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Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us
November 10, 2011 7:47 PM   Subscribe

"As someone who [...] advocates against violence against women and for rape survivors' rights, I never really felt I was allowed to participate in the fantasy of my own violation."
posted by zeek321 (97 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
she certainly has her finger on the pulse of the problem
posted by kitchenrat at 8:52 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I very much agree with her main point, which is pretty much that there is no contradiction between feminism and BDSM. But I'm less comfortable with her arguments about the power of imagery. She says:
While early black-and-white fantasy films of Bettie Page being kidnapped and tied up by a group of insatiable femmes are generally viewed as light, harmless, erotic fun, that kind of imagery, when injected into mainstream pornography (and even Hollywood), can have epic cultural ramifications. Sadly, gratuitous depictions of violence against women on the big screen have effectively taken the taboo-play element out of fetish imagery. Bombarded with an onslaught of violent images in which a woman is the victim, viewers fail to see where fantasy and fetish end and reality begins. (Emphasis mine)

I'm not convinced that it is so clear or unidirectional, and I think she makes the same mistake of assuming that the viewer is deluded that she is so angered by when critics accuse her of false consciousness in her desires. She is capable of complex desires and complex appropriations of imperfect imagery; why are these other viewers not capable of that complexity?
posted by Forktine at 8:52 PM on November 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Is BDSM still considered shocking?

I'm not referring to "advanced technique" stuff that requires special equipment or a lot of practice; I mean garden variety kink like tying people up and spanking. I could have a confirmation bias because I seek those people out, but almost every single person I've dated has been into it in some form, and at the very least everyone has been OK with my interest in it.

And I'm not seeking people out in the fetish ghetto; these have all been ordinary people I've met in my day to day life or on mainstream dating sites.

In fact, I would argue that sexual submissiveness is considered the default for women; if it seems underrepresented in media it's probably because it doesn't seem worth drawing attention to: male dominant sex is just sex. Its the reverse scenario that is more often "othered" and drawn attention to -- the submissive male and the dominatrix -- but even that is just considered "weird" and not offensively grotesque in the mainstream. There's a stigma to being a submissive male, but very few people hate them for it.

Nowadays, the sexual bogeyman that even people who consider themselves educated and sex-positive feel free to harass and feel revulsion towards are furries.

Doubtless there are many, many people in the world who are offended by BDSM -- maybe even the majority -- but my feeling is that they're the same people who are already homophobic and antifeminist and probably not thinking critically about sex at all.
posted by modernserf at 8:54 PM on November 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


why are these other viewers not capable of that complexity?

How discerning is the normative 12-16 year old boy?

I honestly don't remember what it was like to be that age, and I don't know whether or not my sexuality was perverted and warped from what I was exposed to, and I don't know whether I treated or treat women differently because of it.
posted by zeek321 at 8:58 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think a majority is offended so much as many people will laugh at BDSM gags in movies while also trying or experimenting with parts of it at home.

I'm sorry, but her arguments and tone smack of 'I'm so much more enlightened than you' and I think her general point is lost because of that. Even amongst some people who agree, but may not participate in, the exact situations she is describing.
posted by glaucon at 8:59 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


If she thinks that's a touchy predilection for an outspoken feminist, wait'll she hears about the women who get off on being paid less and passed over for promotions.
posted by XMLicious at 9:04 PM on November 10, 2011 [19 favorites]


And by 'many people laugh at BDSM gags' I am thinking about the number of movies that throw these in with a grandpa dressed in leather or something. It seems to be the same kind of humor that shows guys getting hit in the nuts, groaning and then crossing their eyes. You know, not funny.
posted by glaucon at 9:20 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I could have a confirmation bias because I seek those people out, but almost every single person I've dated has been into it in some form, and at the very least everyone has been OK with my interest in it.

Yeah. I'm not sure if the underlying impulse is cultural or deeper. I think culture is less likely. There's a closeness inherent in the very finely tuned feedback loop between two individuals required to have an interaction of consensual non-consent, and the general desire to be on one or the other side of that interaction seems in some sense near the heart of what it means to be culturally male or female, moreso even than physical attributes
posted by crayz at 9:22 PM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


To be perfectly honest my introduction to feminism VS BDSM was women shouting "I'm a good feminist! I'm a good feminist!" or announcing it was difficult for them to come to terms with their desire for a certain sort of sex in light of their feminist beliefs, and while I can't go around rejecting other people's experiences, it felt like a lot of teeth gnashing over persecution that seemed reserved for only one segment of the lunatic fringe, compared to say, mainstream people wringing their hands about icky kink.
posted by Phalene at 9:27 PM on November 10, 2011


Thank you for posting this.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:45 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I, ummm, a friend came out about fisting so this might be a good time to mention frustration with the gender bias of the article and it's fixation on rape as a switch. As in the, uhhhh, friend is a switch. I'm...the friend...going to say it's not all about sweaty monkey love against your will, it's about the ability to surrender worries and cares and the day to day agonies we all deal with because of the surrender of control.

A slave doesn't worry about what to wear. It is chosen for them.

A slave doesn't worry about what to eat. It is chosen for them.

No worries, no cares.

And, last but not least, I...my friend...is pissed off that, yet once again, in a proper BD relationship, the real power ultimately lies with the sub.

How can you be raped if you can call foul?
posted by Samizdata at 10:09 PM on November 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


And the...friend is male, BTW.
posted by Samizdata at 10:11 PM on November 10, 2011


This topic always makes me cringe. It is a good conversation to have, but I am always so uncomfortable with it. Some of the subs and doms I play with are the victims of rape and sexual abuse. We both know it and drawing a connection between abuse and what we are doing for pleasure isn't difficult.

For me, it has been a way of exorcising that demon. Not as in, I am doming and thus have taken back sexual power. It is more like the use of violence is so consensual, so scripted, and so designed to give pleasure that the violence has no power. It becomes an accessory. No more powerful than the bed you have sex on.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:19 PM on November 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Samizdata: BDSM is not really rape. It's a fantasy. That's kind of the point. It's okay to have fantasies about rape and also be a feminist.

And yes, slaves, subs and bottoms will always have the ultimate say. It has to be that way for both parties' protection. As a dominant I have to be 110% sure that my sub is consenting even if that means giving up a little of the illusion.
posted by desjardins at 10:24 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"not really rape" should read "not rape AT ALL" lest I be misunderstood.
posted by desjardins at 10:26 PM on November 10, 2011


The article describes what seems perhaps to be a conflict of interest for one who advocates against violence against women and for rape survivors' rights yet seeks support and greater public approval for her choice concerning BDSM. I doubt the feminist community can resolve this for her. It's important for every woman to have choice and it appears she actually does have. Nobody is entitled to public discussion of their sexual practices and formal approval by the community.

The feminists I know are busy trying to keep the women's shelters open, to elect some feminists to office, to defeat the 'personhood' amendments springing up around the south, to defend women who are raped, harassed, and abused and still find time to teach and counsel girls who are treated both worse and nearly as badly as the sixteen-year old in Texas portrayed in the video we saw last week.

I am also more concerned about the fate of the teenaged boys who found that video sexually stimulating than I am about the place of BDSM on the feminist agenda. The rape culture we live in is far too pervasive to imagine it's a high priority that something should be done immediately so that consenting submissive women do not feel their private sense of acceptance is being diminished in the feminist community because of their choice.
posted by Anitanola at 10:27 PM on November 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


desjardins: "Samizdata: BDSM is not really rape. It's a fantasy. That's kind of the point. It's okay to have fantasies about rape and also be a feminist.

