More than a century ago, Oscar Wilde stated what may seem an eternal truth. “Everything is about sex except for sex. Sex is about power,” he wrote. But what power could this be? As Marx posits, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” and “the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it” (Marx, 1845). A society ruled by capitalists will not only have its economic system shaped by capitalism. As a self-reproducing whole, capitalism becomes more than a tool for market organization— it spreads as a mindset and becomes an invisible guiding force in every aspect of the societal life, including the most intimate. Applying Marxist concepts such as commodification, the market economy and alienation, one can see how capitalist ideology profoundly influences our sexual practices, preferences and choices.
Capitalism depends on the production of goods and their exchange for profit. Simultaneously, in order to remain in business, the capitalist constantly competes with others, improving his production by exploiting the labor of others, as well as other available resources. Our sexual lives mirror the marketplace in several fascinating ways. First, to find a sexual partner, one needs to subject herself to various practices aimed at gaining the interest of potential intimates. In the process of doing that, the person commodificates her body and/or self in order to sell it for the desired exchange value—in this case, sex. At a typical party, for example, women dress in revealing clothes and wear make up to emphasize their attractiveness. Both men and women to varying degrees attempt to bolster or hide different aspects of their selves, in order to meet each other’s expectations and go forward in the transaction of sex. Online dating profiles almost entirely focus on the display of photos and descriptions of physical appearance. These tools for self-promotion closely resemble the marketing techniques used to sell objects in trade of more traditional commodities.
Consequently, the person simultaneously plays the role of a worker, commodity and capitalist. When one performs or manipulates her social image during an interaction, this requires effort and at least a certain sense of awareness of one’s actions which can be seen as constituting labor. Since the person decides to offer herself (including her body, time and consciousness) to another, she takes on the role of a “capitalist.” Yet, what has really been sold? Since neither the person’s body nor spirit changes its beholder (even though still commodificated to make the transaction of sex occur), then it must be sex itself. Sex, therefore, turns into a fetish, a commodity that is sought of itself and which people fail to see as anything more than a physical act.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx claims that: “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” (Marx, 1848). In saying that capitalism has stripped social relationships from emotionality, he believes: “It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation” (Marx, 1848). Indeed, the corporate mentality born by capitalism shapes how sex is viewed and practiced. When personal profit is its sole motivation, sex becomes a consumer item you purchase to be aroused and orgasm- a statement which rings true for many, yet breeds dissatisfaction and isolation. The more you consume, the better at the marketplace. The more sex you have, the better in the bedroom— or so it seems.
Having adopted the market value system, one takes its measures of value for his own, thus, prioritizing instrumental relationships as most significant. The US college student perfectly illustrates this philosophy. The majority of students seemingly find satisfaction for their sexual frustration in meaningless weekend hookups they usually do not even repeat. Why waste time and effort, after all, if you can get what you want at minimum price? The cost-and-benefit analysis, however, is the deathbed of affectional action where emotion reigns and inner feelings find expression.
The commodification of self, body and sex, together with the deprecation of non-instrumental relationships, inevitably leads to what Marx termed “alienation”. Just as with labor, in the realm of sex, alienation occurs on multiple levels. When having sex for the sake of sex, the human becomes both objectified and “a servant to his object”. Not only is his being reduced to his body, but his sweat, his moans, his movement and actions do not belong to him but are seen as pertaining to sex. His emotion is invisible. Alienation is experienced not only as an estrangement from the self, whereby the individual loses his human traits and becomes an interchangeable pawn in the sexual spectacle. It also occurs on an interpersonal level. When you see others as commodities instead of as living human beings with emotions and feelings, you cannot connect with them on a personal level and do not accept responsibility for harming them. Irresponsibility becomes a symptom of emotional numbness directly caused by the estrangement from feelings.
Sex also mimics labor in that those who carry it out become estranged from it. When during sex the individual “does not affirm himself but denies himself,” (Marx, 1844) he, thus, attends only to his primal desires, and not his spiritual ones. This reduction is, indeed, catastrophic for “he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal” (Marx, 1844). By the virtue of possessing consciousness, however, once he becomes aware of his treatment as a sexual object, the human grows incapable of accepting this perversity. Sex, then, becomes an activity one does not do voluntarily, but is forced to engage in. This coercion he feels, at the very least, stems from the biological urges of the human being which he needs to attend to every so often. The worker has to remain a worker in order to make a living despite his alienation from the labor. Likewise, when an individual feels exploited in the sexual act, yet is forced to engage in it (whether to satisfy a biological need, to procreate or receive other reinforcement), sex is committed as an act of self-sacrifice and mortification.
