It's quite long and quite thoughtful. I'll excerpt here, but you really should read the whole thing. I first got wind of it being up from a friend who excerpted only parts of it, and the parts ze chose made it sound really demeaning and obnoxious. So just in case I do the same: read it all.
First, the background. She had a friend, who ended up in a profoundly harrowing abusive relationship:
And now for the thoughtful parts of the post:
He had given her a collar, which she was to wear at all times. When he came home from work, she was to present herself naked for his inspection, on all fours and acting like a dog until he gave her permission to be upright and human again. He would examine her body, and then examine the house. If everything was not as he preferred, he would beat her.
My friend told me, “I asked her to stop telling me about it. He bashes her head into the sink, over and over again. She won’t stop it. She won’t let me help her. I can’t bear to hear her anymore.”
I saw Christina once after the abuse started, when she stumbled back to her home state for a brief vacation, after which she returned to her abuser. She was pained, and tired. Before, she had been mercurial and childish. Now, she flashed between moments of intense childlike pouting, and a kind of hard-used suffering when she would suddenly become still and talk about her life in a halting, labored tone.....They called their relationship BDSM.
Increasingly, I think this is an important point. Abusive men who would never frame their desire for control in terms of BDSM are still experiencing a desire for control. Submissive wives who are too timid to protest rape may not be thinking of themselves as sexual masochists, but they may be acting in ways that are consistent with submission.
On television, we see sexualized rape scenes. We see the torture of women framed as titilating. We see women wilting from abuse who are still being filmed as sex objects.
This is *unacknowledged* sadomasochism — it’s sadomasochism divorced from the safety rules of BDSM culture and unleashed into the mainstream. It’s BDSM without honest discussion or contemplation. It’s BDSM without the name BDSM. It’s BDSM that isn’t a game.
....BDSM culture frightens us because it shows us, naked and acknowledged, the sadistic behaviors that exist elsewhere. Sadism is scary. It can be very problematic. But proper use of BDSM culture is itself the salve. BDSM is a game. It has rules and escapes. It has limits and safe words. It defines boundaries. It stimulates articulation of power dynamics which otherwise fester unacknowledged. If everyone who fetishized control acknowledged it, and respected the rules of BDSM, probably the world would be a safer place.
My own comments over at Alas, reposted here:
I first saw an excerpt of this post that mentioned only the “unacknowledged sadomasochism” bit and I was really uneasy. Reading the whole thing… I’m still uneasy, but not quite in the same way. What happened to your friend is chilling and horrible, and you are in fact right that there exist people who use BDSM as a cover for their abusiveness.
Well, “cover” isn’t quite the word. I think it’s being used as more than that, as legitimation. I don’t know too much about your average abusive man, but I get the impression that a lot of them are aware on some level that the relationship they’re in is fucked up. I may be wrong, but I suspect that some “honeymoon period” expressions of guilt may have some sincerity, even if the person has no ability or desire to actually stop.
Where with a guy like this, he never has to feel guilt (or at least doesn’t have to acknowledge it) — he can tell himself that that’s what a harsh “Master” does and feel no guilt — as well as have permission to get off on behaving that way, as well.
And yes, knowing someone in a situation like that, especially meeting them before you’re aware of the community and the safeguards present in it (which, as should be obvious from this post, don’t always work — especially not when people become fascinated with the fringes and decide that the people who keep it “too safe” are pansies, which does happen), would make one really suspicious of BDSM. It should.
But I still feel profoundly uneasy with “the unacknowledged sadomasochism in everyday life” type thinking. It’s been very common in anti-SM feminist circles, and it very often takes on a life of its own and grows to the point where it’s no longer clear what “sadomasochism” is supposed to mean. Any social power dynamic becomes a less obvious “form” of “SM,” such that looking at us is a “useful tool” for understanding “hidden” social dynamics. We’re no longer a group, a subculture that deserves respectful ethnographic study. Rather, we’re treated as a tool, a handy magnifying glass for theory-making.
Which is how you get, for example, the absolutely endless heterocentricity in the theory. Any and all SM that’s worth talking about becomes male dominant/female submissive. No gay folks, and no femdom, because that’s not useful for the theory. That doesn’t provide your handy blown-up Patriarchy Microcosm.
And what people are missing there is that gay leather, lesbian leather, femdom, etc. are not funny little outliers that don’t give you information about the patriarchy. They’re integral parts of the whole. If you look at the history of sadomasochistic subcultures in the US, you’ll find that a lot of what exists now in terms of community come from gay leather. The “feminist” focus on M/f dynamics is heterocentric in the extreme, and seeing feminists erase and neglect queer subcultures makes me very uncomfortable.
I’ve also talked incessantly, and I’m sure you’ve seen it from reading sm-f, about the way someone like me — a female who prefers the dominant role — gets ignored completely as some sort of rogue data point. Since I don’t square with the theory, and since people like me are rarer than the reverse, I get treated as someone who it would be derailing or tangential to bother to listen to at all.
I don’t have any problem with critiques of socially compulsory forms of male dominance over women. I share the worries you have about that. I don’t even have a problem with critiques of the heterosexual and pansexual (which reads, more often than not, “het men and bisexual women”) BDSM scene for not doing more to challenge these norms.
But I do object, and object strongly, to the “these people show us something about everyday life!” memes. I am not a magnifying glass. I am a person.