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 Kink.com 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.

79 comments:

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I start from a particular place.

That particular place is "The question 'What sexuality should I have?' is intrinsically problematic." In fact, I consider it intrinsically ought-to-be-considered-patriarchal for those who want to talk about "patriarchy", because regulation of sexuality is one of the fundamental tools thereof.

And "What sexuality should I have?" is the question behind the madonna/whore complex, and whole bunches of other things (it's also, for example, got vasty lumps of homophobia in it). In that case it's "What sexuality should women have?" but as a woman, I have that I thing going on there.

As soon as a theory goes to determining what sexuality people should have, I'm out. And as soon as a theory essentialises its vision over the actual lived experiences of the people it's theorising about - another catastrophic failure of this sort of thing - I'm out.

So I'm just out.

Trinity said...

"That particular place is "The question 'What sexuality should I have?' is intrinsically problematic." In fact, I consider it intrinsically ought-to-be-considered-patriarchal for those who want to talk about "patriarchy", because regulation of sexuality is one of the fundamental tools thereof."

This too, yes, definitely.

Any time theory is bearing on the question "what should my inner life ideally be?" is the same for me, I think.

Because, well, we can change our actions, but when it becomes "what is the MEANING of what arouses/excites/interests/fulfills you" then I think we're off on the wrong road from the first step.

I had a shrink ask me that once, about being interested in penetrating men. And it became this endless prying game, "what does that MEAN to you?" Complete with the eventual, exasperated suggestion that I "take a women's studies course."

It was... well, iike it would only be okay to be interested in once it was safely labeled. It really freaked me out, actually.

I'm not sure why fantasies need safe labels to some people. And I'm not sure why judging kink as performed by people who are indeed consenting and risk-aware (in some cases I'd go as far as to say "risk-managing" but I don't want to open that can of worms; I borrow from the term RACK not because I don't hate it but because I don't feel like getting off point) isn't, ultimately, about judging the fantasies themselves.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

An acquaintance posted recently about an out-and-proud gay guy's experiment seeing what "reparative therapy" shrinks were actually up to.

Here's the link, and here's a relevant quote:

"The purpose of this investigation was to find out how conversion therapists operate. What I didn't expect was that I would learn how their patients feel: confused and damaged.

I began to constantly analyse why I found particular men attractive. Does that man represent something that's lacking in me? Do I want him because he looks strong which must mean I feel weak? Did something happen in my childhood? The therapists planted doubt and worry where there was none.

My experiences, I learn, are typical. I speak to Daniel Gonzalez, one of Nicolosi's former clients. "Conversion therapy is a very complicated form of repression," he says. "It's a way of convincing yourself that your same sex attractions have some alternate meaning. It continued to haunt me for years.""

Ernest Greene said...

Every kinky person I have every known has an inner "explanation" of some sort for why he or she finds a particular activity arousing. All these theories were valid for the individuals in question, and since the overall practice involved only consenting adults and did no harm among them, I could never find any grounds for accepting or rejecting those individual theories based on the theoretical objections of those not directly involved in the activities. Such might or might not have valuable insights, but in practice they failed to describe the experiences of anyone I knew.

Nothing has changed in this regard after four decades of living an out life as a kinkster. Why do we do what we do? Ultimately, who knows? Certainly no one has a more useful perspective on the experience that the person having it, though that person is still subject to outside infliuences as are we all.

They idea that, beyond obvious ethical limits, any of us should choose to not do tha which pleases us, done with partners who are also pleased by it, is oppression in the name of abstract theory, whether that theory is patriarchal or feminist.

I sense underneath the question yet another call to "examine." Been there, done that, haven't found it useful.

Human desire is compounded of many things and they can't all be teased out. The effort is exhausting and limiting.

I guess that puts me in with the choice crowd. So be it.

Trinity said...

"I began to constantly analyse why I found particular men attractive. Does that man represent something that's lacking in me? Do I want him because he looks strong which must mean I feel weak? Did something happen in my childhood? The therapists planted doubt and worry where there was none."

