The Lion, the Cage, and Non-Monogamy, or, The Gendered Construction of Non-Monogamy, Part II


Part I

What I have described in the previous post is the first order agreement in a primary partner relationship. It is also monogamists’ strong critique of the practice. We can see how their critique is warranted. I have been careful to critique non-monogamy as it appears in Simmons’s example and in the minds of monogamists. But I showed how internal to the practice called non-monogamy, its practitioners can occasionally spell and live out its patriarchal underpinnings, thereby collapsing the possibility of an ethical relationship between and amongst genders in the romantic and sexual situation. I called the above agreement between partners a first order agreement in that, in the first engagement with the possibility of non-monogamy, one partner approaches the other with a response already expected, namely, that since he has agreed to be non-monogamous his partner should follow him if she too believes in freedom, equality, and the like. From this first order agreement the partners can then proceed to a second order whereby both – as in two, second – agree to the parameters, rules, permissions, and laws set out before them. This is the topic for another time. Prior to arriving at the mutual agreement it is first necessary to counter the critique of a gendered construction of non-monogamy put forward by monogamists and exemplified by the individuals (men) who structure their encounters and relationships with their partner(s) in the manner outlined by the analogy above.

I can answer the critique in three ways: the woman becomes her own lion-tamer; provide a much more radical and accurate account of non-monogamy as a pursuit of polyamory (ethics); attempt to be courageous like a lion and decimate the cage-structure altogether.

The first is the most common response to the critique. An individual, like I have set out in my description of Simmons, becomes her own lion-tamer. She finds the key to open the door to her cage and strolls in and out of that cage as she sees fit. There is no single method to accomplish this. Some may come about it naturally, through their own awareness of their desires and drives, while others may take the educative route, reading about non-monogamy practices and critically evaluating them in relation to what she knows and has experienced with these things called sex and romance. It may even be possible, as I have hypothesized, that the first order agreement, through time and patience, through self-awareness and critical thinking, transforms into mutual agreement (second order).

While this answer is naively satisfying, it is possible, as I and many others have done, to turn this argument into one of ideology. There is no outside to ideology, and if ideology is or has been patriarchal, the woman becomes lion-tamer only to adopt the values and practices of the men or man (primary partner) in charge. What many women suggest instead is a feminine desire, a feminine voice that is in stark contrast to the desires of men. As I noted above, Simmons identifies himself with the King of the beasts; women may not aspire to such a great and despotic height. This being said, I cannot wholly buy the ideological critique because, first, I am concerned about the philosopher outside ideology who marks its problems and sites of resistance. Further, ideological critique seems to be waning; or its impact is, at best, moderately felt. Nevertheless, as I have described and critiqued Simmons’s analogy, it seems an important problem to at least tackle from the ideological front in some way.

The more substantive point of departure against the gendered construction of non-monogamy is clarifying what we mean by the term and its practices. I have attempted to do this elsewhere (“Non-monogamy: Principle or Practice?”)

First, against this horrific analogy of the pure sexual drive in constant pursuit of its lost object, in opposition to the monogamists’ argument that non-monogamy is a theory and practice which facilitates and justifies the man’s extra-monogamous encounters, I claim that extra-monogamous sex is only a component of non-monogamy and not its foundation. I argued previously that non-monogamy’s foundation is a principle of non-possession, a principle of sacrifice whereby each partner gives themselves (as much as possible) to the desire of the other. In Simmons’s analogy it is insufficient to merely prop open the door and let the lion(ess) leave at his(/her) whim. To counter the concern of the practice’s gendered construction, if we know the lioness has the drive to hunt and eat, we must throw a piece of meat onto the floor outside the cage, encourage her to be the lioness she wishes to be. Or better, we must cover ourselves in blood, stand at a distance from the open door of the cage, and sacrifice ourselves for the desire of the other.

An ethical non-monogamy has something other than sex as its aim, or, the partial aim of non-monogamy in the form of extra-monogamous sex has a telos somewhere else besides genital satisfaction. In my previous writing I argued that non-monogamy is ethical insofar as it has polyamory as its goal; the practice achieves it end (which is itself an impossibility as partners come and go, like the lion and lioness who enters and exists their cage) when every person involved in the relationship is loved (to varying degrees). Here is the very evident difference between polyamory as a practice of ethics and the primary partner relationship as a excuse for extra-monogamous sex: in the latter we begrudgingly permit our partner to use others as sexual objects because we want to grant ourselves that privilege and/or, at best, encourage them to do so; in the former we encourage and aid our partner in treating and engaging their new partners with love, as object and subject.

I have put forward this idea of polyamory almost at odds with what is now even becoming a traditional or conservative form of romance, i.e., the appropriately labelled open relationship (open as in opening the cage, but holding on to the key, attached to a chain tucked under your shirt). The solution to the problem I have raised with Simmons and other non-monogamous individuals like him is in changing the structure altogether. This analogy of the cage is simultaneously intuitive, compelling, naïve, and ethically reprehensible. Once we have dropped the thought of non-monogamy as a freedom from the cage, a freedom granted to us by our lover and granted to them in turn rather as an ontological trait inherent to our human subjectivity, we can start to think about making a real change in the structures and operations of sexuality and romance. Only then will the gendered construction critique lose its strength. For now the problem productively troubles us, forcing us to ponder what revolutionary change might be necessary to begin constructing an ethical habitat for the lions and lionesses dwelling in our heads.


One thought on “The Lion, the Cage, and Non-Monogamy, or, The Gendered Construction of Non-Monogamy, Part II

  1. Pingback: The Lion, the Cage, and Non-Monogamy, or, The Gendered Construction of Non-Monogamy, Part I | Tapage nocturne

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