Sunday, 28 December 2008

Pain, Sex, and Scientology

As I do every now and again (because it's both funny as hell and gives interesting information on successful mind control techniques), I've been reading some pages on Scientology. I found a document here called "Pain and Sex."

I found it interestingly relevant to our usual discussions because, although it doesn't come from anti-SM feminists or anti-SM conservatives, I think it reveals something interesting about mind control that I do see mirrored in some of the anti-SM writing, particularly the strongly theory-oriented radical feminist stuff.

Here's the mighty mighty LRH:
There are two items in this universe that cause more trouble than many others combined.

One is PAIN.

The other is SEX.

One should know more about these things.

They may have applications but they are used by destructive beings in great volume to cave others in.

....Pain becomes a lock on a being's abhorrence for misalignment of his own electrical flows. It is a lock upon unconsciousness which shuts off knowingness.

Sex is a lock on and perversion of the "joy of creation" which involves a whole being and expands him, but by using just one wavelength, sex, this can be perverted and he contracts.

When pain enters a scene, a being withdraws, contracts and can go unconscious.

When sex enters the scene, a being fixates and loses power.

Destructive creatures who do not want people big or reaching -- since they are terrified of punishment due to their crimes -- invented pain and sex to shrink people and cut their alertness, knowingness, power and reach.

Thus, you see people who are "experiencing" either pain or sex introverting and not producing much.

Pain and sex were the INVENTED tools of degradation.
Basically, if I properly understand this mutilated English (my poor language! I'm sure it safeworded paragraphs ago!), what he's saying is that pain and sex distract us from Serious Business by taking control of our consciousness and making us unable to "produce much."

Which, at least in terms of sex, is that same old line: Sex is unimportant. Sex distracts from the Important Things -- in Scientology, "clearing the planet"; in various feminisms, fundamental and far-reaching sociocultural reform that radically changes the social status of women.

Don't fuck, PRODUCE! How dare you waste perfectly good time getting off that you could spend changing the world?

Don't enjoy yourself, that's individualism, and we've gotten beyond that foolish white male delusion!

It's very close indeed.

And then there's the pain bit. I think in the Scientology case it's more of the self-helpish veneer they have: We're promising you that if you give us just a little more money and time you won't experience pain any more. It won't bog you down, bother you, upset you. No more tears.

Which there isn't really an analogous phenomenon to in the groupthinkier forms of radical feminism. Radical feminists of this stripe often pride themselves on pain to a degree that would make a masochist green: They're not the fun kind, and don't you forget it.

While you're enjoying the approval of your masters, laughing and getting wet and partying, they're up to Serious Things which are Eminently Serious Business. They're forcing themselves to hold it together through a porno movie so they can adequately Theory, and weeping great tears and risking horrible flashbacks to do it. (I do think this is actually the truth in a lot of cases. Personally I think it's an oddly ungratifying form of masochism that's probably not good for people, but what would I know, I like sex too much :)

(Speaking of, here's what he has to say about us specifically. It's charming indeed!)
Believe it or not, a being can be so overwhelmed by either [sex or pain] that he or she becomes an addict of it. Priests become flagellants and cut themselves to pieces with self-whipping. Torturers drool over pain. Lovers are very seldom happy. People do the most irrational things when overcharged with sex, and prostitutes use it as a knowing stock-in-trade. Combined, pain and sex make up the insane Jack-the-Rippers (who killed only prostitutes) and the whole strange body of sex-murder freaks, including Hinckley*, and the devotees of late-night horror movies. Under the false data of the psychs (who have been on the track a long time and are the sole cause of decline in this universe) both pain and sex are gaining ground in this society and, coupled with robbery which is a hooded companion of both, may very soon make the land a true jungle of crime.

Go into an asylum or a prison and look at the increasing institutional population and know what you are looking at. In the main, these are pain and sex addicts, decadent and degraded and no longer capable. They were sent on that route down through the ages by the psychs and here they are still in the psychs' hands! And do they get well or go straight? Oh no. Whether in prisons or insane asylums they just get worse. And the psychs in both places rub their bloodied hands as they turn their products loose again upon the remaining population! It's no accident. And the stocks-in-trade of psychs are PAIN and SEX. They will even tell you it's "natural" to steal!

