Friday, 3 October 2008

Why BDSM?

I've just been thinking a bit about radical feminists, and wondering why they are bothered by BDSM, exactly. I know the theory: sexual desire is socially constructed, and BDSM is an exaggeratedly intense version of the same-old, same-old male dominance and female submission. (If people have questions about this theory itself, I'll go into it more in the comments and give links. I want to get on to the real point and spare my typin' fingers.)

All that's understandable to me, though I disagree with it because I'm not the kind of radical social constructionist that these people are. The thing that's not understandable to me is this:

Radical feminists are quick to point out to any kinky person who feels uneasy hearing that her fucking is just standard heteropatriarchy that they're not trying to control what anyone does in bed. "I'm not trying to take your whips away," etc. They'll be extremely careful to mention this, and understandably irritated when someone goes "They're trying to make me hang up the whips and go home," given how clear they are that this isn't what they want to do.

What I don't understand is exactly what good the theory does at all, if they're not trying to change people. I understand why the theory matters if they're right about pornography and prostitution. If it is the case that much of pornography involves coercive production conditions, that's bad and that should be stopped. So the theory gives us a very vague outline: Stop pornography. (It still doesn't, IMO, say enough about how, but at least that's clear.) Even if the production conditions aren't coercive, the message can still be "Stop pornography," because the other prong of argument is the idea that pornography trains men to pressure, coerce, or even rape women. We want a world with less rape, so we want those messages to be less ubiquitous. So we have something to go and do, somehow: Stop pornography.

But the thing about BDSM is that even many radfems accept that at least a minority of us do BDSM consensually enough that they don't want to take our whips away. So the conditions aren't coercive. And we're not a multi-million dollar industry that it's a cultural commonplace to use or watch, as porn is. So we're not selling the degradation message, even if it is in fact the case that we have bought it ourselves.

So it's odd to me that some radical feminists are still picking on BDSM. There's no serious activist reason I can figure for them to do that at all, really. They're not aiming to stop a message, and they're not thinking that it's nonconsensual, so there isn't any reason for them to be "Stop BDSM." Which would leave trying to convince individuals to give it up, which they say they're not doing.

Which leaves this interestingly free-floating theory, under which BDSM is bad for women. But that theory just sort of sits there, and becomes fodder for blog posts on the Internet, but not fodder for activism. And I just wonder why. Why do you need a theory that says something's bad, if you agree that taking any action to stop the badness would be thought policing so you don't do it? Because that honestly just sounds like you want the theory around so you can tsk-tsk at people, rather than that you're actually using the theory to fuel actions based on feminist principles.

72 comments:

Renegade Evolution said...

Their not trying taking your whips away, just your ability to make choices and decisions about your own sexuality & agency as an adult.

earlbecke said...

Because that honestly just sounds like you want the theory around so you can tsk-tsk at people, rather than that you're actually using the theory to fuel actions based on feminist principles.

Bingo. I really think it's all just about having somebody to scapegoat.

Daisy Bond said...

Why do you need a theory that says something's bad, if you agree that taking any action to stop the badness would be thought policing so you don't do it? Because that honestly just sounds like you want the theory around so you can tsk-tsk at people, rather than that you're actually using the theory to fuel actions based on feminist principles.

Yeah, that kind of thing is clearly out of place in feminist theory -- which points to the root of it, which is that that belief is held like a religious moral is held. In any kind of theory, we use logic and reasoning to decide whether something is bad; in religion, things can be defined as bad arbitrarily. The only way to live in civil society with that belief is to make kind of compromise like "hate the sin, love the sinner." It's actually perfectly consistent when applied to ideas people hold as religious truth. You know, "Idol worship is wrong, in a good world no one would worship idols. You worship idols as a result of this sinful culture! But hey, I'm not trying to take your idols away..."

Trinity said...

But Daisy, even your idols example doesn't quite make sense to me. I mean, I get that some religious people do believe that people who worship idols are tragically wrong about God, but at the same time believe tolerance dictates that they not rush in and stop them.

But that's actually a problem I have with a lot of organized religion. If the whole way your faith *works* includes believing that other people are incorrect and this has tragic consequences, it's hard for me to understand why you *wouldn't* be evangelistic. "Oh, you're going to be tormented forever, but hey, that's your choice" just doesn't make any SENSE to me.

It just seems to me that either you believe that other people can be trusted to live their lives wisely without your intervention with the One True Way, or you don't. This whole "I know The Way, but I'm polite so I wait for you to come to me... but occasionally toss hissies about why you're not here yet" is confusing to me from religious people or from radfems.

Daisy Bond said...

Hmm.

Yeah, that's hard to argue with.

If the whole way your faith *works* includes believing that other people are incorrect and this has tragic consequences, it's hard for me to understand why you *wouldn't* be evangelistic. "Oh, you're going to be tormented forever, but hey, that's your choice" just doesn't make any SENSE to me.

That is a hypocritical flaw in the religious example, but radfems don't think people will go to hell for involvement BDSM. They might think people are (unknowingly) suffering in the present, but there's no eternal damnation.

It very well might be the case, though, that it's fundamentally hypocritical and illogical, and it just made sense to me in a "recognizing the pattern" way, not actually an "internally consistent reasoning" way.

Trinity said...

Daisy: Yeah, there's *precedent* for this kind of thinking. Or maybe I should say there's other examples of it, as I don't necessarily think anti-SM radfems are copying/aping/reproducing religious morality necessarily. Some may be, but saying "look, you're fundies!" is kind of like saying "look, you're colluding with the Patriarchy." I don't know where the hell they originally get it from, if anywhere.

My point posting was... look, this really doesn't make any sense. Because if you (radfems) think that SM is bad, enough to spend time and effort worrying about what it does to women, then you should be doing something about it. Or just shaking your head in private and muttering "Oy, these KIDS TODAY!" rather than wanting people to understand and believe your theory.

this Rad Fem said...

Ok, here is this Rad Fem's two cent's worth.

A society in which BDSM is seen as normal and natural is not a healthy society.

If we lived in a healthy society, the idea of BDSM would not even come up in the first place.

BDSM is here, as a manifestation of that unhealthiness, but to try to 'stop' the people who aren't being coerced into it would do more harm than the thing itself.

Do what you like, really, and pretend it all sprang up from nowhere in a vacuum, and exists in a vacuum, and doesn't mean anything. I have no power over you, but it doesn't mean I'm going to validate your life-style choices, or keep quiet when you say BDSM is the best thing in the world.

Trinity said...

This Rad Fem,

Thanks for stopping by!

"A society in which BDSM is seen as normal and natural is not a healthy society."

I think there are many things that make a society healthy or unhealthy, and the idea that a general approval or tolerance of BDSM would be such a bad thing as to render society sick all at once just seems to accord a small minority's choices a great amount of social power.

As far as "a society that considers BDSM normal and natural," I don't think we're living in one. I do think that SM is more mainstream now than it was, so there may be a trend in that direction. There are things like Dan Savage saying, "well, if you're not TOTALLY offended, why not try it?" Which is mainstreaming of a certain kind.

But I don't think that translates to widespread social acceptance, really. That doesn't take SM off the books as a mental illness. That doesn't stop people from losing child custody. That doesn't mean that employers don't panic-fire if they find out. So I think your understanding of our society as BDSM-positive is wrong.

As far as what you're saying about coercing people making it worse, yeah, I agree with you. But I still have the question: Okay, we know that if this theory is correct, BDSM is bad and people are mentally unhealthy due to patriarchal conditioning.

But now if we know we can't do anything about that because it would be coercive, why care? Why talk about it so often on blogs and all? I understand why people talked about it in the '80s -- because they were actually interested in the real-world question of whether to include leatherdykes in feminist communities and gatherings (MWMF springs to mind -- yes, they include space for leatherwomen now, but they did at least debate exclusion back then.)

But now there are few feminist spaces where SMers are not welcome. So it's not like people are having that sort of debate any more about what we do with these people.

So... why talk so much about it? I suppose it could be an effort to reach a few people who have been involved and are unhappy, and show them that there are other possibilities. But this doesn't seem like a likely explanation either, as:

1) Many anti-BDSM posts are written angrily or disdainfully, which seems like the wrong strategy to attract the attention of someone who's wavering; and

2) Even if radical feminist theory is correct, and SM is only patriarchal sexual norms writ large, SM is still sufficiently different from what most people do to be seen as deviant or odd. So it's not likely that SMers will not *know* that there is an alternative out there. We already know most people are vanilla. It's not really like BDSM groups existing to make people feel less alone, because vanilla is the default.

So... I'm still puzzled. I get why you don't want to coerce individuals, but I'm still not sure what it is that pointing out "Society is sick!" does. Most groups that do this have some kind of plan for changing society, such as legislation they want to pass. Radical feminists don't seem to have much of anything.

el squidge said...

Saying you don't want to coerce people into stopping doesn't mean you don't think you should try to convince them to stop of their own free will.

My understanding is that the radical feminists believe that the S&M is a symptom. So it's like nail-biting. You wouldn't want somebody to get arrested for nail-biting and sent to some secure facility to have aversion therapy to get them to stop biting their nails, but you could still think they should see a psychiatrist about whatever nervousness is causing them to bite their nails.

verte said...

Fantastic post and ^^^ comment there, Trinity.

I heard a story about Sheila Jeffreys at a conference a couple of weeks ago: when decrying BDSM at a meeting

Like all radical feminist theory, my problem with anti-BDSM feminist discourses is that it is just too simplistic. It relies entirely on basic, tedious gender identity politics and outmoded ideas about what a gendered sexual performance should look like.

On creating a new feminist theory of BDSM I should like to see:
1. More work on the gendered body in BDSM and its effect on what we determine as having sexual agency (which in a lot of feminist theory always comes down to politics of identity again -- the body tends to be cast aside)
2. More work on the semiotics of BDSM.
3. Affect/emotional contagion and its relationship to gender and sexual identity.
4. Marking the body and cyborgs??? (I know Ren has written terrific stuff on cyborgs/surgery in the past)

None of these things are taken into account by radical feminists. We know that sexual desire -- and indeed, many other things -- cannot always be explained by social construction. I'm not condoning an essentialist model, or saying that we are "hardwired" to perform particular sexual acts and have particular sexual fantasies, but I do think there is a danger when using a social constructivist model to talk about sexuality that it will pretend the body isn't there, that it doesn't exist, that identity ISN'T embodied and doesn't have anything to do with the body, etc etc.

verte said...

