Sunday, 11 July 2010

Forms of Power

A post here just got a very interesting comment. I'm going to reproduce it here, and then make a few comments of my own.
"Why do we condemn the patriarchy if not for the fact that it is a power imbalance? What theoretical footing can feminism have if it is not the rejection of power imbalances?"

A frame of reference I have found useful is the distinction between a "rational and temporary" imbalance of power and an "irrational and permanent" one. For example, as the parent of a child, I held a "rational and temporary" imbalance of power vis-a-vis my daughter which derived from my greater understanding and mastery of many aspects of the environment and my responsibility for getting her safely to the point where her knowledge and mastery allowed her to function independently. It was an imbalance intended to come to an end, a goal for which I bore - in my very power - a great deal of responsibility for achieving. My daughter is now in her late 20s, and we both work hard to weed out the last remnants of that old, once-rational-but-now-outdated imbalance in order to achieve the *balance* of power that is more appropriate to two adults in relationship.

The context in which I learned this way of distinguishing two types of power was that of the therapist-client relationship. As a radical feminist practicing psychotherapy, one of my main concerns was to acknowledge and play my part as one whose experience and expertise placed me in the position of having greater power in a way that guaranteed its "rational and temporary" nature. Everything I did was ultimately in the service of shifting that power balance so that ultimately my client and I would be in a relationship in which our power was equal.
A second concept which has served me well has been the distinction between "power-over" and "power-as-personal-potency." Patriarch only has one concept of power; it is synonymous with "domination," or "power-over." Feminism (re-)introduces another form of power, that of "potency," which does not require the subservience of another in order to exist. When the personal power/potency of all parties is a 'given,' then an exploration of power-as-domination, it seems to me, can have an entirely new reality.
I honestly can't tell whether this commenter is pro-SM or anti-SM. She mentions being a radical feminist, and most of those I've met are anti-, but there's a difference between speaking of a group and speaking of an individual. So I'm not sure.

But I like the idea of "rational and temporary." When I was studying Wartenberg on power, he spoke of two different kinds of power as well. He called the sort of power that a good parent or good teacher has over a child "transformative power." His analysis is very similar to the commenter's here: this power is intended to be wielded temporarily, and intended to phase itself out over time as the child develops her own control over her life.

I like that very much as a base for talking about why healthy D/s isn't abusive and has nothing to do with patriarchy. Still, it's not perfect. Obviously, participants in consensual BDSM are not children, and most D/s is not intentionally set up to change over time. (Of course, being realistic, we should recognize that it actually will -- no power dynamic is ever completely static.) It's certainly not intended to bring about its own obsolescence. So opponents of D/s could make the argument that it's not the same thing.

The thing is, I don't think that all of us magically outgrow relations in which concensual hierarchy or consensual power dynamics exist. Yes, most of us leave school at some point in our lives, but plenty of us still learn things, take classes, put ourselves under the informal tutelage of friends. We all have limitations, things that others we know do better than we do. We all have situations in which we want to be sheltered and comforted, and to lose ourselves at least in the illusion that a more powerful loved one can protect us. We all -- I hope -- have situations arise in which others respect us as trusted authorities too, whether as wise bosses, senior members of organizations, or even just good givers of advice.

Which leads me to see power relations in which one person has more power than another as quite natural and, much of the time, rather unremarkable and boring. Hence my confusion when people of a "radical" bent want to shine a spotlight on "how power works" and throw most of it out, envisioning a more "egalitarian" (so it's termed, anyway) world.

And when we get to BDSM, or to D/s specifically, I blink. It's right to worry about the potential for abuse, just as it's right to be careful when using a knife or lighting a fire. Those things can harm you, or even kill you.

But the fact that they are dangerous does not make them so terrifying they're no longer useful. We could choose not to use a knife or a match and still live a perfectly productive and interesting life, though we might have to make some interesting adaptations. So if radical feminists want to try and eradicate as much hierarchy as they can from their lives, that's fine with me. It's just like the person who goes through some interesting convolutions because she's scared of knives. It's none of my business.

But when someone goes on a crusade against knives, saying that we can hurt ourselves with them, or mentioning that sometimes they're used in violence or homicide, that's when I roll my eyes and decide that someone's being truly unreasonable. It's not someone else's choice what risks someone else takes, especially when their own life is structured to avoid risk in a way that most of the rest of us would never do. No, it doesn't make the rest of us right that we all do the same thing -- hundred thousand lemmings can be wrong -- but the simple point that the knife is dangerous does not thereby prove that none of us should be using them.

Or that if we do use them, we should see this as a regrettable, necessary evil that stems only from the fact that our society has not yet advanced to the point where we can cut food without sharp things. That we should see enjoying cutting our vegetables as some sort of sign that we're inherently broken, damaged by abuse, or possessing "false consciousness" taught to us by a culture invested in selling us Ginsu knives.

When we grow and become adults, hopefully one tool we develop is discernment in the power relations we enter into. Some of us, of course, will not do this -- and sometimes the most fine-honed discernment in the world is useless in the face of a sufficiently charming con artist, deceiver, or abuser. But the mere fact that some of us don't have discernment, or that we can be bamboozled by the cruel and unethical, does not mean those of us who do should be told not to use it.

And that's the thing that gets me in all this, really. The society that many anti-SM people envision as Utopia is built for the lowest common denominator: no sharp edges. No matches. No knives. The poor, poor women could get hurt!

