Thursday, 31 July 2008

Well, maybe not ALL heterosex is rape, but... according to this person, apparently most is

xposted from my lj

I'd have a ton to say but I really do need to be doing work, so I'll just quote and briefly remark at the end:
(Can I just say, as a disclaimer - if you've been raped you might find all this slightly annoying.)

You know the sexual freedom and autonomy thing we're always banging on about? Well forget it, because ladies? We are fucked.

Check out this lil charmer from justicewalks - "All Men Are Rapists".
I do not consider the “consent” I gave while under patriarchal delusions to have been legitimate. I believe that the males who took advantage of my training have as much responsibility to ensure that a woman is not submitting out of culturally instilled obligation as they do to ensure that she isn’t drunk or otherwise unable to give meaningful consent. But I understand that males will never behave in a manner that reduces the pool of “willing” women.

See, I don't know how to get into this - sociologically or philosophically. I personally think either route credits this will a little bit more thought than it warrants, but perhaps that's unkind.

So, right, "training", "social ... coercion", conditioning...... Shit, forget about socialisation, we're talking social control here. Seriously - social control is basically artificial socialisation, it's entirely unnatural. "Coercion" - that's force. And here -
By the time I began “consenting” to intercourse, I had been thoroughly brainwashed, by the culture in general and by specific males in particular.
And who is doing this brainwashing? Why, The Patriarchy, of course! Old white dudes in suits deciding your fate. And you, my love, are f.u.c.ked.

Now, like I said, I was tempted to go into this philosophically, and even, dare I say, with a lil theological twist? Uh huh - cos it reminds me a bit of Calvinism (The Patriarchy being God, obv) and soteriology - humans are entirely dependent upon God for salvation. We're predestined, basically. Christ, Calvinism is even more fatalistic than Hard Determinism - at least with hard determinism our choices for our future are dependent on our past and present, but still there is a little room for maneuver. This, though, well - "brainwashing" and all means any thoughts of autonomy can walk right out and not let the door smack it's fallacious fat ass.

Fucked up, yeah? Nah - not half as fucked up as it's about to get. Notice that women are the ones who have been brainwashed? Regardez -
This is what makes men rapists. They will use any pretense as sufficient proof of consent, when the truth is that consent is impossible under patriarchy.
Men weasel their way out of this conditioning. If they didn't, if they were fucked as us lot, well, we'd be raping them too, wouldn't we? But no, there they are knowing full well that they're raping us cos it's not possible to really consent.
As I and others have pointed out before, this is really offensive to people who actually have been raped. People who know the difference between sex they wanted, and sex that someone forced on them or pressured them into.

Views like this erode that difference. That stuff you said yes to? Well, that's JUST LIKE that stuff you said no to. Except maybe a little less distressing. But really, in the end, it's all nonconsensual. Doesn't matter what you thought, or how you felt. This is patriarchy, baby.

I KNOW the difference between things that have happened to me without my consent and things I wanted, or even initiated myself. Saying I'm stuck in the Matrix because I THINK I consented is just totally ridiculous.

To forestall the objection before someone makes it: Yes, I realize that justicewalks is talking about herself here, her consent or lack of it. I realize she could be saying that she personally was deluded and doesn't believe that the "choices" she made were real choices. And that's fine (though a little weird to me -- I tend to think that even when we're in unhealthy periods, we still make choices.) That's her experience.

But the problem is that she's using this experience of hers to say, in the last line of her post, that "All men are rapists."

Which means she's not just saying she wasn't really heterosexual. It means she's claiming that the same dynamic happens with everyone (or almost anyone), because any woman who's with a man is having the same thing happen, except in apparently rare exception cases she mentions at the end (but says nothing about.)

(What about women with women? Is there a meaningful distinction between being raped by a woman and having consensual sex with one?)

And how do you argue with someone who says that, anyway? There's no way you can respond, because they can always ask how you're sure you're not deluded.