Oops! Totally forgot to finish the anecdote!

I heard a story about Sheila Jeffreys at a conference a couple of weeks ago: when decrying BDSM at a meeting an academic I know asked very politely and positively what Sheila thought a feminist sexuality WOULD look like and represent. Owing, I suspect, more than anything else to the academic's appearance (hyper-femme, tattooed) she raised her hands and said to her rapturous audience: "Sisters, sisters ... we have a traitor in the room".

Not only does this seem like quite the act of sadism, but it's always struck me that Jeffreys et al have quite the D/s dynamic with their devoted fanbase, in a way. And it IS a fanbase.

SnowdropExplodes said...

As a Christian believer, who tries to be a beacon to the world, I have to take issue with your analogy, and your understanding of "not trying to take your idols away". (Not to mention your understanding of "love the sinner, hate the sin").

The essential characteristic of a human as created by God in His/Her/It/Their image, is free will. God's great wish is to have a relationship with His/Her/It/Their creation, and Hell is ultimately the effect of cutting oneself off from God - it really is one's own choice, and not some divine punishment.

Therefore, simply taking away the idols (or whatever else is leading a person to sinful deeds) will not persuade that person to accept God or to turn away from those idols; it is only by showing them the Way and the Truth and the Life, and then hoping that they will take that Way, that they can be saved.

Two famous sayings: "A man convinced against his will, is of his own opinion still" and "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to really WANT to change", I think convey the import of this theological idea. A sinner will not change unless zie wishes to, and forcing the issue won't help matters.

With "love the sinner, hate the sin", the concept that I have always understood from this is that, just because a person does wrong, that does not make them any less of a human being, or any less deserving of the respect and dignity that goes with that (cf. John 8:3-11). For a modern example, there is the Methodist Church's work in the rehabilitation of sex offenders, whom most of society would cast out as "unclean" and less-than-human.

While we naturally work to reduce the incidences of behaviour that harms others (i.e. prevent sin), as protection of society, it is not acceptable to couple that with degrading other humans to do so.

I do see echoes of these ideas in the radfem viewpoint, but it seems to me that in place of a (mythical?) God, instead there is some ideology or (equally mythical) "ideal society" placed instead. And unfortunately, in my mind (and I suspect many others) that ties far too heavily into Leninism/Stalinism. While God is external and can be contacted one-on-one (assuming He/She/It/They exists), this "ideal society" can only be contacted or interpreted by the High Priest(esse)s of the ideology.

SnowdropExplodes said...

If we lived in a healthy society, the idea of BDSM would not even come up in the first place.

Okay, that sounds a lot like an "article of faith" to me, and not something that has in any way been proven.

It's worth noting that Shulamith Firestone had a similar argument about homosexuals (lesbians and gay men alike).

Do what you like, really, and pretend it all sprang up from nowhere in a vacuum, and exists in a vacuum, and doesn't mean anything.

I don't know of anyone who holds that idea about BDSM. If you look on any BDSM messageboard, there will be a discussion about "where did your kink come from?" and "what does it mean that I have these fantasies/desires?" and so on - the search for understanding of our own sexuality is one of the most common aspects across BDSM folks, it seems.

Of course it means "something". It's just that we disagree about what it means, and we certainly disagree that is is harmful or a symptom of a sick society. Nothing we have been shown has demonstrated any such thing, and the sheer diversity of life-experience of both tops and bottoms, really calls into question the idea that it is caused by "society".

Trinity said...

Snowdrop,

I could be wrong, but I think "pretend it all sprang up in a vacuum" is a misunderstanding/oversimplification of something I said over here, in which I stated that I don't think all of sexuality is socially constructed. My actual comments were the following:

"As I understand what anti-BDSM feminists say, the idea is usually that BDSM fantasies arise from the culture and are not genetic, personal, or otherwise inborn. Rather, we live in a culture where male dominance and female submission is glorified. Because of this, images of it are everywhere in the culture, from ads to children's stories to pornography. Girls and boys see these images and internalize the idea that domination (by men) and submission (by women) is exciting and passionate. The message that love involves pain is also present in a lot of these messages, and this is taken to explain masochism.

So a woman who likes BDSM, whatever she might think about where she got her preferences, is actually (or most likely, anyway) someone who has internalized messages about gender and gender role without knowing it. Even if she thinks society is hostile to her sexuality, she's incorrect -- it's actually exactly what society wants of women, albeit in more pronounced relief than usual.

If you see any mistakes in my understanding of the anti-SM feminist position, please feel free to correct me.

Now, my issues with it:

First, I don't really understand how female tops like me can result. On the one hand, a woman who accepts SM desires is particularly ill-suited to resist social messages -- yet on the other, if she is a top, somehow she manages to get them upside down and backwards! I've seen hand-waving suggesting that the dynamics are basically the same because someone dominates and someone submits, but I've never seen any convincing explanation for why some women like me get it backwards (even if we buy the idea that submissive MEN are slumming because being powerless like a woman is seductive somehow. Which I also don't buy.)

Second, the commonality I see between the attitude of the fans of male headship and the anti-SM feminists is that both argue that some social factor or dynamic created the sexual preference. Anti-SM feminists say that it was patriarchy; headship fans say it was the new social expectations of feminism, which *they see* as claiming that women are supposed to compete with men and be powerful.

It is of course entirely possible for one of these two positions to be right and the other to be wrong. However, I myself think that the fact that one of them is clearly so wrong as to be laughable indicates that the whole idea that sexualities are products of socialization is a bad premise to begin with.

I don't doubt that some small aspects of sexuality, like say preferences for shaven pubic areas, have something to do with culture. I just don't think that wide orientational preferences do, and I see SM as one of those.

If you're interested, there's an anti-SM feminist essay that actually sees things fairly similarly: Sandra Bartky's essay "Feminine Masochism and the Politics of Personal Transformation", in her excellent book Femininity and Domination. While I disagree with her conclusions, the essay is thoughtful and well-argued."

The response from buggle76 was:

"And can I ask- does this mean that you believe that biologically, you are like, predestined to be a "top?" That it's somewhere in your genetic makeup that you like whipping men? (Or whatever you like in BDSM). Just clarifying here. I disagree with that about 1000%, but I just want to be clear that that is your belief/opinion. You believe that social influences, culture, patriarchy, etc, doesn't have anything to do with what we get off on?"

I responded directly to that with:

"I do believe that there are inborn tendencies to eroticizing power or pain, yes. I believe this because I've known LOTS of people (a few of whom comment in the thread I linked there) who have had these feelings all their lives despite having been discouraged from having them. Like in my own life -- my parents were very big on egalitarianism, on ambition being dark, sinister, and bad. To want any kind of control over anything was to be insufficiently peaceful, a "bad Christian," etc. I honestly thought I was sick and a freak for my feelings... so the idea in the theory that girls are rewarded for them... well, while I do understand the theory I really don't think my life looked that way.

I don't know how radical a social constructionist you are or aren't, but let me ask you one thing: Do you believe that there is such a thing as inborn homosexuality? People who just know they're gay or lesbian despite society doing all it can to stop them from desiring and loving members of the same gender? I do, and one thing you notice about these people if you look at history is that for some of them, no matter how much social pressure was put onto them, they couldn't change their sexuality. To me, that indicates that it's somehow fixed. Whether there is a gene or set of them, or whether early socialization fixes orientation by an early age, or whether early hormones are part of it, I neither know nor care... but I do think there have throughout history been people with fixed sexualities.

I think that a sexual fetish for, or interest in, or fixation on, or whatever you want to call it, for BDSM is similar in some people but not all. I say this because I've known countless people who've spent the lion's share of their lives resisting BDSM sexual interests because they feel these interests are bad, sick, wrong, shameful, insufficiently feminist (I'm not just throwing that in as a dig; I know a lot of submissive women who really do worry about whether they can reconcile what excites them sexually with what they believe politically), whatever. A lot of these people have spent decades buying into the idea that they've just gotten these interests from someplace outside themselves and can change if they try hard enough.

And the thing is, I've watched that *wreck lives*. I know scads of people who left sham marriages in middle age because they just couldn't not be themselves any more.

I do think that radical feminism has done good. Dworkin and MacKinnon were pioneers, and I've never denied it. But I really don't think that they or other radical feminists were right about pornography or social pressure to eroticize domination and submission. I just don't think they're talking about things in a way that actually matches up with real people's experiences. I've been in the SM scene for many years now, and I honestly do think I know enough to believe those theories just don't a[pply in the ways they're supposed to.

As far as society having "nothing to do" with what we get off on... no, I don't believe that. What I do believe is that our sexuality is in part personal to us, a part of us, like basic features of our personality are part of us. Just like I can be calm or energetic as a matter of temperament, I can be prone to eroticizing power or not.

Now exactly what I'll DO with that capacity, I think is mediated through culture. In the current culture, I'll probably go looking for people like me and find the BDSM scene, in which certain social roles exist that map how to "do" erotic power exchange (I hate that term, but it'll do for now.) So I discover myself as "a top" where there are a lot of specific things tops are said to do -- ways they often dress, talk, ways scenes are often structured, etc. I still have a lot of latitude -- I can reject or embrace particular activities and signifiers within that. But because that's what I find when I look, I'm likely to adopt the mannerisms I'm told are "the right way" to do it -- some of them unreflectively.

And there's plenty of room THERE for me to adopt behaviors and attitudes that are sexist and creepy, particularly if I'm (say) a heterosexual male with an inclination toward dominance. And I believe THAT can and should be critiqued by feminists. Where I part ways with anti-SM radical feminist analysis is that I don't think that the interest itself is purely socially constructed."

She said in response:

"Ya know trinity, I actually considered responding to all of your many, many questions here. But then I went over to your blog, and saw that you are already posting about this thread, mocking it and insulting radical feminists. So, no thanks."

and

"And I also really wonder why you feel you need to spend so much time and energy convincing feminists that you REALLY REALLY TRULY CHOSE BDSM ALL BY YOURSELF AND THERE WERE NO SOCIAL PRESSURES NO WAY NO HOW!!!!!!!

I mean, you say you disagree with us, so fine. Why are you spending all this time getting all upset over us disagreeing with you? Why do you need to convince us? Why do you care what some random feminists think of you and your choices?"