And yes, slaves, subs and bottoms will always have the ultimate say. It has to be that way for both parties' protection. As a dominant I have to be 110% sure that my sub is consenting even if that means giving up a little of the illusion.
"

I...ummm, the friend...know(s) it's not rape. I...He...was being sarcastic by making the difference in power obvious.
posted by Samizdata at 10:55 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Our genes are quite selfish; they don't have the interest of the organism in mind. Only their own survival to a next generation. And then they're quite happy to burn the old vessel.
So we're not necessarily completely geared to be happy. Still we put the autonomy and happiness of the individual paramount as a society.
Both forces don't completely align.
For instance: as a straight guy I don't have any discernable BSDM tendencies. But I have been attracted in the past to overbearing women. That turned out to make me very unhappy and I don't think they treated me well from the point of view of personal autonomy and - happiness. But still they might have been beneficial to any possible off-spring.
As people we're full of contradictory forces. To make them consistent, both on the personal level and on the level of society, takes a lot of tinkering. That tinkering is called: being an adult, self help, spiritual practice, political and legal process and gender theory politics.
posted by joost de vries at 11:08 PM on November 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't really know what reaction to have to the piece. I, personally, am not into the BDSM scene, but like all matters of consenting adult sex I also really don't care what others are up to. So, on one hand I am pretty firmly right there with what Anitanola has to say. It seems like there is so much more to focus on. But, perhaps I just don't ken how important a kink is to some people, where I see optional perhaps others see it as more than that?

I think over all I am sympathetic-in-a-general sense, but in a functional sense I don't have much left over to really care about it.
posted by edgeways at 11:13 PM on November 10, 2011


Is there really a thing here? I know these issues are an important part of lots of people's lives, for better and worse, and I wouldn't for a second deny how deeply lives, liberty and happiness can be affected, but in most of the cases I know about personally people find a way to encompass the paradoxes and get on with it. And nobody else much worries.

One British pal is blissfully hooked-up with a very fine American pagan lady in the Bay area (fnarr); she has a great fondness for, inter alia, getting spanked. He's an impeccably horny liberal and up for whatever, but he also has a deeply ingrained antipathy to violence towards women - to the point where he just couldn't do it.

It being the Bay area, there was a spanking workshop to hand - and, with good will and a bit of work, the lad learned how to do it. Result: even more happiness.

And if you're not in the sexual maelstrom of San Francisco? I have other stories from all over.

So, yeah. If you're conflicted over this, nobody's saying you're not. But it's not the hardest thing to work through in the psycho-sexual forest.
posted by Devonian at 12:50 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously this isn't that big a deal. Every person, women incuded, is entitled to be turned on by whatever turns them on. That does not mean they want to be passed over for promotions or paid less than male counterparts. Nobody ever thinks men that like to be dominated are hypocrites if they are dominant in business or day to day life.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:00 AM on November 11, 2011


This is almost note for note a discussion that can be had about violent video games or about team sports. Why ought we to condone senseless violence when such acts are based on — and clearly endemic of — the things they simulate? Well, precisely because they are simulations, and not the real thing. Yes, a simulation can be used to train people (as is the common idiocy dragged out re video games and school shootings), but unless you are already missing some key element of your humanity, you are much more likely to get catharsis from the release of pent up emotions when simulating violence than you are to feel the need to go to greater depths of depravity. And you don't need to be a rape victim or mentally ill to enjoy such release in a simulation.

wait'll she hears about the women who get off on being paid less and passed over for promotions

Although I suspect that this post was sarcastic, making the comparison misses the entire point of the article. If there were women who got off on being paid less and being passed over for promotion, I don't see why we shouldn't let them do so. I know there are plenty of people — men and women — who don't want to move up to higher positions at their jobs, and who don't want to make more than a certain amount of money. The issue is that for women it is much, much more likely that this happens not by choice. That's what this is about: consent. If you truly consent to something (and I of course beg the question here with "truly", but that's a much longer discussion) then there is no one who can tell you that what you're doing is wrong. BDSM is not a feminist issue, but rather a political one (political in the broadest sense). Saying that women dominating men is okay, but men dominating women isn't, would be a deeply anti-feminist position.

The feminists I know are busy trying to keep the women's shelters open...

I think the more relevant concern is that if feminist theory can't make room for BDSM, something which many women are both personally and ethically in favour of, then there is a big problem with feminist theory, or at least with its articulation in our culture. Perhaps asking people not to have knee-jerk reactions to things that look like coercion but aren't is far too high a standard to hold people to, but it's still something that needs to be taken seriously.
posted by cthuljew at 2:59 AM on November 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I guess I'm no authority, lacking experience with either feminist spaces or kink, but I think it might help if BDSM porn were to use props and sets that are obviously unrealistic.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:28 AM on November 11, 2011


I think there is a distinction between behavior and identity that can help explain why this woman would struggle intellectually with her desires. Temporarily engaging in BDSM practices for kicks is not going to raise any eyebrows, but identifying as a fundamentally submissive individual will.

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker/t-shirt that says "I became a feminist as an alternative to masochism"? That's the kind of message that triggers these mental crises.
posted by mmmbacon at 5:24 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shorter TFA: It's not BDSM that's the problem, it's BDSM porn that's the problem.

We had this discussion in the 1980's. The internet killed it.
posted by localroger at 5:26 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shorter TFA: It's not BDSM that's the problem, it's BDSM porn that's the problem

I think her point is actually more like: BDSM is not the problem, nor is (consensual, etc) BDSM porn; the problem is sexually violent imagery in mainstream movies and other media that permeate our culture. She specifically singles out BDSM porn for how it (sometimes) breaks the third wall at the end and shows how everyone is smiling and happy as an example of how to both depict violent or pseudo-violent sexual imagery and still emphasize consent and individual autonomy, as contrasted to how aspects of BDSM imagery get used in mainstream media.

I don't particularly agree with her -- the normalization and eroticization of depictions of sexual violence is not new, and I think of it more as a manifestation of societal attitudes rather than a driver of them.
posted by Forktine at 5:58 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


@modernserf having a sexual bogeyman at all is probably a pretty decent indicator that a dude is horrible

also, 'sexual bogeyman'
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:59 AM on November 11, 2011


Shorter TFA: It's not BDSM that's the problem, it's BDSM porn that's the problem.

Well, not quite. Her argument seems to be that the problem is the appropriation of BDSM imagery into mainstream porn that doesn't include or respect the aspects of pre-negotiated consent.
posted by verb at 6:03 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder, if women truly had equity, equality and freedom of choice in our Society, would BDSM be an issue?.
BDSM's relies using "safe" words as an explanation that it's a "choice". But, as a female, living in a world that oppresses me, how can I ever know what "safe" means?. I, like many women, spend every second of my day thinking about my safety. How can I define safety when I have never experienced it?.
Oppressed groups will eventually turn on themselves, or on those with less power than them, and act out the oppression they have known. To turn that oppression into a sexual fantasy/act?. Doesn't change the origin of the behaviour.
It's not an issue of right or wrong behaviour for me - but in understanding the damage oppression has on my ability to interpret and understand safety and choice.
posted by what's her name at 6:11 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Edgeways: if you are straight it is not optional for you to be attracted to the opposite sex. It is similar with some people's bdsm leanings. I am not saying it's biological and I am definitely not diminishing the civil rights struggles of the LGBT community. I am just explaining how it feels like a non-optional identity to some.

Sent from my phone so excuse lack of quoting and the typos.
posted by desjardins at 6:15 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you are turned on by situations in which you submit to someone else's control, you can't honestly deny that you have a fetish for submitting; but you might or might not call yourself a "sub". Using a label rather than a description implies that you're comfortable being categorized that way by others.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:37 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


recap: Kinky things are edgy and uncomfortable in some respects. Human sexual expression is varied and does not necessarily follow socio-political trends or adhere to a specific dialectic.