Capitalistic ideology profoundly affects the sexual relations in society as illuminated by the examples provided. Evidently, Capitalistic sex, as well as the system it stems from, does not allow both parties to win. When you have adopted the capitalistic mindset, you expect to either exploit or be exploited. In the way Marx sees the only solution to the alienation of labor to be the overthrowing of capitalism, the only way to liberate sex from its capitalistic influence, is to replace the capitalistic ideas that govern it with a set of values that will inspire people to treat each other with respect and dignity. This requires our society to place a value on relationships, regardless of their usefulness, in order to create solidarity- in and out of the bedroom.
- Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” Manifesto of the Communist Party. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved March, 17, 2015 from https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm
- MARX, KARL. 1844. “Estranged Labour.” N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved March, 17, 2015 from https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.html
Durkheim and the reign of monogamy
I started practicing polyamory three years ago in an attempt to free myself of the unbearable attachment, dependency and conditionality that came with monogamous relationships. Needy, shattered and incapable to fulfill my deep need for love and intimacy with others, I longed for change. I first heard about the tempting concept of “love without attachment” at a meditation retreat in Thailand. Soon after starting to open myself to the possibility that relationships may be built on mutual respect, love and appreciation instead of fear of losing the other, desire to dominate or fit social expectations, I was ready to embrace polyamory. The freedom and happiness it brought me inspired me to celebrate it, share it, spread it. I knew it was meant to be challenging, because of the normalcy associated with monogamy in society, yet I thought the status-quo was reversible and people only needed to learn about polyamory to at least give it a try, if not adopt it.
It didn’t take long to figure I was wrong. While I remain optimistic for the sake of not losing my energy as an agent of change in society, I now see the invisible strings that control it. “The practice of having a single sexual partner during a period of time”, or otherwise monogamy, fits Emile Durkheim’s concept for a social fact, introduced in The Rules of Sociological Method. Social facts are ways of thinking, acting or being which are normalized, generalized throughout society, constraining and external to the individuals who perform them.
One doesn’t need statistics to establish that monogamy reigns over Western Societies and is deemed “normal” and “normative”. Monogamous couples caress each other with lips, touch and public acknowledgement practically everywhere. Yet, expressions of intimacy between their “deviant” counterparts are not to be found in the daylight, out in the open. Non-monogamy is only allowed to exist in secret locations, particular subcultures and specialized online communities.
My personal experience with polyamory showed me that the influence of the social act lies in that “it asserts itself as soon as I try to resist” (Durkheim, 51). As long as I complied with monogamy, I was oblivious to its great coercive power. Once I dared to reject it and self- identify as polyamorous, I found I now had to deal with a number of negative stereotypes (polyamorists are “sluts” being one of them) and consequences (such as sexualization, shaming or being emotionally abused by partners because of my choice). Choosing to comply with the rules of monogamy seemed to be the only way to restore the violated social order and to bring myself and others peace. It seemed more like an ultimatum.
My friends often tell me: “I get it, but I know I can’t (do polyamory)”. Monogamy, I am told, feels “innate”, it is our “nature” and therefore inalterable. But is it? Durkheim says that: “we are the victims of an illusion which leads us to believe we have ourselves produced what has been imposed on us externally” (Durkheim, 53). Children’s fairytale books, Hollywood movies, popular songs all project the images of idealized monogamous romance as the only way to experience love and happiness with another. As if nothing else exists. “All education consists of a continual effort to impose upon the child ways of seeing, thinking and acting which he himself would not have arrived at spontaneously” (Durkheim, 53)- Durkhaim claims, yet, how can the grown child perceive something as external to herself if it’s all she has seen and no alternatives have ever been presented?
Monogamy, as a social fact, perpetuates itself through a number of cultural tools, indoctrinates individuals and transforms them into blind followers who reproduce the very same devices which have been used to inculcate them. Furthermore, if monogamy was “natural to” and “inborn in” individuals than all human societies would be monogamous. According to George Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas, however, globally: “of 1,231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry”.
Coming to Middlebury, I expected an environment that was more receptive to polyamory due to its increased media coverage in the US, as well as the relative “abundance” of individuals and communities practicing polyamory compared to other places in the world. However, I was surprised to find that not only wasn’t this a “hippy school”, but even the largely popular “hook up culture” on campus served as a perpetuator of mono-normativity. Both hooking up and having multiple romantic and sexual partners are seen as profane alternatives to the sacred long-term, committed monogamous relationship. Yet, only the former is perceived as a legitimate substitute.
