Projectos de Investigação

Projectos de investigação em que participei ou participo

Internacionais

Sexuality and Play in Media Culture - University of Turku; PI - Susanna Paasonen; participation as postdoctoral researcher.

EU Kids Online (terminado)

EU Kids Online 2 (terminado)

EU Kids Online 3


Nacionais

Actuais

O mito da inocência: uma abordagem mista para a compreensão da violência sexual perpetrada por mulheres (PTDC/PSI‐GER/28097/2017); financiado pela Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, participação como co-investigador principal.

“Political Interest Networks in Facebook Portugal” (PTDC/COM-CSS/28269/2017), financiado pela Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, participação como membro da equipa de investigação.

Passado

#ON_Sex - Direitos Sexuais e Jovens Vulneráveis; participação como investigador.

Censura e mecanismos de controlo da informação no teatro e no cinema durante o Estado Novo (financiado pela FCT); participação como bolseiro de investigação.

A Representação Discursiva da Mulher em Revistas Femininas e Masculinas Portuguesas (financiado pela FCT); participação como bolseiro de investigação.

Participação Feminina Online: A Redefinição de Esfera Pública (financiado pela FCT; financiado pelo CICANT); participação como Investigador.

 

...

Conferências

Futuramente:

  •  
  • Cardoso, D.; Pascoal, P.; Rosa, P. 2019. Facing polyamorous lives – Academic contributions to understand and fight discrimination against CNMs. 16 de Novembro de 2019. 3rd Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies. Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain.

