BDSM: A Feminist Pursuit, But Not Taken Lightly

So there’s a lovely little post up at The Pervocracy about BDSM and feminism and how you can do both at the same time, which I a.want to promote and b.want to add to. Now I am going to add the caveat that I do not personally practice BDSM and so if I get things wrong I am HIGHLY sorry and I don’t want to be stepping on any toes for talking about things that I don’t know about. Anywho, I think this post got a lot of things right. I think it’s right that feminism shouldn’t want to “save women from themselves”, I think it’s right that in general the BDSM community pays a lot more attention to consent and safety than other people who have sex, I think that feminism has no place telling women what makes them feel good, and I think that BDSM is a whole lot more complicated than “submissive female, dominant male”. So back off people who are all anti-BDSM.

Now that being said I have worries about all kinds of sex as a feminist and that extends to BDSM. Again, I think everyone has the right to pursue whatever kind of sex they want as long as it’s consensual and doesn’t harm anyone (more than they want to be harmed). But in situations of BDSM where there is a submissive women and a dominant man, I worry that it confirms certain scripts that are all too common in our communities. While it’s true that that might be your personal kink and it might make you feel strong and powerful, we all have to be aware of the fact that our desires are shaped by the community that we come from. I often have the desire to just roll over like a rug and let people walk all over me in my relationships. That’s certainly societally conditioned. It’s not good for me, and the more I do it, the more I confirm that that’s what women do: I set a bad example for any women around me.

This is not to say that I should feel guilty for these urges. It is not to say that there’s something wrong with me for wanting to be submissive sometimes. And it’s not to say that I might not naturally be a quiet person (hint: I’m really really not). What it DOES mean is that I should be aware of the times when I want to act out the script that’s been given to me and consciously choose whether I want to follow it or not.

I think that in many ways these same considerations apply to BDSM scenes. Even if we are acting out violence towards women in a fully consensual way that makes a woman feel powerful, it is still repeating the same script of violence against women. And that has the potential to be far more dangerous than we may expect it to be. Even if our intentions in acting a certain way are to please ourselves, to make ourselves feel powerful or connected to another human being, we should also be aware that what we’re doing is part of a context: the context in which violence against women is normalized and we are continuing to create that image.

Now BDSM is slightly different from my desire to let my partner make all the decisions in my life because it is in fact a role-play, and because it is usually very private. For these reasons, I think that it may not in fact be as worrisome as some other examples of unexamined desire. But that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely unproblematic. I think that when people choose to engage in BDSM, they should be aware of the potential for their actions to be misinterpreted as upholding the status quo, they should be ready to vehemently argue against that (as the article cited above did), and they should be ready to act very differently in their lives when they are not roleplaying.

I’m really not entirely sure how we can follow what we desire and want while still criticizing the status quo. If I desperately want to be a housewife, should I give up that dream because it gives a certain impression of women? Probably not, but I should be aware that my choice might have been shaped by other pressures, and talk about it with my daughters/sisters/friends/women around me. How do you think we should deal with it when what we want may not be entirely up to us? I think that again we might find ourselves caught between our responsibility to follow our own desires and do what makes us feel good, and our responsibility to act in a way that promotes the well-being of others. Our desires don’t exist in a vacuum, so how do we follow them while also challenging the things that might have shaped our desires?

9 thoughts on “BDSM: A Feminist Pursuit, But Not Taken Lightly

  1. Miri says:

    I think that when people choose to engage in BDSM, they should be aware of the potential for their actions to be misinterpreted as upholding the status quo, they should be ready to vehemently argue against that (as the article cited above did), and they should be ready to act very differently in their lives when they are not roleplaying.

    I think you’re making a good point here, but I also do not believe that individuals have any responsibility to be “empowered” or to resist the status quo. I think people have the responsibility not to impede those things for others.

    Ultimately, I want people to be happy, and if someone’s not happy being Uber Feminist Activist Who Always Goes Against The Grain, well, why should they have to do that?

    If I desperately want to be a housewife, should I give up that dream because it gives a certain impression of women? Probably not, but I should be aware that my choice might have been shaped by other pressures, and talk about it with my daughters/sisters/friends/women around me.

    This, I think, is a better way of getting at the issue. I agree that people should be aware of the factors that may have shaped their desires and choices.

    One more thing: this article, like many, ignores the fact that some women are Doms and some men are subs. Of course, that’s a reality that’s often made invisible by the stigma (for both men and women) and by the fact that it doesn’t fit many people’s own internal narrative of what BDSM is. Further, there are plenty of queer people involved in BDSM, which I’m sure you realize because you’re awesome, and I don’t know how these arguments would apply to same-sex couples or situations where people have non-binary genders.