Hooking up allows busy, career-oriented, fun-loving students to “have a good time” without the commitments and effort involved in sustaining a committed relationship. An important aspect in being successful at hook ups is to make sure the person knows you are not actually having a relationship with them (also helping you to maintain position in the power game and remain desired). You don’t need to answer their every text. You don’t even have to be that nice to them. They are not your partner after all. Vulnerability and being real with each other are treasured as a domain held exclusively by one-on-one relationships. The hook up happy ending, thus, mirrors monogamy in that it requires the rejecting of others by choosing a preferred partner and coupling of.
Social facts are hard to shake. Neither a single person, nor a small group of people can negate the overwhelming presence of social facts with their choice and actions. Whether or not I decide to be polyamorous instead of monogamous is irrelevant with regards to overcoming the stifling rule of the ideology of monogamy. Ironically, even when we reject the social fact, it influences us beyond our imagination. By allowing hooking up as a temporary alternative to monogamy, yet rejecting polyamorous relationships in which people build committed relationships with multiple partners, a paradoxical situation is created in which it is so hard to find a sole person to be with that monogamy is embraced again by lack of any other alternative. Practicing polyamory necessitates the presence of a diverse community of independent, mature individuals who value and seek relationships (whether monogamous or not). Within that arrangement one can hope and expect to meet and connect with a manifold of potential romantic and sexual partners with varying preferences for relationship styles. Yet, at places like Middlebury where relationships are feared, viewed as a hindrance to personal progress or otherwise rejected, if one “hits the jackpot” and finds someone willing to be with them, they would hardly risk the relationship by suggesting alternatives to the assumed monogamy.
 Defined as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time”, Marriam Webster Online Dictionary
 As defined in Collins English Dictionary
- Durkheim, Émile, Steven Lukes, and W. D. Halls. The Rules of Sociological Method. N.p.: Free Press, Print.
- 2015. Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003). Retrieved March, 1, 2015 fromhttp://www.thefreedictionary.com/monogamy
- Murdock, George. Etnographic Atlas Codebook. 1998 World Cultures 10(1): 86-136. Retrieved March 1 2015 from http://eclectic.ss.uci.edu/~drwhite/worldcul/Codebook4EthnoAtlas.pdf
- 2015. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/polyamory
Today I reminded myself of the time I was freer when I could Love without fear and find strength in vulnerability. In the past months I had grown fearful of hurting others and being hurt which naturally limited my ability to give my love without holding back and looking for reciprocity. It stopped me from being direct and honest to the degree I wanted to. (But if we are, indeed, destined to live our own separate realities, isn’t the only way to bridge the inherent gap between each other precisely direct, honest communication?!)
Ironically, I had put myself and others through a lot of pain simply by trying not to cause pain.
Back then when I lived life to its fullest intensity, I accepted pain as a normal part on the path of learning.
I have been hurt and I have, certainly, hurt others. But may be we shouldn’t villainize pain and strive to escape it.
One thing I had embraced before and forgotten recently is that pain and being hurt is a catalyst of change and transformation.
Being afraid of hurting others or being hurt petrifies us and leaves little space for the good stuff in life- like Love and Empathy. If we accept the possibility of occasionally getting hurt or hurting others (without it being intentional, of course!) as an inevitable part of life that we can nevertheless celebrate, we may find that in the end fear isn’t really worth it and that guardedness is much more dangerous than vulnerability.
This is an excerpt from a Middle East Eye article I published in the summer reflecting on the social documentary project my dear friend Asala Salhab and I carried out on the West Bank, Palestine in the summer of 2014 :)
Despite the war in Gaza and the intense military operations carried out recently by Israeli soldiers throughout Hebron; the biggest city on the West Bank celebrated the holy month of Ramadan with fasting – and praying for peace and for change.
In times of great danger and insecurity, people reveal both their most raw and most humane faces. Ramadan, however, is a month dedicated to cherishing the community, the self and its relation to God.
Can religious and cultural traditions work to bring people together, sooth the disadvantaged and inspire good acts and brotherly love, even in times of war, injustice and death?
These questions and more drove my enthusiasm to be among the people in Hebron, in the midst of the happening, instead of hiding, as I entered into the second month of my student internship in Hebron.
When I first went out on the streets of Hebron (or “Khalil” as the Arabic name of the city reads) with a notebook, camera and a local friend in hand, I had no idea that the photos and interviews I would take would spark and exciting new project- and a social movement.
Three days after the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli settlers in Halhul, just outside Hebron, sick of hearing about new clashes, dead and injured, my friend Asala Salhab and I went out after work to take some interviews.
Our task was to examine the pulse of the community, which was suffering through one of its most difficult times. In the beginning of both Ramadan and a new Israeli massacre in Gaza, was there any hope left? How were these contrasting events influencing each other?