....They [pain and sex] are the most-used tools in the campaign against beings in furthering the general goal of those creatures whose sole ambition is destruction. The universe does not happen to be either destructive or chaotic except as such obsessed creeps make it. Statements it is otherwise are just more false data from the same suspect "authorities"....
But I do think there's a connection here too. Pain and pleasure are fraternal twins after all -- they're both words that apply to sensation and emotion, and the sensations are bodily responses. They're not conscious. They're the gut reacting, and the gut reacts to things that seem off to it. Things feel nice that people tell us aren't so nice. Things raise our hackles sometimes despite people assuring us those things are good for us.

Controlling these basic responses -- controlling pain or controlling pleasure -- is controlling the beings who feel them.

And radical feminism of this sort, while it isn't invested in battling pain, is certainly invested in controlling pleasure.

Pleasure is suspect from the get-go. As I've already discussed, it distracts one from Serious Business. It drives one to look at, want, savor things and experiences that go against the theory, that have been branded "Bad For Women."

Think about all the emphasis on examining your desires. The statements that "oh, we'd never demand someone give up her pleasures, but we want her to be aware of where they come from." If we say we already are aware, or that we've uncovered that their sources are benign or even positive, we're told to do it again, as if we're faulty computers that never quite properly executed some complex subroutine.

There's one answer, and it's that certain pleasures are out of bounds. While many such "feminists" recognize that these pleasures aren't avoidable, indulging in them requires regular confession and purging, proper purification after soiling oneself with the pleasures of the fle-- er, Patriarchy.

I may get laughed at for this, but I really am beginning to think that sadomasochists -- not the real people, the actual participants in certain sexual activities, but rather Those Who Love Pain as an archetype, paradoxical and irreducible -- frighten this subset of radical feminists and frighten Scientologists for the same reason: because they resist these forms of control.

Of course any given kinky person will be more or less resistant to mind control. I've gotten deeper involved in culty groups before than I want to admit, and my pain fetish wasn't a good defense. But the archetypal sadomasochist is something different: someone who knows and seeks her own pleasure, someone who explores her pain and its sources through unflinching experience.

Someone who seeks pleasure and isn't afraid of pain cannot be controlled, cannot be roped in by an ideology that rests on the fear of sex or the fear of pain (or its twin.)

She is free, radically and wildly free... and therefore she is the ultimate Enemy.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Anonymous Avenger Strikes Again...

My last post was a response to an anonymous commenter who posted an excerpt of an interview with Audre Lorde, who claimed that SM reproduces unjust social power dynamics.

The adorable thing struck again with a comment to that post, this time sticking to a rather famous -- and similarly to the Hanisch, usually ridiculously misquoted -- quote from Lorde: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."

As I'm one who'd never disappoint trolls who don't seem to fully understand what they're quoting (I shall cuddle her and squeeze her and call her George!), here's my response to that one too.

First, as with the Hanisch, the "master's tools" quote is very often taken completely out of context, so... here's the real context, an essay about how women of color are excluded from feminist conferences.
It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women's culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.
The context, then, is not one of personal introspection, of looking into oneself and weeding out the influence of the patriarchy. While she does, in other places (such as the quote from Against Sadomasochism in the previous post), tell us that such introspection is important to her feminism, it's not what she's talking about here. She's talking about how social patterns are reproduced, yes, but she's talking about them being reproduced in the structure of feminist community, a community which claims to have a commitment to anti-racism, yet can only spare the most paltry tokenism for women of color.

To take the phrase so wildly out of context and make it a comment on women's personal lives, entirely removing the statement on race relations of which it is a part, is, more often than not, an example of the white-feminist arrogance it was written to combat. I do not know if cuddly little George is white or a person of color, but I do know that I have seen women of color lament the way this essay is reduced to one sentence and the context is lost, allowing people to use the sentence to judge any opponent for bad politics for any reason.

