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?