Yep, that's what happened to me too. Particularly with feminism being recommended to me as the cure.

Which is part of why I don't (sorry, commenter!) identify as a feminist any more and can't really imagine doing so, despite being on board with ending sexism.

Trinity said...

"I guess that puts me in with the choice crowd. So be it."

Yep. If I still used the label of "feminist" to describe myself, I'd so make a LJ icon that read

CHOICE FEMINIST

FUCKING DEAL WITH IT

right now.

;-)

SnowdropExplodes said...

Hmm, I get the feeling that this post isn't quite talking to the same issues as those raised in the comment quoted, and I'm going to have a go at getting at what seem to me to be the key points:

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".)

This looks to me like two questions - "Does kink cause/perpetuate oppression of women?" and "does kink (only) originate because women are oppressed?" As we know, the radfem commenters claim that the answer to both is "yes, in shovel-loads!" And in particular, radfems claim that kink somehow causes and perpetuates the oppression of women not involved in kink.

My approach is more or less given by my early blog post BDSM Theory and Feminism, discussing how the culture of informed consent and negotiated boundaries that the BDSM community has developed as shared values, counteracts traditional assumed gender roles and gendered oppression. My final claim was that this culture, if it were applied to non-kink sexuality as well, would be intrinsically feminist in nature, and it is on this basis (and not the "choice" argument) that I argue that there is no need for conflict between being kinky and being feminist.

It may indeed be that such theory discussion is what the original commenter was after, and this link helps answer the other question in the comment:

"how we can use theory to understand kinky sexuality in 2010 as something other than a threat to women"

The other thing to mention is that I think this question is phrased in a problematic way: why should we have to frame it as "something other than a threat to women" unless there is some prejudice against kink to begin with that means everyone says it is such a threat? The unbiased question is, "what do the theory and practice of kink reveal about its effect on women?" and only then if there is some indication that there is some threat would there be a need to say "can we understand it in another way?" All too often, the approach of radfem commenters is to find a theory to fit their personal squick (or the already-present prejudice against kink) so the foundations of such theoretical criticisms are built on air instead of concrete reality. Their question is not "Is it a threat to women?" but they start with the assumption that it is and then construct an explanation to justify the assumption: they ask, "why is it a threat to women?" without first proving that it is!

Perhaps the real question is "why do people assume kink is a threat to women?" and looking at that branch of social/gender theory?

pepomint said...

Along the same lines as SnowdropExplodes, I want to point out that some of us *are* trying to theorize the overlap between feminism and kink. And sure, this is not going to be useful for those who are not basing things in their own desires or less analytical approaches, which is fine.

But for those who are looking for an analytical way to reconcile their personal desires with criticism of oppression, it can be useful.

Here's my take on it, which will be familiar to the SM-Feminist folks but perhaps not to the original commenter:

http://freaksexual.wordpress.com/2007/06/11/towards-a-general-theory-of-bdsm-and-power/

Trinity said...

Pepo,

My only response to you is that I really resent your positioning yourself as "more analytical" because you believe that this sort of theory can be used to profitably analyze kink. I think it's an inaccurate and unfair demeaning of my position to suggest that I am somehow being fuzzy, imprecise, or illogical because I am arguing that "feminist analysis" of kink yields nothing useful.

Refusal to play on what I consider an irredemably biased and wrong playing field is not anti-intellectual. Rather, it is the opposite... and such is why the endless "critiques" of "choice feminism" so endlessly bore me.

verte said...

Well, I'm not a "choice feminist" and I'm not a radical feminist, and I think theory can provoke social change. I think that an interest in sexuality and finding the language to make sense of it in a broader social, cultural or historical context is far from damaging. Radfems have clearly misunderstood BDSM, but that doesn't mean that ITS practices don't exclude people, some of its 'theories' (particularly some of the signifiers, trappings, rituals and habits associated D/s, but lots of SM too) essentialise its vision over the actual lived experiences of people, etc. I've certainly felt that. It's not beyond critique. Similarly, the laws in the UK over BDSM, both in practice and representation, are most definitely not beyond critique, and in order to have some influence there has to be some research, some theory, some contextualising.