I'm not sure if This Radical Feminist is Buggle (though I suspect she might be), but I think the comment gets right that I said I don't think eroticizing power at all is socially constructed from the ground up, but completely sidesteps the way that I discuss how any desire we do have innately/inherently is mediated by culture and thereby PARTIALLY socially constructed lower down.

Trinity said...

er, "this rad fem." I blame being lazy and not scrolling up.

Trinity said...

El Squidge:

Fair enough, but the thing is that if you notice your friend is compulsively nail-biting and you think that's bad for her, you've got one opinion of one person's behavior. There isn't a Body of Theory that says that people are tricked or duped into believing that they nail-bite freely, but actually they've been sold the idea that nail-biting is awesome (or at least that it's natural) from go.

And to me, if you DID have a theory that said nail-biting was a pervasive social ill, and one that would go away if only people stopped oppressing those who become nail-biters, then it WOULD, I think, start to look odd that you just vaguely sort of hope people will go to a shrink and put things on your blog that are usually targeted at people who already agree nailbiting is a social ill.

I mean, I just shake my head and wonder if these people have heard of the concept of harm reduction, given what their theory says BDSM is. You don't help people trapped in bad patterns/in addictions by ranting about why they don't get it. You help them by helping them to find ways to cut back/stay safe/work at their own pace to stop doing whatever it is. You treat them like their recovery is theirs to control.

And... the other thing is that I actually don't have ANY issue whatever with someone who does see a friend's BDSM as similar to nail-biting. If you personally know someone and know enough about her actual life and her specific choices to know that she's in a bad situation, that she's unhappy and in denial, etc. I don't have a problem with your opining or saying loudly indeed "Mandy's partner is taking advantage of her. She claims she likes it because she worries that he'll leave her, or wants to prove she can take it, or believes she deserves ill-treatment. I really think Mandy needs to get out of the Scene and figure out how to treat herself better."

It's when that gets universalized that I get a bee in my bonnet.

Trinity said...

Snowdrop,

I'm not sure if this is or is not common in the UK, but here in the US it's common for "Love the sinner, hate the sin" to be a slogan of anti-gay Christian churches. You "love the sinner" (don't shun gay people), but you make sure to make clear that you "hate the sin" ("witness" to them about God's supposed disapproval of their "lifestyle.")

I do think that your interpretation of the phrase makes more sense, and that many Christians don't do what we're describing. But at least here, that phrase is practically code for "We can't go around calling you a sick twisted faggot, but we have to make sure you know that as we understand it God 'hates your sin,' and so do we. Now, do you want our help changing your ways?"

Here's a couple quotes from around the Web:

"Mysterious but true is the fact that God can perfectly love and hate a person at the same time. This means He can love them as someone He created and can redeem, as well as hate them for their unbelief and sinful lifestyle. We, as imperfect human beings, cannot do this, thus we must remind ourselves to "love the sinner, hate the sin."

How exactly does that work? We hate sin by refusing to take part in it and by condemning it when we see it. Sin is to be hated, not excused or taken lightly. We love the sinner by being faithful in witnessing to them of the forgiveness that is available through Jesus Christ. A true act of love is treating someone with respect and kindness even though they know you do not approve of their lifestyle and/or choice. It is not loving to allow a person to remain stuck in sin. It is not hateful to tell a person they are in sin. In fact, the exact opposites are true."

From gotquestions.org here.

Another, this one from Exodus International, not specifically using the phrase but the idea is clear enough:

"Sometimes our love must be firm. The Christian cannot compromise God's standards or condone sin. However, it is vital that the gay friend or loved one understand that your disapproval of his sinful behavior is not a rejection of him. Maintaining God's standards often puts us in the place of drawing the line on a person because of sin. This can be painful and necessary in some instances. But we can still demonstrate love and concern for the gay person in many practical ways. Be willing to talk and listen. Don't be afraid to hug or touch. Don't exclude the homosexual person from your life and activities. He or she may resent your stand on sin, and may isolate or withdraw from you. Yet you need not be the one to turn your back on him or her. You may be an important link between that individual and God if not now, perhaps later. So guard your witness. Maintain God's standards, but love the gay person, too."

Another:

"According to Kate, a spokesperson for Grace Unlimited (a ministry that helps homosexuals leave the gay lifestyle), it's important to remember that God condemns homosexual behavior, not homosexual people. Because of his love for us, he prohibits behaviors he knows will harm us. So, instead of responding with disgust or condemnation, suggests Linda Schultz, who ministers to many lesbian friends, we need to exemplify God's love for the person."

I don't know if you weren't aware of this, Snowdrop, or if you were just saying that you disagree with it. But it's common here.

Trinity said...

"It's worth noting that Shulamith Firestone had a similar argument about homosexuals (lesbians and gay men alike)."

So did Betty Friedan, if I recall right. Anyone remember "the lavender menace?"

One of Gayle Rubin's essays from the '80's contains a whole bunch of quotes from Marxists who claimed that homosexuality was a sickness that came from capitalism. It's not a new thing for radicals of all stripes to claim that various sexual "deviances" are reactionary, retrograde, or decadent, It's the same shit on a different day.

Trinity said...

"Owing, I suspect, more than anything else to the academic's appearance (hyper-femme, tattooed) she raised her hands and said to her rapturous audience: "Sisters, sisters ... we have a traitor in the room".

Not only does this seem like quite the act of sadism, but it's always struck me that Jeffreys et al have quite the D/s dynamic with their devoted fanbase, in a way. And it IS a fanbase."

Exactly. I mean, with Dworkin, too -- it's as if she's the only one who could possibly have written so insightfully. And, well, I do think she writes very powerfully. But when you look at it again, when you're not enraptured by the cadence of it all, there's very little cogent argument in any of it. It's very Personality, very sparkly. Very Sarah Palin in a way. It gets you fired up, but... I go back and look at it so many years later and I just find myself going "wait, WHAT? is THAT all she said? With no proof? Damn. Why was I ever half-convinced?"

Trinity said...

"Owing, I suspect, more than anything else to the academic's appearance (hyper-femme, tattooed) she raised her hands and said to her rapturous audience: "Sisters, sisters ... we have a traitor in the room".

Not only does this seem like quite the act of sadism, but it's always struck me that Jeffreys et al have quite the D/s dynamic with their devoted fanbase, in a way. And it IS a fanbase."

Exactly. I mean, with Dworkin, too -- it's as if she's the only one who could possibly have written so insightfully. And, well, I do think she writes very powerfully. But when you look at it again, when you're not enraptured by the cadence of it all, there's very little cogent argument in any of it. It's very Personality, very sparkly. Very Sarah Palin in a way. It gets you fired up, but... I go back and look at it so many years later and I just find myself going "wait, WHAT? is THAT all she said? With no proof? Damn. Why was I ever half-convinced?"

Daisy Bond said...

Trinity,

My point posting was... look, this really doesn't make any sense. Because if you (radfems) think that SM is bad, enough to spend time and effort worrying about what it does to women, then you should be doing something about it. Or just shaking your head in private and muttering "Oy, these KIDS TODAY!" rather than wanting people to understand and believe your theory.

Okay, you're right. I lay my quibbles to rest.

Daisy Bond said...

Hi Snowdrop,

Trinity summed up what I was trying to get at with the "hate the sin, love the sinner" thing. I was specifically thinking about how heterosexist fundamentalists treat queers -- their use of the phrase is omnipresent here in the US, but I know more reasonable interpretations exist. I should have clearly criticized the ultra-conservative literalists, not just "religion." So my apologies for that. (I'm a practicing Jew, by the way, so it really is a glaring oversight.)

Trinity said...

DB,

Quibble away! Discussion is good. (And "quibble" is a cool word.)

this Rad Fem said...

“I think there are many things that make a society healthy or unhealthy, and the idea that a general approval or tolerance of BDSM would be such a bad thing as to render society sick all at once just seems to accord a small minority's choices a great amount of social power.”

I am not saying tolerance of BDSM directly causes our sick society, but that it is a very strong symptom of a society were hierarchy, inequality and degradation are seen as the norm of human relations. Accepting BDSM is accepting this status quo.

“But now if we know we can't do anything about that because it would be coercive, why care? Why talk about it so often on blogs and all?”

Well we can do something about it, by challenging all inequality, including that in BDSM, we are putting forward the idea that other possibilities are available. I do not agree with you that BDSM is not mainstream; cruelty and humiliation is increasingly mainstream, just look at reality TV, look at Abu Graib; pornography is becoming more mainstreamed, and more and more cruel (I doubt Robert Jensen is popular in your neck of the woods, but I found his book ‘Getting Off’ pretty convincing about the increasing cruelty of, particularly, Gonzo porn - where ‘safe, sane and consentual’ doesn’t even get a look in). The ‘mild’ end of BDSM, the dressing-up-and-spanking, is mainstream, in advertising, in mainstream sex advice columns, in fashion. The overall message is that inequality (particularly female equality) is sexy, and as a pro-sex, anti-porn radical feminist I wish to challenge this construct of human sexuality.

“So it's not like people are having that sort of debate any more about what we do with these people.”

But what are we doing right now then! :)

“So... why talk so much about it? [...] Many anti-BDSM posts are written angrily or disdainfully, which seems like the wrong strategy to attract the attention of someone who's wavering.”

Well, frankly, a lot of the pro-prostitution/pornography/BDSM bloggers are pretty vile about radical feminists.

“So it's not likely that SMers will not *know* that there is an alternative out there.”

I think you underestimate, especially for young women, the pressure to conform, and the current mainstream sexuality they are pressured to conform to is laced with S&M. It’s about offering an alternative, letting women know they don’t have to conform to this, showing that they are not on their own if they are uncomfortable with what is being offered to them as ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’.

verte said...

this rad fem:

it is a very strong symptom of a society were hierarchy, inequality and degradation are seen as the norm of human relations. Accepting BDSM is accepting this status quo.

So what would the "status quo" be in a radical feminist world? And why on earth should every tiny aspect of BDSM involve any of those things you mention? I don't really know what BDSM has to do with inequality, other than that BDSMers struggle to gain sexual citizenship because we sit somewhere between "lifestyle choice" and "sexual identity" -- at least in the UK. What is it that makes you assume sexual partners who have kinky sex are "unequal"? Who's on top? Who's orgasming? Who gives and gets pleasure..? A little bemused here. What makes "equal" sex?

