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.


maymay said...

I love you, Trinity. :) Thank you for this:

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.

And for this:

This "analysis" whereby people are made into abuse-receptacles because kinky sex exists is woeful.

Lissy said...

As usual Trinity your posts have given me thinky thoughts... one thing that continually amazes me though is that some people who call themselves feminists refuse to listen to other women and continually invalidate their lived experience... I find nothing feminist in this behaviour...

Trinity said...

Thanks, Maymay. I really appreciate that.

MasterAmazon said...

"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."

I had to quote it to respond to it. I've been out as a LeatherDyke for almost 30 years, and I'm also a Radical Dyke and strongly Feminist oriented. I don't go for the academic claptrap like I did in my ancient college days, fighting with the Andrea Dworkinites and quoting either Pat Califia(way before s/he transitioned) or "Coming to Power" which heavily influenced me, AS an S/M Lesbian Feminist book!

It's her whole assumption that women's consent doesn't mean ANYTHING and the poor lil thing is so brainwashed she doesn't know the difference! That's positively demeaning! That's what negotiation, safewords, playing in the dungeon, dungeon monitors, classes, workshops and leather organizations are for! Sure S/M/Leathersex isn't for the meek and mild(unless you wanna play that role). It IS exploring the dark side, it's NOT for everybody, but one could definitely maintain their feminist credentials and get or give a good flogging, as long as it's truly consensual, empowering and growth enhancing for the individuals involved. Nothing like a good cathartic flogging!

Power has been pinned to sex for millenia, which is why I can only speak for Dyke LeatherSex...and I do think hetero submissive/masochistic women have to go even further questioning themselves that they aren't giving in to the dominant paradigm which exists aplenty in this world of male powerover EVERYWHERE! That what you're doing is safe, sane and consensual, or whichever acronymy you use, but the essential word is CONSENSUAL.

To me, if women ONLY had consensual sex, of whatever flavor, there'd be no rape, no child molestation, no female spoils of war rape, no domestic violence or abuse, no religious shame around sexuality, whether it be homosexuality, bisexuality, or kinky heterosexuality, or leathersexuality, NONE of the ills so many modern women of ALL countries suffer under. No stone age veils and clitoridectomies and genital mutilations.

THAT'S what would it would be like if women could TRULY choose their sexacts and sexual empowerment. Some would be dominant, some would be submissive, some sadistic, some masochistic, some neither, some completely equal with their partners in every way...different strokes for different folks...but womyn could be HONEST about their desires than shamed for them, like I was during the infamous Lesbian Sex Wars, where I had to prove my loyalty to the dyke community, womens' spirituality community, feminist community, BECAUSE I was into Dyke LeatherSex.

Yes, that quote is horrifying in it's assumptions that the lil woman has no clue as to what consent is and isn't.....and there's predators in EVERY community, not just the Leather/BDSM communities.
-In Leather Sisterhood,

Clarisse Thorn said...

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.

I have one past long-term boyfriend who acted as a dominant sadist far beyond what he was comfortable with because he knew I'm a submissive and needed that. I don't especially care if these folks "agree" with that experience or not -- it actually, you know, happened. I was there.

I've also been thinking lately about how abusers in kink relationships will use kink stigma to keep their partners in line -- Glenn Marcus comes to mind, whose partner Jodi didn't leave him for a long time partly because he threatened to reveal her as a BDSMer. So actually, working to destigmatize BDSM would protect abused kinky women, because they'd have one less thing to fear from their partners.

Becky said...

Having just finished becoming certified in Domestic Violence Advocate as a Legal Professional I can say just how screwed up this commenter is.
One talk that DV workers have with abusers is the grandmother question-imagine you're in a moment when you went on to hit your partner. Now your grandmother walks in. What do you do? "Um, stop." So the abuse has lots to do with control and little to do with anger, drugs, booze, etc. They'll make it worse, but they don't cause it.
And lately I've been wanting to ask some of the younger and more Radical Feminists I've met "why is a feminist theory necessary? Why do we have this whole concept and what is it supposed to do for us?" Because I think it's a way to describe what happens in society and people's lives, to give us the language to identify and change problems. Not be used as a Procrustean bed, where we fit our lives to match the theory.
I too have stopped following much of the discourse because it has no room for discussion or disagreement.

quietriot_girl said...

Thank you for posting this!

I think one of the problems is that in abusive relationships, yes, consent and coercion become very confused. And this can lead to guilt so if someone realises they have in some way 'consented' to the abuse, they then admonish themselves by saying they must have 'wanted it' or 'enjoyed it' in some way. From my experience in an abusive relationship I think I did this to an extent. It has been, in part, through exploring kink that I have been able to clarify my understanding of the distinctions between consent, coercion, pleasure and pain. This is one of many reasons I get pissed off with people who react negatively to kinksters using arguments about 'abuse'. They have no empathy or understanding for how we also may have come through abusive relationships, and are striving to live healthy loving and sexually satisfying lives too.

I don't argue with people about kink much anymore either. But I do argue about issues like rape and domestic violence, and I find many of the same issues of lazy thinking and prejudice in those discussions too.

P.s. Hi Lissy! Waves.

Unknown said...

"They have no empathy or understanding for how we also may have come through abusive relationships, and are striving to live healthy loving and sexually satisfying lives too."

I think this is what makes me angriest about anti-BDSM feminists. The attitude that once we have experienced abuse or trauma we're permanently broken, unable ever again to find our way competently through life. Our place is to listen to the advice of our wiser, healthier sisters.

I'm glad to see this blog still gets activity. It's been a refreshing place to find some sanity.

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VulvaLoveLovely said...

As a feminist counselor working at a domestic violence center- I feel that you've really hit the nail on the head. No abuser is aiming to convince his target that they are enjoying or want the abuse- their pleasure/happiness is irrelevant.

As far as the argument of the power dynamic goes- it doesnt really seem to translate over to me whatsoever. When someone is abused, they have no say in what is happening to them. They are abused physically and emotionally, their will and sense of individuality and empowerment very purposefully broken down. But with a dom and a sub- I've always really seen the actual 'power' so to speak as being in the subs hands. It is the sub that is not just allowing but requesting to be put in that position and it the the sub that calls the shots- when things get uncomfortable for them they make it stop with a word and they often voice their boundaries at the beginning of the relationship. This in no way translates to an abusive relationship of any kind that I have seen.