Monogamy: love’s first commandment. The single person scoffs at it. Yet, everyone quickly becomes a devotee once they’re caught in Cupid’s bear trap. “When you’re in love,” the wrinkly folks say, “it’s time to settle down and do the right thing.”
But some modern philosophers have disagreed. “Monogamous marriage,” Friedrich Engels wrote, “comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other.”
Feminist philosophers of the 20th century agreed, but they thought that the Marxists hadn’t gone far enough in exposing the oppression of women. Sex revolutionists blasted monogamy as one of the oldest and most ubiquitous forms of oppression, even arguing – as Catharine MacKinnon did – that sexuality itself was a form of sexism.
There’s not enough space for me to unravel feminist philosophy here. All I’ll say is that the names are well known – Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, Gayle Rubin, bell hooks – and their critiques are worth the read.
My view on monogamy is simple: No one who demands monogamy from another person can truly love that person.
Monogamy is a primordial custom that makes men the masters of women. It’s a prison we build for ourselves, or rather, a prison built by our precursors thousands of years ago; a prison passed down to us that we blindly maintain.
Monogamy in men springs from a childlike desire to hoard their toys. He tells others, “This is mine! And you can’t play with it even when I’m not around!” Generally, monogamy in men focuses on the physical; men just don’t want other people touching their stuff.
Monogamy in women comes from the slavish desire to be dominated. To be clear, no one is naturally a slave, but people can be made slaves through training. And the training and transformation of women into slaves has occurred over countless millennia. Thus, women cling to monogamy the way slaves cling to their masters – or the way some Muslim women cling to their burqas. Generations of women have been taught that “good girls” practice monogamy, and if they’re woman enough, their men will practice monogamy too. Generally, monogamy in women centers on the emotional; women hate being cheated on because they view it as an evaluation of their own worth.
Obviously, there’s a lot of grey area and overlap. In some sections of society today, the antiquated notions of masculine and feminine are increasingly disappearing. (They were made-up to begin with, so hakuna matata.)
Still, monogamy isn’t inherently evil. (A prison is not bad; it’s just a building.) But monogamy in its present-day form is dysfunctional. Many people see monogamy as a way of validating themselves, saying things like “I’ve never been cheated on,” as if that means something.
There are monogamous relationships that are also loving ones. Yet it’s the motivations for entering into a monogamous relationship which make it right or wrong. Monogamy is harmful when it’s meant to control someone physically and emotionally.
So if you feel as though you need monogamy in your relationships, maybe it’s you you should get to know, rather than the other person.