Now, here is the context in which the "master's tools" sentence occurs. (It's a long excerpt, but I feel it needed to give the true picture of Lorde's oft wildly misunderstood point.)
Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

...As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference -- those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older -- know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support.

Poor women and women of Color know there is a difference between the daily manifestations of marital slavery and prostitution because it is our daughters who line 42nd Street. If white American feminist theory need not deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of Color? What is the theory behind racist feminism?

In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.
Again, it's not that she wasn't against SM; yesterday's quote shows that she in fact was. It's not even that she wouldn't have agreed that doing SM is copying the erotic style of "the masters"; she's clear that she does think so.

It's that, as she herself said in the interview George quoted the other day, the SM issue is a diversion. The erotic is not what she's talking about here. Yes, she does make it consistently clear, that she does not divide a woman's personal choices from her political stances. She believes that the things we focus on, give our attention or energy to, at home or in bed or with our families or friends, directly impacts all we do.

But to say that she's talking about, for lack of a better word, the aura of our bedroom practices when you're quoting an essay about the representation of voices of color in the larger feminist movement is to twist her words. It's to plaster them onto your issue as if her agreeing with you about sadomasochism and feminism is more important than race issues within feminism, when she herself said in what you quoted the other day that it emphatically is not.

If George is white, she's doing something I strongly suspect Lorde would vigorously protest: removing the essay from its racial context, deeming the race issues less important than correcting some other white girl (i.e., me) on her sex life.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Audre Lorde, Carol Hanisch, Sadomasochism, Free Love, and Feminism

This one is going to get long.

An anonymous commenter responded to yesterday's post with a quote from Audre Lorde, ostensibly to explain exactly what radical feminists' opposition to SM actually looks like. I responded in comments there as well, and then figured it would make a good post of its own. So without further ado, here's the Lorde quote and my responses, taken from the conversation in comments here.

Interview with Audre Lord [sic; it's "Lorde", anony] on MediaWatch [The interview was originally published in Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, edited by Robin Ruth Linden, et. al. Pp. 68-71.]
Leigh: What about the doctrine of “live and let live” and civil liberties issues?

Audre: I don’t see that as the point. I’m not questioning anyone’s right to live. I’m saying we must observe the courses and implications of our lives. If we are talking about feminism then the personal is political and we can subject everything in our lives to scrutiny. We have been nurtured in a sick, abnormal society, and we should be in the process of reclaiming ourselves, not the terms of that society. This is complex. I speak not about condemnation but about recognizing what is happening and questioning what it means. I’m not willing to regiment anyone’s life. If we are to scrutinize our human relationships, we must be willing to scrutinize all aspects of those relationships. The subject of revolution is ourselves, is our lives.

Sadomasochism is an institutionalized celebration of dominant/subordinate relationships. And, it prepares us either to accept subordination or to enforce dominance. Even in play, to affirm that the exertion of power over powerlessness is erotic, is empowering, is to set the emotional and social stage for the continuation of that relationship, politically, socially and economically.

...Sadomasochism feeds the belief that domination is inevitable. It can be compared to the phenomenon of worshipping a godhead with two faces, and worshipping only the white part on the full moon and the black part on the dark of the moon, as if totally separate. But you cannot corral any aspect within your life, divorce its implications, whether it’s what you eat for breakfast or how you say goodbye. This is what integrity means...

Those involved with sadomasochism are acting out the intolerance of differences which we all learn: superiority and thereby the right to dominate. The conflict is supposedly self-limiting because it happens behind bedroom doors. Can this be so, when the erotic empowers, nourishes and permeates all of our lives?...

I do not believe that sexuality is separate from living. As a minority woman, I know dominance and subordination are not bedroom issues. In the same way that rape is not about sex, s/m is not about sex but about how we use power. If it were only about personal sexual exchange or private taste, why would it be presented as a political issue?...