People like to fantasize while they get off, and fantasies are both common and extremely personal.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:41 AM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Arguing about whether a particular set of fantasies or sexual practices fit into a particular set of feminist theories (feminism is a big umbrella with a lot of theories under it) is a reasonably narrow academic discussion in many ways. I wouldn't say this is exactly a "speaking to a small group and the whole internet reads it" problem, but when I was in college, Back Before the Internet, this was the kind of thing we discussed in Feminism and Sexuality class and not so much where other people could hear it. I don't think it's a bad thing that theory discussions are out in public where everybody can see them, but it doesn't surprise me terribly that people not in the theory end of the world find talking about whether female submission is sufficiently feminist not particularly relevant to their lives or kind of a head-scratcher (cf Devonian's British friend, who just had to learn to get his kink on).
posted by immlass at 7:17 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


In sex, all that is forbidden becomes compulsory-- for humans, anyway.
posted by jamjam at 8:15 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oppressed groups will eventually turn on themselves, or on those with less power than them, and act out the oppression they have known. To turn that oppression into a sexual fantasy/act?. Doesn't change the origin of the behaviour.

If you're categorically denying another person the ability to have any agency in their own sexual self-expression, isn't that also an example of redirected oppression? To state that any woman who's a submissive is because her understanding has been damaged by oppression doesn't really strike me as being that different from one of those old psychoanalytic theories about how homosexuality was the pathological result of bad parenting.

If women are being deprived of safety and choice, which certainly they often are, surely one of the most basic cures is to recognize that they're free people and respect the choices they do make.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:19 AM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, not quite. Her argument seems to be that the problem is the appropriation of BDSM imagery into mainstream porn that doesn't include or respect the aspects of pre-negotiated consent.

Yes, and as someone who has happily used and witnessed a lot of power exchange, pain, restraint...mainstream porn creeps me the fuck out often enough that I avoid it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:50 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you're categorically denying another person the ability to have any agency in their own sexual self-expression

She sure didn't say that. If you really thought she did, in spite of lines like It's not an issue of right or wrong behaviour for me - but in understanding the damage oppression has on my ability to interpret and understand safety and choice, then you might not be in the best state of mind to have this conversation. Not every objection constitutes an attack.

If anyone finds their own kinks too spiritually problematic to indulge, then as long as they are honest about that, and don't use it as an excuse to oppress or harass anyone--I really don't see anything wrong with that.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:59 AM on November 11, 2011


A Mefite named flex made a comment in another post that I thought was apt. She pointed out that being a feminist and making feminist choices are two very different things. A woman may be a feminist and may not always make a feminist choice. It's pretty darn feminist to argue for a woman's free sexual agency and for a woman to actively exercise her own informed sexual choices. But the specific choices themselves--such as engaging in sexual acts that degrade women--may not necessarily be feminist. Personally I think this is fine and dandy--you choosing to get tied up and spanked is not really the end of the feminist movement or proof that you want to be subjugated and discriminated against for your gender. But I guess maybe some people are resistant to the idea that this cognitive dissonance might exist within them and actively campaign against the implication
posted by schroedinger at 9:00 AM on November 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I admit the article does seem outdated, though probably not for many people, I suppose. It as written a few years ago ...

If you are turned on by situations in which you submit to someone else's control, you can't honestly deny that you have a fetish for submitting

Sure I can, unless you want to claim I have like 120 "fetishes". I get turned on by ALL sorts of things. But perhaps I'm being semantic--I think you mean "turn-on" rather than "fetish." A fetish is something you NEED every time (imo).

Doubtless there are many, many people in the world who are offended by BDSM -- maybe even the majority -- but my feeling is that they're the same people who are already homophobic and antifeminist and probably not thinking critically about sex at all.

The last one, maybe, but not the first two. You're forgetting about older people. There is still a strong contingent of women who object to pornography and BDSM.

A lot of people have pretty wild ideas of what BDSM means.

And, relatedly,

"As I reflected on the number of times I’ve had fingers in my cunt that I hadn’t consented to, or been pressured into a situation where saying "no" was either not respected or not an option, or said that I did not want a certain kind of toy used on me which was then used, I’m kind of horrified"

I Never Called it Rape: Addressing Abuse in BDSM Communities
posted by mrgrimm at 9:06 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I am also more concerned about the fate of the teenaged boys who found that video sexually stimulating than I am about the place of BDSM on the feminist agenda."

Its funny, I read this article in a mirror opposite way. Our natural concern about the teenaged boys, and again don't forget the teenaged girls, who found that video sexually stimulating are one of many primary reasons why BDSM must have a place near the center of the feminist agenda. There must be a place for them at the table where they can live healthy lives without exploiting or being exploited by others. Being turned on by things that don't fit a simplistic feminist narrative does not make one not a feminist, attraction is not a moral act.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:16 AM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


But I guess maybe some people are resistant to the idea that this cognitive dissonance might exist within them and actively campaign against the implication

One of the perennial flamebait topics concerning BDSM is whether a fully consensual encounter, which either party may end for any reason or none, can involve any genuine exchange of power. If it can't--if all consensual BDSM is just acting--then no cognitive dissonance is necessary. But a lot of people aren't ready to accept that their sexual experiences consist entirely of fantasy. I suppose they feel that fantasy is necessarily less relevant to their existence.

I suspect the question may in fact be several radically different questions that happen to be pronounced and written the same. "Power" has a lot of meanings. Since we're not talking about heat or electricity, but rather about human behavior, we are talking about some abstract quantity that measures how much one person can do to another. How much of what can they do? And if they "can" do something, but have a strong incentive not to, does it still count? Does it count a bit less? Does it depend on the nature of the incentive?

You usually can't tell any of those things, because these discussions only occur in the context of relationships that both parties consider consensual--meaning that the boundaries they have set have not been tested. Perhaps they've been pushed, but the kind of test you'd need to perform to establish beyond doubt that a boundary exists is to violate it and see what happens. People are generally reluctant to do this, so the power differential must remain nebulous, not just in its strength, but in the very definition of "power".

Somehow people get off on it anyway. I don't know how they do it.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:17 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with trying to shoot the gap between consent maintenance and power exchange fantasies is that the gap is in different places for different people, and for some it isn't there at all.

Before she met me, my wife had a boyfriend who agreed to whip her but only if she kept up a constant patter of asking for it. She found this unsatisfying, as it wasn't her fantasy, which was actually to be tied up and whipped against her will. This is a fundamental enough component of her kink that she also prefers not to have a safe word or other conscious exit mechanism.

This isn't to say that I don't pay careful attention to her mood and response; it's quite obvious when whatever I'm doing isn't working any more and she knows I'll stop. But that's not something she can fake, which is how she wants it.

To say that setting up this situation with me has anything at all to do with conditions for women outside our bedroom is magical thinking. It has no positive value whatsoever and such discussions only exist to determine how much my wife's sexuality should be curtailed, how much less free she ought to be.

To illustrate the ridiculousness of the idea, consider applying this logic to roller coasters. There are no safe words if you get to the top of the first hump and realize you've made a terrible mistake, or if the ride makes you feel sick. Roller coasters serve no other purpose but to scare the shit out of people and sometimes they even do screw up and kill people, all to no benefit such as the transportation services provided by airplanes. But nobody argues that roller coasters somehow contribute to slavery because a group of people are confined in an inescapable, cramped, dangerous situation. They don't make that argument because the people on the roller coaster went out of their way to be there.

Masochists of all gender orientations should be given the same respect. If you don't understand why they seek out the things they do, you should stay the hell out of their lives.
posted by localroger at 9:28 AM on November 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


But the specific choices themselves--such as engaging in sexual acts that degrade women--may not necessarily be feminist.

I can see how something that a person does in private might degrade themselves, like asking to be pissed on while being called names, say. But how does that degrade women (or, if it's a guy doing it, men)?