Which is funny, because feminists' worst enemies do the same thing. I remember running into an online group of BDSM folks who were male supremacist because they were fundamentalist Christians. When I wandered in, wanting to talk to other BDSMers and feeling too shy to go find another group, I immediately got told I was really seeking my masculine head.

When I said that I was pretty sure I was dominant, thanks, and saw myself in the fantasies the men described and not the women, I got descended on. I seemed unhappy, they said -- and they were right, I was. I was unhappy because I'd always thought being kinky made me broken or weird or bad, so I was fragile, defensive, and aching for community of any kind. Even from people like this who I knew would never fully accept me.

And what did I get told? That that unhappiness, unsureness, fear I'd never find someone to submit to me? That it was all "feminism," and what "feminism" had done to my impressionable mind. If I'd come in as one of them, I would have, apparently, felt secure and happy. The fact that I didn't could only mean that I was right that I was kinky, but wrong about which direction. I'd calm down, feel better, be less angry when I just accepted that I'd been brainwashed by feminism and was afraid to let go and not fight, like an insecure and aggressive dog, for a place in the pack -- and the world -- that would only bring me grief.

And the thing is, I don't see any huge gulf between the fundies saying this and the rads who say "I never consented, ever" (and by extension, if the person is being consistent, "you never did either.") It's all the same thing, with a different agent of brainwashing each time.

Sure, I think sexism does exist and the conception of God these people had doesn't. And sure, that matters. It means it is possible for justicewalks to be right.

But if she is right, why do we care about rape at all? Why do people have such intense emotional trauma from it, if consent doesn't even exist? That doesn't make any sense.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go do some things so I'll be properly ready for my, uh, rape tomorrow night. Weirdly enough, it actually still does sound like fun.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Queering BDSM subcultures

I'm currently working on a big academic project on queer and SM spaces (and eventually some of it will be a conference paper -- eek!). I'm aware that plenty of communities around the world will tend to place BDSM under the big queer umbrella, if you like. But the community in the UK is not so keen to do this.

Pat Califia wrote in Public Sex:
By "radical sex", I do not simply mean sex which differs from the "norm" or heterosexual, vanilla, male-dominant intercourse. People whose erotic practices are deviant do tend to acquire an outsider's critical perspective on marriage, the family, heterosexuality, gender roles, and vanilla sex. Being a sex radical means being defiant as well as deviant.
In the UK, the majority of the community does not tend to operate from a critical perspective on most of those things. Plenty believe there are inherent, naturalised differences between the sexes that are merely acted out through gender role (and hence, often through BDSM), for instance, and many are in favour of performing to the world a normative presentation of marriage, family and gender role. With the recent advent of Max Moseley's "outing" and trial, the community has been called upon to make various statements to the press about our relationship choices, practices, etc. Of course, journalists will lift, re-word and use whichever segments of interviews they fancy (and a friend of mine found herself wildly misrepresented in a national newspaper as a consequence), but there has been this attempt to "out" BDSM in the UK as a tad fluffy, white, middle-class and Middle England -- and it's not just an impression that's circulated by the media: it's how the community want to be represented, in the main.

Obviously, I'm in favour of partially dismantling all of those things -- or at least the not-othering of choices that don't fit into those boxes. So, while BDSM in the UK is certainly deviant, we're missing that defiance -- or at least, we're missing defiance of social norms of the kind Califia's describing.

Given that this blog has a pretty international readership, I'm curious to ask: is queer viewed in a similar way within BDSM communities in other countries?
Do fetish clubs/events in other countries operate on a more pansexual basis? Is there a wide variety of sexualities and genders on display?
Is there a certain degree of social defiance and resistance to normative gender roles, relationship formations, marriage and family in other communities?*

*this isn't lazy research, by the way! I'm just beginning to unpick all these tensions, so here seems like a good place to air some of my concerns!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

BDSM and Anarchism...

