Sunday, 1 June 2008

I think you got some sadomasochism in your feminism there...

(First, to the anon commenter on the last post: I didn't see your post until today. A response is up now, and I hope it helps you.)

I was just rereading what I think is the most fair anti SM piece I have ever read.

That piece is Sandra Bartky's "Feminine Masochism and the Politics of Personal Transformation." In it, Bartky tries to reach some common ground between anti SM feminists and pro SM feminists.

Basically, she accepts the idea that SM people how fixed sexual desires, and that we cannot change to have a more egalitarian, proper feminist sexuality. However, she agrees with more orthodox anti SM feminists that this is a bad state of affairs, suggesting that the (hypothetical) feminist masochist she discusses is irreparably psychologically scarred by patriarchal sexual norms. (58)

Which is something that will, and should, raise the ire of anyone who reads this particular blog. However, I strongly recommend the piece if you're looking to read opposing points of view. It's far more humane, and far more well reasoned, than many of the anti SM arguments I have read.

Which makes what I'm about to quote a little misleading. The following excerpt is actually the worst part of the article. I quote it just to show that even when our opponents are in fine form, reasoning about as well as they ever will, interesting hypocrisies seep into their arguments.

For context, Bartky is here discussing were the way in which masculine dominance and feminine submission stem from cultural norms. She discusses romance novels and the famous "staircase/rape" scene in Gone With The Wind, saying that women like them because they've bought into the idea that male dominance is sexually exciting (46). She returns to Rhett Butler later, saying:
The right, staunchly defended by liberals, to desire what and whom we please and, under certain circumstances, to act on our desire, is not at issue here; the point is that women would be better off if we learn when to refrain from the exercise of this right. A thorough overhaul of desire is clearly on the feminist agenda: the fantasy that we are overwhelmed by Rhett Butler should be traded in for one in which we seize state power and reeducate him. (51)
I could describe, in a boring, conversational, nonfiction tone just what's wrong with feminists who are concerned about doing away with the sexiness of dominance describing a fantasy of seizing state power. However, creative writing has always been my first love.

"Calm yourself, Mr. Butler. The injection will not harm you. It is merely designed to inhibit the body's production of endorphins."

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I already told you, we were drunk and she woke up happy. Now let me go, doll. I've gotta tend to the horses."

"The treatment dampens the body's ability to produce natural painkillers in response to stimuli. Pain is an integral tool in your re-education, and we must ensure you experience it to the fullest."

"Jesus! That needle is huge! You're crazy! How could you need that for one shot?"

"Pain is an integral tool in your re-education. Men like you believe women enjoy pain and violation; before anything else, we must teach you that there is nothing enjoyable about them."

;)

38 comments:

Gabe said...

Anytime someone wants to talk about "seizing state power" then I'm at a point where I don't think I can enter a meaningful dialogue with them.

Trinity said...

Yeah, pretty much.

I hope someday I'll see her present this paper just so I can interrupt at that moment and say "The Republic IS the Empire..."

annalouise said...

well, to be fair, I think the Rhett Butler tortured and re-educated by stern lesbians is a hotter scenario and I have suspicions you'd agree on that.

Zula said...

You know, I read Feministing.com and several times the women there have said something to the effect of, "Yes, I acknowledge that this movie/show/video game/other thing that I like is un-feminist, but I realize that. It's not that big a deal; not everything you see or read needs to be feminist."

Now, I'm not saying that BDSM falls into that category (of a feminist "guilty pleasure"), but even if BDSM were inherently un-feminist, why can't it be an allowable foible? Why can a feminist enjoy watching Sex and the City, which is the paragon of shallow consumerism and unrealistic beauty standards, but not a good flogging/spanking now and then?

I also can't help but notice that only female masochists raise feminists' ire. Or at least the vast majority of the time. I suppose having a female Dom/male sub is a-okay in their book.

Trinity said...

Hotter than what? Than the staircase scene? Yes.

Hell, the little snippet o' story I posted was supposed to be titillating...

Trinity said...

"Now, I'm not saying that BDSM falls into that category (of a feminist "guilty pleasure"), but even if BDSM were inherently un-feminist, why can't it be an allowable foible?"

