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It’s a feminist submissive thing

1 Jun

(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.

Oh … HELL No

25 Oct

When I started this blog, I swore to myself that I would not spend my time picking fights with radical feminists. The real enemy is the patriarchy, no? And mostly, I’ve kept to that, with a few exceptions.

But I just read something on I Blame the Patriarchy that made me say “oh … HELL no!” and well, what is a blog for if not to share those “oh … HELL no!” moments with the world?

From I Blame the Patriarchy:

Today’s feminist, empowered by all those articles on vibrators in Bust magazine, chooses choices of her own free will. These choices mirror her own unique sartorial, sexual, and philosophical personality. That these unique choices happen to align precisely with standard male porn fantasies, and that they are therefore rewarded with positive attention, is purely coincidental.

Note the smug sarcasm dripping from this passage? “Oh how adorable” reads the subtext. “You think you’re making a choice for yourself, but really, you’re just kidding yourself, girls. You’re doing what they want you to do!” Or: “aww, look at it wear a miniskirt! It thinks it’s feminists!”

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I really believe that one of the things that made me repress my submissive leanings for so long was the fear that, by acting them out, or even just admitting them to myself, I was giving Patriarchy what it wanted. I was playing into its game.

But now that seems so silly to me. Partly because who the hell really cares what I do sexually with a partner of my choosing? But also because, well, so what if my sexual identity and fantasies happen to complement the sexual identities and fantasies of some or even many men? I mean, assuming she’s right (which is a big assumption, but whatever): I’m a heterosexual woman – isn’t it a good thing for my sexual fantasies to complement those of the very people I prefer to have sex with? Doesn’t this mean better sex for everyone?

I think this, right here, is why I have never really felt comfortable identifying as a radical of any kind. Because this is what happens to most of the radicals I’ve known (and I’ve known a lot): they take these, often correct, ideas about the collective forces that are harming society (whether it’s deeply ingrained sexism or out-of-control capitalism) and they make it personal.

And that’s what Jill is doing here. She’s not just saying that sex-positive feminism plays into what patriarchy wants – she’s saying this plays into what men want. And that’s supposed to invalidate it. Because one can only be a true feminist if one is making men unhappy, I suppose.

Incidentally, this post seems to be an oblique reference to a post by Holly at Pervocracy, which in turn was a reference to an extremely frustrating thread on one of my favorite time-wasting sites, Metafilter. Something that came up in the thread on Metafilter, and that Jill seems to be implying here, is that sex-positive feminists are unreflective about the complexities of gender and sex and that we’re resistant to be challenged on these complexities.

Now, obviously, I don’t speak for all sex-positive feminists. I do think there is some truth to that assertion, sometimes. But I think even reading a few posts on my blog will show that I have certainly not spent too little time thinking about the complexities of gender expectations and how they relate to my sexuality.

But you know what? All that thought is only so helpful. Honestly, I will openly concur that my submissive sexuality has been at least partially shaped by my gender socialization. No shit. Does that mean I should go back to ignoring it? Just lock it away?

Oh … HELL no.

Feminism is not a personality trait

18 Sep

(Or, Reconciling my Feminism, Part II)

In the early days of my blog, I posted an entry entitled “Reconciling my feminism, Part I” in which I talked about my early process of, well, reconciling my feminist identity with my submissive desires.

I eventually intended to write a follow-up post in which I went further, expanding on my ideas about sex-positive feminism. But I’d like to do something different, instead. I’d like to talk about the idea of feminism as a personality trait, and why it’s so problematic.

Recently I was talking with a fellow, a thoughtful guy exploring his own dominant desires. He’s also single but lives far away and neither of us is looking for something long-distance, so it’s been a good opportunity to talk to someone with no romantic or sexual intentions.

I’d asked him for his thoughts on my fetlife profile, and he ventured, cautiously, that I might want to avoid referring to myself as a feminist, in said profile. Because most people hear “feminist” and think “strong woman” – and that runs counter to what people will expect from a submissive woman.

Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the idea that a submissive can’t or shouldn’t be strong (I don’t think that’s what he was trying to say, and anyway I think I’ve made my thoughts about that idea pretty clear). Let’s talk about the idea that “feminist” means “strong.”