Conferências e material apresentado 

  1. Cardoso, D. 2019. A trabalhar na fronteira: Media, cidadania íntima e direitos humanos. 19 de Outubro de 2019. Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias, Lisboa.
  2. Cardoso, D. 2019. Juventudes, Tecnologias e Sexualidades Contemporâneas: Transformações e Permanências. Sete Prazeres Capitais. 16 de Outubro de 2019. Colégio do Espírito Santo, Évora.
  3. Cardoso, D. 2019. Poliamor e Diversidade Relacional: Contextos e Desafios para Pensar as Sexualidades. II Seminário Internacional do Programa Doutoral em Sexualidade. 20 de Setembro. Universidade do Porto. Porto.
  4. VVAA. 2019. Painel "Abjeção: teorias e vivências". 7 de Maio de 2019. Torres Novas, Portugal
  5. Cardoso, D. 2019. "Até que a Morte nos separe? Uma história crítica das monogamias". Jornadas de Sexologia da ULHT. Lisboa, Portugal.
  6. Cardoso, D.; João Santos, T. 2019. Ropework: performing fragility. 18 de Fevereiro de 2019. What's Love Got to Do With It? Conference. Lisboa, Portugal.
  7. Duarte, Eva; Cardoso, Daniel. 2018. Entre o cultural e o individual: A ficção científica e a diversidade sexual e de género, Sci-Fi Lx 2018. Lisboa, Portugal.
  8. Cardoso, Daniel. 2018. "Jovens e sexting: entre autonomia e gestão do risco". Jornadas de Psicologia Forense da ULHT. Lisboa, Portugal.
  9. Meg-John Barker & Daniel Cardoso: Non/monogamies: the new face of relationship diversity. 14th Congress of the European Federation of Sexology. Faro, Portugal
  10. Quaresma, R., Pascoal, P.M., Cardoso, D.. 2018. Interest in BDSM/Fetishism and romantic relationships: Preliminary Results14th Congress of the European Federation of Sexology. Faro, Portugal.
  11. Cardoso, Daniel; Torres da Silva, Marisa; Rosa, Ana. 2017. Comentar o amor com ódio: Incivilidade online em comentários a notícias de cidadania da intimidade. 28 de Novembro de 2017. X SOPCOM, Viseu.
  12. Cardoso, Daniel. 2017. "Redes Sociais e Novas Tecnologias: Impacto Psicológico e Social" - Painel. 16 de Novembro de 2017, Porto, FPCE-UP.
  13. Cardoso, Daniel. 2017. "A reflection on excess: Activism, academia and power". In XII Ciclo de Jovens Cientistas Sociais. 12 de Outubro de 2017, CES Coimbra.
  14. Cardoso, Daniel; Ribeiro, Inês. 2017. "Discriminação de mulheres e não-monogamias consensuais – O duplo padrão sexual e a patologização da sexualidade feminina". 30 de Setembro de 2017. Conferência Woman XXI, Porto.
  15. Rosa, Jorge Martins; Monteiro, Maria do Rosário; Ferreira, Aline; Cardoso, Daniel. 2017. Painel "A Ficção Científica: Espelho de ansiedades políticas e pessoais". Fórum Fantástico 2017. Lisboa.
  16. Cardoso, Daniel; Silva, Marisa Torres da; Rosa, Ana. 2017. "Politics and polyamory – Gendered online discourses about non-monogamies and (in)civility". 31 de Agosto de 2017. 2nd Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies, Viena.
  17. Cardoso, Daniel. 2017. "Falta de informação não há": Jovens portugueses procuram informação sobre sexualidade online. 3 de Maio de 2017. Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias, Lisboa.
  18. Cardoso, Daniel. 2017. O Poliamor no Contexto das Intimidades Contemporâneas: Uma Abordagem Sociohistórica4 de Abril de 2017. Universidade da Beira Interior, Covilhã.
  19. Pascoal, Patrícia; Cardoso, Daniel. 2017. Bem-estar Sexual e Sexualidades Alternativas: Um Estudo sobre Praticantes de BDSM em Portugal 4 de Abril de 2017. Universidade da Beira Interior, Covilhã.
  20. Cardoso, Daniel. 2017. Amores políticos e políticas situadas. Gender Workshop Series VII. 30 de Março de 2017. Centro de Estudos Sociais, Coimbra.
  21. Apresentação da reportagem Juventude em Jogo - V Semana da Comunicação ULHT. 23 de Março de 2017. Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias, Lisboa.
  22. Sexuality, Gender, Communication & Culture - Ciclo de Seminários por Daniel Cardoso; Marco Scarcelli (discussant). 11-12 Janeiro 2017. Universidade de Pádua, Itália.
  23. Cardoso, Daniel. 2016. O piropo e as políticas do silêncioKEYNOTE EMIII Jornada de Estudos de Género FLUL. 23 de Novembro. Lisboa
  24. Cardoso, Daniel. 2016. “Não me identifico”: cruzamentos de género e orientação sexual na participação cívica online em cidadania íntima de jovens portuguesesCongresso Internacional 'Mulheres, Cidadania e Direito de Voto'. 21-22 de Novembro. Lisboa
  25. Cardoso, Daniel. 2016. Intimidades Digitais e Performances Sociais: Práticas de sexting entre jovens portugueses. 28 de Outubro de 2016. Évora.
  26. Pascoal, Patrícia; Cardoso, Daniel. 2016. BDSM - Um estudo sobre Bondage, Disciplina, Dominação, Submissão, Sadismo e Masoquismo. Jornadas de Sexologia ULHT 2016. 8 de Junho 2016. Lisboa.
  27. Cardoso, Daniel; Ribeiro, Inês. 2016. Polyamory as a gendered experience: Portuguese women talk about non-monogamies and discrimination. 6º Congresso da Associação Portuguesa de Antropologia. 2-4 Junho 2016. Coimbra.
  28. Cardoso, Daniel; Ribeiro, Inês. 2016. Poliamor numa perspectiva genderizada – Discriminação e preconceitos na voz de mulheres em não-monogamias consensuais. 1º Congresso Internacional CIEG. 25-27 Maio 2016. Lisboa.
  29. Cardoso, Daniel. 2016. KEYNOTE: "The political is personal - The importance of affective narratives in the rise of poly-activism". 1st International Conference Queering Intimacies. 30-31 March 2016. Coimbra
  30. Cardoso, Daniel. 2016. "Alteridades e visibilidades - Papéis e tensões das representações mediáticas de sexualidades alterizadas". "25 anos de Psicologia", na Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias. 25 Fevereiro 2016. Lisboa
  31. Cardoso, Daniel; Ponte, Cristina. 2015. "Entre informações, titilações e identificações: Os papéis da internet como recurso de informação sobre sexualidade para jovens". Apresentado no 9º SOPCOM. 12-14 Novembro 2015. Coimbra.
  32. Cardoso, Daniel; Mota, Mafalda. 2015. "A imprensa como facilitadora de voyeurismo sexual: Representações de BDSM e de fetichismo no jornalismo em Portugal". Apresentado no 9º SOPCOM. 12-14 Novembro 2015. Coimbra.
  33. Ribeiro, Inês, Cardoso, Daniel S. 2015. "At the crossroads of deviance: gendered experiences of polyamorous women". 1st Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference, Lisboa, 25-27 Setembro de 2015.
  34. Pascoal, Patrícia; Cardoso, Daniel S.; Henriques, Rui. 2015. "Sexual satisfaction and distress in sexual functioning in a sample of the BDSM community: a comparison study between BDSM and non-BDSM contexts". 1st Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference, Lisboa, 25-27 Setembro de 2015.
  35. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2015. “Activismo não é tanto a minha praia, gosto mais de fazer mesmo as coisas”. Concepções e contestações de participação cívica na cidadania para a intimidade. Conferência Activismo em Tempos de Crise, FCSH-UNL, Lisboa, 14-15 Maio de 2015
  36. Cardoso, Daniel S.; Ponte, Cristina. 2014. "Portuguese youngsters, new media and sexuality – information, activism and pleasure-seeking experiences". International Conference "Gender in focus: (new) trends in media". Braga, 20-21 Junho 2014.
  37. Cardoso, Daniel S.; Mota, Mafalda. 2014. The voyeuristic fascination of sexual alterity: BDSM and kink representations in Portuguese journalism. In Panel "Queering Communication and Media Studies". International Conference "Gender in focus: (new) trends in media". Braga, 20-21 Junho 2014.
  38. From Mono-Normative to Poly-Normative? Reflections on queer relational projects and (non-)monogamies. Painel na 2nd European Geographies of Sexualities Conference, 7 Setembro, Lisboa
  39. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2013. "Natalidade e Cultura na Sociedade Contemporânea". Apresentado no Debate Temático "Demografia, Natalidade e Repovoamento de Lisboa", organizado pela Assembleia Municipal de Lisboa. Lisboa, 16 de Julho de 2013.
  40. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2013. "Polyamory: Attempting an identitary meta-narrative". Apresentado na Critical Social Psychology: Discourse, Materiality and Politics Conference, Barcelona, 8 de Fevereiro de 2013
  41. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2013. "Portuguese youngsters and sexualized usages of new media". Apresentado na Midterm ESA Sexualities Research Network Conference, Londres - 14-15 de Janeiro de 2013
  42. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2012. "Reading books as spaces – Heterotopias against techno-scientific determinism". Apresentado na Conferência Mensageiros das Estrelas: Episódio II, Lisboa - 28-30 de Novembro
  43. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2012. "‘Communicate, communicate, communicate': Sexual and intimacy ethics in polyamory". Parte do simpósio 'Polyamory' Symposium, com Sari van Anders e Alex Iantaffi. Trabalho a apresentar em IASR Conference 2012, Lisboa - 8-11 de Julho. Por favor ver link do painel para aceder a todas as apresentações
  44. Cardoso, Daniel. 2012. "Orgasmic puppeteering: sex and sexuality in Portuguese women’s and men’s magazines". Parte do simpósio "Sexual and sexuality representations in magazines", com Sara Magalhães, Pedro Pinto, Carla Cerqueira e Conceição Nogueira. Apresentado em 11th International Conference on Social Representations, Évora - 25-28 Junho
  45. Simões, José A.; Ponte, Cristina; Jorge, Ana; Cardoso, Daniel. 2012. "Internet, riscos e segurança online de crianças e jovens: resultados portugueses do projecto EU Kids Online". Apresentado em VII Congresso Português de Sociologia, Porto - 20-23 de Junho
  46. Cascais, Fernando; Cardoso, Daniel S. 2012. "Poliamor - género e feminismo, ausências presentes". Apresentado em VII Congresso Português de Sociologia, Porto - 20-23 de Junho
  47. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2012. "“Communicate, communicate, communicate” - building ethical subjectivities within polyamory". Parte do painel "Polyamories: a multi-faceted look at non-monogamy", com Meg Barker, Christian Klesse e Jamie Heckert. Trabalho apresentado em Sexual Cultures Conference, Londres. Por favor ver link do painel para aceder a todas as apresentações
  48. Cardoso, Daniel S.; Martins, Inês R.; Coelho, Salomé. 2012. "Polyamory awareness-raising: An auto-ethnographic account of a round-table on polyamory and lesbianism". Trabalho apresentado em Sexual Cultures Conference, Londres
  49. Cardoso, Daniel S. 2012. "Ficção científica (social) - As ténues fronteiras entre real e ficção". Trabalho apresentado em Colóquio Cibercultura e Ficção, Lisboa
  50. Cardoso, Daniel S; Cascais, António F. 2011. "Poliamor: género e não-monogamia na Internet", Trabalho Apresentado em VII SOPCOM, Porto
  51. Cardoso, Daniel S; Martins, Inês R. 2011. "(Ir)racionalidades da diferença sexual – manifestações genderizadas da esfera pública online no fórum ex aequo", Trabalho Apresentado em VII SOPCOM, Porto
  52. Cardoso, Daniel S; Cascais, António F. 2011. "Polyamory: gender and non-monogamy on the Internet", Trabalho apresentado em Naming and Framing: The Making of Sexual (In)Equality, In Culture, Health & Sexuality, Madrid.
  53. Cardoso, Daniel S; Cascais, António F. 2011. "Polyamory: relationship identities from sex to feelings", Trabalho apresentado em 10th Conference of the European Sociological Association, In Social Relations in Turbulent Times - Abstract Book, Genève.
  54. Cardoso, Daniel S; Ponte, Cristina. 2011. "Sexualized Technology: Portuguese Youngsters and the New Media", Trabalho apresentado em 10th Conference of the European Sociological Association, In ESA 10th Conference Abstract Book, Genève.
  55. Vieira, Paulo J; Cardoso, Daniel S. 2011. "Experiences of polyamory in Public Space: ethnographic self and alter-writing", Trabalho apresentado em EUROPEAN GEOGRAPHIES OF SEXUALITIES CONFERENCE, In EUROPEAN GEOGRAPHIES OF SEXUALITIES CONFERENCE - ebook of abstracts, Bruxelas.
  56. Cardoso, Daniel S; Cascais, António F. 2011. "‘Loving Many’: Polyamorous Love, Gender and Identity", Trabalho apresentado em 1st Gender and Love Conference, In Conference Papers, Oxford.
  57. Vieira, Paulo J; Cardoso, Daniel. 2011. "Experiências de poliamor no espaço público: auto e hetero escrita etnográfica", Trabalho apresentado em VIII Congresso da Geografia Portuguesa, In VIII Congresso da Geografia Portuguesa - Repensar a geografia para novos desafios (CD-ROM), Lisboa.
  58. Cardoso, Daniel. 2011. Tempos e espaços da utilização da internet: a adicção e a cultura de quarto, Trabalho apresentado na Conferência Final do EU Kids Online II, Lisboa.
  59. Álvares, Cláudia; Cardoso, Daniel. 2009. "The Inequalities of Love: Portraying Romantic Relationships in Women’s and Men’s Magazines", In Media, Communication and the Spectacle, ECREA, Roterdão.
  60. Cardoso, Daniel S; Correia, Carla; Capella, Danielle. 2009. "Polyamory as a possibility of feminine empowerment", Trabalho apresentado em 9th Conference of European Sociological Association, In Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the European Sociological Association, Lisboa.
  61. Ponte, Cristina; Jorge, Ana M; Cardoso, Daniel. 2009. "Acessos e Usos: estudo de caso sobre a mediação das tecnologias em contexto escolar.", Trabalho apresentado em VI Congresso SOPCOM, In Sessão de Comunicação e Educação, Congresso SOPCOM/Ibérico, Lisboa.
  62. Ponte, Cristina; Jorge, Ana M; Cardoso, Daniel. 2009. "Between access and use: a case-study on technology mediation in a school environment.", Trabalho apresentado em V International Conference on Multimedia and ICT in Education (m-ICTE2009), In V International Conference on Multimedia and ICT in Education (m-ICTE2009), , Lisboa.
  63. Ponte, Cristina; Cardoso, Daniel. 2009. "Training young trainers, empowering children", Trabalho apresentado em Faro Euromeduc Seminar, In Young People and the Internet, Faro.
  64. Ponte, Cristina; Cardoso, Daniel S. 2009. "Explorando perfis de vulnerabilidade para uma sensibilização do risco. Contributos do Projecto EU Kids Online. ", Trabalho apresentado em XVII Encontro da Adolescência, In Artigos EU Kids Online, Lisboa.
  65. Ponte, Cristina; Cardoso, Daniel S. 2009. "Atenção à Diferença Digital Entre Gerações", Trabalho apresentado em ESA Research Network 18 Metting, In Media e Jornalismo - A Europa e os Média , Lisboa.
  66. Ponte, Cristina; Cardoso, Daniel S. 2008. "Entre nativos digitais e fossos geracionais. Questionando acessos, usos e apropriações dos novos media por crianças e jovens", Trabalho apresentado em XVI Encontro da Adolescência, In Artigos EU Kids Online, Lisboa.
  67. Ponte, Cristina; Cardoso, Daniel. 2008. "Generational gaps in internet use in Portugal at home and at school: implications for media literacy", Trabalho apresentado em IAMCR XXVI International Conference, In Abstracts IAMCR World Congress Stokhom 2008, Estocolmo.

 

Polyamory as a possibility of feminine empowerment

Polyamory as a possibility of feminine empowerment

 

 

Daniel Cardoso, FCSH-UNL, Este endereço de email está protegido contra piratas. Necessita ativar o JavaScript para o visualizar.

 Carla Correia, FPCE-UL,  Este endereço de email está protegido contra piratas. Necessita ativar o JavaScript para o visualizar.

 Danielle Capella, FCSH-UNL, Este endereço de email está protegido contra piratas. Necessita ativar o JavaScript para o visualizar.

 

Introduction

 This work affirms itself as being eminently theoretical, in spite of having some factual bases. This work affirms itself as being an attempt to demonstrate the potential for several different concepts to interact with one another. And herein, the authors do not intend to remain as mere observers of facts or designers of theories - quite the opposite. By recognizing a bias, one can address it, characterize it.

So, the intention here is clearly one of social intervention. Against sexual and relational normativity,  we  intend  to  place  ourselves  as  developing  a  sexualoving-positive discourse towards an idea of empowerment and construction of the self.