I really dunno. But honestly, I don't think it is a foible at all.

Trinity said...

"I also can't help but notice that only female masochists raise feminists' ire. Or at least the vast majority of the time."

Yeah. I really would like someone to tell me what the heck is up with that, especially considering how much of leather history is gay male and then, a bit later, lesbian. I mean, yeah, straight sadomasochism always also drew from its own sources and traditions, but so far as I know it was originally leather*dykes* that spooked the traditionalist feminists...

"I suppose having a female Dom/male sub is a-okay in their book."

I don't think it's so much *okay* as some kind of idea that if they squint hard enough at us, we'll go away.

Which reeks faintly of, yes I'm gonna say it, patriarchy to me: Women in positions of power cannot be important enough to warrant serious consideration.

annalouise said...

I think that it's less that this type of criticism ignores female sexual dominants (although it does)and more that even feminist anti-bdsm theorist don't have a way to conceive where being submissive is a virtueous and good thing to be.
What female masochists need to do, evidently, is change our fantasies to become about dominance. Why not imagine a feminist utopia where women can be submissive without the culture assuming that they therefore deserve (nonconsenual) male violence or where male domination is not used as a tool to oppress women?
How about a culture that, even outside of a sexual realm, values people who, as a basic part of their nature, want to serve others?

Trinity said...

"What female masochists need to do, evidently, is change our fantasies to become about dominance."

Thing is, I don't think she realizes she was saying that. I think she thinks she's saying "in utopia there'll be less dominance, I hope" but not realizing she's using the language of dominance herself. (Or assuming it's okay/a necessary evil if feminism as a movement dominates, rather than individual women. But, as my vignette there is supposed to point out, someone's gonna be this guy's re-educator...)

Trinity said...

"How about a culture that, even outside of a sexual realm, values people who, as a basic part of their nature, want to serve others?"

and yes that.

*nodding my head off*

joscelinverreui said...

I'm sure I could add something meaningful to this comment list, but at almost five in the morning and the half a pill of melatonin kicking in hard, I just have to add,

DAMN that snippet was hot.

rosa said...

So, female masochists would be better off if we didn't act on our desires? Hmm how is that different from people who tell gays that THEY shouldn't act on their desires?

Trinity said...

"Hmm how is that different from people who tell gays that THEY shouldn't act on their desires?"

It's not.

shiva said...

"suggesting that the (hypothetical) feminist masochist she discusses is irreparably psychologically scarred by patriarchal sexual norms."

er... isn't EVERYONE, under patriarchy?

and, y'know, even if your sexuality is what it is because you have been oppressed, abused or traumatised in some way... how does that make it invalid? it still is what it is, and if you are happy and comfortable with it, why change it?

(i posted about this topic here: http://biodiverseresistance.blogspot.com/2007/09/sexuality-as-choice-vs-sexuality-as.html)

As for Rhett Butler... i think i'd rather see an angry, liberated black woman putting a pitchfork through the fucker's head. But, just like Nazi play, if it turns you on, and doesn't harm anyone, i have nothing against other peopl fantasising about it (tho i'd personally rather not be exposed to it)...

As for state power... abolishing state power, yes. "Seizing" it, for any reason other than to abolish it, and especially for "re-educating" anyone (shades of Judge Rotenberg there)... no.

(Just finished reading Maria Mies's "Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale"... and, if Mies was just a little bit more sex-positive, she'd be the most awesome writer in the universe. Damn, that woman's deconstruction of the role of the nuclear family in capitalism is hot...)

Trinity said...

"er... isn't EVERYONE, under patriarchy?"

Honestly I'm no longer a fan of "omg patriarchee maked us brokend, if we wuz freez we'd aaaaaaaaaallll be diffrunt!"

I don't think we have any way of knowing that, honestly. And I'm inclined to think the bad things about humans that lead to oppressive hierarchy are, unfortunately, natural. I strongly suspect that oppression will always be with us in some form or another (though this does NOT mean I believe we ought not fight it), so trying to puzzle out what "a healthy human" looks like while presupposing that humans will only be healthy when there is no oppression strikes me as a useless endeavor entirely.