The linkage of passion to dominance/subordination is the prototype of the heterosexual image of male-female relationships, one which justifies pornography. Women are supposed to “love” being brutalized. This is also the prototypical justification of all relationships of oppression-that the subordinate one who is “different” “enjoys” the inferior position.

The gay male movement, for example, is invested in distinguishing between gay s/m pornography and heterosexual pornography. Gay men can allow themselves the luxury of not seeing the consequences. We, as women and as feminists, must scrutinize our actions and see what they imply, and upon what they are based.
My responses:


I'm not sure if you posted the Lorde because you agree with it, or simply as a way to explain to us exactly where radical feminists are coming with this stuff. (I don't need the education; Against Sadomasochism, from whence that quote comes, is actually on my bookshelf already.)

[ETA: I think it's also important to look at the very end of the interview, wherein Lorde mentions that she sees the SM issue as far less pressing than others within the feminist movement -- a bit that I note Anon leaves unquoted:]
First, we must ask ourselves, is this whole question of s/m sex in the lesbian community perhaps being used to draw attention and energies away from other more pressing and immediately life-threatening issues facing us as women in this racist, conservative and repressive period? A red herring? A smoke screen for provocateurs? Second, lesbian s/m is not about what you do in bed, just as lesbianism is not simply a sexual preference. For example, Barbara Smith’s work on woman-identified women, on “lesbian” experiences in Zora Hurston or Toni Morrison. It is not who I sleep with that defines the quality of these acts, not what we do together, but what life statements am I led to make as the nature and effect of my erotic relationships percolate throughout my life and my being? As a deep lode of our erotic lives and knowledge, how does sexuality enrich us and empower our actions?
[With which I totally agree. My disagreement with Lorde is that she sees SM as unavoidably leading to bad effects. I don't. I think it leads to understanding what power means for us, as well as allowing many of us to experience a mode of living less focused on selfishness and ego than modern American society is. I think such experiences are a powerful, and important, corrective for many people in an ego-focused, "me me me" society. It's not about subordination. It's about distance from the ego.]

"If we are talking about feminism then the personal is political and we can subject everything in our lives to scrutiny."

As much as I respect Lorde (Sister Outsider? On my bookshelf too.), I'm gonna have to say she's doing what many feminists do, and misinterpreting what Carol Hanisch had in mind by the phrase.

Here's Hanisch's essay.

First, what it was referring to:
For this paper I want to stick pretty close to an aspect of the Left debate commonly talked about---namely "therapy" vs. "therapy and politics." Another name for it is "personal" vs. "political" and it has other names, I suspect, as it has developed across the country. I haven't gotten over to visit the New Orleans group yet, but I have been participating in groups in New York and Gainesville for more than a year. Both of these groups have been called "therapy" and "personal" groups by women who consider themselves "more political." So I must speak about so-called therapy groups from my own experience.

The very word "therapy" is obviously a misnomer if carried to its logical conclusion. Therapy assumes that someone is sick and that there is a cure, e.g., a personal solution. I am greatly offended that I or any other woman is thought to need therapy in the first place. Women are messed over, not messed up! We need to change the objective conditions, not adjust to them. Therapy is adjusting to your bad personal alternative.

We have not done much trying to solve immediate personal problems of women in the group. We've mostly picked topics by two methods: In a small group it is possible for us to take turns bringing questions to the meeting (like, Which do/did you prefer, a girl or a boy baby or no children, and why? What happens to your relationship if your man makes more money than you? Less than you?). Then we go around the room answering the questions from our personal experiences. Everybody talks that way. At the end of the meeting we try to sum up and generalize from what's been said and make connections.

