What is a heirarchy, really?
I haven't started a thread in a long time, but the this topic came up recently on the group I admin. on FB and I thought I would see where it went here.
Heirarchies; traditionally and according to the writings of many of the poly writers on line, its described as a married or long established couple where one or both are in relationships with secondaries that are disposable if their partner is in some way uncomfortable or asking that they be dumped. The secondary is considered "less than" in the relationship and the primary the one that had all the rights, or more rights. The primary has veto power/rights to dictate what happens in their partners relationship and ultimatums are allowed to be given in accordance to their rules... because their partners are owned and don't have the right to make their own decisions if they are in a relationship with another.
okay, read anywhere here and anywhere on line and you will see that this is frowned upon, yet, it still exists.
I would like to point out that many people in established relationships have secondaries that are treated well and all are happy. In these hierarchies there is another reason for existence and that is children, finances, ownership of property, family dynamics and obligations. Many people have said over the years that they have a hierarchy in this way, yet are made to feel ashamed of using that term when really there is no other. Secondaries aren't always disposable at the will of primaries. They aren't always being abused as some toy or play thing at the convenience of their partners partner. Many secondaries are just fine with their lot, so to speak, and are actively participating and influencing the lives of their partners and their partners family. There are many that are established in their own rights in a relationship with their partners and I think that should be the definition of hierarchy over the negative version.
Any thoughts on how to do that while still keeping an eye out for secondary abuse via veto power/rights, abandonment, OPP's, control and wielding power by primaries?
In some feminist literature I've read - thinking of Karen Warren here - there is a distinction between hierarchy and domination; in combination with dualism, they make up the substance of structures of oppression.
Dualism is just the notion that natural kinds can be divided neatly into two groups: male and female, white and black, human and non-human, etc.
Hierarchy is just the notion that something is "higher" than another thing on some particular scale . . . though the choice of scale may be more or less arbitrary. I'm taller than my partner, but she's a better dancer than I am, etc. Humans have more versatile cognitive abilities than non-humans, etc.
On its own, Warren points out, hierarchy is not necessarily pernicious.
Domination is the added notion that whatever is higher has the right to control or dominate whatever is lower in a particular hierarchy.
So, traditional patriarchy combines the presumed dualism of gender with the presumed hierarchy that pretends males are somehow more perfect or more similar to God than are females - Aristotle has a lot to answer for on that particular point - and with the logic of domination to give rise to structures of oppression: males are higher than females and so have the right do dominate them.
Perhaps the same could be said of the primary/secondary distinction. Some reject the dualism outright. Some accept the dualism, and even some version of the hierarchy, but defined in a way that does not join it to the logic of domination. Some . . . well, you get the idea.
Of course, adopting Warren's language in the context of polyamory would be problematic, since some who practice polyamory also practice various D/s dynamics as a matter of deliberate choice. So, using "domination" as a pejorative might be, um, controversial.
Just having a hierarchy doesn't mean you have veto power and control issues. When I see problematic behaviour in primary/secondary relationships, I try to focus specifically on the "abuse via veto power/rights, abandonment, OPP's, control and wielding power" and leave the hierarchy as incidental. Because really, it is. Even people without hierarchy can still have control issues and exhibit possessive behaviour.
But I do acknowledge that the term has those connotations, and I prefer to avoid them. I personally don't feel the need to describe my relationships as hierarchical, even though there are aspects of my life that I share with my husband that I will never share with my girlfriend (finances, housing, parenting.)
I don't really see any advantage to describing relationships as hierarchical or using the terms primary/secondary, even descriptively. In my opinion, "husband" and "girlfriend" and "life partner" carry the necessary explanation without hinting at one person being somehow better or more important than another person. I don't object when other people use them to describe their own relationships, but I do buck when people try to pin the labels on me, even descriptively.
I have this one acquaintance who thinks of herself as an expert on polyamory. She even gives annual guest lectures on the topic in the university's Human Sexuality class. She is vehement in her rejection of hierarchy in her own life, but she sees no problem with declaring me to be in a hierarchical situation just because I'm married. If I actually cared about her opinion, it would bother me that she's given herself the authority to be the Official Distributor of Labels.
Thank you. You just cured me of the entire day I spent with stupidity. Much appreciated.
I actually recently had a conversation with a ladyfriend about something similar.
I have one ladyfriend (S) that I've seen for almost two years now and I just recently started seeing the second ladyfriend (M).
M said she was nervous because she felt like she had to be "approved" by S before she was allowed into my life in a romantic way. I explained to her that that wasnt how we ran things. S has the right to an opinion about the people I see and I give that opinion very serious consideration and weight. If I introduce her to someone I'm seeing and she has a problem, we talk about it and I find out why she has that problem.
If her concerns are legitimate and well-founded, based on a problem I hadn't seen and backed up with concrete examples, chances are excellent I'll stop seeing that new person. S has not demanded I stop seeing them, she had problems based on very real and identifiable points of reference that I likely would also have had problems with had I seen them first.
S does not, however, have the right to make demands or ultimatums. She cannot say "Stop seeing her or we're through." She has no right or ability to control my actions. This goes for both of us; I have no right to demand she do or not do anything and I cannot control her actions. If I am determined to do something she absolutely cannot abide by, she can say "I cannot stay with you if you do that, I have to leave for my own well-being."
