Friday, April 12, 2013

"How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?"

[I'm back!  I know, another really long unannounced hiatus.  I have a good excuse this time.  I had to move sort of unexpectedly and under less than ideal conditions.  I still don't know what I want to say about it, except that this wasn't about Rowdy; Rowdy continues to be awesome.  Anyway.  I'm in a good place now and I have time/energy to write again.]

Journal Of Secrets

I don't think I've ever really answered the title question, even though it's the most obvious thing that comes up when you identify yourself as a feminist who's also into BDSM.  How does this work for me?  Isn't it a big ol' conflict to be for equality and respect for all genders and then give a thumbs-up to men leading women around on leashes and hitting them with whips?

My usual flippant answer--which also happens to be my most  emotionally honest--is that it's like asking how I can be a feminist and keep guinea pigs.  What do my hobbies have to do with anything?  Kink is just a fun activity that involves a different part of my personality.

A deeper answer is that it's pleasurable for everyone involved.  The things I think of as feministically troubling are things that harm someone.  Job and school discrimination harm women economically.  Sexism harms women emotionally.  Violence harms women physically and emotionally.  Receiving pain in BDSM makes me feel strong, makes me feel desired, makes me feel present in the moment, makes me feel alive.  (Also, makes me feel extraordinarily horny and kinda high.)  I know that's not proof that it's good for me or for women, but... it's a significant piece of evidence.  I put up with misogynist environments sometimes because they're the path of least resistance for my personal goals; BDSM requires absolutely no "putting up with."  Good kink experiences are personal goals in themselves.

I also find a lot of the arguments against kink, like the ones in this much-mocked article and many of the ones that pop up in feminist contexts like this random post, to be deeply... god, I'm sick of the word "problematic."  Fuckin' weasel word that can mean anything from "got some facts wrong" to "basically a Nazi."  I find these arguments to be misguided and annoying and sometimes demeaning in exactly the ways feminists are supposed to oppose.



For one thing, a whole lot of those arguments could apply to plain ol' sex.  It can be used as a weapon of, and an excuse for, horrific abuse?  People are sometimes unintentionally harmed doing it?  It's horrible when done nonconsensually?  There are some really awful people who are into it?  A lot of the narratives around it are sexist, hetero/cisnormative, body-policing, and glamorize unsafe and questionably consensual activities?  The industries that sell media and services related to it are often nightmarishly exploitative?  I don't want to deny or minimize the fact that all these things happen in BDSM.  I just don't think it's any worse in kink than in sex.

Actually, I'll go a little further than that.  While "kink is always consensual!" is facile white-washing, on average kinksters are more aware than the general population of what consent is and why it matters.  We talk about it a lot more, and we (at least try to) socially normalize the idea of negotiating it.  We acknowledge that different relationships have different rules and roles, and that gender does not determine them.  We freely admit that lots of people simply aren't wired for what we do, or for specific ways of doing it.  We have concepts like "Risk Aware Consensual Kink" and "Your Kink Is Not My Kink, But Your Kink Is OK."  Again, I won't pretend we all apply these concepts all the time, but... the fact that we even hold these as ideals puts us a little bit ahead of society at large.

I also think a lot of "BDSM is sexist" arguments wouldn't long survive an encounter with a female dominant or a male submissive.  Female dominance is not about women dressing up in leather for men to admire.  It is an actual kink that women can have.  If you see a woman getting her rocks off by having a man service her, and you think "clearly she's only doing that to please him," you're desexualizing her and disregarding her desires.  Although you're still a step ahead of the people who don't even acknowledge that female dominance is a thing at all.

Of course, if we got into the fact that same-sex, nonbinary, and nonsexual kink exist, we'd be here all day.  (I've heard arguments that queer kink is still sexist because people are enacting male and female roles, but... if you see someone who isn't a man being dominant and you think "clearly she's being the man here," I think the problem is on your end.)  And I don't even know what would happen if we let some of these critics know about switching.

Finally, there's the question of whether feminism has any business saving women from themselves.  Because there's a really bad track record here.  At various times, various branches of feminism have swooped in to "save" femme women, married women, women who stay home with their kids, women who do sex work, cis women who welcome trans women into women's spaces--and it has always been a disaster.  It's forced women to defend their dignity and even their safety from the people who are supposed to be advocating for them.  I'm not saying any of these groups are the same as submissive women, obviously, only that "you say you want this... you poor thing" hasn't historically worked out well for feminism.



How can I be a feminist and do BDSM?  Because I trust women to know their own desires.  Because BDSM does not stand apart from the world at large, and if we have to live in this world anyway, we might as well do what we love.  Because I love and respect my body, my mind, and my potential as a human being--and all three are going "hell yeah, I totally want this."

107 comments:

  1. Sort of a note on my own gender: I realize that I'm sort of speaking as a woman here, and I identify as genderqueer.

    But, y'know, I live in a binary world. I have not had the luxury of being subjected to genderqueer gender policing and expected to take on genderqueer relationship roles. I don't accept that being genderqueer makes me totally unqualified to speak about interactions between men and women, like I grew up in Genderqueer Land or something. I grew up being treated like a women, I spent the majority of my time in BDSM spaces being treated like a woman, and any one who wanted to save me from myself would almost certainly see me as a submissive woman.

    So... I'm not claiming to speak for women, but I'm also not accepting "oh, you're genderqueer so your opinion doesn't count for anything except genderqueer stuff."

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    1. Speak for yourself; personally, I just roll around in glitter all day.

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  2. Great points, all of them. The two concepts are not a conflict, it's the individual's choice, not something thrusted upon them unwillingly.

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  3. This was a wonderful post that has come at a very timely period in my life, when I've been questioning my personal choices. Thank you very much for this.

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    1. It's a good thing to question your personal choices from time to time, but realising you were right all along is the best thing. =D

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  4. Applause! This apparent "conflict" screwed up the first fifteen years of my sexually active life. Hardly anybody talked about it back then.

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  5. I prefer to comment anonymously this time for many reasons.

    I'm a submissive man, and happy with it. No problems. No. Really.

    I was a submissive since I was pre-pubescent. I can't say for sure how much that influenced me into being also a feminist. I know one thing doesn't imply the other. I've met plenty of kinky, submissive men who were chauvinists homophobic sexist bigots. Yet, I can't rule out the hypothesis that my kink somehow helped shape my political views.

    Now, when you say "female dominance is not about women dressing up in leather for men to admire", I agree completely. But lately every time I come to think of a female domination scene it makes me uncomfortable. I see that at least in some level it works because it reverses the "normal" (in our society) role of male power and female submission. In other words, it's a caricature of feminist struggle. And I feel really bad when I look at it this way.

    My wife was dominant when we married. We used to have a kinky sex life. She had always been a feminist too - but in a vague, oh-I'm-all-for-women's-rights way. In the last few years, though, she (well, we) read a lot. Discussed a lot. Learned a lot. Most of all, we began looking at things from a different angle.

    At the same time, she distanced herself from kink. I'm not saying one thing caused the other. Most probably it didn't. Anyway, I often feel that the more engaged feminist that she's become doesn't feel comfortable in the caricature role of a mistress.

    Sorry for the long rant-comment. I just had to say it, even as an anonymous.

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    1. Thank you, Anonymous, for giving voice to my own discomforts about this article. While I don't disagree with any of the points it makes, the more engaged I become as a feminist, the more discomfort I have around taking any role in kink (I was a switch). Which is a real shame because kink shapes my ability to feel sexual desire and release.