I believe at this point, and maybe for a long time to come, that these analytical sessions are a form of political action. I do not go to these sessions because I need or want to talk about my "personal problems." In fact, I would rather not. As a movement woman, I've been pressured to be strong, selfless, other-oriented, sacrificing, and in general pretty much in control of my own life. To admit to the problems in my life is to be deemed weak. So I want to be a strong woman, in movement terms, and not admit I have any real problems that I can't find a personal solution to (except those directly related to the capitalist system). It is at this point a political action to tell it like it is, to say what I really believe about my life instead of what I've always been told to say.
So what she's talking about, actually, is not the idea that women must carefully examine their personal lives for false consciousness. What she's doing is defending the work of C-R groups as political rather than personal, because they focus not on being therapeutic rap sessions for "messed up" women, but on doing political work together. It's not about whether issues are personal or not (though the implication is strong that what's considered "personal" is affected by patriarchy, I'll grant that), but about whether a certain kind of group meeting can be considered to "count" as political work. It's a response to "Why are you talking for two hours when you could be lobbying?", not a response to "Why do you have sex that way?" or the like. In faaaaaaact....
The groups that I have been in have also not gotten into "alternative life-styles" or what it means to be a "liberated" woman. We came early to the conclusion that all alternatives are bad under present conditions. Whether we live with or without a man, communally or in couples or alone, are married or unmarried, live with other women, go for free love, celibacy or lesbianism, or any combination, there are only good and bad things about each bad situation. There is no "more liberated" way; there are only bad alternatives.

....When our group first started, going by majority opinion, we would have been out in the streets demonstrating against marriage, against having babies, for free love, against women who wore makeup, against housewives, for equality without recognition of biological differences, and god knows what else. Now we see all these things as what we call "personal solutionary." Many of the actions taken by "action" groups have been along these lines. The women who did the anti-woman stuff at the Miss America Pageant were the ones who were screaming for action without theory.
As I read this and the other quote, she's actually vehemently denying that being for or against particular "personal solutionary" things is actually good political work, because it sidesteps the real problem, which is not that women choose one thing over another, but that all possible choices have been stunted in some way or another.
One more thing: I think we must listen to what so-called apolitical women have to say---not so we can do a better job of organizing them but because together we are a mass movement. I think we who work full-time in the movement tend to become very narrow. What is happening now is that when non-movement women disagree with us, we assume it's because they are "apolitical," not because there might be something wrong with our thinking. Women have left the movement in droves. The obvious reasons are that we are tired of being sex slaves and doing shitwork for men whose hypocrisy is so blatant in their political stance of liberation for everybody (else). But there is really a lot more to it than that. I can't quite articulate it yet. I think "apolitical" women are not in the movement for very good reasons, and as long as we say "you have to think like us and live like us to join the charmed circle," we will fail. What I am trying to say is that there are things in the consciousness of "apolitical" women (I find them very political) that are as valid as any political consciousness we think we have. We should figure out why many women don't want to do action. Maybe there is something wrong with the action or something wrong with why we are doing the action or maybe the analysis of why the action is necessary is not clear enough in our minds.
[ETA: There is also this:]
Of course there were women within New York Radical Women and the broader feminist movement who argued from the beginning against consciousness raising and claimed women were brainwashed and complicit in their own oppression, an argument rooted in the sociological and psychological rather than the political.
Also, I disagree with Lorde's analysis of play, there. To be fair, I don't think that we remain completely unaffected by the things to which we turn our attention. At the same time, though, play is an important part of the growth and socialization of youthful creatures, whether human, dog, cat, whatever.

But small humans' play is very complicated. The simple fact that one finds a child playing a certain game of make-believe today does not tell us what she will grow up to be like tomorrow. I liked pretending my Barbie dolls were rock stars. Am I a musician? No.

There are other games that I played with them that more closely paralleled what I grew up to be. Sure. Like I said, we're not totally divorced from what we do for fun. But that doesn't mean that we can look at what someone plays with and read off who she is, unless we have more information.