This is in contrast to things done in public, like, in the article's example, scenes in mainstream movies. I can definitely see how a public portrayal like that could be argued as degrading to women; it's the extension of that to the most intimate of personal spaces that seems odd to me.
posted by Forktine at 9:29 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Something can be consensual and still not feel consensual. You can look out the window of a very tall building and feel vertigo while intellectually knowing that you can't fall. Why is skydiving a thrill if you have a parachute? If you're bound, it doesn't matter how much you trust your partner, it doesn't matter that you have a safe word, your body will send signals to your mind that you are out of control. And you are, because even if you use your safe word it's still ultimately the other person's decision to stop.
posted by desjardins at 9:29 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, desjardins, I'm aware that people experience those things. Then they go on message boards and ask if the feeling of power(lessness) they got was "real". It's kind of an odd question, was my point.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:33 AM on November 11, 2011


Ah, gotcha.
posted by desjardins at 9:46 AM on November 11, 2011


I can see how something that a person does in private might degrade themselves, like asking to be pissed on while being called names, say. But how does that degrade women (or, if it's a guy doing it, men)?


Well, you can make the argument that by playing into a stereotype of a woman as a sex object--even when done of your own volition, in private--does, in its own way, perpetuate the stereotype. Note that I am not saying that this means this kind of sex play should be off-limits or is wrong, simply that it is not inherently feminist. I mean, there are lots of choices one makes that perpetuates stereotypes every day, and but people can't live their lives sacrificing their own choices because they're terrified some asshole out there will take it as reinforcement of their own prejudicial beliefs (i.e. I like to bake, but I'm not going to stop baking because it might somehow, somewhere perpetuate the stereotype that only women bake).

Also, it is not uncommon for rape and sub fantasies to explicitly include gender as an aspect of the domination. For example, many bisexual BDSM women "switch" in their preferences--they prefer to dominate women, and be subjugated by men. If that's not a preference influenced by cultural expectations of men and women's roles in sex I don't know what is. But that doesn't mean women with these preferences should not act on them, it's just those preferences aren't necessarily advancing the cause of feminism in any way.
posted by schroedinger at 9:50 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Any sex that a woman seeks out for her own pleasure, and to which she explicitly and enthusiastically consents, is a feminist act

Lousy sex that women may not even want is the real stereotype
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:58 AM on November 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


"Being turned on by things that don't fit a simplistic feminist narrative does not make one not a feminist"

This whole thread would work just about as well if 'high-heeled shoes' were substituted for BDSM.
posted by Anitanola at 10:11 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Feminism is not about telling you what you can or can't do or believe as a woman. It's about giving you the freedom to choose.

As a woman, if I want to choose to participate, fantasy or otherwise, in consensual non-consent, then that's my business and I'm not, nor have I ever, felt a lick of guilt or negativity over it.

Nor should anyone else.

FYI: Regarding being able to cry foul as mentioned above, if you're in a relationship and/or with someone you're comfortable enough to trust with your life, then just don't do it. I don't. But those safe words are there for people who aren't so sure. Just because you want to be involved in the fantasy doesn't mean you want to get injured or die over it.
posted by Malice at 10:17 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This whole thread would work just about as well if 'high-heeled shoes' were substituted for BDSM.

That's a lot better way of saying what I was trying to say.

I am a feminist. I believe in my right to choose my own clothing and wear it. I don't think people should judge me on the type of shoe I wear (though I understand that they might anyway). I love wearing crazy high-heeled, stiletto, foot-mashing, impractical high heels. Are my stillettos feminist? Am I advancing feminism and defying stereotypes about women when I proudly wear my ridiculous heels? I don't think so. At best I'm doing nothing, at worst some guy out there sees my heels and is like "Yeah, heels, all women should wear heels like her because it makes them look hot! She is a 'good' woman!"

So I don't believe me wearing heels is inherently a feminist choice. But that doesn't mean I'm not a feminist, because I will fight for any woman who doesn't want to wear heels and resists society's pressure to do so, and reject the idea that women must wear heels as a matter-of-course. I'm a feminist, but some of my personal choices are not all inherently feminist.
posted by schroedinger at 10:18 AM on November 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


But, as a female, living in a world that oppresses me, how can I ever know what "safe" means?

A "safe" word is an out of context word or phrase to communicate "no really, that's not okay", so you can scream for mercy and the person topping has enough information to make the judgment call of whether you actually need the game to stop, for example:

"You worthless piece of shit!" (Beating)

"No mistress, please, ow!" (Sniffle, tied up)

"Don't tell me no! Get on the ground and beg to kiss my boots." (Snarls, smacking)

"Pineapple! Pineapple!" (Frantically indicating something's wrong with their face)

"Oh I'm sorry sweety, is something in your eye?"

"Yes, when was the last time you swept this floor?! Jeeze!" (Furious blinking followed by untying of knots and washing eye in the bathroom)

Frankly, when it comes to violence, men don't exactly have a full reassurance of safety either. Remember the majority of murder victims are men. A male sub might be able to pass for normal enough to get the male oriented goodies in his privilege knapsack, and with a female partner he may have comparative size and strength to escape a scene gone wrong, but he still has to deal with issues that a female sub does, plus the baggage of worrying about manhood if he cries off early, and other typical machismo/masculinity issues, plus an overall risk of social shunning if he is open about his desire in the mainstream. I don't mean "what about teh menz!" I mean that BDSM has it's own special grey area for both genders.
posted by Phalene at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good points about basic female self determination, but the same old tired crap about "My bdsm is serious, your bdsm is unconsidered and problematic". I can't stand people who assume that everyone else is a sheep led by the media they consume, whereas they themselves are able to view it critically or ironically, Everyone is entitled to a sexuality, not just people who can write about it in an academic way, and we should start by giving others the benefit of the doubt.

I really do not buy the idea that rape culture "started by borrowing from BDSM's images without reading its rules." It seems to me that the two are mostly separate and parallel cultural strands where people into organized bdsm tend to think about, draw from, and struggle with rape culture (because like everyone else it's a huge part of their cultural environment), while rape culture is and does its own hugely powerful and omnipresent thing.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:30 PM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes crab, her argument about the greater culture versus BDSM is exactly backwards. First of all, the idea that we have a "rape culture" is itself bullshit; rape isn't depicted nearly as often in general media as murder, and when it is it is almost always depicted as leading to ruin.

What we have is a power culture, in which nearly all interpersonal relationships are defined by which party has power over the other. And this permeates everything so thoroughly that children imprint on it, just as they might imprint on anything else that's in their faces during that critical period before the age of 2 when a lot of these preferences are getting placed.

Mainstream culture didn't appropriate our imagery; it created us in its image. The choice is not between having normal and kinky sex; it is between having the kind of sex that works for you and having essentially no sex life at all. For some particular kinks, like pedophilia, this is probably the only workable option, but if following your kink does not require unwilling victims then I think society needs a pretty damn good reason to say, effectively, "no sex for you."

And the magical thinking idea that a scene created in private for personal pleasure has anything at all to do with how outside power structures persist is not that reason.
posted by localroger at 1:07 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


First of all, the idea that we have a "rape culture" is itself bullshit; rape isn't depicted nearly as often in general media as murder, and when it is it is almost always depicted as leading to ruin.

Not to derail, but the idea of "Rape Culture" is not that it is explicitly promoted and approved of by society at large. Rather, it describes a cluster of mutually supporting narratives like victim-blaming, sexual objectification of women, "said no but meant yes" assumptions, sexual conquest as proof of masculinity, and "Sure, but..." apologia for sexual abusers.

Whether that cultural broth exists or not is a separate debate, but the whole idea behind the term "Rape Culture" is that it is subtler than overt approval of rape. Please carry on!
posted by verb at 1:42 PM on November 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah verb I understand that, but it's an inflammatory term which is part of a 30 years and going effort to use feminist jargon to justify a "theory" that adds up to nothing more than "what you do squicks me, so don't do it."

I really wanted to like this article, since it starts out quoting Patrick Califia, who is one of my own favorite writers. But Califia, as Pat before the sex change, spent the 80's getting dumped on by people who should have been her allies. I got really tired of their rhetoric a long time ago.

