Sunday, 22 March 2009


There's currently a discussion of BDSM over at Feministing. Someone asks whether her submissiveness can be consistent with her feminism, and gets this reply, which I was glad to see:

A good step towards accepting your sexuality for what it is may be to unpack it a little bit more. I want to quote you back to you: I'm a very assertive and driven person in real life so it's just really hard for me to accept how much I sexually enjoy giving up control and power.

I'm going to come back to the first part, but first let's focus on the second part of the sentence: I sexually enjoy giving up control and power. YOU give up control and power. In the real world, power and control are taken from women in an effort to make them submissive. In your sex life, as convoluted as this may seem, you are in power because you make the choice to give up power. Your boyfriend (yay for him) engaged in this because you (still in power) asked him to engage. As much as the sex play is about you "giving up power," in reality you are still the one in control.

It's not entirely what I'd say, myself. I'm less a fan of back and forth about who's "really" in control as I am of the idea that
  1. choosing something is different from it being chosen for you, and
  2. being able to end an interaction is different from being part of a social structure you probably can't alter all by your lonesome.
That is, however, more an issue of wording than of substantive disagreement.

Most responses are supportive, with a couple people (rightly, IMO) pointing out that many women are submissive to men and that it may be worth considering whether patriarchy has something to do with this. (My opinion: Yes, but it is also true from what I've seen that submissive people outnumber dominant ones in all cases, so we should be sure to take this into account before deciding that this is entirely because of the Pat.)

The usual debates begin a bit further down, with this comment from laughingrat:

I don't particularly mind being the lone voice of dissent here, and the rhetoric about this subject is often so skewed that it might give other dissenters courage to think or speak freely if they see someone else's remarks.

We live in a society that is based on domination and submission--the brutalization of one person or group of persons for the benefit of another. This is called "patriarchy." Nothing we do or think is free of patriarchy; everything we can currently imagine or act is done within the context of patriarchy. D/S in the bedroom, fetishizing torture of the body or spirit in the bedroom, is by definition happening within and saturated by patriarchy.

Do what you like in bed, but please do not tell fairy tales about it, and don't tell me it's "feminist" to hurt or inflict hurt, to dominate or be dominated, because it's not. If we had no patriarchy, if there was no overriding, hideous system designed to subjugate some and elevate others, I might be inclined to believe that BDSM is a positive behavior--but then, if we had no patriarchy, BDSM would not hold nearly the fascination it does now. Without patriarchy, the so-called "submissive side" of our personality, taken for granted as being natural because we can't currently imagine the possibility of life without domination and submission, would simply go away.

We're all familiar with the polarization that, sadly, comes next.

I don't really have much to say that I haven't said already. Funny how this discussion always seems to re-tread the same ground over and over. But, for anyone who hasn't seen my response to arguments like these, needs a refresher, or just would like to read it again:
  1. There's a persistent confusion among anti-SM feminists where they assume that all pro-SM feminists assert that BDSM is feminist, or that doing BDSM means engaging in a feminist act.

    Some of us do say this, believing that one of the ways patriarchy controls women is by pressuring us to put men's sexual desires before our own. On this view, BDSM is feminist because any woman exploring her fantasies and desires is rebelling against a social standard that tells her that her sexuality does not belong to her.

    Others, including me, are asserting not that BDSM is inherently feminist, but rather that it is consistent with feminism. Personally, I don't think my kinks are any more feminist than brushing my teeth is -- but I also do not think that they are any less feminist than brushing my teeth is.

    Oddly, a lot of anti-SM feminists don't seem able to even entertain the possibility that some actions are neither feminist nor antifeminist.

  2. I don't believe any of us can assert what sexualities would look like in Utopia, and I think it's really arrogant to assert that we know what they would look like.

    I also think that the logic that BDSM will someday disappear is based on flawed logic.

    For one thing, a lot of BDSM is about physical sensation. I don't think that masochism has as much to do with social dynamics as it has to do with how people process physical sensation, how much endorphins a particular individual produces in response to stimuli, how much she enjoys endorphin highs, etc.

    For another, I think that the idea that all D/s traces back to unjust social dynamics is flawed, or at least needs to be argued for more robustly than I've usually seen it argued for. While I don't doubt that some D/s fantasies involve them, I don't think all do. Every adult was once a child, and every child was both nurtured and limited/controlled by parents or caretakers, and probably by teachers as well. I don't think it's any kind of stretch that some humans might sexualize this, and I don't think no one would in Utopia either. Even, yes, if Utopia had a lot less hierarchy in it.
The thing that most annoys me about the way this conversation always seems to follow the same well-worn grooves is the endless refrain that we "haven't examined." I just wonder, if that's the case, what exactly people think this blog is for.

As I have, again, said many times before, I get the impression that many anti-SM people are actually saying that only reaching the conclusions they have counts as real "examination."

The difference between them and me is I couldn't care less if someone who really was pressured by society or by trauma into submitting gives it up and is healthier for it. Whereas these people sure do seem to care a lot whether others of us, who assert that our own personal stories are not the same as theirs are, keep doing it or not.

