Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Either way, you're behaving badly.

Some people have aske4d me what criticisms anti-SM feminists have of female dominance and male submission. I've talked about this before, but just to give another data point, here is Rebecca Whisnant giving a presentation um... last year, I think?

The comments on dominant women and submissive men are around 24:30 or so.

If anyone could transcribe them, I'd be very grateful.

I’ll discuss just one more defining element of second-wave radical feminism here: namely, the notion of sexual politics. In the English language, the word “sex” is ambiguous: there’s sex in the sense of male and female, and also in the sense of sexuality. Second wave feminism named “sex” in both senses as an arena of politics, that is, an arena in which power is exercised. In short, patriarchy makes sex (as male/female) into an unjust power hierarchy, which then manifests itself in many mutually reinforcing ways, including in and through sex (as sexuality). Whatever supports and maintains that power hierarchy is, from a second-wave point of view, problematic and wrong. If this includes, as it is almost sure to, certain ways of understanding and practicing sex (as sexuality), then these understandings and practices should be resisted and transformed. Furthermore, in second-wave thinking, challenging the sex-based power hierarchy itself requires challenging the very definitions of manhood and womanhood, of masculinity and femininity, on which it it is premised: namely, masculinity as dominance and aggression, femininity as submission. These roles themselves are taken to be problematic, not just their coercive association with biological males and females respectively. Thus, on this view, for a woman to be sexually dominant (or a man submissive) does not constitute liberation, nor do instances of same necessarily count as resistance.

Now the third wave also has a take on sexual politics, that is, on the connections between power, sex as male and female, and sex as sexuality. They too believe that the power hierarchy placing men above women is unjust, but they have different ideas about what counts as challenging that hierarchy, particularly as it is expressed in sex-as-sexuality. On this view, for instance, a woman challenges the hierarchy when she plays a dominatrix role, or when she becomes a sexual consumer (for instance, using pornography or getting a lap dance at a strip club)—that is, when she adopts a standardly masculine set of sexual roles and activities. A woman also resists, on this view, when she uses the “power” of femininity—her beauty, her sex appeal and hotness, etc.—to her own perceived advantage. According to third-wave feminism, then, a woman can enact a liberatory and feminist sexual politics by adopting either a typically feminine or a typically masculine sexual role and persona, and running with it—as long as she does so freely and with the right attitudes and intentions.

....Some claims made on behalf of purportedly-feminist pornography sound reasonable enough as far as they go—for instance, that by making and/or consuming pornography one asserts that it’s OK for women to be sexual and to want sex, that women are not merely passive recipients of male sexual desire, but have sexual desires of our own. Furthermore, in “alt” or feminist pornography we do occasionally see women with something other than the Hollywood-prescribed body size and shape. (More often, the “alternative” appearance seems to consist mainly of tattoos and body piercings—but rarely does it involve having pubic hair, I’ve noticed.) But when we look at the statements of self-described feminist pornographers, the utterly liberal—even libertarian—politics at the core of this enterprise become unmistakeable. At bottom, as it turns out, this pornography is said to be feminist because it is made by women, who are freely choosing to make it. For instance, Joanna Angel, a self-described feminist pornographer, has said that “you could do a porn where a girl is getting choked and hit and spit on, the guy’s calling her a dirty slut and stuff and . . . that can still be feminist as long as everybody there is in control of what they're doing.”12 (Remember: it’s not what you’re doing, but whether you’re doing it freely!)

Also clearly in evidence here is the idea that women can enact a liberatory sexual politics by embracing either standardly feminine or standardly masculine sexual roles and activities. Without an overriding critique of sexualized dominance, the perfectly reasonable claim that it’s OK for women to want and seek sexual satisfaction shades easily into claiming women’s right to be sexual dominators and consumers. And of course, at the core of the “feminist pornography” enterprise is the idea that women can and should redefine the feminized, pornographized sexual-object role as, itself, a form of power. (Again, when is it power? . . . when we freely choose it!) Thus it is that prominently featured on the website of “feminist pornographer” Nina Hartley is a new film entitled “O: The Power of Submission.”13 Perusing Hartley’s list of favorite links, one finds a site called Slave Next Door, which carries the tagline “real sexual slavery.” The portal page of this website reads, in part, “Slave Next Door is the graphic depiction of a female sex slave’s life and training for sexual slavery. It contains extreme bdsm situations and . . . sadistic training.” In clicking to enter the site, one is told , one affirms that one is “not here in the capacity of law enforcement or religious activist.”14

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


Vanilla Privilege (personally, I think the term "privilege" is kind of overused, but I agree 1000x with the sentiments)
It exists, you know. And no, it is not as pressing or obvious as male privilege, het privilege, white privilege, class privilege, or other privileges out there, but it is there. And you may have not ever noticed it if you are a Vanilla Person, because well, it doesn’t affect you. And this is not a knock on Vanilla People, Vanilla People are okay in my book, but, if we’re examining and all, especially examining privilege, well, Vanilla’s time has come.