Although ... personally, I love theory anyway and just get excited when theory and practice are in synch. But that's just me.

Ernest Greene said...

If I'd ever run into a theory that addressed anything from my own experience of all these years in BDSM and D/s in a genuinely enlightening way, I might be more open to the possibility that such a theory could be useful. In fact, I spent some of those years trying to fit my own life inside this or that theoretical box and ... well ... never found a good fit in any of them.

What I did find was that every effort to put such a diverse range of sexualities into an intellectual framework, particularly one strongly based in political analysis, became a reductionist exercise in the face of individual diversity.

This gets particulary troublesome when the attempt is made to define one kind of kink as okay and another type as "problematic." Inevitably, one person's okay is another person's problematic, and I suspect emotional responses have much more to do with how those definitions are formed than intellectual analysis.

Short of doing harm to non-consenting parties (and I exclude broad constructs like "society at large" or "all women" from consideration when it comes to what people do in private), I lean toward acceptance at face value and away from theories needed to justify this or that kind of sexual behavior.

If the theorizing were purely abstract and had no impact on the lives of specific individuals, I'd tend to see it as pointless but benign. However, when I see the hurt inflicted by self and others arising from the implied judgments in theoretical analyses when it comes to kink, I have to conclude this approach to integrating our desires into our daily lives while trying to live by our political principles achieves little and damages much.

It is neither possible, nor necessary, to understand everything we do in the context of abstract thought. The attempt is more likely to induce migraines than beneficial social change.

SnowdropExplodes said...

I lean toward acceptance at face value and away from theories needed to justify this or that kind of sexual behavior.

But I think this is just the problem: to most people, the "face value" of kink is that it DOES involve harm. That's why I felt the need for my BDSM Theory and Feminism post in the first place, to make a first stab at explaining why that perceived face value is not what is really going on.

I think it is fair to say that we need to understand that there are limitations on what theory can tell us about BDSM. Theory can point to and discuss general trends and structures, but the specifics of individual relationships or people cannot be derived in the same way but must be treated as their own cases.

Radfem commenters seem to want to take existing political theory and derive from it individual circumstance; sci-fi nerd that I am, the analogy I think of most easily is how in Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" saga, the social scientists of the Second Foundation knew that the founding principles of "psychohistory", which predicted the future of civilisations, could NOT be used to predict the future of individuals: when radfems try to theorise about BDSM they are making the same kind of mistake as would a Second Foundation person trying to predict an individual's future.

Ernest Greene said...

I just don't know how to avoid the problems that arise out of attempting to formulate a more accurate General Theory of Kink in rebuttal to the wildly inaccurate General Theory of Kink embraced by those who hate us.

As an SF geek myself and a fan of the late Mr. Asimov in my youth, I think his point would be just as applicable to our efforts as to those of our opponents.

I suspect Asimov drew on the work of the mathematical genious John von Neumann, whose definitive book "Theory of Games and Economic Behavior" singles out the error inherent in trying to predict human behavior based on any overarching theoretical construct. Human beings become less and less predictable as their numbers diminish, and by the time you get to individual cases, predictions based on theory are almost certain to fail.

It's just my opinion, but I think one of the critical differences between us and those who make a business of trying to categorize us in one hostile way or another is that we recognize the importance of individual diversity and tend to be skeptical of theoretical explanations regarding who we are, what we do and why we do it.

In short, after half-formulating many theories of my own about kinky people and having those theories blown to bits by contradictory experiences in the real world, I've pretty much concluded that theorizing about the vast universe of kink from our very limited knowledge of it (and it is limited, as not much research has been done in this area of human behavior) is playing the opposition's game.