Since the first afternoon we started to photograph and interview random passers-by at different locations around Hebron, including The Old City. People responded enthusiastically and we were able to capture the faces, stories and insights of Hebronites, which conveyed their hope, faith and integrity. The same evening, I started the “Khalil’s Faces of Ramadan” Facebook group to host the profiles of men and women, young and old. Every photo was accompanied by an English and Arabic translation, and in less than a week, the group received over 1,000 likes; the posts were shared and discussed both online and offline.
As we captured the faces of those who carry on their everyday lives, religious and spiritual practices, despite the dangers and insecurity that Hebron faces, media and community leaders shared their positive feedback about the project.
“This initiative is very important because it allows us to see the diversity of individuals and richness of points of view that we don’t often acknowledge otherwise,” Anas Sarabta, manager of the Hebron Youth Development Resource Center said.
Haya Abu Shkaidem, a student in Hebron sent a “thank you” message reading, “I really like this page. It reveals the pretty side of Hebron which people all around Palestine and all around the world should see. It is something I could share with my non-Hebronite friends to let them know more about Hebron.”
In the days to follow, the project gained momentum and was promoted by word of mouth: “I saw your page and I was hoping I could run into you.” Mustafa Abu Sbaih told us smilingly, calling us to visit his shoe stand from across the street.
As we walked through The Old City on a Friday afternoon after one of the major prayers, people were requesting that we take their photos and hear their stories. And, interestingly, they were not all about politics and war. Love, future plans and desire to make a change made some voices tremble with passion.
“We, Palestinians have always paid attention on the need to document our political struggle for freedom. There are many documents, articles and books written on that. But we have done almost nothing to document the social life, the individual, who may not be a martyr or a fighter, but who is still fighting in his own way- and that is not any less interesting.” Tareq Tamimi, founder of “Visit Hebron” told us in acknowledgement of the project’s impact on the community.
The project will continue beyond the month of Ramadan with the support of locals taking on the enjoyable task of unlocking secrets and capturing fellow Hebronites’ faces.
I’m not at all surprised with the findings that, indeed, there is gender balance in Bulgaria and while we have not yet had a woman President, women are somewhat well represented in Parliament (holding 25% of seats and making up for 19% of Ministers as of 2013).
Again, not surprisingly man and women’s occupation are distributed in a rather traditional manner, women holding above 50% of positions in Education and Health and men dominating the labor fields of engineering, manufacturing and construction.
This fact itself calls for further action in terms of diversifying the gender make up of these fields in order to cope with stereotypes coming from traditional thinking that create false beliefs and disallow young men and women to pursue any career interest.
It’s worth mentioning that the wage gap in Bulgaria (the difference between the salaries received by men and women) is lower than the average for the European Union member states and equals only 13%.
The document presents an interesting statistical comparison between Roma and non-Roma population in Bulgaria and points out at the perceivable gender imbalance between men and women from the first group. Presumably due to culture differences in marriage, childbirth and other customs, in addition to societal expectations and/or discrimination Roma women are drastically less employed (26%) than non-Roma women (56%). Moreover, it is safe to assume that the occupations Roma women hold differ significantly in terms of specialization, quality of working conditions and wages provided.
The chart on the Roma population points at the significantly lower number of years of school attendance for Roma children and youth (7.1 for Roma men, 6.2 for Roma women, compared with 11.1/11.3 for the Non-Roma population). Interestingly, research on the attitudes of this group shows stronger patriarchal and heteronormative attitudes in the Roma community where 52% of men and 38% of women approve of instances of domestic violence towards women.
This document while useful with its conciseness leaves out underrepresented groups which don’t identify with their assigned gender (transgender) or have a different understanding on gender (whether genderqueer, genderfluid, etc.) and takes a look at Bulgarian society from the persistent and pervasive heteronormative perspective which creates gender outcasts and disallows the socially inclusive study of society that could really foster dialogue about gender.
It is important as we read and review documents on topics as gender which, indeed, have the potential to acquire mass public interest to introduce the modern language and concepts associated with the topic. Such un-intrusive informal education calls for respect and acknowledgement of the differences between people and creates opportunities for both individuals and society as a whole to self-actualize.
Please, share your thoughts by using the comment form below :) Thanks for reading!
As I walked, biked and pushed myself over my limits for about 350 kilometres from Leon to Santiago de Compostella as I did Camino de Santiago, I learned what God truly meant to me.
I had always known that God was part of me and I was part of God. Pushing over the Spanish hills and mountains, sick, sweaty, challenged beyond my strength, I learned that God was at all time present in my life- I learned to see God in the eyes and faces of my fellow piligrims who offered me their water bottles, their words of motivation, their food or money. God for me, you know, is Love.