First of all, a link: Subversive Submissive finds a critique of BDSM on an anarchist website, and has something to say about it.
I happened upon this thread on an anarchist message board,

It always makes me a little irritated when I see BDSM misrepresented in the mainstream media. It makes me sad to see feminists critiquing other women for their kinky sexual orientations/practices. But it breaks my fucking heart when I see anarchists doing it. Why? I suppose because “anarchist” is probably the closest I come to really embracing a label to define myself, and when I see people using that label as a justification to trash my sexuality, it hits pretty hard.

....I thought about signing up on the message board in question in order to respond to some of this bullshit, but decided against it for now. Here are some of the things I’d address, were I to bite the bullet and get involved in the argument:

[numbering off because I'm not quoting every point and the numbering is automatic]
  1. Giving legitimacy to BDSM as a sexual practice is not the same as giving legitimacy to the idea of domination/submission as a model for human relationships. Period. Kinky people play with power and hierarchy. It’s like saying none of us should play Monopoly, because it imitates and thus legitimizes a capitalist economic system.
  2. The idea that in a perfect anarchist society, people would be better able to dissuade kinky people from engaging in such “negative” behaviors begs the question of BDSM being inherently “negative.” It isn’t.
  3. Playing with domination in a sexual relationship is not the same thing as an inegalitarian or hierarchical relationship. It is not inherently harmful or “addictive.”
  4. BDSM is not only performed as a paid service, nor is it necessarily linked to pornography or any other kind of sex work. The vast majority of people who practice BDSM are not sex workers.
  5. Finally: it’s not okay to treat another person’s sexuality or subculture as merely an “intellectual curiosity,” something to entertain you. If you’re curious about it, educate yourself, don’t simply start making ignorant comments on a message board.
First, I want to say that I think her points are excellent; I quote as many points from her list as I do because, well, it's awesome.

Second, though, I want to talk about 1 and 2 (at least as numbered in this post.) Because, while I see her point and think she argues well, I'm... well... weird, in not agreeing.

Because to me, even after all these years of "sex wars" bickering, I still am not clear on something big.

That is... in feminist or anarchist or a few other circles, "hierarchical" or "inegalitarian" seem to be used interchangeably to indicate forms of "domination and submission," which is in turn seen as across-the-board bad. BDSM is seen as an odd kind of exception, the little thing after the pesky asterisk. We didn't mean YOU/US.

This works in two major ways.

1) It assumes that BDSM is about scenes. The word "play" is a popular one here, as is the word "drama," "scene," erotic theater. BDSM is not "inegalitarian" because it is a sex game, something people play at, like playing at Monopoly. Just as I can play at robber-baron with my friends around the boardgame even if I'm the reddest Marxist there ever was, I can be totally devoted to nonhierarchical relationships and still play Nero in bed.

My issue with this is that not all SM is play. Some people dominate and submit not for a scene, but as part of a relationship. Still others see dominance and submission as personality traits that come out in their intimate lives, or as deep needs that they would be lost and unfulfilled without. While the players could simply throw these people under the bus, I don't see that as any kind of good strategy. And I'm not just saying that because I'm one of them.

I'm saying it because, well, people will always be aware that we're not all just playing. They'll accuse us, even the honest dramatists, of lying or hiding something. If we don't have an adequate way of explaining the people who do have power exchanges outside of bed, the "well, but that has to affect you SOMEHOW!" and "But THOSE people are Gorean!" and "Ever hear of TiH?" questions will never cease.

It is definitely true that some of us are playing and that's it, and there's no reason those people should have to defend a lifestyle they may well not share, not understand, and not even like. However, I'd like to think that we're all in this together, if not because we want to be, then because the theory laid out against us makes us be. We don't have to approve of one another to have a defense that doesn't rely on vast numbers of us not existing.

