Wednesday, March 01, 2006

OK, now on to the serious stuff...
Somehow I seem to have managed to get myself into a fight over at I Blame The Patriarchy. This does not make me happy, as I like and admire Twisty very much, and I generally agree with almost everything she has to say.
I think she's dead wrong about this, though. I am referring of course to the great feminist BSDM debate, which seems to flare up on a regular basis over there. I will freely admit that I have been guilty of starting conversations on this subject myself, but I'm beginning to really wish that I hadn't and that everyone would just shut up about it before we all rip each other's throats out.
Here's the thing - feminists have been arguing about this since the seventies. None of that arguing has ever produced anything even vaguely resembling a consensus. Both sides of the debate are quite firmly entrenched in their views, and neither side is likely to budge or change their opinions at this point. Despite the tendency on both sides to assume that the other side just doesn't know what they're talking about the fact is that most people who hold strong opinions on this subject hold them for a reason, and as such they are unlikely to be swayed by any arguments the other side has to offer. Why then are we still arguing about it?
For the record, I think that BSDM is like most other things - it has the potential to be either good or bad, and how it plays out in practise depends greatly on the ethics and motivations of the people involved. I've met some people who've had horrible experiences with BSDM, and others who have stepped in, had a great time and stepped out again when they got bored with no harm done. I have also met a smaller but stastically significant number of people for whom BSDM is simply part and parcel of who they are - they don't enjoy vanilla sex, and seem to simply be wired in such as way that they will always feel the need to play out power issues in the bedroom. I just don't see what purpose is served by telling these people that they are failing the feminist cause and not living up to their ideals every time they pick up a flogger or put on a corset. I also see no reason why those who are anti-BSDM continue to insist that all BSDM is male dom/female sub or that the only real female doms are the pros, who are not really doms since they are only doing what they do at the sufference of their male partners, who could withdraw that sufference at any time.
See, it's not that I don't understand the point that the anti's are trying to make. I just don't agree with them. It's kind of ironic that I'm even involved with this conversation, given that I've been out of the scene for over 10 years (I was one of the ones who had a good time while it lasted but eventually got bored with the ritualistic aspect of things, in case anyone is wondering).
I could go on about the many ways in which I think the anti side are misunderstanding what BSDM is really all about (I could start with the fact that not all female doms are pro's and/or paid for their time, a particularly annoying assumption since it essentially implies that all female doms are prostitutes, not a nice thing for one feminist to be implying to another). That would however clearly be a waste of my time, as the point has been made before without it doing anything to resolve the debate. As has just about every other point that could conveivably be made about this issue.
That's the purpose of this little rant, and what keeps prompting me to get involved in this conversation. As feminists we need to realise that we are a small movement with lots of enemies. Between the religious wack-jobs and the crazy money-grubbing Republicans and your basic garden variety sexists we have plenty of actual opponents to do battle with, real opponents who really do want to do us harm and reverse every gain that we've made in the past hundred years. Why the hell are we wasting our time fighting each other? Given the country's current rapid drift towards a Handmaiden's Tale-like nightmare with no legal abortion and a crappy economy and the dismantling of Social Security, can we really not find something more important to worry about than policing the way that other people fuck? When you stop to think about it it's actually kind of absurd - we're facing some of the greatest actual threats to the feminist project in years and we're busy arguing amongst ourselves about what is and is not an acceptable way for a feminist to get her rocks off. Simone De Beavoir must be rolling in her grave.
So please, people, rather than spending our time attacking each other over what are after all rather private matters can we not all just agree to disagree and get on with the actual business at hand, namely taking our country back from the dangerous lunatics who are currently attempting to drag us all back to the Stone Age?


belledame222 said...

I share your sentiments on all sides; this is why I took IBTP off my blogroll. Well, that and the anti-porn/anti-high heels, and the whole "sex is frivolous and inane (but we're still not going to stop talking about it)", etc. etc.

