Scrubbing the binary
Polyamorous relationships refer to relationships in which people engage in openly conducted multiple partner romantic or sexual relationships. Consequently, in polyamorous households there are often more than two adults in the home to accomplish household labor. However, we have very little understanding as to how these households operate when it comes to gendered divisions of labor. The aim of this qualitative study is to understand how polyamorous households report accomplishing household tasks like food preparation and clean-up, tidying the home, organizing and paying bills, and general family decisions. Three primary theories inform this research and provide the framework for the project. First, doing and undoing gender (West and Zimmerman 1987; Deutsch 2007) informed how gender impacts our interactions with others in the social world. Second, theories of the gendered division of labor in households informed how doing gender is implicated in household labor (Coltrane 1996; Hochschild 1989; Smith 1993). Third, theoretical frameworks for polyamory informed how polyamorous subcultural norms might lead polyamorous individuals to approach household labor differently (Schippers 2016). To explore the relationship between polyamory and divisions of household labor, the current study asks: 1) How do polyamorous individuals perceive and describe the division of labor in their households? 2) How do polyamorous individuals’ descriptions of housework potentially reflect, reaffirm, or conflict with polyamorous subcultural values, especially values related to gender equity? To answer these questions, 53 in-depth interviews were conducted with polyamorous individuals across the United States. Analyses of these interviews found that polyamorous individuals relied on a set of polyamorous subcultural norms to accomplish housework. I found that the polyamorous community values of gender egalitarianism, autonomous individuality, and the variety of experiences that multiple romantic partners provide were incorporated into accomplishing housework. Additionally, to make polyamorous relationships work, the polyamorous community emphasizes repeatedly communicating with partners and recognizing time as a limited resource. This emphasis on communication and recognizing time as a limited resource can also be seen in how polyamorous individuals make decisions about accomplishing housework.