"As for state power... abolishing state power, yes. "Seizing" it, for any reason other than to abolish it, and especially for "re-educating" anyone (shades of Judge Rotenberg there)... no."

And this is also where I deviate from some. I'm not sure we can ever abolish state power. I just think that it's really naive to say "Rhett Butler being hot is just a symptom of a hierarchical society. Wouldn't it be more fun to use state power (hierarchy) to re-educate (aggressively use the state's force upon) him?" I mean, does she not know what she said there?!

lalouve said...

I'd be willing to concede that our sexuality is broken by our living in a patriacrhy (and I have no problem with that term). However, I would say that taking the structures that oppress us and turning them into sexual pleasure is a deeply radical act, and one which is a valid protest against those very structures - as in 'I'm now going to take your ideas of how men and women work and fuck with them (literally).

Trinity said...

Lalouve,

My only question would be what it means for a sexuality to be "broken." I feel like I can understand this if it's being discussed on an individual scale, e.g.

* "My sexuality is broken because my antidepressants lowered my libido when I didn't want this to occur."
* "My sexuality is broken because I just got out of an abusive relationship and I do not feel comfortable with sexual intimacy."

etc.

It's much more difficult for me to understand what "WE have a broken sexuality" would mean. Who are "we"? What is the nature of the damage? What would a non-"broken" sexuality look like?

I understand that if one buys the radical worldview, one gets at least slightly more cogent answers to those questions than if one does not.

What I don't understand is why such a worldview can be convincing. Even presuming our world is "broken" in something like that way, we *still* find deeply individualized sexualities, including kinks and fetishes, INCLUDING among women.

Given a world with such difference, it seems to me impossible to isolate "brokenness."

What I do think we can isolate are ways in which people are commonly pressured. I suppose for some value of the term, that can mean "broken."

But that's not what "broken" means to me. "Broken" means irreparable damage has been done to someone's erotic self. And I'm really leery of saying that in a generalized way. Even saying specifically of someone "Shana has a broken sexuality" seems to me the sort of thing I could only say if I know Shana well personally and therefore am privy to her sexuality-related distress.

Even then I don't know whether I get to call her "broken."

Trinity said...

"DAMN that snippet was hot."

Thanks, Joscelin... I was wondering if anyone liked it! ;)

lalouve said...

I think that 'broken' for me has much more plant than china connotations - it is not irretrievable, but something which can heal, and might well grow into a new and interesting, and even better, shape because of it.

As far as how we're broken is concerned: almost every woman I've ever met has had a bad sexual experience (and I don't mean a lay that sucked, I mean a scary bad experience). We have been raped or sexually assaulted, at worst, and if not, we have been made to feel ashamed, doubtful, embarrassed, weird, about our sexuality. We carry these experiences with us, and some of us grow in new and innovative ways while some of us cannot, for many reasons, manage that and are stunted instead.

Whether we are sadists because we have been harmed or we have been harmed because we're sadists (to use our example), we are oppressed by a society that feels free to judge female sexuality. I find that embracing the kink is a good way of growing beyond the harm that is done to us.

Trinity said...

Okay, To me, saying someone has a broken sexuality is talking like supporters of reparative therapy, or something. "She wants what she wants and likes what she likes because she is broken."

And it's also really disheartening: Men have so much power that the bad things they do don't just hurt women, but *break* them. Snap them in half like twigs. Smash them to pieces like china.

And they don't just break *some* women who are particularly sensitive to it or particularly ill-treated on this sort of view, it seems to me: they break "women's sexuality," the thing, as a whole, as it exists. Whether you're straight or bi or gay. Whether you're strong or weak. Whether you hate sex or love it; you're infected.

Trinity said...

And that to me is also a really weird focus: it's "the women are damaged," rather than "hey look what these attackers, most of whom are men, are doing to people."

lalouve said...

Westerners all live in a sex-negative society - even Sweden, which is rather laid back, has a ideal of, as someone put it, 'cuddly monogamous sex in the bedroom.' And actually, I wouldn't put all the blame on men at all. Much of the shaming and repressing is done by women reproducing their own oppression. We can be tools of the patriarchy, too.

