender are having an erotic relationship…and I think that is probably true for quite a lot of poly relationships…then using a hetcentric model gets sillier than ever. Hello? It’s not only about men and their desires for women?

  13. 13 belledame222

    and “both” genders doesn’t cover all the possibilities here, of course; but, you know, since we’re already in a hetcentric frame of mind…

  14. 14 Jack

    Hexy, I was going to reply but I think that belledame very well summed up what I would have written in her comment below. I think it’s important when writing this sort of thing to be very upfront and direct about the perspective that you’re coming from, so that people who don’t come from your same perspective or community understand that you are not trying to talk about them, too, and that you know that you’re leaving them out. It’s especially important to own that you’re overlooking certain viewpoints when those viewpoints belong to people who are traditionally overlooked, due to thinks like heterosexism, sexism, racism, etc.

  15. 15 Jack

    Yeah. I myself have never encountered polyamory in a heterosexual context. To me, polyamory seems like a very queer thing. Queer folks, at least the ones I run into, are a lot more familiar or understanding of polyamory. It’s the straight folks who I know who are always completely baffled, some of whom don’t even know what the word polyamory means. Of course, maybe that’s just the straight company I keep, which is fairly well limited to my family and my coworkers.

  16. 16 hexy

    Again, though, I didn’t feel that she was necessarily ignoring those that didn’t fit so much as she was simply talking about a specific thing. Dialogue about a specific does not necessarily have to include reference to all the things that aren’t being discussed.

    I’m not trying to say it was the world’s most perfectly inclusive article, but personally I read it and responded with recognition of the topic in relation to my het poly relationships, rather than feeling maligned and ignored because of my queer poly relationships. I more got the impression that LC wasn’t going to speak about something she knew nothing about, and hence didn’t attempt to analyse queer poly dynamics.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I would have been much more pissed off if she’d tried to perform that analysis of something that hasn’t directly concerned her.

  17. 17 Jack

    I guess I wasn’t asking that LC actually take on issues that she hasn’t personally experienced, because yes, that would be weird; it’s more that I wanted her to be explicit about the omission.

  18. 18 Oudeis

    I completely identified with this one b/c I remember reading some indictment of “heterosexual lesbian” porn. There’s a lot to criticize. But then the blog post went on to suggest that everything women did in porn made for men was things they’d only do b/c that’s what _men_ like.

    Um. Hello? Nope. Every single thing in the films they discussed were things that I know we do. Not all of us. Maybe not even a lot of us. But to NEVER discuss the facts of real lesbian sexuality or at least to have put a caveat in there to say: lesbian sexuality is complex. We’re not saying lesbians and bisexuals don’t engage in these activities…

    in the context of a very real history of a feminist movement where feminist really did say that some sex was always “male sex” even when practiced among lesbians … well. It’s pretty important to distance yourself from that position — if it matters to you.

    If it doesn’t? Great. Be a radfem and just say it: you think even lesbians sometimes practice ‘male sex.’ At least we’ve got it out on the table.

  19. 19 Doyle Saylor

    Nice essay ABB,
    I will continue to follow your thinking. Excellent thinker.
    Doyle Saylor

  20. 20 Midge

    what i find the weirdest is that one of the radical feminist tenets is that marriage is a harmful source of oppression for women. let’s say you’re a straight-identified woman: if you can’t be monogamous, and polyamory “can’t exist” in our society, what are you supposed to do?? you could choose to be in only lesbian relationships, but then what happens if you accidentally have “male sex” (whatever the eff that is) with your lesbian partner? can anyone in the world be a “true” feminist?

  21. 21 Bitch | Lab

    @ Midge


    Sometimes I think male sex is anything whoever’s calling it that decide it is. But, seriously, back in the late 70s, the were opposed to anything that appeared to have hierarchical power relations involved. BDSM was a big no-no. If we used dildos, that was considered wrong. Penetration sex was also wrong, for some. Butch Femme was attacked as just reproducing the patriarchy. Lesbian porn was out of the question.

    I was just reading a 1988 essay by Sarah Hoagland where she quotes someone from that era complaining about women who like to engage in seduction or who get pleasure from seeing their lovers succumb to their attentions. (Something like that. I’m going to post it at my blog tomorrow.

    There were quite a few quotes about how lesbian sex isn’t free of the patriarchy in general.

    Back then, they wanted separatism. Where I grew up, there were two lesbian separatist communities that lasted until the early 90s. In that environment, i grew up in the late 70s 80s, exposed to lesbians at the local state college who believed in androgyny and avoided looking like either men or women. The lesbians from my hometown though? The had no problem with butch/femme. Did that make for a confusing experience for me!

    THere’s an essay by Biddy Martin that talks about how a lot of this, she thinks, was also about class oppression: there was a fear of sexualities associated with the working class, that sex was kind of “dirty,” etc. Have portions of it at my blog b/c I loved it so much. Ithelped explain a bit what I, a working class woman, was seeing.


  22. 22 curt

    I am a polyamorous straight male – we do exist. There is a scarcity of polyamorous straight people in general though so unless I’m dating a polyamorous girl then there’s usually much confusion, doubt, explaining (and inevitably failed relationships) with monogamous women who are poly curious because of their attraction to me. With regards to whether my polyamory is patriarchal or not… I’m not sure. I’m a male, and often I have feelings of love for more than one person which I’d rather be honest about than hide like a guilty secret. If my partner has feelings for another person I appreciate the honesty too, and hopefully the communication in making the relationship continue to work. It’s a party if I actually like their partner also. I’m not imposing a male dominated view on anything – I just encourage honesty and communication and hope for the best. If I fantasize about spending the rest of my life with two women who mean the world to me is that patriarchal? They mean the world to me because they do. Why should I be forced to choose? I don’t force them to be with me either, and I don’t force someone to accept my polyamory or otherwise face consequences. I view polyamory not as an active “let’s see how many chicks I can score at the same time, and guess what dude, they’re all totally cool with it” chauvanistic POV. Instead I recognize that I can have feelings for more than one person that aren’t in conflict. And if they are, dammit I want to talk about it and not feel repressed about how I feel. Polyamory is about communication. Communication and words like negotiation. Influencing, forcing, guilting, selling, dominating, submitting etc – these are things I don’t think have anything to do with polyamory, and if they raise their ugly heads then at least polyamory gives a voice to really talk about it. Personally I believe all that dom-sub stuff is an extension of biology and hormones… something primal at its core when your body gets off on either fight or flight. I tend to accept that definition first if it ever comes up in my relationships. I cannot comment on people that choose dom-sub relationships as a permanent lifestyle… that kind of thing is open to debate about rationale etc. As a straight guy all I know is that I am capable of polyamory and that means I really get off on communication over anything else. And anything else can sometimes fall under that “heat of the moment” thing where anything goes, wrong or right in other’s eyes.

  23. 23 DJ QueenB

    Hey there. Wow, i stumbled on to this blog when typing in the google search column, “queer, polyamory.” I have never really had faith in this kind of search, as in the past it has brought shit to the table, but today was a different story. I am a queer polyamorous Chicana living on the San Diego/Tijuana border. And I just wanted to say that, wow it feels good to read your words and be able to relate to them. The thing that bothers me the most about reading material in general on polyamory, is that a lot of it is written via a heteroexist lens. In any case, i have a blog too, it’s not a big one or anything, mostly just my thoughts, but my most recent post is definitely tied to exploring love, sexuality, polamory, etc. Check it out if you are interested:
    Anyway, keep fighting your words, they are fulfilling. Abrazos en la lucha.

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