(Yes, I am totally dating myself with the reference in that title.)
Sometimes, being a feminist submissive means threading the finest of needles.
Earlier this week, I got involved in an online discussion prompted by a question from a self-identified feminist submissive about taking her fiance/master’s name after marrying. It was clear that this was a serious conflict for her – on the one hand, she liked the idea of being able to do this thing that showed the world she was “his.” But on the other hand, she worried that this was an unfeminist act.
And I feel her! I think I’ve come really, really far in reconciling my own feminist and submissive identities, but I still have those moments of feeling like my submission is inherently and irrevocably at odds with my feminism.
Just last week, I was reading about a particularly insular and patriarchal religious sect, and I came across this snippet:
The real issue is sex. Not the act, but what it signifies — male control of women. That old story.
Ouch. Punch in the gut.
Rationally, I know that consensual, negotiated sex that really, really gets me off is totally different from a deeply patriarchal religion where no one’s roles are freely chosen. But damn if there isn’t a part of me that doesn’t feel a twinge about the fact that I (with my privileged education and vast amounts of personal freedom and mobility) eroticize this very “old story.”
Male control of women? That is quite literally what gets me off.
So in my response to the woman getting married, I tried to thread the feminist submissive needle carefully. I empathized with the complexity and told her that it was ok to feel a bit ambivalent, but that it was also ok for her to choose whatever she wanted to do.
And there were some other good responses. But there were a few that got under my skin, and at first, I couldn’t quite figure out why. They were all saying some variation on, “That’s not what feminism is about! Feminism is about choice!”
The “feminism is about choice!” response to feminist concerns about submission has never sat well with me, but I’ve never been quite able to put my finger on exactly why I found it so grating. I mean, I don’t actually agree that feminism is only about choice, but that wasn’t the only reason it bothered me.
Finally it hit me, and you’ll have to forgive me if this seems stunningly obvious: I dislike this response because, to a certain kind of feminist, it’s just deeply unhelpful. And maybe even harmful.
For a long time, I actually felt sort of weirdly shamed by this argument, on both sides.
On the one hand, I felt embarrassed that I’d let my politics so blind me to what I wanted sexually. It made me feel tricked. And on the other hand, it made me feel like I really was rejecting my feminist values by embracing my submissive side. Because again, my brand of feminism does not believe feminism is all about choice. Our choices are informed by culture and socialization, and make statements about our values and beliefs.
That’s obviously not to say that a feminist should only do ever do things that are perfectly in line with his or her feminist values, or that they are a Bad Feminist if they do something that seems to go in line with gender norms, for instance. But rather, that yes, it is complicated. Because life is complicated. Politics are complicated. Relationships are complicated.
So hey, feminist submissives (and doms and switches and whatever elses), you go on with your bad complicated selves. Complicated people make the best lovers, anyway.