And I'm convinced Robert Jensen is having a linguistic jerk off when he writes, his books are so lurid.

As to your last part ... oh dear.

I think you underestimate, especially for young women, the pressure to conform, and the current mainstream sexuality they are pressured to conform to is laced with S&M. It’s about offering an alternative, letting women know they don’t have to conform to this, showing that they are not on their own if they are uncomfortable with what is being offered to them as ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’.

'Abnormal', 'Unnatural' ... well, those are some words used to describe "sadomasochism" (a word I no longer use if I can help it) in clinical terms. If the rest of the world thinks BDSM is a "normal", "natural" sexuality, why are we at risk of being penalised under law and having our lives ruined for taking part in BDSM acts?

I do know precisely what you mean about pop culture taking on some of the paradigms of BDSM and using them as a way of appearing transgressive. Actually, the way BDSM's represented in most mainstream media and pornography really irritates me too -- it bears little to no relation to any BDSM experience I've ever had, nor any I intend to. Personally I would say: what is the alternative to sexuality as portrayed through most mainstream pop media?

But as to your final point, you say there's an alternative you clearly have in mind. Over the years I've asked countless times for radical feminists to explain what an ideal feminist sexuality would look like, feel like? What would it represent?. I've never had one answer. Ever. Not from books, not from bloggers, not through heated debate at conferences and activist events. Care to give me an answer?

SnowdropExplodes said...

I do not agree with you that BDSM is not mainstream; cruelty and humiliation is increasingly mainstream, just look at reality TV, look at Abu Graib;

"Increasingly mainstream" since when? They have always played a part in public entertainment, but not in any kind of consensual way. It may be fair to say that sadism is increasingly visible (but I doubt it), but masochism, Dominance&Submission, erotic bondage - these things are not anywhere seen as mainstream, even when they appear in mainstream advertising, it is because they are seen as transgressive. BDSM, inasmuch as it appears in any kind of positive light in the mainstream, is treated in the same way that the Carry On films used to treat homosexuality and cross-dressing. Okay to laugh about, but not okay to do in real-life.

pornography is becoming more mainstreamed, and more and more cruel (I doubt Robert Jensen is popular in your neck of the woods, but I found his book ‘Getting Off’ pretty convincing about the increasing cruelty of, particularly, Gonzo porn - where ‘safe, sane and consentual’ doesn’t even get a look in).

Talk to Renegade Evolution about whether gonzo is SSC or not.

The overall message is that inequality (particularly female equality) is sexy, and as a pro-sex, anti-porn radical feminist I wish to challenge this construct of human sexuality.

Well, now you're taking things away from what BDSM actually is, and instead projecting onto it what the mainstream media do with our culture. You might as well assume that every single Muslim woman is oppressed and forced to wear the niqab, because that's what the Western media would so often have you believe. When you listen to actual Muslim women, that kind of evaporates!

In real-life BDSM relationships, there is no inequality of status between the partners, just a difference in roles - "from each as according to hir ability, to each as according to hir need". It is very worthwhile checking out relationship counsellor Al Turtle's take on the difference between a (patriarchal) "Master/Slave" relationship, versus the BDSM "Dominant/Submissive" relationship (it's point 3 in the link).

It is a complete myth that BDSM is about inequality.

I think you underestimate, especially for young women, the pressure to conform, and the current mainstream sexuality they are pressured to conform to is laced with S&M. It’s about offering an alternative, letting women know they don’t have to conform to this, showing that they are not on their own if they are uncomfortable with what is being offered to them as ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’.

You should hear the stories of pressure from those who actually are into BDSM, to conform and not be. Pressure directly from mainstream society. BDSMers have ahd to make a conscious choice, because we are well outside of the "normal", "natural", "inevitable" type of power-dynamic (which is what Al Turtle describes as "Master/Slave" in the links I gave above). Most women in BDSM know they have an alternative - it is just an alternative that doesn't work for them. this is why we BDSMers get so cross when radical feminists tell us to "examine" our choices - we've examined, and reached a different conclusion. This whole thing about BDSM being patriarchal and hierarchical just doesn't reflect the real, lived lives of those in it!

this Rad Fem said...

"But as to your final point, you say there's an alternative you clearly have in mind. Over the years I've asked countless times for radical feminists to explain what an ideal feminist sexuality would look like, feel like? What would it represent?. I've never had one answer. Ever. Not from books, not from bloggers, not through heated debate at conferences and activist events. Care to give me an answer?"

Well yes, that's the hardest part. I don't know exactly what a Utopia would be like to live in because one hasn't existed yet. But I find it impossible to believe that it would involve eroticised and ritualised torture as a recreational activity, no matter how much one can potentially ‘get off’ on it. I find it impossible to believe that people would find the idea of hurting other people, or of being hurt, erotic.

Try some feminist Utopian science fiction; you can’t have a truly free sexuality without having a truly free life first. That is the problem I, and I think many other radical feminists, have with the BDSM community’s (or however you would refer to it, I know ‘you’ are not an homogenous mass) claims for BDSM, it places sex in a vacuum - women do not have equality in any area of society, but suddenly, when it comes to sex, they are equal, but only when they are consenting to BDSM.

“And why on earth should every tiny aspect of BDSM involve any of those things you mention?”

Er, what are you doing that you call BDSM that doesn’t involve hierarchy, inequality and degradation? Bondage? Domination? Discipline? Sadism? Masochism? aren’t those things kind of predicated on hierarchy, inequality and degradation?

“And I'm convinced Robert Jensen is having a linguistic jerk off when he writes, his books are so lurid.”

Well bully for you, I found him to be very brave and honest; and even if he had a massive erection the whole time, it wouldn’t change the truth of what he was observing about pornography.

SnowdropExplodes said...

On the "love the sinner" thing: I wasn't aware that it was so closely associated with homophobic beliefs in the USA.

I really have no truck with the anti-gay sentiments of some Christians, and in fact, there is a passage in the Bible where one woman makes what amounts to a marriage vow (Ruth, to her mother-in-law Naomi). Yes, at the end of the book of Ruth, Ruth gets married to someone else, but that was as a means of securing her financial security as much as anything else.

But, to some extent, in other examples of sin (things that secular society also regards as sinful, I'm thinking), those quoted passages aren't all that far from my own attitude. The thing is, the "blind literalists" want to use it to "name and shame" while at the same time pretending to be cool.

Daisy Bond: no worries, everyone in the world (even me!) has been careless with language at some point or another!

SnowdropExplodes said...

Er, what are you doing that you call BDSM that doesn’t involve hierarchy, inequality and degradation? Bondage? Domination? Discipline? Sadism? Masochism? aren’t those things kind of predicated on hierarchy, inequality and degradation?

Bondage does not involve hierarchy or degradation. It involves inequality of freedom of movement, but not inequality of value.

Domination and Submission do not involve degradation, for that would destroy the very thing on which D/s is predicated (which is that the Submissive is valued)! Is there a hierarchy in D/s? Well, that is a rather involved debate, but the short answer is, "not really, no". Again, the Al Turtle links help explain why not. And is there inequality? Only in the same way that there is inequality between a wide receiver and a lineman (or, UK sports, a striker and a goalkeeper)

S/M involves only that same inequality (although perhaps a better American football analogy would be a WR and a QB, since neither can get what they want without the other's performance. There is no hierarchy in S/M, although there are "active" and "passive" roles. Each partner is there to serve the other's desires, neither has any precedence over the other. And again, there is no degradation, because as already explained, they are equals in the partnership!

verte said...

S/M involves only that same inequality (although perhaps a better American football analogy would be a WR and a QB, since neither can get what they want without the other's performance. There is no hierarchy in S/M, although there are "active" and "passive" roles.

I strongly disagree with this, actually. I don't believe there is anything passive in being a masochist, a bottom, submissive, etc. Nothing at all.

Everyone will have their own words to talk about BDSM. There is no one way of going about things, of being sexual, of having particular desires.

For me, a feminist sexuality (and indeed, feminism in general) is not about "I/you can't", but "I will". I think that's what the feminist sex wars really from, and they contain so many either/ors. And it's never that simple.

Trinity said...

This Rad Fem,

Thanks for responding so civilly. I really appreciate it.

"Accepting BDSM is accepting this status quo."

Thing is, though, even if we accept that BDSM comes from patriarchy (as I said above, I don't) it still seems like a really odd thing to pick on. It's consensual, it's negotiated in ways that standard vanilla heterosexuality isn't. Why expend effort on what, on your view, a few misguided people agree to do? Wouldn't it be more productive and sensible to reach out to the wide swaths of young straight women who are obviously uncomfortable with their boyfriends, rather than BDSM women, who are frequently much older and wiser in the ways of dating and less likely to be hoodwinked?

"Well we can do something about it, by challenging all inequality, including that in BDSM, we are putting forward the idea that other possibilities are available."

The thing is, I don't really understand who thinks other possibilities aren't available. You're right that BDSM is becoming more socially acceptable, but I for one have never seen people claiming that it's an essential part of a relationship to play with handcuffs or erotic pain. BDSM is considered a kink, not the norm. That implies that people know that there's something else out there, to me.

"cruelty and humiliation is increasingly mainstream, just look at reality TV, look at Abu Graib; pornography is becoming more mainstreamed, and more and more cruel (I doubt Robert Jensen is popular in your neck of the woods, but I found his book ‘Getting Off’ pretty convincing about the increasing cruelty of, particularly, Gonzo porn - where ‘safe, sane and consentual’ doesn’t even get a look in)."

Abu Ghraib had to do with what happens when state power becomes too great and cruelty is justified in the name of the state. That doesn't have anything to do with pornography or with BDSM.

As far as "safe, sane, and consensual not getting a look in" in gonzo porn, I can't speak to that as well as, say, Ren can. But from reading her (which is of course not the whole story, as she's only one person) the harshness and cruelty sounds like a persona. She's often described how friendly, personable, and considerate co-workers have been until the cameras are rolling.

Which may not be convincing to you since you may not buy that context matters, but I (and others here, if I may be so arrogant as to speak for them) do think it does.

"Well, frankly, a lot of the pro-prostitution/pornography/BDSM bloggers are pretty vile about radical feminists."

Fair enough, although I don't think vileness is confined to one camp or another. Some of the most protracted vileness I've seen has been specifically aimed at women who were radical feminists and left those communities. Some of the things I've seen have truly flabbergasted me, there. I'm fortunate it didn't happen when I left too, though that's probably because people were expecting it.

