Thursday, February 5, 2009

Like the first commenter: Word.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Diving Back In
- Posted by Trinity at let them eat....:

I've been gone a while. I've really taken a break from SM-and-feminism debates, and I think it's been good for me. But recently, possibly due to a new anti-SM post up at Nine Deuce's blog, people have been showing up and commenting here. So I figured I'd return, and say some things.

First, start up the zamboni in hell please, because I actually think that there's a Point hidden in all the stuff that has me wincing as I read. To wit:

But what does all this talk of separating D/s in the bedroom from real life, of taking “safe, sane, and consensual” as one’s creed, of female subs being empowered by the emphasis on consent really mean? Methinks the Sisters of Mercy fans doth protest too much, that someone is pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining. I read 400+ e-mails from men interested in a young woman curious about submission, I looked at a shit-ton of BDSM porn, I went to a BDSM club, I read tens of thousands of words on BDSM-related websites, and I didn’t feel very safe or sane when I got done, nor did I feel like participating in the shit I’d seen or read about would make me feel particularly empowered.

While how safe or sane I feel reading websites is probably rather different than how safe or sane she does, I think she's spot on here. We do a lot of protesting and apologizing here in BDSMland for what we want and what we do (and, for some of us, who we are). We do a lot of insisting that, as ND points out, "safe sane and consensual" means we never get hurt. Means we never find asshole partners. Means we never mess up negotiations in ways that are Not Good for us.

Which is all, as she points out, bullshit.

Which brings me to the difference between these sorts of feminist and us, or at least between ND and me.

I believe that risk is a part of life, and I believe that sometimes things are important enough to someone that she can and should choose to take them.

She recommends scrutiny, for reasons she considers particularly feminist and I consider pretty bad:

When considering sexual matters and their relationship to the general misogyny that pervades our culture, I generally pretend I’m a justice in the Supreme Court of Gender Issues and apply the ol’ strict scrutiny standard (albeit my own modified version of it). Sex, as it has been used throughout history as a tool of domination and as it is the locus of the negotiation of gender roles and a large majority of our social behaviors, requires close analysis. If I’m going to give a sexual practice a free pass and the Nine Deuce seal of approval, it’s got to meet three criteria:

1. First, I ask myself whether women are ever hurt as a result of the practice under consideration. If the answer is yes, the practice has not earned immunity from examination and analysis.
2. Second, I ask myself whether those who engage in the practice ever do so out of a hatred of women. If so, it’s up for discussion and judgment (a nasty word for those with po-mo leanings, I know, but a necessary one nonetheless).
3. Finally, I have to ask myself whether the practice would occur in a society that wasn’t characterized by male supremacy and the hatred of women, both of which tend to manifest as the mixture of sex and power. I’ve got a really impressive imagination (I invented unicorns), so if I can’t imagine a sex act having the power to excite in a post-patriarchal world, I get a little dubious.

If a sex act fails to meet any of these three criteria, you can expect that I’ll be questioning the fuck out of it, and BDSM really blows it on all three.

I don't think these criteria are good ones. I don't think feminism is about figuring out what sorts of nefarious anti-woman things men have in their heads and, armed with Knowledge, tripping warily through the minefield. I think that makes feminism about men in a funny way, about men and about fear, when it's supposed to be about women and about becoming more free. (And yes, self-styled "radical" feminists may not like that word "free," thinking it means "at liberty to make dumb choices." As a matter of fact, I am using it that way. Let's see them sour faces.)

But having walked away from this discussion for months, and feeling so much the better for it, I don't want to talk about that now. I want to talk about something else.

I want to talk about this pervasive sense that feminism is about protecting women from making bad choices by Letting Them Know, through blog posts and essays and books, through warnings and theory and the slow spread of fear, What They're Getting Into.

I'm not for that any more. She's spot on: SM is risky and dark and it means looking into who you are and what you want and finding the spaces where that's not so pretty. The times when you want something no one is supposed to: abasement, exaltation, pain, fear, shame. That's not pretty -- well, no, it's quite pretty. But it's not tame.

It can and does engage all sorts of ugly things, because it draws on anything and everything, and doesn't run. Does that mean that sometimes, male dominance shows up, flaws and history and violence and all? Yes, it does. It even means that some women romanticize that, crave it in their head. In most cases, it will be stripped of social meaning ("I want to be his slave, but I want equal wages at work"), and that's what we mean when we do the "It's only in the bedroom" style insisting. In some cases, though, some people really do buy in to the idea that submission is what a woman is for -- including some women. When we say we're not like those people, we're disavowing that, saying that fantasy doesn't, in the end, trump reason.

Rightly so, IMO. There are people out there into ANYTHING who go overboard, and suffer for it.

But that doesn't really answer 92, and those like her. Their point is that women's submission to men, however bounded, just is frightening. Particularly to someone who doesn't have similar interests and whose deepest passion is a witty, cold, "radical feminist" rage that gets her a rapt audience.

Which it should be.

The disagreement isn't over that. It's over the place of the frightening in our lives. It's over whether you think people should dive into the frightening, or whether you're waving signs and trying to forcibly haul them back out.

I know where I stand on that.

Which is why I stick up for female subs the same as I stick up for me, despite that I've heard a fair amount of the same bullshit that she sees as epidemic.

Living means taking risks. It also means being wise about doing so, which is what all the "SSC", all the "limits", all the "I'm not 24/7", all that stuff, whether well-conceived or nonsensical, is about.

Risk management. Not risk elimination.

But someone coming up to me and saying "Isn't BDSM emotionally unsafe [for women bottoms living in patriarchy]?" is like someone coming up to me and saying "Don't condoms break?"

Not my place to decide whether someone else should panic and run because her boyfriend's might.


I'm not big on feminism or feminist thought and theory. I took the latter as a course in college, but I was raised being told I could do anything and slightly pushed by a father without a son in a two-daughter family. And, when I ran into unfairness and discrimination, and felt pissed at the patriarchy, I found Riot Grrrl. And, then, I just kind of absorbed feminism into my cells as an everyday breath of air. It's not that I don't think the world is male-controlled, but it's kind of like a black man running the US -- he got there not because he was militant against white people, but because he looked at the situation, acted accordingly, and got what he wanted. Time and again. And, was/is smart at the game.

So the above post is kinda us v them in a lot of ways that I could care less about. Really, I just love that she used "risk management" to characterize life, living, and engaging in bdsm. I have learned over this past year to call it "risk-reward management" though because we should be encouraged to take risks and make mistakes in order to maximize stakeholders' shares, improve regulations and laws, and most importantly to better people's (our) lives. Sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, voting, investing, dating, whatever... weigh the options, make the best decisions, aim for as less deviation from your intended goal as possible and then learn from the fuck ups.

Classic: But someone coming up to me and saying "Isn't BDSM emotionally unsafe [for women bottoms living in patriarchy]?" is like someone coming up to me and saying "Don't condoms break?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you know, what I do not like in the radical feminist discourse on BDSM is that they are not really conscious about the fact that these practices exist in LGBT circles, and that there female doms, which makes BDSM not so much 'sex-', but rather 'gender'-tied.

But I do aggree that it is about power, as any sexual practice in general. For this very reason some radical feminists practice celibacy. But, if you are not into celibacy, then you will face risks in any sexual encounter (to different extents, of course). And, yes, I aggree that it is your responsibility to 'manage risks' in those situations.