When it comes to explaining anything significant about us, it doesn't work for them and I don't think it can work for us either, because the essential problem remains: there is no "us" in a sense that can be defined theoretically with any degree of accuracy.

Becky said...

Theory can promote social change precisely because it 's useful when looking at societal patterns. When you can see that as a whole a society or culture has elements you disagree with you can work to change those elements.
But once you're at the personal level the theory has to take a backseat to lived experience. I can look at my life through that framework and see where it fits and where it doesn't, but I don't necessarily want to trim my life to make it fit the frame.
And don't dismiss the power of choice quite so cavalierly. That women have the legal right to financial independence and the choices that flow from it is a relatively new phenomenon in our culture. If you had to have a male relative around to control your money your life was controlled by your relationship with that guy, whether he was your father, brother, husband or great-uncle. The big arguments between Stay-at home and working mothers? Only possible because there's a (perceived) choice available. Should you let your lover beat you because you find it arousing? Isn't it nice that when you dont find it so, you can have him arrested? Even if he's your husband. The idea of marital rape was laughed at until 30 years ago-women didn't have the choice to not want to be forced to have sex with their husbands. So when I say that if you choose to do it, it's ok, that's not being lazy. That's pushing the power and the truth of being able to choose. "I do this because I want to." is a good indicator of social power.
There are plenty of places in our culture where things still need a lot of work to be truly equal, but I think we can get out of other people's sex lives now.
You can be a feminist and like BDSM because your life isn't a theory. And because knowing you have the freedom to choose, and working to expand that freedom to others and to other venues you show that you care about the lives of women in general.

Trinity said...

"When it comes to explaining anything significant about us, it doesn't work for them and I don't think it can work for us either, because the essential problem remains: there is no "us" in a sense that can be defined theoretically with any degree of accuracy."

This. Even the cute little bits of generalization that people in the Scene like to use as shorthand never worked for me.

Like the whole bit that says "Submissive people are executive types who want to relax and hand over the reins." Yeah, that true of some people. Enough that some of them noticed it.

But it falls apart when you meet someone who feels Called To Service in the way that some M/s folk describe. Or even in the way that Kiya here describes. And I don't think those people are "weird" or "outliers" or something. People who want to take BDSM to a TPE level are rare yeah, but people who have an inclination to serve others are not.

And what does that say about dominant people? "I flip burgers and am lazy, so it's nice to lord it over someone?"

If we can't even make those bits make sense, why should we accept theory imposed from outside by other people, even if those other people are fighting for a worthy goal we agree with like ending patriarchy or like social justice more generally?

sera said...

Interesting post, although I have virtually nothing useful to add. I'm not disappointed (not that that really matters) so much as I think that as Snowdrop and Pepomint said, I didn't feel this addressed my question directly. Pepomint's own post (which I'd read in the past and forgotten--thanks for the reminder) is exactly the sort of discussion I imagine as beneficial, so that's a good result for me. I'll look at Snowdrop's as well.

I agree that there's absolutely no requirement that you write in the same vein here--no requirement that you write anything that you don't want to, in fact (put a small tick in the choice column, at least in this context). Thanks for taking the time to address the issue; I appreciate it.

D. said...

This is a geeky reference, but relevant - bear with me. Terry Pratchett has a famous character in his Discworld books named Granny Weatherwax. Ms Weatherwax is, in my mind, the ultimate feminist - she is strong, capable, and completely in tune with herself and her femininity.

In one of the novels, and I forget which one, Granny Weatherwax gets lost in a maze of magic mirrors, which spin off different versions of her to confuse her, asking which one os the real self. Where another character goes running around forever, lost in the maze, Ms Weatherwax declares that she is the real self, and breaks a mirror to get out of the maze.