      I read this article hoping to find help in reconciling this inner conflict but the author doesn't sound like they have ever seriously doubted or questioned their own role in kinky play. Which, I'm glad they are so secure in their desires, but it unfortunately was no help for me. :(

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    2. Interesting, I have had the opposite response. The more engaged in feminism I become, the more I feel like I understand my BDSM desires in context, and feel like I understand how to practice it ethically and in a way that is healthy for me.

      Which is *not* to say that I think your feelings are wrong in any way - just that my own path with feminism and BDSM has been different.

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    3. You're right, there's not much introspection in this article. I guess because I've been kinky a lot longer than I've been a feminist.

      But also because the stuff I'm saying here isn't just arguments I'm making, it's stuff that I really do feel. I think that something that feels good for me, feels good for my partner, doesn't harm our bodies or futures, and affects no one else must be a good thing. It seems that simple to me. "Giving pleasure by hitting" feels morally equivalent to "giving pleasure by kissing."

      I realize it's not simple for other people, but... just as maybe my "it's fun, end of story" mindset probably doesn't satisfy them, I confess I don't entirely understand what the complicating factors are for them.

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    4. I don't know if this helps at all, but I've found that the more comfortable I get with my kink (I'm a dominant woman) and the more I learn about feminism & social justice, the less patience I have for people (particularly submissive men), who want to shove me into the caricature role of a mistress. I just can't stomach the idea that I should act out a man's fantasy to his exact specifications while pretending I'm in charge. I'm all over actually being in charge, though. I just can't pretend I am when I'm really, really not.

      I see that at least in some level it works because it reverses the "normal" (in our society) role of male power and female submission. In other words, it's a caricature of feminist struggle.

      I do enjoy that kind of role reversal, but I don't think role reversal is everything when it comes to kink. Dominant men and submissive women still get off, and that's anything but a reversal of the expected power dynamic between men and women. For me, power is just sexy. I happen to be attracted to men, so I enjoy dominating them. If I were attracted to women, I think I'd get just as much enjoyment out of dominating them.

      It's possible that getting into the social justice movement and seeing too much of people trapped in nonconsensual power dynamics (being a woman in a state that's trying to outlaw abortion, for example) could give a person the idea that wanting power is inherently evil and good people don't do that. I think that's as silly as saying that cutting someone with a knife is inherently evil. Yes, it's really uncool to stab a stranger, but if you're a surgeon performing a life-saving operation, cutting someone with a knife is the most loving thing you can do for them.

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    5. I know I often pop up here with little more than a, "Hey, have you seen this link", but... hey, have you seen this link? http://beyondthevalleyofthefemdoms.tumblr.com/

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    6. Stabbity: [T]he more I learn about feminism & social justice, the less patience I have for people (particularly submissive men), who want to shove me into the caricature role of a mistress. I just can't stomach the idea that I should act out a man's fantasy to his exact specifications while pretending I'm in charge. I'm all over actually being in charge, though. I just can't pretend I am when I'm really, really not.

      Yeah, I don't think that's a "feminist" thing though. I think that's just a "people who top from the bottom are somewhere between 'annoying' and 'creepy' when they don't warn you up front that they're going to do that in the scene" thing. Although, I guess I can see how reading feminist literature could make that more visibly obvious, I suppose. *shrug* *grin*

      (Sorry, I just find "I'm totally subby, and here's your script for precisely how I'm going to be subby!" really... offputting. You don't want a Dom, you want a robot you can program to your specifications. Sorry. Not here to be your animatronic sex toy. [Ok, I guess this is where the "feminist" part comes in.] I am a real person. You must treat me like a real person if you want me to interact with you.)

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    7. I definitely think that submissive men can, and do, use their privilege against dominant women in a big way. Just because a man is a sub doesn't mean that he realizes that women are people, or that he stops feeling entitled. I think that this is what Stabbity was referring to, and what you were talking about it your first paragraph.

      But I take some issue with: "Sorry, I just find "I'm totally subby, and here's your script for precisely how I'm going to be subby!" really... offputting"

      Not that it's wrong for you to find it offputting, but I think there is a conflation here between subs who don't see doms as people and subs who have really specific and particular ways they enjoy being dominated. The former is obviously not okay, but I don't see anything wrong with the latter - those people might have a harder time finding compatible partners, but there is nothing inherently bad about only getting turned on by one particular script (or even a variable often-changing script that they personally need to set). If someone has a super-duper specifics kink, but is upfront about it, respects that others may not be turned on by it, and doesn't feel entitled to sex, I don't see anything wrong with that. And I think the idea that there is something wrong with it implicitly promotes the idea that submissives can't have boundaries, which is also pretty bad.

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  6. a question i've had to answer often! Thanks!

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  7. This is one of the things that made me feel really uncomfortable reading Gloria Steinem recently. She really seemed to be demeaning anyone who didn't share her sexual preferences. Basically decrying kink and bdsm as states of false consciousness. And she really did use the explanation that one person is symbolically the man and one person is symbolically the woman to explain why even gay and lesbian porn was patriarchal.

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  8. This question has always been really weird to me, because in my brain there's *clearly* no conflict between the two (much like with the guinea pigs), so every time I see it, I find it kind of confusing.

    It's helped me to realize that this kind of thing comes from several sources that aren't actually all the same. You have just plain prejudice of various forms, which people like to mask with 'nice sounding' things. You have lack of understanding/lack of being informed, which is where people fail to address or acknowledge switches and dominant women and queer kinksters. And then in some cases, you basically have a disagreement on base morality.

    In my morality, things are bad when they're harmful. Therefore, when they're not harmful, they're not bad. But, in some people's moralities, it seems that some things are bad all the time, like they have some kind of bad energy in them. These are the people who might argue that not only should we want world peace, we should also erase all media, etc depicting war, including imagined war, etc.

    So, I've always found the question "how can you be a feminist and do BDSM" *really really weird*, like if someone asked me "How can you be anti-war but like Star Wars?" or "how can you be against murder but dress up as a pirate for Halloween?" My reaction is basically ???, because to me the two are so obviously about different things. But it seems like to some people they aren't.

    (Note: I don't think this is practically important. If someone is trying to shame me for my desires, or worse, deny me rights because of them, then I'm going to be equally against them whatever their reasons. But it's helped me understand where the question comes from, at least, and what the people who raise it might be thinking).

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    1. Oh, yeah, and sometimes people have actually internalized sexism themselves and are using it against people, like the 'well, clearly whoever is dominant is being like a man' and 'well, clearly I know what's good and bad for women, and should get to decide that' people.
      (I think this one is the one that emotionally bothers me the most, in fact).

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    2. Those are great analogies, and perfectly illustrate that one is strictly in the realm of fantasy and pleasure, and the other one is, you know, deadly violence. I do not understand why it is so hard for some feminists to grok that wanting my partner to treat me a certain way, in the context of an enthusiastically consensual sexual encounter, for my own or our mutual pleasure is hardly antithetical to feminism. It's not like it's okay for my doctor or my bartender to just decide to treat me that way. Hell, it's not even okay for my partner to treat me that way, if I'm feeling vanilla, or at any other time or context in our relationship. Pretend punishment for forgetting to pick up the laundry may be hawt, but actual punishment for failing to perform domestic chores is abuse. Neither of us would stand for it for one second. The distinction just seems so obvious. Why is this so difficult?

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    3. Those are really good analogies. Thanks!

