Why Feminism and BDSM Go Together Well

Oh Noes, Feminisms! Red Alert!

Bra go poof!Say feminism, and 95% of your audience battens down their hatches like you said “hurricane”, or finds something else suddenly very, very interesting. Like the carpet, or their own shoes, or that urgent appointment they just remembered to alphabetically file all the food in their pantry. At least, as a femdom, I can be openly feminist and nobody bats an eye. Of course a significant number of people will confuse this with female supremacy, which is an entirely different thing. The relationship BDSM, as a whole, has with this philosophical approach is a bit more dubious.

Much of this is because BDSM is made up of people, and people have problems with feminism. In my mind part of the problem with feminism, is that it’s a really big tent with a couple of centuries of activism and writing under its belt. There is no central board of feminism, so pretty much anyone can do it, and say whatever they like. And like any big movement, it’s  going to be in a state of constant internal argument. It’s also part of the left, which means that like all forms of left-y ism, it occasionally shades into woo (the Goddess!) or becomes way too self flogging for popular consumption (freegan-vegan!), or the lingo of the current generation of activism  makes it impenetrable to the novice (check your cis-privilege!).

Before I launch into talking about the subject, it’s necessary to address a number of things- first of all Straw Feminists. If you’re not familiar with the philosophical ideas, it’s quite possible that you imagine a feminist to be an angry, ugly woman who seeks to do horrible things to men. This is one of the reasons why as a femdom nobody assumes I shouldn’t be feminist (at least the angry and sadistic part) which is depressing for other reasons. If your idea of feminism is about doing mean things to men, you are doing it wrong. 

Of course, some, if not most of the shit that feminism gets flung its way is the same old tired misogyny that makes women expressing themselves be subject to attacks so vile that they functionally justify feminism.  If you think feminists are all angry scolds, you are part of a proud tradition that dates to before women were permitted to own property or vote. And you don’t know what a feminist is.

Another thing you need to take into consideration is that feminism only exists within the bounds of the same culture that everything else does. Thus there are feminists that are porn hating prudes and feminist porn stars. There are feminists who are sexist, or transphobic, and feminists who love everyone equally. Any idea within feminism can be taken to extremes just like any other idea could.

On the other hand, I’m taking it for granted that if you are this many paragraphs into this blog post you are probably sex positive, probably pretty diversity friendly and you like lots of different kinds of people. If you don’t identify as a feminist you at least think equality is a good thing (unless you are secretly or not so secretly under the impression women should rule). If you’re not, please feel free to get nice and foamy in the comments. Additionally, I’m not going to address the “Not a feminist but…” thing in this post, but save that for another time.

But, onto how feminism gets treated in kink discourse!

So… the biggest sticking point seems to be M/f. Since this is apparently the most common sort of pairing, this unsurprising. And by and large, the people it comes up with is submissive women being frustrated with feminism. Or to be exact, that they feel judged for choosing a power exchange situation that, by and large feminism has fought really hard to avoid being the default.

I am not going to wholesale dismiss the feelings of submissive women if they feel that they are being condemned for appearing to desire to be suppressed by men. I think that one of the fundamental challenges of kink is that we exist as people fetishizing things that are Not OK. A lot of things that we like  are, outside of the context of our fantasies, Not OK. Rape. Hitting people. Calling them names. Slavery.  When we do these things, we spend a lot of time telling the culture at large “no, this is different, it’s okay.” This leads to a knee jerk reaction that causes people to defend things they probably shouldn’t associate themselves with.

Unfortunately we also live in a culture (or even species) that historically has had a hard time not mixing highly exploitative unfun stuff with our sexuality. The result is a general knee jerk reaction that, for example porn that depicts awful things happening to women is All Bad. Hence, anti-porn feminism. But, not all feminists feel this way about all porn. In fact anti-porn feminism is generally in the minority.

But, here is where it gets tricky- the disapproval that femsubs worry about actually coming at the price of the trade off of being able to decide what sort of relationship you want. There’s often a lot of nostalgia in some circles of femsub of a time when men were Men and women were Women. As well as putting the past through a highly selective filter, it also presupposes that there was an easy to find dominant for every woman who wanted one- who was also a good fit for her.

The problem here is that while, in the past, men have been called on to behave in a more controlling/bossy fashion, this is not the same thing as a power exchange relationship within the confines of consenting parties. So when you chose a husband (which would be harder because remember this would mean less room to know them as people and less options for divorce), you would not have the ability to discuss your sexual needs, just pick a domineering guy and hope for the best. And there’s no reason the guy wouldn’t turn out to be a male sub, or just bossy and not kinky. Because neither of you were really allowed to figure out what you wanted. You might, if you were lucky, fall into a relationship that worked for you, but that’s not a reliable way of meeting nice kinky men to marry.

Today’s permissiveness means that you get to live out your fantasy of being a dirty little whore or beaten and still have the guy respect you. A traditional relationship where beating you is an option without your permission presupposes that you need it because you’re dumb and emotional, and you don’t get to set your own limits. A kinky relationship where beating you is an option presupposes that you want it and enjoy it on some level, and you get to say things like “yeah, I feel better if you spank me for not having supper on the table, but I prefer if you’re not actually mad when you do it”.

