Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Anti-SM views shaping modern SM?

Figleaf has an interesting post up at his blog on whether and how SM has evolved in reaction to anti-SM feminisms:
I've been reading a ton of old-school radical feminists lately (Shulamith Firestone, Kate Millett, Andrea Dworkin, Germaine Greer) and... This could be a possible total brain fart here but I think one of the problems with trying to match theory of 40 years ago with BDSM as practiced today is that when they were writing there was no legal or philosophical basis for sexual consent. When those authors were writing their classics there was, for the most part, no such thing as dominance or submission. There was just "the way it is in heterosexual relationships."

Now I happen to think that the work those early writers did, particularly the extraordinarily brusque (and possibly sexually submissive) Dworkin, to make "no means no" real (against resistance that still, unbelievably, has life in it) created the safe spaces for the total explosion of conscious BDSM and other forms of kink we're able to practice today. (Consent lies at the basis of almost all BDSM today.)
After this a commenter mentions SSC, specifically:
Peter Tupper said

Interesting thought, that it took the anti-BDSM feminists to motivate the pro-BDSM culture to create the SSC/RACK ethos.

IIRC, the first edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" included a tentative endorsement of consensual S/M.

I can't comment there due to a server error, so I'll just post my thoughts here, for now:

Peter:

"Safe sane consensual" was actually coined by a gay leatherman in a gay leather context:

http://www.leatherleadership.org/library/safesanestein.htm

It seems obvious to me now that "safe" and "sane" derived from the good old American practice of urging people to have a "safe and sane" 4th of July celebration. i heard that exhortation every year while growing up, and it stuck. It stuck with Tony DeBlase, too, and appears in an unsigned essay he wrote for the Chicago Hellfire Club’s Inferno 10 (1981) run book: "In 1980 the following was adopted as the club’s statment of purpose: ‘. . . to provide education and opportunities for participation in S&M sex among consenting adult men and to foster communication among such individuals.’ Responsible S&M has become more popular and less feared in the gay community and Chicago Hellfire Club continues to serve its community — striving always to educate and promote safe and sane enjoyment of men by men." Since Inferno 10 was the first Inferno i attended, and it made a big impression on me, Tony’s words may have reminded me of "safe and sane," and even suggested the association with "consensual." But the GMSMA statement was the first place the three terms were actually conjoined.

As a kid, what i took "Have a safe and sane 4th" to mean was something like, "Have a good time, but don’t be stupid and burn down the house or blow your hand off." A couple of decades later, that seemed to fit S/M just fine. What we meant by "safe and sane S/M" in 1983, and what i believe GMSMA and most other organizations still mean by it today, is something like, "Have a good time, but keep your head and understand what you’re doing so you don’t end up dead or in the hospital — or send someone else there." Possibly the echo of a familiar phrase explains why so many other kinky Americans have also felt immediately comfortable with "safe, sane, and consensual S/M," which still isn’t nearly as popular in Europe or elsewhere as it is in the U.S. even aside from the issue of language.
I'm not unsympathetic to the view that anti-SM feminist criticisms had an influence on various SM communities that was ultimately positive, but I think we need to be careful about what comes from where, and look up and be thoughtful about actual documented history where we can. It doesn't look *to me* like the feminist debates had much to do with SSC.

9 comments:

Mighty Fast Pig said...

I didn't mean the specific term evolved as a direct accommodation to anti-SM feminism. I meant to speculate that the larger philosophy of consent evolved as a defense against feminist critiques of BDSM.

Trinity said...

And that's the thing -- I'm not convinced that's *not* true, but without citations and other proof, I'm not convinced it *is* true, either.

The stress on consent could have evolved out of the debates in lesbian-feminist communities. It could also, it seems to me, easily have come from something else. It could've come about as a reaction to things like Spanner or other busts that made news (I'm not entirely sure about the time, then, but I know that in some of Rubin's and Califia's essays from the 80's they talk about some.)

In order to know whether the emphasis on consent came from that or came primarily from trying to convince the general public, Dworkinite or not, that we're not axe-wielding maniacs and self-hating neurotics, I'd have to see more specific data. To me, the fact that SSC (one of the big famous slogany "look, this is consensual" widgets) was actually the creation of GMSMA, a gay men's org, suggests that perhaps the larger community wasn't as keen on the feminist fights as the leatherdyke community was.

Anyone out there with more info? I'd love to be proven either right *or* wrong; leather history fascinates me.

alterisego said...

I'm skimming some Califia and Rubin in Coming to Power. While there is much discussion of consent and safety and much discussion of anti-SM movements in the '80s, it's not clear to me that the two are linked.

I haven't read a whole lot, but I do get the sense that the feminist issue was fairly specific to the radfems vs. the leatherdykes, reduction though that may be.

Trinity said...

"I haven't read a whole lot, but I do get the sense that the feminist issue was fairly specific to the radfems vs. the leatherdykes, reduction though that may be."

That's what I always thought myself. I do think it might've also affected some het women subs, but I always figured the big IssueDealio was the idea that LESBIAN-FEMINISTS ZOMG ight be so horribly apolitical.

figleaf said...

And just to be clear, I'm not claiming that (then-radical) feminist critique directly affected S&M. Especially since I agree with you that it's probably not true!

Instead I meant to say that work based on Dworkin's rad-fem critique of what was once men's unquestioned right to beat and/or sexually coerce their wives or girlfriends (a *legal* right if they were married way into the 1970s or early 1980s) helped establish consent as a *legal* concept.

And I'm saying that *that* concept has paved the way for much, much wider acceptance of the distinction between BDSM and domestic assault. Which in turn has paved the way for much, much wider practice and enjoyment of BDSM in the general population.

So anyway, just to be clear, I'm not saying rad-fem activism around consent had much to do with corresponding developments in the leather communities of the 1970s (especially male-centric ones.) *But* I do think it's helped may the world a legally and socially more accomodating and interested, especially, for BDSM, and even more especially for hetero BDSM.

I'm actually not sure that's any clearer, but having at least followed and sometimes practiced BDSM since the early 1970s when I was an actual apprentice/journeyman leatherworker, the changes seem pretty profound!

figleaf

Trinity said...

"Instead I meant to say that work based on Dworkin's rad-fem critique of what was once men's unquestioned right to beat and/or sexually coerce their wives or girlfriends (a *legal* right if they were married way into the 1970s or early 1980s) helped establish consent as a *legal* concept.

And I'm saying that *that* concept has paved the way for much, much wider acceptance of the distinction between BDSM and domestic assault. Which in turn has paved the way for much, much wider practice and enjoyment of BDSM in the general population."

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. that makes tons more sense.

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