On a mailing list I'm on, someone mentioned old school radical feminism and brought up Ti-Grace Atkinson on BDSM. I haven't read much of her on it, just whatever was in Against Sadomasochism, and eve there I don't remember what exactly she said as opposed to the others. But what the person brought up was her idea that BDSM exposes, lays bare, shows up in stark contrast the power dynamics under patriarchy.
And I was just thinking about that, about how at least among anti-BDSM feminists, statements and theories like those are assumed to be authoritative. They're assumed to tell the real truth about us and what we do and its meaning.
The curious thing is that they're assumed to do this even when we, people who actually do BDSM, say that's not so, or even claim the opposite.
What that means is that the voice of the theorist ("feminist theorist?" "radical feminist theorist?") gets privileged over the voice of the members of the community. The theorist's voice, the voice of Analysis and "Neutral" Examination, is taken to be a better representation of truth than the voices of the people within the particular subculture/doing the activities being examined.
And that strikes me as a real problem with a lot of theoretical analysis. People get so hung up on theory, on coming up with a theory, on Having An Explanation, that they never stop to consider whether their explanation at all hooks up with the lived experience of those they describe.
It happens all the time. I lurk in various body modification communities, and some people (not everyone) do a lot of things that others consider incomprehensibly painful or strange. Fleshhook suspension. Subdermal implants. Tongue splitting. Cutting and branding. Castration. Voluntary amputation. Even genital piercing is strange to some people.
And of course, the reaction of these people -- some of whom are professionals; just have a look at the random bad editorial articles written by shrinks in magazines -- is to look not at the people's explanation, but to assume that the people must be deluded or have false consciousness to do such strange and drastic things to their bodies. There's little or no attempt to square theory with practice.
And to me, well, yes, it is possible for someone to be deluded about whether something is good for her. Of course. We all are sometimes. But the idea that an entire cultural identity can be ignored and written off simply because a particular theory of false consciousness or social dynamics is internally coherent has always struck me as very odd, if not downright dangerous.