Polyamorists of Yore

Well, whaddya know? Another article – this time in The Guardian – telling us how perfectly normal and mainstream polyamory is (thanks to my research assistant for pointing me towards it. No, not that one. Nor the other one. This one is, erm, heavier.)

How movies brought polyamory into the mainstream

Why, it’s so mainstream you get a free extra partner with every third box of washing powder!

Non-monogamous relationships used to be portrayed as disastrous in film.

Thank goodness for audiences’ ability to suspend belief, eh?

Last week, a very different period drama hit cinemas. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women concerns a real-life love story between a professor and his academic wife – and their teaching student, Olive. From the late 1920s onwards, they begin sharing a workplace, a bed, a home and eventually a family.

Angela Robinson’s biopic of the creator of Wonder Woman, American psychologist William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), may be the most positive depiction of polyamory – the state of being in love with more than one person – in mainstream film to date. It posits that the comic-book superheroine was inspired by a happy, long-term union between the feminist Marston, his brilliant, acerbic wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and bright young student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), as well as their dalliances with S&M, a theme that worked its way into the comics. Despite the controversy the latter caused at the time, it is an accessible, occasionally moving film that treats the three-way relationship much like a typical movie coupling. This makes it decidedly atypical in the history of cinema.

Now I’ve had a brief look at the story behind this chap and his two lovers and unless what I could find online has been sanitised, it seems the three of them made a proper go of it. Well, good for them. I’ve never said polyamory can’t work, I’ve just said that it is very unusual and most examples I’ve heard of are based mainly in sex/shagging around and end in disaster after a very short time. In fact, I think it’s telling that in order to make a film about a polyamorous relationship that didn’t end in disaster they’ve had to go all the way back to 1930 to find an example of one. If this was so mainstream one would have thought they’d have used a more modern example – or not bothered to make a film of it at all.

Also, none of the accounts I have read of this particular case indicated there was any sex going on outside the trio, i.e. it was a locked-down version of polyamory. Most other accounts involved one or more of the partner being free to go off and have sex with someone else, provided the ground rules are followed (and they’re often not), which isn’t quite the same thing. The relationship depicted in this film seems to differ from contemporary accounts of polyamory by virtue of it not, at least on the surface, being centred wholly around sex and shagging around.

This line in the article amuses me somewhat:

It posits that the comic-book superheroine was inspired by a happy, long-term union between the feminist Marston, his brilliant, acerbic wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and bright young student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), as well as their dalliances with S&M, a theme that worked its way into the comics.

An alpha-male with a wife and a mistress who are into threesomes and S&M is a feminist, is he? Wikipedia goes further:

Marston had 2 children each with both his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and his live-in mistress Olive Byrne. Elizabeth supported the family financially while Byrne stayed home to take care of all four children. Both Olive and Elizabeth “embodied the feminism of the day.”

Now I have no reason to think this Marston chap was a bad ‘un, and his women appear to be happy with the arrangement so good for all three of them. But two women agreeing to be part of a harem is an embodiment of feminism? Are the multiple wives of Mormons feminists too?

In my previous post I wrote about how modern-day feminists seem happy to let all sorts of weirdos and scumbags into their circles provided they are on-message with the latest progressive pronouncements. We can add to that a bizarre habit of calling anyone a feminist if their lifestyle meets with their approval. No wonder so many of them come across as barking mad.

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22 thoughts on “Polyamorists of Yore

  1. Presumably this woman would not approve of Muslim polygamy? Or maybe only if the husband sent his wives out to work while he sat on his arse?

  2. “How movies brought polyamory into the mainstream”

    Is there a list, or is it just the one movie?

  3. And to add to that, Ducky, have many people watched this film?

    Far more people, I suspect are reading about Manson’s family. Which was polyamorous, wasn’t it?

  4. I presume a “feminist” is the direct opposite of a “neo-liberal”. Both seem to be terms which mean nothing more than “one of us” and “one of them”, or “us”, “other”, “good”, “evil”.

  5. “Menage a trois” and “polyamory” are not the same thing at all. One is an – possibly odd – unit, the other a shifting pool of partners.

  6. “Menage a trois” and “polyamory” are not the same thing at all.

    Exactly. And the author seems to have taken and odd but stable example of the former and used it to declare the latter is mainstream.

  7. I know this is Hollywood and all that, but the real life characters fell somewhat short of the standards of beauty set by Misses Hall and Heathcote, and Mr Evans. Substantially so. Barge poles come to mind.

  8. Menages a trois are relatively common. They seem to work fairly well and it doesn’t seem to matter if it is one guy or one girl. I know (electronically at least) a number of people in such a relationship. Not that they are all perfect – but the ones that go horribly wrong go wrong in relatively predictable ways.

    Way 1 is that one member of the triad gets taken for granted by the other two and feels that the other two are having all the fun while he(she) is left doing the drudge work and never getting to have fun. This is pretty similar to how some couples divorce. A rarer variant is where one member (usually the one girl with 2 guys or the one guy with 2 girls) treats both the others like shit. Sometimes this looks remarkably similar to way 2 below beause that person often ends up screwing other people too.

    Way 2 is that one member turns out to be unclear on the concept of fidelity and fucks indiscriminately outside the triad. Again this is not at all dissimilar to a reason why couples divorce.

    I’m told there are quads (both 2M 2F with partner swapping and bisexual 3+1 combos) that work but people I know who have seen them suggest that most of them end up with one pair becoming the alpha and bossing the other two. And then eventually the two on the bottom get upset and quit.

