Tag Archives: Feminism

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.

Fifty Shades of Grey and Ambivalence

14 Mar

Well, what do you know? It looks like the newest word-of-mouth hit among middle-aged book club ladies is about a BDSM relationship. The book is Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, and it started out as Twilight fan fiction. I had honestly never heard of the book before this weekend, but apparently it’s all people are talking about in certain circles (not my circles, obviously). Here’s a blurb from Slate:

The women’s book club has a new romantic heroine. By day, Anastasia Steele is a college senior at a Vancouver University and a virgin who wears indifferent jeans and reads the usual novels (Tess of the d’UrbervillesPride and Prejudice). By night, she is the willing slave of Christian Grey, who trusses her up in his “red room of pain” and slaps her and makes her shiver with just the tip of his whip.

What do I think about this? I’m honestly not sure.

On the one hand: awesome. So awesome.

Women all over the world are reading an erotic novel, and that’s wonderful. As I said in my post on erotic BDSM romance, one of the best things about the rise of ebooks is that it’s allowed for entire subgenres of erotica to flourish where they couldn’t before. No longer do you have to skulk into a sketchy “adult store” in a sketchy neighborhood, or hope against hope that your bookstore or library might have a copy of The Story of O (and then hope the cashier or librarian won’t give you that “you dirty whore” look). Or just settle for mediocre romance novels or poorly written online stories. If you have a way to read them (on an ereader, a smartphone, or a computer), ebooks are cheap as hell, easy to get and easy to read discreetly. This has opened up a whole new market for “niches” like BDSM and allowed readers another avenue to explore their sexualities.

Also, as the Salon piece points out, we’re in the middle of a massive culture war over female sexuality here in the U.S. And many of my friends are despairing over what they see as a GOP war on women, but I see something more hopeful: I see women all over the place claiming their sexual autonomy, their right to be a sexual person. And so what better timing for a book like this to burst into the mainstream?

But (of course there’s a but!), there are some things that give me pause. First is the sad fact that with any mainstream popularity comes backlash. Again, from the Slate piece:

[Today show ] host Savannah Guthrie, who used to be the show’s legal correspondent, responded with a version of the mild horror the book has provoked on many a feminist blog: “Is that really where we’ve come to after 50 years, now that women have the power? … Do you think women really want to fantasize about someone causing them physical pain?”

Oy. Where to even begin? First, of course, there’s the dismay at the fact that such things would turn women on at all. But what really got under my skin about this reaction is the idea that women being turned on by this book is a result of “50 years” of feminism. As if women are so tired of having the right to vote and hold a job and not get pregnant (which means they have “all the power,” apparently) that we’ve turned to such desperate measures as a submissive sexual fantasy to cope. Or as if this is all such a terrible slap in the face of feminism.

Seriously, why does every damn thing women do have to be a celebration or repudiation of feminism? Why is every action a woman takes, or choice a woman makes, a referendum on feminism?

And then there’s the slightly stickier issue of cooptation. I haven’t read the book yet, but from what I’ve heard, the BDSM is actually fairly light. Not surprising, really, given its mainstream success.

But there’d already been some grumbling among BDSM readers and writers that the increasing popularity of BDSM romance among more “vanilla” people has contributed to the watering-down of the genre. Authors (like my fave, Annabel Joseph, who by the way, has a really great new book out) feel pressured to write “lighter” BDSM, and readers like me have a harder time finding the less-amenable-to-mainstream-tastes stuff that turns our crank. For instance, I’ve had a hard time finding good novels with doms that are a bit more on the sadistic side – because authors deal with a lot of backlash to SM.

Certainly, there are worse problems to have. And I say if it help even a small number of readers tap into kinkier fantasies that they never recognized or knew were ok, then it’s definitely a net gain. But it is a change.

So am I going to read the book? I will probably give it a shot, if only for curiosity’s sake. I’ve heard it’s not actually very good, but people generally say that about pop culture marketed towards women (see: Eat, Pray, Love, which gets sneers but which I found a hell of a lot of fun to read). If I do read it, I’ll be sure to post a review.

Have any of you read it? What did you think?

This is the only thing I will ever write about Rush Limbaugh on my blog

6 Mar

Well, apparently I am an enormous slut, and not in the sexy way. I’m such a slut that I take birth control pills every day! Like a floozy. And my employer pays for most of it, so we all know what that means!

But if there’s one good thing that’s come of this Rush Limbaugh nonsense, it’s Jon Stewart‘s definition of a feminazi:

Someone who would herd you onto a train to an Indigo Girls concert.

Quick, somebody update urbandictionary.com!

