“Monogamy is not natural.”
Cameron Diaz said in the movie “The Other Woman” over a drink in a New York pub. But such statements can be heard at every corner of cafes or food joints in Delhi too. We as human beings have felt its moralising effects in our everyday life. As members of society, the structure of morality has produced subjugated subjects. And with this production of subject positions in a gendered society comes along a package of expected roles and behaviours. But while my intellectual friends discussed patriarchy and marriage institution in gender politics over a nice cup of chai, we have rarely discussed other equally compelling moral issues like monogamy and its principle of ethics.
“If marriage is the end of life, how can it also be the goal of life?” – Professor Nivedita Menon wrote in her book “Seeing Like A Feminist”. The embodiment of hegemonic patriarchal notion of values in marital life is the definitive cause for her deconstruction of the institution of marriage. What we get from her work is the discursive practice of creating and sustaining an institution of marriage. And with the sensitization of sexuality, many youths are now actively discussing and participating in activism for bringing down this carcinogenic structure. Yet while discussing the dominant gendered hierarchical relations in marriage, should we not also discuss the practice of monogamous marriage? It’s a moral code of conduct affecting both men and women which society justifies on ethical principles and thus, we are driven by beliefs. If one is to believe in Darwin’s evolution of species, paleoanthropologists will definitively point out to us that our early ancestors never practised monogamy, let alone marriage. It is a modern phenomenon that our moral values constructed. What are good and bad values have no inherent existence, we fixed meanings to those values.
But the structural effects of monogamy are so embedded that spouses would never desecrate their monogamous marriage, at least not publicly, for fear of public scorn. It is perfectly okay if someone wants a monogamous relationship. “Choice” is the core of this social complexity. Freedom to choose the way you want to live your life should be the indissoluble fact of life. This is true for both of those who want to practice monogamy and those who don’t without any social stigmatisation. So I write here not to say that monogamy is an inherently bad or good virtue but that it is an institution created by a human agent. And I strongly opine that when one is aware of such a construction of virtues is when one can truly exercise freedom to choose. Emphasising that blindly defying or conforming without understanding the nature of monogamy is false consciousness.
“He created the meaning of things, a human meaning!”
Thus spoke Zarathustra in Nietzsche’s book. Illuminating the construction of reality even if monogamy is just a speck of that reality that we know of to be so solidly real, I have been drawn to the question of logic behind the rationalization of monogamy. Social relation is a field of discursivity implying the existence of multiple potential meanings. So how one potential meaning among the alternatives collapse into representing that reality that we know of is by the contingency of socio-historical factor, i.e., capitalism
“The truth is that the new type of man demanded by the rationalisation of production and work cannot be developed until the sexual instinct has been suitably regulated and until it too been rationalised.”
Gramsci wrote on some aspects of the sexual question in his Prison Notebooks. Industrialization of an economy needed able-bodied workers to keep producing goods for surplus value. Long since have the industrialist realized the importance of psychoanalysis in societal relations and apply this knowledge in relations of production. It’s a simple yet potent tool. They know that workers are tired after work, the biological makeup of our body has limitation to endurance, and if they are tired the production of goods is low, affecting their pockets. So they create a leisure time, a recreation. It may sound humane on part of the industrialist to care for the workers to provide recreation time but the truth is they wanted the workers to be rested enough to come back to work with a recharged body to be used efficiently in the production of commodities as elaborated in Adorno’s work “The Culture Industry”. And our clever manipulative industrialist also makes sure that his industrious workers are all fed and rested by dictating the terms of their home itself. For a sound healthy body, which has a market value for an industrialist, one is to be provided with a relatively stable home and the industrialist made sure of that by rationalising monogamy.
It is not my intention to malign “monogamous” relationships but to critically reflect on one of our many constructed social values and norms. Only if we nuance our understanding and think for a moment with our critical mind then adultery wouldn’t be a crime punishable by social stigmatisation, ex-communication, lynching, public flogging and in some cases deaths. Adultery is a choice made by individuals that offended a said constructed social norms and it is up to the partners in a marriage to either divorce or comes to some sort of arrangement. If at all the adulterer needs to be punished then they are to bear the burden of the consequences. Just let them be and let them live. Discussion on why it is mostly women than men who are punished in most adultery cases is another big question to be kept in mind but unfortunately not in this piece.