It seems like six of one, half dozen of the other but there's an important distinction; one is using what power you have to make a threat to get what you want, the other is informing the other person of a situation you cannot endorse and have to remove yourself from for your own good.
In that way, we avoid a hierarchical situation where the needs of one person are constantly put before another's and we maintain an equal relationship. Neither of us controls the other and we dont leverage the emotional bond we have to manipulate the other.
Being an anarchist (big A and little a), I tend to shun hierarchy wherever its found. Wherever there is a power differential, wherever someone has more power and someone else has less, there is hierarchy and it will exacerbate with time. Power tends to concentrate and consolidate as time goes by unless that is deliberately counteracted by the people involved in the system, whatever the system may be. Hierarchy can be traced to the root of virtually any problem you'd care to name and as such I dont feel we should allow it in ANY context.
I have no personal direct experience with things like children, large-scale finances, or ownership of property but I do know of alternate models that can keep the power differential to a minimum. I can recognize there is sometimes a need for a hierarchical structure there because of the society we live in, but I feel that is a very last resort as many problems can be solved collectively without having to resort such an obviously faulty idea.
I read an article on Franklin Veaux's blog recently that touched on this. The definition given was something along the lines of "a hierarchical relationship is a relationship in which at least one partner has more say over their partners' relationship than they do".
Let me find the blog and link to it. It was very interesting.
Here you go. The definition actually was: A poly hierarchy exists when at least one person holds more power over a partner's other relationships than is held by the people within those relationships.
Ideally, that's the whole point of democracy: to put the power into the hands of the masses. Of course, in practice, it doesn't work out that way. I personally blame capitalism for that, but that's just my bias. Under capitalism, money is the ultimate power; it can purchase every other form (except a unified working class, fingers crossed.)
This attempt at a definition of "Poly Hierarchy" is a good example of a small committee of people who have decided to create a specific label of shit to smear on others. Pretty much no one on the committee to create this definition had have never done hierarchy's in their relationship. And Franklin himself has admitted on more than one occasion to be distrustful of married couples in poly. It is based on personal observations by people who can't or don't want to understand what they're seeing, and I believe is very much subject to their observational biases. (Aren't we all)
I have quite a few bones to pick with this definition...and it's mostly because it takes a couple words that are frequently used, poly, and hierarchy and puts them together in a conflagration of very slanted examples of petty and hurtful behaviors.
First, hierarchy as per actual definitions has to do with rankings or categorizations. Not necessarily power as the blog posts insinuates. So already, the "definition" is forming an agenda.
Second, the very specific brand of power based and asymmetrical hierarchy assumed are not unique in any way to "poly"...so using "poly" as the adjective is entirely off-side. These types of relationships exist in open-relationships, swingers, polygamous, and even plain-ol monogamous marriages as well.
If anything, a better adjective already in common use would be "patriarchal"...with the slight divergence than it's not always the male who has the power in these relationships anymore. It is however the cultural basis for the institution of marriage in western society...so there's a reason that much of this will sound familiar to people who have seen married people.
The effect of using a definition like this ever...will be that any poly that might use hierarchy to describe their relationship will automatically have a boatload of toxic judgement and baggage foisted upon them. So poly's that happen to be married (since they're obviously hierarchical, or so the assumptions start), can be pre-tried, judged and executed for all the listed sins listed on this definition or the other oft foisted "secondary bill of rights". But if it's on Franklin's site, then it must be ok to hang someone for crimes they haven't committed ...even if they haven't even had a second partner yet...or the chance to behave better or worse than "expected".
And this is my major issue with this definition...it's basically positioned to become a label, or even a slur, for people who have had the lucky happenstance to have been poly their entire lives, to cast aspersions and shame on the significant swath of poly's who have come into it from a more conventional monogamous background, and doubly so if they're married.
Specifically, where poly folks who have lived for years or decades in monogamous relationships start to open up, they frequently fall back to certain hierarchical structures. If someone has been raised, socialized, and accepted the institution of patriarchal marriage for a few decades, these are familiar concepts and tools that they know how to use, and there's some comfort and skill with using them as they try to navigate some unfamiliar and uncomfortable changes.
Now yes, sometimes these tools a little clumsy for poly. Sometimes it doesn't matter how skillful you may be with a hammer...it's still going to make a mess when driving screws instead of nails. Going from mono-to-poly doesn't happen overnight for many people. But they deserve the chance to participate in the community, learn what new tools are possible, see examples of poly and find what flavour of poly suites their taste.
They do NOT deserve to be judged and alienated out of the community before they arrive by being labeled as pariahs with this kind of self-sucking lollipop "definition" by a bunch of people who've never actually walked the same path, and have no business judging them for it.
Heheh... I have to go back and read that more closely, but i will say one thing - i have been somewhat friendly in real-life with one of Mr. Veaux's erstwhile partners, and this person has assured me that while that group of people ( FV + partners) has their shit lined up on paper in nice neat little rows for the public to see on the internet, they still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making theory and reality match up.
tl;dr The person who talks most is not necessarily the person who knows best.
Extremely well-said, II.
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