[ETA: And I think getting that information will tell us what we need to know about what the play, whether a child's game or an adult's SM, means or doesn't mean. How does it relate to how she sees herself? Is she trying on a way of behaving that's foreign to her as a kind of personal exploration? Is the adult woman submitting or dominating because she feels she does the opposite in her regular life, and seeks balance? Is she expressing something she believes is essential to her character? If she is doing this, is she doing it because she looks down on herself or others, or is she reflectively involving herself in a relationship where her personality is valued? The answers to those questions are what strike me as important. On the question of whether SM itself, as some monolithic Practice, is better or worse for women or others than Vanilla, as some similarly monolithic Practice, I'm inclined to agree with Hanisch's analysis of all alternatives as just as bad (or as good -- I'm not so pessimistic) as one another. I also don't believe that either SM or vanilla activities are any kind of monolith, so theory based on seeing them as such is unavoidably flawed and therefore bad.]

I am, however, guilty as charged about believing that hierarchy is inevitable. I don't think this because it's so damn sexy I'm willing to put up with patriarchy, though.

I believe it because every time I've gone into a relationship expecting there to be no power dynamics, I've found myself ripe for other people's manipulation. I know how to handle someone with authority behaving in a way I don't approve of: challenge her, renegotiate our ranks if possible, or leave.

But I've had much less success in situations that were supposed to lack power dynamics. It was a big thing in my family as a kid, that no one should "want power" or "be selfish." Which yeah, sounded nice, but it left a lot of room for people to manipulate others and, when called on their manipulations, to say "You're crazy. I'd never do that."

I've seen the same thing when I've been in relationships that would supposedly be especially relaxing or healthy because "no one had the power." It's very easy for "the power" only to refer to some kind of rank ordering, and for people who are skilled at manipulation to turn that into, "Oh, you're not outvoted, sweetie, you're just wrong."

Especially when there's a specific ideology that the accuser can point to: "Oh, you want that? Well, but that's bad feminism, honey! Oh, don't get so upset, this is just about liberation!"

I think that the idea of ending hierarchy is nonsensical and dangerous [at least as I've so far seen it presented] because it doesn't include plans for ending manipulation and emotional abuse. [If it did include such plans, though, I'd likely dismiss the whole thing as a pipe dream, so make of that whatever you will.]

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Selfishness: How They Getcha

I'm still following the conversations over at Nine Deuce's critiquing BDSM. I've noticed one theme popping up lately in the comments that I wanted to highlight and address.

That is the idea that it's not wrong to do BDSM, but that it is selfish in a morally critiquable way.

These folks subscribe to a certain "radical feminist" critique of BDSM that suggests that it perpetuates male dominance over women. So if someone does it, well, they're not going to call the Feminist Police, but they are going to say "Hey, maybe you could pay less attention to your own orgasms, and more attention to vulnerable girls who may get the message that men's power is especially hot."

Some examples:

I think I understand why radfems tend to just stop commenting, go away and silence themselves out of frustration. It’s because these arguments always come down to personal sovereignty for these people, and we’re not allowed to discuss anything pertaining to a person’s choice. The problem is that ‘choice’ doesn’t = ‘feminist’ just because you say it is. People are no longer wishing to look internally in order to understand larger social constructs. For the last decade, in all other movements (such as environmental conservation) we’ve used mottoes like ‘think globally, act locally’. But once you apply that same reasoning to feminism, and ask individual women/men to examine their choices for the good of the entire sex class, suddenly ‘UR OPPRESSIVE’. Why have we become SO self-centered?
Nine Deuce 1:
It’s sort of like a conversation about single-payer health care between a Democrat and a Libertarian. One side is about the big picture and the other is about individual interest, with the Libertarian being unwilling to consider the implications of the bigger picture lest he be forced to admit that his stance is myopic and might have effects outside of those he experiences directly. I understand people’s not being into hearing me disapprove of what they’re aroused by, but that’s not the point. The fact is that mingling sex and power is inherently problematic in a hierarchical society and it directly affects our ability to ever dismantle patriarchy. I’m not saying that means I have the right to tell people not to do something, but the fact remains that there’s a problem.
My response, attempting to remind all that the Libertarian's selfishness (if we agree she is wrong; I do) and the BDSMer's selfishness are orders of magnitude different:


With all due respect, I don’t think they’re similar at all. The presence or lack of a health care system, and the details of coverage and what one must do or have to get health care, affect the welfare of the citizenry obviously and directly. It’s nonsensical to say that individual interest trumps the good of the uninsured, because it’s obvious how they’ll be affected.