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    4. I *can* understand how it's hard for some feminist activists when, e.g., they are utterly stressed-out working in domestic-violence help situations and then a friend comes along grinning about her new bruises... but i think if i were grinning about my sore muscles from ice-hockey, they'd be OK with that, and i wish they could see that it's more like *that* to me than like "my turn to call the hotline."

      ~ flightless

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    5. Great analogies. I *love* dressing as a pirate. it seems like some people really can't get the concept of *play* -you know what children do with their imaginations, what artists do with drama. Don Quixote, anyone?

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  9. Yeah, it upsets me when some feminists use "man/woman" as proxies for "abuser/victim" or "oppressor/oppressed" or "privileged/unprivileged" or "having desires/desireless" etc. They correlate in our society, but are not the same, and are not fundamentally linked. It erases all kinds of experiences that don't fit that pattern, and almost more upsetting is how this gender essentialism is exactly the same as the essentialism in our mainstream culture - just parading about in feminist clothing. Like, wait, I thought our whole point was that women shouldn't all be forced to fit in one tiny powerless box.

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  10. I'm not sure why, in the linked post, Twisty feels the need to call BDSM corny and stupid. Like, if you really think something is inherently abusive and harmful to women, does it really matter that you also think it's un-cool? It reminds me of a series of posts a radical feminist wrote back in 2008 that she called "BDSM (the sexual equivalent of being into Renaissance faires)" I know there's this idea that people are into kink primarily because it's "edgy," so I guess calling us corny geeks is supposed to be a big diss? Back then I was too busy trying not to hate myself, but looking back it's pretty clear just how mean-spirited and rude a lot of anti-BDSM feminists are. Thanks for writing this, Cliff.

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    1. Just wanted to pop in and say I'm laughing really hard at that comparison because I've noticed a bizarrely large overlap between folks in my area who are in the public(esque) kink scene and who go to RenFaires. That radfem was on to us!

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    2. Heh. My first thought was, "Oh, what a cool comparison! RenFaires are all about people having fun play-acting a previous era while remaining aware that the actual history was often pretty horrible." Then I realized that the blogger you cited has probably never sat down and talked to any RenFaire folk about why they do what they do.

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    3. I also laughed at the comparison. I've seen a lot of overlap in the geek/kink community, and I'm proud to be both geeky and kinky.

      I also go to Ren Faires.

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  11. I've found that a lot of people who object to BDSM for the reasons enumerated above that can equally be applied to sex are also pretty anti-sex. Which I guess is at least consistent.

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  12. I love the idea that all kinksters are having mature, frank and inherently equal discussions about consent. But... I think a lot of people who aren't too experienced (and indeed some of the most vulnerable) tend to mirror the very worst social/gender stereotypes by getting a submissive or masochistic 'fix' from a genuinely unequal power-based relationship (boss/employee, teacher/student, married man/mistress etc.). While the world of kink is more varied and individually empowering, the Dominant Man script prevails in society... and I think that means a lot of women who are submissively inclined still go through this understandable-but-non-much-fun phase (could it be the Twilight Years?) while they try to work out within the framework of an actual social/emotional relationship that it ISN'T ACTUALLY some marvellous, mystical quality about this individual man or the particularly 'special' (i.e.shit) way he treats you that turns you on so much, but the inherent submissiveness, or the complex emotional masochism.

    While I believe this may be as far as it goes for many people, and is arguably just a (sad) social construct that has nothing to do with kink, I think it would be extremely naive to suggest that people aren't getting some of the same chemical/adrenalin/headspace reactions to pain and submission through purely mental or emotional experiences, or that this isn't sometimes a segue into BDSM (hopefully eventually into safe, equal spaces and/or relationships - yay).

    I certainly hope this doesn't sound like I'm devaluing the experiences of queer, trans, switch and everythingwhatever wonderful kinksters. I'm a queer woman and I sub to what I will loosely define as The Full Range, and I guess I'm looking at some of the differences between subbing to cis men vs. other- because the script is less present in society, with 'other' it is more readily identified as 'some kink, yay' and less confusingly identified as 'maybe the way you're supposed to have an actual relationship'. That is where it gets... problematic.

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    1. Oh my Goodness. I am fairly new to kink, mainly interested in subbing, with past relationship experience coming off the back of numerous teacher/student crushes, boss/worker crushes etc. Strangely enough, I never drew the parallel between the search for domination in other relationships in an unhealthy or unequal way, and my new (and awesome!) experiences in subbing. HOLY EYE-OPENER, BATMAN.

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    2. Society's script, absolutely (ahem) problematic... James Bond wrestles the woman to the ground, forces a kiss on her, and then helplessly she begins to kiss him fervently back. Yep. Hot scene, but as a societal cliche/directive, horrific.

      ~ flightless

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  13. Your last point about 'women saving women from themselves' is, I think, the most important one. That's really what it comes down to: some women who aren't a part of bdsm or kink culture see it as damaging or oppressive, and therefore see it as their job to fight that 'oppression'. Treating women whose feminist ideals differ from your own as if they don't know any better just drives us further away from a unified fight against TRUE oppression.

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  14. This is something that I've spent *a lot* of time thinking about over the past few years, as I've come to accept my BDSM desires for what they are.

    I have been having submissive fantasies since before puberty. As a young teenager, I tried to rationalize away a lot of this: Oh, I just want to feel really desired. Oh, I just like it because it feels transgressive and extreme.

    By not admitting to myself that what I really wanted was kinky sex, I got myself into a lot of really uncomfortable situations. I'd go for people who I knew would take an aggressive role in bed, people who would be a little rough with me. But because I refused to talk about my kinky desires, and none of my partners talked about kinky desires, we ended up doing some stuff that I was profoundly uncomfortable with later on. When I got older and started to own my kinks, it became possible for me to negotiate boundaries and have safewords. Since then, while I've certainly had unpleasant kink experiences, I've never had one that I regretted.

    The pushback I hear most often is that I have internalized the patriarchy's sexualization of violence against women. Leaving aside the large numbers of people this erases (as Cliff talks about in the OP), my answer to that is: Okay, yeah, maybe. My brain is a black box when it comes to where my sexual desires arise from (why do I like to be hit during sex? why am I attracted to men in maroon t-shirts? all mysteries!) . Regardless of the origin said desires, I am achieving sexual satisfaction in a way that (1)Prioritizes the consent of all parties, (2) Involves a lot of "what-do-I-actually-want" introspection, which leads to (3) Having the sex that I and my partner want to have, rather then the sex we think society thinks we should be having. Assuming that this particular criticism is true (which is a pretty big assumption, I think), I have used Patriarchy Lemons to make lemonade, so who cares?

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    1. Your last paragraph sums it up in the most brilliant way. Your three # is just the essence.
      I've never seen any opposition between feminism and BDSM.
      They are two absolutely different topics.

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    2. I love your last sentence. And why wouldn't this happen? Why are any feminists surprised that the majority of submissives are women? Changing patriarchy may eventually lead to changes in the shape of people's kinks, but telling people their kinks are wrong won't change patriarchy.

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    3. For what it's worth, I have some similar experiences around suppressed/subliminated kink inclinations. I was younger, I suspect, so it was a bit more inchoate for me, but there was a definite undertone of that in there. (I am really really underslept and thus cannot brain right now, but I know I blogged about this once.... Not gonna be able to find it right now.)

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    4. Yes to the last paragraph!