Submission, power, and sexism (and the importance of letting go)

26 Feb

A great post by one of my favorite BDSM fiction writers, Annabel Joseph (and seriously, if you’re looking for some good M/f erotic writing with great characters, look no further), recently got me thinking again about why submissives get such a bad rap in our (and by that I mean US/North American) culture. Because, really, submissives get no respect. You see it all the time: the word “submissive” is said with a sneer or a pitying shrug – it’s understood as a synonym for “subserviant” or weak, and it’s assumed that the person is acting that way because they are either oppressed (they have no choice but to be submissive), lazy (they’d rather let someone else do all the work) or stupid/ignorant (poor girl, no one ever told her about feminism!).

I really think it comes down to two things: power and sexism.

First, sexism: submission is seen as a feminine trait in our culture. Saying this gets into touchy areas. So please not that I am not saying that submission is inherently feminine, or women are inherently submissive – just that submissiveness is a trait that is assumed by culture to be feminine. And our culture does not value feminine traits or behaviors as much as masculine traits or behaviors. You can see this in the wage gap: traditional “blue collar” jobs like plumbing and auto repair are paid much better than “pink collar” jobs like child care. This is a case where you can see how the literal value of “feminine” traits are less than those of “masculine” ones.

So is it any surprise that submissiveness would be devalued, sneered at, pitied? Of course, this makes it sting all the more when that disdain comes from a fellow feminist. But of course, feminism is never going to be totally separate from the culture that made it, so these subtle ideas about value creep in.

It can be particularly insidiuous, too, because most modern third-wave (or are we now on the fourth wave?) feminists will not explicitly shun consensual BDSM play. If directly challenged, most will say “well, of course you have the right to do whatever you want with your partner, go on with your bad self!” And they will mean it! I think most feminists I know would agree that consensual BDSM is just fine.

But once you get outside the realm of once-in-a-while-for-some-spice dominance and submission, things get hairier, and I think that’s where power comes in. It seems like, whenever I discuss relationships with my friends, it always comes down to power. It’s good to have it, and bad to not.

Which, again, is a reflection of our larger culture. We value the “winners” – the ones who beat everyone else, shout the loudest, make the most money. The measure of success is how much power you have – so no wonder those who would give up power willingly to someone else are disdained.

You even see the devaluing of submissives and submission in the BDSM community. There’s been a lot of good stuff written about this subject, but one of the best is this essay about domism. And one phenomenon that always amused me is how submissives – on fetlife, in blogs, in real life – will trip over themselves to insist that they are not submissive in their day-to-day lives. And really, with that sort of cultural baggage, can you blame them? I’ve been guilty of it myself.

One thing I recently realized was that I came to accept my own submissiveness around the same time that my career started really taking off, after literally years of struggle, false starts and frustration. At the time, I thought it was because I was feeling more successful and confident that I was able to indulge my submissive side. And I think that was part of it.

But the ironic thing is that my career only really started taking off when I relaxed about it. Someday I hope to write more about this process, but it’s a long story and this blog post is already getting long enough as it is. Let’s just say that, after years of perfectionism and holding myself to impossible standards, I finally had a breakthrough moment where I had to accept my “imperfections.”

That was when things in my career started to fall into place, and when I started to accept my submissiveness. And I think part of the problem was that I had so internalized all those cultural messages about submission – that it meant I was weak, that no smart, feminist man would ever respect a woman who wanted to submit. But once I was finally able to accept that I was never going to be this ideal self I had in mind – and that that ideal self was kind of a bullshit, no fun, obnoxious person anyway! – I was able to think more clearly about what I actually wanted, and open up to the idea of living out my fantasies.

So I’m just going to say this straight out: if you are a feminist, please stop dismissing or otherwise shaming people who choose to be submissive. Because when you do so, you are reinforcing sexist, patriarchal ideas, and that is not cool.

Won’t someone please think of the children?

23 Feb

Apparently, ABC News did a segment on my porn boyfriend James Deen and his appeal among teenage girls. The piece is predictably sensationalist and pearl-clutching. They don’t actually say “won’t somebody please think of the children girls?” (because boys will be boys but girls watching porn is a Serious Problem) but they might as well have:

http://cdnapi.kaltura.com/index.php/kwidget/wid/0_p4wxdnn1/uiconf_id/6501231

I thought Deen held his own pretty well, even though the producers seemed intent on making this a story about Sleazy Porn Man leading your daughters into sin. I liked his main point, which is basically that kids will want to learn about sex, one way or another, and pretending that teenagers aren’t sexual is just silly.