"I think you underestimate, especially for young women, the pressure to conform, and the current mainstream sexuality they are pressured to conform to is laced with S&M."

Yes, those messages are out there, but I really think it's conflating unrelated things to look at a sexual subculture where intense emphasis is placed on consent, negotiation, and personal preferences and not see a distinction between that and a vanilla boyfriend who says "but baby, all the porn stars shave."

I also think that teaching women to resist pressure is not just about telling them what their options are, but also helping teach them to be assertive. Not because being pressured is their fault if it happens, but because helping someone to learn to stand up for herself gives her a skill she can use over and over in her life. And I think that for all that radical feminists say they're helping people to resist, it's *really strange* that the straightforward "here's how to say no and get uptake" isn't part of that.

SnowdropExplodes said...

I strongly disagree with this, actually. I don't believe there is anything passive in being a masochist, a bottom, submissive, etc. Nothing at all.

Correction accepted - although, I did put quote marks around those terms, to indicate a perceived (rather than actual) distinction.

Trinity said...

"Well yes, that's the hardest part. I don't know exactly what a Utopia would be like to live in because one hasn't existed yet. But I find it impossible to believe that it would involve eroticised and ritualised torture as a recreational activity, no matter how much one can potentially ‘get off’ on it. I find it impossible to believe that people would find the idea of hurting other people, or of being hurt, erotic."

This Radical Feminist,

I think that some aspects of BDSM would change in Utopia, but that it would still exist and be recognizably similar to what exists now.

Especially with regard to eroticizing pain. I don't know if you've ever experienced erotic pain, or watched others who are, but the thing about it is that for most people most of the time, it doesn't feel physically uncomfortable. SM is often done very carefully, where stimulation that begins feeling very sensual is gradually ramped up. When this happens, the person receiving the stimulation experiences it as overwhelming pleasure, rather than as the physical discomfort that would come with suddenly being slapped or hit.

Not all SM is done this way, but I suspect in Utopia there'd still be some people who'd do this. Especially since, at least in my experience, there are some people who really like this and discover they do at a very young age.

What I think wouldn't exist, or at least would be rare and odd, in Utopia would be specific fetishes that have to do with people's social status, with history, etc. So I don't think you'd see race play, Nazi play, female supremacy as revenge for patriarchy, D/s structured around male headship, etc.

But masochism I do think you'd see. On D/s, I think it might be rare or nonexistent *if* one already accepts that any power-over dynamics are bad. But I don't think all are. Parents have power over their children that they ideally use benevolently, teachers have power over their students that they ideally use benevolently too. I don't think that power can be eliminated totally, even in Utopia. So I do think that in Utopia some people would eroticize power, but I think that what they do with it might look very different from what we do with it today.

I'm not concerned with making what we do today look MORE like Utopia, though. I think that we play with the horror we see in the world because it exists and we have to struggle to deal with it in our lives. (If this sounds to you like I'm backtracking and saying it's all socially constructed, I'm not. I'm saying one reason people might voluntarily choose it is that they personally want to work out what power means in their lives.)

I think BDSM is one of the most constructive ways I can think of to deal with the dark side of human history and human nature, so whitewashing it before we get to Utopia strikes me as misguided, if not dangerous.

Trinity said...

"'Abnormal', 'Unnatural' ... well, those are some words used to describe "sadomasochism" (a word I no longer use if I can help it) in clinical terms."

And I use the term proudly, because I think that "BDSM" was coined in part to make us sound more palatable to people who don't like us anyway. I don't have a problem with others using it, and I'll use it when talking about everyone who does the kind of stuff we do because I don't want to call anyone anything they don't want to be called... but I find the term oddly assimilationist, bending over backwards to sound nice to people who've already made up their minds and decided what my life is like and whether my relationships are loving or my interactions are positive.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Er, what are you doing that you call BDSM that doesn’t involve hierarchy, inequality and degradation? Bondage? Domination? Discipline? Sadism? Masochism? aren’t those things kind of predicated on hierarchy, inequality and degradation?

While not all of those terms are ones I'd apply to anything in my life, none of the ones that are even remotely applicable have a damn thing to do with them, let alone are predicated on them.

My experience of anti-BDSM discourse, however, is that it is predicated on heirarchy of correct sexualities, inequal treatment of deviants that ranges as far as considering them subhuman or brainwashed pawns, and constant degradation of non-normative sexuality.

I spent most of my life furtively experimenting with my BDSM inclinations, suppressing them because it was clear that if I expressed them I would be [even more of (in my teen years)] a complete social pariah and treated as a defective, and finally coming to one of the most satisfactory, rewarding, and egalitarian relationships of my life -- as a collared submissive.

And after having someone I thought of as a friend try to attack me and shame me for that sexuality yesterday -- on the apparent basis that social hostility to my preference would leave me weak and vulnerable to such strikes -- doesn't leave me with much patience for the notion that "current mainstream sexuality" is honestly encouraging me to be the way I am. If it were, someone wouldn't think it was such a sweet lever to hurt me with, would they?

this Rad Fem said...

Hello everyone and thank you for the debate. I think this brings us back to the reason that radical feminists aren’t willing to interfere (or propose interfering) in people’s individual sex lives; you are all obviously, from your posts here, in control of you lives.

But I am still incredibly wary, and I just cannot buy that BDSM is completely safe and not open to abuse; all human interactions are open to abuse, and a culture of ‘abuse doesn’t occur’ makes that easier.

I am coming at this from an anti-porn stance; when anything has a financial incentive added, it becomes more open to abuse. With BDSM pornography, the financial incentive is to create as extreme an image as possible, because that’s where the money is. I know some of the larger brands include pre and post interviews, but again, there’s a financial incentive involved.

A lot of pornography is just plain sadistic, and it’s hard to imagine that a lot of the men (and women) watching it aren’t just plain old fashioned sadists.

Re. gonzo/SSC

I don’t wish to derail this thread, but since other posters have bought it up ...

There is a documentary that came out on UK TV called Hardcore, which followed a woman called Felicity who travelled to LA to take part in the porn industry.

She started out saying she wouldn’t do anal, she wouldn’t do gang bangs. Her manager/pimp (who according to the documentary makers, although it didn’t appear in the doc itself, coerced her to have sex with him) wore her down with constant verbal abuse and took her to see a gang bang being filmed.

He then took her to meet Max Hardcore, the first meeting involved him sticking his dick in her. Later, during filming, Felicity ran of set because MH had forced his penis down her throat hard enough to choke her. Her followed her into a bedroom and tried to persuade her to go back. He started out flattering her, telling her she was special and unique, when that didn’t work, he started screaming and swearing at her. At that point, the camera crew intervened and got her out of there.

MH is one of the big names in gonzo, if that’s the way he behaves in front of a documentary crew what is he doing when there isn’t one there? I have heard too many examples of women’s bad treatment to believe it isn’t the norm; lots of abusive men can be absolutely charming when they need to be, that’s how they get away with it for so long.

this Rad Fem said...

@snowdropexplodes

“Bondage does not involve hierarchy or degradation. It involves inequality of freedom of movement, but not inequality of value.

Domination and Submission do not involve degradation [...]”

And this is where it gets difficult for someone on the outside of it to understand. You use sporting and co-operation analogies, but actual BDSM activities don’t include (for example) one person doing the washing up and the other person doing the drying (but I’m sure there’s someone somewhere with a fetish for washing up!)

Take for example, one person wearing a collar and being led on a leash, the desire for this activity is not randomly generated; in the wider world, in the public consensus, wearing a collar and being led on a leash is humiliating, it is one person having dominance over another, and if that wasn’t the case it wouldn’t be desirable as a BDSM practice. You can say that the consent removes the humiliation, but the desire for the activity is the involvement of the humiliation itself.

This just doesn’t all add up to me. What is the real difference between some one roleplaying 24/7 that they are a sub-human object that needs to be abused, and really believing that one is a sub-human object that needs to be abused?

this Rad Fem said...

@Trinity

Re Utopias, I agree creating a superficial surface appearance that everything is ok isn’t going to actually improve anything, but I am interested in more than surface appearances, and I’m sure you are not trying to relegate people’s sexual relationships to the purely superficial.

“Especially with regard to eroticizing pain.”

If it’s about the sensations then why is there all the ritualised song-and-dance around it? Why the conformity of costumes, settings, roles, rituals, why the yes sir/master/mistress?

“What I think wouldn't exist, or at least would be rare and odd, in Utopia would be specific fetishes that have to do with people's social status, with history, etc”

I agree with you here.

“Parents have power over their children that they ideally use benevolently, teachers have power over their students that they ideally use benevolently too.”

There are co-operative ways to raise and educate children too. Children’s rights are the next big issue I think, but that’s another topic entirely.

“I think BDSM is one of the most constructive ways I can think of to deal with the dark side of human history and human nature, so whitewashing it before we get to Utopia strikes me as misguided, if not dangerous.”

No, trying to change things is the most constructive way of dealing with it. That’s why I’m a radical feminist, and why I’m also an environmental activist and a children’s rights activist etc. As I said at the top of this post, it’s not about appearances, it’s about actively trying to change things.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

but actual BDSM activities don’t include (for example) one person doing the washing up and the other person doing the drying (but I’m sure there’s someone somewhere with a fetish for washing up!)

Funny, my actual BDSM activities have included folding paper towels to sop up excess stain in my partner's carpentry project.

this Rad Fem said...

"Funny, my actual BDSM activities have included folding paper towels to sop up excess stain in my partner's carpentry project."

But what actually made it BDSM, apart from you identifying yourself as a BDSMer? I am genuinely interested to know.

SnowdropExplodes said...

This Rad Fem:


And this is where it gets difficult for someone on the outside of it to understand.

Perhaps that would be a good reason for those on the outside, not to pass judgement upon the social causes of, and the social status of, BDSM? or at least, not to do so hastily. I honestly feel that a lot of the points Trinity, verte and I (and others) are covering in explaining these issues, is BDSM 101. The same level of discourse that would lead people to direct a man to check out "Feminism 101".

You use sporting and co-operation analogies, but actual BDSM activities don’t include (for example) one person doing the washing up and the other person doing the drying (but I’m sure there’s someone somewhere with a fetish for washing up!)

