That is the idea that it's not wrong to do BDSM, but that it is selfish in a morally critiquable way.
These folks subscribe to a certain "radical feminist" critique of BDSM that suggests that it perpetuates male dominance over women. So if someone does it, well, they're not going to call the Feminist Police, but they are going to say "Hey, maybe you could pay less attention to your own orgasms, and more attention to vulnerable girls who may get the message that men's power is especially hot."
I think I understand why radfems tend to just stop commenting, go away and silence themselves out of frustration. It’s because these arguments always come down to personal sovereignty for these people, and we’re not allowed to discuss anything pertaining to a person’s choice. The problem is that ‘choice’ doesn’t = ‘feminist’ just because you say it is. People are no longer wishing to look internally in order to understand larger social constructs. For the last decade, in all other movements (such as environmental conservation) we’ve used mottoes like ‘think globally, act locally’. But once you apply that same reasoning to feminism, and ask individual women/men to examine their choices for the good of the entire sex class, suddenly ‘UR OPPRESSIVE’. Why have we become SO self-centered?Nine Deuce 1:
It’s sort of like a conversation about single-payer health care between a Democrat and a Libertarian. One side is about the big picture and the other is about individual interest, with the Libertarian being unwilling to consider the implications of the bigger picture lest he be forced to admit that his stance is myopic and might have effects outside of those he experiences directly. I understand people’s not being into hearing me disapprove of what they’re aroused by, but that’s not the point. The fact is that mingling sex and power is inherently problematic in a hierarchical society and it directly affects our ability to ever dismantle patriarchy. I’m not saying that means I have the right to tell people not to do something, but the fact remains that there’s a problem.My response, attempting to remind all that the Libertarian's selfishness (if we agree she is wrong; I do) and the BDSMer's selfishness are orders of magnitude different:
Nine Deuce 2:
With all due respect, I don’t think they’re similar at all. The presence or lack of a health care system, and the details of coverage and what one must do or have to get health care, affect the welfare of the citizenry obviously and directly. It’s nonsensical to say that individual interest trumps the good of the uninsured, because it’s obvious how they’ll be affected.
In the case here, we’re talking about a personal behavior choice. While it’s true that we disagree about how much “people doing BDSM” affects society as a whole, I don’t think it can be at all disputed that whatever effect it would have is tiny compared to the effects of one health care system versus another.
Trinity - Libertarians with money (who usually have insurance) think their best interests are served by our not having a single-payer system because they believe having one will cost them money. They’re all about individual choice and responsibility when it benefits them and refuse to admit that what they do as individuals is connected to a larger system of phenomena. It’s an each-man-for-himself thing, which is naive and selfish. And the same goes with “sex-positivism.” The counterargument to radical feminism is always personal choice/liberty, and it’s always made from the “I get off on this, and anyone telling me that I have to consider the fact that my choices take place in a larger context is trying to oppress me, and is therefore just as bad as the patriarchy itself” position.You all can already see how I respond to these critiques: I think that even if BDSM reinforced patriarchy, a person's consensual sexual activity does not have anywhere near the social effects that choosing a single-payer health care system would. Objecting to the "selfishness" of a person who chooses to explore her sexual fantasies rather than reform them strikes me as just as important, socially, as objecting to the selfishness of the person who doesn't cover his mouth when he coughs, or something -- unless there is some clear sign of serious disease vector there, it just plain hardly matters even if we accept that there is risk.
(I actually don't think that BDSM reinforces, reifies, or copies patriarchy either. I'm tired of people making my relationships invisible because I am not a man, and then claiming they are feminists. But that is for a totally different post.)
What I want to do here, though, more than I want to talk about exactly where the argument train derails, is to talk about the technique here.
This is designed to make people feel guilty. "You're being selfish" is the kind of ad hominem that is going to work particularly well on people who:
- commit themselves to social justice/social equality, which feminist or feminist-friendly people do
- know they have social status that is undeserved and that others don't have, which the typical feminist blog audience is probably swimming in: likely white, likely middle-class, likely from what's called the "first world," etc.
- support left-wing politics and causes, which are usually centered around at least the idea of minor self-sacrifice to help others less well-off
- are anti-capitalist, or at least for a moderated and "socially responsible" mixed capitalism, which is another cause/ideology that feminist or feminist-friendly people often believe in
But many feminist-leaning folks are idealists who want to help those less fortunate, and want to do it by trying to eliminate social disparities. Many such people feel that they're not doing enough to help. (I did, until I took a job working for disability rights. I'm totally comfortable now, knowing I'm not "selfish" but rather devoting my career itself to doing my part. And no, I am not giving more details. I am not out.)
This is perhaps exascerbated by what I'll call the "endless" quality of some feminisms and feminist activism. "We'll march until we stop rape," for example. Or "We need a new, egalitarian social order," where just about every existing way of bringing this about (legislation, liberal political reform, etc) is rejected as not enough of a radical change. It's easy to feel we just aren't doing enough when our best friend is assaulted the day after TBTN, for example.
So when someone comes along and says "You're selfish because you do BDSM" or "You're selfish because you are sex-positive" or "Doing SM is fine, but if you defend it, rather than seeing it as a tragic blemish on your soul due to trauma, you're selfish" it stings. It rubs salt in those wounds.
And for many people, it's easier to get the salt out by "examining," by "purging" for a while, or by taking on the "Woe is me, I'm kinky but wish I weren't" attitude than by volunteering at the rape crisis center or the soup kitchen, or taking the low-paying job at the nonprofit, or whatever have you.
But the thing is, going along with the bullies for however long you do it has no more or less effect on society as a whole than you doing something totally different with a consenting partner. Your "selfishness" is only a black mark on society if it leads you to do things that affect society -- and one more drop of water in the patriarchal ocean, even supposing these folks are right, is not that.
If the selfishness jibes sting, that may mean you should "examine" your life. It may mean you really do want to do something more than what you're doing. (It may not; like I said I think these people are bullying, and bullies raise discovering what stings to an art form.) But if this is the case, it's not your sexuality you should be looking at. It's your footprint on the world. Do you volunteer? Do you do activist work? If you do, is it the kind of "endless" marchy stuff, or things with clear-cut outcomes? If the former, is that OK with you?
Getting people thinking about their footprint on the world is good. Doing that with the intention of shaming or feeling superior -- which is what these folks are up to -- is just stupid, and not worth getting stung by anyway. These folks rarely let us all know just what they are doing to better the lives of the downtrodden themselves, after all.
Oh no, they must be sellll-fish! But at least their "radical feminist" theory isn't. Thank the stars for that.