      One of the key themes I get from this post is that BDSM happens in the context of the patriarchy. Its not a magical land of equality and happiness. I've been considering the ways that BDSM can be empowering in our patriarchal context in ways other then "women claiming their desires and getting them met in a situation that values consent." I think I'm just questioning whether the "internalization of society's internalization against women" is necessarily a bad thing as long as actual abuse is not occuring (though it will be sometimes). Sex is for me often a form of expression and play. I've often wondered if kinky fantasies are partially my psyche's way of playing with all the oppressive, violent shit its encountered. Does anyone know good writing about this idea? I'm still developing it but its basically the idea of fetishization as a way to deal with a fear productively- in this case in a way that brings pleasure.

      The main thing that bothered me reading the slate article was that they think making distinctions between torture/human rights violations and kink is "awkward," which I read as a basic refusal to look at the complexities of kink itself. I think its also important to look at the complexities of individual experiences. My personal rule of thumb for my emotional/sexual life is "if it quacks its a duck." Obviously, as people have acknowledged in this post, people have different experiences with BDSM. Its not enough to say that BDSM is different torture. We also have to acknowledge that "BDSM that feels like its abuse" is different from "BDSM that feels empowering."

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    5. "Why are any feminists surprised that the majority of submissives are women? " It's not true in my experience that majority of subs are women.I think it's 50:50 gender-wise, but there are many more subs than dom(me)s. My experience is if you identify as a bi switch (i.e open to any combination of partner), male subs wanting to be dominated vastly outnumber any other permutation. This may be because men, even submissiv3e men find it easier to articulate their desires or becauswe there are simply more of them.

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    6. @gerrybee

      I would be really curious to see how the numbers played out if you could somehow tap into someone's actions/fantasies rather then using self-report. I don't mean this to invalidate anyone's identity, but rather to examine how social expectations of BDSM roles and gender roles interact - like, if you look at a group of people who like mild bondage, is there a difference in how many men vs. women identify as submissive, as opposed to just identifying as someone who likes to get handcuffed to the bed?

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    7. Good point. I should think a lot of people take a while to figure out the difference, especially given how much typically available porn doesn't distinguish the two very well.

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    8. @Irene - not just that it would take people awhile to figure out the difference (though your totally right about the conflation of the two in porn), but also that some identities are considered more acceptable for some genders than others.

      If you have two people who both enjoy exactly the same activity (we're in unrealistic hypothetical land where they enjoy exactly the same thing in exactly the same way), will they identify differently because of societal expectations of what their gender is supposed to like? Is a man more likely to ID as a dom because of the stereotype that most men are doms, while a women who likes to do exactly the same things will just call herself assertive in bed?


      (to be clear, I have ZERO empirical evidence about this - it is just something I've wondered about).

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  15. "Changing patriarchy may eventually lead to changes in the shape of people's kinks, but telling people their kinks are wrong won't change patriarchy."

    That is pretty much the perfect way of stating it.

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  16. It's actually kind of offensive that people don't understand the tremendous amount of work that goes into being kinky. My husband and I have been in a vanilla cycle for the last few years, but the exploration of kink that we got into before that truly contributed to our intimacy, and I don't just mean intercourse.

    Discussing my boundaries and then walking right up to them is probably the most feminist thing I have personally ever done. Anyone who wants to tell me that I'm actually some kind of victim because I love being kinky is buying into the idea that women shouldn't actually like sex. Also, they're assholes.

    (Also also, your post about how to bottom was absolutely beautiful and I love sharing it with people.)

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  17. Thank you for a good ... piece? Article? Hmmm. English is not my native language. Thank you for writing an enlightening and well-written collection of words regarding feminism and BDSM. Personally, the question hadn't occured to me before, not because I'm not a feminist or into BDSM, I'm both (though the former more than the latter), and female to boot.

    It's just that I've never seen the concept of BDSM, sexual play between consenting adults where both gender can be the dominating, as something opposing the ideas and goals of feminism. So basically I guess I'm saying the same thing you've been saying, in less words. It got me thinking, though, which is always a good thing. :)

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  18. I don't think I follow the part about how anti-SM arguments "wouldn't long survive an encounter with a female dominant or a male submissive". Don't a lot of feminist critiques of BDSM boil down to something like "hierarchical power relations, broadly understood, are a thing we should be trying to do less of, even in the bedroom"?

    (just to situate myself here, I'm a dude, and the BDSM scene is a big part of my social life, so in that sense I'm speaking as an insider.)

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    1. I've seen that argument, but it seems awfully weird to worry yourself about play hierarchy in the bedroom when there are MUCH more influential hierarchies in business and politics.

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    2. Many of the stupid feminist critiques of BDSM involve rants about "men beating women", and refuse to acknowledge either the existence of male bottoms and/or female tops or non-sadomasochistic BDSM.

      (Much of the stupidity within BDSM also consists of not acknowledging these things, so on some level I can't expect outsiders to be less asinine than insiders even if it's annoying.)

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    3. Or sadomasochistic BDSM that isn't about power-play, for that matter. The "lover's pinch that hurts and is desired" isn't necessarily about domination.

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    4. I will cheerfully concede the existence of stupid critiques! But the reason I want to think about these issues is not so that I can refute critics, but so that I can figure out how I, personally, can engage with my own kinky desires in a way that is as ethical as possible.

      The usual answer from within the Scene seems to be: "as long as everyone's enjoying themselves, there's just nothing else to talk about", which I find deeply unsatisfying. (to say nothing of the usual subtext: "if you're feeling in any way conflicted about this stuff, you just haven't fully accepted your kinks")

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    5. RE: riot-nrrd

      Hey! I read your comic, back when there were only like, ten strips in the archive! I'm glad you're still making it! :D

      --Rogan

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    6. It is fairly rare for me to encounter non-stupid critiques of BDSM, which means that I haven't developed a lot of response that goes beyond "If you want to explain to me all about why I'm feministically incorrect for having desires, it would be a whole lot more convincing if you weren't starting by trying to tell lies about what my desires actually are."

      And that's not even the nuancey stuff, of which there is a lot, it's "Why do you like being hit?" "I don't." "BUT YOU ARE BEING HIT." "... in your weird wank fantasies. Are you aware that you're creepy?"

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    7. But if it's a hierarchical power relationship that exists only because it is freely agreed upon between the people involved, and can be ended at any time by anyone who says they don't want to do that anymore, is it really the kind of hierarchical power relationship that feminism criticizes?

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  19. What an amazing post and thought for the day. I wish I had more to contribute but you and commenters have already said it.

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  20. I'm not in the scene myself, but others have given me to understand that consensual BDSM is to real sexual violence as bungy-jumping is to suicide.

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    1. More like as wrestling is to assault. The physical actions may be exactly the same, but the context and meaning are vastly different.

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    2. Oh yay, thank you for that analogy! Now I need to go data-crunch where-all BDSM is illegal/sketchy but boxing is legal.

      ~ flightless

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    3. [Aside: Have you done the "captchas"? Some of them are really hard. Maybe I am old, but a lot of them I have to reload, and I still worry that I'm effing it up and will lose my comment.] ~ flightless

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  21. Just wanted to add my appreciation to the chorus here, Cliff. I'm a young guy from what I guess would be called a pretty repressed religious background, just starting to feel my way into what I actually want - which, so far, definitely does seem to include kink - and finding this blog has been quite helpful to me in the process of thinking these things through. Thank you for that.

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  22. Excellent post, especially the point that a lot of things people criticize about kink are just as present in vanilla sex.

    And I have a mixed relationship with the word problematic (and with social justice talk in general). Sometimes it's useful to take a step back and realize that other people have different experiences than you do, and what is completely okay for you might be very hurtful for them.
    But I always find myself thinking "now what?" How do you react to something being problematic? By renouncing all connection with it, or by simply being "aware"?
    Awareness can take the form of the aforementioned empathy, but sometimes it just means "feel really really bad about it", as if guilt is the only thing that will fix a situation, as if guilt alone really fixed anything. "You are bad by nature, feel bad about that and you will be better" sounds really Catholic to me.