There have been some very interesting posts and threads here as of late which have caused me to come back to something I once mentioned half jokingly, the whole idea of Vanilla Privilege, but the tone of those posts as threads have me looking at it far more seriously now. I do, in fact, think it’s a very real thing, and like most other “privileges”, I think, while it can and does impact men, it impacts women to a more negative degree. After all, we still live in a society where many people honestly think that women cannot or should not enjoy sex, and if they dare to, they better only do it in certain contexts, for certain reasons, and with their husbands. Ah yes, the old virgin/whore dichotomy, alive and well and at work…and at lending it’s efforts to V.P.

So what is V.P. anyway? Well, simply put, it is the thought or assumption that those who engage in vanilla sex are somehow better than those who do not. And if you think that people who are not vanilla are not treated differently, please, do look at some of the links I’ve provided, and then, why yes, examine. What do you think of a woman sitting next to you on the subway at night if she is wearing a collar? What do you think of the guy in the locker room with heavily pierced genitals? What do you think of the woman who does gangbangs on the weekend? What do you think of the man who pays a dominatrix? What do you think of people who get off on pain, giving or receiving? The woman who likes to be choked, the man who likes to be flogged? The kinky people and the rough sex people and the non-vanilla people? If you are a vanilla person…don’t you other them, just a little bit? Well, if you don’t, good for you. You are among the few.

....And that’s the less malicious aspects! You want concrete examples of V.P.?

Look at rape trials. If it is learned that the victim was into BDSM, rough sex, or was “overly promiscuous” or dressed "slutty" there is the assumption that she/he consented, or, in some cases, due to her/his proclivities, cannot be raped.

Look at employment. People have been fired/ passed over for being kinky even if it had no bearing on their jobs or ability to do them. They also face strife in places of higher education.

Look at parenthood. People have lost custody of their children or fear that for being not vanilla, even when there is no evidence whatsoever that anything the parents might do impacted their children at all.

People have been dragged into court for obscene conduct in their own homes.

“Safe Spaces” for kinky people, such as BDSM clubs, private residences, and swinger clubs are often subject to harassment from legal authorities and civil groups.

Very rarely do Vanilla People have to deal with this sort of thing due to their sex lives. Hell, a great deal of non-vanilla hetero sex is still considered both a sin & mental illness by a whole lot of folk.

And non-vanilla people can point this out, over and over, and still get told to examine, that they are the bad for other people people, that they are wrong, are oppressive, are “normalized”…

Yeah, right.

Getting off on power exchange is BadWrong, let me tell you it.

(Hi, it's been a loooong while since I've posted here; sorry if it's a bit 101, but easing back into it)

Yeah, it's That Time again, apparently. I'm sort of going off a general overview of the thread, any number of previous threads which sounded a -lot- like this one, and the understanding that I agree with RE's rant here, and have taken pretty much that tone in previous go-rounds. Because for whatever reason (the heat, maybe, or the sheer number of times I feel like all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again), I'm not even feeling Ze Rage this time. So, I thought I'd take advantage of my relative, well, it ain't Zen, but it's something, and say a little something. Again.

I'll just say that I am -very- suspicious whenever anyone starts to hold forth about how they -used- to like act X, but now, praise Jesus/Dworkin/Nicolosi/Cthulhu, I have SEEN the LIGHT! and my sexuality has -totally changed,- and -yours can and SHOULD, too- (is the implicit and/or even explicit addedendum).

First of all, I don't think sexuality works like that: yes, it can be malleable and change over the years, but ime and in everything I've come to understand, it is -not- particularly amenable to change because one -wills- it so, because one's newfound political/religious/otherwise ideological -belief- decrees that it -must- be so in order for one to be a whole and good person. You don't get rid of the shadow by stuffing it down.