A lot of this went quiet when it became clear that Andrea Dworkin was herself a raving pervert who was projecting like an Imax theatre and people noticed that her and MacKinnon's model anti-porn ordinance conveniently contained language allowing porn to be possessed by certain qualified individuals, such as academics like themselves.

This new angle is the same tired argument painted up with a prefix of "BDSM is mostly OK BUT..." followed by all the ways the fun has to be sucked out of it for it to be OK. When Pervocracy was linked on the Blue recently, I couldn't find any evidence in the pages I read that that writer ever really even did BDSM, it seemed more that she was fascinated by the whole consent / negotiation thing and wanted to apply this same overthinking to more vanilla situations.

The elephant in the room is that all of this is about restricting what people do, none of it is about freedom or empowerment. I've seen a generation try to politely engage, and as usual when you let the enemy frame the debate it went nowhere. So this time around I'm calling it what I think it is.
posted by localroger at 3:24 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Phalene covers this, but there are plenty of uses for safewords that don't have anything to do with not trusting one's partner. Mr desjardins safeworded when he got bit by mosquitos and the itch was unbearable. (Mental note: bring bug spray to kinky campouts.)
posted by desjardins at 3:47 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm no authority, lacking experience with either feminist spaces or kink, but I think it might help if BDSM porn were to use props and sets that are obviously unrealistic.

LogicalDash, for the record, a lot of BDSM porn uses pretty unrealistic props and sets. (All links as SFW as a picture of BDSM equipment can get.) Some is pretty damned realistic.

But the problem that needs help isn't that some people's fantasies are too realistic. It's that some people have a problem with other people's sexual desires. It doesn't really matter what that desire is - if it doesn't involve nonconsensual activities (and here I'm assuming the underaged, mentally imbalanced, and drug-impaired cannot give consent, as most agree), it's OK.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:57 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting topic, but solipsistic. Worth thinking about, or talking with your therapist with. Or if it was a true academic paper - which someone could do in the future - cool. But if this isn't a first world problem, I don't know what is.
posted by rainbaby at 9:02 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of this went quiet when it became clear that Andrea Dworkin was herself a raving pervert who was projecting like an Imax theatre

Heh. Yeah, I've read Ice and Fire as well. Worst BDSM bodice ripper I ever read.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:04 AM on November 12, 2011


This new angle is the same tired argument painted up with a prefix of "BDSM is mostly OK BUT..." followed by all the ways the fun has to be sucked out of it for it to be OK.

Yeah. Like consent.
posted by verb at 2:24 PM on November 12, 2011


Yeah. Like consent.

Next time try to read at least a few of the words I've written before making my point for me.

Nobody has said that any kind of sex without consent is OK. What I have said is that some people want to grant consent in ways that others don't feel is valid. Some people think it shouldn't ever be OK to grant consent for another person to hurt you. This basically tells all masochists "no sex for you." Some people think it's OK but only if the consent can be withdrawn at any time, such as by a safe word. This freezes out people like my wife, who want to negotiate in advance so that they can let go during the scene. Some people want to reduce it all to a nicely framed theory, which will always freeze out somebody because humans are wilder and more complicated than that.
posted by localroger at 6:31 AM on November 13, 2011


Nobody has said that any kind of sex without consent is OK.

Including the author of TFA. I'm not sure who you're arguing against, exactly.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:25 AM on November 13, 2011


Some people want to reduce it all to a nicely framed theory, which will always freeze out somebody because humans are wilder and more complicated than that.

There's no way to avoid this, I'm afraid. One of the things that you need to do with words in order to use them to communicate is to establish definitions. Once you establish some definition of consent, you have to consider things that don't fit that definition to be non-consensual, even if others disagree. If you really want to broaden the definition of consent to include everyone's, you end up including the kind of "she said no, but she meant yes" arguments that rapists-in-denial tend to make. Even if you only want to include things that the giver-of-consent considers consensual, you still have to either include or exclude such arrangements as indentured servitude. If I sign on for a relationship to last seven years irrevocably, and then I find that my emotional fortitude wasn't what I thought it was and I want to leave, should I be allowed to? The United States' thirteenth constitutional amendment says "yes," but there are some who disagree, including some sexual submissives.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:33 AM on November 13, 2011


Dash -- I was arguing against verb's immediately preceding totally ignorant snark.

If I sign on for a relationship to last seven years irrevocably, and then I find that my emotional fortitude wasn't what I thought it was and I want to leave, should I be allowed to?

This is a much more interesting question, and is a major theme both of my novel and its casino-themed interquel. Of course there is a vast difference between a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, and a few years, not to mention what extremes of abuse are permitted. There are people who wouldn't want to draw the line at sending you to the hospital or making a permanent change like a tattoo or amputation. But there is a vast, vast highway for the Overton window to slide on between those extremes and what most BDSM people want to do.

I remember when Coming to Power, a deep and thoughtful revelation by the ladies of Samois, was answered in almost knee-jerk fashion by Against Sadomasochism, a shallow and openly dismissive collection of essays which, as the Amazon review says, rarely managed to get beyond "it's sick and abusive," pretty much ignoring everything ever written from within the community. And then Dworkin and MacKinnon started their roadshow, plying city councils with a slide show that misrepresented consensual play as violence and nonsexual violence as BDSM porn.

See, they weren't interested in having this discussion; they were interested in shutting down people who disagreed with them in any way. On more than one occasion I recall one of their crew making the link that all porn is essentially BDSM, because of consent issues with being paid to do it. So don't think they were planning to stop with the perverts. They had to go after the perverts because we were undermining their larger target, which was to purge all depictions of female sexuality that they didn't like.

That said, in case you are serious if I were king of the world here is where I would draw the lines:

1. No matter what you've agreed to you must be given an opportunity at least once a day to disengage either temporarily or permanently. This should satisfy even the most hardcore lifestyle dreamers while keeping it real in case someone gets sick or loses interest. It's also likely that in this timeframe you'll need to take care of unsexy housekeeping like eating and pooping.

2. No matter what you've agreed to, any damage requiring hospitilization or producing permanent injury or deficit should be investigated as assault. Whether it was an accident should factor into the verdict.

3. A contract is a contract. If you've gone to the trouble to formalize it (and BDSM people are far quicker to do this than regular people hooking up for sex) then it doesn't matter if you were drunk, stoned, or bamboozled. Yes does not turn to no in the middle, and neither does a prearranged no turn to yes.

Its really not too complicated; it only gets complicated when you want to subvert someone's will, and you need to justify yourself.
posted by localroger at 10:04 AM on November 13, 2011


P.S. The reason I am going this far on what might look like a derail is, between the recent Pervocracy link and TFA, I am getting strong whiffs of the 80's argument, as I said earlier just repackaged to look like it's coming from within the community; as crabintheocean beautifylly characterized it "My bdsm is serious, your bdsm is unconsidered and problematic."
posted by localroger at 10:13 AM on November 13, 2011


localroger, if verb's snark seemed ignorant to you, please at least stop to consider that you weren't expressing yourself well. It's fine if you want to use TFA as a jumping-off point to discuss an old argument, but I couldn't tell you were doing that, and aparently neither could verb.

If you really think consent is a simple matter, I suggest you read up on contract law. Stuff that's simple in your head gets incomprehensible when exposed to even the most first-world problems. For example: contracts in e.g. the construction industry would be useless if anyone could back out after just a day; they usuallu have default clauses to help enforce compliance, which BDSM contracts usually don't; and what would be the sex industry equivalent of a repossession, anyway? I guess the closest thing would be the practice of giving legal ownership of all your possessions to your spouse. I guess there are still some people who do that, but damned if it isn't ripe for abuse.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:10 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


LogicalDash, I wouldn't think BDSM contracts would reach the complexity or have the import of something like construction contracts. Most of your examples have no parallel in BDSM. The mandatory once a day back-out makes sense to me because the main reason subs want to pre-commit is so that they won't panic out in the middle of an intense scene. Humans being somewhat different from construction equipment, some kind of wind-down will be necessary once in awhile, and if the back-out offer is made during these breathers a committed sub will reject the offer and stay in the scene. But if she gets sick or loses interest, the exit is never very far in the future.

