Monday, August 25, 2008


THE MARITAL PRACTICE & FEMINISM (I)


“When a subject is highly controversial —and any question about sex is that —one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one's audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker” (A Room of One’s Own : Virginia Woolf, 1929).
The word chastity refers to sexual purity and in Eastern ethics it is always linked with only woman and only with her self-denial of sexuality, tolerance, submissiveness and with an idea that here is no greater God than her husband .Never any question is asked or discussed any day on man’s chastity , neither in Western nor in Eastern world.Quaran though allows polyandry for man but it does not allow that right for a woman and so as to the Christian Churches also deny polyandry for both man and woman and so also Hindu/Buddhist and other religions are categorically denied the sexual rights of a women .In every society ,it is hoped that a woman should keep her chastity pure .Our society possess a prejudice idea that women are more loose than men and so some 220 words exist in English for the sexually promiscuous woman, but only 22 for promiscuous men . (See: Feminist Theory. Allan Hunter. Jan. 2003. http://home.earthlink.net/~ahunter/Extended essays )
Here I will discuss about only our Eastern traditions In India, with its strong bent for tradition, woman was expected mainly to live for others than for herself because "others" controlled and moulded the social structure. Even woman in life and literature herself voluntarily surrendered to the ideal of self-sacrifice..Once a writer Meena Shirwadkar writes : “Sita (Ram’s wife in Hindu epic Ramayana ) exemplifies the behaviour of the proper Hindu wife, devotedly following her husband into forest exile for twelve years, and eventually, after being kidnapped for a time by the evil Ravana whom Rama finally destroyed, proving her wifely virtue by placing herself on a lighted pyre. In some part of India, the women yearly worship Savitri, a goddess whose renown emanates from her extreme devotion to her husband, through which she saves him from the god of death. The story of Savitri is held up as a prime example of the lengths to which a wife should go in aiding her husband. The good wife saves her husband from death, follows him anywhere, proves her virtue, remains under his control and gives him her power.” ["Women and the Hindu Tradition,"in Women in India (New Delhi: Manohar, 1986), 122-123]
In Hindu mythology Anasuya has been considered as Mahasati or Great Chestwive .According to Garuda Purana , being criticized by her leper husband Kaushika , she still considered him her deity and once instructed by her husband she took him to a prostitute ,carrying also a lot of money and asked the prostitute to allow her husband to sleep with .
Since the old Sangam Period in South India, we find literature is used to glorify chastity of woman ( “karpu” in Tamil) .In “Silappatikaram , the famous Sangam Epics (Professor A.L.Basham has translated this epic in English) Kannagi, the eternally suffering chaste wife who bore her husband`s unchasteful behavior and killed herself after her husband’s assassination by the king and went to Heaven to reunite with her unchest husband.This is the value of Indian partichal society posses on sexual purity in marital life
Once I read in the Asian Human Rights Commission’s report that a woman in Rajasthan was found bleeding from her thighs, causing injuries due to her chastity belt. The use of chastity belt is not common in India and it was also not originated in India .It appeared in Italy under Francesco II from Carrara and was mostly used in Italy, but it suddenly spread all over France as well. Some argued that the instrument aimed at preventing women from the possible risk of being raped, when their partner was away for a long time. It was also presented to a woman by her husband or lover in order to encourage her to be faithful.The patriarchal society always have double standard and the concept of such chastity belt may be the suitable example of their conspiracy .It became worse when widows were forced to burn with their late husbands on their funeral pyre in the name of “Sati System” in ancient India .Though this system is now prohibited by law , but few years ago when a 20 years old widow “Roop Kanwar” dragged to pyre of her demised husband ,the question agitated the modern Indian mind that the roots of patriarchal hegemony is still deep rooted any where in our cultural context .
Sexual purity is always clung with purity of love .It is always considered that sex is always mingled with love . In Oriya Mahabharat written by Sarala Das , it is stated that Draupadi had infatuations with Krishna and Karna ,the later was the illegitimate brother of Pandavas.Draupadi had sexual relations with five brothers of Pandavs , but still her heart was running after Krishna and karna .This is I think the real picture of a woman’s heart .For a woman the meaning of sex is very different from that of the man and I have discussed these matters earlier in my blogs.
The Hindu scholars might have forgotten that in Hindu mythology there are many examples of “free woman” over these “chaste woman”. There was no moral condemnation or belittling of “free women”, and they also married and had children, but with a different social and familiar context.
They were largely considered on a par with men (not only with their men but with all men), not subject to father, husband and son, and rather they were very respected in society They were generally very learned, and normally sitting in public assemblies with men to discuss about the state’s affairs. Many kshatriya
ladies, even of royal families, were in this category. One of very known scripture in Sanskrit was that :
Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha
Panca kanyd smarennityam mahdpataka nasanam

Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara and Mandodari are five characters in mythology considered as the famous “Pancha Kanyas” (five Virgin) and interestingly enough none of them were monogamous (I have discussed about their relationship in my earlier blog
PLEASURE AT PAR . So the status of these five free ladies was not lesser than that of Sati, Savitri or Anasuya .Actually Hinduism is not a religion in which sense Greco-Semitic religions are .It is a cluster of ideas, philosophy and life styles .Here, every contradictory ideas may remain side by side claiming there authenticity .The most atheist Charvak is also considered as a great sage in Hindu cult .So, it is foolish to blame Hinduism for any particular idea .I think Hinduism allows all to lead their life according to their own belief and it respects and regards all type of lifestyle .Hence, it is the time when we can think over the “free woman” status in our Eastern society to check the patriarchal dominancy over female world.
Opposite to monogamy the heterosexual relationships are a multi termed activities such as polygamy,polyandry,polygyny and polyamory . "Polygamy" is a marital practice in which a person has more than one spouse simultaneously “polyandry” refers to a form of polygamous marriage, or other sexual union, in which one individual is married to two or more husbands at the same time. “Polygyny”, on the other hand, refers to polygamy in which one man has two or more wives.
Monogamy is always a double standard activity by masculine world. It is deliberately an extremist idea which is built into its core rule that men can have multiple spouses but women cannot. Even worse, traditional polygamy is always used by the masculine world to exploit feminine world sexually . Women these days expect and demand to have the same standing in relationships as men. To which polygamy denies and women find a lesser status in such traditional polygamy .Either the polygamy turns to polyandry , where a single woman is sexually used by men or very soon she is rejected by her lover .The purity of love and the emotional bondage does not act in mono gamy . On the other hand , by allowing monogamy we make ourselves confined to a double standard system created by masculine world .The traditional monogamy once made the ‘widows’ to lead a torment life , wearing white sari, adopting vegan food habits and leaving all sorts of feminine aestheticism in the name of “satwik” life where as there was no such rules for any widower any day .
The poet Ezra Pound once observed (somewhat self-servingly) that artists are the "antennae of the race." These antennae have long been jolting about extramarital affairs. It seems that every great literary tradition, either in the Eastern or in the Western world, finds it especially fascinating to explore monogamy's failures.The old Western epics like, Homer's Iliad, recounts the failure of monogamy : Helen's face launched a thousand ships and changed the course of history only after it first launched an affair between Helen, a married woman and Greek queen, and Paris, son of King Priam of Troy. Helen proceeded to leave her husband Menelaius, thereby precipitating the Trojan War. And in the Odyssey, we learn of Ulysees' return from that war, whereupon he slays a virtual army of suitors, each of whom was trying to seduce his faithful wife, Penelope. Some of the examples modern classics from Western literature are : Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Henry James' The Golden Bowl. And even in later period, we find John Updike and others.
Now one can ask a question, is it possible to have in love with more than one person at a time ?The traditional answer may be “NO” , but if we think over the issue more seriously we can have an affirmative answer . Virtually human heart is a multi chambered space where every chamber is allotted to a person .We have kept reserved space for our spouse,parents,children,relatives,friends, neighbours and even for our colleagues and if we can equally love them, it is doubtless that a person can’t allot any more seats for ‘lovers’ . In 1983, Blumstein and Schwartz tried to survey 3,574 Western married couples in their sample and found 15-28% had "an understanding that allows non-monogamy under some circumstances. The percentages were higher among cohabitating couples and they even found the percentages were higher among cohabitating couples (28%), lesbian couples (29%) and gay male couples (65%)" [As cited in Rubin, A. M., & Adams, J. R. (1986). Outcomes of sexually open marriages. The Journal of Sex Research, 22(3), 311-319]
In 1999, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart was asked by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide a definition of the term (which the dictionary had not previously recognized). The words "polyamory/ous/ist" were formally added to the OED in 2006. The Ravenhearts defined and expanded the term as follows:

“The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

This term was meant to be inclusive, and in that context, we have never intended to particularly exclude "swinging" per se, if practitioners thereof wished to adopt the term and include themselves. The two essential ingredients of the concept of polyamory are more than one; and loving. That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, "cheating," serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as "mate-swapping" parties. Swinging, sometimes referred to as the swinging lifestyle, is non-monogamous sexual activity, treated much like any other social activity, that can be experienced as a couple. ... Whore redirects here. ... “ (Source Wikipedia) .