2) BDSM is in fact a lifestyle or relationship style for some people, but it's different because of consent. The word "hierarchy" covertly implies some sort of nonconsensual structure. Therefore, BDSM is one of a tiny handful of power dynamics that actually count as "egalitarian," because anything consensual does.

This is the one that confuses me most, which is unfortunate since I already reject 1).

The OED tells me that a "hierarchy" is, among other things which strike me as less relevant:
A body of persons or things ranked in grades, orders, or classes, one above another; spec. in Natural Science and Logic, a system or series of terms of successive rank (as classes, orders, genera, species, etc.), used in classification.
So it's a rank ordering. And apparently nothing else. Now what's "egalitarian", Mr. OED?
That asserts the equality of mankind.
Okay, sure... I guess, then, BDSM is "egalitarian," as it doesn't say anything one way or the other about any humans being better than any other humans (unless one is making the mistake of assuming the gender supremacists speak for all of us -- and here I feel a need to note that there are female supremacists out there too. They're not just Goreans and their ilk.)

But hierarchical? Well, relationship D/s sure seems like it creates ranks to me. What is a pattern of deference, service, command, control, sometimes even consensual slavery and mastery if not a rank order?

I suppose one could say that it's a rank ordering but no one is "above" anyone else, if one assumes that "above" means "worth more than" or "better than." So it's a rank ordering where everyone is equal. Paradoxical, but correct.

Except that it relies on defining "equal" as "equal in worth," and I'm still not convinced that saying something includes a rank-ordering means inequality of worth, really. I don't quite see why that should be. I taught students -- surely I outranked them, otherwise they wouldn't have needed a teacher. But I was in no way worth more than they. Why teach them if they're presumed worthless?

So... my brain scrambles when I see "hierarchy" used as an all-purpose curse in Left Bloglandia. It just plain makes no sense to me. Hierarchies are everywhere. Many are pernicious. Some are not. Many are nonconsensual. Some are consensual. Many are imposed. Some are negotiated. Many are fixed. Some are dynamic and fluid.

And if, as I think we should, we presume that at least some BDSM does involve real power dynamics and not just, well, playing Monopoly, it makes no sense at all for us to try to disavow words like "hierarchy" to me. For many of us, the hierarchy is neither illusion nor game, but part of the point.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Link: The Fetish Industry and Feminism

There is currently a discussion going on over in LiveJournal's community "feminist" about BDSM and feminism, particularly focusing on women working in the fetish industry. I thought you all might want the heads up.

If any of you are part of that community (I left ages ago, myself), you might want to point some of the people who are clueless that there ever have been feminist criticisms of BDSM over here... *hint hint*


ETA: I particularly like this comment:
Marginalizing anything having to do with desire and with sexual relations is unfortunately, very common. Desire and arousal are complicated and very, very unconscious. It can all be deconstructed until the cows come home, but I think the people who need to deconstruct it are those who engage in it. It is dangerous for someone who desires one thing to tell someone who desires another that they are >>wrong<< and that it excludes them from a group as varied as feminists. The ONLY time this is at all o.k. is when it somehow trespasses on another's life without consent.

I actually disagree that "the only time this is OK" is trespassing. I do think that sometimes we can tell when close friends or lovers are getting into something that isn't good for them. If I noticed a good pal falling head over heels for a pushy, abusive ass of a "dom", you'd better believe I'd tell her I think she's making a mistake. But that's not because her desires make her unfeminist, that's because sometimes NRE makes smitten people do stupid shit. Or because some people really do have unrealistic outlooks about which of their fantasies they can really fulfill (Absolute, never-waning-ever, negotiated-once-and-that's-it TPE? Come ON.) that land them, as individual people with specific, individual lives, in unhappy messes. And I do think we can tell friends they're wrong, if they don't see it themselves.

But, well, that's got to do with friendship. It's not got shit to do with feminism, or gender, or social norms, or cultural expectations. Tell your friends they're making mistakes when you're in a situation to know this. Don't say anything in the name of feminist "theory" to anyone else.