IRL long term slavery presents large logistical problems for ordinary people who have to hold down jobs to survive. Addressing something like a year-long commitment by someone who doesn't want to be allowed to escape isn't a first world problem, it's a first world rich people problem. I have no problem drawing a line that makes them play day to day the way the rest of us have to.

Submissive prostitution poses an interesting place where the rules could get pretty interesting; I wrote a riff on that into A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace. I would say the fair solution to that is to agree in advance on pay per time interval. There is a lot of interesting background in Graphic Sexual Horror about how this played out at Insex, with the threat of no future work hanging over models who might be tempted to safeword.

I don't even know what would give you the idea that there is a parallel to repossession. In my model you still never lose possession of yourself for more than a day. If you take the back-out offer you're done. 13th amendment and all that.

This is a serious issue because in Britain some time ago the courts actually did make narly all BDSM illegal; they described consensual whipping as assault and declared flatly that you can't agree to be assaulted. Of course they mostly enforce this against gays, but it's there (or at least was for awhile; I don't know if it was ever overturned). Since this is exactly the result some people were aiming for in the US it gets my hackles up when I see, as in the Pervocracy thread, a blog that is supposedly about BDSM turn out to be mostly about rape, or this one where all variants of BDSM less politically informed than $WRITER's are called suspect.
posted by localroger at 3:06 PM on November 13, 2011


I wouldn't think BDSM contracts would reach the complexity or have the import of something like construction contracts.

You gave the opposite impression when you said that a contract was something you couldn't back out of. You said this after two items of "no matter what you've agreed to," which you apparently meant as exceptions to the third item, but that wasn't obvious. Agreements and contracts aren't equivalent.

Maybe I shouldn't have tossed the "construction" modifier in there, because the problems I'm describing mainly have to do with contracts in general. You can't assume that people are going to apply common sense to the contracts they enter into, because every type of person will make contracts, including people with no common sense.

Of course, even the strictest definition of consent won't ultimately protect a person who's unwilling to protect themself, but the contract needs to have some kind of force even when it's a terrible idea, and even when it's being used to subvert someone's will, or it is not a contract.

So I don't think it would be a good idea to make BDSM contracts into actual, legally binding contracts, which is what I took you to mean. And if that's not what you meant, then how's a "contract" different from a regular agreement?
posted by LogicalDash at 3:49 PM on November 13, 2011


I don't even know what would give you the idea that there is a parallel to repossession.

I cited a parallel. It's historically common for a wife to give all her possessions to her husband upon marriage. Maybe she can get a divorce, if she's okay with living on the streets. I've heard of Goreans who do the same thing for kink.

I don't think that counts as safe or sane. Do you?
posted by LogicalDash at 3:53 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's historically common for a wife to give all her possessions to her husband upon marriage ... I don't think that counts as safe or sane. Do you?

Nope. But that's legal right now, while asking to be "assaulted" in the manner of your choosing might not be. Stupid seems to be OK if it's not squicky sex stupid.

I probably shouldn't have used the word "contract" to describe these sex consent agreements, but there really isn't another more appropriate word, just as we describe marriage as a contract even though it's very different from all other contracts.

The usual framing of the "conversation" (inasmuch as the other side listens to us at all) is that consent should be revokable at any time. This is really an unreasonable idea; not only does it make my wife's preferred kind of sex impossible, it really makes any sex at allan unworkable minefield. If you cannot give yourself up, even temporarily, then you do not own yourself. Even temporarily.
posted by localroger at 4:44 PM on November 13, 2011


Er, actually, it's not at all clear to me how marriage is an entire different type of contract than, eg., forming a corporation with some friends in your garage.

Since you haven't distinguished a BDSM "contract" from a regular written agreement, all I'm getting out of your argument here is that you think the emphasis on constant revocability is misguided. I'm somewhat sympathetic to that idea, though I think it really has nothing to do with the length of time that you give advance consent to; I think consent is a state of mind, and as such can always be changed, but if you want to enter a situation where it's inconvenient to communicate that, then the people you're trusting to treat you right can only be held accountable insofar as they understand how to treat you. Sort of like the issue of medical malpractice, really.

I rather suspect that the author of the article in the post would agree, as well. It looks to me like you have some triggers associated with discussions of consent in a feminist context, because I see nothing in the article to suggest the influence of Gloria Steinem et al.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:16 PM on November 13, 2011


Er, actually, it's not at all clear to me how marriage is an entire different type of contract

Let's see what happens when two men, or more than two people, try entering a marriage contract. That doesn't happen in construction.

What I would like to see is for consent to be formalized, so that even vanilla heteros have to put up front what they want to do. That would clear up a lot of this gee was it rape shit really fast.

That doesn't mean I want it wrapped into the same kind of structure as business contract law. The thing is, if you want to say once and for all what "yes' and "no" mean, you formalize and record it. That's not really so hard with today's communications technology. But I don't think anybody wants to go there because, on the other end of the spectrum, you've got otherwise vanilla people who want "spontaneity." That's THEIR kink, and they're the ones with the real consent problem. BDSM people tend to talk about their limits. And talk, and talk. Normal people, not so much, until they realize the line has been crossed and maybe their hookup doesn't realize it.
posted by localroger at 6:54 PM on November 13, 2011


"NO U" really isn't a good argument, even when you are arguing against hypocrites.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:31 AM on November 14, 2011


3. A contract is a contract. If you've gone to the trouble to formalize it (and BDSM people are far quicker to do this than regular people hooking up for sex) then it doesn't matter if you were drunk, stoned, or bamboozled. Yes does not turn to no in the middle, and neither does a prearranged no turn to yes.

Umm... this just misstates the law. A contract is not always a contract, and I can think of several ways of defeating a BDSM contract even without relying upon bias or bigotry.

First of all, the subject matter of a contract must be legal. As there is no legal ability to consent to serious bodily injury, any BDSM contract which permits one party to inflict SBI on the other is void for illegality.

Second, specific performance in contract situations is highly disfavored, and when specific performance means labor or service, it's actually unconstitutional. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude completely, and a contract which serves to have one party perform some service that it doesn't want to perform will not be enforced. The non-breaching party may be entitled to money damages, assuming the contract is otherwise legal, but the breaching party will not be required to perform the service in question. So a BDSM contract where on party agrees to be the slave of the other would be unenforceable as constituting involuntary servitude even if the actual content of the service was otherwise legal.

Third, sexual favors are not good consideration. Never have been, and even in states where prostitution is legal, they probably never will be. The legal system simply doesn't want to get involved in sorting out those kind of interpersonal messes, as sexual relations are just not the sort of thing which are improved by the introduction of lawyers and judges.
posted by valkyryn at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


valkyryn, you seem to have missed the parts where I said "if I was king of the world" and "I probably shouldn't have used the word contract."
posted by localroger at 8:38 AM on November 14, 2011


Sex, even BDSM-type sex, just does not lend itself to formal agreements, especially in relationships.

No one can say "once and for all what yes or no means" because these things necessarily change. People in perfectly vanilla relationships grow apart, have bad days, etc etc. We've seen gazillions of questions on AskMe about couples in sexless marriages. Presumably they didn't start out that way, but I don't know how having a contract that says "we will have sex three times a week" would avoid resentment. This is quadruply true in BDSM relationships that have many more variables and complexity. It would be disappointing if my partner decided he really didn't want to do activity X anymore, but if I'm committed to him, I have to respect that or end the relationship. There is NO value in trying to hold him to that by pointing at a written agreement. It would tear apart the relationship.