    Anyway, great post! Definitely a compelling and controversial topic.

    • oj27 says:

      I totally did not mean for it to come across like I only thought women were subs! I thought I specified that in situations where a woman was a sub and a man was a dom, but maybe it wasn’t clear enough. I was mostly talking about female as sub and male as dom situations. I think that in other situations we have a lot of great potential to subvert the norms.

      I totally agree that people should be happy, and I agree that not everyone needs to be uber feminist, but I think we do have some societal responsibilities still. I mean for myself, I might find it easier to just act like society has told me to, but I feel that would harm others as well as myself. So again, being aware is important, but I think that we should also be willing to take some steps to rectify sexism in some parts of our lives, particularly if we act in line with the status quo in one area of our life. Maybe this means if you’re a submissive sub it would be a good idea to be outspoken feminist in other areas. Again, no one’s obligated to do anything, but I think it could help.

      • Miri says:

        Oh, I don’t think you think that all women are subs. πŸ™‚ It’s just that female Doms, male subs, and other variations never seem to get discussed in these conversations. It’s always “BDSM might be wrong because women being subby is problematic,” but if anti-BDSM arguments only apply to one particular gender-conforming style of BDSM, well, it might not be a very good argument. Because if some BDSM is problematic and other BDSM is not problematic, it’s pretty much just like every other sphere of life. πŸ˜›

      • Miri says:

        Also, you should read this and let me know what you think! http://ozyfrantz.com/2013/04/17/against-kink-critical-feminism/

  2. edgyhedgy says:

    Just for kicks, and because it’s a part of my life, how would your feelings change in the case of a 24/7 BDSM relationship? I lived for 5 years under the care of a Femme Domme, with no break in that dynamic. Now, I’m not female identified, but pretend for a second we’re talking about the case of a male Dominant party and a female submissive party, what say you then?

    We had many conversations during those years about feminism and what we call Leather life. I’m still not sure where I sit. It was conditioned in me that the ultimate act of power and control is submission, however there’s still that “here we are portraying the wrong image” in the back of my mind.

    It’s been 7 years now since I started that journey, and my position on the fence about what image it portrays is no different than stuck in the middle. I am still unsure of how I feel about that image with respect to feminism and perpetuating these roles, but at the same time I look at every submissive at the mercy of their Dominant with a hell of a lot of respect because it is a tough life to live no matter how short the moment.

    • oj27 says:

      Yeah that’s tough. Again, I’m not entirely sure where I fall or how you can best navigate that. I also have never been in a 24/7 BDSM relationship so I don’t have much experience to talk about it from.

      I WISH everyone understood how much power the sub has in that kind of relationship, and I WISH everyone understood the thought and care and consent that goes into those types of relationships. Without that…I mean I worry about it. i worry that anyone could be in a 24/7 sub/dom relationship without internalizing some of it and without internalizing some of the outside perceptions of it. But I just don’t know because I’ve never been there.

      And I don’t know how public it would be or how obvious it would be that you were being a sub, I don’t know what images that would portray to others…I think it’s a super difficult situation to understand and to know how best to handle. Obviously you’re pretty outspoken for gender equality and I think that helps. But I just don’t know.

  3. oj27 says:

    Miri I don’t know why it’s not letting me respond to you but I hope you can see this-
    I TOTALLY AGREE. I think that’s why I tried to draw parallels with other spheres of life. My point was simply that it should also be open to criticism of its complexities like other spheres of life.

  4. oj27 says:

    This thing is really hating on my ability to reply to you Miri:
    Again, I think there’s a lot of great points there. I was really responding to a few specific types of kink (which I should have been more specific about. DAMN YOU LANGUAGE!), those which Ozy rightly identifies as caused by the patriarchy. I think my point was that when you continue to act out scenes that are patriarchal in nature (or at least appear to be) it is in danger of perpetuating the patriarchy (and like he said, stay at home moms aren’t necessarily perpetuating the patriarchy, but I think there’s a potential that some people would view that as evidence of gender roles, and so we should be aware of it). So I think we’re mostly in agreement, but I also think that people who practice patriarchally influenced BDSM should be open to hearing “you might be playing out a scene that normalizes patriarchy”. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or have to stop, just that we need to figure out what to do with that information and how best to address patriarchy in general.

  5. I blog frequently and I really thank you for your content.

    This article has truly peaked my interest.
    I’m going to book mark your blog and keep checking for new details about once per week. I opted in for your Feed too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s