    Polyamory as defined by most of its proponents seems to ignore the whole “fidelity” aspect and that simply doesn’t work if you want to have a stable environment, have children and so on.

  9. I know this is Hollywood and all that, but the real life characters fell somewhat short of the standards of beauty set by Misses Hall and Heathcote, and Mr Evans. Substantially so. Barge poles come to mind.

    There’s something rather ironic about film-makers presenting historical people as feminists while making them far more attractive than they were in real life. Why not do what they did with Band of Brothers and choose actors/actresses who look just like the real-life people? We know the answer.

    I’m not surprised by this. Most articles about polyamory come with stock photos of unusually attractive people; on the rare occasion they use real photos or it’s a TV documentary, they often look like something you’d find on a farm the wrong side of the cattle grid. Young attractive people do go into polyamorous relationships, but most seem to be suffering from severe personality disorders and other mental issues. I’ve yet to see an article featuring normal-looking people in a stable, functioning, polyamorous relationship.

  10. Francis T,

    Yes, this confirms what Daniel Ream of this parish told me a year back, particularly:

    Way 1 is that one member of the triad gets taken for granted by the other two and feels that the other two are having all the fun while he(she) is left doing the drudge work and never getting to have fun.

    One gets all the fun and sex while the other gets the headaches.

    And then eventually the two on the bottom get upset and quit.

    And some women end up being the No. 2 or No. 3 of several partners, but the No. 1 of nobody. That’s what happened with the girl I knew who got into it: she got married expecting to be No. 1 and was always No. 2…or 3 or 4 or 5.

    Polyamory as defined by most of its proponents seems to ignore the whole “fidelity” aspect and that simply doesn’t work if you want to have a stable environment, have children and so on.

    The way they sell it is by saying that, provided the ground rules are followed, it isn’t infidelity. Only the sort of people who go into polyamorous relationships – particularly men who are alpha-types (in those circles) or just assholes – generally don’t follow ground rules.

    I can understand a 3-way relationship could work, possibly even 4-way, but there would have to be no or very limited shagging around outside the group. Even leaving the jealousies/insecurities aside, the health/STD aspect would make it unworkable.

  11. I presume a “feminist” is the direct opposite of a “neo-liberal”.

    For my part, I only use the term on my blog to refer to western third-wave feminists. Feminists who live in truly patriarchal societies fighting for equal rights I have a lot of sympathy with.

  12. I wonder if there any other specific rules e.g. the number invloved should be a prime number. Even numbers of people involved just sounds a bit like swinging.

  13. But two women agreeing to be part of a harem is an embodiment of feminism polyamory?

    This. This isn’t polyamory, it’s a bog-standard polygamous harem of the type human beings have been practicing since time immemorial.

    This isn’t even a “evolved response to an environmental shortage of men” thing. Mitochondrial DNA studies on early homo sapiens sapiens fossils have indicated that 80% of females reproduced, while only 20% of men did. That indicates that a harem structure similar to that of the great apes, where a small number of alpha males control access to the breeding females, was the norm for homo sapiens sapiens and may well be what we’re evolved to seek out. It would certainly explain marital infidelity; we’re neither wolves nor swans.

    I find that polyamory is a lot like Communism; it sounds good on paper, but blows up in a spiky, gooey mess if you ever try to actually implement it, and this does not deter its proponents one bit.

  14. So Marston was an alpha-male ‘feminist’? One whose wife Elizabeth supported the family financially while his mistress, Olive, stayed home to take care of all four children. This tale has lost something in the telling!

  15. A friend of mine was widowed c.7 years ago. In his early 50s, he went online to date. He met a woman online and later it emerged that she wanted a threesome with her friend. My chum agreed, eagerly. But it was a disaster. Her friend was more interested in rug-munching than in yielding to my friend. He said it was very embarrassing and he left them to it.

  16. Blimey Theo, you mix with racier company than I expected!

    But yeah, whenever I’ve spoken to people involved in threesomes they’ve said the experience was extremely underwhelming and rather awkward.

  17. Friend of mine also claimed to have had a 3-some at university that went down EXACTLY like Theo’s story.

    The guy was definitely the third wheel…

  18. “The guy was definitely the third wheel…”

    My friend now thinks each participant must desire the other two more or less equally for a threesome to work, but that that is highly unlikely in practice. He’s learned a lesson.

    “Blimey Theo, you mix with racier company than I expected!”

    Ah, the seething lusts of life here in the shires! Actually, my friend is anything but racy – he’s a keen sailor, cook and gardener, and he sings in a choir. He didn’t go looking for a threesome, and he’s now settled down with a very nice woman. He reckons that some women in their 40s and 50s feel they are at the Last Chance Dance and want to indulge their fantasies before it’s too late…

  19. He reckons that some women in their 40s and 50s feel they are at the Last Chance Dance and want to indulge their fantasies before it’s too late

    You. Have. No. Idea.

    The schoolteachers are the biggest freaks of them all.

  20. Also the “polyamory” could also have been little more than fetishism in action. Marston was very fond of ..er…Damsels in Distress shall we say. As the film’s trailer makes clear the early comics very frequently showed the scantily clad WW trussed up and gagged by her assorted foes. If Marston and his two girlfriends/wives all shared the same interests that might have kept the troika going in itself rather than some inherent stability to be found in a vanilla-shagging polyamorous houseshares.

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