Of all the controversial topics I write about, the topic I get the most resistance to is not queer issues, but plural marriage. Generally, Mormon feminists don’t like plural marriage. That might be a bit of an understatement. There have been blog posts, even entire books written by women expressing their disdain for plural marriage. Some of them hate it so much they deem plural marriage entirely immoral and praise monogamy as the one true path for all marriages and relationships.

As a queer woman, I empathize greatly for the distain of an oppressive mandate to enter into or abstain from a marriage based on an authoritarian’s perspective. Telling someone they must enter into plural marriage is just as oppressive as telling me I must enter into a heterosexual, monogamous marriage. Telling Mormon women they must live eternal polygamy is both absurd and often traumatizing. Just as telling me that I must live eternal, heterosexual monogamy is absurd and traumatizing. I empathize greatly with women who do not desire an eternity of forced marital mandates.

If there is one idea I could get people, especially feminists, to understand about fighting oppression, it would be this:

Fight oppression, not modalities.

The key to liberation from oppressive marital mandates will be found in separating oppressions from their modalities. If not, you’ll quickly find there isn’t a single modality which cannot be manipulated into something oppressive.

To better explain what I mean, I’ll start with a simple example.

Let’s imagine we are in a common religion eating fruit together. Some people like to eat oranges, and some people don’t. However, let’s say there is an authoritarian telling everyone they must eat oranges, not just for life, but all eternity! An eternity of oranges! If you are a person who loves oranges, you may not be bothered with the authoritarian’s decree. You like oranges regardless of the authoritarian, so who cares, right? Yet, if you are a person who hates oranges and loves grapefruits, you will likely have a serious problem with what the authoritarian is telling you to eat. However, even though you may hate oranges, the oranges are not oppressive. The oppression is the mandate to eat something you don’t want to eat.

Fight oppression, not oranges.

Its understandable why some people, especially women, would hate oranges. Let’s say she grew up in a religion that told her she must eat oranges and love it for all eternity, but she never liked oranges—not even a little bit. She only wanted grapefruits. Let’s say her religion told her she could eat grapefruits now, but upon her death she will never have grapefruits again and she will be doomed to an eternity of eating oranges. Forever! If this is the case, it’s very understandable why she would hate oranges and want to abolish them from existence. She may see it as her only way out of her oppression. “I must destroy all oranges! That will save me from an eternity of eating oranges!”

There’s a problem though. Even if she destroys all the oranges in the world, that still isn’t going to dismantle oppression. She simply got rid of one modality of oppression that she didn’t like, and in so doing took oranges away from everyone else—even the people who love eating oranges. If she takes away oranges from everyone else, she is adopting the role of the oppressor. Her hatred of oranges distorts her perspective so much so that she cannot see that there are other women who like eating oranges regardless of what the authoritarian told them to do. Yet, because she hates oranges so much everyone must hate oranges too. Furthermore, everyone must now love grapefruits. Grapefruits are the one true path to righteousness. Sadly, she has become the authoritarian that she sought so desperately to liberate herself from. The oppressed became the oppressor.

Fight oppression, not oranges.

As for myself, I don’t hate oranges. I like oranges a lot. I plan on eating them as long as I can, even for all eternity if I get the chance. Telling me I must hate oranges is as silly as me telling her that she must hate grapefruits. True liberation happens when we learn to eat grapefruits and oranges side-by-side without condemning the other as “wrong.” Grapefruits and oranges are only the modality of oppression. What is truly oppressive is the mandate that we can’t eat the various fruits of our liking. In this case, oppression is homogenization. Fighting oppression requires we accept our differences. You can like grapefruits and I can like oranges.

Fight oppression, not oranges.

Now, there are some people who like to tell me that I don’t really like oranges, and I couldn’t possibly like oranges of my own volition because the authoritarian is controlling my will and desires. I’m “brainwashed” or “manipulated” into liking oranges by the all-powerful authoritarian. I am simply the victim that eats oranges without genuine autonomy. She may even tell me that I’ll be much happier eating grapefruits like her. She may even justify that no woman could possibly be happy eating oranges, and all women would be happier eating grapefruits.

There’s a problem though. There is no liberation without trust. We need to trust that people want what they say they want. If I tell her, “No really, I really like oranges” and she doesn’t respect my autonomy, she is not my liberator. Woman will never be free until we respect her autonomy and volition. If you are truly a liberator, you need to accept woman is capable of choosing what to do with her autonomy. Disrespecting her autonomy by telling her she doesn’t really like oranges is another form of oppression.

Fight oppression, not oranges.

Now, others will still contend, “…but women are manipulated into saying they like eating oranges when they truly don’t. She only said that because she was living in fear of the authoritarian.” This is a fair criticism. Can a person have robust liberties if they are in a physically or emotionally violent environment? If women are in an environment where their fruit selection comes with severe, negative retaliation or shunning then she may genuinely be stuck eating oranges forever in fear of her oppressor. If this is the case, the solution is not to get rid of all oranges, but instead create safer environments where people can choose grapefruits or oranges without physical abuse, social isolation, violent retaliation, or religious purgatory. Getting rid of oranges won’t free her. We must assist in creating a safe environment where she can free herself with her own volition and autonomy.

Fight oppression, not oranges.

To review, the fruit is just the modality of the oppression. Neither grapefruits or oranges are inherently liberating or oppressive. Oppression is the mandate from the authoritarian telling everyone what fruit they must prefer and consume. This is what I mean when I say, fight oppression not modalities.

For me, plural marriage is the orange. You can like it or not like it, but that doesn’t make it oppressive or “wrong.” What is oppressive is telling you that you must enter into a plural marriage or telling me that I can’t enter into a plural marriage. Also, as a reminder, plural marriage is defined as multiple marriages to multiple partners. Historical, it has mostly been practiced oppressively under polygyny, but the concept of plural marriage alone is not inherently oppressive. Telling someone they must enter into or abstain from a marriage against their will is what is oppressive, whether that marriage is plural or not.

I mean this sincerely, you do not have to practice or like plural marriage to be a supporter of someone else’s right to plural marriage. You do not have to be homosexual to support same-sex marriage. You do not have to be a person of color to support civil rights. Likewise, you can be monogamous and still support another person’s right to plural marriage. Similarly, a person in a plural marriage should also fight against oppressions from religious institutions that mandate a plural, monogamous, heterosexual, homosexual, or asexual marriages.

I can support your desire for monogamy and you can support my desire for plural marriage without mandating we be the same. Sameness, or congruency, is the enemy of liberation. What is at the root of oppression is lack of options—not having the ability to make one’s own decisions and choices about how they want to live. Monogamy and polygamy can both be a modality of oppression if they are mandated to people against their will. Monogamy and polygamy can both be liberating if they are presented as options which persons can choose from. Most importantly, the modality is not the oppression—the unquestionable, universal, marital mandate is the oppression.

In short, true liberators find ways of supporting multiple desires without mandating their preference as the universal “right way.” I can support your desire to eat grapefruits and you can support my desire to eat oranges. Liberation is the rejection of necessary sameness and recognizing we can support each other while we all eat different fruit.

Fight oppression, not oranges.


For further clarification see:
Year of Polygamy: Queer Polygamy
The Problem is Patriarchy, Not Polygamy
A Feminist Defense of Polygamy



Blaire Ostler is a leading voice at the intersection of Mormonism, feminism, and transhumanism. She is a Board Member and former CEO of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, the world's largest advocacy network for the ethical use of technology and religion to expand human abilities. She is currently pursuing a second degree in philosophy with an emphasis in gender studies. Blaire and husband Drew reside in Utah with their three children.

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