There's a vast difference between that and wanting to be "forced" to do X. If the person is consenting to be forced, the written agreement is just a symbol with no intrinsic meaning. A contract spelling out consent is antithetical to being forced.

Yes, there is a lot of discussion about limits in BDSM relationships - as there should be - but I think it scales to the level of potential harm. If I am going to have sex with someone, I don't carefully negotiate when and where I can kiss them - if I go to kiss them, and they say no, that's the end of that, but talking about it beforehand is pretty ridiculous. OTOH, if I'm going to flog someone until they cry, the potential for physical and psychological harm is exponentially greater, and that must be negotiated in advance.

I'm starting to ramble so I'll end it there. tl;dr, I don't see how written agreements help matters.
posted by desjardins at 8:51 AM on November 14, 2011


Consent and BDSM: the state of the law (there are no images on this page)
posted by desjardins at 9:04 AM on November 14, 2011


localroger, at this point you might do better to explain yourself all over again rather than repeating what you don't mean. I don't think a single person in this thread has understood what you were trying to say.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:16 PM on November 14, 2011


OK. Good suggestion, LogicalDash.

Let's say two people hit it off and they agree to do what BDSM people call a scene. Of course all sex is really scenes but most people don't bother to block it out with quite the precision BDSM people do. I suppose that is one of Pervocracy's points, that maybe they should.

In the ideal world though let's assume all sexual relations start with a negotiation and before the touching begins there is an indisputable agreement as to what is permitted and what is not. Unrealistic, I know, but less so than ever as technology improves. I'm the king of the world here and I've said this is how it will be. Sensible people register their intent in the cloud before taking their clothes off.

The really hardcore lifestile BDSM people already draw up agreements. They generally call these "contracts" although they have nothing at all to do with the kind of contract law that governs things like construction. They are not legally binding, and aren't even in the world I'm king of.

The place where the law comes into contact with this is when there is a misunderstanding or real abuse. In this case the sub comes out of the scene and cries rape or abuse. The top has a document where the sub agreed to the abuse and explicitly declined (it's even opt-out) a safeword style exit.

My suggestion was a compromise that would allow those who really want to play these extreme games to do so without getting too deep into actual slavery, failing to deal with RL maintenance issues like eating and so on. Instead of saying "you can't agree to be assaulted," the other stop for that Overton window, it's "you can agree to be assaulted and enslaved, but only for a day at a time, and not in ways that seriously endanger your health."

I really don't think this is all that complicated, although I think the word "contract" caused a terminology hijack.

The only legal usefulness of the "slavery contract" is that it allows the top to defend against a charge of assault when s/he thought s/he was acting within the bounds of consent. The day/injury limitations are the limits on that protection of the top's right to feel safe doing what s/he has been asked to do.

I hope this clears that up.
posted by localroger at 5:14 PM on November 14, 2011


Localroger, I think we hang out with different BDSM folks. Contracts here are associated with online wannabes and real life poseurs. I'm not hardcore in the sense of 24/7slavery but I've been around the scene for 15 years and the level of formality you describe is rare in my experience. The key is to play with people you trust and everything flows from that.
posted by desjardins at 9:36 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


localroger, I still disagree that "it's not that complicated". If everyone involved is participating in good faith, and has faith in everyone else in the scene, then your system will work as well as anything; but the benefits it provides won't be useful in that case. They'll only be useful if one party thinks (correctly or incorrectly) that another party wasn't participating in good faith. That's when it might go to court, at which point you get all the complications that are already present in sexual abuse cases, but with better documentation.

I feel you're avoiding my other question. What has all this got to do with the subject of the article? Perhaps some people believe that weird arrangements that require written agreements that are practically difficult to revoke aren't really consensual, but the author of the piece doesn't, and if you think feminists in general do, I think you're mistaken.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:23 AM on November 15, 2011


LD it doesn't have much at all to do with this article; it was a toss-off two sentence bullet point which a couple of armchair lawyers pounced on and acted as if I was talking about the negatiations for GATT.

This is the second post in a week or two which is supposedly pro-BDSM but carries a pungent whiff of that 80's-era anitporn (and, by necessity, also anti-BDSM) propaganda. It was during that time that I was figuring out my own sexuality, hooking up with my life partner, and watching people like Pat Califia try to counter the radical feminists who were riling up roomfuls of vanilla het fundies with lies about what we do. I probably owe the fact that I can feel comfortable about myself today (and that I could write down something like MOPI) to A Secret Side of Lesbian Sexuality. And all the time I was figuring out what I wanted, what my girl wanted, what worked and what didn't, these assholes were trying to make it all illegal.

So yeah, it's a bit of a trigger for me.

I'm not actually a poly or public type of person. What I know about the community is based on reading what they write. Theories about how to make lifestyle slavery work are fairly common; IIRC there are at least two in Coming to Power. They don't interest me personally much because we figured out very early how impractical anything longer than a few hours is for us. All I was suggesting was where the limit should be if someone wants to try it.

Sexual abuse cases would probably be a lot simpler if there was more documentation (no he-said-she-said) and standardization of what is and isn't okay (it varies according to case law all over the place and with how badly the judge is squicked; see desjardins rather depressing link above). I still worry is that one day they will do as Britain did and standardize it to "you can't agree to be assaulted," at which time the only kind of sex I am much interested in becomes illegal.

TFA would probably argue against that, but then TFA seems to be sliding the Overton window away from the point where the government was so unconfident in prosecuting Insex for what they were actually doing that they had to resort to douchebag trickery with their credit card providers. It still sucks that they got shut down that way but at least they didn't set a precedent that you can't agree to be tortured.
posted by localroger at 2:02 PM on November 15, 2011


I don't think a single person in this thread has understood what you were trying to say.

Oh I got it. I got it well enough that I started wanting to hurl and quit reading his posts about 1/4 of the way from the last post. Kerist.

So Dworkin is demonized as "She secretly really wants it" and Pat Califia gets a pass? No, she doesn't f'ing get a pass. I've played with her contemporaries who were pressured by Pat to become male, because they were butch, so that must be what they really were.

Apparently if you're cock-friendly that's all it takes to get posed opposite feminists. This is about women's availability as sex objects, something locala******* says is a myth.

Really, this argument is being drawn out by some dude who admits he has no actual experience in the scene, but he's read "Coming to Power"? Typical mefi.
posted by thelastcamel at 12:24 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've played with her contemporaries who were pressured by Pat to become male, because they were butch, so that must be what they really were.

cite?

I can only base my opinions of people on what they've written or what has been credibly reported about them. I am far from the only person who decided Dworkin had flamed out by writing Ice and Fire. As for Califia, I haven't read much of his stuff since the sex change but considering her writings leading up to it I would find this really surprising.

Also: I don't think any member of Samois (the group that wrote Coming to Power) would describe themselves as "cock-friendly" since they are all self-identified Lesbians, and I don't think I ever said sexual objectification was a myth.

And you italicize, not quote, the titles of books.
posted by localroger at 5:25 AM on November 16, 2011


And you italicize, not quote, the titles of books.

Both are acceptable, localroger. And you capitalize the first letter of proper names like "localroger", if you wish to be pedantic about things completely unrelated to the thread's topic.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:39 PM on November 16, 2011


Thanks for addressing the 10 lines of my comment that were topical instead of the line that was snark, IAmBroom.
posted by localroger at 12:59 PM on November 16, 2011


You're welcome.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:02 PM on November 16, 2011


Oh, and by the way Broom, you're wrong.

I'll give you a pass though since earlier I italicized "A Secret Side of Lesbian Sexuality" which should have been quoted.

And for added bonus derail points, localroger isn't a proper name; it's a handle, and there are no rules for that. All-lowercase handles are a longstanding tradition on computer networks.

