I occasionally go to my school's website and download articles from academic journals to read. Recently, I was looking for articles on polyamory and downloaded a few interesting ones. There is one that correlates a focus in poly on primary/secondary designations with cheating and monogamy
. I found that view really thought-provoking.
Then I realized that the author is Pepper Mint, and I saw that the same article is online at his essay site, pepperminty.com
. If interested, you can download it there. It's called "The Power Dynamics of Cheating: Effects on Polyamory and Bisexuality.
" It was written in '04.
Some key passages:
The Conceptual Apparatus of Cheating Enforces Monogamous Standards
Monogamy needs cheating in a fundamental way. In addition to serving as the demonized opposite of monogamy, the mark of the cheater is used as a threat to push individuals to conform to monogamous behavior and monogamous appearances.
... Our culture sets us up with a false choice: we are faithful or we are cheating. Both options are highly scripted and allow the operation of power through restrictions. However, this false choice hides the fact that monogamy and cheating form a single ideological system, and it is possible to step outside of the system...
Because monogamy and cheating are oppositional choices, they are conceptually interdependent and cannot be successfully addressed independently. They represent two sides of the same coin, one shiny and one tarnished...
It Takes Three to Cheat
... In a system of monogamy, any three-person situation is assumed to be unstable and short-term. Therefore, our culture considers a cheating situation to embody a competition between the faithful partner and the other lover. To the extent that the affair is successful or continues, the outside lover is seen as “winning,” and the primary relationship is losing. If the affair is halted, the primary relationship wins, and the other lover loses.
... The role of the other lover is well-scripted by our culture (and not entirely negatively) and therefore forms a real alternative relationship position, albeit one that is simultaneously demonized by the culture that acknowledges it.
The Monogamy/Cheating System and the False Duality Between Couples and Three-Person Cheating Situations
The other lover role, along with the cheater and monogamist roles, forms a lopsided V-structure relationship format... Monogamy gives us only one model for a three-person situation, and it is not a pretty one.
... Any three-person or larger situation is viewed as having unbearable and destabilizing internal tensions, even if no such tensions actually exist. In this manner the monogamy/cheating duality is used to stigmatize any non-monogamous arrangement, even structures that do not resemble the cheating V-structure.
CHEATING AND POLYAMORY
Polyamory and the Monogamy/Cheating System
The maintenance of false dualities depends on their ability to relegate any ambiguous behavior (or appearance) to the negative category. The monogamy/cheating duality is no exception; any behavior that is not clearly monogamy can be considered cheating, even if it does not fit the formal definition of cheating.
This is the conceptual trap that polyamory falls into... At the social (or media) level, people who know polyamorists will typically assume that there exists some level of tension between the various relationships. This assumption is an implicit comparison to the cheater’s V-structure relationship. If there is no preexisting tension between relationships in a polyamorous situation, then this assumption by outsiders constitutes a social pressure to create tension... In this way, the implicit social comparison of polyamory to cheating attempts to recreate the power dynamics of cheating (and therefore monogamy) within polyamorous relationships.
...While polyamorists usually do not identify with the monogamy/cheating system, they can easily internalize the dynamics of the cheating situation. The practice of polyamory requires that poly people constantly resist this internalization.
Polyamorous culture and publications are not necessarily immune to this internalization, either. I consider the heavy focus on primary/secondary arrangements in poly discussions to reflect an inherent comparison with the cheating V-structure.
... Both older and newer poly publications maintain a focus on primary/secondary arrangements, including The Ethical Slut (Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt, Greenery Press, 1997) and Redefining Our Relationships (Wendy-O Matik, Defiant Times Press, 2002).
... The endless discourse on cheating is a culture-wide project, a constant reaffirmation and reconstruction of monogamy itself. The omnipresence of cheating is not only talk, of course. Plenty of people actually cheat. Cheating provides a convenient escape from the restrictions of monogamy, while not actually challenging monogamous assumptions. Through a discourse on cheating, actual non-monogamy is rationalized as transient, immoral, or pathological.
In another paper I downloaded, the authors (Danielle Hidalgo, Kristen Barber, and Erica Hunter) wrote that most of the research into love and relationships which "defines love as necessarily dyadic, also often fails to complicate the ways in which love changes throughout the life course and across different levels of social analysis such as race, class, gender, and sexuality for those in relationships beyond the dyad." It seems that even anthropologists and other researchers in our culture cannot help but think about love relationships as dyads, first and foremost. I wonder if, perhaps, having hierarchical primary/secondary designations could be, in some cases, an unconscious way to preserve the Western societal conditioning that tells us love relationships must remain within a dyadic framework.