In the hetero-normative world, you say open relationship and most men think ‘threesome’. You’d have therefore thought that would be a popular option for many. But as it turns out polyamory, a truly egalitarian multi-partner ideology, is strongly vilified in our patriarchal world. Because what is sauce for the goose, is definitely not sauce for the gander. Relationships where women have as much power as men to own and share their sexuality, are dangerous and scary. But what would such a society look like? We don’t have to look far to find out.
The bonobos are arguably our closest genetic- and physiologically-related species. Unlike their chimpanzee ‘cousins’, much of their sexual behavior (including face-to-face mating, oral sex, tongue kissing, having sex for enjoyment, with perhaps the exclusion of their uncensored promiscuity) is similar to ours.
They are extremely egalitarian in nature and behavior. The females join together to nurture a cohesive, bonded community. One could say the females ‘gift’ themselves to the males to diffuse conflict and to encourage equal sharing. Food is often shared after sex. The males, who take their status from the status of their mother, are not competitive or warlike.
Bonobo groups are matriarchal in structure. The women wear the pants (metaphorically speaking…)! But not perhaps in the way we are used to in patriarchy, because there is no hierarchy. There is a sense of gender equality. While the males participate in gathering food, their peaceful lifestyle is possible because the females make sure no one goes without. The males have little to complain about.
Whilst debate continues as to whether early human societies were matriarchal, many of the tribal societies discovered by the Europeans as they spread across the globe were matriarchal in structure. And despite being slowly enveloped by patriarchal religions and culture, matriarchal societies still exist today. Examples include the Mosou of China, the Minangkabau of Indonesia, the Bribri of Costa Rica, the Nagovisi of South Bougainville, the Khasi and Garo of India, and more.
Heide Gottner-Abendroth has made the study of matriarchal societies her life’s work. The economic pattern of matriarchal societies is a gift economy, she says, where the giving of gifts is always intended as an entry into and a way to maintain good relationships and peace. Women usually control food and clan houses, so they facilitate the gift economy, which can extend over a broad geographic area and gift giving economics of matriarchal societies is deeply woven into a spiritual system.
The guiding image for the economy is Mother Earth herself, and as with earth, sharing and giving away out of an abundance are its supreme values. The gift is the lynchpin of the economy, patterned after the continuous gift giving of earth and sky.
This sharing aspect of spiritual, matriarchal gift giving extends to sexuality. Sexuality is valued highly, with satisfied sexuality regarded as a key to health, peace and culture. A form of open sexuality is often practiced, with the females engaging in multi-partner relationships. Jealousy, as with the bonobos, is almost non-existent. And not surprisingly, these societies are all very peaceful in nature.
In her book “For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange“, Genevieve Vaughan, contrasts the patriarchal ‘exchange’ economy with the matriarchal ‘giftgiving’ economy. Regarding sex, she speculates that women may be practicing a natural urge for “co-municative giftgiving” in their love relationships, including their ‘promiscuous’ ones.
Giving ourselves sexually allows us to feel the emotions of giving and receiving ‘on our own skin’. It allows us to do something for somebody else, satisfy a need without actually transferring goods from one to the other.
It is clear that gift-giving, sharing and nurturing are part of female human ‘wiring’. If given the primary ‘leadership’ role in community, women create an inherently peaceful egalitarian existence. This intrinsic and valuable nature, however, has been repressed by centuries of patriarchal culture.
Thankfully there is change in the wind. Embraced by increasing numbers of men and women, polyamory (a word coined in the 90s, that only got listed in the Oxford Dictionary in 2006) has brought multi-partner, egalitarian relationships back into the spotlight.
Based on the tenets of what makes polyamory work, it is clearly a matriarchal structure. Here are some of the keys to the ideology:
- Authenticity, transparency and honesty.
- Trust and open communication.
- Consent and compersion (the opposite of jealousy)
- Non-possessive gifting of each other to each other
- Gender equality and a spirit of sharing equally (egalitarianism)
- Sex-positivity (modern, patriarchal society is sex negative)
- Agreement by consensus.
- Spiritual fulfillment.
This is definitely not a patriarchal construct.
Women will continue to become aware of how their role in multi-partner relationships is so key. Like the bonobos, the communication and bonding between the females in particular, form the ‘glue’ of such arrangements. Their nurturing wisdom can diffuse any conflict that arises in the males. Women also seem to better sense the spiritual connection that is critical to such open, egalitarian sharing.
As multi-partner relationships continue to seed the world with matriarchal wisdom and leadership it is time to recognize the “feminine power” of polyamory and other egalitarian multi-partner communities. Let’s embrace and encourage their matriarchal principles and make our world a better place.
Originally published on Multiple Match, found HERE.