My beef was more with the more um emphatic posters over there; with Twisty I sort of get a general impression of "been there, done that, I'd rather have a nice cup of tea, thankyouverymuch." Some of the others, I think could pass nicely for fundamentalist Christians if you just made a couple of cosmetic changes. (and/or Linda Blair in the Exorcist). Either way I've had my fill. I get enough crap about my sexual expression and inner life from the ever-encroaching radical right wing; I don't need this bullshit from supposed allies.

Nobody--*nobody*--that I know of at least--says that anyone who doesn't like porn, leather, what have you, has to participate in it. If they are, that's abusive and controlling. Telling other people what they think and feel, though (or that they must needs be sick or deluded if they think or feel differently from you): know what? That's controlling, too. Some might even call it abusive. God knows some of the language used on that board to smear My People could be construed as abusive. Much worse, though, is when you just don't listen.

So, yeah, some of us will probably never see eye to eye. I can even get, intellectually at least, why someone would feel put off by BDSM (porn--anything, really) to the point where they just can't accept it.

What I *don't* get is why supposed feminists spend so much time on these supposedly sickening subjects, to the point where one might get the impression, reading some people, that dirty pictures and fetish heels pose a greater threat to womankind than the Taliban and Randall Terry rolled into one.

Of course, it's a lot easier to vent at people who look at and/or make dirty pictures than to go after the Taliban or the Christian Coalition; we're closer, and, frankly, more vulnerable.

Finally: orgasms *are* a valid end in themselves. Damn right they are. You have something better to offer? Show, don't tell. Because bitching and moaning about how fucked up everything is, that one, I know very well. Shared pleasure? Playfulness? The whole gamut of emotions and tactile sensations? Creativity? Authentic expression? Spirituality, even? Those are part of sex, and they are part of being human; and they bloody well are worth fighting for, even outside of a romantic relationship.

belledame222 said...

>since it essentially implies that all female doms are prostitutes, not a nice thing for one feminist to be implying to another

Well, there's a lot wrapped up in that implication:

1) the assumption that sex workers are to be looked down on, which is exactly the same position as that of the patriarchy (or what you will; mainstream, reactionary)

2) that women couldn't possibly *enjoy* topping men for their own sake. Which denies women a sexual agency of their very own ("I *like* BDSM" "No, you only think you do; I know better"), and implies a fear of the idea of women as aggressively sexual, or aggressive in general. Which, again, sounds an awful lot like the Establishment.

3) the insistence that men *must needs* have the power in any transaction except the elusive completely egalitarian one, which I take it will always be tainted in any case as long as we live in a fallen erm patriarchal society (i.e. for the forseeable ever). Men are dominant, most sexuality is exploitive, and That's The Way It Is. Even if you think you've come to a way of living which contradicts this paradigm, and/or even (gasp) makes you happy, well, you're probably wrong. Which tends to lead one to the conclusion: well, shit, why even bother?

The Haikuist said...

This is what results from feminist political theory that is devoid of any kind of class analysis. Non-socialist feminism sees the patriarchy as the source of all evil in society, but amazingly tends to be silent on the role that that capitalist ruling class has to play in our political and economic system. It focuses more on telling people what they should do with their personal lives than with overturning the economic and political structures that oppress working people in society. Despite the supposedly "radical" nature of this kind of "radical feminism", it is really liberalism with a radical mask.

I believe that only by integrating feminism with a socialist analysis can the path to human liberation be found. Socialist feminism, as a synthesis of feminist and socialist ideas, is much more radical than the so-called "radical feminism" that tells people how to run their lives will ever be.

My two cents worth, anyway.

belledame222 said...

I don't believe that any "ism" will fix the problem, particularly, of itself. I think more empathy or at least more basic curiousity about how other people work as well as better critical thinking, all 'round, would help at least some.

you are right though: certainly at least wrt sex work, it's pointless to talk about the patriarchy without a serious consideration of class.