I think this is a good stance to take. It is difficult, searching for validation and information about kinky things - and it's frustrating to be told that it's all up to you. But the truth is, it is all up to you. What you want, what you feel, what's right for you, and what that means for you is all happening in your head. No one else can analyse it. At best, they can give you some tools to help you analyse yourself, or some support and a friendly ear when you need to talk through something.

Trinity said...

I don't think a feminist -- or any woman, really -- needs to be feminine, or "in touch with her femininity" (whatever the fuck that means.)

As someone who's not feminine at all, I'd prefer women have role models from all over the gender expression spectrum.

pepomint said...

@Trinity:

Sorry, by "analytical" I meant "analytical in that queer/feminist theory way".

I don't privilege said theory over other ways of looking at the world or acting. Indeed a lot of what I try to do with theory is more reflective of people's lived realities than prescriptive. Good theory should give people tools to alter their own reality, not force them into boxes.

And I get that you are refusing to engage on that playing field, and I agree that it is not level, given the incredible amount of anti-kink bullshit that has been produced under the regime of feminist theory. I think you and I are trying to accomplish the same things, just with different tactics. In many ways this is the "reform the system from the inside" versus "bring down the system entirely" debate that I see in many different activist venues.

@Ernest Greene: While bad theory typically suffers from being overly reductive, theory does not need to be that way, and in fact the major theory players (Foucault, Butler, etc) typically write in a way that break down distinctions rather than building them up. I think I did a good job of not being reductive in the link I posted earlier, if you want to look to it as an example.

Lissy said...

Thanks for this post Trinity, I found a lot in it that resonated for me... any response I could leave here would be well beyond the confines of a comment... so I'm going to muse at my place...

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I went and looked at the link you posted, pepomint? Popped it open again now.

My issue with it isn't that it's theory, or whatever else, but that I don't find anything there to engage with. I only recognise myself in it in caricature; I wouldn't point anyone at it if I wanted them to get an understanding of theory behind what I do, because it doesn't express my understanding of what I do.

Probably the prime issue: an attempt to theorise about power so abstractly is misleadingly unvisceral.

pepomint said...

@Dw3t-Hthr:

Certainly, one of my problems that I have with my writing is that I tend to over-abstract. Some day I may write the more experiential version of that essay, which I think would be a lot more approachable.

So yeah - I don't want to imply that everyone will get something out of theory-style writing, or my theory in particular. It's useful to a particular (small) subset of folks, namely those who are thinking about their relation to power and are already somewhat invested in this particular style of analysis.

There's a political purpose as well - I'm writing in the language that a lot of the ivory tower types use, and so hopefully I will be able to get through to some of them. Which means hopefully less nasty academic attacks in the future. I haven't had a lot of luck on the kink side (though that's partly because I haven't focused my efforts there), but I've been doing well on that front advocating for poly rights.

Trinity said...

Kiya --

The thing about pepomint's post to me is that it's a very good version of what I see as the standard, very 101 kind of "we're just playing with power, calm the fuck down everyone" thingy. And well... I'm glad that's out there and I found that kind of thing really useful ten years ago actually, when I was first wondering what kinds of consequences my desires might have.

But nowadays I don't really see myself in it. I mean, we're "playing" in the sense it would never cross my mind to order him to do something he would really not want to do, and in the sense that if I did he'd look at me like I'd lost my damn mind and wouldn't even consider obeying.

But that's been so firmly established that I just don't see "see, we're really playing!" as handy. I mean if I told him "No, I am eating the good sushi bits now and you are not," I would be the one who ate them, and they wouldn't be illusory and nor would the fact that if I wanted to do that, I could (though unless I was doing it specifically to make a point or turn us both on, I'd think I was being pretty fucking petty doing that.)

So it's.... eh. It's useful as very basic, general, "no this doesn't fit everyone but it ought to reassure you that large swaths of sex-pozzy sparklepeople aren't really being treated like chattel" kind of stuff. But it's not a picture of the reality, really, except for the subset that does see all of kink as a game.

