Earlier this afternoon, I was alerted to an article on the BBC News website entitled Philpott fire deaths trial shines light on polyamory. This dreadfully biased piece not only confuses polyamory with polygamy, but it also references some research on the latter by Dr Thom Brooks of Durham University. Dr Brooks is quoted in the article as saying that polyamory and polygamy are “practiced very similarly and [are] almost always a relationship of one man with two or three women, with the man at its centre.” In whose opinion? Does he have any data to support those claims?
Well, the research paper in question is called The Problem of Polygamy and, to quote Jon Topper, a quick skim read of the document “suggests that a number of the reference sources cover polygamy as a structure within strongly religious communities. I’d suggest that most of the violence and misogyny mentioned probably stems more from religious thinking than from plural relationship styles. Oh, and the documented link to increased incidents of HIV infection within polygamous societies: Nigeria.” How is this relevant? It’s as if Caroline Lowbridge was scrabbling around for a story and thought Mick Philpott’s relationships were a bit weird, so poked at Google for a bit, and then went with the first expert she could find without checking facts.
Even though she quotes Dossie Easton saying that “polyamory does not follow the rather strict forms of marriage and gender in relationships that are found in many polygamous cultures, [such] as in Islam and Mormon[ism]”, the main focus of the piece is Dr Brooks’ research which claims that these types of relationships are all filled with disease and violence. If Ms Lowbridge had bothered to do a bit more research herself, she might have discovered that the Philpotts were Doing It Wrong. Polyamory is about consent and communication and so these kinds of relationships are more likely to be equal, not less! Greta wrote a wonderful post on Polytical last year about polyamory and feminism:
“For many people the package of expectations that society provides for their relationships is based on heteronormativity. It might include assumptions about which partner will do the housework, which partner will buy the other one flowers, which partner will take care of the bulk of any childcare responsibilities. For me a feminist relationship is one where partners sit down and talk to each other about what relationship package they want. They do this on equal terms and their wants and needs are equally respected. […] Being poly is not the only way to have these kind of conversations, many monogamous people have amazing communication skills and some poly people have poor communication skills. But being poly is an almost sure way to open up the dialogue. And that’s why my polyamory is feminist.”
Bringing polyamory into the spotlight on the back of the life choices of a man jailed for killing his children, and then confusing it with the misogynist marriage customs of some religious communities is utterly shameful. I expected better from the BBC.
Image via Mustafa Khayat‘s Flickr photostream.