Even though some of the ideas we are to present needn't be exclusively applied to women, we feel there are some particulars of this work that, according to the latest research, make more sense when talking about women. Besides, this is also an attempt at promoting a feminist point of view.

The concept of sexual fluidity is one of the cornerstones of this academic exercise, and we intend to use it respecting the caveats that the authors themselves have used. That is to say: although sexual fluidity can be an important part of some women's lives, it can play little to no role on others. So, this is not about setting a supreme or better model, but an attempt at diversity, and at thinking about the backgrounds and different shapes diversity can take.

 

Polyamory - concept(s)

 «„Polyamory‟ refers to the open acceptance of multiple romantic/sexual relationships», say Barker and Ritchie (N/D). « Polyamorous people openly engage in romantic, sexual, and/or affective relationships with multiple people simultaneously», says Sheff (2005).

«Polyamory […]is the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate  relationship  at  a  time  with  the  full  knowledge  and  consent  of  everyone involved», according to the English version of the “Polyamory” entry on Wikipedia (N/D). The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2009) defines it as «the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time».

Although these definitions might seem quite similar, there is one easily verifiable difference: how much agencing and praxis each one allows for, In an almost innocent way, as a route to defining polyamory. The first two definitions come from academic sources who have been dealing with polyamory for a long time now; the last one from a dictionary. It should be noted that this last one is the only that emphasizes «the state or practice» as a necessary element, whereas Barker and Ritchie mention only acceptance and Sheff talks about polyamorists by addressing what they do (but not only what they do). On the other hand, Wikipedia joins practice and acceptance with one other element:

«the desire [to]», and leaves behind the semantic field of “openness” to make clear that which in the other definitions is only present as sub-text: «full knowledge and acceptance».

Now let us look at a definition coming from Portugal: «Polyamory is a kind of relationship in which each person is free to maintain more than one relationship simultaneously» (Poliamor – O que é?, N/D). There are two differences here at stake: first, this definition is the only one to talk about freedom (meaning individual rights) and about a “person”; second, it makes no attempt to specify the kind of relationship being talked about. It is apparently taken for granted that it‟s talking about love (namely what is usually known as romantic love), but it‟s not talking only about romantic love. The complement to the definition comes in the negative form: «It doesn‟t follow monogamy as a model of happiness, which doesn‟t imply, however, promiscuity». This opens the door to several models to be explored, all of the unclearly defined, along with an attempt to avoid reducing the definition to the sexual component.

Indeed, what can be seen here is an interesting component, present in some degree in all of the definitions: the subject‟s agencing. The different levels of involvement necessary to meet the definition, some of which are explicitly stated, invariably point to the acceptance, enmeshment and opening of an agent. As a counterpoint, is marriage or monogamy ever defined as an “acceptance” or an “opening”? If one looks at these definitions from this point of view, they seem to enclose in themselves an appeal to take a different path, an appeal to openness and acceptance – and makes it the center point of the definitions themselves.

 

The relationship with sex is also turned into a locus of debate, like in the case of the Portuguese website. As it was mentioned above, the reductive perspective of the sexual component is avoided, but then again, it seems as if the sexual question is wholly avoided. There is also a constant discursive tension between polyamory and other sex- related standardized behaviors – such as “promiscuity” in the example above, or swinging in other cases. In a text called “Polyamory is not about the sex, except when it is” (2008), Mint does an analysis of the interaction between polyamory and sex, framed by the reading of Foucault.

In it, he identifies the differentiation polyamory makes from the stereotypical monogamous love relationship as one of the main loci of power. Since those are socially bound to sex, polyamory cannot disentangle itself from addressing both questions, thinking itself in its relationship with sex, even when it‟s just platonic polyamory we‟re talking about. Then, “once the rule of sexual fidelity has been broken, everything else is up for grabs […] we would not have platonic polyamory without the sexual-level power challenges of the larger polyamory movement” (2008). This question is centered around what the author calls “genital attachment”, the idea that whatever is done with one‟s genitalia is revealing of a superior kind of truth. Polyamory uses this nexus of power to challenge monogamy (or how needs are thought about in the context of an amorous relationship, in the case of platonic polyamory); this alongside with the centering of discourse on relational and amorous issues. The intended side effect of this is the attempt to avoid the “sexual minority” label.

But there‟s also a less theoretical aspect that‟s also interesting when it comes to the word “polyamory” itself. Its appearance speaks quite emphatically about the need for something other than a descriptor of a sexual behavior, notwithstanding what has just been said. The word was created during an online flame war (Alan, 2007), and eventually spread out and was translated across many languages around the globe. There is a semantic gap that had to be filled here, and the reasons for this semantic gap lead us to think about what kind of normativity might be at stake here, and how do they interact with love, sex, feminism and polyamory.

As it can be seen just by looking at the definitions herein presented, a lot of emphasis is given to the individual, to what she can do and wants to do. This constitutes a stark difference from hetero- and mononormative relationships,  where the person simply must adhere the best they can to a certain way of action, previously predefined. This is not to say that heterosexual or monogamist relationships all must adhere to said model, and that is why the “normative” part of the expression used is so important.

The normativity mentioned here relates to that uncritical thinking that characterizes some relationships, where social models are absorbed and adopted, at least at a discoursive level, as being “natural” or “good” (versus all the other alternatives, considered deviant or a mark of someone disturbed).

So, if the figure of the subject is central to polyamory, one other thing follows: each person, with their own subjectivity, will embark on a different praxis of polyamory. This makes it both difficult to come up with a definition of polyamory in a level other than description or enumeration and allows for great variation from individual to individual, thus making it theoretically harder to polarize behaviors.

On the other hand, that diversity also encourages acceptance of those very same variations. And, why not?, it also promotes acceptance of what is not polyamory.

 

A feminist reading of Polyamory

 It may very well seem that this is a sexist man's dream.

And the community knows it. One of the most important references to be found online (judging by its Google ranking on a search on "polyamory"), Xeromag, seems to have its front page on polyamory written with guys in mind.

"But polyamory is not polygyny. Polyamory applies equally to everybody. In an ethical polyamorous relationship, the same opportunities are afforded to everyone, regardless of their sex. Polyamory is not about collecting a bunch of women for your harem. Polyamory is about sharing some part of your life and sharing your love with more than one other person--and your lovers sharing some part of THEIR lives and some part of THEIR love with more than one other person. Polyamory is not about "owning" your lovers and hiring an army of eunuchs to make sure they don't stray" (Veaux, 2008)

In the last section, we've established the importance of the self in the process of being polyamorous. Now, the Other comes into play. And the Other here is the woman (still) as there is a very clear rethoric that takes the place of the reader as one coming from a position of hetero- and mono-normativity, but it does so only to unravel any possible contradictions of that positioning. And, even more importantly, that unraveling is made by conceding the Other with the position we've previously seen applied to the self. One of many blurring of borders is precisely this - there is no right nor reasoning appliable to the self that is not at the same time applicable to the Other.

Feminism has long been concerned with relationships - and especially with how women seem to be framed mostly as part of a relationship, as caregivers, and hardly if ever that relationship and care is actually the care for the self.

Barker and Ritchie point out three factors that sum up a feminist approach to hetero- and mononormative relationships:

“Monogamy is a restrictive state reflective of the ownership of goods and people inherent in patriarchal capitalism, with women being degraded and reduced to servants, slaves to men‟s lusts, and instruments for the production of children.

· There are gendered power dynamics within monogamy which allow women little autonomy or opportunity to develop their identities because they privilege the stability of the couple over individual experiences and solitude

· Monogamous relationships separate women from their friendships with each other. (Barker & Ritchie, N/D)

But why could polyamory be any different? Well, by all the above reasons, there is great difficulty in establishing a domination relationship based on a capitalist model, there is almost a compulsion for the definition and experimentation of one or several identities (and no necessary centering on the couple), and nothing points to monogamy here (obviously!).

And if we now take a closer look at what some sociologists say, we might begin to understand a bit of the background - the feminist background - this can be given. For ease of analysis, let us join several authors and try to draw a somewhat clear picture from there. Notably, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2003), Giddens (1993) and Kaufmann (2008).

What can we conclude from such different authors? The bottom line can be something like this: family, or the notion of family, has never been a static concept, it has always evolved with time. And the latest turns have made it separate itself even further from what we hold as the traditional model. And as women gain their sexual and emotional independence, conflicts between different roles and models start being more obvious, and contradictions (like those of the pure relationship) become more evident. Even the sexual revolution has lead to an increased strain upon women's role, say Beck and Beck- Gernsheim (2003). And if it's true that, according to the same authors, it has served to turn the "perfect relationship" into a sort of obsession, it is also true that many different alternatives are being tried out, as ways to try and escape the fundamental contradictions these authors have identified.

Polyamory is one such alternative. It's interesting to see how much of polyamory seems to fit rather well with Giddens‟ (1993) pure relationship. And it's also interesting to see how this pure relationship isn't gender specific, nor specific to one particular kind of love or relationship. The pure relationship, where the relationship stands (or fails) by what the people involved can obtain for themselves in connection to every other person is more of a stance on relationships. And that is quite comparable to what Beck and Beck-Gernsheim say about the way people approach relationships nowadays (in this case, specifically romantic ones) - it seems they're always trying to find what suits them better, what seems to be more convenient and in line with each person's desires and goals.

Now, notice that this applies to women as well as to men. But this growing relevance of what could be called a private or intimate sphere of life as another possible venue of confrontation brings to the fore that kind of discourse that has been, until recently, firmly on the side of the feminine identity. Feelings are seen as opposing reason in our culture - or were. And so one of the main loci of feminist activism is this movement of bringing to the fore what was supposed to be only of the feminine sphere.