To me, this is important: "whether we are sadists because we have been harmed or we have been harmed because we're sadists": I don't think I like what I like because I'm broken at all (mostly due to that liking being so early that I don't see how), but I do know that I live in a society that does not respect my sexuality. Not having one's sexuality respected can certainly be damaging to one's self-esteem, and make one hesitant to practice it.

I think sadomasochism can be anything from something really wrong with you, to working through issues, to joyful acceptance of power as sexy, to defiance of how your gender role and your sexuality is constructed by society, and probably lots of other things that have never occurred to me. Most of all, I don't think it's possible to say that it's the same thing for everybody orfor one person allt he time. If your pratice of bdsm makes you unhappy or incapable of coping with life, or harms others, then clearly you shouldn't be doing it, no matter who thinks it's a good idea. If it makes you happy and doesn't involve the harming of others, you should clearly be doing it.

I think one can snatch enjoyment out of the jaws of a sex-negative society. I think bdsm can be part of that. I also think that it doesn't actually matter if I'm doing it as a way to deal with conflicts about my sexuality. The example here, I suppose, is the rape fantasy as a way to avoid responsibility for one's pleasure. Being able to accept that one is worthy of pleasure is undoubtedly a good thing, but if one can't, the rape fantasy strikes me as a nice workaround, a sign of health, not as a sign of damage.

lalouve said...

I think what I'm trying to say can be summed up as 'when society damages our sexuality, screw society. Let's take the damage and make it dance.'

shiva said...

Lalouve says what i meant to say, only better :)

Also, Patriarchy != men. Patriarchy = the misogynistic, authoritarian, exploitation-based, sex-negative (etc) system we live in... which might as well be called capitalism, or statism, or whatever, but patriarchy is its sex/gender aspect, and/or the whole thing when viewed primarily thru a lens of sex/gender... if that makes sense. That's how i try to see it, anyway. Your definitions may vary.

And, seriously, read that Maria Mies book, for a fucking brilliant explanation of how patriarchy is intimately and inextricably tied up with capitalism and environmental exploitation. (Just try to ignore the, admittedly few if jarring, really, really stupid and/or misinformed things she says about porn and computers... but, y'know, it was 1986...)

Trinity said...

Shiva,

Can you point me to exactly where I said "patriarchy = men"? I've been known to sometimes use words in slippery ways, but I doubt I would ever quite do that.

shiva said...

also... lalouve kind of already said this, but i think that, in a sense, everything alive is in some way or other "broken", and i think there's a lot of value in embracing brokenness. in fact, i think that's arguably kind of central to disability politics...

but i think we are a lot *more* broken, and in much nastier ways, under a system like the one we live in than we *could* be, in a safer, saner, more consensual world.

(yeah, i have my issues with both the words "safe" and "sane"... but using them here as i believe was their original intent...)

it's disentangling the "brokenness" that comes simply from the imperfection inherent in humanity from the "brokenness" that comes from the daily trauma of living in a system that fucks us over in every physical and mental dimension, that's the hard bit...

(in fact, i think that distinction kind of approximates to the impairment/disability distinction...)

i actually think i need to write a whole post about this...

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Whenever I hear the "we are broken because of this system" I'm inexorably reminded of some of the least appealing bits of Christian logic involving the Expulsion from Eden.

I don't fancy going there.

Trinity said...

THANK YOU KIYA

shiva said...

"And it's also really disheartening: Men have so much power that the bad things they do don't just hurt women, but *break* them. Snap them in half like twigs. Smash them to pieces like china.

And they don't just break *some* women who are particularly sensitive to it or particularly ill-treated on this sort of view, it seems to me: they break "women's sexuality," the thing, as a whole, as it exists. Whether you're straight or bi or gay. Whether you're strong or weak. Whether you hate sex or love it; you're infected."

That seemed to imply that you were either equating patriarchy with men, or that you regarded the people saying patriarchy irreparably damages people's (not just women's, IMO, everyone's) sexuality as equating patriarchy with men. Which I, at least, don't (being technically one myself, it would be... somewhat untenable for me if i did...)