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    1. Except it's not about "feeling bad" for a problematic thing you like or for your privilege. That's pretty explicitly stated in all the SJ stuff I read and write. Being aware of these things means you're ready to listen when a less-privileged person talks about their experience, and that you're ready to accept that there may be problematic stuff that you're not seeing, because of where you're naturally coming from, and you're ready to HELP the less-privileged person deal with the situation (not explain the situation away, trivialize it, or "save" them from it) and hopefully find a solution. Just feeling guilty to yourself actually doesn't do anything for whatever struggle you're involved with.

      Honestly, I see this a lot in fandoms, and I don't really get it. For instance, I love the LOTR movies and some of the books, but I can admit they have racist aspects while still enjoying the non-racist parts. Just because I like something, doesn't mean it's perfect. And I can accept that as an autistic person who can often pass for allistic (non-autistic), there are levels of ableism and abuse that I don't experience on a regular basis and therefore may not be able to recognize. I'm not omniscient; I shouldn't expect that I can see everything from everyone's point of view.

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  23. Last paragraph touches on something important.

    Too often "that's anti-feminist"/"that supports the patriarchy" is the same as "why do you hate freedom?", "for the children", or any invocation of Hitler. All it really means is that the person speaking doesn't like it, and would rather make a flimsy rationalization than think through their position.

    It's a lot easier when your big question is "who does it hurt?", and put "is it feminist?" somewhere around "does it make baby jesus cry?"

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    1. I think things can hurt people who aren't obviously involved--like, I wouldn't say it's morally neutral to have a misogyny-themed party as long as you only invite men and don't tell any women about it. But that's not because of some general, ethereal wrongness; it's because it's very likely such an event would make the men involved more prone to go out and do things that do harm women. I don't think the same likelihood applies to BDSM.

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    2. That's interesting. I wonder if some people worry that taking part in BDSM activities will encourage men and women to act out male-dominant behaviour in real life? This would be daft of course.

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    3. There definitely are some boundary-impaired folks who will try to act like they're the doms (or subs!) of everyone, or of every attractive member of their preferred gender. But... I think these are people who would have crappy boundaries or gender-based entitlement no matter what. I don't think if they'd never discovered kink they would have become sensitive egalitarians. I know plenty of non-kinky folks who still do just fine at acting like every attractive person owes them something.

      This kinda gets back to that whole "kink exists in the world" thing; of course there's sexism and entitlement in kink, because there's sexism and entitlement all over. But I don't see any reason to believe that kink makes these things worse.

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    4. "But I don't see any reason to believe that kink makes these things worse."

      As a master's level psychologist seeking both employment and a PhD thesis subject, this kind of intrigues me. Would you mind if I grabbed this idea, ran off with it, threw it at a science-kickstarter-esque-for-europeans website and made money and research with it?

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    5. Just be warned that if you want to do research on kink/porn/similar topics, three things are guaranteed to happen.

      -Your work will immediately be seen as political.

      -You will immediately be seen as someone with a political axe to grind.

      -No matter what evidence you happen to gather, people who disagree with you will look for any miniscule reason to discredit you. They'll find reasons, too, since you're human and not perfect. On the off chance that you were perfect, they'd just ignore it outright.

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    6. Um, actually, it would be really cool to see some actual quantitative research on kink that didn't start with the a priori assumption that it's a mental defect. I wouldn't predict total doom for it before it's even happened.

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    7. I'm male, and being invited, or even knowing that someone I know attended, a misogyny theme-party would be pretty fucking hurtful to me personally.

      So, there, case closed, yes, it could hurt someone.

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    8. Er, not to imply that I'm special or anything. I think this is true of most men I know. Except the aggressively and personally misogynist ones.

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    9. Cliff,

      Sagarin, Hormonal Changes and Couple Bonding in Consensual Sadomasochistic Activity, Archives of Sexual Behavior 38:186-200, April 2009. (You have access to a medical library, right?)

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    10. Oh, cool! Although their conclusions are hardly surprising, it's nice to see them taking SM seriously.

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  24. You live in Boston - are you okay?

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  25. I've had a hard time reconciling feminism and being a female sub for a bit now. It really became an issue after a string of abusive relationships, including one where I was raped a lot. Part of it is just a general PTSD, kinks vs triggers issue - lots of porn triggers me now, and kink porn is sooooo much more likely to trigger me. And I know the way flashbacks screw with my perception of reality, but it's definitely a lot harder to talk myself out the flashback than it is when, say, bear hugs trigger me. It was so much easier having rape fantasies before I was a rape victim who'd been told by cops that she wanted it.

    The other issue is, so where does battered person syndrome fit into all this? Because, yeah, I totally defended my relationship with my boyfriend, right up until I called the cops on him for sexual assault. And I haven't really seen a great defense for why other subs aren't in the same place I was, a month before I called the cops on him. (Not that I believe that all subs are suffering from battered person syndrome, just remarking on the rhetoric.) It's easy to say that the difference between kink and abuse is consent, but a lot of abuse is called consensual right up until its not. And I wish there were more defenses that didn't really amount to "it's awesome for me, so that's all there is to it." I'd love to know how other abused subs managed to figure out "this is when it's a red flag, stop justifying all the bad with the small amount of good and run away" and "this is a safe person for me." I have a really hard time telling the difference these days.

    Also, I think most feminist critiques of bdsm do totally ignore or sweep aside the existence of female dommes and male subs, but in general, power imbalances, be they economic or democratic or whatever, are positively correlated with higher rates of interpersonal violence.

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    1. Are you talking about a relationship that involves kinky sex, or something closer to 24/7?

      If the former, well, the "sub" part isn't turned on the whole time, right? So, if your partner is generally a person you like/interact well with/feel safe with the rest of the time, then there you go, safe person (not that it's always that easy, but basic concept). If the relationship is throwing red flags, they might just as well come up outside the bedroom as inside it. If zie's an asshole when you go out to dinner, zie may well be an asshole in bed as well. This is true for any relationship, regardless of how kinky it is or isn't. There's not necessarily a different list of "kinky red flags" here, or any way in which identifying an abusive relationship from the inside is any different (in fundamental ways; specifics will obviously vary) because of the kinky elements.

      Although, I would say there is one "kinky red flag"; when a partner attempts to extend that bedroom dynamic out to "real life" without appropriate negotiation (or starts pushing for it within negotiation over Other Partner's clear lack of interest). If done subtly, that can actually be hard to spot, especially for someone inexperienced in relationships, and I think especially for older man/younger woman couples, or other situations where the dominant partner is also socially dominant for whatever reason. But actually, that "control creep" is a vanilla abusive relationship thing as well, so really I think I was right the first time. The exact facts may be different, but the underlying nature of events & attitudes seems pretty similar with or without the kink.

      Now, if you're talking about people in 24/7 relationships, and how one could tell from the inside (or the outside, for that matter) whether it was becoming abusive or not, then I got nothing. No experience, no clue, nada.

      ...I was going to write something about how the difference is, people can tell if their friends are happy or miserable in a relationship, from signals beyond what the friend actually says about it ("no really! He loves me!"), but. Not actually true, necessarily. And anyway, it's likely to give both false positives and negatives in various cases. So, yeah, again, I got nothing.

