Why Women Are the Catalyst & Foundation for Polyamory

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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.

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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.

The Bonobo Factor: Sexy Feminism

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Love Secret 02 - Feminism Can Be Very Sexy

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

When females are in charge, everyone lives better (including the males). While male chimps run the show, among bonobos, it’s the females who are in charge, with much better quality of life for everyone involved (see #1 -- more sex = less conflict).

What does this mean for us?

Well, first off, it means we have things seriously backwards.

Today our world is almost completely patriarchal in nature. It wasn’t always this way. Human beings, after all, have been around for a very long time. A common number that archaeologists use for the existence of “modern humans” is about 200,000 years. By our current measurement of time, we call it 2013. Hmm... so that means we’ve been around for almost 1,000 times as long as the period from Christ’s existence to the present. Yes, we’ve been here a very long time.

In her book, “When God Was A Woman”, Merlin Stone looks beyond our 2000 years of Christianity to find lots of evidence of Goddess worship throughout pre-history. While some of her findings have been hotly debated, she shows that female divinity was recognized, worshipped and integrated into societal structures throughout pre-history.

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Ryan and Metha in “Sex At Dawn” cite work by early anthropologists, who described the lifestyles of newly discovered indigenous peoples and tribes as Europeans spread across the globe, which supports this. Many of these peoples, absent of any influence for multiple millennia, were discovered to be matriarchal in worship and social structure, fostering a peaceful, prosperous and egalitarian way of life guided by the wise intuition of the women.

In a recent conversation with a Deputy Chief of a First Nations tribe in British Columbia, Willow and I were moved to hear about their peaceful matriarchal ways that lasted until the government intervened in the middle of the last century.

Indeed, Heide Gottner-Abendroth, in her seminal work “Matriarchal Societies”, describes in detail many peaceful and prosperous matriarchal societies that still exist to present day. Ironically, they are almost completely ignored by social scientists exploring human social behavior. Her extensive work identifies the many benefits these societies enjoy with women in charge.

What is interesting is that ‘women in charge’ looks very different from ‘men in charge’. In other words, matriarchal social organization is not just patriarchy with women at the top instead of men. It takes on a completely new type of power structure that is based on collaboration, egalitarianism and prosperity for all.

While our current patriarchal societies have proven to disempower women, matriarchal societies not only empower women to utilize their nurturing wisdom, they also empower men. We hope to touch on many of the reasons why this is so in future posts.

What does this mean for us? The bonobos urge us to look more closely at matriarchal societies throughout history and begin to explore how matriarchal community living might help us shift stale male-centric social paradigms.

Read Part Four HERE