Perhaps I'm wicked for this, but I don't believe we build a successful and healthy society by choosing the maximum level of protection and telling the smartest and wisest they'll just have to suck it up and not take risks so as not to confuse the vulnerable. Protecting the vulnerable is important, but that should be done in a nuanced way. That should not be done by forcing the rest of us to live tapioca lives because someone who doesn't understand might see, might see!

That's the thing. I do believe people have some responsibility for other people seeing and emulating their behavior, but I don't think "think of the women!" is any less disgusting than the kind of "think of the children!" that forgets that thoughtful children, when engaged in deep and age-appropriate discussions of the world around them, can actually understand a lot of things.

Besides, I'm female. I don't want people protecting me because they're "thinking of me." I don't want people protecting my partner from me without, you know, at least saying three words to her first. I want a fulfilling life with my partner that includes the kinds of dynamics she and I choose for ourselves, thanks.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Irritating crap! ;-)

I was just poking around the blogosphere and completely by accident came across a post from today that mentioned this blog. I'll be going about this a tad backwards, but here's the mention:
Anyways, I’ve been trying to read more anti-sexist kinky blogs over the last few weeks. As I find them, I’ll link to them in the LoGI posts, since there are some really awesome writers doing some really awesome theorizing about race, class, and gender. There are some others, though, who are incredibly toxic. It’s a dangerous world out there — really, all I’m trying to do is live.
It amuses me actually, because I'd just been posting in my own space how refreshed I felt taking a break! I suppose I am just glad to see that my and the others' words here have been useful to someone.

That said, I'm a little... concerned... about the post, even when I find myself and my compatriots lauded there. Here's why.

The post is called Crap that irritates me about kinky bloggers. Reading it, it seems to be about rather clueless kinky people who blog, all of whom are apparently heterosexual, white, M/f-dynamic-oriented, and bad writers. Problem being, it just says "kinky bloggers," as if those are the kinky people who blog:
I guess it’s a lot easier to be mad at the cuddly feminists asking you to think about consent and heteronormativity than to critique a legal and social system that mandates relationships all follow a particular pattern with a particular life cycle. That makes LOADS of sense. Here’s a secret: most feminists are too busy thinking about attacking patriarchy, questioning their own privilege, and advocating for women’s reproductive rights to worry about how much you love it when your partner flogs you.
It's made clear later that this person is kinky herself (and may or may not be heterosexual), but it sure reads in the beginning like the sort of flaky "feminism" that assumes kink just is heterosexual, M/f D/s. That assumption is, as you all know by now, the big thing that makes it so "easy" for me personally "to be mad" at the "cuddly" (lovely substitute for a swear, I'll have to use that) "feminists" who never stop prattling about nonsense that has nothing to do with me.

I've said many, many times that I find it disturbingly odd that self-styled feminists find the concept of a female top foreign, strange, or derailing. It's bizarre beyond bizarrity to me that anyone, lunatic fringe or not, in a movement that is fundamentally about shining a big flashlight on the way women have traditionally been denied power be so invested in not talking about the women who claim to have it. Even saying we don't, however much it angers or even just bores me, is a step up from total erasure.

I don't like the "cuddly" (love it!) feminists, because they erase me.

And as someone who is bisexual and currently not dating a dude and smitten with someone who's not a dude, I feel the same way about the absolutely endless, endless, endless grating focus not only on heterosexuality but on a particular kind of heterosexuality I'm not going anywhere near when I'm sticking things up submissive men.

Frankly, right now I just don't care if the straight people are linking hands and merrily skipping off cliffs together. They own the damn world; they can figure out their own damn messes.

Critiquing heteronormativity? How about the way that, yet again, gay and lesbian BDSM is handwaved away because it's absolutely imperative that we talk about straight people.

Forgive me if I suspect that's because bitching about straight people's blogs is easier than researching and honoring leather history, which is inherently. And. Unavoidably. Queer.

Then there's, uh, some stuff about badly written erotica that I don't even get because I don't know the context. And some stuff about how people stop writing dark-themed stories once they're out of their teens.

While I realize this is probably about crappy writing and being sick about it, and there's nothing worse than a crappy dark story that has to remind you how seriously it takes itself... my first reaction remains something to the extent of:

Yawn. There are plenty of people who don't read the erotica I write. Add yourself to that number, and be glad you're not hangin' around an (apparently) overgrown teen who's having fun.

Then there's uh, something about "mansplaining," which again is probably about the blog(s?) of some whiny hetero Domly Dom of Doom:
I… don’t care about you quoting your female partner’s experience in a gangbang. I ALSO don’t care about how you understand the female orgasm (like there’s only one kind!) and want to explain to me that clitoral masturbation is immature, achieving vaginal orgasm’s a sign of emotional success, and lube is for sissies. I PARTICULARLY don’t care that you fuck a lot of strippers, and because you’re a paying customer you don’t want to see those dirty skanks eat and beeee teeeee dubbss your stripper BFF agrees with you because eating in front of clients is un-fucking-professional. I mean, how NOT feminist is it to name someone else’s experience using particular politicized adjectives when you’re trying to make a point that one of the major political, philosophical movements acknowledging her citizenship rights and existence as a person is like totally wrong in thinking about her sexuality and her political ideologies?
But again, it's presented totally without context, as though "kinky blogs" were all by "mansplainers." Once again, here's the assumption that everyone talking is male, heterosexual, and dominant. Somehow, again, I sniff patriarchy. Perhaps I wouldn't if it were made clear that the lion's share of the blogs she knows of are written by people who are male, heterosexual. and dominant. But she doesn't say that, nor does she explain why she isn't self-selecting.