One thing that’s happened as feminism has become more mainstream is that it’s gotten depoliticized a bit. So that feminism, in the popular imagination, is not simply about equality between men and women, or about critiquing gender-based privilege, or male privilege, but about being a “strong woman.”

I think that’s a problem, for a number of reasons. But mostly, as I say in the title of this post, feminism is not a personality trait. It’s a point of view, a philosophy, an ideology, a social/political movement. 

A feminist can be shy or outgoing, feminine or masculine, analytical or emotional, driven or lazy. What makes a feminist is not their (because men can be feminists too) personality, but their beliefs. And yes, how they live those beliefs is important, but I don’t believe anyone should have to change their personality to be called a feminist – because feminism is not a personality trait.

So that’s how I can be both feminist and submissive. Because neither explains the whole of my being. Feminism is part of my worldview and political belief system; submission is a part of how I interact with certain people.

For some deeper thoughts on feminism and personality, with an excellent Jungian analysis, check out this post by Sady Doyle. It’s not about BDSM, but it’s highly relevant and gave me the catalyst to write this post.

Rape Fantasies

10 Sep

This post is about erotic rape fantasies. Although real rape is not discussed other than in passing, I’m putting this below the fold for those who prefer not to read about sexual assault.

Continue reading

With sex educators like these ….

2 Aug

When I wrote my epic-length post about my crush on James Deen, I talked about the one thing that makes me a bit uncomfortable about showering him with adulation, his participation in Brazzer’s Porn Star Punishment series. Well, it turns out he’s officially stopped working with them, which is great. As I said in my post, I find “punishment” scenarios hot (I am kinky, after all!) but I felt that series really crossed the line into slut-shaming, rapeyness, and non-consensual objectification.

So I was prepared to be open-minded when I came across this post criticizing “punishment porn”  that someone posted in the Submissive Women group on fetlife. Then I read this:

Sure, some of us like a little smack on the bum sometimes. But find me a woman who enjoys having a man’s *meat* forcibly shoved into her mouth to the point of gagging and I’ll show you one who is nothing but a figment of a disturbed man’s twisted imagination.

Here all this time I thought I was a sentient being, even a complex person with thoughts and desires all my own, but it turns out that all this time I’ve only been “a figment of a disturbed man’s twisted imagination.” Well, I guess it’s better to know now. All that time spent getting degrees, paying bills, working at my career – all that time, I could have been servicing the man who dreamt me up! What a waste!

And then there was this, from “sex educator” Jamye Waxman:

Of course if two people generally love being punished, beaten, whatever, who am I to stop it? But I ask this: If you love it, why? That’s what I want to know.

Well, first, I’m a bit baffled that someone who works as a sex educator and whose bio lists her as having worked for Babeland (the famously woman-friendly, sex-positive sex shop), being president of a group called Feminists for Free Expression, and having produced porn herself has no idea why someone might enjoy being “punished, beaten, whatever.” It frankly seems disingenuous and a thinly-disguised way of saying “ew, gross, how could someone want that?”

But Jamye, if you actually want to know the answer to that question, there are lots of places to learn that answer. The blogroll on the right side of this page is a good place to start. You could read one of the many, many books about BDSM sexuality. You could, I don’t know, actually talk to some of the people you’re mocking, and ask them, and then actually listen to their answers. I’m guessing from your bio that you actually know many such people.

I’m even happy to talk anytime and tell you why I like it, if you are actually interested in listening. But I will tell you right now that it’s not because there’s something wrong with me or how I was raised.

It’s one thing to be all “OMG, gross” when you’re talking with your friends, but when you’re being interviewed and you’re calling yourself a sex educator, that kind of shaming language is unprofessional, to say the least.

She goes on to say this:

“I can’t say what is sexy and arousing for every individual, but I do see sex as something pleasure based with a limited infusion of pain, and even that pain should be pleasurable,” says Waxman. “As someone who was spanked loads as a child, I don’t get off on being smacked around and honestly find it degrading. I’m curious if there’s a lot of this porn where she’s doing the slapping, but even when I have seen women emasculating men, it doesn’t work for me. Sex is a balance, and there’s no balance when someone takes away your power by such a jarring jolt of force. I prefer loving and sensual to this type of brute force. I got into the industry to make more of the types of erotica that I’d watch and learn from.”