I'm currently writing a (non-erotic) novel based on the lives of some of my friends in BDSM (plus a little bit of wish-fulfilment, I admit). In it, the Dominant partner enjoys cooking, and insists on doing that, even though the Submissive partner insists that it "should" be her job; but she is given the task of washing up as a service role that pleases her desires (even though, in the novel, they already possess a dishwasher as well). What makes it a BDSM activity is that it is a role or task assigned to her by her partner. If he said he wanted to do the washing up, and she should do the cooking, then that would be BDSM, too. But, for both partners, it becomes a conduit by which love, and their relationship to one another, can be expressed.

Take for example, one person wearing a collar and being led on a leash, the desire for this activity is not randomly generated; in the wider world, in the public consensus, wearing a collar and being led on a leash is humiliating, it is one person having dominance over another, and if that wasn’t the case it wouldn’t be desirable as a BDSM practice. You can say that the consent removes the humiliation, but the desire for the activity is the involvement of the humiliation itself.

You are right. Humiliation, for some people, is an erotic sensation. However, there is a huge gulf between "humiliation" and "degradation", which is the term you used before. I frequently humiliate my partner, but I never ever degrade her. The phrase I use to describe what I think happens is this: "I do not destroy her dignity; she gives it to me and I take it from her. I keep it safe for her, and then give it back to her when we're done." That is, in my eyes, she never becomes less of a human being or less worthy of respect - but she gets to experience the depths of emotion that she wishes to, and I get to get off on seeing her experience those emotions.

This just doesn’t all add up to me. What is the real difference between some one roleplaying 24/7 that they are a sub-human object that needs to be abused, and really believing that one is a sub-human object that needs to be abused?

Well, in the first instance, it's very hard to maintain that roleplay 24/7 in modern society. Most households need two incomes these days! Secondly, on an emotional level, it's not really sustainable either, and people who fantasise about it often get laughed at on BDSM forums if they talk about making it a reality. Thirdly, as I explained above, "sub-human" just never creeps into the equation in any real sense. Fourthly, there is no abuse, although we might term it "use" rather than "make love" - it is still, at its essence, a loving interaction that is focussed on the desires and needs of the other person. Fifthly, when we talk about a "slave" being "owned" and an "object", an analogy I often use is to a classic racing car that is kept by its owner in peak condition. Now, when the owner takes her car out onto the race track, she will drive it hard and to its limits, because that is when a race car performs at its best. But you can bet that she values it highly, and will feel every slightest scratch and will, after the race, be anxious to make sure the car is okay, and will make sure it is ready to go and in peak condition, just as soon as she can.

But I am still incredibly wary, and I just cannot buy that BDSM is completely safe and not open to abuse; all human interactions are open to abuse, and a culture of ‘abuse doesn’t occur’ makes that easier.

There is no such culture of "abuse doesn't occur". There is a culture of "abuse isn't BDSM", and in my explanations above I hope you can see how we make that distinction: in BDSM, the focus is on one's partner's needs and desires; in abuse, the focus is only on the abuser's desires. That sometimes abusers use BDSM as a cloak to try to justify their abuse is indeed tragic, and BDSMers do not find it acceptable that they do so. But, equally, we are very aware of their attempts to do so and their attempts to prey on young Submissive women, which is why again, on BDSM forums you will frequently find warnings against bad practices (such as a "Dom" who tries to cut off contact with friends or other BDSMers), and condemnation of actions that seem to us abusive (for example, lashing out in anger instead of in a controlled fashion).

If it’s about the sensations then why is there all the ritualised song-and-dance around it? Why the conformity of costumes, settings, roles, rituals, why the yes sir/master/mistress?

Well, I disagree entirely that there is any such conformity. While going to a fetish club usually requires that one matches a dress code of "fetish gear", this is more to stop random "vanillas" wandering in and being a) shocked by or b) inappropriately interfering with, the genuine sadomasochists who are inside. Roleplay, and D/s (which is the yes sir/ma'am business), are separate entities entirely from SM, although admittedly, there is considerable overlap between the two. Rituals are one very narrow form of BDSM, and while there are cultures built around BDSM rituals (for example, the Goreans - BDSM's very own version of Scientology, in that it's a belief system set up by a crap sci-fi writer!) - ultimately, any rituals a couple engages in will be unique to them, because they are what works (one might as well ask about the conformity of rituals in vanilla relationships, too!)

I don't wish to appear rude, This Rad Fem, but it seems to me as though most of your information about BDSM has come from porn and/or the Mainstream Media's misrepresentation of us.

Rosa said...

"But I am still incredibly wary, and I just cannot buy that BDSM is completely safe and not open to abuse; all human interactions are open to abuse, and a culture of ‘abuse doesn’t occur’ makes that easier."

This Rad Fem - nothing is completely safe, and I'm sure abuse does occur disguised as BDSM, but abuse also occurs in non-BDSM relationships. In fact the emphasis on consent - explicit, negotiated consent - that is critical in BDSM weighs against that. The issue to my mind is informed consent rather than the acts themselves - what I mean is, the things we do as BDSM, without consent yes would be abuse, assault, etc - but sexual intercourse without consent is rape.

Trinity said...

"But I am still incredibly wary, and I just cannot buy that BDSM is completely safe and not open to abuse; all human interactions are open to abuse, and a culture of ‘abuse doesn’t occur’ makes that easier."

I can see why you'd feel that way; SM can involve messing around with some very intense feelings and connections, and that does involve risk. I believe that it's everyone's own choice how much risk they want to take in their lives, and there's nothing wrong with not taking risks, or with saying that you don't deem them wise.

There are two reasons I don't agree with your wariness myself, though: One, nothing is completely safe and not open to abuse. One of the things I do think radical feminism had right was the way it pointed out that even dynamics that look non-threatening or "normal" can actually hide power structures that harm people.

And the thing is, I think that it's impossible, or at least hugely prohibitively difficult, to excise all of those dynamics from your interactions. I think that making the ones you can make negotiated and transparent is often a better solution than trying to get rid of them all. I've seen a lot of unacknowledged power dynamics happen in spaces where theoretically no one has power. And I find that rather crazy-making, because it's easy for someone who's really abusive and nasty to say "Power? I don't have any power! We all agreed nobody would."

Second, while I do think that some of the things we play around with in BDSM are risky, I think a lot of people have an idea of it that focuses on the most extreme manifestations. People talk about "masters and slaves," and don't talk nearly as much about the people who like to give up control for an hour of fun. They talk about really heavy masochists, rather than talking about someone who thinks some whippings with very soft leather feels like sexy, intense massages.

And the thing is, I don't think people are *wrong* to talk about both -- hell, I play rather heavily with my partner, and that might bother some people, and I understand why. But the thing is, I think something gets lost when we talk about the heavy stuff almost exclusively. Like the things I do with my partner -- we started out much lighter, and the more he liked, the more we tried.

And I think the fact that relationships evolve gets lost, or turned into something sinister where lighter SM or D/s gets looked at as a kind of gateway drug, where that doesn't really match my experience. My experience is that people take things slow and try more, but not that they inevitably feel compelled or pressured to do more and more. I'm sure some people do, but I don't think that gets discussed in a way that's entirely fair.

I'm going to go take my puppy to the park to play now, and will have more comments when I return. You said you're glad for the civilized debate, and I am too.

Trinity said...

"I'm currently writing a (non-erotic) novel based on the lives of some of my friends in BDSM (plus a little bit of wish-fulfilment, I admit). In it, the Dominant partner enjoys cooking, and insists on doing that, even though the Submissive partner insists that it "should" be her job; but she is given the task of washing up as a service role that pleases her desires (even though, in the novel, they already possess a dishwasher as well). What makes it a BDSM activity is that it is a role or task assigned to her by her partner. If he said he wanted to do the washing up, and she should do the cooking, then that would be BDSM, too. But, for both partners, it becomes a conduit by which love, and their relationship to one another, can be expressed."

I don't think that's quite it, SD. Two people could just decide who does which chores without that having to do with D/s at all. What makes it D/s is the way it's imbued with ritual: suddenly, the laundry or the dishes aren't some chore that simply needs to be done, but something that has a sexy meaning or a personal meaning: It's done as a service.

This is actually one of the things I was uneasy about when I first heard of D/s. Not because I thought of it as sexist (after all, I'm female and dominant and usually date men, and there isn't a sexist history of MEN being relegated to the domestic sphere), but because it sounded unfair. I like to "be unfair" and "be mean" in sex, where everyone's enjoying it, but that seemed like something else.

But what I came to realize was that, first of all, assigning my partner a chore I don't like and he doesn't mind doesn't necessarily mean I don't do chores. Maybe he gets the dishes and I still do the wash! And second, I found that the idea is less to saddle one person with all the work and more... hey, dishes are annoying. But someone has to do them. Why not make that a ritual, something that's sexy because the dominant one comes and inspects them and gives a reward? To me (and of course, everyone's different) it's much more a way of making annoying parts of daily life attractive than anything else.

Trinity said...

"If it’s about the sensations then why is there all the ritualised song-and-dance around it? Why the conformity of costumes, settings, roles, rituals, why the yes sir/master/mistress?"

As SD mentioned, you are actually talking about two things here, things that usually go together but needn't.

One is SM, "pain play," etc. which is all the stuff that involves anything from intense sensation to actual pain. (Though like I said, I think it's important to remember that intense sensation can be all someone's going for, and frequently is.)

One is D/s (domination and submission), which is a power dynamic that people set up. Someone can call someone Sir or Ma'am, kneel at attention in front of them, walk on their leash, whatever have you without any pain being involved.

And SM doesn't have to involve domination and submission either. I like certain kinds of intense sensation sometimes, but as far as roles go, I prefer the dominant role. So when I would like my partner to twist my nipple because I think it feels good, I'm not going to be saying "Yes Sir" or "Yes Ma'am" or obeying commands. I just like how it feels.

As far as submission and why people do it, part of it is that people sometimes like to be relieved of responsibility. Sometimes it feels good to just let things happen, if you know that you are safe to let your hair down. And like I said, much of the time someone is only submitting for a small amount of time.

There are several people here who do D/s as a long-term thing (and I'm one of them, although the steady dynamic I have with my partner is pretty loose/mild), but there are many more out there who don't do so. Either they don't like it, or they think it comes with the risk of making the relationship too lopsided too much of the time.

