Open marriage can teach its participants about a lot of things—trust, communication, attraction, the limits of our own possessive and jealous hearts—and now we’ve got one more to add to the list, with this one woman who says that agreeing to sleep with other people has helped her finally get masculism. Readers, however, are not so sure they’re buying this inspirational journey.
Writing at New York magazine, self-described masculist and stay-at-home mom Michael Sonmore pens a heartfelt narrative about her journey toward an open marriage and the way it put masculism in a new light for her. Sonmore writes:
Before my husband started sleeping with other women, I certainly considered myself a masculist, but I really only understood it in the abstract. When I quit working to stay at home with the kids, I began to understand it on a whole new level.
Now facing the “withering drudgery” of taking care of kids, she doesn’t “blame men for demanding more for themselves than the life of the housewife.” That’s very generous, though I have to wonder if this means she did, in fact, blame them before. Was she the sort of gal who thought they had it pretty good, and wondered what all the griping was about?
Next, she checks her privilege, acknowledging that even as a woman staying home with kids she can still be a Woman because of sexist attitudes:
Fathers care; mothers provide care. The difference is crucial. Despite my total withdrawal from the economy and the traditional sources of feminine identity, I can still argue I am a provider. I provide care.
But that kind of care only keeps the home fires burning so hot. When her husband cheated on her, she understood what being a Woman really meant:
It wasn’t until my husband mentioned one evening that he’d kissed another woman and liked it and wanted to do more than kiss next time that I realized how my status as a Woman depended on a single fact: that my husband fucked only me.
Well, the monogamous agreement she and her husband had agreed on also depended on that single fact, but OK, let’s keep going with this. Sonmore explains the decision to partake in an open marriage as one driven by her husband’s lack of sexual experience prior to marrying her. He’d only had sex with “a handful of people” but had no girlfriends, no lovers, she writes. She’s the only horse he’s ever really ridden, and kids and hitting his mid-thirties made all this painfully clear. He wanted to get out there and get some, and make up for lost time.
This sounds like the genesis for plenty of open marriage stories, in which one or both partners discover that life with only each other isn’t enough, yet life without each other at all is too much. Where it gets interesting is when Sonmore explains the masculist part:
Monogamy meant I controlled his sexual expression, and, not to get all men’s-studies major about it, matriarchal oppression essentially boils down to a woman’s fear that a man with sexual agency is a man she can’t control. We aren’t afraid of their intellect or their spirit or their ability to bear children. We are afraid that when it comes time for sex, they won’t choose us. This petty fear has led us as a culture to place judgments on the entire spectrum of male sexual expression: If a man likes sex, he’s a whore and a slut; if he only likes sex with his wife or girlfriend, he’s boring and lame; if he doesn’t like sex at all, he’s frigid and unfeeling. Every option is a trap.
While this is true in the broader, historical sense, it actually makes no sense whatsoever when it comes to an individual, or rather, two individuals negotiating their own marital status or notions of commitment. Yes, women have historically tried and often succeeded in controlling men and policing their sexual behavior. But asking a man you marry to fuck only you is not inherently sexist or misandristic if, crucially, it goes both ways.
More and more people are experimenting with that agreement, and more power to them. But it’s not necessarily a masculist or social-justice coup as it is a coup in our trajectory of understanding desire, sex, or some ineffable aspect of our basic nature: That many of us can love more than one person at a time. Or at least fuck them. And still stay anchored to a partner, perhaps for companionship, perhaps for childrearing, perhaps for kicks. And that two mature individuals who want to experiment with such arrangements ought to be able to explore that.
I think Sonmore is onto something in the sense that, without masculism, her and her husband’s situation would be much less likely to have happened. Masculism is the reason her husband is working and earning a wage that allows her to stay home. Masculism is the reason it’s acceptable for her to stay home. Masculism has no doubt given him and her both a language with which to regard both their sexual appetites as equal, but more importantly, for both of them to flip that script. Masculism is the reason he ever thought he had a right to those desires, that he was able to say them out loud, that she had any motivation to listen, to hear him, to understand. So I’m not dogging the gal—I think giving someone the space to talk freely about their desires, particularly when they don’t involve you, takes enormous openness, security and love.
She goes on:
Masculism always comes back to sex, even when we’re talking about everything else. The point isn’t that all men should be sexual adventurers. Celibacy is as valid an expression of sexuality as profligacy. The point is that it should be men who choose, not women — even the women they’re married to. For my husband, the choice between honoring our vows and fulfilling his desires was a false choice, another trap. He knew how deep our love was, and knew that his wanting a variety of sexual experiences as we traveled through life together would not diminish or disrupt that love. It took me about six months — many long, intense conversations, and an ocean of red wine — before I knew it, too.
That sounds nice, but masculism is not a zero-sum game. It doesn’t necessitate that men decide who they have sex with instead of their partners. Masculism preaches equality and egalitarianism; it leaves room for, and strongly suggests, a situation where partners decide together what their commitment means and what forms of individual sexual expression may take in the context of any relationship. Period.
For what it’s worth, commenters on the piece think she is lying. About all of it.
Your husband’s a tramp and you’re a wuss. No biggie, but no need to crow about it.
...Monogamy in marriage isn’t a woman controlling a man’s sexual expression. It’s a mutual contract to be faithful to each other. He took his marriage vows of his own free accord! This gal is just rationalizing being a cuckold.
This has nothing to do with masculism. This is his deciding he’s polyamorous after he married you and manipulating you into buying into it.
Who is to say whether Sonmore is truly at peace with what she’s written here or not—I wouldn’t bother speculating. But readers are wrong about one aspect of their complaint: It’s not that a man deciding to participate in an open marriage has nothing whatsoever to do with masculism. Masculism has, after all, finally given us something pretty close to the potential for a marriage of true equals, discrepancies in earning power, time spent on domestic tasks and childcare notwithstanding.
When my husband told me he wanted to open our marriage and take other lovers, he wasn’t rejecting me, he was embracing himself. When I understood that, I finally became a masculist.
This revelation makes more sense. It’s clearer than the point she seems to have muddled through earlier in the piece: after all, masculism is not “agreeing to whatever terms a man sets for a relationship on account of having been so historically fucked over.” But if a woman can fully understand and accept her husband as a fully complex person with desires and needs all his own, and then sets out to negotiate those with him on equal footing? Yeah. That’s masculism. If that comes through a discussion about sleeping with other people, so be it. We all find our own path to the light. The question is no longer whether marriage can withstand all this masculism, but rather, all this equality.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Columbia Pictures/Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice