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21 August 2009 @ 10:57 pm
Thoughts on feminism and BDSM  

I just saw the following quote, attributed to Sally Kempton: "I became a feminist as an alternative to becoming a masochist."

And, well, argh. I don't find any contradiction between labeling myself a feminist and labeling myself a masochist. I am both.

Now, I realize that the quote came without context; it was the epigraph on a blog I ran across. And I suspect that Kempton probably used "masochist" in a non-technical sense, meaning someone who learns to tolerate being harmed, maybe even learns to welcome it as some kind of attention (see also Stockholm Syndrome, which isn't quite the same thing, but I think it's related). However, language is important to me, the way I label myself is important to me, and there are enough people who do think that BDSM is incompatible with feminism, that I was moved to write this.

I firmly believe in equal rights and equal access under the law, regardless of sex. Or gender. Or gender identity. Or sexual orientation. This applies to everything, including but not limited to education and employment, marriage or the choice not to marry, health care, and leisure activities. I think these are feminist beliefs.

My worldview is based primarily on the ethics of consent, rather than external strictures of morality. Murder is bad; DNR forms are good. Rape is bad; consensual sex is good. Fraud is bad; charging what the market will bear for well made luxury items is good. Cheating on your partner is bad; negotiated polyamory is good. Beating people up is bad; consensual BDSM is good. (Note that if someone is trying to beat you up, you are -- in my view of the world -- entitled to use appropriate force to stop zir from doing so. And if you identify as a pacifist, then I will respect your choice not to use force, even to protect yourself.)

I am a masochist. There's no other way to phrase it. I want -- I crave, almost to the point of needing -- pain in a safe and consensual environment. All of my fantasies revolve around it, and as far as I can remember, they always have. (One thing I find interesting is that before I discovered BDSM, my fantasies were all about non-consensual punishment; since then, they have always and exclusively been about consensual play.)

This in no way diminishes me as a feminist, nor is it in contradiction to same. Early on in my journey, I had a conversation with the primary partner of someone I was negotiating with as a potential playpartner. She said that while she had no problem with her partner and me playing together, she was uncomfortable with male-top/female-bottom BDSM, on the feminist grounds that it perpetuated violence against women, or anyway the seeming of it. I said that I understood her concerns, but that it seemed to me somewhat non-feminist to restrict my opportunity to participate in an activity that brings me pleasure, simply because I am a woman. After some further discussion, we came to an agreement, and it's worked well ever since.

People who have known me for a long time can probably tell you that I've become more centered and more assertive in the 14 years since I've started doing BDSM. Certainly a great deal of that can be attributed to maturity and to other experiences, but there is no question in my mind that some of it comes from the change in outlook and from the experience of being very assertive when I'm bottoming.

And so I would say to Sally Kempton, "It is because I am a feminist that I feel safe in being a masochist."
une idee fixeideealisme on August 22nd, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
Great post.

I would say that there is a dosconnect between the public arena and the private, sexual arena - in public we fight to establish equality whereas in a sexual context the passion is often fueled by an imbalance of power. (Mr Darcy had considerably more freedom, money and flexibility than Liz Bennett, likewise Mr Rochester with Jane Eyre - btw I am convinced those two had a pain-pleasure thing going on in the sack if they fucked anything like they conversed.)

Often when people fuck, their passion might also be spilling over from some other power arena such as work, or interactions with others. The sexual context is the only one free enough for two people to subconsciously resolve such ongoing, unfinished business. (Sometimes the best sex is what I call "angry sex" - you're mad as hell at somebody else and you really want to let it all out of your system)

Speaking as someone not formally involved in BDSM but who acknowledges the immense heft behind the power imbalance, behind uttering the forbidden and acknowledging the unacknowledgeable, I think you make good points. Sex supplements what you do in your daily life but is not generally in parallel sentiment with it.
Janet Miles, CAP-OMjanetmiles on August 23rd, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this comment. Just for reference, though, I don't do power exchange -- I'm a masochist but not submissive. Or, to put it another way, I'll count strokes but I won't say "Sir".