As Barker and Ritchie (N/D), along with Sheff (2005; 2006), have shown, though, this can also be a double-edged sword. Just like the sexual revolution has added some extra pressure upon women (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2003), this familiarity with the discourse of feeling that women have can also add some pressure. It's interesting to notice how Giddens (1993) frames this question as a masculine problem with intimacy, something that seems to be deeply ingrained in our social functioning. And the "emotional narrative of the self" Giddens mentions seems quite close to something that Sheff mentions, an element of empowerment for women. This ability to re-do the narrative/biography of the self and use it as an affirmation of political, social and personal relevance is one of the main elements we wish to emphasize here. Challenging the social norms of how to do relationships is part of this remaking of the biography of the self.

And in redefining our coordinates, we open ourselves to a possibility of empowerment. Men can enter the discourse of feelings and emotions by transforming the meaning of masculinity, and women can affirm themselves and use this growing relevance of the feminine sphere to challenge the overly strict definitions of gender, and by doing so, subverting them (Butler, 1999).

Like we've mentioned, the issue of polyamory doesn't relate only to emotions. Sexuality also plays a big part. This is where the topic of sexual fluidity conflates with polyamory. We will now do a brief walkthrough of what sexual fluidity is, and how the openness of polyamory could be an enabler, an empowering enabler, for sexual fluidity.

 

Looking back - Freud's bisexuality and present-day "unlabeled"

Around one hundred years ago, Freud showed us a new perspective about the human sexuality. One of his assumptions was the bisexual nature of the individual, which he thought to be a natural law, reflecting the biology of the human being (Freud, 1920, in Mijolla & Mijolla-Mellor, 2002), and so being one constitutional characteristic of the person (Freud, 1923). This bisexuality is considered to be, moreover, fixed very early in the development of the infant, more exactly in his second year, being related with the anal stage, as Mijolla & Mijolla-Mellor (2002) tell us.

By the traditional view of Freud, this bisexual ambivalence crystallizes and origins two different identifications: one paternal and one maternal. These two identifications will maintain a delicate equilibrium, from which will be reflected the sexual orientation of the individual (Freud, 1923). As so, every individual is, at the same time, attracted to both  sexes,  although  it  is  “supposed”  that  people  usually  only  establish  love relationships with people from one of the sexes: in other words, is supposed that people are homosexual or heterosexual.

In the mentioned paper, the author exposes also his point of view: the bisexual ambivalence is a very important feature when it comes to the Oedipus complex, since it influences it in two important ways. First, it is responsible for the outcome of this complex, through the fragile balance between the sexual predispositions (homosexual and heterosexual). Their relative strength will determine if the identification is made to the same-sex parent or to the opposite-sex one. Second, the constitutional bisexuality of the child implies that the Oedipus complex must have a double strand: the child not only loves the opposite-sex parent and feels the same-sex parent as a rival, but also loves the same-sex parent and feels the opposite-sex parent as a rival. In other words, there is a positive Oedipus complex, in which the child shows his heterosexual tendencies, and there is also a negative Oedipus complex, in which the child shows his homosexual tendencies. Both of these strands are always present, and they should be, so that the development of the child may be healthy.

Moreover, in his work of 1925, Freud tells us about the differences between the women and men. He thinks that the anatomical difference between them (lack of a penis) causes repercussions in the psychic structure through the formation of the superego. One of the differences would then be the fact that women have a more emotional behavior than men, since their superego would relate more to their emotions and it would be less inexorable than the masculine. We think that this can be related with the strong difference that seems to exist between men and women when it comes to sexual variability (Baumeiester, 2000): maybe a more yielding superego gives the women the overture they need to have more flexibility in their sexual lives. We will return to this point later on.

The bisexuality is so important in Freud‟s view that it appears as a fundamental factor, without which it is not possible to understand the sexual events both in men and women (Freud, 1920, in Mijolla & Mijolla-Mellor 2002). This clearly show us the real meaning that this feature had to this author, even if it is, often and in a very convenient manner, forgotten. In reality, this psychological bisexuality is something to which Freud gave a great importance, what was a real innovation in his time.

In a paper written in 1933, Freud goes even farther and gets really near of some of nowadays thinkers, when he talks about femininity and masculinity as artificial constructs which don‟t reflect reality, but only some aspects of the person. This can be related to the gender stereotypes, which try to make each one of us to fit in small boxes to which society calls man and woman. But reality is a lot more complex, and the polarization between only man and only woman is a mere simplification of a possible plethora of genders that have come to be or might come to be.

Later on, in the same paper, he talks about a particular expression of the bisexuality in women: the alternation between periods of greater expression of masculinity and other periods of greater expression of femininity (Freud, 1933). Once again, this points towards a greater capacity for sexual variability that women have, a concept central to this essay.

Summarizing, Freud gave a great importance to the notion of psychological bisexuality, which he thought that was responsible for a number of events, namely: the evolution of the Oedipus complex, which was for him the cornerstone of the mental health; the different kind of superego that can be found in women; the wavering between more masculine and more feminine periods along a woman‟s life.

 

A long road ahead – What is (a) sex?

 “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

After this short summary of Freud‟s ideas, it is time to think about the evolution of the notion of bisexuality. Unfortunately, the “way forward” wasn‟t directly from his words, and some of his discoveries were somehow pushed away, and are being recovered nowadays.

The post-freudian authors have given more importance to the early interactions of the child with her surroundings and the significant people in a very precocious moment of his development (Mijolla & Mijolla-Mellor, 2002), and by doing so, offsetting the idea of an original bisexuality.

In our point of view, Freud‟s notion of a constitutional bisexuality has its merits, but it lacks the grasp of many nuances related to love and sex life, but also to the sexual and global identity of the individuals. Nowadays, there is more, much more that simply man and woman: we have transsexuals, hermaphrodites, travesties, transgender, and so on… How can we fit all these in the simplistic definition of man and woman, and heterosexuality and homosexuality?

With our more open society, people are starting to feel free to express themselves in ways that weren‟t even dreamed of in the early 20th  century society in which Freud lived. People are rediscovering what it means to be a man, and to be a woman, and some people are also discovering that none of those categories applies to them.

The great question of our times in this aspect is, undoubtedly, what makes a person a man or a woman. We don‟t have the answer for this now, and probably we will never have it. Just like Freud (1933) said, masculinity and femininity are only concepts, and a person is much more complex than that. If in every one of us there are features that belong to the stereotypes of both sexes, what is there that makes us belong to one or the other? And are there only two sexes?

Even from just a biological point of view, we are not sure if there are just two sexes. What determines that? External organs? Genetics? There are some people who are born with both a penis and a vagina. What should we call them? Are hermaphrodites a different sex? Is it fair to them that the parents tend to decide for them what their sex is when they are too young much to know what they will want to be? Maybe that child really feels like a woman. Or maybe the child feels like a man. Or maybe (s)he doesn‟t feel like either! And when we talk about genetics, a woman has XX chromosomes and a man has XY chromosomes, right? Well, Doyle & Paludi (1995) talk about chromosomatic abnormalities linked to the sexual chromosomes, from which the more common are the Turner syndrome (XO), the Klinefelter‟s syndrome (XXY) and the XYY syndrome (XYY). What will we call to these people? They don‟t fit in those small boxes. Maybe they feel like regular men and women – it is possible, and to be expected, since some of these conditions are rarely diagnosed. But this shows us how complex and intricate the sex question may be…

Let‟s now talk about the psychological side. People don‟t always feel well with the body which they are born with, and they don‟t identify themselves with the sex of that body, or even when they do, they may not be comfortable with the rules to which they are supposed to obey, just because of the gender roles. This is a problem which can cause great psychological pain and suffering, and is sometimes depicted in mainstream media – for example, the real life-based movie Boys don’t cry, or the Jeffrey Eugenides‟ novel Middlesex. Those are just two examples who talk about individuals who don‟t feel they fit in with what the society expects them to be. Gender problems are not well seen or understood by the society, and these people are often victims of discrimination, because they don‟t conform to the gender stereotypes. About this, Doyle & Paludi (1995) put the question: “Is androgyny the answer?”. They define androgyny as the “integration of positive feminine and masculine personality traits in one individual” (p.

83). They think that it isn‟t. In their opinion, the real and good answer is social change – society must stop emphasizing the sex-stereotyped valor of the behaviors, and instead value them because of their intrinsic value. We agree that this can be an answer, really, but it stills leaves open the view of the world as a black-and-white setting of two and only two sexes.

We‟ve mentioned earlier the transsexuals, hermaphrodites, transvestites and transgendered people. All these are particular cases that make us think and question the man-and-woman  sex  duality,  and  consequently  the  homosexual-and-heterosexual duality, and even the idea of bisexuality. Because the idea of bisexuality only makes sense if you think about the sex in the referred duality. If you think that there might be a multitude of sexes, or even more, that the sex isn‟t important, because before all the rest, each one of us is an individual, the notions of homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality make a lot less sense.

For example: if a person falls in love with a transgender, what is that person? A homosexual? A heterosexual? A bisexual? None of these? All at the same time? This is a issue which has, for now, no answer, but it calls into question the rightness of the concepts of sexual orientation that are currently in use.