And you know, I have a preteen cousin. I certainly don’t really like to think of her as a sexual being (she’ll pretty much always be 5 in my eyes) but if she is watching porn, I would much rather she watch a performer like Deen, who as I wrote before, is active and vocal in seeking his partner’s pleasure. And who makes sex look fun for everyone, not scary (well, some of the kink.com videos might be scary, but that’s another ball of wax).

Incidentally, you know where the vast majority of my readers come from? Google searches for James Deen. Even months and months after my one and only post about him.

Also, that girl they interviewed is right! James Deen is definitely the Ryan Gosling of porn.

More on objectifying language

16 Jan

Funnily enough, my internet friend Discerning Dom posted a piece on almost exactly the same time last night on the same topic as I did, objectifying language (although he phrased it in terms of “insults). His post is a great take from the other side of the coin – you should go read it.

It reminded me of a few points I meant to make in yesterday’s post. First, I’ve realized that I really only like this talk when it refers to sexual things. “Dirty, perverted whore”? Yes please. “Ugly, worthless, stupid whore”? Hell no, and get out of my house. I understand that some people do like the latter, and I can intellectually understand the appeal: having someone call you things you’re afraid of being called, and seeing that the sky doesn’t fall, that they’re still there. Lifting the rock and seeing what lies under there.

But for me, it just doesn’t work. Worthless? In most areas of my life, but especially in sex, I like to please, I like to be put to good use. Stupid? Well, that just makes me roll my eyes – I’ve always been The Smart Girl. I’m insecure on a lot of fronts, but my intelligence is not one of them. Ugly? Well, like 99.99% of women, I’ve struggled with my body image over the years, so I can’t say I’m totally secure there – but I don’t want to feel, even in play, that my partner thinks I’m ugly and is there anyway. I want to feel sexy and beautiful and desired.

Second, I don’t actually receive words like “slut” as insults. I think this is partly to do with my upbringing. I really was raised to feel that there was nothing wrong with a woman having lots of partners, or enjoying sex. Yes, there was a gap there, because I thought the kind of sex I liked was “wrong.” But the word “slut” has never really had much of a hold on me. If anything, I felt not sexual enough for most of my life. I wanted to be a sexual person, but there was a disconnect – I didn’t seem to be “into” sex in the way that other sexually liberated people seemed to be.

So to be called a slut, now that I have embraced my submissive sexuality, is actually very liberating. It’s a sign that I do now own my sexuality, and that my partner is celebrating it.

Objectifying language

15 Jan

Slut.

Whore.

Cunt.

These are all “bad” words, doubly so for a feminist. Not only are they insults, but they are insults based on sexist ideas about what women should be, what gives a woman her value as a person.

And yet, I love hearing them used to describe me, by the right person, in the right context. I love it. I also love having my partner “remind” me that I’m just there for him to use, or that only his enjoyment matters. Nothing sends me into that submissive headspace (which is a very happy, very aroused space for me) quicker than some good, objectifying dirty talk.

I’ve been thinking about this lately for a few reasons. One, the sadistic gentleman I’ve been playing with has quite a way with the dirty words, and I’ve been marveling at how just a few minutes of that can get me so worked up.

And then a reader that I’ve been emailing back and forth with expressed surprise at how I could be so glib about my love of objectifying language. After all, isn’t that anathema to feminism?

I responded by pointing out that the difference, to my mind is context – and, specifically, consent and specificity. I used a vanilla example to explain: if my (hypothetical at the moment) boyfriend grabbed my ass, I’d probably grin and grab his back, because I would view it as a cute, flirty move. If some guy on the street grabbed my ass, it would be assault. What’s the difference? The guy on the street knows nothing about me and certainly does not have my consent. My boyfriend knows I like that sort of thing and obviously has my consent.

As for objectifying dirty talk, to me, it’s the difference between me being his sex object because I’m female and women are supposed to be sex objects for men – and being his sex object because it’s a shared fantasy that we both find really hot. Gender may inform the choice of words, but it’s not why we play like this – if our genders were reversed, or we were the same gender, we would still play that way.

So that’s why I don’t find this kind of play unfeminist. But why do I find it hot?

Now, when I ask why, I don’t mean, “what made me this way?” I think that’s an unanswerable and fairly useless question.

What I mean is “what does this do for me?” I think it comes down to being in the moment. In my day-to-day life, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and an over-thinker. I think that, in a strange way, being cast into this role is a wonderful way of releasing myself to be present in the moment – to at least come closer to being a totally sexual being for a little while.

It’s also exciting to feel like my partner is losing his everyday persona for a while as well. To have a normally respectful, intelligent nice guy let loose with a barrage of vulgar terms like that – well, it makes me feel perversely powerful and extremely sexy.

What about you? Do you like this kind of language – why or why not?