(Or, to be fair to those anti-SM feminists who consistently bray "I'm not telling you what to doooooooo!" as if that were the issue,"sure do seem to care a lot whether others of us keep defending it from their critiques.")

I'll end quoting a comment from hope that I think is completely brilliant and right on, so we don't all have to walk away mad:

While I know that this is a fairly common radical feminist view, it is condescending. To say that if there were no patriarchy then BDSM might be okay, but without patriarchy BDSM wouldn’t exist is essentially saying that BDSM is never okay. Additionally, saying that without patriarchy all social power imbalances would disappear just seems a little silly to me. Not all power dynamics are bad, what about parent/child or teacher/student?

That being said, calling laughingrat an idiot is not a helpful way of furthering discussion. I think that part of the problem is that kinky people are very used to being treated badly for their kink. I’ve been told that being submissive and feminist are fundamentally incompatible more times than I can count. I’ve heard that if we just “examined” or “questioned” our desires we would see why they were wrong. I’ve heard that I am sick and disgusting and that my lover is abusive and a rapist and should kill himself. And this has all come from feminists.

....Again, I’m fairly confident that the majority of submissives are male, not female. I am also really sick of hearing that feminists who are sexually submissive don’t question or examine where their desires come from, we do. I’ve been examining my desires since I started having them when I was a child; I still don’t know why I have them. I wasn’t abused as a child, I didn’t start having submissive tendencies after being sexually assaulted, and I grew up in one of the most progressive feminist towns in Massachusetts. I also don’t know why I’m queer, but most people (especially feminists) don’t seem to need me to question that quite as thoroughly.

....EGhead [who said "I think it would be beneficial for people to stop their BDSM practices; not necessarily beneficial for them, but beneficial for society as a whole."] doesn’t think anyone necessarily needs to change, just that it would be better for society if we did. The (hopefully unintentional) subtext of this is that, since this is a feminist site and most feminists care strongly about bettering society, submissives are selfish for putting their sexual desire before the good of society. Which, interestingly enough, sounds a lot like some very un-feminist sentiments about female sexuality in general. I sincerely hope that this was not intentional on EGhead’s part.


Dw3t-Hthr said...

I'm mostly left with Belle's tag, "not the eternal subject AGAIN".

And maybe my "What can I say that I haven't said before?" post and the "No, seriously, this is why I'm submissive, could you listen already?" post.

Trinity said...

Yeah. The comment threads are actually somewhat interesting now, but... yeah, there's a repetitiveness to the whole thing in general that's as pointless and uncomfortable as nail-biting.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

(I'm also glad that someone in there said, "Wait, you think that this initial comment was respectful? WTF?" Because ... all of the 'This was a respectful comment! Why do you have to be so defensive about it!?' was giving me serious mental whiplash.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I mean. "Brutalisation", "fetishizing torture of the body or spirit", "fairy tales", and the "If it weren't for my bogeyman you wouldn't exist because this stuff would just vanish like poof" subtext?

If this is polite expression of an opinion, I don't want to see cruel.

And yeah, "You're an idiot" is an intemperate reply and not going to help the conversation, and I wouldn't say it. But there's not much if anything there to distinguish it from the last batch of woman-erasing theory-worshipping shame peddlers. Or the one before that. Or the one before that. Or the ...


I had a great, but exhausting weekend, and I just don't have the oomph for anything other than this drained-out ranting about the futility of it all, unfortunately.

Hope said...

Thanks for the post, and for keeping up the discussion over there. I'm actually rather enjoying you conversation with Nerdisms, but I just don't have the energy to keep up that kind of conversation for too long. It tends to feel a little to much like banging my head against a wall.

So I'm glad you're willing to do it, because I do feel like it needs to be said - especially there, because most of the commenters are liberal (not radical) feminists and quite a few of them are also very young.

garbo in paint said...

God where to begin.

So much here that I relate to, that confronts me.

I am a submissive woman who defines myself as a particularly gung-ho feminist and who really wants nothing more than to just give up control to another.
I am pro-BDSM and SM and D/s and etc...
With the provisos... I like to see it unpacked, deconstructed, understood.

I yearn to be in a fully submissive role yet I remain single because it's difficult to meet someone who has all the attributes I desire as well as the politics.

Also, although I am very comfortable with my submissive desires, I do wonder if perhaps the wool has been pulled over my eyes by the patriarchy, so to speak, and I do exist in a state of false consciousness...

Yet that said, I feel that BDSM is a much more primal urge in humans that it being all the result of the Pat... as you say, that's flawed logic. I think the desire to submit or dominate is intrinsic to human nature TBH, it's just the way it's become constructed and abused over time that can make it negative.

I've been practicing BDSM for almost ten years now, I love it, this ground between feminism and BDSM is not new for me, yet I still feel like I am searching for full understanding.

And that's just one big stream of BLAH. Sorry. :) Loved the post though.

Anonymous said...

I love what you do, Trinity. Thanks for blogging.

Trinity said...

Thanks, Danny.

Anonymous said...


I just wanted to say two things.

The fun of kinks is a lot about breaking the rules. Thats why I think that is even more fun playing bdsm and being feminist...

But let be congruent Feminization should be used as a reward not an humiliation...

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