The thing about BDSM is, it's like a funhouse mirror, an erotic theater of sorts, reflecting all sorts of deep-rooted personal and cultural stuff, including, but not limited to, gender roles, class, race, family of origin stuff, and much much more. It's not meaningless; but it's equally important not to reify someone's play session or fantasy as a literal interpretation of what goes on in the real world. (Which is not to say that bad boundaries and abusive shit don't happen even within enacted fantasies; it's just, they don't happen *because* it's BDSM, I maintain)

Of course, you could go the whole Jean Genet route and take the position that it's *all* a big erotic theater of power and roleplays. All the world's a stage, and the play being enacted is rather airless and nihilistic and exitless (albeit exquisite), at least in the world of Genet. Then again, Genet's not the only author out there who deals with this stuff. which is good, 'cause I find him kind of pretentious and unbearable.

Arwen said...

I actually guest posted on Pandagon about porn because, although *personally* I have an allergy to porn, I can't make any anti-porn philosophical statements against (or ostensibly in support for) women working in various aspects of the sex trade or on the consumers that use their materials. I myself have a problem because if there's a person involved, I don't know how to tell if they're having a good time, and so I get terribly turned off by the consumption: there's a basic psychological association through experiences I've had that they're not having a good time (which I admit may be inaccurate in good porn cases), but which gets in the way of me enjoying a partner who enjoys porn.

OTOH, I am aware there are women having a good time, and all the power to them: I suggested at Pandagon only that people seek out the good-time porn if they were into photographic porn consumption.

In that subsequent discussion, I understood a little bit more clearly where the anti-whatevers activists come from. After all, all I had said is that *I* didn't like porn, and couldn't be with someone who consumed it - call it a personal kink: yet I was belittled in many ways and called controlling. It's not controlling to have a preference, but whatever. (And I'm open about the preference.) Anyway, there was a lot of defensiveness that lead to attack on me.

By the end of it, I was defending my own choices to various liberal men. I know better: the right answer to someone attacking my sexual agency and enjoyment is "F*ck Off, Assmunch." Still, I ended up talking about my own entitlement to my feelings. This meant that some of the women I *support* - the women that are doing good-feeling porn - felt attacked, which was not my intent at all. (Problems resolved off board.)

By the end of the whole discussion, I was feeling sort of Twisty. I mean, often I find her amusing, and the stuff she finds, horrifying: but I have not had the same experiences of "men" as a group. Especially regarding bdsm and burlesque and other sex work or play, I find her analysis to often strip agency or perception away from women and put them in the hands of men, which seems to me a bit backslidely.

The discussions at Pandagon gave me an eye-opener into what maybe Twisty's writing about - by the end, I wanted to drag a bunch of guys out into a horse barn and tell them to sit there until they got over their dicks, thank'ee. My personal feelings about sex are my own, all I asked is that they be a little more *selective* in their porn purchasing. You'd think I asked them to join monastaries. Some insulted my husband; others impuned I was a prude; still others saw my actions as emasculating. No one could accept that FOR ME, it's a painful thing; I was not about to disclose all of the history as to why that's true, and nor should I have had to.

Why would they be so threatened? I understood they were maybe fighting their own partners instead of me: still... For fuck sakes, own your sexuality and be a bloody ADULT about your preferences. Tell your partner your preferences, listen to his or her feelings, and negotiate a middle ground or walk away. For crying, out, f*cking, loud. Anyone with a preference does that. An ex-boyfriend of a friend of mine liked feeling her teeth during the act. He had to find a relationship with a partner who was comfortable with that. Duh. All people have their own expressions of their sexuality...

Anyway, by the end of it I was feelingly steamingly anti-porn from no position but hating this group of juvenile supposed liberals with their "men always lie" and "your husband is a pussy-whipped non-man" subtexts. Further, there seemed to be some idea that without photographic porn, men can't masturbate. Feel sorry for all men before the invention of the camera, I suppose.