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    2. First, I know this disagrees with feminist conventional wisdom. But if you fall into a string of abusive situations, there's probably something about you that attracts/is attracted to abusers. It's not something you're aware of and it's not something you should feel bad about, but it is a reason to visit a competent, professional therapist.

      Second, it really comes down to the nature of protection, and how it should be applied to adults. Should society prevent you from engaging in kinky sex because it might hurt you? How about premarital sex? Nonprocreative sex? Protecting you from making risky choices by definition prevents you from making certain choices.

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    3. I don't know that this is at all relevant to your experience, because I have very few sex/kink-related triggers, but for me there are two things that serve as red/green flags (depending on how you phrase it).

      (1) Bright white lines separating scene-time from every other time. Kink always starts with a proposal and ends in a clear, unambiguous way (either a safeword or a little phrase that we have sort of ritualized as our scene-ending phrase.) We don't just slip into kink, there always needs to be an affirmative yes at the beginning. This obviously won't work for everyone's kinks/desires, but for me, it's a really important piece of how I feel safe.
      (obviously, this could also be a problem if someone feels like they can't say no, but again, that is a vanilla-sex problem as much as it is a kink problem)

      (2) Safewords - if someone doesn't immediately respect your this-needs-to-end word (whether that be "stop" or "mangos" or whatever) that is a big, big red flag. And I would *really* worry about someone who wanted to dominate a partner without *wanting* their partner to have a safeword (or equivalent gesture).

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    4. I'm the OP Anonymous.

      @Anonymous - Mostly 24/7, though I think when accounting for the cycle of violence and honeymooning, there isn't really an easy line a lot of the time. A loooot of the kinksters I've known haven't had a really clear separation of "kinky sex in the bedroom" and "totally vanilla rest of life" - especially during free time and parties.

      Sometimes people that are assholes in the bedroom are assholes at dinner, though a lot are really good at putting on a good show for everyone else. But normally, those in a battered person syndrome state of mind don't see the asshole at dinner, either.

      @NeedsAName I'm confused as to how that's a rebuttal for why subs aren't all suffering from battered person syndrome. And I never said that kink should be illegal or anything, so your second point is arguing a strawman.

      @theLaplaceDemon I really like #1 (and #2, but especially #1). I'll try to keep it in mind for future play. Thanks.

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    5. One of the things about (ethical) kink is higher standards of consent. An uncoerced, unambiguous, clearly stated choice to engage in any such behavior; explicit explanation of what is and isn't consented to; the ability to revoke consent at any point and for any reason; the right to have one's refusals be accepted instantly and to not be badgered or bullied into changing one's mind; the right to feel safe making a refusal without worrying that it will trigger further pressure, rape, or other retribution.

      An abuser's goal is to trap, manipulate, control, and slowly destroy. Often one of the tools they use to do that is to subtly undermine the standards their victim expects them to hold to, either without violating the letter of them, or with excuses and justifications about why it's okay for them to do it and wrong for their victim to complain.

      Your refusal should never be subject to anyone else's approval. You don't owe anyone a justification, and you don't owe them a justification they accept or understand. If they think you're wrong or that you haven't provided sufficient proof that something's hurting you, that isn't an excuse for them to ignore you or override you. They don't have to agree with you. They don't have to understand you. They just have to abide by your decision.

      Standards of consent, whether they're good ones or the careless crap that passes for it in mainstream society, are there for your protection. If someone tries to twist them around and use them against you, to indicate that you owe them consent or that you did somehow consent to something you don't agree to, that is abusive.

      Basically, abusers disrespect consent, subtly or blatantly. BDSMers seek to understand, accept, and defer to it, not half-assedly or only to the letter of it, but to the spirit of it, the reality of it. If you feel that something's not right, you don't need any justification for it. Somebody tries to wiggle past your boundaries or police your expectations, that is wrong.

      One thing I want to say to you, specifically, is that desire and consent are not the same thing. Desire is not consent. It can be a reason to give consent, but it in itself does not constitute consent. I've seen too many people hurt by feeling that wanting or enjoying something on any level means they have no right to refuse it even when it's deeply wrong for them on another level.

      Desire means you want something; consent means choosing and agreeing to buy it at the price at which it's offered. It is especially important to one who has a history of many abusive situations to pay attention to the real costs and the real value of what you're getting, and to *note when those things change,* and to recognize unsafe situations and the need to get out of them, even when some other part of the situation feels really, really good.

      Basically, whatever the mechanics of the situation, YOUR consent is something you should be Queen of, President of, Goddess of. It's YOURS. You decide, and you owe no one any accountability for it. BDSM is supposed to respect this, so that you are both free and safe to indulge in whatever you want to indulge in and avoid whatever you want to avoid. Abuse undermines and distorts and steals this, to give the abuser power over it so that he can use it against you. Abuse forces you to take the bad with the good, and then ups the amount of bad. BDSM should, ideally, just enable you to enjoy the good, whatever things float your boat, without demanding that you suffer or undertake horrible risks as well.

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  26. This article was incredibly simplistic and didn't go into any of the intersecting issues which surround the BDSM scene. How about all the gross white male doms who get off on 'raceplay'? The way in which being anything but white becomes a fetish?
    Seriously, has anyone ever even considered why the majority of subs are female? Why the majority of doms are male? Have you even thought that maybe, just maybe patriarchal culture has influenced these factors just a teeny bit? Or would that be too inconvenient for people to even think about?
    I'm speaking as someone who works in the sex-industry: I am a whore, and one who specializes in kink. I had so many issues with male doms crossing boundaries on websites and IRL I simply had to stop marketing myself as a switch. I could give you a list of the creepy ways male doms have breached etiquette, tried to coerce me into things I didn't want to do, told me that I wasn't a real sub unless I did whatever they wanted - but that would end up in a post longer than the OP. I could also make an equally lengthy post about the amount of male doms who've approached me as a domme and tried to convince me that I was actually a sub, and that deep inside I did want to submit to them even after I'd stated that I was purely a domme. Put simply the BDSM scene is crawling with misogynistic creeps and abusers who get a free pass to get away with anything because of the logic behind this post that "who cares as long as we're all having fun?"
    Don't get me wrong, I've had some fantastic experiences as both a domme and a sub, but seriously? We need to examine the many varied reasons why people have the desires we have and not paint everyone with the broad "whatever floats your boat as long as it's consensual" brush, which gives no thought to the way in which race, class and misogyny intersect with BDSM. As someone who considers myself an enthusiast of kink I still have the right to question and analyse why people might enjoy the things they do. None of our desires exist in a vacuum - it would be stupidity to deny that our sexuality is to a certain point defined by the society in which we live.
    But don't take my word for it, these tumblrs share many of my concerns about BDSM and put things into a much more elegant perspective:
    http://wretchedoftheearth.tumblr.com/
    http://commiekinkshamer.tumblr.com/

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    1. "Posting on blogs is a detrimental effect of internet culture in which you're given a false reward and sense of accomplishment that often prevents you from taking real, tangible action towards your goals. Perhaps this is because you feel powerless in your own life due to the patriarchy. You should have your internet taken away to save you from it. "

      In short, you're telling someone they can't be poor because other people have lots of money. You can't enjoy sex because other people do it differently, or don't enjoy it.

      And FYI, it's not "The BDSM scene" that's crawling with creeps and abusers, it's the world. They pop up in every group. Right now there's a big movement in the cosplay scene to start calling out the abusers and rapists and so on, and there's backlash and arguing over it. But maybe I should stop cosplaying, because that's supporting a hobby that creeps and abusers also enjoy? And jogging, I'm sure any number of evil people have gone jogging. No filing taxes either. I'm pretty sure they all ate food and breathed too.