In the case here, we’re talking about a personal behavior choice. While it’s true that we disagree about how much “people doing BDSM” affects society as a whole, I don’t think it can be at all disputed that whatever effect it would have is tiny compared to the effects of one health care system versus another.

Nine Deuce 2:
Trinity - Libertarians with money (who usually have insurance) think their best interests are served by our not having a single-payer system because they believe having one will cost them money. They’re all about individual choice and responsibility when it benefits them and refuse to admit that what they do as individuals is connected to a larger system of phenomena. It’s an each-man-for-himself thing, which is naive and selfish. And the same goes with “sex-positivism.” The counterargument to radical feminism is always personal choice/liberty, and it’s always made from the “I get off on this, and anyone telling me that I have to consider the fact that my choices take place in a larger context is trying to oppress me, and is therefore just as bad as the patriarchy itself” position.
You all can already see how I respond to these critiques: I think that even if BDSM reinforced patriarchy, a person's consensual sexual activity does not have anywhere near the social effects that choosing a single-payer health care system would. Objecting to the "selfishness" of a person who chooses to explore her sexual fantasies rather than reform them strikes me as just as important, socially, as objecting to the selfishness of the person who doesn't cover his mouth when he coughs, or something -- unless there is some clear sign of serious disease vector there, it just plain hardly matters even if we accept that there is risk.

(I actually don't think that BDSM reinforces, reifies, or copies patriarchy either. I'm tired of people making my relationships invisible because I am not a man, and then claiming they are feminists. But that is for a totally different post.)

What I want to do here, though, more than I want to talk about exactly where the argument train derails, is to talk about the technique here.

This is designed to make people feel guilty. "You're being selfish" is the kind of ad hominem that is going to work particularly well on people who:
  1. commit themselves to social justice/social equality, which feminist or feminist-friendly people do
  2. know they have social status that is undeserved and that others don't have, which the typical feminist blog audience is probably swimming in: likely white, likely middle-class, likely from what's called the "first world," etc.
  3. support left-wing politics and causes, which are usually centered around at least the idea of minor self-sacrifice to help others less well-off
  4. are anti-capitalist, or at least for a moderated and "socially responsible" mixed capitalism, which is another cause/ideology that feminist or feminist-friendly people often believe in
When someone says to the Libertarian 9-2 references, "You're being selfish," it likely bounces off. There's whole schools of thought, like those that look back to Nietzsche and Rand, that claim selfishness, individualism, and the like to be virtues, both personal and social.

But many feminist-leaning folks are idealists who want to help those less fortunate, and want to do it by trying to eliminate social disparities. Many such people feel that they're not doing enough to help. (I did, until I took a job working for disability rights. I'm totally comfortable now, knowing I'm not "selfish" but rather devoting my career itself to doing my part. And no, I am not giving more details. I am not out.)

This is perhaps exascerbated by what I'll call the "endless" quality of some feminisms and feminist activism. "We'll march until we stop rape," for example. Or "We need a new, egalitarian social order," where just about every existing way of bringing this about (legislation, liberal political reform, etc) is rejected as not enough of a radical change. It's easy to feel we just aren't doing enough when our best friend is assaulted the day after TBTN, for example.

So when someone comes along and says "You're selfish because you do BDSM" or "You're selfish because you are sex-positive" or "Doing SM is fine, but if you defend it, rather than seeing it as a tragic blemish on your soul due to trauma, you're selfish" it stings. It rubs salt in those wounds.

And for many people, it's easier to get the salt out by "examining," by "purging" for a while, or by taking on the "Woe is me, I'm kinky but wish I weren't" attitude than by volunteering at the rape crisis center or the soup kitchen, or taking the low-paying job at the nonprofit, or whatever have you.