Several deep breaths later, and I'm still back to a pro-porn position. Because sex work has been primarily female, and females have been economically and socially repressed, I do think there are positive and powerful changes that can happen to the sex trade as a whole to mean that Larry Flint gets turfed, and women make the money off their own bodies. Real representations of women's sexuality is also always good: horny naked happy women is good. Exploited hurt naked women is bad.

I do believe that women have their own agency and perception, and frankly *that's* more important to me than the perception of the assmunches. Having been utterly surprised by the level of belittlement/defensiveness/and anger coming my direction, though, I went "OOOOH. That's what Twisty's talking about."

I still am on a different feminist playbook than Twisty, but I have a better understanding about "the sex class" than I did before. I was being put back in my place... by guys I don't know and who probably wouldn't want to have sex with me anyway. Weird.

belledame222 said...

Yeah, that's fair enough. Lord knows I don't have much patience for boyz with entitlement issues (i.e. quite a very few of them). Or for boyz, erotically speaking, in general.

For me, porn means mainly sites like Cy-Dy, which as far as I can tell is a few friends and lovers who really love sex and exhibition and are making a career out of it. Vintage burlesque. I think it makes total sense to ask that people be a little more careful when choosing porn purveryors; much in the same way (and for many of the same reasons, though of course this one isn't interesting enough to talk about one tenth as much) as one might consider where one buys one's clothes from. There are a handful of socially conscious and/or private designers and sellers; and then there's the rest of the bigass corporate glut of garment manufacturing, some of which is hideously exploitive (hello, Jack Abramoff), some of which...somewhat less so. You pays your money and you takes your choice. And you figure that unless you're living in a self-sufficient commune or something, you are, by dint of your very existence, exploiting the hell out of quite a number of people, albeit by one or two degrees of separation. As the above poster notes, (advanced, corporate) capitalism becomes the elephant in the boudoir. No one is immune from objectification, as in, stripped of humanity to one degree or another, in this system.

If one wants to respond, well, I need to wear clothes, but I don't need to watch porn, I completely get that.

What I don't get is how somehow the *desire* to look at sex acts or nekkid pretty people is bad--excuse me, "patriarchal"--in and of itself. It's actually very a very Victorian POV: men are beasts, women are virtuous because their lustful and aggressive drives are far lesser (or indeed nonexistent. or, one sometimes infers, ought to be). If you're coming from that POV, then sex work isn't a problem because it's often exploitive (even as is say working in a garment factory); sex work is unfeminist/patriarchal/degrading/whatever because it's SEX, pure and simple. Which, well, no. I don't think.

What especially grates my cheese is when a young born-again Dworkinite straight male (I've encountered two, now, and they're both horrifying; one far more ubiquitous than the other) pops up in feminist spaces, and not only presumes to start loudly, ill-informedly, and creepily "educating" women about BDSM, porn, womens' orgasms (!) , but, apparently, gets taken seriously by actual feminists (and not just their wacky girlfriend, either). At this point I'm thinking any "radical" feminist who's taking this (these) guy(s) seriously as an ally just lost whatever remaining credibility they had with me. First rule of being a feminist ally: liberal, radical, whatever: when a woman tells you her story, you sit back and you shut the fuck up, and you *listen,* goddamit.

>Several deep breaths later, and I'm still back to a pro-porn position. Because sex work has been primarily female, and females have been economically and socially repressed, I do think there are positive and powerful changes that can happen to the sex trade as a whole to mean that Larry Flint gets turfed, and women make the money off their own bodies. Real representations of women's sexuality is also always good: horny naked happy women is good. Exploited hurt naked women is bad.

>>I do believe that women have their own agency and perception, and frankly *that's* more important to me than the perception of the assmunches


Arwen said...

belledame222 - I totally agree: it's very much like being conscious of where you get your clothing. As a first world consumer, I know that a lot of my life creates undue burden on the other people on this planet, but I do what I can to mitigate it - by making better choices, by writing letters, by acknowledging my privilege, etc. Anyway, I understand the urge to look at good looking people; hell, I watch speed skating of both genders not entirely for the sport of it.