And I'm kind of put off by the idea that a dude can't quote his woman partner's experience in a gangbang and not be skeevy, anyway. (And considering the very specific mention of "strippers eating," this is probably a response to one gross post on one obnoxious blog, again presented as if it were an example of a common problem.)

Trust me, I understand that many dudes who waltz in to do battle with "the radfems" complete with TMI about their intense kink and off-point explanations of what makes it all okay are creepy as hell. I've seen it myself. More times than I've ever wanted to.

But I've also seen this odd thing whereby some dominant man who doesn't know the ins and outs of gender theory comments on an angry "radical feminist"'s post, and it's assumed that the mere fact that he says "But Rosie talks about how it felt this way to her, and why she wanted it, and I don't see why listening to her is wrong" is proof that he and Rosie were totally unenlightened, skipping-off-together-to-hell heteros in the first place. Ah-wha?

And then there's a "stop fetishizing pale-skinned women." Which is probably again about the crappy erotica. And yeah, if the writer has no clue why the endless focus on how sexy white femininity is is sketchy, then I agree. But you know? I don't think it's going to make pale skin any less sexy to anybody who thinks it's hot, even if their reasons are soul-rendingly disgusting.

Any sentence that starts with "stop fetishizing..." is pretty much one I'd vote off the planet.

"Be aware that this is complicated," we can keep. And should use more often. "Don't buy into racist bullshit about what beauty is?" Doubly so. "Write about more, and more varied, kinds of beauty?" Sure, though some people's erotica is just about what they find hot, however problematic. I'm not sure it betters the world to enlist people who are just having fun in some crusade to be didactic. Not everyone's a role model.

And it's said in a way that implies it also means "Don't permit yourself to think of associations that are in tons of literature and media you like when you're staring at a sexy femme who happens to be white and pale and submissive."

I'd say I'd try, but I'd be lying.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Nature of Abuse

There's a very, very old thread over at Nine Deuce's on BDSM that has recently been revived. I had been studiously ignoring it, as it pretty much repeated the same claims we've already talked about many times before. And as I've mentioned here, I'm not really as invested as I once was in coming up with detailed arguments defending BDSM from its detractors. I've pretty much settled on the point of view That those who try to lump all power dynamics into the same analysis are simply lazy, and don't really warrant the kind of argument I used to try to make in reply to them.

However, one comment that arrived in my inbox struck me both as particularly illuminating and as particularly -- dare I say horrifyingly? -- unfortunate.

I really liked your post, and while I found most of the comments too triggering to read, what little I picked up is that some folks are ignoring your stance of “intertwining sex and power has never led to any good” for “stop trying to tell me what to do in my sexy times!”

Doesn’t the harm of sexual abuse come from tightly knitting together power and sex to the point where the victim can’t even tell if they are consenting or if they are enjoying what’s happening? A sexual practice that seems built on pinning power to sex just reeks of abuse. I’m not an expert by any means, but I don’t think that normalizing bondage, sadism, and or masochism helps anyone. I guess it must be addicting though, like self harm.

It's the bolded sentence that deeply alarms me. I've not spoken very much in online forums about some really creepy things I experienced in a relationship, in part because I'd rather that person not discover me talking about it.

However, I will say in the strongest language possible that the control that person tried to maintain over me had nothing to do with making me confused about whether I wanted something or not, much less convincing me that I liked being cut down. This person was very, very clear about wanting what they wanted. I was expected to provide it, like it or not. It wasn't about some nefarious plot to re-wire how I derived pleasure such that I found myself desperate for ill-treatment. My pleasure was beside the point, my lack of enthusiastic consent an impediment to someone else's wants that was annoying, not to be taken seriously. The ill-treatment was going to happen anyway.

Yes, most abusers do cycle between wooing their victims, lavishing attention (perhaps including pleasant, seemingly caring sex) and praise on them to maintain control, and cutting them down, whether verbally, physically, or sexually. But that does not mean that one comes to love being harmed, being degraded, being cut down, or being violated.

It may mean that one comes to feel one must endure those things, must "weather the storm" until one's "tempermental" or "stormy" partner "cools down," but that isn't about re-wiring how someone gets pleasure. That's about convincing her that those arguments or fights or beatings or rapes are "no big deal," are just disagreements that "get out of hand." Or that they are just punishments; if you can make a person believe she deserves to pay for her "mistakes," she will not rebel.

I will say that I have heard of situations where some people did have ambivalent reactions to sexual violence because it meant getting attention from someone they thought they "loved" (if anyone remembers Biting Beaver's anti-BDSM essay, there was some of this in that.) So I can't say it never happens. But there, it was because her partner pressured her into BDSM (unless I misremember; please correct if I do) and she was trying to be as sexually pleasing to her partner as she could. I don't think trying to please a partner with a kink is solely the province of those who identify as submissive, though these folks might not agree.

This "analysis" whereby people are made into abuse-receptacles because kinky sex exists is woeful. I can see, however, why it's appealing. It's easier to say "if only society were different" than it is to recognize the subtle cruelty of cycles of violence.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Thinky comments....

Just got an interesting comment on a rather old post, so I thought I'd pull it out:
I think people who ask questions like that are taking an unwarranted shortcut--something like, "Well, we know patriarchy affects people" (true) "and we know patriarchy is based on a power dynamic" (also true) "and we know BDSM is based on a power dynamic" (true) "so patriarchy must be involved in BDSM somewhere" (wait, stop, back up a bit).

