“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”
February 28, 2010 § 4 Comments
Recently, I started watching Big Love because its premise of a modern-day polygamy-practising Mormon family in suburban Utah caught my interest – it seemed like a wholly original one for TV. I’m only two episodes in, but my Malaysianised TV eyes were really caught by surprise by the very sudden appearance of Bill Paxton’s bare ass, in all its very bare glory. It figures that the first time this happens, my mother walks into the room. It’s also interesting that American TV is open to showing bare male asses, but not so much female asses. Is it because female bodies are inherently imbued with pornographic qualities, while male bodies are not? Typically, while Bill Paxton romps about naked in bed, the women must keep their tops on – but I’m still not sure if any women really have sex that way.
I’m only two episodes in so it’s too soon to judge, but I do enjoy the portrayal of polygamy, which admittedly is given a nice TV-friendly glossing in the sense that Bill Paxton’s character is rather wealthy, and thus is able to provide each of his wife with her own house (albeit, with each one connected to the other). He is able to provide his first two wives with cars, although in the second episode his third and youngest wife, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, is already pleading for a car of her own. (Chloe Sevigny, as wife #2, is absolutely droll and fucked-up in a very entertaining way.)
I find the show interesting because it brings to the fore one very important fact of polygamy – that it’s just monogamy writ large, and basically still a patriarchal family unit where the husband who pops Viagra can have amazing sex with BOTH his wives in one morning if he chooses, while the wives must necessarily wait for their ‘turn’ to have him, on their assigned night based upon a pre-established schedule. Interestingly, while the first wife has a job, the younger two don’t, and their lives generally revolve around their homes and their children. If all this seems archaic, it’s also interesting to note how the show emphasises, through the wives’ characters, how the women ‘chose’ this set-up willingly.
After all this polygamy on TV, I also read two articles today on the issue: one, an op-ed on polyamory in The Star, and the other a news article in The New Straits Times on an Islamic polygamy group. In his Star article, Andrew Sia wonders exactly why people oppose the arrangement on moral grounds, when it can deter situations like what happened with Tiger Woods and Ashley Cole (both examples his own), or prevent men from seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere. I think it’s interesting that he assumes that only men want and need a variety of sexual partners, but this is a common enough socially-sanctioned misconception that has become utterly boring in its frequency and predictability. But it’s strange, all the same, since he’s talking about polyamory in general, and that applies to both males and females. It’s also interesting that he asks: “On a matter of principle, if people can love several people as friends, why can’t they love several people romantically – honestly, respectfully and openly? Is that inherently immoral? Is love all about exclusive ownership and control of one partner? Where you love someone only on condition he or she loves nobody else?”
As Nina Power writes in the article ‘Capitalism, Consumerism, and Feminism’ at The New Left Project (and at length in her fantastic book, One-Dimensional Woman), it serves capitalism’s interest to have at its basis the monogamous heterosexual couple that plays on its own inherent contradiction: fuck all you can, as many as you can, before marriage, but remain committed to that one person for the rest of your life after marriage. This dialectic keeps people working as hard as they can on relationships, while fulfilling capitalism’s need to subsume every aspect of an individual’s life as labour. In this sense, polygamy is essentially the same game: an economic institution that serves capitalism’s needs while keeping men in charge. For that reason, I think people like to think that most people – and here I’d like to emphasise, especially women – oppose polygamy on what they might consider to be moral grounds, but mainly for the deeper reason that it seems pretty much the same thing as monogamy, only worse. Now the wife not only has to ‘work hard’ at keeping her husband ‘interested’ by plucking, waxing, dieting, prancing, stripping, dancing, or whatever, but she has to be engaged in active competition with other wives, while also engaging in competition with every other woman that comes into contact with ‘her man.’
Polyamory is a viable and potentially emancipatory concept, but as Power asserts in that article, it’s often derided and thrown out of the discussion entirely as some sort of bohemian throwback to the 60’s-style of ‘free love’ – when it can actually be a viable alternative for many people, especially since monogamy appears not to work, and childraising within the single unit of a nuclear family is becoming an increasingly fraught and problematic activity. It’s a lot easier to morally castigate polygamy while having an ‘aw-shucks’ attitude towards it at the same time, and allowing it to happen under a variety of guises. It’s just one man having many wives, and isn’t that the same as the mistresses he has on the side, and the women he visits on occasion in the brothels, wink-wink?
Well, essentially yes, if you ask the people who are interviewed as part of the Global Ikhwan’s Polygamy Club in the NST article. Polygamy should be allowed, says the Deputy President, herself a ‘third wife’, because it gives an opportunity for women who are reformed prostitutes, who are divorced, or who are “past the marrying age”, to be married. Yay. Interesting, because she basically admits that a deplorable woman is a prostitute, a privileged one is a wife. A rose by another name will still smell as sweet. Interesting also to note the assumption that women come into prostitution rather naturally, as though prostitutes are born and not made, rather like how Athena seems to have emerged fully-formed from Zeus’s forehead. But I suppose she has a point – the demand for prostitution is the very same demand behind the demand for wives, albeit cosseted and wrapped in a society-friendly bubble-wrap package.
Essentially, then, as Marx and Engels implied in The Communist Manifesto, wife = prostitute, prostitute = wife, because the wife is, of course, a “mere instrument of production.” And it further enforces male supremacy, because, as one of the men interviewed in the NST article asserts, “It is not easy to control and educate four wives. Only the brave can do it. That is why, here, if you are a man with only one wife, you will be teased.” Naturally, as women are just a means to more production – they will need to be ‘controlled and educated’ by a man, preferably a true man, one who is brave and ready to step up to the demanding plate – and free himself from a lifetime of teasing.
The one true man, of course, who like Bill Paxton’s character in Big Love, provides a house, a car, and with a little bit of help from Viagra, unending sexual pleasure to ALL his wives, equally, working hard to please her, so that she can work hard in return to please him.
All, very naturally, in a day’s work.
(Quote used in the title of this post is apparently attributed to Katharine Hepburn.)