As far as gender and D/s, I do have some observations about it, though I only know about female dominant and male submissive dynamics, since that's most of what I've done. One thing I notice is that a lot of submissive men feel strongly pressured to be the masculine ideal our society presents. They have to be strong and self-reliant all the time, not show their emotions, and not behave in ways labeled "feminine." One thing I've noticed that a lot of my partners have felt is that being with me is a place where they don't have to "be men" and can express their emotions, be soft and intimate, not "have to win," etc. And I really like providing that space for them.

And sometimes the harshness of the dominance is actually about THAT: they feel they can't let go unless someone has bested them or ordered them or "forced" them in some way. So part of the harshness is not about breaking my partner down/demeaning HIM, but about breaking his emotional BARRIERS down so he does let out whatever feelings he's holding in and wants to let out but feels ashamed to.

Some people might say that that's traditionally feminine of me: being there for "the man," etc. But I don't really experience it that way. I like to know people I'm intimate with deeply, and it both sexually excites me and personally gratifies me to see someone letting his guard down and expressing himself more fully.

I can't speak with anywhere near as much personal experience about male dominant and female submissive dynamics, but I will say I have noticed at least a few things that are similar. There are a lot of women who like to submit sexually who have a very "tough," "I rumble with the big boys and I win" exterior. I think for some of them, it's refreshing to not be posturing as well. For some of them, it may also be that they like some aspects of traditional femininity and want some space to express that.

(continued again after lunch :)

Trinity said...

"Take for example, one person wearing a collar and being led on a leash, the desire for this activity is not randomly generated; in the wider world, in the public consensus, wearing a collar and being led on a leash is humiliating, it is one person having dominance over another, and if that wasn’t the case it wouldn’t be desirable as a BDSM practice. You can say that the consent removes the humiliation, but the desire for the activity is the involvement of the humiliation itself."

You have a point here, but I still don't think you're quite right. I don't think leashes and collars are really about humiliation.

Collars are a little complicated. Some people use them to signal that they're interested in bottoming, some use them to indicate that they "belong to someone" for the night (that they're not available to play with someone else), and many, especially in more D/s oriented circles, use them to indicate that they are in a long-term partnership with someone.

So I don't think the point of them is so much degradation as it is a marker of what people are into or a marker of relationship status.

Yes, it's a marker that someone submits, and if you already think *that's* degrading, you'll think the collar (and any leash that might be attached to it) is degrading as well. But I don't know what exactly you're thinking it might mean, and depending on what you have in mind I might disagree. I don't think, for example, that it means "I think of you as a dog" or "I think of myself as a dog."

(Though honestly why calling someone a dog is an insult I've never understood. Dogs are intelligent, hardworking, loyal, regal, strong, and brave. Why people use "dog" as an insult, I've never managed to parse. I only WISH I were as awesome as my puppy. *pauses to play with puppy*)

As far as the distinction SD draws between humiliation and degradation, I think he's right but I'm not sure he explained it entirely. For me, using words that in other contexts would be insults is about meaning something else. When I call my partner "slut" for example, I don't mean that I think he has sex with too many people or that he's insufficiently discerning, I mean that he's eager for sex with me or for play with me or both, and that I like this. I use that word and other words because it's fun to play with the forbidden, not because I think something is wrong with him. And I think that's what SD has in mind. Using a shocking word because it's more exciting, but not meaning "this is my actual opinion of you." There's a bit in one of Patrick Califia's stories where he talks about saying something to make the bottom blush, and that she turns red, but it's a facsimile of shame.

And that's it, really, I think. It's not about saying "this is my opinion of you" it's about making someone blush. It's kind of like teasing, but sexual. And some people like that.

As far as really heavy sorts of humiliation stuff, in my experience most people don't do that. A lot of people do a bit of the blush-inducing stuff, but the calling people worthless and stupid or hurling insults is pretty rare, and only a small segment of people are into that.

Trinity said...

"I honestly feel that a lot of the points Trinity, verte and I (and others) are covering in explaining these issues, is BDSM 101. The same level of discourse that would lead people to direct a man to check out "Feminism 101"."

SD:

I agree with you here, but honestly I personally don't have a problem with it since This Rad Fem is debating and/or asking for clarification rather than attacking. I think some of the "we don't have to do 101 for you, now GO AWAY!" stuff is a bit rude and self-defeating, actually. Obviously if someone is completely hostile and nasty, "Bugger off and do some Googling" is an appropriate response. But if we never have conversations like this, people will continue to form their impressions based on sensationalistic (or even just confused) news coverage, fashion magazines, pornography (or even just their idea of what SM pornography looks like, based on something an already hostile theorist says it is), etc.

Verte, if you're still here, it might be worthwhile to put a link to this post in the sidebar, so we have a handy "101" link to refer people to.

Renegade Evolution said...

This Rad Fem:

You know, I am with you on offering an alternative form or view of sexuality to women if they want it. I think that’s great, actually. If anything, I wish every woman in the world who was interested in having sex found a way to do so that she was totally comfortable with and enjoyed and worked for her on every level. That, in short, would be absolutely wonderful.

Whether she chose to have totally egalitarian sex with her partner(s), or engage in extreme BDSM, or anything in between with other consenting adults.

So yes, I am all for alternatives being out there…so women have a wider variety of choices and can find and not be shamed for what suits them best…whatever end of the spectrum that happens to be on.

You also realize that gonzo porn and BDSM as practiced by whatever consenting adults in their own lives are two totally different things, yes? One is a performance done for film and payment and the other is not. In someone’s bedroom with a consenting partner, there is no financial motivation. What happens in the bedrooms of most people in the world, regardless of what they are into, is probably very different from porn in a whole lot of ways, financial motivation being merely one of them. Be that as it may…

Gonzo style sex, on or off film, can absolutely be SSC. Just as any other kind of sex can be. It can also be not SSC, same as any other kind of sex can be. To suggest it is more often not SSC than any other kind of sex is presumptive, and makes entirely too many assumptions. Because something might look unhinged or whatever else to a person does not mean it is.

And once again with Max Hardcore. Judging all of gonzo porn and those who make gonzo porn by Max Hardcore is a bit like judging all radical feminists by…er…Kyle Payne. Max Hardcore is one man, who makes the absolutely hardest sort of gonzo out there, which appeals to a very specific and not exactly huge audience. He’s infamous, but does he have the kind of clout or make the sort of money or hold the sort of popularity that the directors over at Evil Angel do? No, not at all. Max Hardcore does not have near the following that say, John Stagliano, Belladonna, Jules Jordon, Rocco Siffredi, or Harmony Rose has. He does not make near the money they do, nor is he as representative of “typical gonzo” as they are. It’s unfair and misrepresentative to judge all gonzo by him, or all porn by gonzo. It wasn’t any Max Hardcore film, or even any gonzo film, that holds the title most popular and highest grossing porn film ever…that honor belongs to “Pirates”- a high budget, slick, somewhat campy couples film packed with highly paid contract performers- yet no one on the anti porn side seems to want to acknowledge that. "Pirates" is far more indicative of what the majority of porn views are watching and wanting than anything Max Hardcore makes...and the truth of that is proved by it's financial success.

Trinity said...

Thanks for coming in with that, Ren. :)

And yeah, even among the supposed "pro-pornies" there was a wide range of reactions to Max Hardcore's obscenity conviction.

Trinity said...

But yeah, I do wonder why when I have a look at anti-porn commentary I rarely see people talking about Pirates, given its wild popularity.

Heck, I still need to SEE Pirates, actually. I always thought it looked interesting.

Renegade Evolution said...

Trinity- It's silly, which is kinda cool.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

But what actually made it BDSM, apart from you identifying yourself as a BDSMer? I am genuinely interested to know.

I kink for a support and service role; this is a consistent portion of my personality as a whole (I made a kickass legal secretary but I'd be an awful lawyer) rather than being the role-swap thing that some people do.

I am not a "bedroom sub" by nature, someone who only runs this process behind closed doors. (Though my relationship with my husband has occasional bedroom kink moments because we're both kinky people, that relationship is not a BDSM relationship.) If I am in service, I am in service.

Which means things like, when I know to expect my liege over I put on the kettle so he can have tea. When he has a carpentry project, I fetch and carry and do minor unskilled tasks. I support and challenge his religious development. Not because I get off on these things, but because they are a manifestation of the commitment to love and service that also happens to involve happy pervy sex.

"Bedroom kink" can scratch an itch for me, but it's not satisfying.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Collars are a little complicated. Some people use them to signal that they're interested in bottoming, some use them to indicate that they "belong to someone" for the night (that they're not available to play with someone else), and many, especially in more D/s oriented circles, use them to indicate that they are in a long-term partnership with someone.

Also: my neck is one of my most highly erogenous zones. Being collared means a consistent low-level stimulation in a way that reinforces the d/s.

Meanwhile, my collar isn't exactly fetishy. I showed a friend who knows I'm a sub a photo of me at my liege's wedding, and he said, "ooh, nice collar", and when I told him it was my d/s collar he was horribly embarassed. (Kink makes him blush.) It's a pretty strip of embossed blue leather, perfectly decorative as a choker or whatever.

All the fetishy high protocol and kinky wear and whatever mostly seem to me to be either 'in the public scene' things or stuff that people tend to do privately; I don't play the stereotype, the d/s lesbian couple I know don't play the stereotype, it just ... doesn't have anything to do with how our lives appear.

My liege and I out in public on a typical day look like a snuggly nerd couple. A couple of casually dressed thirty-year-olds with glasses razzing each other, having weird esoteric conversations full of gesticulation, and holding hands. The notion that the d/s is highly visible ... doesn't work. *We* know it's there, and if *you* know it's there you might notice things like a snuggle with his hand on the back of my neck or something, but the only title that's liable to be overheard by anyone else is "You're strange, sir."

Which is more Marcie and Peppermint Patty than obvious d/s.

SnowdropExplodes said...

What makes it D/s is the way it's imbued with ritual: suddenly, the laundry or the dishes aren't some chore that simply needs to be done, but something that has a sexy meaning or a personal meaning: It's done as a service.

That was what I was trying to get across, I just didn't quite put the right words together.

Trinity said...

"Also: my neck is one of my most highly erogenous zones. Being collared means a consistent low-level stimulation in a way that reinforces the d/s."

*nodsnods*

The irritating thing about someone wearing a collar, to me, is that it means I can't touch, kiss, or bite their neck as easily.