Secondly, in my experience...people like this, often enough, especially when it comes to kink, are...rather selective, quite possibly not consciously, when it comes to deciding what does and doesn't now qualify as the Bad Bad Thing.

f'r instance: w/in feminism, to take one example I recall seeing a while back: the idea that BDSM is a Bad Bad Thing, meaning a) leather and whips b) particularly, maledom/femsub anything, including any sort of non-implement-including getting off on penetration; -but- c) donning a strap-on and doing one's male partner and getting enjoyment -specifically- out of "whoo, I'm penetrating -him-, what a rush!- is totally fine and not at all suggestive of power!sex; it's just, you know, this...thing I happen to like. O.K.

As it happens, personally, I am turned on by certain kinds of femtop!malebottom much more than I do the reverse; always have, since long before I read any theory or even knew what the terms meant. I don't doubt that my kinks, such as they are, were formed in the same long-ago not-really-consciously-articulate cauldron that all my other erotic general themes were formed, more or less; and that sure, these particular let's say bents at least may well have at least partly to do with stuff I was unconsciously picking up about social messages about what was or wasn't taboo. But that doesn't make me a better feminist, or mean that if for whatever reason I decided tomorrow that you know, I really shouldn't get off on this stuff, I should stop enjoying thus and so and learn to enjoy this other thing, it would be any more successful than when I was trying to be a good little heterosexual, because -that's- what I thought I was -supposed- to be -then.-

Because, see, if there's one thing sexuality doesn't generally do, it's lie down and act like it's "supposed to." Regardless of where the directive is coming from. It's deeper and quirkier and more complicated than that. It's not that one (o the overused term) "examine" what it all MEANS, dear, but ultimately: it will not lie down and fit into your Procrustean bed. It needs, like the rest of the squidgier bits of the unconscious, to be taken on its own terms. Fuck, that's what "examination" -is-, it seems to me. The theory is shaped by What Is Found There, not the other way around. And, well, One Size Does Not Fit All.

And at the end of the day, also, frankly, again, what she said.

x-posted at Fetch My My Axe

Sunday, 1 June 2008

I think you got some sadomasochism in your feminism there...

(First, to the anon commenter on the last post: I didn't see your post until today. A response is up now, and I hope it helps you.)

I was just rereading what I think is the most fair anti SM piece I have ever read.

That piece is Sandra Bartky's "Feminine Masochism and the Politics of Personal Transformation." In it, Bartky tries to reach some common ground between anti SM feminists and pro SM feminists.

Basically, she accepts the idea that SM people how fixed sexual desires, and that we cannot change to have a more egalitarian, proper feminist sexuality. However, she agrees with more orthodox anti SM feminists that this is a bad state of affairs, suggesting that the (hypothetical) feminist masochist she discusses is irreparably psychologically scarred by patriarchal sexual norms. (58)

Which is something that will, and should, raise the ire of anyone who reads this particular blog. However, I strongly recommend the piece if you're looking to read opposing points of view. It's far more humane, and far more well reasoned, than many of the anti SM arguments I have read.

Which makes what I'm about to quote a little misleading. The following excerpt is actually the worst part of the article. I quote it just to show that even when our opponents are in fine form, reasoning about as well as they ever will, interesting hypocrisies seep into their arguments.

For context, Bartky is here discussing were the way in which masculine dominance and feminine submission stem from cultural norms. She discusses romance novels and the famous "staircase/rape" scene in Gone With The Wind, saying that women like them because they've bought into the idea that male dominance is sexually exciting (46). She returns to Rhett Butler later, saying:
The right, staunchly defended by liberals, to desire what and whom we please and, under certain circumstances, to act on our desire, is not at issue here; the point is that women would be better off if we learn when to refrain from the exercise of this right. A thorough overhaul of desire is clearly on the feminist agenda: the fantasy that we are overwhelmed by Rhett Butler should be traded in for one in which we seize state power and reeducate him. (51)
I could describe, in a boring, conversational, nonfiction tone just what's wrong with feminists who are concerned about doing away with the sexiness of dominance describing a fantasy of seizing state power. However, creative writing has always been my first love.

"Calm yourself, Mr. Butler. The injection will not harm you. It is merely designed to inhibit the body's production of endorphins."

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I already told you, we were drunk and she woke up happy. Now let me go, doll. I've gotta tend to the horses."

"The treatment dampens the body's ability to produce natural painkillers in response to stimuli. Pain is an integral tool in your re-education, and we must ensure you experience it to the fullest."

"Jesus! That needle is huge! You're crazy! How could you need that for one shot?"

"Pain is an integral tool in your re-education. Men like you believe women enjoy pain and violation; before anything else, we must teach you that there is nothing enjoyable about them."