They're leaving out the step of showing that the power dynamic in BDSM bears any significant similarity or common traits to the one in patriarchy. (Possibly they assume that, as an overarching model embedded in our culture, patriarchy must have gotten its meathooks into most power dynamics that exist, but they have to prove that first, and define exactly what the "meathooks" are and how they got attached, etc.).

I have no problem believing that patriarchal assumptions have affected my thoughts about kinky things in some ways...but I seriously doubt it was the sole driving force responsible for their existence.

I also think patriarchy is everywhere, but I'd have to see solid scientific studies before I just assume it's any more "involved" with BDSM than it is in (say) cooking or photography or raising miniature horses.
I agree with that, and I also wonder whether it might be useful to bring up something this comment makes me think of. Not sure how useful it is or isn't but...

I'm reminded of reading books like Coming to Power years ago, and noticing several of the folks who contributed to that (who identified as both kinky and feminist) saying stuff like "I think everything in life is shot through with power dynamics. Life itself is a constant interplay of power: of control, of authority, of obedience, of surrender. When I make that part of my life, whether I'm 'playing' with it or doing something else, I'm acknowledging and studying and perhaps even affecting how those many dynamics of power play out."

It makes me think. At the time, I figured that the kinky folk expressing this view (and I'd say in some ways I too am one; I think power relations underlie a whole lot of human interaction at a pretty basic level) saw power as just a part of life, where anti-kink folk saw power dynamics as something sick and twisted overlaid forcibly on some more innocent state of nature.

Now I wonder if that's true. Maybe they agree that power is a part of everything, a part of cooking and dancing and talking and sex, but it's just that they think it's poison, stuffed into everything so we don't know what's natural any more and what isn't. Kind of the way there are preservatives in food.

And that... well, to go back to the commenter's comment, I'm inclined to think patriarchy is that way, stuffed bits at a time into a lot of things we do. And I don't think that's healthy. (But neither do I think aggressive methods to try and purge it work. I don't think corn in everything I eat is good, but I think it would make me crazy to try and eat nothing with corn syrup in it.)

But I'm not sure power is. I'm pretty sure interplays of power just are what they are. Yes, some of them are pernicious, and yes, all of them probably carry some risk. But I tend to think they come with interacting. I'd say "in the way dying comes with living," except that dying is unknown and often painful and scary and usually seen as negative, and I mean something more neutral than that. I mean if you live, they're there.

I can't imagine they wouldn't be in the post-patriarchy, or even in the post-kyriarchy of any kind.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

theory, kink, and feminism

I got an interesting comment on my recent post and I thought I should dedicate a post to addressing it, though I strongly suspect that will disappoint the person who made it. Here's the relevant part of the comment:
Trinity, I'm a little confused by your confusion, but I'll try to make my question clearer. The simplest way to put it is exactly the way you do--the question is whether "kink in some way either contributes to or follows from" the oppression of women. (Feel free to substitute "harm", "bad for", or some less jargon-filled word for "oppression".)

I absolutely agree with you that radical feminist rhetoric actually obfuscates things for people genuinely trying to think their way through the question. But to people _genuinely_ trying to think their way through that question, it doesn't render the question moot. The radfems could be completely wrong in their framing of the issue and in their arguments, but still be right in their overall stance on the issue itself--which is why I suggested addressing the question directly rather than as a response to their arguments.

I'm going to use a bit of autobiography here not because I need the question answered--I'm not trying to make this comment thread about me--but as illustrative of questions I have had. When I was first starting out in BDSM I occasionally had ND-like reactions to what I was doing. I recall looking at sites that were only a little more intense than with my boyfriend, and being both turned on and horrified. Kink had always been part of my fantasies, but 1) my fantasies were more focused on my pleasure--female pleasure--than I think most porn is; 2) the men in my fantasies were clearly "evil", and so the issue of how to have an ongoing affectionate and consensual relationship with a dominant partner didn't have to get resolved; 3) in my fantasies I didn't have to come to a compromise between what I wanted and what a partner wanted. While I thought being objectified, flogged, blindfolded, and machine-fucked was all fine, I thought getting a facial (just an example of one of my boyfriend's interests) was horrifically degrading. Or anal sex (until I tried it ;) ). And so on.

So I read as much as I could and went on discussion boards where people purported to talk about how they were "feminist" and kinky and asked--over and over again--how to be both. And the answer was always the same: "Blah blah blah if feminism is about anything it's about being able to choose." Which I found woefully inadequate for reasons that are pretty obvious to anyone who's studied political or social theory written after 1800. I found a few answers to these questions at some point, from friends who were neck deep in the LATEST gender theory, but not anywhere else. I thought there might be some of that here.

I stressed about this a lot, and I still sometimes do. Ernest, I take your point that I haven't read the blog from soup to nuts (though I've read a fair amount) and may in doing so find much of what I'm looking for. So if there's a basic post about "how we can use theory to understand kinky sexuality in 2010 as something other than a threat to women" that I'm missing, please send a link. Thank you!
My disappointing answer is that there probably isn't a post of the sort you want, and that the reason there isn't one is precisely because I think using theory to understand kinky sexuality is fundamentally wrongheaded, if not damaging. But before I get into why, please indulge me for a moment while I talk about where I am with these issues.

