Thus asked Love Is Infinite today, and I just thought I’d paste my comment here, with some exposition. In general, I’m so pleased to see various different alternative sexuality groups talking more recently about our communities not always being up to scratch, institutional problems, and the benefits of creating things like sex-negative spaces.
I think that mono-normativity is misogynistic, and I think that non-monogamy has huge potential to be feminist, especially as many people come to poly, and actively choose it (few monogamous people choose monogamy, as it’s a default) because they’re frustrated with the oppressive nature of mono-normativity. (I wrote about my experiences of that here. Edited to add: and this comment is a fabulous summary of a whole lot of stuff I’ve been learning and thinking about and wanting to talk about for ages!)
However, the more time I spend in poly spaces, the more I’m questioning the inherently feminist nature of poly. I think the ways in which many people practice things could be more feminist, given how much many people talk about how great poly is and how awful monogamy is. I’m a beautiful twentysomething woman, and when I’m in poly space, I feel like I’m fair game for any man to come on to, strongly, and a lot. Most poly space is sex-positive space, and what that means in practice is that it’s space in which I’m seen as being constantly sexually available – especially to the many, many forty-something men that hang out in these spaces, some of whom I’ve found to be actively predatory. Especially for young women new to poly, these people (generally experienced, seen as experts and held in high regard) are really quite dangerous.
In the Climate Camp community, poly became quite widespread a few years ago, and the way in which loads of their women were suddenly seen as sexually available was really rubbish for the community: they wrote a zine about it, the pdf to it is at the bottom of this post.
And much of poly literature seems to be written by middle-aged men, many poly events and websites are run by men… at the moment, my being a twentysomething women writing a whole lot of stuff on poly and running poly events feels like a really good balancing factor against that. But I know that, at some point, this whole thing of… collaborating in making loads of young women sexually available to loads of older men, and this often not really being the greatest thing ever, is going to mean I stop doing poly activism. I absolutely love running poly events, but at some point that’ll get too much.
I think the problems here are really similar to those in kink communities: kink has so much potential to solve lots of the problems that mainstream narratives of sexuality bring up. The ways in which kinky folks talk about safety and consent are absolutely brilliant. But, that potential isn’t realised, because there’s so much focus on maintaining that image as feminist and fully consensual that people who mention problems are squashed – and in addition, some genuinely predatory people gravitate to the community because they know it’s a place where they can get away with abusive behaviour and not be challenged on it. So in many ways it ends up being worse than in mainstream communities. Same with poly.
Sadly, I don’t really know what to do about it. I’d like to make things more institutionally feminist, and carrying on doing my noisy thing as a writer and organiser is part of that. But, I don’t know what else could help. And right now, I don’t really feel like I can go to mainstream communities – say, to educate professionals – and be a voice for the poly (and kinky) communities, and say ‘look, this is a thing people do and it’s great and totally feminist’ or ‘this is a thing people do and it’s absolutely fine and not abusive at all ever’ because I don’t believe it.
And then! Mere minutes later, I read this post on abuse in the BDSM community: “I’m angry because I’ve been abused under the aegis of BDSM; I’m angry because so damn many of my friends have been abused in the scene; and I’m angry because if I used the guy’s name in that story above, I’d be kicked out of the scene.” There’s even a list of practical things we can do to start challenging this norm and making our communities better. This is brilliant.
OpenCon has a policy of ‘this is a place to meet new friends, not to pull’ – the discouragement of pulling coupled with the fact that most accommodation is in shared dorms means that it’s quite a sex-negative space, and there’s been some really enthusiastic feedback on that. So, maybe things will get better such that I don’t end up stopping poly activism because it no longer feels like I’m doing net good. Right now, I’m sad, and dubious, and I don’t feel like I can be an ambassador for poly to mainstream folks. But maybe things will change. Let’s keep talking about it.