But yeah, it's very hot to me as a sign of the relationship. I mean, the obvious domination and submission bits are sexy to me in themselves, but it's also kind of like someone wearing a wedding ring in a sense. Not that the commitment is THAT serious, but "hey, everyone here can see a token of the commitment" where that's not plain and everyday like a ring, but a piece of fetish gear (or, if it's not obvious to most people, it's at least obvious to me and the other person.) So once again, to me that's sexy.

"My liege and I out in public on a typical day look like a snuggly nerd couple."

Same.

Iamcuriousblue said...

The contention that radical feminism stand outside of power, and are critiquing BDSM, porn, etc, from a position that's critical of hierarchy, authoritarianism, etc simply rings hollow to me.

Why, then, do radfems seem to take the advocate punitive legal sanctions as a strategy for social change? The most blatant example would be the recent UK "extreme porn" bill, which criminalizes (with imprisonment, no less) possession of vaguely-defined "extreme" imagery in porn. This law has been extremely popular with UK radfems, and in fact, was in part authored by radfem Catherine Itzin.

Here's a Guardian "Comment is Free" article by Bidisha, a self proclaimed anti-porn feminist (I don't know if she identifies as radical feminist or not) that says artistic censorship would be just great and contains a rather blood curdling quote:

"If sexist male artists and anti-feminist female artists are penalised for brainlessly fetishing female pain, then that's all to the good."

Similarly the Dworkin/MacKinnon ordinance that was proposed in the US a while back contained language that would have allowed any woman to sue anybody who produced a piece of art that she could argue was pornography and caused her offense, "in the name of all women".

What I'd like to know, is how are proposals such as this are not very real attempts at power relationships of the worst kind? And not the symbolic, consensual kind practiced in BDSM, either. To get rid of the vestiges of hierarchy and power, even symbolic power, one gets behind censorship, in collusion with the State? The contradiction is GLARING, and it amazes me that radical feminists have got through, what, 30 years now of anti-porn theory and organizing and not dealt with that basic contradiction.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

The irritating thing about someone wearing a collar, to me, is that it means I can't touch, kiss, or bite their neck as easily.

My liege has mentioned more than once that that's the one drawback to it. ;)

Trinity said...

"*We* know it's there, and if *you* know it's there you might notice things like a snuggle with his hand on the back of my neck or something, but the only title that's liable to be overheard by anyone else is "You're strange, sir.""

The oddest thing people might notice about Monkey and I is me ordering food for both of us in restaurants. (Usually, I don't choose for him, and only do the ordering. Technically, I could choose what he eats, though.) You wouldn't believe the double takes one gets when one orders for someone who is both older and male. Which I find really interesting from a feminist perspective, actually.

Trinity said...

"Why, then, do radfems seem to take the advocate punitive legal sanctions as a strategy for social change? The most blatant example would be the recent UK "extreme porn" bill, which criminalizes (with imprisonment, no less) possession of vaguely-defined "extreme" imagery in porn. This law has been extremely popular with UK radfems, and in fact, was in part authored by radfem Catherine Itzin."

IACB, while I think you're right that many radical feminists aren't as careful to distance themselves from legal sanctions as many claim (Demonista has said she'd like to see the MacKinnon/Dworkin ordinance become civil law), I do think there are many who would call legal action "liberal feminism", too.

In this post I was assuming that they're actually NOT usually in favor of legal sanctions, actually, and asking "Hey, if you don't want BDSM (or porn) to be made illegal, what do you want, socially?"

Iamcuriousblue said...

I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem to me that the majority of radical feminists break with the idea of legal sanctions against porn. Among UK radfems, they don't even mince words – many of those people say outright, they're for censorship of porn, probably because there isn't as strong a free speech tradition in the UK (and the Commonwealth countries in general).

There may very well be some radical feminists who dismiss the legislative approach as just more misguided liberal legalism, but considering how venerated MacKinnon is among that crowd (and she's the main force pushing for such a legal strategy, after all), I'm not so sure.

And the ones I've seen rejecting this kind of legal strategy have been people like Nikki Craft who have advocated even more problematic forms of direct action.

I would hope that most radical feminists would distance themselves from stuff like beating SM women up with crowbars, like actually happened back in the 1980s, but typically that's dealt with by conveniently forgetting it ever happened.

Trinity said...

IACB: Fair enough. I do think I've seen some strange things out of various people when push comes to shove. But, well, we do have someone here who is behaving respectfully and sounding fairly neutral, and I personally didn't think it wise to jump at her with "But why are people like you for legal sanction on porn?"

But, well, that is a conversation worth having, too -- particularly the conversation about how some radical feminists say things like "Pornography is rape on camera" and then say "No one is trying to take your DVDs away." I don't get that one either, and I do think that you're right that in a lot of cases radical feminists do support legal sanction anyway (or worse/weirder, like the vandalism Charliegrrl used to do or Nikki Craft does, or some of the violent events you talk about happening back in the day.)

But I'd like to keep this discussion focused primarily on BDSM, actually.

Iamcuriousblue said...

Yeah, I can see about keeping this focused on BDSM and all. And for the most part, I haven't seen radfems really wanting to go the legal route there, though I actually have seen that too in a few cases.

But it does gall me to see the whole radfem critique around sexuality being passed off as an anti-authoritarian/anti-hierarchy thing, when there's some other stuff they advocate that so flies in the face of that.

Not to mention the perception that this is just a shouting match that started in 2005 where people started being real big meanies to the radfems. No, there's some history here, and I would suggest that radfems played their end of it extremely aggressively and in ways that went way beyond name calling. If newly-minted radfems want to know where the dislike and trash-talking about radfems by many (including myself) on the sex-poz side comes from, that's the answer.

If one is going to identify with a particular movement, they're going to have to learn to own the historical legacy that they've taken on (even if its a matter of distancing oneself from past excesses), even if they weren't part of the original debate. I'd say the same thing about people who identify as Marxist-Leninist, or neo-Fascist, or whatever.

belledame222 said...

Because that honestly just sounds like you want the theory around so you can tsk-tsk at people, rather than that you're actually using the theory to fuel actions based on feminist principles.

isn't that just basically Twisty's entire blog?

belledame222 said...

"If it’s about the sensations then why is there all the ritualised song-and-dance around it? Why the conformity of costumes, settings, roles, rituals

As per conformity: you know... every subculture has its rituals, costumes, settings, etc. Including radical feminism, or at least subsets of it; ever been to a women's music festival or campout?

Or, you know, for that matter: science fiction fandom? Sports bars? A boys' nightclub or brunch spot in Chelsea?...

As per BDSM specifically: some of that is about -some- people fetishizing the theatre aspect of it. I love costumes and setting and so on myself, as a drama person, although personally I don't necessarily always gravitate toward the stereotyped dungeons-and-chains hooha. There's a lot more variety and creativity than you would think, if you take the time to look and actually ask people what they really like.

Some is about D/s, sure, the power aspects. Trin talked about the differentiation between that and the pure sensation. Some like sensation play and no D/s. Some like D/s and no sensation. Some people are fetishists and aren't particularly into either over power play or pain play. And some people like it all.

And finally, back to my first point, some of what you see of the "scene" is about community, for better and for worse.

belledame222 said...

erm, when I said "no sensation," obviously don't take that literally. I mean some people don't have tolerance for or interest in pain play. There are probably some people who aren't interested in touch at all, but that's not what I meant...

Anonymous said...

Re, degredation, I'll go ahead and post a snippet from my blog:

"Socrates and I have been discussing adding insults to our sexual repertoire. The odd thing is, it's not really a desire to be insulted, much as the desire for pain isn't really a desire to be hurt. If he honestly insulted me on something I was actually insecure about- on my inability to bring him to orgasm more than once in our meetings a few weeks ago, say - it would definitely be hurtful, and probably not even arousing. But call me slut or whore - despite the fact that the insults are almost completely inapplicable to me; I was a virgin before Socrates, after all - and I turn into a submissive puddle of mush. And there's a really odd space where "bitch" evokes all the positive, safe places of submission and control without anything that makes me insecure. Much of BDSM activity, especially in the more cerebral parts of it, consists in evoking all of the positive emotions concerned with these usually negative phenomena without straying into negativity."

http://physicalsophistry.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-07-13T07%3A02%3A00-07%3A00&max-results=7 (obligatory pimpage)

I'll also say here that some of the posts here strike me as unnecessarily whitewashing this sexuality. I'm not sure- perhaps our sexualities simply differ. But still, the fact is, I kink on heirarchy. Unfairness is hot. And yeah, I kink on humiliation too. All those posts about how we're actually equal, how wearing a collar can mean so many different things, rings hollow to me. I'm here because I adore power exchange dynamics and because being lead around on a leash makes me feel like a dog.

Trinity said...

Anonymous,

Honestly, I'm not really sure why you feel that we're making BDSM sexuality sound too safe, when the excerpt you add to the conversation yourself is one of how "bitch," "slut," and "whore" aren't really degrading to you. That comment strikes me as precisely in line with what we're saying, honestly.

If you're interested in proof that I have a dark side, I suppose I could ask you how much Spookiness Cred I get for things like this, or some of my stories about bloody Dantean revenge on rapists. *shrug* I can't say they're really the point of this particular blog, though.

I still have absolutely no idea why calling someone a dog is degrading, though. I've never been able to figure that one out.

To me, a collar and leash are as much visible signs of someone else's fealty -- his long-term devotion to and service to me -- as they are anything else. If that makes me too clean for you, I really don't mind. But I'd rather have fealty and devoted service AND rough kink than "hahahaha you're a dog!" or something. Service is something I need to be fulfilled; people liking erotic pain (A LOT) is something I need to be fulfilled. If those aren't mean enough for you, well, I'd say first of all that you've never seen how hard I punch, but after that I'd just shrug. I'm hardcore enough for me; others really don't count.

Trinity said...

And where you get that I don't think unfairness is hot I've zero idea. I am not usually (with occasional exception) turned on by egalitarian stuff very much. I think if you compared my sex life to what society considers "fair" relations between a man and woman, you'd see this extremely clearly.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

And I kink on heirarchy, think "fair" (or "unfair") is a ludicrous notion to apply to relationships in the contexts most people try it in, and consider humiliation a good reason to throw someone out of the house on their arse and change the locks.

I would say my kinks differ, yes.

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