Dw3t-Hthr: As an ex-Christian, i'm fully willing to admit that there are bits of Christian ideology floating around in my mind, either subconsciously influencing the terms in which i think and/or being consciously "re-purposed" into less-Christian contexts. However, i really don't think this is one of them - the stuff about Eden and original sin, in my understanding of it, implied that the "fall" of the first humans made all that nasty shit forever inherent in human nature.

Whereas, i'm trying to say that having a "broken" or "damaged" sexuality is not inherent in human nature, but in this society. Again i'll reference Maria Mies, who utterly demolishes the cultural feminist argument that "men are rapists simply because they're men and it's in their DNA" and asserts that patriarchy is not inevitably part of human nature, but has specific historical and ideological origins. If i thought we were incapable of being freed by nature, then i don't think there'd be anything worth me fighting (or writing) for.

Also... i think lalouve already said this, and it's pretty much what i said in the post i referenced in my first reply, but, for me, being "broken" doesn't mean that we can't still grow into better, freer beings - in fact, it's quite possible to become someone greater than you would have been if never "broken" (i think this is true of many, many disabled people). Anyway, it makes me kind of queasy to even use words like "greater" in relation to people, but i hope you know what i mean.

The damage may well be irrepairable, but only in the sense that you'll never get back what the person "would have been" without it. You could still get something equally good or better...

Trinity said...

"That seemed to imply that you were either equating patriarchy with men, or that you regarded the people saying patriarchy irreparably damages people's (not just women's, IMO, everyone's) sexuality as equating patriarchy with men."

Okay. I don't equate patriarchy with men, but I think a framework that assumes such things as "women's sexuality" and "men's sexuality" and assumes harm to the first without* assuming harm to the second does.

There's this thing called "women's sexuality," and this way that it gets broken by this force that isn't "women" and is inimical to "women's" interests.

Which could boil down to meaning "women are at risk for rape," but I don't think that "women's sexuality is broken" has quite the same connotation.

Which -- well, I suppose I could appeal to the discussions of "kyriarchy" floating around the 'Net nowadays, but there's something about those that puts me off a little. I'm not sure exactly what it is. I think maybe it's that I don't quite think we've hit it if we just say humans' tendency to make hierarchies is the problem -- I think it's got to do with which hierarchies we make and how, and I can't remember right now if the kyriarchy discussions really handle that well.

*shrug*

At any rate, as someone with PTSD, I think we need better ways of talking about damage than "broken" or "scarred."

It's not so much those words -- they may well apply -- as that I think when we use them we've got to be careful about what they mean in a way I really don't think Bartky was when she says it.

It's one of the many reasons the "broken" framework just doesn't work for me.

*(or agrees that men's sexuality may be harmed, but claims that this harm is relatively irrelevant because men have the power.)

belledame222 said...

Rhett Butler tortured and re-educated by stern lesbians

...

I'll be in my bunk.

Totally Serious Male said...

Pain is an integral tool in your re-education. Men like you believe women enjoy pain and violation; before anything else, we must teach you that there is nothing enjoyable about them.

well, to be fair, I think the Rhett Butler tortured and re-educated by stern lesbians is a hotter scenario

Hotter than what? Than the staircase scene? Yes.


Oh. I love you all. Such wonderful women. Such beautiful thoughts. This is my kind of feminism!


"I suppose having a female Dom/male sub is a-okay in their book."

I don't think it's so much *okay* as some kind of idea that if they squint hard enough at us, we'll go away.


Yes! Very problematic. Why do they hate you so? They're wrong! Wrong!

Rhett Butler tortured and re-educated by stern lesbians

...

I'll be in my bunk.


I mean, if ever there was a way to entice men to become feminists, it is this scenario....

I think she thinks she's saying "in utopia there'll be less dominance, I hope" but not realizing she's using the language of dominance herself. (Or assuming it's okay/a necessary evil if feminism as a movement dominates, rather than individual women. But, as my vignette there is supposed to point out, someone's gonna be this guy's re-educator...)

So true. You can't have feminist domination without female dominants. We need re-education! Help us!

Trinity said...

VSM: Your sarcasm detector is in sore need of repair, my friend.

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