Anyway, I went back and read some of Twisty's threads and I saw two women say they weren't sure they could be called feminists, anymore. And that makes me sad. There *is* strength in identification to movement, but dissing someone's ability to make choices that are good for her seems pretty antithetical to the whole point. Sometimes, I hear other women saying "I'd be feminist but my choices aren't" - be it kink, or stay at home momming, or even (in some cases) heterosexuality: and then I hear disavowals and "that's just anti-feminist rhetoric that you're (stupidly) mistaking for us". It's NOT always the anti-feminists though. There are lots of forms of feminism: some which interrogate class, like the haikuist; some who interrogate heirarchy as patriarchal, like Twisty; some like me who are more focused on gender roles and definition. (I'm also socialist, but actually my concepts of class and of women are discrete areas, with overlap, certainly - but my economic belief is not predicated on feminist principles or vice versa.)

So sometimes it is feminists who say things that other feminists or women are going to find disturbing or repugnant. I think that those of us who claim the label can actually *celebrate* that: Look!, women are individuals with differences of opinion! We don't have to be homogenous, ANY MORE THAN MEN ARE!

There *is* no answer to "what women want"; and for me, what feminism means is empowering women to be who they are and what they want. Patriarchy notwithstanding, intelligent people can and do ask questions and challenge the culture they are in. I find the disparagement of "choice" feminism frustrating: Listen. If other women were able to see that their choices were being constrained, why wouldn't we extend the possibility that other women with brains can figure out what works for them in a hostile culture? Maybe giving them room to change and grow in their ideas of themselves and the world?

Also, thanks for the tip to "cruelty-free" porn. Now I have a resource to direct people to, besides Susie Bright! It's good to have options. It also felt really good to vent that, because Pandagon went kind of ape-shit. So thanks for the space, Cassandra, and your collective time.

And I totally love the expression "it grates my cheese". I'm going to have to use it.

jack (aka angrybrownbutch) said...

I arrived here through a long and winding road of blogs and links, but just wanted to say that I've been embroiled in debate since yesterday over this very thing, inspired by Twisty's point, and - yeah. I agree with a lot that you, Cassandra, and belledame222 and arwen have written here. I'd write more, myself, but I've already spent WAY too much time on this particular debate today, and work is suffering! But yeah - thanks for what you've (all) written.

Arwen said...

Hey, BritGirl; I wanted you to know I linked this post in my post on what it takes to be a feminist - march 9th. I dunno if you're around right now, but if you are, that post is the thinking I've done about "The Big Tent" as of late.

I've made it a very big tent, but in that tent we cannot all be assumed to believe anything particular. I'm comfortable with that; also, I hope I've given some help in wandering through the muddy bounds of all our different feminisms...

morisdenton71829121 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
FoolishOwl said...

Hey, glad to see you posting again.

I'd still like to meet you and your significant other some time. This weekend, I'm headed to Socialism 2006 in New York, but after that would be cool.

Ronan Jimson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cassandra Says said...

I'm back again...I was struck by Arwen's point (missed your guest appearence at Pandagon, sorry!) about the way people reacted to her post. I've experienced the same thing. I've been called a prude - yep, BSDM-loving, don't car either way about porn other than as a socialist issue (ie I worry about how people get into it and how it may be harming those who make it - how many children of the elite do you see in that industry?), notably fond of the men in my immediate circle, punk/metal girl me. It was laughable, and it's happened more than once.
So yeah...the defensive reaction is very telling. However, I still don't think it justifies talking down to one's fellow feminists and implying that they don't know their own minds.
Side note - I do hope belledame sticks around, I think she and I would get along famously.

belledame222 said...

-waves- :-)