Acknowledging Diversity

I really need to stop reading the trainwreck over at “Rage against the Manchine,” but I just needed to talk about a comment that Charlie left:

Can we agree that some (or even many) BDSMers are playing out their heteronormative patriarchal ideologies through their sexual practices? Can we agree that some (or even many) non-BDSM folks do the same? And can we leave room for the possibility that not everyone does that? Or do you need to see the patriarchy as even more hegemonic than it actually is?

If you can make space for the possibility of diversity in how people engage in BDSM with respect to socio-cultural gender roles, then there’s room for us to explore how that plays out in the lives, minds and hearts of the people involved. If you’re not willing to even acknowledge the possibility, then there isn’t any space for us to examine the diversity that I and other people have experienced and reported.

This really gets at the heart of the matter, I think, and explains why these debates are so frustrating: the inability of radfems to acknowledge that the effects of patriarchy vary from person to person based on experience and a host of other factors (race, class, sexual orientation, etc). They draw their conclusions about BDSM based on popular media imagery, pornography, and “theory,” and dismiss any examples of real people who do BDSM who don’t fit in with their idea of what BDSM is. They throw out the female dominants and male submissives, and refuse to even touch the issue of trans or genderqueer folks involved in BDSM. They engage in intense gender essentialism when it comes to characterizing what female submissives and male dominants are like, suggesting that we subs must be mentally ill, weak, passive, co-dependent, and generally uninterested in BDSM until our male partners suggests it to us; and that male doms are overly aggressive, hold all the power in the relationship, and always initiate sex or BDSM play. They straight-up ignore submissive women and dominant men who very plainly counter those stereotypes.

This is how it is possible, I think, for them to steadfastly maintain the belief that BDSM is inherently abusive and a hindrance to women’s liberation. There is no room in their theory for the diversity of the people who engage in BDSM — who we are, what we do, and why we (think we) do it — and until there is, I don’t think there’s any point in trying to debate them.

4 comments so far

  1. ranat on

    Charlie put that very eloquently.

    Your point about the radfems’ theory really highlights my frustration with the idea of theory at all. I should probably say, rather, theory as it exists on the ground. As it exists on the ground, theory is often perceived to have the higher intellectual ground, and that it trumps personal experience, or even quantitative forms of information. In my opinion, academic theory should be at most a springboard for exploring how something actually is, not the be all end all of the exploration. When abstraction denies personal, group, or cultural experience, there is no longer any place for it. Naturally, academia disagrees with me.

  2. M:e on

    In my experience, those who don’t wish to be persauaded, or even have open minds to the possibility that different things work for different people, never will be.

  3. Meer on

    What ranat, above, commented seems about right: theory is more a tool for guiding exploration and testing than it is a substitute for experience (unfortunately, the latter is typically how it’s deployed.) Theory allows for modification from the empirical. Well, in theory.

    Rhetorically, this can serve as a good third wave feminist counterargument. Asking, “have you tried it?” typically sets opponents up for failure in these arguments. I’ve heard responses including fallacy of accident (“BDSM is violent and painful, all violent and painful things are bad,”) false equivalence (“BDSM IS fascism,”) or bifurcation/excluded middle (“either you’re against all violence or for all of it.”) Experience can explode most of these responses.

    Going into a theoretical knife fight, do you want to be paired against someone with a Ph.D. in knife fighting theory or someone who’s survived hundreds of real knife fights? But I make light…

  4. Charlie on

    Thanks for the lovely thoughts about my comment. 😉

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