Archive for the ‘Kink Community’ 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.

Bondage and Oppression

Had a great conversation a few nights ago with Maymay, who’s now living in my part of the world. (And how awesome to finally meet up in person with someone whose blog I’ve been reading for several years!) The bulk of our discussion was about the problems we both see in mainstream BDSM culture and trying to build alternative spaces, subjects which I’ve written a lot about and which I intend to write more about later. He mentioned having attended a recent event called “Art of Restraint” at Femina Potens, and I later ended up looking up what other people had to say about it. Sex educator and rope bondage expert Midori blogged about her contribution to the event, a performance art piece in which her bondage demonstration was interrupted and broken up by uniformed men. (Read the full story here.) She writes:

Lately I’ve noticed a definite increase in interest for bondage imagery, porn, entertainment and personal play that depict harsh incarceration, kidnapping and interrogation. I am not sure why this is, but it’s happening. Maybe it’s a war-weary culture’s subconscious search for a coping mechanism, maybe it’s over saturation of images and discussions of governing body violence, maybe it’s a desensitized culture seeking stimulation… Maybe it’s just another sexuality trend as they do come and go…I don’t know. I am disturbed, though, that so many who enjoy consuming or acting out fantasy actions of detention and incarcerations don’t seem to think of the reality of where these images come from. We chatter on about bondage is freedom and art and so on, but so often it just feels like lip-service to transgressiveness when we’ve nothing to struggle against. Maybe the fascination in bondage is the side affect of hermetically sealed safe lives in search of some signs of being alive? I just don’t know.

A person hooded, on the floor, naked and cuffed.

If the only context or response that one has to this image is a fun Saturday night of role playing at the local kink party, are we starving our own humanity? I’m not saying that we should not play with our dark fantasies and archetypes, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the real world human events that necessitate these narratives.

The thing that’s so interesting to me about this is how closely it resembles the argument that I’ve heard time and time again from radfems and anti-BDSM folks: we’re playing with imagery that comes from real-world oppression, and we’re not thinking about the implications of that. We are thus in danger of “starving our own humanity” by immersing ourselves in bondage-as-fetish, isolating our minds from the notion that someone bound and gagged could be anything but a person having some kinky fun. The difference, of course, is that where the radfems believe that any engagement with bondage or d/s play desensitizes us and helps support the patriarchy/oppression, Midori argues that we shouldn’t give up playing with “dark fantasies and archetypes” but should instead simply increase our awareness of where those fantasies and archetypes come from, acknowledge that there are deeply disturbing real-world counterparts to what we do for fun.

For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with the idea that exploring bondage fantasies creates an immunity to recognizing real-world oppression — I think that immunity is deliberately cultivated by those institutions that profit from oppression — but it is really refreshing to see someone so immersed in mainstream BDSM culture articulating such a thoughtful critique of that culture. More, please.

Remembering Why This Is Important

Last Thursday, I went to the monthly Anarkink meeting, and was dismayed to find only two other people: one a regular, the other a younger guy who was just visiting the area. I was frustrated at how many people have disappeared from the group, and as the three of us present started talking, I started to wonder why I was even bothering with this. Why try to keep a group going, I thought, if this is all it’s going to be?

Of course, a night like that isn’t what Anarkink isalways like; last month, our cane-making and -using workshop was incredibly fun and pretty well-attended. But there have been a few meetings like this over the past year, in which a few people end up sitting around a table without a lot to really talk about, with no real plan or purpose. It makes me doubt the necessity of the group, makes me think that there’s nothing to be gained by continuing it.

It turns out that the kid who was just visiting had come from Asheville, North Carolina, and he told us that some folks there had recently hosted a flogger-making workshop (using old bike tubes). We talked about different things happening all over the country — the recent anarchist play party that happened in Chicago, and the workshops/parties that folks organized at the Crimethinc convergence in Pittsburgh. As we closed up the infoshop, I apologized for the meeting not being more exciting or interesting; he told me how glad he was that he’d come out for it, to simply be in a space where people were even talking about this sort of thing, to simply know that something like this exists. It seemed that he had never really been public about his interest in BDSM, and had always been afraid, like I had been, like I continue to be, that others would judge and ostracize him (especially due to his involvement in a feminist collective).

And I realized, then, just how important this is — or can be, at least. Talking to him made me remember how I had felt after the first Anarkink meeting — that feeling that I wasn’t alone, the feeling that it was all worth it just to be sitting in a room with other people like me. Sure, it’s more fun when there’s a lot of people there, when we have some exciting workshop or crafty activity or a movie to watch. But sometimes, it’s just about three radical perverts sitting in a room together and knowing we’re not alone.