Freud (1933) noticed some women had shifts between a “more feminine” behavior, and a “more masculine” one. He saw this as a manifestation of their bisexuality, but we think we can go farther. Baumeiester (2000) defends that women‟s sexuality is more plastic than men‟s: could not those two aspects be related? Could not this ambivalence noted by Freud be the sign of a greater plasticity of the women in a variety of aspects that exceed the sexuality? After all, the author showed how several different factors, some of which can maybe influence others contexts of women‟s lives, contributing to a consistency between attitudes and behaviors. Diamond (2009) then added many other sources in seeking to destabilize some notions about sex, gender and orientation that seem to have crystallized in academia and in common sense.

Freud also mentioned another point that can be related to this greater plasticity of women in their sexual life: the fact that their superego relates more to their emotions and it is less inexorable than the masculine. Through this, we can perhaps embark on a rereading and updating of what Freud didn‟t actually say but couldn‟t fail to notice and point out. Maybe Lisa Diamond‟s concern with a dismissive attitude towards “statistical anomalies” goes further back that she thought herself. A more permissive superego may very well be a factor that is part of the psychoanalytic version and interpretation of a sexual fluidity. This more permissive superego thus represents a greater latitude of action by the self, less constricted by archetypical and seemingly immutable social constructs as codified in language and culture and, thus, in the superego.

And so we come to a seemingly growing difficulty in defining gender and, by consequence, in defining orientation. Maybe this is why one of the categories for sexual orientation (and one of the most picked, too!) in Diamond's study was "unlabeled". Obviously, this subversion is, in a Butler-like sense, strictly connected to identity. Let it be noted that identity comes into play again, for it is important that it happens so.

 Sexual fluidity

Although  this  idea  isn‟t new,  the  concept  of  sexual  fluidity  was  created  by  Lisa Diamond (Diamond, 2009). It can be defined as the “situation-dependent flexibility in women‟s sexual responsiveness” (p.3), and it is the characteristic that allows women to be attracted to both men and women, independently of their sexual orientation. Ultimately, it creates a feature which is transversal to sexual orientation: not directly dependent of the sex or gender of the person with whom the woman involves herself, but depending mainly of the characteristics of him or her. It is about loving and/or being sexually attracted to a person, more than to a man or to a woman.

This concept has its roots in works done by sex researchers of different areas (psychologists,  sociologists,  anthropologists,  etc),  which  noted  that  women  having same-sex relations are much more common that one could think, even if they identify as heterosexual, and have lived most of her lives as such. This posed some questions to the researchers, and they eventually concluded that sexual orientation isn‟t as fixed and immutable as we previously thought.  Sophie (in Diamond, 2009) found in her work that women are susceptible of unexpectedly changing their orientation's self- identification and the way that they express themselves through the sex, and concluded that our current identity models don‟t reflect this possibility, and so they need to be adjusted. It was noticed, nevertheless, that this is a mark of western societies: other cultures have a more open opinion about changes in sexual desires, looking at them as normal and expected, and not thinking about the sexual orientation as something we are born with (Diamond, 2009). This goes in line with Foucault's notion of sexuality as an invention of the modern (western) world (Foucault, 1994).

It was only in the 1980‟s that the special relevance of sexual fluidity in women‟s sexuality started to appear by itself. One of the first people that called the attention to this was the poet and feminist thinker Rich, who designated what she calls a “lesbian continuum” (in Diamond, 2009), which included all kinds of strong bonds between women, from deep emotional relations to sexual relations. This author defended that it didn't matter if a woman was having or not homosexual relations in a certain moment, she was still capable of a great range of different degrees of intimacy with other women. Research has also tells us that there are a myriad of factors that can influence the “moments of change” that characterize the sexual fluidity. Kitzinger & Wilkinson (Diamond, 2009) and Rust (in Diamond, 2009) point out some of them: sociocultural influences and opportunities, as well as interactions between personal and cultural factors. One crucial factor seems to be falling in love: Diamond (2009) refers that sometimes, unexpectedly, women fall in love with someone of the same sex, and that this emotional connection may be strong enough to make them reevaluate their sexual identity.

 

Sexual fluidity and love

But how do these two things connect? Or: aren't those things already connected, as we have said before? Both questions seem to rule each other out, but in fact they point towards different things. When we talked about the unwavering connection between love and sex when addressing the concept of polyamory, we were talking about social constructs as well. Lisa Diamond (2009) - and Baumeister before her - talks about the physiology and neurology of sex and love.

And whereas the social construct is of the binding together of both functions, love, she says, is "unoriented", as it relates to attachment, a mental process that can be done using any gender. And given that "there is no plausible evolutionary basis for other-sex or same-sex orientations to be coded into the basic psychological and biological processes of pairbonding" (Diamond, 2009), then the correlation between self-reported sexual orientation and actual practices is bound to be ascribed to cultural influences. And indeed,  she  points  out  that  the  road  between  love  and  desire  is  a  two-way  road, especially for women, where falling in love for the "wrong" gender (meaning the gender that is not contemplated by one's self-reported sexual orientation) can (and does) lead to desiring that person (and potentially reviewing one's sexual orientation).

So, thinking about different ways of loving may end up being almost the same of thinking about different ways of understanding one's own orientation - at least, for women. And thinking about different ways of understanding both love and sex, by drawing upon the paradigm set by sexual fluidity may be a way to further develop a potentiality that seems to be present in quite some women, with some consistency.

 

Let's begin with love - Polyamory as a setting for sexual fluidity

 Then, it seems we need to redo the connection between love, sex and polyamory (the pun would no doubt work better using "multiple loves"). Let's begin with love then, with love's potential to destabilize sexual behaviors in women. The result, we posit, is that it becomes less and less relevant whether polyamory is truly (ontologically) about love or about sex, but that polyamory focuses on love, on feelings, as its main drive, as its discourse of election that it uses to convey meaning. And by doing so, it gains the power to directly address the questions and possibilities raised by sexual fluidity.

By defending and setting as its standard the possibility of non-exclusive relations and non-exclusive feelings, polyamory seems to provide a whole different background in which to live and try out different love configurations. And in a way, this contradicts to a point the effects of social and situational convergence either towards a heterosexual or a homosexual stable and normative identity.

Obviously, this is not without problems. Beyond problems arising from the aforementioned difficulties in recreating sexual and gender identities, this subversion can  itself  be  subverted  by  applying  a   heterosexist  framing.  The  polyamorous community knows this. As an effect of that, two different expressions have been coined, meaning the same - HBB (Hot Bi Babe) and "the unicorn". Both relate to a couple- centric notion where a heterosexual couple finds another woman to live/have sex with them, or to serve as an appendix to the relationship. What we have here is the notion that the male derives pleasure by proxy from the homosexual liaison of his "wife" and another woman, whom also satisfies him directly. But even that is a - although quite realistic - hypothesis that completely undermines the sheer possibility of that woman (the one already part of the couple) wanting to explore different possibilities. And although this notion is viewed as male-centered and abusive, there is the seemingly insurmountable fact that Sheff's interviewees had quite some trouble trying to point someone as being heterosexual in their acquaintance groups.

It seems, then, that in spite of the outer precautionary stance on male-dominant views, in the end non-heterosexuality ends up being quite relevant, and in one of the most comprehensive studies currently available (data from the USA, study conducted by Ryam Nearing, called "the "Loving More Magazine" study", in 2000) shows that about 44% of the respondents' that chose to identify as women relations were with women.

 

So, to conclude our main point, it seems that the data confirm what we've been arguing: the social setting of polyamory encourages sexual fluidity, and it is viewed as empowering and challenging, as having something to contribute to feminism as a social and political movement. So whether love or sex comes first in polyamory theory matters little, since each one can lead to the other, when it comes to women's sexual responses; what matters here is that feelings - that almost sacrilegious word that has long been the domain of femininity - now takes the background, and in a seemingly feminine (as per the stereotype), fluid way.

 

This is what is empowering. From the perspective of feminism, polyamory constitutes a bold statement in the area of bringing relationships into what was thought to be the feminine realm, and with it comes also a feminine model of approaching sexuality. Polyamory and sexual fluidity are confluent, and have the ability to nurture each other into empowering women, into enabling the reinterpretation of gender, sex, orientation and power. Through love.

 

Work to be done...

Still, there are things missing. Data is one of them. Some studies are being conducted right now on the topic of polyamory. A book is being prepared, edited by Meg Barker. But the theme is still far from wide-spread, far from understood or researched. We appeal to you all to this topic, and hope to spur some research on this in Europe, where it is most lacking. Also, in your other fields of expertise, we hope that by presenting this essay  we've  raised  some  awareness  to  the  possibilities  and  configurations  that polyamory and other forms of responsible non-monogamous relationships can bring to the table. As said before, polyamory seems to be an attempt at an answer to the emotional and social conundrums we're experiencing as post-modern dwellers of an ever-changing world.

 

References

 Alan. (2007). Polyamory in the News: "Polyamory" enters the Oxford English Dictionary. Polyamory in the News! Obtido Janeiro 26, 2009, de http://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com/2007/01/polyamory-enters- oxford-english.html.

Barker, M., & Ritchie, A. (No Date). Hot bi babes and feminist families: Polyamorous women speak out. Obtido Outubro 23, 2008, de http://www.bps.org.uk/downloadfile.cfm?file_uuid=F36303BC-1143- DFD0-7E5B-5FEDE370DA1B&ext=pdf.

Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: the female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126(3), 347-374; discussion 385-389.

Beck, U., & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2003). La individualización: El individualismo institucionalizado y sus consecuencias sociales y políticas. Barcelona: Paidós.