And thelastcamel also misspelled local*****.
posted by localroger at 3:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


And thelastcamel also misspelled local*****

Now you're really being intentionally obtuse, lol.

fwiw, I think it's odd that you want to restrict (legally?) consensual BDSM activity to "you can agree to be assaulted and enslaved, but only for a day at a time" but are willing to consider playing risky non-consent games like "the sub agreed to the abuse and explicitly declined (it's even opt-out) a safeword style exit."

A safe word/exit strategy seems like an unavoidable best practice, otherwise there is no such thing as consent to give. And I can't imagine any agreement is a good defense against a charge of rape when one person is saying "stop stop i mean it i'm serious no playing."

I mean:

"No, no, really, I think I'm really sick."

"Shut up you little sissy and take this up your ass."

How can you not have a safe word (or other mechanism for ending play)?I can think of a million unrelated scenarios that would interrupt action for one party but not the other.

My play is of the sort where I don't need a safe word (or the safe word is essentially "I'm serious") and my partner and I can read each other well, but if I were into non-consent games, it seems unavoidable. I certainly realize the thrill of non-consent, but lack of an exit option for the sub seems very risky for many reasons.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:36 PM on November 16, 2011


Yeah, the day at a time thing makes no sense at all. I'd wager that the vast majority of rapes and assaults occur in less than 24 hour timespans.

If a sub says "I don't want to use a safeword," then I'm not going to do anything that would remotely require one, so it's not going to be much fun for them.
posted by desjardins at 4:50 PM on November 16, 2011


P.S. I strongly encourage everyone who is interested in BDSM to get involved in their local scene. If you need help finding it let me know. Real life mentors are invaluable and reading is not enough.
posted by desjardins at 4:52 PM on November 16, 2011


desjardins, your advice is probably good for people starting out now. Back in the early 1980's there was no scene, unless you wanted to move to San Francisco or maybe New York. There wasn't anything to read except the Weinberg anthology and then Coming to Power. Nowadays you can do a quick Google and find out lots of good guidelines but we had to figure it out for ourselves, because there wasn't any community, and if there had been we'd have been terrified of joining it for getting done to us what Pat Califia finally revealed happened to her after she published her groundbreaking essay -- job and friends gone, cast adrift.

Then, leaning back to thelastcamel's post, Califia did mention in one of his essays I did read that many of his old friends and allies were outraged by his turn of gender, feeling that he'd gone to the other team or something like that. Kinda sad.

Dworkin needs a pass, which she doesn't get from me, for being one of the most influential and flaming hypocrites I've ever heard of. It doesn't get richer than this. She even had the nerve to complain, having read too much of her own propaganda, that her advance for her pornographic novel wasn't up snuff, when it was actually a very good advance for an author with an unkown audience for fiction. She really thought pornography was some kind of path to magic wealth.

Califia, by contrast, has never in anything I've read either pre or post change suggested anything other than that people should seek out and chart their own pathways, and that they should pursue those paths however byzantine as long as they don't create victims in doing so. And her/his contribution to that was solid; Califia's contribution to Coming to Power was a scathing essay on the incidence of abuse within the S&M community. I don't see what Pat(rick) needs a pass for.
posted by localroger at 8:21 PM on November 16, 2011


mrgrimm: How can you not have a safe word (or other mechanism for ending play)?

Well, as a sub you wouldn't give that power to someone you don't trust But some subs want to give that power to someone. I am probably more guilty of stopping scenes when she would have preferred to continue them than of RARRing on when she's not in the mood. That's the way it should be.
posted by localroger at 8:29 PM on November 16, 2011


How can you not have a safe word (or other mechanism for ending play)?

If you are with someone new, I think a safeword is a great communication tool. It allows you to say "no" and mean "yes", basically; without it, how can someone know when too much is enough, and when too much is too much?

But in a relationship with a lot of trust and healthy communication, a safeword seems to me to be secondary to good communication, both verbal and non-verbal. I don't need my partner to say some random word to know if things have gone too far; conversely, if she can't trust me, how does having a word create more safety? Would a bad person magically stop when they hear that word?

I think that safewords have become a proxy or shorthand for a really complex set of communications and negotiations that need to take place, and for the trust that is involved in a lot of bdsm sex. One would be negligent to tell random internet beginners not to use a safeword, but outside of fairly formal situations with a lot of recourse, I'm not so sure that it really adds much safety -- aside, as I mentioned at first, the ability to say "no" while meaning "yes," which can be useful. And a safeword absent those communications and negotiations is worthless, which can catch people off guard.

I think in a lot of these discussions you get people like me who are in a monogamous situation (and for whom the word "play" has all no relevance, any more than it would for your average couple), who don't use safewords because the nonverbal communication is so seamless; and the other kind of bdsm people who are playing with others and for whom formalized arrangements are critical, and for whom safewords are an integral part of the process. It's like we are all using the same language, but talking about different things -- but at heart, there is total agreement about consent and communication, and just different tools for different situations.
posted by Forktine at 10:21 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know. We've been together for 7 years and he trusts me completely. That is never in question. Yet we still have two safewords, yellow and red. Yellow is used for stuff like "I have an intolerable itch on my face" or "my leg is falling asleep, can you adjust something" and red means STOP EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. I think he's used "red" maybe twice in seven years. I don't really understand how people get by without a "yellow" safeword. I can't know everything he's thinking or feeling, and things happen which can't reasonably be predicted by me (sudden attack of food poisoning, for example).
posted by desjardins at 6:58 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


A bit late, but I had to respond to this:

I doubt the feminist community can resolve this for her. It's important for every woman to have choice and it appears she actually does have. Nobody is entitled to public discussion of their sexual practices and formal approval by the community ... The rape culture we live in is far too pervasive to imagine it's a high priority that something should be done immediately so that consenting submissive women do not feel their private sense of acceptance is being diminished in the feminist community because of their choice.

As a feminist who is also sexually submissive, I hear this a lot and I actually find it extremely hurtful. For one, I feel like you're trying to shame submissive women by tying our sexuality to rape culture, acting as though acknowledging that some women are turned on by taking a submissive role in a consensual situation would somehow prop up rape culture. This is the exact kind of thinking that made it so hard for me to accept my sexuality.

And then at the same time, you're trying to have it both ways by implying, "oh, you're being silly, no one really cares what you do in bed" message. It took me a damn long time to reconcile my sexuality with my feminist values. And no, I was never explicitly told that engaging in BDSM or having these fantasies made me a bad feminist, but it was implied in a million different little ways. There was the fact that porn that depicts consensual rough sex where the woman is in the bottom/submissive role was always pointed out as the cause of rape and "woman-friendly" porn was always gentle and never had any power exchange. Snarky comments about submissive women. Dominant sexuality for women being lionized as somehow more "liberated" than submissive sexuality. Feminist theory classes where I read text after text suggesting that my fantasies meant I'd been brainwashed by The Patriarchal Hegemon. The explicit teaching that the only totally egalitarian sex can be healthy and loving (in reality, a healthy BDSM relationship is actually egalitarian, in that both partner's needs get met, but I had no way of knowing that). The fear that, by having these fantasies, I was somehow perpetuating rape culture.

I am really sorry to say it, but even sorrier to have lived it: the clash between (my idea of) feminism and my sexual fantasies meant that, for years, I kept a tight leash on my sexuality. I was essentially in the closet. It hurt my relationships, it obviously hurt my sex life and it even negatively impacted my health. My life has gotten so much better since I integrated the two. But I really missed out on a lot. And to now have people tell me that, no, actually feminists don't care about what turns me on, that the whole thing was in my head - well, you can see why this would be upsetting.

I'm not saying it needs to be a feminist priority to tell women it's ok to be submissive. What I am saying is that feminists need to think about how we talk about sexuality. How do we help both young women and men develop healthy ideas about sex and relationships? How do we help people learn to communicate about their desires and boundaries? A lot of sex-positive feminists *are* talking about this stuff, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 12:48 AM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


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