When anti-porn people (who exist inside and outside of feminism) attack the treatment of women in the media they’re objecting to, they are being bothered by the implication that ALL women want to be treated a particular way without the bookends of context. For example I like men ejaculating on my face.  I do not like it because I am a dirty whore who deserves to be treated badly, unlike the nice girls having bland sex. And historically, the lousy relationship humans have had with sexuality means a fuck ton of inherent and explicit misogyny mixed in with our media. Porn, which was often illegal, didn’t have the time to make the distinction, and often not the inclination between fun and unfun sex.

Besides up until recently, BDSM was considered to border on a mental illness, if not occupy that state. Thus you have plenty of people who have no idea what’s with all the women beating porn. When some of it really is misogynistic dreck, and the people who like it are scared to speak up for general social censure, you have a culture where being kinky wasn’t very easy to get educated about. More porn has meant more porn for everyone, and more kink- today’s feminism fucks, and sometimes they film themselves.

The point of this sub argument is that feminism is, by and large okay with you being spanked the way you like, more so than conservatism, and if you encounter a feminist that doesn’t understand your attraction to BDSM, it’s quite likely that person just needs BDSM explained to them politely. I’m not saying it’ll convert the person, but I’m also saying that feminism is no more disapproving of you having your kink than the mainstream. It’s wrong to thing that feminism has got it out for you as a femsub.

Now there’s a separate brand of anti-feminism I’ve encountered, mostly from male doms, the idea that all women are femsubs. Other than laughing hysterically, again that deserves and got its own post where I talked about the patent bullshit about all men being born to lead all women. And, again, if you got this far into a blog post about feminism and BDSM, you don’t need a recap.

So, that established, onto the other side of (heterosexual) feminism and kink: F/m!

You don’t need me to tell you more about how much I disapprove of many of the archetypes of femdom and how antiwoman they are. I have other posts where I talk about that, from the “professional” expectations, to general discomfort with how I’m portrayed when it comes to finding a femdom rolemodel or mentor. Half the posts on this blog are typo filled rants on that line.

The thing is, even allowing for my pet peeves, I’m generally pretty permissive about what I find okay once it’s been examined. For example, I never worry that Nazi play is inherently disrespectful (my father’s mother’s parents narrowly avoided death by Nazi. I wouldn’t dress up like a Nazi to visit great grandma, but I don’t believe symbols should be taboo). Malesub has a lot of really fucking sexist and rapeculture promoting notions in it though. Which is okay, but it’s better if we examine them because they’re all bound up in how we perceive gender.

While femsubs are generally treated something on the princess/whore axis, male subbery, when it is being gendered, has a few things that are not mirrored in common useage. Cross dressing and feminization. “Forced” bi, instead of regular bi. Cuckolding, not open relationship fucking or harems.  If you ask me why, it’s because when we punish men we try to make them into some sort of weird eunuch-woman, that is receptive and rapeable. It is, and I use this word deliberately, the idea of being a “faggot”.

A faggot, by the way, wasn’t originally just a gay man, it was a lower year boy who was expected to do things for upperclassmen. The original meaning is a lot closer to being someone’s bitch. Which, oops, is back in sexism land. But taking ownership of a trope can still be empowering.

I believe that the fetishes that grow up in a culture are reflective of the norms the people in the culture have to deal with- you can’t have degradation focused race play without racism. Nazi play would make no sense in 1910. Doing the kink isn’t inherently empowering, of course- a kink for being raped by other ethnicities does not preclude hanging out on Stormfront. However, owning your flaws is also how you deal with them.

A loving BDSM relationship between equals that come together to decide a one down role is a powerful thing in the face of real inequality. When the only reason a woman would be subjugated is choice, and choice with informed consent and desire behind it, and the only reason pseudo-feminization might weaponized is as a sexy weapon, that’s practically utopic.

The end conclusion I have to make is the feminism is one of the things that helps make BDSM okay. Rejecting the inherent examination of why the imbalances in BDSM exist the way they do is blurring the ability to obtain healthy consent. There are reasons why one might feel alienated from feminism as a kinky person or just as a person, but this doesn’t remove the positives it can and does bring to kink.

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2 Comments

  1. Well said.

    In short, as one feminist writer has wisely pointed out:

    “…women need not feel guilty about the degree of infantilization and strangely perverse, politically incorrect, often sadomasochistic fantasies which turn us on…”

    The point is that we all, men and women, swim in a cultural ocean in which an awful lot of patriarchal toxin is dissolved, and it’s difficult not to absorb it by a sort of osmosis. If we subsequently want to play perversely with patriarchal sex and gender stereotypes, to subvert them even as we engage in Ds theatrics, we should be free to do so.

    You talk almost exclusively about M/f power exchange, which is fine, but for my money the F/m version is equally interesting as an implicit subversion of patriarchy.

    Reply
    • I generally don’t find female dominants do a whole-scale rejection of feminism the way that I’ve noticed female subs seem to feel uncomfortable about it.

      F/m tends to have its own gender baggage, but maybe as well as a personal preference I’d rather my dominance wasn’t gendered which means that I don’t necessarily see it as a tool to smash the patriarchy just because I’m a female dominant. I also feel that unexamined, bog standard femdom tropes generally re-enforce rather than subvert sexism- for example if you need to penetrate someone to dominate them, you’re right back where you started. So if you want to use F/m as a tool to chip away at restrictive social norms you generally just as much need to have your philosophical scrutiny glasses on as in M/f.

      Of course what actual couples do is not the same as what porn show us. Small mercies!

      Reply

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