But the thing is, going along with the bullies for however long you do it has no more or less effect on society as a whole than you doing something totally different with a consenting partner. Your "selfishness" is only a black mark on society if it leads you to do things that affect society -- and one more drop of water in the patriarchal ocean, even supposing these folks are right, is not that.

If the selfishness jibes sting, that may mean you should "examine" your life. It may mean you really do want to do something more than what you're doing. (It may not; like I said I think these people are bullying, and bullies raise discovering what stings to an art form.) But if this is the case, it's not your sexuality you should be looking at. It's your footprint on the world. Do you volunteer? Do you do activist work? If you do, is it the kind of "endless" marchy stuff, or things with clear-cut outcomes? If the former, is that OK with you?

Getting people thinking about their footprint on the world is good. Doing that with the intention of shaming or feeling superior -- which is what these folks are up to -- is just stupid, and not worth getting stung by anyway. These folks rarely let us all know just what they are doing to better the lives of the downtrodden themselves, after all.

Oh no, they must be sellll-fish! But at least their "radical feminist" theory isn't. Thank the stars for that.

Monday, 8 December 2008


In my past posts, I let you all know about some conversations going on at Nine Deuce's blog about BDSM and feminism. Some of you joined in there, some people came from there to here, etc.

I thought I'd let you all know that I got into a conversation with the woman I posted about here. (Looks like, for example, she did leave the Scene, but still does BDSM.) We moved the conversation over to my journal, here and here. I thought some of the folk here might want to see it.

I'd post excerpts to avoid possible linkrot, but it's a bit long.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Details From Someone Who Left

I've posted several times that when I see narratives from ex-BDSMers, they tend to leave out a lot of details. I've said that I hoped someday to find someone who was willing to say, not only, "I got out, and I'm glad I did" but be willing to say what group she left, and go into specifics about why.

Well, I've found such a narrative now. I'm not going to specifically quote it here simply because it seemed the person wanted some measure of privacy, and I don't want people finding its text here and behaving in harassing ways or anything.

(I don't think any of the regulars here would do such a thing, but there are a lot of spam-harvester types out there on the WWW, and I'd hate for this person to find her personal stuff re-posted somewhere random or even hostile simply because gods know who picked it up.)

Here it is, though. There are some things in it I question (most notably the idea that endogenous endorphin "highs" can lead to the same sorts of addiction that taking exogenous drugs can), but for now... it's someone's story, and it's personal, and no, not everyone has a wonderful, leather-pride-flag-waving hootenanny of a good time.

http://rageaga instthemanc ual-equival ent-of-being-into-renai ssance-faires-part-3-some-of-the-data/#co mment-3971

In less awesome news, there's also this one, yet another example of the stuff I think *isn't* very productive.

TOPIC TYME: Where do people think this "subspace substitutes for intimacy" thingy comes from?

Personally, I think that subspace and domspace can feel very intimate, and can sometimes lead people to think they're closer than they really are. We play with vulnerability, and being or becoming vulnerable is something people usually don't do until they trust you.

So I do think casual play runs a certain degree of risk. A bottom might let himself be vulnerable because the idea of it makes him hard, then think afterward "Whoa, I let my guard down, and it was great. Therefore I know I can trust you."

And that may be true in that he can trust the top for play, for a good time, for emotional safety while on the cross or something... but not that he's ready for a relationship, because they don't know they're compatible.

So yes, I do see that and think that's real, and an issue... but I think that the idea that this really messes up people's idea of intimacy is a stretch. Among people I know, most of us worked out pretty quickly that there are many different kinds of emotional connection, and that the emotional connection of a close relationship is not the same sort as the kind you have over the spanking bench.

And for me, as far as aggression goes... I think I was a lot more aggressive as the staunch sort of feminist than I ever was before or since, though I don't doubt that some people out there top out of vindictiveness, nastiness, or joy that they've found someone who consents to basically let them toss tantrums.

It's not been most of the people I know, though. The vast majority of other tops I've met are awesome people to talk to and learn from, IMO. It's like anything else -- it takes discernment to know who is your peer and who is immature.