When I first became a contributor to this blog, several things were going on. First of all, we started it as a way to counter some of the radical feminist rhetoric that was going around, so it was always argumentative around here.

But second, at the time that I was one of the original contributors, I was knee-deep in academia. Theory was part of the air I breathed. I left that kind of life very suddenly, jolted out of the world I knew. These days, I can't believe how different my life is. The intellectual questions that were my bread-and-butter matter very little now that I am dealing with individuals directly. It doesn't really matter why things are the way they are when what I'm trying to do is help one person get one set of results. I don't find theory particularly useful for that, even the sort of theory about social justice that would apparently be relevant.

Along the same lines, my social justice crusading is still very real and very alive, but I'm very suspicious of any theories that seek to change human behavior at its roots. I'm much more likely to be standing in front of the legislature saying "these people are doing this thing which is unjust for these reasons; fix it now!" than I am to be saying something things about the patriarchy, about white supremacy, etc. I just don't find those frameworks useful for real world change any more. I don't believe that focusing on the things I can't see lead to real world change is anything more than intellectual masturbation.

This doesn't necessarily mean that looking at particular behaviors, desires, or ideas through the lens of feminist theory is useless for everyone. It just means that's not where I am, and that's a big part of the reason that I haven't been posting very much at all. You're right: I only find myself doing so lately whether someone to get mad at, precisely because feminist theory strikes me as shockingly irrelevant to actual social change.

Also, my own personal conflicts about my kink are things I pretty much handled for myself years ago, so I don't really have much to say these days about the gnawing feeling that you're doing something wrong, whether that be sinning against your ideology, being violent, or being strange. The more I spent my time outside of theoretical enclaves, the less I worry about that sort of thing. I leave it up to wiser heads than mine whether this means I'm simply rationalizing, or whether it means I'm wise.

But now, from the point of view of someone who used to care about theory, let me talk about its limitations for a moment. I only pray that I'll be intellectual enough in these paragraphs for what I'm saying to seem worthwhile to those more fond of theoretical restructuring than I am these days.

When I was in college and grad school, I studied ethical theory. I still find ethical theory fascinating and, in its own way, useful -- though I hasten to clarify that by saying that I really don't think Kant or Mill often help us decide what to do in an actual dilemma.

The reason I still like ethical theory is because it strikes me as fundamentally asking different questions from "What should we do?" or even "What should we feel is right?" It helps us take the notions of goodness we already have and understand them or categorize them or explain how they work and why they come out the way they do. It tries to tell us why we feel as we do. And of course, as that happens, certain things will come out to be paradigm cases of right conduct or wrong, but the point is not to map morality, but rather to map its structure.

Where feminist theory, as we speak of it when we ask whether kink "is feminist" or even "is compatible with feminism," is something we turn to when we want something prescriptive. The question is "Should I do this?" More than that, the question is (a fundamentally crazy-making, IMO) "If I do this, will I have pernicious motives that I could not accurately detect or assess without the aid of theory?"

And I think that way of using theory is fundamentally ass-backwards from go. Theory systematizes experience. It may help us find meaning in experience by offering us useful ways of categorizing it. But it does not layer meaning into experience. If we require the theory to find the oppressiveness, we're putting what's a layer outward in the center.

I don't dispute that many kinky people have a vague feeling of uneasiness about what we like. That, I think, is an experience that many share. I've had it too. And I think theories around us are one place many of us -- especially young feminists -- turn to make sense of that queasiness.

And I don't want to say that there can't be something to that. That, say, a woman can't ever be attracted to dominant men because she actually feels inferior. I'm sure it's true of someone. Perhaps a lot of someones; that I don't know.

But I think sometimes it becomes easy or comfortable for us to understand the feeling through "analysis," through theory, rather than through taking hard looks at ourselves and our own needs, limitations, strengths, and vulnerabilities.

If I have to pick, the cartoonish characterization of the "choice feminist" ("Do what you want to do; that's all feminists fight for!") wins out for me over the cartoonish characterization of the "radical feminist" ("Do what you want to do, but you're oppressing women, and don't expect me to mollycoddle you") for me. But why? Isn't she shallow and stupid?

Because what even the most shallow "choice feminist" is, deep down, exhorting us to do, whether she knows it or not, is to examine ourselves for ourselves. To seek our own answers. To set aside theory if it becomes the only reason we understand our experiences as different than they seem.

Pulling out a comment

This was buried in the comments in the Respect, Again post and I figured it was best to give it a thread of its own, so here it is:

greenspade said...

First of all, I feel sorry for Orlando. Wish the best for you and your wife.

I've read some comments on ND's blog, only the first ones and last ones though, too many. And I also think they're quite close minded and intolerance.

Aside from that, I have a question, sorry if this is stupid but I'm curious, this is more about the bdsm, do you really have to do it that way? Can't be happy if you're doing it without hurting or humiliating?

I think every human have their own dark sides. I myself is trying to see what my orientation is, and that's why I came across this blog. But maybe not as extreme as stuffs in Doesn't feel anything like hatred or disgust, more like amazed, wow these things really exist, but not my things. I guess I just have the mind of a bully. But I do like some, things.

So I'm wondering if you can do it in a more 'loving' ways, because when body's hurt, the pain is the signal sent to warn you, that there are something dangerous. I think putting yourself or your partner in a dangerous condition - lethal or not - is not really good. Just wondering...

Have a nice day...

