When people learn that I’m in a polyamorous three-way relationship, or throuple, they understandably have questions.
But these questions aren’t the same questions you’d ask someone in a two-way relationship, questions like what’s their name? What do they do? Where did you meet? Instead, I get asked things like: so, do you always have threesomes? Which partner is your favourite? Do you all sleep in the same bed?
These questions are harmless, even funny. I admit relationships like mine are still far from the norm, and I don’t mind answering them when people are just trying to understand how polyamory works.
Couples are the norm, represented in complex and honest ways in millions of movies, TV shows and books. I’ve yet to see a single good representation of polyamory in film or on TV. So it makes sense that when people ask questions about polyamory, they’re doing it through a filter that places traditional monogamy as the default.
But there’s one question that’s more problematic. “How can you be a feminist in that relationship?”
To unpack this, I need to give some context. I have been with my male partner, Paul, for eight years. We met Andrea just over a year ago. People encountering our female, female, male dynamic assume Paul is getting the most out of it.
They imagine him swaggering down the road with a woman under each arm. They imagine a non-stop orgy (one that’s flatteringly lit and airbrushed like mainstream porn). They assume the dynamic was his idea. They assume Andrea and I aren’t really into each other, that we’re both just doing it for his male approval – or that Andrea is trying to ‘steal’ him from me.
Granted, my relationship throws these things into extreme relief. But these prejudices harm all kinds of relationships, as well as people who are single.
Take the common misconception that Andrea wants to ‘steal’ Paul away from me. This assumes that a relationship (and most especially a monogamous two-person relationship) is the ultimate social success. That a person (but especially a woman) must be looking to couple-up, because otherwise they’re kind of failing at life. Anyone who’s felt depressed to be single on Valentine’s Day, or read an article about ‘cuffing season’ has probably felt this pressure.
But not all women want relationships. We’re not more valid with a partner (or indeed partners). And we’re definitely not out to defeat one another in some kind of relationship Hunger Games.
Or take the assumption that Paul is somehow getting more out of our dynamic. This inherently positions Paul’s male experience as somehow more valid, and worth more, than a woman’s experience. It also plays into the scientifically disproven idea that men want sex more than women, as well as the disturbingly too common belief that bisexuality is not real.
These assumptions harm all of us because they reaffirm misogynistic biases that put male experiences, and male preferences, first. It also suggests, quite offensively, that women like me and Andrea are essentially doormats incapable of making active choices about our relationships and our lives.
The first time a friend asked me how I can be a feminist in this relationship, I hadn’t thought so deeply about all this. I brought a whole bunch of assumptions to the table myself.
We’re definitely not out to defeat one another in some kind of relationship Hunger Games.
“No no no, it’s not like that,” I said instantly. I could have asked her to clarify, to explain what she meant, but I didn’t need to. I knew exactly what she meant – because her assumptions are the default. Rarely challenged, rarely even acknowledged. And that’s what makes them so pernicious.
I explained to my friend that we are three people in a relationship. Three consenting adults who are open and honest with one another. Not two women being strung along by a man. Not a couple using another woman like a human sex toy. Not a couple that’s about to be split up by some kind of reality TV-style femme fatale.
The most worrying part is that my friend is someone who already gets this stuff. Polyamory wasn’t a shocking new concept to her, she understands feminism and gender and the idea of internalised misogyny. And that’s how powerful these prejudices are. They get into our heads even when we think we’ve overcome them.
The only way we can keep our prejudices in check is by acknowledging them and asking ourselves where they come from, and whether that’s something we really believe. Now, when people ask me “How can you be feminist in that relationship?” I ask a question of my own: “Why not?”
So, in fact, please do keep asking this question. But get ready to come up with the answer yourself.
Abby Moss is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @mossabigail
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