Butler, J. (1999). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1.º ed.). Routledge. Doyle, J. A., & Paludi, M. A. (1994). Sex and Gender: The Human Experience (3.º ed.). Brown & Benchmark.

Eugenides, J. (2003). Middlesex (New edition.). Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.

Foucault, M. (1994). História da sexualidade I - A Vontade de Saber. Lisboa: Relógio d'Água.

Freud, S. (1923). O Ego e o Id. In S. Freud, Textos Essenciais da Psicanálise III – A Estrutura da Personalidade Psíquica e a Psicopatologia (pp. 10-68). Lisboa: Publicações Europa-América.

Freud, S., (1925). Algumas consequências psíquicas da diferença anatómica entre os sexos. In S. Freud, Textos Essenciais da Psicanálise II – A Teoria da Sexualidade (pp. 145-155). Lisboa: Publicações Europa-América.

Freud, S., (1933). A Feminilidade. In S. Freud, Textos Essenciais da Psicanálise II – A Teoria da Sexualidade (pp. 156-177). Lisboa: Publicações Europa-América.

Giddens, A. (1993). The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies (1.º ed.). Stanford University Press.

 Kaufmann, J. (2008). The Single Woman and the Fairytale Prince. Polity Press. Mijolla, A. & Mijolla-Mellor, S., (2002). Psicanálise. Lisboa: Climepsi Editores.

Mint, P. (2008). Polyamory is not about the sex, except when it is « freaksexual. Obtido Dezembro 6, 2008, de http://freaksexual.wordpress.com/2008/01/31/polyamory-is-not-about-the-sex-except-when-it- is/.

Peirce, K. (2002). Boys Don't Cry [DVD] [2000]. DVD, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Poliamor - O que é? (No Date). Obtido Janeiro 26, 2009, de http://poliamorpt.com.sapo.pt/what.html.

Polyamory. (No Date). Wikipedia. Obtido Outubro 23, 2008, de http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyamory.

polyamory. (2009). Obtido Janeiro 26, 2009, de http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/polyamory.

Ritchie, A., & Barker, M. (2006). 'There Aren't Words for What We Do or How We Feel So We Have To Make Them Up': Constructing Polyamorous Languages in a Culture of Compulsory Monogamy. Sexualities, 9(5), 584-601.

Sheff, E. (2005). Polyamorous Women, Sexual Subjectivity and Power. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 34(3), 251-283.

Sheff, E. (2006). Poly-Hegemonic Masculinities. Sexualities, 9(5), 621-642.

Veaux, F. (2008). Polyamory? What, like, two girlfriends? Xeromag. Obtido Janeiro 26, 2009, de http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html.

Polyamory: gender and non-monogamy on the Internet

Prezi

 

Text

Fernando Cascais

FCSH-UNL

 

Daniel Cardoso

FCSH-UNL / ULHT

 

New identities, new problems

Identities have an advantage and a disadvantage, all rolled into one: it is through identity that one can engage in identity politics and the reclaiming of rights and recognition; but it is also through them that one becomes a subject, and thus becomes subjected to normalization. The ability to engage in identity politics is the ability to exert power, but also the unavoidability of having power being exerted upon those who do so.

Therefore, first we need to explore what “polyamory” is and what it means, not only to polyamorists as such, but also from a meta-linguistic standpoint, so that we can understand what is at stake when talking about this specific identity. This presentation will begin by exploring briefly the several meanings associated with polyamory, then describing the research project, its main results, and how issues of sexual (and identitary) otherness are associated with how gender is perceived and interpreted, expressed and even ignored. We will then focus on particular instances where such interplay can be observed, and use them to comment on the theoretical background.

The basis for these results is the mailing list alt.polyamory, the first ever mailing list on polyamory, and one of the birthplaces of the word. This research was conducted in the context of a Master’s thesis in the field of Communications Sciences, which tried to understand how a moral identity and community was built within this virtual space, and the possibilities (as well as challenges) it posed to those that participated in it.

What is polyamory?

Although the adjective “polyamorous” has seen sporadic use since 1953 (Cardoso, 2011), the word “polyamory” only came about in the last decade of the 20th century, in two very different contexts: once associated with a neo-pagan inspired workshop on relationships, and again as a neologism used to create a mailing list (the first occurrence in 1990, and the second in 1991). None of the people involved knew about the others, and yet the meaning attributed to the word on both occasions was practically the same. Due to this, the internet became one of the main expression and organization points for polyamory, enabling people who were reflecting and doing activism about it to get to know each other and work together.

«Polyamorous people openly engage in romantic, sexual, and/or affective relationships with multiple people simultaneously», says Sheff (2005). «Polyamory […]is the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved», according to the English version of the “Polyamory” entry on Wikipedia (2008). The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2009) defines it as «the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time».  Although these definitions might seem quite similar, there is one easily verifiable difference: how much agency and praxis each one allows for as a route to defining polyamory. It should be noted that this last one is the only that emphasizes «the state or practice» as a necessary element. Wikipedia joins practice and acceptance with one other element: «the desire [to]», and leaves behind the semantic field of “openness” to make clear that which in the other definitions is only present as sub-text: «full knowledge and acceptance».

Still, dictionaries and encyclopedias usually present a more utilitarian view of what identities are – a more academic meta-analysis is in order. Haritaworn et alia (2006: 518) define it as «the assumption that it is possible, valid and worthwhile to maintain intimate, sexual, and/or loving relationships with more than one person». The main point in this definition is that polyamory can be defined fundamentally as an assumption – in other words, as an ideological background or moral bottom-line from which an identity can then be formulated.

Polyamory’s relationship with sexuality, heterosexuality and monogamy is fraught with rupture. As Pepper Mint (2008) states, even if the people involved were to remain sexually monogamous or sexually inactive (as is the case with asexuals), the challenge to mono-normativity would remain: this challenge isn’t related with actual practices, but with the aforementioned assumption – in a way, it is the contradiction of yet another assumption, one that states that (romantic) love (and sex) must be lived only in exclusionary (or exclusive) pairs. Veaux’s (2010) “Map of Non-Monogamy” shows how several interceptions can be thought of between polyamory and other sexualities, also considered as deviant sexualities. From hereon we can posit the notion that polyamory is transversal to all other forms of sexual difference, as it is a relationship identity, rather than a sexual identity, but one that directly appeals to sexual practices and to sexualized notions of the subject. Polyamory is, therefore, situated outside Gayle Rubin’s (2007) “Charmed Circle”, and is stereotypically seen as a bad or deviant practice, as many sexual identities and acts are.

Polyamorous ethics?

So, what is the main guideline, in ethical terms, when it comes to polyamory? Well, it is said, jokingly, that the mantra of polyamory is “communicate, communicate, communicate” – this of course raises the question of what has to be communicated, and promptly raises the suspicion that this communication is, after all, just another form of confessional discourse (Foucault, 1994b). But, actually, the kind of discourse we find in blogs dedicated to polyamory, in forums and mailing lists, is not so much the typical hierarchical truth-game between the specialist and the analyzed (the game of confession works like that: someone talks to a specialist in order to be interpreted and to be told the truth about oneself) (Cardoso, 2010), but closer to what Foucault termed the epimeleia heautou, the ‘care of the self’ (Foucault, 2006b). Within the logics of the ‘care of the self’, subjects necessitate one another to form and develop their own subjectivities, and discourse isn’t a form of decryption, but enacted in search of commentary, of self- and hetero-reflexivity. Discourse is meant to be commented upon, reflected upon, not dissected in search of a higher truth. Both commenter and commented learn from this dialogic exchange. Foucault (2006a) talks about “writing of the self” as a form of epimeleia heautou, where a friend is fundamental for the subject to constitute himself as such, by using παρρησία (parrhesia), which means frankness. This writing comprises everyday events, the person’s own thoughts and feelings, unlike confessional discourse – it is ethopoietic, it produces ethos, by transforming truth into that very same ethos, empowering the “addressee, arming the writer – and eventually any other readers” (Foucault, 2006a: 148). Such an attitude has the potential to bring about an “intellectual ethics, a letting go of oneself as a form of constant self-refashioning”, where the subject can aim to form a co-incidence between his words and his actions (Cascais & Miranda in Foucault, 2006a: 25).

In much of this, polyamory seems to be interwoven of several characteristics presented by Giddens (1993) as part of the “pure relationship”, a relationship that is maintained for its own sake, only while all those involved feel fulfilled by it – and that contrasts starkly with the traditional view of marriage as a forcefully lifelong commitment.

As defended elsewhere, and employing here the four aspects that constitute a moral subject according to Foucault (1994a: 33, 34) (determination of the ethical substance; mode of assujetissement; elaboration of ethical work; subject’s teleology), the polyamorous ethical subject is linked to his own honesty or frankness; connects with groups of other polyamorous subjects so that he can constitute himself as a subject; he cares for the self, in order to (from the insider’s point of view) attain more freedom, independence and, ultimately, self-control (Cardoso, 2010: 63).

