• Dee Morgan

Unpacking Mononormativity


An illustration with the text "let's unpack that: the impacts of mononormativity" written on the left, with three boxes stacked on the right. One is open with an arrow from the box pointing towards the text

Have you heard the term ‘mononormativity’ before? Put simply, mononormativity is a societal bias which privileges monogamous relationships - sometimes intentionally, but often without awareness. It’s the assumption that monogamy is ‘the norm’ or default, with everything else - which includes consensual non-monogamous and polyamorous connections - being ‘othered’.


When something is considered to be the norm, it’s often regarded as fundamental or ‘natural’ within a society. In addition to mononormativity (sometimes written as ‘mono-normativity’) you may have heard of heteronormativity (privileging heterosexual attractions and relationships), cisnormativity (privileging cisgender identities) and amatonormativity (privileging romantic attraction and connections, and othering those who are on the aromantic spectrum).


Here’s a little more depth. Mononormativity is about society’s standard of monogamy (not necessarily the practice). Those standards influence legal systems, media, and people’s assumptions and prejudices; and they have the potential to impact the wellbeing of persons who engage in consensually non-monogamous relationships. This is because they unintentionally privilege monogamous relationships above other relationship styles, and as a consequence they can misunderstand and stigmatise people and groups associated with or engaging in consensual non-monogamy.


So what are some examples of thinking normatively?: “...an idea that it is best to keep things the same; thinking that it is wrong, inherently immoral to live outside of prescribed heteronormative relationships; cultures, schools, government, churches and other religious organizations that hold on to the values of mono-normativity etc. Those who identify as polyamorous may be limited in some ways in our relationships, in our worlds due to residual internal admonitions against polyamory.” (from LifeWorks Psychotherapy)


Some other types of normative thinking you may have come across is the concept of the relationship escalator, and that of couple’s privilege.


It’s important to consider the normative ways of thinking that make up societies we exist within (and to be clear, not every society around the world has the same norms, and not every society has the same level of mononormativity). To work towards increasing awareness of and dismantling mononormativity isn’t to disavow or reject monogamy, monogamous identities/orientations, or monogamous relationships - for many people these are ways of living and loving which suit them well. Instead, it centres on recognising the oppressive social systems which institute monogamy as the sole acceptable default relationship structure. One can be monogamous and pro-monogamy and dismantle mononormativity. The two are not mutually exclusive.


Resources

If you want to learn more about mononormativity, check out the following articles and podcast episodes:


Mono-normative programming by Laura Boyle at Ready for Polyamory


Let’s Chat About Mono-Normative Culture and Intent by Alethea Spark


What would a Poly-normative world look like? By Roy Graff


Ghosts of Normativity Past on Multiamory


Being Polyamorous in a Monogamous World (live show) on Multiamory


Couple’s Privilege on Ready for Polyamory