      At the end of the day, a person is responsible for their own actions. And it's a nasty sort of victim-blaming to tell people "You got mugged. He mugged you because society made it look cool. You're part of society. Therefore you made him mug you."

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    2. Certainly there are creeps and abusers in every scene, group, whatever. But some scenes, in addition to their divinely ordained allotment of creeps, *also* have cultural norms that work to enable and normalize abuse. And I think this is true of the BDSM scene.

      But none of this implies that I want to go around telling people how to have sex. To take a perhaps less charged analogy: surely there ought to be feminist critiques of mainstream beauty standards that demand that women wear high heels. But putting forth those critiques isn't the same thing as attacking any particular woman's choice to wear high heels. We can recognize that there are plenty of individual women who genuinely like wearing heels, and plenty more who are making an intelligent and calculated decision to conform to standards of dress as they exist now, while still pointing out the ways in which those standards are busted.

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    3. Have you even thought that maybe, just maybe patriarchal culture has influenced these factors just a teeny bit?
      Well, obviously. But if my standard for activities that are okay to engage in is "not influenced by patriarchal culture," I'm going to be very, very bored.

      Put simply the BDSM scene is crawling with misogynistic creeps and abusers who get a free pass to get away with anything because of the logic behind this post that "who cares as long as we're all having fun?"
      No, creeps and abusers get a free pass because of the exact same logic that operates in non-BDSM circles: "but he's such a nice guy," "she's overreacting to a little misunderstanding," "maybe she's making it all up," "I don't want to get involved in drama," and so forth. It's shit, I'll never deny that, but it's not shit because it's kinky.

      None of our desires exist in a vacuum - it would be stupidity to deny that our sexuality is to a certain point defined by the society in which we live.
      Also defined by the society in which we live: BASICALLY EVERYTHING. Including, by the way, the choice/inclination to *not* be kinky.

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  27. Why does the question itself sound so off to me? "How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?" is sort of like "How can you be a feminist and ride a bicycle?" or "How can you be a feminist and wear high heels?" The question misses the basic issue that feminism is about equality and choice. It's about not having the system choose for you, but rather having the power and choices for yourself. There is nothing inherently anti-feminist in kink any more than there is in gardening, driving to the store or using a computer. The question is actually more revealing about the asker, in that it displays their own prejudices and assumptions about "How Things Ought To Be!"

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    1. Before I get into this: I'm a woman, I'm a feminist and I'm a switch. I do not come down on the side of "BDSM is misogynistic and feminists should oppose it".
      However, I find it extremely disingenuous to say "BDSM is just a hobby, how silly these people are to compare it to patriarchal power structures! They don't try to say you can't be a feminist if you pet bunnies!"
      Well, feminists generally don't go around saying "petting bunnies is a form of lagomorphic oppression" and then cooing over cute animal videos on YouTube while they give scritches to a mini-lop.
      BDSM involves, at least sometimes, behaviors that feminists have spent a long time trying to tell people were bad: physical violence, the expectation of subservience, gendered insults, etc. You can't brush off criticisms by saying it's an apples-to-oranges comparison when the two involve, at least externally, many of the same activities.
      Note that word: externally. The differences between BDSM and abuse are exactly what Cliff has pointed out - intent, consent, and context. So yes, the two are different, in that you can say, "Well, the one apple is rotten and full of worms, but the other one is fresh, delicious and wholesome." But they're still both apples, and you might forgive someone who only knew of apples as gross mushy worm-condos for being confused that other people like to eat them, ever - especially people from the No Bad Apples Society.
      However, I'm pretty sure that most critics are at least tangentially aware that BDSM is consented to and happens in a specific context. The criticism is whether or not the consent and context are enough to override the fact that, say, calling someone a whore and telling her to suck your dick is a misogynistic expression of rape culture.
      Personally, I think that yes, it does, but it's not an easy or automatic yes. This comment has already gotten long and convoluted, so I'm not going to go any further with it, but I actually do agree with you for the most part. I just don't think it's as simple as saying "abuse, apples, BDSM, oranges, problem solved!"

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    2. I appreciate your comment. Here's one thought to add to it - Cliff's post was about how we answer the question of being a perv and feminist - to ourselves. How do we see it, personally, so we are not ashamed of our desires, and not vulnerable to being shamed by others when we go after what we want. I thought on that level that her points were pretty solid. I was molested as a kid and one of the deeper ways this fucked me up was that later in life I 'discovered' that this was the reason I was gay. All the experts told me so. I actually spent years thinking oh shit, if only I could 'get over' my abuse I could stop this gay thing. I really don't need more years to also 'get over' the whole 'you're also a perv because you were molested' thing. We need to able to take our doubts and the worrying thoughts that someone out there knows us better than we know ourselves, and just be comfortable in our desires as they are. Have faith in ourselves, if we are going to have faith in anything at all.
      Your comment is more oriented to explaining ourselves to other people. I agree that people opposed to BDSM aren't going to be moved by many of our arguments - but not all of Cliff's arguments were directed at them. I think the last one - that feminism as a whole doesn't have a good track record of protecting me from myself - is the best one for the well-intentioned. And even then, they have to be able to recognize that this is true. I've read entire feminist tracks on sex, bdsm, sex-positive culture etc. and I have to say it reads like an easy political win rather than a good analysis. It's a little like the religious right-wing prefer to talk about pre-marital sex instead of, say, materialism and environmental destruction as the big moral problems in society. Easier for politicians to look good backing a law to stop sex trade trafficking or some equally tiny and loaded issue than, say, ending bribery and corruption in politics. It's also easier for feminists to focus on my sex life than tackle women's low wages and workplace discrimination. After all - male sexuality is an easy starting place to shame all men, and female submissives, well, it must be easy to pick on them, right?

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  28. "(I've heard arguments that queer kink is still sexist because people are enacting male and female roles, but... if you see someone who isn't a man being dominant and you think "clearly she's being the man here," I think the problem is on your end.)"

    THANK you.

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  29. Thanks for sharing this important post.. I too conflated feminine & submissive with sexist, and behaved contrary to my nature for too long. I felt a cultural obligation to be a tough woman, when I needed to explore my gentleness. I love butch women , femme men, and even my conventionally feminine self at last!

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  30. Lots of interesting ideas here. What seems to be emerging is that if feminists are going to criticise BDSM, it ought to be done from a position of detailed knowledge, and anything else should be met with eye-rolls and NOT INTERESTED.

    I don't know whether BDSM spaces and groups contain a higher than average proportion of sexist arseholes, but maybe that's one form of research question... do BDSM groups in different countries differ in this respect? In my very very limited experience with a group of people who are out as kinky, there was one obvious male creep. He seemed to feel empowered by his kinkster status to be openly sexist and unpleasant. But my general experience tells me that if I spent twenty minutes with any group of more than six or so people, on average I would notice that one bloke was a sexist git. It would just take a bit longer to show. Almost all social groups have guys like this, and tolerate their sexism to varying degrees.

    Is there much evidence that kink attracts couples who already have an abusive dynamic? If so, what do the best kinky communities do to tackle this?

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  31. Cliff Pervocracy, I am so glad you are here and blogging! Serendipitously, you posted this at a great time for me. I might have said "HELL YEAH" at the screen once or twice.