Polyamory is a word which often confused with polygamy and polyandry .In Hindu epic Mahabharata , the Pandavas are married to one common wife, Draupadi.What would I say to it ?Polyandry or Polyamory ?It is a strange fact that no body asked Draupadi about her wish before her such marriage . Except Robert Heinlein's science fiction The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, I haven’t found any instance of any Plyamory relationships neither in our myths, epics or in modern literature in both Western or Eastern society. In movies , ‘Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family’ is a 97 minutes long Susan Kaplan’s film , starring with Steven Margolin, Sam Cagnina (II), and Samantha Singh and was shown in Miami International Film Festival in March of 2005 under Documentary Film Section is considered to be only one of its kind on Polyamory .
Neither in the East or West, the society never allows this type of relationship as still the patriarchal claims over woman as a property exists in any hidden form. The orthodox Christian and Islam beliefs still prevailed in the society of both Eastern and Western world .Quaran though allows polyandry but it does not allow polyamory and so as to the Christian Churches also deny both polyandry and polyamory .In every society ,it is hoped that a woman should keep her chastity pure .In modern Indian society, though this practice is being prevailed , except the eminent poetess Amrita Pritam , no body could dare to accept this relationship publicly.
Not much is also known by the psychology field concerning polyamory. Our textbooks on family functioning don't mention it, our diversity literature doesn't incorporate it, and many members of the polyamory community have reported encounters with therapists who are uninformed at best, or biased at worst, about this lifestyle . Geri D. Weitzman, a social psychologist , who claims herself as a polyamorous woman, presented a paper at the 8th Annual Diversity Conference on March 12th, 1999 in Albany, New York, where she tried to prove that the negative view of polyamorous individuals that some therapists have expressed is borne out by empirical data and added that polyamory is a valid and healthy lifestyle; however, just as there are stressors associated with being gay or bisexual in a heterosexual society, so are there stressors associated with being polyamorous in a monogamous society ?


5 comments:

  1. Interesting subject.
    I guess like religion, sexuality too is a very personal viewpoint related mostly to a mix of upbringing , social structure, peer groups, etc , etc.
    The society has evolved over centuries. It is not as if someone had deliberately connived it to be the way it is. Polyandry and polygamy are region specific , also culture specific. It may be permissible in certain societies and be frowned upon in others.
    The process of changes is never ending. Maybe tolerance to others vews and lifestyle will increase and people would follow what they believe in .
    Whether it would be good or bad , is debatable. After all, if a thief is given a right to commit theft, there's bound to be chaos in the society !
    To each his own :)

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  2. Anonymous10:55 AM

    The feature length film "When Two Won't Do" from www.picturethis.ca is an example of poly in film, as is the feature from 1982 "Summer Lovers".

    There is much on the Internet about polyamory these days.

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  3. Prashant9:32 PM

    The import of oppressive masculinities into arrangements like polyamory is a possibility that has scant research but its there. The knotty problem seems to be the unshackling of normative masculinities accross a broad range of arrangements. I am to work on 'discursive sexualities' and 'space' issues for a doctorate. i could use your help. My email is prashant.second@gmail.com. Do write in.

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  4. There are a lot of us living as polyamorous people in the United States these days. We're still tiny compared to the overall population, but I'd guess we number in the 10,000's. My wife has been living with two husbands now for 6 years, and we husbands still date other people outside the marriage as well.

    I think this is a natural outgrowth of universal human rights. Once we recognize that each individual is autonomous, and as far as we can construct a society that allows each person economic independence, relationship is no longer a matter of economic necessity, and the rigidity of traditional relationship forms is no longer required. The rest of the development is merely delayed by culture, as our expectations about relationship slowly catch up to our modern experience.

    (Of course, in the US and everywhere else, we have a long way to go before most individuals have meaningful economic independence. But we're closer to that than we have been in the past, thanks to the liberation of gender roles in work.)

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  5. Thank you for your article, and the stories of multiple relating in history. It's an exciting time to be in relationships; so much (at least in the US) is changing, and we are really starting to live a life of expressing our spirit and heart in the way we feel best.

    I like the ending - being poly in a mono society. I have an article about this, as it relates to relationship conflict: http://www.misspolyamory.com/articles/monoamorousparadigm.html.

    Thanks again, xo Beki

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