So, I decided that since I spend so much of my waking time answering questions about sex, BDSM etc., it would be kind of fun to formalize the questions I get into blog posts for you fine readers! I put the word out on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook, and in about 15 minutes I had my first ask from @ifitpleasuresme, one of my followers on Tumblr. She asks,
“Any thoughts as to how polyandry could gain support and acceptance?”
This is a very interesting question, but it requires a wee bit of historical context.
There is anthropological and archaeological evidence that polyandry, the practice of one woman taking multiple men to her hearth, home and bed, has been practiced literally all over the planet, usually by hunting-gathering societies. Polyandry is still practiced more or less openly in Venezuela India, Bhutan and Tibet, although the Chinese occupation outlawed its practice in the latter, with unknown results. At present, no less than 53 cultures are known to have practiced some version of polyandry, often with all the brothers of a given family marrying a single woman so as to retain community property rights.
So how did we get from polyandry to polygamy to monogamy as cultural norms in the Western world?
If, circa 10,000-15,000 years ago, polyandry was the default cultural expectation, the Mesopotamians, Egyptians and Greeks stood this idea on its head. Instead of women being considered more valuable and thus desirable, cultural norms morphed to relegate women to second- or third-class citizen status. While the ruling class did and married exactly as they liked and to hell with what their subjects thought about it (pretty much like today), women were still largely treated as lesser beings and property to be passed from the ownership of a father to a husband.
Over time, this idea calcified and solidified as “women’s natural state.” Plato, Aristotle, Cato the Elder and others often derided women as incapable, lesser, mere vessels for a man’s seed and of less value than the soil in their orchards. Cato the Elder said to the Roman Senate,
“Woman is a violent and uncontrolled animal… If you allow them to achieve complete equality with men, do you think they will be easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters.”
This idea obviously stuck hard, becoming incorporated into the budding concepts of Christianity and the idea of one man and one woman being accepted as the only “true” form of union. And thus it was for the lion’s share of two millennia. Women were kept subservient and beneath men, even in the relatively enlightened United States of America. Remember it was only about 100 years ago that women had the right (in law if not in fact) to vote! Nevertheless, polygamy, or the practice of one man marrying and being sexually involved with multiple women, is still viewed far more favorably than polyandry in most parts of the Western world, even those where multiple marriages by any gender are either considered suspect or outright disallowed by law.
This brings us, more or less, to the present day.
People are waking up and realizing the “one man with one woman” default setting for our culture is not the only way to be happy. Indeed, for many polyamorous people, monogamy would be a recipe for disaster! Interestingly, one man with multiple women is considered “a pimp,” “a stud,” “a stallion,” etc., even if he cannot legally or legitimately marry but only one of them. On the other hand, a man who willingly enters into a polyandrous relationship is “a cuck,” “a wuss,” “a fag” and all the other charming terms of abuse people use these days to describe a man who is somehow “lessened” by sharing “his” property with another man.
A funny thing happened while I was writing this: I noticed I have been in polyandrous relationships and never even realized it! Sparrow, being a switch, has needs I cannot fulfill simply because I am too Dominant. Thus, she has consent to seek out submissive men with whom she can express her Dominant side without butting heads with me, and I impose very few restrictions on this consent. Thus, while I have been polygynous, i.e. having more than one woman at a time within my House, I have also been polyandrous. This realization shone a spotlight on a blind spot in my own thinking, and one I will certainly take care to be more mindful of in future!
It’s only since 1993, when North Carolina passed a law prohibiting marital rape, that all 50 American states recognized rape could occur within the confines of a marriage. As of 2015, eight states still treat marital rape differently than “actual” rape, as being a less severe form of rape.
Thus, we can see from this example that women are still considered subject beings and “lesser” than men. Sexism, benevolent and otherwise, is still very much rampant throughout much of the legal system and certainly throughout society as a whole. Rape culture is still a real thing, and women are seen as something men “get” as in “obtain,” a reward or treat for being “manly.” Meanwhile, a woman who dares to have sex with more than one man at a time, either in a broader relationship dynamic or literally in media res, is considered a slut, a whore and an unfit mother and partner.
On the flipside of this, we still have the old, outmoded ideas of “manly” men and what they do, and don’t do. These ideas are reinforced by toxic masculinity and societal pressure to conform to “approved” manly activities, under threat of social and other ostracism.
This brings me back to the original question: Can polyandry gain support and acceptance?
Truthfully, yes, I believe it can, especially in the Western world. As more people are exposed to the idea of relationships beyond one man and one woman, including queer, heteroflexible and poly arrangements, and see the people practicing polyamory of all sorts may actually be happier and better adjusted in some ways than many monogamous couples, I feel polyamorous arrangements of all kinds will become more widely accepted, including polyandry.
The primary issues as I see them are:
- A cultural change in how “traditional” gender roles are dealt with from the courtroom to the street, for both men and women. Establishing true equality and parity will be immensely helpful in boosting this.
- More cultural exposure, which almost inevitably will lead to acceptance. Gay rights in the 1970s meant “I and my boyfriend/girlfriend made it home from the club alive.” Today it means, “I can marry the person I love, administer their dying wishes and inherit their property, and they can do the same for me.”
- A change in the laws to reflect parity of rights for everyone in a plural relationship and conference of the rights of marriage, if desired.
The walls are crumbling, but we still have a lot to do. Poly people, whether we like it or not, have been thrust into an uncomfortable position of being ambassadors for the lives and loves we’ve chosen. But when people start figuring out we’re not mythical beings and we’re not heralds of the End of Days, they’ll settle down and start treating poly folks of all stripes just as we are: wildly, messily, amazingly human.
Just like everyone else.
I welcome your questions about anything related to sex, kink or BDSM. Just keep your questions neutral and polite, if you please. I’m not interested in dealing with “bashing” of any sort and won’t give it a place or platform in my social media. If you want to ask me something, Tweet, shoot me a Facebook post or send me a public ask on Tumblr with the hashtag #AskMeAnything! Your question may even end up as the subject of a blog post just like this one, so fire away!