In 4 days I hitchhiked alone from Spain to Bulgaria. I was alone and profoundly vulnerable, yet I felt no fear. I had unshakable trust in human beings. I knew my Love was my strength, my “weapon”; my tool for change, for advocacy, for exchange. And I was in a process of constant exchange of love, ideas, warmth and kindness which I knew transformed not only me.
There were some rear occasions when people tried to take advantage of my energy in ways I could not appreciate, yet I learned to accept and view them as simply instances of deprivation of what is so important for us, human beings- love and human connection. Nothing could hurt me. I was powerful in my vulnerability.
I came to college trusting that I had nothing to hide, trusting in the community I was being introduced to as I trusted the strangers I met on the highways across Europe, who often went out of their way to help me be safe, hitchiking.
I came to college in the United States of America to learn that women are, indeed, marginalized.
I learned that as a female writer tackling sexuality and polyamory I was inherently making myself a subject of discrimination and sexualization.
What’s worst I found out that people think it’s fair. If I can choose not to write about sexuality, yet I pick the alternative, than I must be searching for it…
There was this point in my second semester… I had even stopped writing my “Love and sexuality” column, which I otherwise saw as an opportunity to share my views and contribute for the diversity of alternatives, of ideas, of philosophies, and even educate, in a way.
My guy friends. My girlfriends. My gay friends. They just all wanted to explore their boundaries. With me. It was sickening.
The idea that people reduced me to just one array of my knowledge and experience was sickening.
It was sickening to see how IT WASN’T ABOUT ME.
It was sickening to realize that in this environment I had to watch out for myself.
When instant gratification is the ultimate aim of a certain body of people, everything translates into sex. Kundalini becomes sex. Love distorts into sex. Intimacy, connection, all of that is lost for the sake of sex.
And yes, I am sex positive, but in my mind, in my life and in my writing sex is only one of many paths to human connection.
I learned that no one goes on dates in college and that if you are “lucky” to go out with someone, then the person will simply assume they have the right to your body by the end of the night as a prize for the extra effort to even take you out…
I learned that relationships are conditional. Relationships work as long as it’s fun, as long as you don’t have to work at it.
I remember being at New York, couchsurfing during Feb break, and just realizing how fearful I’ve become of truly expressing myself and expressing what I am and I’m not comfortable with out of pure fear not to lose any more people…
I learned that I’m “too much”.
And that the ideal relationship in college consist of no more than 3 things: partying, watching Netflix together and having sex.
I learned that both romantic partners and friends alike will not acknowledge my existence once the relationship transforms/ends. That it does not matter how much laughter, tears and secrets we’ve given to each other, people can treat you as an absolute stranger without a blink of the eye.
Do people forget THAT FAST?
How do you sleep next to someone night after night and then treat them as shit?
How do you see your “best friend” you have pushed away and not at least tell them you appreciate them and your past even if you need something else at the moment?
How do you forget that there is another human being in front of you and that the Other is not an inanimate object, but a living being with emotions and feelings just like you?
In my freshman year at college I learned that no matter how present I am, I may still be invisible. That I can hold a “friend”‘s hand as she cries and tells me she’s all alone and I may still not exist.
I learned what it feels like to feel used. I genuinely care about people. I try my best to be available for people. I believe in the power of sharing. I believe human connection can heal even very deep wounds. But as I was listening to people and experiencing their pain with them, I found out people stopped asking: “How are you?”.
I told myself it was me. I must be presenting myself as “strong”, as not needing support. I probably just don’t give people an entry to myself, no matter how open and approachable I see myself, it probably just isn’t enough… But when after a terrible night I went to the counselling center feeling worse than I’ve ever felt (with all my past) and shared that with some people I believed I was connected to, there was nothing… NOTHING.
And we just kept on the conversation…
I have learned a lot in and out of the classroom this year, at college, in the United States of America.
And while I receive full financial aid and don’t really pay anything monetarily, my education is already overpriced.
I have lost so much over this year. It’s been a very high price.
I have not stopped trying to stay true to myself and Be love and Give love, no matter if there’s any return.
It’s been SO hurting. So difficult to see how nothing is working.
For me this is crucial. I learn through my relationships with people. I grow and transform through my putting my love into everything that is important to me.
I can not put aside my heart to educate my brain.
And If I waste my time writing this it is because, apart from helping me stay sane, I still hope there are people out there and on this campus who might share a similar vision with me for an education and a world that does not require you to be either happy or successful and that we can stay grounded in our humanity and make the extra effort to connect and build reationships based on honesty and love and consideration for the other.