Within this frame, the subject seems, indeed, to be conspicuously without any gender markings. Even so, polyamory can be seen as a form of feminine empowerment (Cardoso, Correia & Capella, 2009) in two separate ways: first, its theoretical background entails the end of the moral double standard that accords men the possibility of having more than one sexual or romantic partner and be seen as more empowered by it whereas it demeans women who do the same; second, it brings to the foreground of discourse (the discourse that should be founded on parrhesia) the topic of emotions, feelings, of the private sphere, beyond the stereotypical rationality that is supposed to dominate male speech. Indeed, if (frank) communication is a corner-stone of polyamorous ethos, then such communication is only possible and effective under conditions of parity – a subdued alterity does not allow for the constitution of the subject. At the same time, this erasure of gender can generate other problems, namely that of invisibility. By disregarding the importance that gender has in our construction as social subjects (which is to say, we still live in a gendered world, even if we contest the standard binary gender system), one loses the ability to specify the problems that people of different genders have to deal with in their lives. Being a polyamorous woman is not the same as being, for instance, a polyamorous man, just like being a polyamorous heterosexual isn’t the same as being a polyamorous pansexual, asexual, bisexual, and so forth, with any possible combination of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious background, socio-economic status, etc.

Methodological approach to alt.polyamory

To collect the data for this presentation, all the conversation threads that related to newcomers presenting themselves where collected for the whole of 2009: a total of 26 threads, containing 2501 emails. From those, 13 threads were randomly selected in order to be subjected to Content Analysis. Due to inequalities in the number of emails per thread, this represented a total of 580 emails, containing 46.448 words (cf. Cardoso, 2010: 54).

The coding table used was a modified version of the one Keener (2004) used, whose main topics were Monogamist Prejudice, Mainstream Culture, Intimate Relationships, Core Relationships, Selective Social Circles, Self-Identity, Learning and Growing. The whole coding table was inserted in NVivo 8, along with other categories that were more topical and not as much related to the constitution of subjectivity itself. Such categories included, for instance, “BDSM”, and also “Gender differences” as conversational topics.

A sub-set of those 13 threads was then analyzed qualitatively, at the discourse level, trying to understand the ideological and latent structures present in the text, and how those could better help to understand community building within that mailing list. Likewise, here a few excerpts of text will serve as an example of the points raised before, and will also allow us to draw some conclusions as to how gender is seen to operate.

Alt.polyamory – general results

Considering all the messages exchanged in the given period, it’s interesting to see that one of the most frequent categories was one added to the original coding scheme: off-topic. Indeed, off-topic conversation is the single most frequent item in the corpus, in a mailing list that’s supposed to be single-themed (29% of all coded text). Although it is beyond the scope of this article, it should be noted that this ‘off-topic’ is far from irrelevant: it is through it that older members reassert their belonging to the community created there, offering support and giving their opinions about matters that are interesting to them as multifaceted people, not only as polyamorous (from open-source operating systems, to Microsoft-bashing, or the state of USA’s economy). This kind of off-topic messages is particularly frequent amongst old members, and absent from the mails that come from new-comers, thus separating a core group of users (some of them have been on that mailing list for more than ten years) from the new-comers, who usually come in, start a thread concerning a specific problem of theirs, for which they receive feedback, and then leave.

In second place, contemplating 28% of the coded text (almost as much as the off-topic category) is the “Honest communication is vital!” category, reinforcing the importance that honesty (meaning, frankness, parrhesia) has within polyamorous discourse. At a considerable distance comes the third topic (14%) – “Learning and Growing from Tough Experiences”. “Distribution and Exercise of Power” comes in 6th place, with 12% of text coverage, for example – another very relevant topic overall.

Overall, a few main themes can be seen as dominating most conversations: besides the off-topic issue, which we’ve covered, the “communicate mantra” appears (directly referred to as such) but with a twist: apparently, communicating is especially difficult (and subjective) since there are various kinds of communication within frank communication – the participants referred to those as ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ styles of communication – and people with different styles of communication can clash, thus making even honest attempts at communicating more difficult than it would be assumed. Indirect communication is also potentially associated with violence – passive-aggressive behavior that might (or might not) be behind indirect communication (communication that is based on latent meanings, rather than manifest). This is a topic that is associated with stereotypes of femininity, so we’ll return to this later.

One other topic that permeates the discourse of those who participated on the debates was that polyamory is hard work – emotional work, scheduling work. But all with a clear goal: to reach a greater level of perceived empowerment. What exactly is the measure of that empowerment? Control – emotional control as it implies control over one’s life, control over the origin of those very same emotions; not necessarily a suppressive form of control, but one that would shape one’s emotions by reflexively (and rationally) analyzing them and thusly mastering them. As feelings have power over these subjects, as they feel feelings as something within that acts upon them, so do they search for a way to have power over those feelings. This raises a problem: others might try, also, to control one’s feelings, instrumentalizing them and thus the person to whom they belong – in this sense, mastery over oneself and one’s feelings is also a safeguard against the loss of autonomy due to external malicious action.

A minor, but still present, point is that of exclusion. How does something become not-polyamory? Most references to ethical breaches, in the situations most people present when they first join the mailing list, are related with matters of attitude: when someone believes they’re being pressured or surreptitiously influenced by another person – meaning, when there is a suspicion that the principle of parrhesia is being violated – then the fundaments of polyamory are being violated, and the subject’s autonomy as well.

Markers of gender (trouble)

Let us now approach more specific results dealing with gender itself, and how it manifests in the text, firstly by looking for specific gendered textual marks; and then by seeing how gender organizes discourse around some of the themes we’ve mentioned before.

Some of the terms in the table below are expressions common enough in English when making general assumptions about gender – others require further explanation.

Expression

Frequency

Threads

"men are"

0

0

"women are"

0

0

"feminism"

0

0

"feminist"

1

1

"zir"

14

2

"zie"

8

3

"females" / "female"

12

4

"males" / "male"

2

2

“gender”

3

3

Table 1- Frequency of expressions (excluding quoting repetitions)

It is interesting to see that results don’t all point in the same direction. If we were to assume the notion that polyamorous discourse is deeply feminist (as it embodies many feminist principles, like we’ve seen to an extent (Cardoso, 2010; Cardoso et alia, 2009)), then we’d have to conclude that it isn’t specifically feminist, as many concepts central to feminist discourse (and even the expressions “feminism” or “feminist”) are virtually absent from the analyzed threads. Those that appear, do so only rarely – bear in mind that the frequency indicates the absolute number of times each word appears on the corpus.

Does this mean that gender markings are wholly absent from discourse? Not at all: “her”, for example, shows up 859 times (not discounting repetitions in quotes), and “she” appears 812 times. “Him”, on the other hand, shows up 398 times; “he”, 627. It’s obvious these word counts cannot, by themselves, explain or give an adequate picture of how gendered discourses circulate through all those e-mails, but they do give us a notion of the overall tendencies. Again, men are less referred to (through pronouns) than women, which can be read in contradicting ways: are women the outsiders that need nothing more than a pronoun to be talked about; or are they the main authors and characters? The same applies to “male/males” and “female/females”. Is there an assumption of masculinity as the pattern that needs not be named, needs not be identified as such?

There are a few other details that need further exploring: the words “zir” and “zie”, specifically. Both are words that technically constitute neologisms by corruption of German words, and mean to replace pronouns, that carry a gendered weight in English. It’s possible to see, especially comparing with the gendered versions of the pronouns, that their usage is minimal, focused on some posters who could be more attuned with Judith Butler’s notion of causing “gender trouble” (Butler, 1999). Even so, let it be noted that there are more subtle ways to make gender grammatically inexistent used here – for instance, the practice of replacing the names of people with first letters serves, at the same time, to ensure privacy, but also to conceal the gender of the person in question (when associated also with phrasal constructions that avoid the usage of pronouns).

Gendered discourse – communication

As said before, communication is both one of the cornerstones of polyamory and, at the same time, one of the hottest topics in debate, since honest communication is a goal to achieve, but there are many ways to do so, many different styles to practice frankness. One of the threads collected dwells precisely on this point. The part about how to communicate starts with a user – Serene Vannoy – saying:

I've become more willing to be what I call "a mind reader" after having a few relationships with indirect communicators, to whom a lot of what I have historically seen as passive-aggressive hinting looks like perfectly clear and obvious communication. […]"When you're communicating with someone you love, the goal is not to get them to communicate in a way you're completely comfortable with -- the goal is to *communicate*."  That helped me to remember that the *listening* part of communication is as important as the *communicating* (speaking) part of communication.  If I *know* what my partner is saying, or am pretty sure I know, but I dig in my heels because she's saying it in a way I think is passive-aggressive, then *I'm* the one who's being a bad communicator.

A following reply states that direct versus indirect communication has more to do with personal preference, and that the aggressiveness is in trying to force others to engage in one specific kind of communication when they prefer the other. Further bellow, on clarifying situated uses of direct and indirect communication, Serene Vannoy exemplifies:

During the last big argument I had with an indirect-communicator partner, one of the things that was hardest for me to take is that zie said that I was "shutting [zir] down" in trying to make zir talk to me directly about zir feelings and thoughts. It was inconceivable to me that I, who pride myself on always being willing (nay, eager) to talk out relationship problems, was seen as the reason why my partner was becoming less and less willing to talk about the relationship problems.

 

But then the conversation takes a gendered turn, as one of the participants says that there is “a definite gender bias toward IC [indirect communication] in the females I know, and to an extent that’s a social norm […]. I find this creeping up on a subject irritating, especially when it’s clear that there is an implicit request embedded in there […]”. To that, another user replies confirming the anecdotal evidence.

Afterwards, the conversation continued on the topic of communication (and on several other topics, such as medical research in the USA), but there was no further comment on the issue of gender when it comes to styles of communication. Also, the choice of those two types of communication as analytical categories was even put into question by another user:

The distinction often made here between "direct" and "indirect" communication strikes me as ill-conceived; there are myriad styles of expressing oneself, after all, not all of them easily intelligible to everyone. If I fail to understand someone, I might be tempted to ask him or her to be more "direct", when the reality may be that we are simply used to communicating differently.  