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Respect again

xposted from my lj

i'm too heartsick to excerpt from it... but guys, read this. please.

scroll down to orlando c's comment about his wife, where he says that he and his wife wanted to have kids, she got cancer, and he has been caretaking. and now they cannot have children, are looking into adopting, and are scared that if anyone discovers their kink, they won't be able to do that.

then read the comments from people who... get this... do not offer sympathy and do the decent thing which is rethink their stance or even just say "i disagree strongly with what you do, but I hope things go better for you"

but instead accuse him of using her illness to win sympathy points and question how much he respects and cares for her.

i... i just... radical feminists claim they're all about "respect for women," right, which the rest of us have sadly forgotten. but this is how they treat people.

how, ladies, how how HOW could i ever trust you to build a more caring, compassionate, and just world in accordance with a purer vision of respect for women or anyone else if THIS is how you treat people?

i know, the theory doesn't tell them to be mean. but "by their fruits shall ye know them." seriously.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

research and knowledge

In the comments to my last post, I've been called by an anonymous commenter on singling out Joan Kelly. I understand the anonymous commenter's feelings. But I also feel very troubled by her most recent comment, so I'm going to quote it here anyway. I hope that each of you think seriously, however, about the critique that the anonymous commenter made. These things do have a tendency to get out of hand and become entirely ad hominem, so I hope that you will think seriously about whether I'm being fair or not. I believe I am, as I believe my earlier comments are about how a certain kind of anger makes us lose sight of logic. And I believe this comment, as well, will be fair, because it's not about Joan as a person, who I actually know nothing about, but rather about the ignorance that her comment demonstrates, and why I think that ignorance is important to deciding which "side" of the "sex wars" is the right one. Here's the comment, a continuation of the discussion Bean began of censorship in Canada that is justified by radical feminist argument:


I did read your comment, and insomuch as I could make sense of it, the wikipedia entry you linked to. Both of which you made a point of posting as if they had anything to do with what I said. They don’t. So on top of your response being, in fact, non-responsive, you also mixed in some snottiness with the “thank you try again” business.

I don’t know understand which thing you’re referring to as “this facile “protection of women’s rights.”” Is the wacky obscenity law in Canada supposed to be some protection of women’s rights? Or are you saying that an argument against the wholesale promotion of female submission and masochism is a facile protection of women’s rights?

Whatever the case, my position is that arbitrarily applied obscenity laws – which, according to you, censor things like “feminist literature” but let actual pornography fly freely about the atmosphere? – are not in fact evidence of male dominance and female submission being unacceptable sexual/romantic frameworks.

Again, I live in the US. There is, to my ongoing horror, a fairly strong conservative Christian contingent in this country. The word “sex” is bleeped out of pop songs; I can’t think of another example that I just noticed earlier today because I’m fuzzy-headed on cold medicine, but there are even more benign words that get absurdly censored in pop culture media.

None of that puts any power whatsoever into the hands of kink-critical radical feminists. Especially not as regards other people’s sex lives. I don’t know what the hell Canada’s up to, but I do have a general enough sense of it to know that it, too, is not a radfem utopia, obscenity laws or not.

Lastly, it is not the fact that that billboard was in full view of children that is so disturbing to me (though I don’t fucking like that part, either); the propaganda towards legitimizing female submission and masochism permeates everything all the time – it is not being hidden from children in the first place. It may not always show up in overt BDSM-themed references (though it does so more and more, as I’ve noted), but it is the ever-present blueprint for heterosexuality.

That billboard is basically just a fucked up sign post on a destructive road. The road itself is the problem. And, I believe, it is a road that runs parallel to obscenity laws, not counter to them. Conservative culture, such as it is, in this country, proves that point over and over: the requirement of female submission/masochism and overall higher levels of social control go hand in hand, if males in power have anything to say about it. And they do. Hence my objections to all of it.

I have a serious problem here, not with Joan Kelly as a person, again, but with such a flimsy response to a discussion of actual legal precedent established through listening to Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin and taking their arguments seriously. if one is going to defend radical feminist points of view, one needs to be familiar with the ways those points of view have affected people's real lives, especially insofar as legislation has been modeled on them. I find it highly troubling that Joan (and again, it's not specifically Joan saying this that bothers me, but the fact that anyone would say it at all) can write off salient facts of history because they did not happen in her country or, even worse, perhaps because she simply doesn't know about them.

I do think that somebody who wants to argue for radical feminist points of view needs to be able to acknowledge this, that it happened, how it happened, and why it happened. A person who is really interested in having an informed, thoughtful opinion, will think about the impact this has and have reasons why it shouldn't matter, beyond "I hadn't heard of that, and can't quite make sense of it."

In fact, I've had radical feminists repeatedly say to me that I simply need to "educate myself"and not even show up to a debate with them in the first place until I fully understand where they're coming from and what the social frameworks they're talking about look like. This often includes having a sophisticated understanding of "privilege" as they understand it, without which opponents are often told they're not even supposed to show up to talk ("This is not a Feminism 101 blog!") I find it rather concerning that many set the bar so high for us, and yet the bar apparently is quite low for themselves.

This reminds me of nothing so much as a conversation I had in college with another student I knew well and respected very much. At the time, I knew very little about feminism as a movement, and it just begun to learn that some feminists have problems with BDSM. I talked to this person in hopes that she could help me understand some of the radical points of view that I was having trouble digesting (a professor recommended I begin my readings of McKinnon withToward a Feminist Theory of the State. I don't recommend beginning there. Honestly, I don't recommend beginning at all without some background information about what she was getting at.)

