Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Why I’m No Longer Outraged by Sexism

I’ve been trying and failing to write something on this for weeks, now. I guess I’m just tired of pointing my finger and yelling “sexism!” every time I see it. There’s just so much of it around me, every day, that I can’t bring myself to get pissed off any more. I keep thinking of that self-righteous bumper sticker, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” But I’ve been “paying attention” to this shit since I was, oh, ten years old, and I find it harder and harder to become outraged by it — not because I’ve come to accept things as they are but because once you realize how institutionalized sexism is and how deeply fucked up our entire civilization is, nothing really shocks you anymore.

To get to the point, the issue at hand is an episode of “This Week in Kink”, a podcast put on by the folks that run FetLife. On this episode, which aired over two months ago, one of the guests invited on the show said the following:

I firmly and strongly believe that it is a woman’s role to be submissive to a man. . . . I think that women in the past couple of hundred years have gotten entirely too high on their own power and eventually need to be slapped in the fucking head and put in their place.

A couple of years ago, I would have crusaded against this man and against the people who run the podcast. (How dare they allow such a thing to be broadcast.) I’d have demanded an apology and a retraction. Today, my reaction is a sigh and a shake of the head. What an asshole. I browse the comments on their page and leave one of my own. And I’m done. Next.

I did a bit of link-hopping and read Maymay’s take on the issue, in a post called “Don’t You Fret, Sexism Is Alive and Well in BDSM.” His post addressed a lot of stuff I’ve also written about — basically, making the point that while anti-BDSM feminists are wrong in their assessment of “BDSM = patriarchy,” we should acknowledge that there is a lot of sexism in BDSM as a culture and in how a lot of people practice it.

He linked to a blogger named Delilah, who writes that what troubles her the most about this is not that it was said — there will always be bigoted, ignorant jerks in the world — but that “in the BDSM world, where we’re meant to be playing with power, subverting some traditional norms and amplifying others to erotic effect, there are people who still truly believe this kind of outright nonsense. Even worse, that someone with such opinions is such a strong voice in the community.”

To me, what this says is not that there is a troubling streak of misogyny or at least sexism in the BDSM scene, but that (as I’ve written before) the values of the BDSM scene are fairly mainstream. Rob may be more outspoken and brash about his sexism, and it comes coated with d/s-specific language, but I strongly sense that the root of what he’s saying here is actually what the majority of men and women think — that there are biological differences between men and women, that these differences create “natural” inequalities between the sexes in some ways, and that the feminist demand for equality goes against woman’s natural role in the world.

Of course, none of this means that I’m throwing up my hands and saying, “Well, if the rest of the world thinks I should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, I guess I’ll start taking off my shoes.” I’m still angry. I still argue. But I’m not outraged; I don’t feel like I should expect the world to not be sexist, and that this individual person has just violated that unspoken agreement. I go out into the world expecting that most people I meet will have, on some level, an understanding of gender and gender roles that I do not share and that I feel is harmful to me in some way. I expect exactly the same thing when I encounter people in the BDSM scene. (The unfortunate difference, of course, is that within the world of BDSM, “this is my kink” can be used to justify stereotypes and prejudice, and thus people like Rob can speak a little louder than they would, perhaps, on the street.)

Perhaps I’m just having a very cynical day. But perhaps not.

The “Bondage Awards”

Through Bitchy Jones, I stumbled onto the Bondage Awards website, and good god, is this a perfect example of the sort of sexist & heterosexist crap that makes it so fucking hard to defend BDSM when arguing with non-kinky feminists. I mean, to take the words of a certain radfem blogger, they’re making it too easy.

Take a look at that page. Does it give you any indication that not all bondage models are female, not all riggers and photographers are male, not all women are submissive, and OH YEAH not everyone is fucking straight? Nope.

Now, you’ll notice that on the home page there’s a post indicating that there have been a number of people writing in to him about the sexism/heterosexism issue. Here’s the response, summarized:

I didn’t intentionally make it sexist. I just looked through my photo collection and picked out some pictures I liked. Also, last year the awards got great feedback, and not one person suggested that gender neutrality was important. So let’s not talk about it any more and just have fun, because that’s what this is all about, right?

Sigh.

As Bitchy points out, probably next year they’ll just include a couple of busty women with whips and absurdly high-heeled boots and call that “gender equality.”

The thing is, after getting really upset about this last night, I came to the realization that this person’s website is actually just sort of sad. It’s an egotistic attempt to place himself (I’m guessing this is a single dude running the site) at the center of the bondage porn industry by working this annual “bondage award” thing up to be a well-recognized event. The stuff that makes me angry about the website is really no better or worse than pretty much any other fetish website out there. And that, really, is what I should be upset about.

Sex in our culture is so, so broken.

Sexism in BDSM

I wrote earlier that I wanted to talk about consent and choice and how they are and aren’t relevant to a feminist reading of BDSM, and I still do, but all of this arguing has led me to something that I think is really important to recognize first:

A lot of people who engage in BDSM are sexist.

Pretty simple, right? This is something we can totally agree upon with the radfems. Here’s the big difference, as I see it. (Some of this taken from comments left elsewhere…)

From the anti-kink perspective, BDSM is a product of the patriarchy and is thus inherently sexist. Because BDSM is inherently sexist, we mainly see maledom-femsub pairings in which men get whatever they want from the women who serve them because they have been socialized to submit.

From my perspective, BDSM is a product of human sexuality and its wide variety of expressions and is not inherently sexist nor inherently feminist. Because we live in a sexist and heterosexist society, we mainly see maledom-femsub parings, while any other combinations, including those involving trans and queer folks, are marginalized; and female dominants are largely still expected to be fetish objects for submissive men. (Or they aren’t really thought to exist.) Also because of the sexist culture in which we are socialized, there are a lot of men (in general) who are accustomed to getting what they want from women, and there are a lot of women (in general) who have a hard time saying “no” and sticking to it. This means that within maledom-femsub, there exist male dominants who expect all women to defer to them (if not to submit entirely) and women who find it difficult to negotiate or leave relationships. Unfortunately, it is often tricky to address or see sexism at work in BDSM relationships, because it’s hard to tell how much is “fetish” and how much is “what I really think.”

…so the big difference, of course, is that I think (and I imagine a lot of folks reading this think) that sexism and abuse found in the BDSM scene isn’t any different than the sexism and abuse found outside of it — it’s just that sometimes, and especially when people are very new to BDSM, kink can be used as a mask to hide sexism for what it really is. (Of course, all sorts of things can be used to mask sexism outside of kink culture, and it’s a cliche that love can be used to mask abuse in any relationship.)

The actual things that we do are not the problem. It is the way that we approach and relate to what we do. The problem is not dominant men who enjoy activity X, but dominant men who say things like “well, if you don’t enjoy X then you’re not a *true submissive*.” The problem is not that submissive women eroticize Y, but that some submissive women do Y even when they’re really, truly not wanting to do it, because they feel like they’re being “bad” if they safeword or refuse. The problem is not dominant men who seek out submissive women to play with or to form relationships with, but dominant men who assume every kinky woman they meet is in need of a strong man to teach her about her deep submissive urges (regardless of whether or not she identifies as a dominant or submissive). It is not a problem if a submissive woman likes being whipped, but it is a problem if she doesn’t have some sort of basic control over when and how she is being whipped.

Of course, as I said earlier, this argument only makes sense if you can get beyond the idea that BDSM is created by the patriarchy, and that any act that inflicts pain on another person or that eroticizes power is “patriarchal” and thus bad. But that’s another argument, I suppose.