    <3, flightless [haven't read the comments yet]

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  32. We don't "do" BDSM
    We LIVE this BDSM life
    I wrote something similar, from the perspective of a Black Feminist Submissive
    People who make Feminism and BDSM mutually exclusive clearly understand neither Feminism nor BDSM

    http://feministajones.com/blog/in-the-life-a-black-feminist-sub/

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  33. Cliff, I found something infuriating on the internet and knew that this could be a job for you.

    http://www.lolfanatic.com/how-to-know-when-shes-ready-to-kiss/?imt=1

    http://www.thetaoofbadass.com/special/goldfish/indexmctop.html?utm_expid=42889565-4&ed=10&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lolfanatic.com%2Fhow-to-know-when-shes-ready-to-kiss-you-and-eliminate-rejection-continued%2F

    I have to say the video (latter link) is very well done. The nice voice and the live-drawing imagery make the video almost sympathetic which is confusing as hell, contradicting the outrageous message it has.

    "This is her logical brain (heh, yes, she has one!), and this is her emotional brain."

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    1. I found that whole idea disgusting... I hate that there are people out there who think like that... Women are people just like men and that guy is disgusting.

      Delete
  34. Long-time reader, first time commenter.

    Like several previous commenters, I admire how little internal conflict you feel about these parts of your identity--this is mostly how I feel now, but it took me a lot more overthinking to get to that. The tension I do still sometimes feel happens mostly when I'm turned on by "mainstream" things that are legitimately perpetuating rape culture, or when I'm trying to educate people about rape culture in a way that explains why some of the way our society sexualizes violence is not OK while acknowledging that consensual kink is a thing. A lot of people have been pointing out that BDSM doesn't exist in a vacuum, and while I do think you're right, Cliff, that this patriarchal influence sucks but is pretty unavoidable and doesn't mean kink is wrong, I feel like another part of this discussion about BDSM and feminism is the way we can enjoy depictions of sex and violence in pop culture that are fucked up. I wouldn't call this a benefit, exactly, because I think all of us would benefit more if sex was presented to us in a more nuanced and varied way, but I do think it's a tension.

    Also, thank you for voicing my frustration with the word "problematic"! Fuckin' weasel word indeed.

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  35. This is likely the very first post I've read of yours that I don't actually agree with or at least how you go about refuting it. I mean I absolutely agree that it is completely possible for a woman to be a feminist and submissive simultaneously, but I do not agree that it's because it's just great fun.

    Sex positive feminism to me, means that I as a woman get to choose what sexual experiences I would like to have. I have sexual agency to do as I choose in my bedroom and the patriarchal society does not get to choose what acceptable forms of intercourse I can have.

    BDSM is integral to my sexual identity. I can not enjoy sex with a male partner if there is no power or pain play.

    I think that "feminists" that try to tell women what they can do in the bedroom are just as bad if not worse than men who do the same thing.

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  36. Your post made me realize how happy I am to be a lesbian. My mind finds it much easier being a submissive and a feminist.
    However, I completely agree with your thinking. If everyone's happy and it doesn't hurt anyone, how is it bad? I think it's the same as hurting because say I identify as a feminist but then have rape fantasies. It's only fantasies. I know I really don't want to be raped. Does it make me a worse person? I don't think so. At least, it makes me more honest to admit to it to myself.

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  37. Respecting that women have autonomy over their kinks and the right to self-express is inherently a feminist act. I find it disingenuous to claim that desire arises out of a black box, however. We recapitulate the sexuality served to us stewed with our own experiences, thoughts and feelings. The culture that makes up our desires contains misogyny, rape culture, eroticized gender power dynamics, and other stuff that feminists are against. Nevertheless, this stuff is in us. It is part of us. And it is our right to make it work for us.

    Personal bit (sorry, this is why I have to be anonymous): I'd always been kind of curious about BDSM (I'm a het female). Playing around with power dynamics fascinates me, and fueled my interest in theater, stage combat, dance, and community-building. A couple of small BDSM experiences were even revelatory for me. I became someone's sub in the middle of a terrible breakup, job and household upheaval, isolation, and depression. The abdication of responsibility, being someone's will-less little plaything, was exactly where I felt I belonged. I was sexually assaulted in that relationship. I was threatened and abused. It was made plain to me that I was only tolerable as a partner as long as I continued to be the "erased" one. I heard the message loud and clear. I still hear that message, from many quarters. I get that this is what "the market" wants of me. I get that it makes me sexy. And I want to be sexy. I want to be a good partner.

    But somewhere along the line, I made a choice. I would learn how to switch. Even if it was uncomfortable. I would figure out how to see myself as sexy when I was in command. And I would learn to treasure vulnerability in my partners without losing respect for them. I decided I wouldn't tolerate anyone who wasn't willing switch themselves. And if that meant I'd never be considered a good partner, so be it. So far, I have found this decision very telling. I've found a lot of aesthetic resistance within myself toward feeling sexy outside of being submissive. I've found a lot of men whose identities crumble if they can't be the powerful one. And I've sure as hell felt the "market pressure" in BDSM that doesn't have a place for people who want to be more than one role.

    To note that misogyny and rape culture also exist in BDSM as it does in the normal population should shock no one. It does not in fact excuse or cure this problem that BDSM includes explicit discussion and education about consent. What we do is sometimes dangerous and looks a lot like abuse. Of COURSE we have discussions and education about consent. It would be horrifying if we didn't. But trying to use that to say "oh, misogyny doesn't happen HERE. Here we talk about CONSENT" only serves to disappear the violations that occur.

    And they do occur.

    It also ignores that the pressure to conform to pre-determined stereotypes is thriving in BDSM. Our work is NOT over because we're free to kink as we please. It brings up the question, as well it should, of what pleases us and why. And what we may want to do about it. Even though being free to kink as we please is fucking awesome.

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  38. Women are stupid and I dont respect them. Thats right, I just have sex with them.

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    1. Normally I'd delete this, but there's something so Baby's First Troll about it, I can't bring myself to.

      "I'm a... bad person! I do... badness! THAT'S RIGHT BADNESS HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT? I BET YOU EXPECTED GOODNESS BUT NOPE! I AM BAAAAADDDDD! DEAL WITH IT!"

      "ooh yeah i told them"

      Delete
    2. Hee hee thank you for a really good laugh, Cliff, I needed it!

      Delete
    3. Whether it matters or not to anybody, this is a reference to something that is pretty clearly mocking of misogyny.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqXi8WmQ_WM

      I personally think his "I'm very super famous" song is funnier.

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  39. I find the idea that BDSM is sexist to be laughable. It's portrayed that way by popular media, but if it's actually done properly, there will be respect for the rights of both individuals. I would NEVER submit if I didn't know that my Domme has an incredible amount of respect for me. She knew for many months that I was a sub, and she wanted to dominate me, but she also knew that I was uneasy, and so instead of pushing anything, she waited for me to accept it, because she respects me as a person, and not as an object. Even now, she is very careful with my limits and my comfort, and that's how it's SUPPOSED to work. If a BDSM relationship is sexist, then something is wrong.

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  40. Perfect post, Cliff. Everything I wish I could say about BDSM.

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  41. Liked this article in the first place, but it's even better with all these thoughtful comments as well! - thanks everyone, much appreciated :-)

    In case anyone's interested, a similar-ish article I wrote in 1997 for our local LGBT mag: BDSM: A feminist perspective.

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  42. I agree with this entire article save for the image used. I want to believe that it's meant as kind of ironic because the whole point of the article seems to be that getting spanked etc is not antifeminist, because if not it kind of reads as "yeah but who cares about that pesky feminism when orgasms are to be had" and I don't think I like that.

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