I remember that at one point we started discussing pornography. Personally, I'd always been vaguely leery of porn, but had found when I actually looked at it that I had almost none of the objections I expected to have. I'd expected something I'd feel affronted by and carefully avoided it, and (for me, personally -- not saying anyone shouldn't be bothered!) when I actually looked, discovered something I found arousing and amusing and... not offensive at all, though I did have critiques and there was/is some I don't like.

So I ask this person about it and the first thing she blurts is "There's no cunnilingus in it!" I look at her, startled, and go "Huh. What exactly have you watched? I've definitely seen it in -- uh --"

She stops dead.

I've caught her.

She hasn't seen any.

She backtracks, protests, starts saying "Well, okay, but isn't... the focus on male pleasure? Um... er..."

I nod. She's not wrong. We discuss this, some, and part amicably if I recall right.

But I walk away stunned. She has swallowed (yes, I am being clever) what her professors and her feminist books have told her pornography is without ever bothering to check the accuracy of her sources. She has taken books and lectures that argue against Something as correct without ever beholding -- or, if beholding would be triggering or upsetting, researching, neutrally -- what Something is in the first place.

And that alarms me far more than being against Something.

That's why I'm bothered by this. Our opponents say that we miss something very huge about how culture is shaped, though they rarely have hard data. We say "what about obscenity law, and the impact that radical feminist rhetoric has had on it in this case?" and they go "Uh, I'm in the US. And I'm talking about porn!"

That's why the anger bothers me. Not because I think this one person is pissy (though the zero-to-sixtyness of it does take me aback, and I don't like it, so I must admit there's some ad hominem here too) but because it seems the anger either happens instead of, or precludes, understanding everything salient about how real people are affected.

Friday, 22 January 2010

More on anger...

This is really just a continuation of the last "My, that was angry, huh..." post, but I did want to include it because I'm blackly amused, and I promised I wouldn't comment more there.

Person A mentions that yes, sometimes "anti-kink stigma" is more than a mild thing:

Bean said on Please, somebody, come and defend I triple-dog dare you.
February 7, 2009 at 1:18 am

The reason I don’t feel defensive when anyone critiques or even flatly condemns kink from a supposed radical feminist perspective is that to me it seems like anti-kink radfems = just about zero sociopolitical clout and pro-kink kinksters = carrying the day.

And I live in a country which has a long, long history of censoring queer and kinky literature/media and justifying it with obscenity law based in part on the writings of radical feminists.

Thank you, try again.

And Joan Kelly, whose anger I commented on in the other post, flips the fuck out, half amusingly and half scarily:

Joan Kelly said on Please, somebody, come and defend I triple-dog dare you.
February 7, 2009 at 1:18 am

And *I* live in a country where billboards in high traffic areas (one of the poshest portions of the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California) depict male models as being in the act of over-the-knee spanking fenale models. This ad was for clothing. It is not unusual. It is mainstreamed in all kinds of ways here.

So take your references to Canadian court decisions on PORNOGRAPHY – not the sex people are having – and also take your misplaced condescenion, and go fuck yourself with both. Thank YOU.

See all comments on this post here.

Uh... so let me see if I understand this (I already know that I don't, but):

"Someone brought up a highly salient point about how anti-pornography legislation has been used to censor queers, and...

...that's off-point because there are pretentious artsy-fartsy billboard ads in California depicting OTK.

Also, I'm really angry and dropped an f-bomb, so I must be right."


I can't tell whether this is ridiculous US-centrism or just Bizarro World.

My money's on Bizarro World, though.

Really, how can these people lament that they lack credence in the larger society when they adamantly refuse to make any fucking sense?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

I wish I had...

a coherent response to this:


I feel like you must not understand what privilege actually is, to frame non-defensiveness as a privilege.

For real does everything have to go bugshit on the internet?

Maybe if my fellow perverts (and well-meaning self-appointed allies) stopped acting like there was such a thing as “non kink sexuality privilege” and stopped insisting that kink IS TOO more egalitarian and less oppression-y than what gets called “vanilla” sexuality, maybe people would be too busy going about their business, not caring what others do in the sack, to be bothered with a “wait, what? are you kidding?”

There IS something about some kinky people and their need for validation. I would add that it’s my observation that there are also non-kinky people (although god help us all it mostly seems to be fucking women) who need validation for their non-kinky sex-having-ness as well. Hence an endless supply of “I love push up bras and deep throating and it’s unfeminist for you to critique either one!” missives on the internet.

Every single BDSM related media that I’ve ever seen promotes female subjugation and male supremacy as the sexiest thing that ever could happen to anybody. The presence of other pairings – female tops and female bottoms, female tops and male bottoms, billy goats and people they like to butt off mountain sides – does not mitigate the fact that the majority of BDSM imagery is about female people submitting to male people and being hurt. The fact that people who are into BDSM may experience pleasure through sensations and experiences that other people would identify as strictly painful also does not mitigate the blueprint of what’s happening.

Someone living in a small midwest town where they can’t go out in full leathers to their heart’s content, leading their “slave” around on a leash, is no more oppressed than someone whose desire to suck cock in the middle of a restaurant is also unwelcome. And if you’re living on either coast, shame the fuck on you if you ever pretend like kink isn’t wholly accepted and even encouraged.

but honestly I don't, other than "Jesus God, someone is angry."

(Cue "you're using The Tone Argument" in five, four, three, two...)