And the older I get the less people I think that really applies to. So I'm kinda... done with it, though this is in no way a diss of pepo's decent job of it.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Part of the problem with me trying to engage with that sort of thing is that I honestly find the "play power" paradigm kind of triggery, so even if I were interested in trying to penetrate the ivorytowerese to get at juicy meaty bits, I actively don't want to.

It took me a long time to write the previous comment because I was trying to write something that wasn't coming out of that kind of flipped-out place. "Not visceral" was the best I got, and I was trying to encompass both the "No, really, if I eat the sushi THE SUSHI IS EATEN" and the span of my distaste for the entire metaphorical structure.

Meh.

Basically, I cycle back around to "I can do theory-of-me fine. Can even link you over to that 'You want to know why I'm a submissive, fucking FINE' post. But all the theory-of-why-people-are-like-that I run into ranges from 'no' through 'wrong' into 'not even wrong' with a side order of 'run away run away run away'."

And theory-of-me is a nice bit of mental masturbation, but it's not going to answer people who want grander theories. But the grander theories are all variously essentialising, dismissive of my lived reality, or upsetting in one way or another. Which is why I have little fucking tolerance for grander theories.

verte said...

The thing is, lots of people who do theory aren't actually all that interested in 'why are people like that/why do they do this?'. I'm far more interested, for instance, in applying social and legal theory to lawmaking processes around kink and the concept of subcultures in general (and London most definitely DOES have a subculture -- of which I'm very much part), theorising sexualised space, public sex, the discourses people use to talk about sex ... So of course, while it's useful to apply 'why' to these theories (such as answering ... "why should this kink be criminalised under law when I consent and enjoy it?"), my work has always depended upon individual accounts from participants who are willing and happy to give them as the basis for those arguments with a disclaimer that individual narratives cannot and do not account for everyone. This is certainly the sort of research practice BDSM theory-making folks I know in the UK would use (all of whom are participants themselves) ... and yes, there is a dearth of material, and lots of the material is crap. Many reasons for that, but I think the biggest one is that it's an area of sexuality studies universities and research councils just aren't very interested in funding, or at least not for big research projects, which means a lot of material that's produced is by people who've just decided to write a paper or chapter on BDSM as a detour from or related to the kind of work they usually without having much practical knowledge or, well, knowledge in general. But there is also good stuff being worked on and published.

I'm not at all dismissive of choice being incredibly important (and I apologise if that wasn't clear from my original post), although at the same time I question the very notion of free will. I'm simply suspicious of 'choice' being used as the social mechanism feminism is based upon, not so much in terms of what choices women make, but how those choices are presented to them. Some of the choice rhetoric for women used over here in media just stinks -- a combination of 'empowerment politics' and old fashioned chauvinism and misogyny -- and I'm afraid to say a lot of the rhetoric used in the BDSM community isn't dissimilar.

pepomint said...

@Trinity and Dw3t-Hthr:

Thanks for the criticism re: play power. Re-reading my stuff closely, I can certainly see how I don't have enough focus on exactly what I mean by play power.

So let me do that here for starters. "Play power" should really be in quotes, because often there's nothing playful about it. It can be very very real, just as or more real as all the forms of nonconsensual power I refer to in the essay. And that's especially true in D/S but also applies even in S/M, where I think sometimes we forget that "play pain" hurts just as fucking much.

So yeah, I can see how my framing there can be distressing or insulting to folks who have moved past the "we're just playing here" paradigm. My apologies for that.

I'll be changing that section in the essay, first with a disclaimer and then I think the whole essay is due for a rewrite. (Not just due to that issue, but also because my thinking has gotten more nuanced and I want to present it from a more experiential viewpoint.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Mmm, I'm not sure that "moving past the play paradigm" is a good way of looking at anything, either.

Some people are very firm about the entire thing being play and adopting a role.

Some people, like myself, are actively squicked by the idea of it being play and adopting a role and always have been.

It's not a good idea for a theory to erase either set of people.

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