Monday, December 22, 2008

Polyamory and Patriarchy

In this third installment of the series, "What is Polyamory?" with Christian Matheis, we discuss how patriarchal culture affects the practice of polyamory.

There are many feminist criticisms of polygamy that are well known. Martha Nussbaum rehearses some of the issues in this piece. However, she asks, what exactly is wrong with plural marriage among consenting adults? Not much, she concludes. Some of the commentors suggest that what she is actually talking about is polyamory.

My colleague, Lani Roberts, has shared with me the following piece that offers a radical feminist critique of polyamory. The general lines of the argument follow the ideas of Catherine MacKinnon:

In a patriarchal culture, gender inequality is pervasive. Women are subordinated economically, politically, and socially to men. In such conditions, we cannot talk about women having the absolute freedom, the capacity, to choose how they want their lives to be. This is especially true in the case of sexual consent. MacKinnon makes the point in this 2006 interview:

"The assumption is that women can be unequal to men economically, socially, culturally, politically, and in religion, but the moment they have sexual interactions, they are free and equal. That's the assumption - and I think it ought to be thought about, and in particular what consent then means. It means acquiescence. It means passivity."

The critique in regard to polyamory (at least, heterosexual polyamory) is that, under conditions of patriarchy, women may seem agree to polyamorous relationships, but they have been conditioned all their lives to think of themselves as sexually available to men. A polyamorous set up is really to allow men to have sexual access to more and more women.

Christian does not deny the effects of patriarchy in all our relationships, but holds out polyamory as one possible way to chip away at patriarchy through its insistence on mutuality, communication, and autonomy. Is his position persuasive?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What is Polyamory? A New Engage Podcast Series on Relationship Diversity

This past summer, Woody Allen released a quirky film about relationships called "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". The movie follows a couple of young American women who become involved in a complicated romantic relationship with the same man. He is an artist who is divorced, but his wife re-emerges, and she proceeds to become involved with him again, along with one of the Americans.

In part of the trailer for the film that you see here, the wife (played by Penelope Cruz) tells one the American girlfriends (Scarlett Johansson) how happy it makes her feel to hear her and her ex-husband making love in the next room. For many viewers, the question is: how could that be? How could she really be happy and not wildly jealous?!

In a series of webisodes, I explore the idea of polyamory (usually translated literally from the Greek and the Latin to be "many loves")--the idea of being involved in more than one romantic, affective, and/or sexual relationship at one time--that might provide answers to those questions. My guest for these webisodes is Christian Matheis, a graduate of OSU's Applied Ethics Master's Program, and who now works as a professional faculty for the Associated Students of OSU.

The first webisode here tries to define polyamory in comparison to traditional ideals of monogamy and distinguishes it from polygamy and polyandry. The second webisode here explains how fairness works in a polyamorous relationship in which there might be three or more partners involved with one another, and how jealousy is dealt with in such a situation.

Look for more webisodes soon, in which Christian and I discuss issue of polyamory and patriarchy, polyamory and queer identity, and the limits of polyamorous life.

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Hope Reaches Guatemala: What Obama means to the Mayans

Dennis, over at Rhetorical Wasteland, has a thought provoking discussion about whether progressives should celebrate the Obama inauguration event on January 20, 2009. I tend to think his conclusion is spot on: we should not celebrate the man, so much, as the organizing that got him to where he is today.

At the same time, Obama is an exceptional person and has made a profound impact on not just U.S. history, but global history. Over at The Seditionist, a report from a Guatemalan Mayan village about the reactions of people there to the Obama victory. Xeni Jardin recounts:

"Despite many years visiting their homes and sharing their difficult life experiences, we were surprised by their reaction to the Obama election. It was of great symbolic importance. That sudden jolt of aspiration felt around the world? It struck here. Hard. It meant hope. It meant a renewed belief in change, for a people who have survived natural disasters, racism, and 36 years of civil war that many describe as the Mayan genocide. If a black man can enter the Casa Blanca, they are saying, maybe a Mayan person can one day become president of Guatemala. Maybe we will live to see a true democracy here, the thinking goes—a government that represents the rights of Guatemala’s First People, instead of representing their destruction."

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Should Latino/a Workers Occupy a New Republic (Windows and Doors)?

A group of mostly Latino/a workers, who were laid off from a window factory in Chicago, have decided to stage an occupation of the factory rather than be turned out. You can read about this group of workers and the national attention they are bringing to the worries of ordinary working people here.

It seems that the workers feel they were not given full consideration of federal law before being laid off and are asking the owners of the factory, who claim they are broke, to give them the entire severance and vacation pay they are due. The workers claim that they will stay until Christmas, if need be.

The union to which the workers belong claims that they are simply engaging in an action that goes back to the 1930s when American workers would nonviolently occupy factories to pressure owners with their demands.

The occupation by the Republic Windows and Doors workers reminds me of the factory take overs in Argentina after the 2001 economic crisis. There, many factory owners also went bankrupt and simply left town, leaving the workers with little or no notice of a shutdown. Instead of simply accepting defeat, the workers of many of these factories went back to work and occupied facilities. They started to run the factories on their own, creating their own forms of management and production. Workers began to develop their own theories of a non-hierarchal work place, and of democratic decision making on the shop floor, that started to spread throughout the country. Soon, neighborhood assemblies were forming, in which people could talk about their reactions to economic crisis, and plan collective action that was independent from the state institutions and political parties. Some of these citizen activists called this kind of grassroots democracy horizontalism. You can read more about this movement here and also here.

The Republic workers aren't currently thinking of running the factory on their own. They simply want to get what is due to them. But wouldn't it be a great example if ordinary workers could take production matters into their own hands and demonstrate how the economy really works because of them and not because of the generosity of capital lending financial institutions which are pocketing so much of the taxpayer bailouts?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Museums, Memory, and the Logic of Coercive Institutions

National Public Radio has a new series on museums in the United States. People often think of Americans as sports fans or infatuated with pop culture entertainment, but it turns out that we quite the museum goers. Almost 900 million people visit museums annually.

Why are museums so popular?

Philippe de Montebello, former Metropolitan Museum of Art director, answers: "A museum is the memory of mankind."

But we know, too, from many psychological studies that human memory is a very fragile and confusing thing. It is often unreliable and susceptible to being framed and influenced by extraneous forces. We know too often that sometimes people remember things that did not actually happen or not in quite the same way according to different people's recollections.

That why The Pinky Show offers a very interesting take on the museum as a cultural institution. Instead of being neutral repositories of our collective memory, museums may in fact be coercive institutions, run by elite groups who take it upon themselves to disseminate "official" (that is, ideological) versions of history for the masses. Actually, that sounds too Marxist. Kim the kitten puts it better:

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