I guess that leads in to what I want to say, though, which is that in my own little-bit-more-rad days, the thing that struck me was how angry we all were. Everything was us pushing back against a horribly, horribly hostile world. Every statement had meaning, and that meaning had to do with crushing us. Every little thing people said got exaggerated -- which I see reflected in the "wearing more leather than I'd like you to = blatantly sucking cock at restaurants" remark. Calmness and thinking things through were really not the order of the day. In fact, I lost a friend for good commenting on an article by a gay man and shrilling that he must be "a misogynist" for... I can't remember. I think wanting space for leathermen to be by themselves. Which, okay, yeah, "boys only" has a history... but there are also het women who want into leathermen's space to stare at the pretty. Letting them in is, maybe, not so Politically Importante as I thought, now.

Though I guess one could say I was still angry here, and maybe that's why I don't post much any more. I still hate it when people spread vile nonsense about kinky sex, kinky people, and even, yes, the erotic media that kinky people like (I've said it before and I'll say it again: my belief is that the fact that erotic media are far from perfect does not condemn them. Intelligent people know that not everything they see is realistic or desirable, and my life should not be forced to revolve around keeping complete morons away from porn they'll use as model or excuse.) But I no longer feel like it much matters. Being away from those enclaves, I see that such pearl-clutchers are shrill and obnoxious... but rare. Why bother?

But I still see a difference. When I was kinda wannabe rad, I jumped at shadows. Women not being invited to a party for leathermen was proof that The Man hates all women and women would never have a home in the world oh God oh God they've got us. Whereas even when I was angry as hell here and really should have just calmed down, I was reacting to something real. People "dog-daring" us to defend what we want. People insisting they knew the etiology of our fantasies. People wanting us to change.

And that to me is the difference: Are you legitimately, but perhaps a little too, mad at something concrete you see happening? Or are you interpreting what you see through the eyes of "raised consciousness," which actually, as most frequently used, means "our ideology, without which you'd see something harmless or merely irritating?"

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Form and Content

(xposted from my LJ)

I was perusing Scarleteen today and I came across this little bit from Hugo Schwyzer (who as many of you know, I do not always agree with, or even like, but hey) that I liked. It's discussing sexual ethics in the context of newfound Christian faith, which is not in any way relevant to me, but I feel it answers very well why people's objections to BDSM and even to D/s don't work for me:

Let me suggest, Christine, that God cares more about the content of our sexuality than he does about its form. Traditional Christian sexual ethics are often discussed in the context of what Christians can and can’t do. Some Christians will often say things like “the only form of genital contact sanctioned by God is that which happens in a marriage between one husband and one wife.” The implication is clear: if you get the “form” (heterosexual marriage) right, then the sex that follows is okay. If you haven’t got the form right, then you’ve “fallen short of the mark.”

But “form-based” sexual ethics clearly have their problems.

For example, it ignores entirely the great likelihood that coercion, disrespect, and force can take place within marriage. The Churches did not start condemning marital rape — or even acknowledging that such a concept was possible — until the second half of the twentieth century. Is a situation in which a husband demands sex from his wife against her will somehow more in keeping with the spirit of Christ than a situation in which two unmarried people make love with mutual enthusiasm? If you’re a stickler for “form-based ethics”, you bet. For the most traditional of theologians, marital rape is less of a serious sin than homosexuality or pre-marital sex, because form matters more than content.

“Content” based sexual ethics are concerned with the way in which people, in the process of being sexual, value themselves and their partners. Content-based ethics are deeply concerned with mutuality, with pleasure, and with the willingness of each partner to take responsibility for the physical, spiritual, and emotional consequences of what is done. Form-based ethics teach the Christian to ask the question “Am I allowed to do this?” Content-based ethics teach the Christian to ask “Am I truly loving — in every sense of the word — the person or persons with whom I am doing this, including myself?”

This is what I can't parse about "BDSM is wrong," even when it's phrased as "Hierarchy is maladaptive for humans and limiting and restrictive."

[EDIT: The person who made the comment linked there has mentioned that she did not use the words I'm using to characterize her position. She says below that she meant that BDSM is wrong for her personally, and that I misrepresented her views on hierarchy as well. About them, she said the following, c&ped verbatim from the comment linked above: "I can't be of help as to whether something is "bad." That's not an idiom I work within or classify things by. I simply know for myself, and for the world I envision as better than what I see we've got now, I think, at a minimum, that less hierarchy would be really helpful." I mention in the comments that I still think there's a value judgment there, but I agree with her that it's best that people interpret her own words and not mine here.]

That's form. That's "The sex (or "the relationship" in the case of outside-the-bedroom D/s) you want needs to not have these features that look like this in order to not be this, which I find maladaptive." It follows that up with an explanation of where that maladaptiveness comes from, yeah -- but so do explanations of why homosexuality is wrong in conservative Christian moralities, sometimes in great detail. There's reasons given for "bad form." They're bad, but they're there.

Saying content matters instead implies that all the answers to "form" questions like "is BDSM compatible with feminism/okay for Christians/good for Buddhists/acceptable for snails?" (okay, that last is me giggling over "love darts") will not be quite right, because they start with the wrong question: "what are you doing?" or "what are you mimicking?" rather than "how are you doing this?"

It's funny how people who usually seem to go with the content-based ("of course it's okay that I'm gay, silly!") slip into the form-based ("he wears a collar [usually not, it's too big for his neck] and called you Master once being cute? OH MY GOD!") when things are outside their comfort zone.