 

The end of the thread, on the other hand, is quite telling, as it involves a statement around the function of alt.polyamory, and the shaping force that it constitutes as a practice for the care of the self. Again, it’s Serene Vannoy who says:

I was more likely to do that [take a hint as an opening for conversation, or possibly offer to do something] before alt.poly alerted me to the possibility that not everyone means things that way.

 

This small email contains the possibility of change, mentioned before, and of this specific community as a resource for change, something to be harnessed and that can be mobilized by the subject for his own self-fashioning, in a sort of educational interaction that’s not so different (schematically) from its Greek initial background.

Gendered discourse – poly-problem-solving

One other thread we wish to discuss concerns a young college student, male (which bears relevance to the matter at hand), who went to the mailing list because, as many other newcomers, he had a problem that needed solving.

Now for the poly-ness of the situation:  Jennie and Misty recently became intimate.  It took a great deal of courage on my part as I have had several horrible experiences with the matter (mostly because I don't approve of my partners becoming involved with people they have no feelings towards, or have no feelings towards them).  Misty's new boyfriend, Fred, and myself had front row seats to the event.  We wanted to keep it a group activity while allowing the girls as much privacy as possible. I need to admit something odd: it wasn't exactly sexually arousing (which in itself is odd), but it was the most beautiful thing I've ever witnessed. […] So we are already in a vee where Jennie is the pivot and Misty and myself are not involved with each other.  My wish is to bridge that gap and start something more serious with both of them. […] I've talked to Jennie about bringing someone in to our relationship and how I feel that it's something that I really want for myself.  She was very supportive of the idea, as she enjoys the company of women greatly, and is just self less like that sometimes. I haven't, however, confronted either of the girls about my feelings for Misty, as I fear this might not be the right time for that card. What do I do?

 

Vicki Rosenzweig is the first to reply, and in the midst of a very lengthy e-mail, this user deals with gender:

It may be that she and Misty have talked about relationships and she knows how Misty's boyfriend would be likely to react. [It's not impossible that he'd be bothered by her having another boyfriend, even though he doesn't mind her having a girlfriend: either because gender matters to him in this context, or because he doesn't think she'd have enough time for three partners and her schoolwork, or for some other reason.)

All I'm sure of is that _we_ can't tell you what he, or Jennie, or Misty thinks. Only they can do that.

 

Following up on some comments being made, as well as suggestions, the original poster replies:

I meant exactly that, socializing as a foursome, where the two fem partners are both sexually involved.  But ultimately I would like for the relationship to be only the girls and I.  This sounds rather selfish, but I want them both in an entirely romantic way, and thus cannot consider myself to be over indulgent.[…] Jennie and I are indeed serious,  but I am not interested in having Fred involved in any way.  Yes, I am talking about screwing over a friend and taking his happiness from him.  And yes, I do feel horrible, but I've come to terms with the fact that this is simply my truest desire.

 

The responses were, to a point, contrary to the original poster’s expectations, making him complain that he felt attacked, and that a lot of people hadn’t given him any useful advices. To this, one of the regulars there replied:

This is your statement about yourself:

"Yes, I am talking about screwing over a friend and taking his happiness from him."

If you think coming into a group on polyamory, which is all about loving multiple people, and NOT about breaking up existing relationships, and talking this way is not going to raise some serious objections, then it's *you* who don't understand the atmosphere of this group.

 

Vicki Rosenzweig brings gender, once again, to the table, inasmuch as it relates to expectations and sexual stereotyping:

OK, another question: do you realize that there are a lot of men who think a triad with them and two women would be wonderful and exciting, and that one with them, a woman, and another man is unthinkable?

If you hadn't realized that, think about how it's likely to affect women's reactions to this sort of thing. Het[erosexual] women tend to see that as "he gets more than one partner, and I don't," and lots of bi women have run into the version where either they're expected to have sex with the other woman in front of the man, or only as part of threesomes. Most of them don't like it much, even the ones who enjoy threesomes some of the time.

 

The contours of this conversation raise several important issues. First of all, there is the (misogynist) stance of the original poster, who intends to find out the best way to impose upon others his own will and planning (he goes as far as calling himself “a douche”), regardless of even his own ethical standards; second, the fact that his plan involves a re-centering of those women’s sexuality around himself, where he could be a spectator or a participant, but in both cases, a commanding force in their desires. Against this, several posters commented in defense of the need to acknowledge the autonomy and self-determination of all involved. Again, communication is presented as being the key, and polyamory works only when (according to one of the participants) all involved get to be agents in the decision-making of the things that affect them, rather than being forced to react passively.

This in turn leads us to the third aspect: the women’s reactions, to which we only have indirect access, and the speculation that is initiated, is based on their categories as gendered subjects and as sexualized subjects (namely, the categories “woman” and “heterosexual” or “bisexual”).

So, here, gender is anything but invisible, anything but unimportant to the conversation, and both gender and sexual orientation can be seen as framing different sets of expectations and, therefore, posing separate and specific challenges.

Where’s gender in alt.polyamory?

As we’ve seen, there is no clear answer to the question “Is gender present or absent from alt.polyamory?”, there are a lot of different factors that have to be weighed together. And we’ve been looking at three separate elements: the role of emotions within the polyamorous ethos (as something that is imported into the public, masculinized sphere); the different ways to communicate frankly (and how some might relate to gender stereotypes); the sexual mores and autonomy, and its relation with preset stereotypes about gender and sexual orientation.

Emotion is indeed present in this mailing list, as a conversational topic, and as something that needs to be put under control. This very same injunction to control (to autonomy from feelings, in a way) gives this topic an uncertain standing. If, on the one hand, it is not shunned away in favor of a pure rationality (something that our Cartesian cultural frame makes it hard to accomplish), on the other hand feelings are meant to be kept under control, and function in an apparent externality to the subject itself (some posters commented on the chemical and neurological aspects; others on more metaphysical aspects of feelings and their relation with rationality), and so even the fusing of (stereotypically) male and female themes is diminished by  this instrumental take on feelings and their relation to how the subjects see themselves.

Communication, and different models of communication, seem to be linked, here, to gender roles as well. Although this detail did not generate a lot of dialogue, it also didn’t generate any opposing points of view, which is indicative that it’s seen as something that goes without saying, that a consensus exists around it, or that it was not seen as important enough by other mailing list members to merit further discussion. Still, it bears reminding that even this association between the category of “female” and “indirect communication” is not seen as essentialist, but framed in terms of social conditioning. Here, no studies or relevant reasons are given, beyond each person’s private experiences, and those serve as anecdotal evidences, that in a way support themselves, argumentatively. At the same time, the notion that indirect communication is somehow inferior (less explicit, and thus less rational than objective-oriented direct communication) is discussed and revoked at length, which in a way undermines a possible broader condemnation of women for being supposedly more connected to indirect communication. Also, in keeping in line with what was said before, even this social conditioning is unable to sustain a subject’s will to reshape oneself, as Serene points out.

What about sexual mores and sexual behaviors? What about the view, held by some, that polyamory is nothing more than a post-feminist attempt from patriarchal culture to establish a politically correct speech that benefits men’s sexual behavior? The above example shows that whenever that happens, in some form, the core group of users quickly dismounts any argumentative attempt at setting a double standard – inasmuch as that double standard would impede the fundamental notion of epimeleia heautou, of the care of the self, and thus attack the other’s possibility for self-fashioning, for self-improvement and, ultimately, for the other’s autonomy. Differentiations are also made for specific identities and how they might respond differently to this threat upon one’s autonomy.

So, yes, an idea of what a woman usually does, or is usually taught, or how she usually perceives a certain situation does, sometimes, appear within polyamorous discourse in alt.polyamory. But it is only seldom that this does happen – most of the times, at critical points, in response to some central point. Even so, such ideas are nothing if not secondary to concerns about the central role of the subject in shaping itself. This is in line with the low number of specific key-words found: feminism as a philosophy, a theory or an activist movement does not make itself present in such conversations, and doesn’t seem to be part of the interests of those who participate here (be it the core group or the neophytes).

Attempts to purge gender out of the conversations are few and sparse and, as we’ve seen, can indeed create a silence that decontextualizes the subject, and the subject’s life, its places in the microphysical networks of power where he is embedded. At the same time, gender as a specific problematic within polyamory is also widely absent. We are not presented either with the undoing of gender, nor with the total disregard for a gendered social and personal experience – and although the most frequent stances and opinions voiced here drink deeply from a feminist notion of equality and responsibility, an obvious and reflexive take on gender and gender politics is, overall, not present in this corpus. Gender is, here, a phantasmal experience, a web of presuppositions and, seemingly, lacking self-reflexivity except at the cusp of more confrontational debates, where it becomes a data-point to be taken in consideration.

Afterthought

Even though this study encompasses hundreds of emails and dozens of different people, covering different topics, it is not possible, from these results, to generalize. It is important to bear in mind that, as many of the users were online for a decade or more, many of these matters may have already been debated a long time ago: still, this would only reinforce the idea that feminism here functions only as a background scaffold, seemingly transparent to newcomers. This raises a question: can gender equality (apparently so fiercely defended here) be upheld and fought for as a side-note of the subject’s self-fashioning? Does this lack of specificity contribute towards troubling the notion of gender and to a deconstruction of its role in contemporary western society?

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