Again, I’m baffled that this is coming from a “sex educator.” Jamye, you are absolutely right that you can’t say what’s sexy for other people. It’s great that you know what you’re into – ” sex as something pleasure based with a limited infusion of pain, and even that pain should be pleasurable” – but do you honestly not understand that others might actually find things pleasurable that you do not?

Some of us actually enjoy having our “power taken away by a jarring jolt of force” (in the context of a consensual, mutually satisfying sexual relationship built on trust). Some of us dream about it. And of course it’s ok that you don’t get off on being slapped or seeing other people get slapped – that’s your right.  As a sex educator, you of all people should understand that sexuality is incredibly diverse and that the healthy, satisfying ways people can express their sexuality are endless.

It’s one thing to have a problem with a certain kind of porn. I agree with a lot of the feminist critiques of mainstream porn. But when you start mocking, belittling and even erasing women with different sexual interests than yours – well, that’s just not right. And when you do so while calling yourself an educator? Completely inexcusable.

Why I Like Rihanna

2 Jun

At one point, I’d planned to write a whole post about Rihanna, “S&M” and abuse, but then it seemed like The Cultural Moment had passed, and so I never did. But some of the comments on my little post yesterday got me thinking, so I figured, who cares about the cultural moment? I think this stuff is interesting.

Here’s the thing: I really like Rihanna a lot. Partly, I just like her music. Yes, it’s cheesy pop music, etc., etc. But Rihanna has an amazing voice and works with some great producers. Excellent driving-to-work music.

When S&M came out, I saw three major criticisms:

1. This isn’t what BDSM really looks like!

2. She’s obviously not really into BDSM herself.

3. Clearly, this means that she wanted to get beat up by her boyfriend!

I’m not going to even address #3, because I doubt that anyone who feels that way is actually reading this blog. #1 is a bit trickier, but to that I say, “um, when is any kind of sex in a music video representative of real sex?”  As I said in my post yesterday, the video doesn’t really “speak to me,” and I’m sort of annoyed at the “ooh, whips and chains” cheesiness of it, but I’m generally annoyed at the cheesiness of how sex is portrayed in things like music videos. However, I do find the song catchy and the video fun.

#2 is the one I really want to address. It’s sort of the hipster-kinkster argument: she’s a kinky poser! Except that she’s not, as she told Rolling Stone last month:

“I like to take charge, but I love to be submissive … Being submissive in the bedroom is really fun. You get to be a little lady, to have somebody be macho and in charge of your shit. That’s sexy to me. I work a lot, and I have to make a lot of executive decisions, so when it comes to being intimate, I like to feel like I’m somebody’s girl … I like to be spanked. Being tied up is fun. I like to keep it spontaneous. Sometimes whips and chains can be overly planned – you gotta stop, get the whip from the drawer downstairs. . . . I’d rather have him use his hands.”

And here’s the thing I really like about Rihanna – her public image is of a self-assured, sexually empowered woman who knows what she wants – and what she wants, sexually, is to take a submissive role.

This is something you almost never see in mainstream pop culture. Ever since the third wave of feminism hit, we’re all supposed to be sexually empowered, which is great. But the way that’s talked about most of the time is that you need to “be in charge” and “take what you want.” This was horribly confusing to me for a long time, because “being in charge” was completely unsexy to me, so I wondered if that meant I was just sexually stunted.

And the messages out there that do encourage being sexually submissive are all about Pleasing Your Man (see Pervocracy’s excellent and hilarious monthly mocking of Cosmo for more on this). But honestly, I’m wracking my brain to think of another example of a woman whose image is centered around being sexually empowered and who talks about taking a submissive role and I can’t think of anyone else.

The other great thing about this quote is the reference to gender performance. She talks about getting to be “someone’s girl” with a macho guy taking charge. But she’s not saying “I have to act like a man in the real world, but really, I want to be a little girl because that is my True Essence.” She’s saying “it’s fun to play with gender and act out these scripts that make us both feel sexy.”

It’s damn refreshing – but also damn depressing that she’s the only one I can think of who’s managed to strike this “empowered submissive” balance in mainstream pop culture. Please, tell me I’m wrong about this!


5 May

Am I submissive?

The answer to that question might seem rather obvious. After all, I did call this blog “feminist sub.” That would indicate that I consider myself submissive, right?

Well … yes and no. Continue reading