BDSM and Feminism

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So Brian Macker raised a point in a comment to my personal ad that I've been meaning to clarify and discuss.

Brian writes,

Maybe I got this wrong but isn't a dominant woman going to want a guy
who can be shamed? Why would a dominant woman put up with you exploring
the poly lifestyle? Won't she reserve that perogative to herself and
lock you in your cage? Sounds like you are way to spirited and
unbreakable to me. What's the fun in trying to humilate someone who
can't be humiliated.

The problem here is a (reasonable and expectable) confusion that results from the term BDSM itself. So says Wikipedia:

The term "BDSM" is an abbreviation derived from the terms bondage and discipline, domination and submission and sadism and masochism. It defines a spectrum of usually sexual behavior, that can include dominance, submission, punishment, masochism, bondage, role play and a large variety of other activities.

BDSM refers to a group of related sexual preferences, but just because these preferences are related in some way does not mean that they are necessarily present in every case: Not every dom is a sadist; not every sub is a masochist. For some people, pain is pleasurable, both to give and receive; others prefer humiliation or just non-traditional gender roles. These preferences may be satisfied through role-playing, or may simply reflect underlying personality types, and are acted upon not just in the bedroom but throughout one's entire lifestyle.

I've read enough about the overall BDSM community to know that much of it is not for me. I do not like receiving pain, and I hate causing pain for others even more. I do not enjoy humiliation or shame in either direction. And yet there is something endearing about this alternative culture; something liberating and profound. These are people who are not afraid to buck (or enthusiastically embrace) gender stereotypes, to hell with what the rest of society thinks about them.

I remember reading a personal ad on a BDSM website by a women who used to consider herself "normal," but old-fashioned; she longed to be dominated by a man, not in any weird, freaky sense, but in a very conservative, traditional 1950s gender-roles way. She eventually realized that this sort of relationship was a thing of the past, a relic, and that times have changed so much that her preferences could only be met within an alternative lifestyle community.

Her case was instructive to me. By describing myself as submissive, interested in dominant women, I risk misleading people into thinking that I'm into all this weird stuff like pain and humiliatian and whips and chains and all sorts of freaky shit. Well, I'm not. It's just a description of my personality. And my personality, and the sorts of personalities I am looking for in other people, greatly differs from what present society considers normal for men and women.

Read any women's magazine or dating website, and you will find some columnist giving advice to women to not act "too smart" around men, as that will be a huge turn off and intimidate them. Instead, I suppose, this columnist is recommending... what? Pretend to be a ditz? Play the part of the dumb blonde?

Hey, if that's the sort of man a woman is looking for - the sort of man who is intimated by a more intelligent woman, the sort of man that has to always play the role of provider, decider, aggressor, initiatior - call all the shots, make all the decisions - I say, more power to both of them. I hope they find what they're looking for. But that's not for me. And yet I seem to be in the minority, so I've taken to associating with an alternative, minority community. And I don't really mind getting mistakenly lumped together with everyone in that community; that just goes with the territory of labels - ignorance and prejudgement are along for the ride.

At the risk of reading my personal preferences into a normative theory of the way society should be as a whole, I see an important connection between my interest in feminism and my interest in domination and submission. I believe that, as much as things may have improved in recent decades, we continue to live in a male-dominated society, with rigid expectations about acceptable gender roles, innumerable double standards regarding appropriate behavior for men and women, and countless other inequalities and injusticies, that - while not necessarily legally enforceable from a policy perspective, are worth fighting against with persuasion and culture hacks. One way of doing that, for me at least, is appropriating some of the language used by the BDSM community, if only to show how out of touch mainstream society is when it comes to healthy, ethical, egalitarian gender power relations. If that makes me a freak, so be it.

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Abusing the language

I don't think abusing the language is the way to go. Ayn Rand tried this with her "Virtue of Selfishness". Strangely she claimed to be using the term selfishness to refer to "Enlightend Self Interest" which reading her actual non-fiction could seem to be consistent. However, by doing so she lost an important distinction. There really is something called selfishness that people generally meant the term to apply to. Selfishness, as in, unenlightened and self distructive behavior.

In the end Rand herself fell pray to this very fault. Reading Brandons expose' on their affair and it's effects on not only Rands husband, but Rand and her movement it is easy to see that affair as both not being in her enlightened self interest and quite selfish in the traditional sense. I think her rethoric got the best of her.

So don't be surprised if some lady shows up at your doorstep with a whip, or worse she pulls it out after she's got you in a compromised position. After all you are responsible for this miscommunications.

If by submissive you merely mean that you have her do the bills, or you wash the dishes, or you share in the decision process then I don't think that counts. Besides it seems like you aren't talking marriage in the first place, so exactly how did you think the rest of us "dominate" our girlfriends? Domestic abuse. I think it far more common in the east, at least, for relationships to be more balanced. At least when you are not talking about Greek Orthodox, Hasidic Jews and the like.

I think the word you were looking for was liberal and not submissive.

Relative to the gender

Relative to the gender dynamics I see considered mainstream and normal in contemporary Western society, the sort of relationship I am looking for is accurately labeled submissive. I'd rather take the risks of confusion that come along with that than the typical risks associated with "normal" gendered relationships.

Nor do I see any incompatability between marriage--defined as an honest, committed, faithful, long term relationship--and polyamory or open lifestyle. Marriages need not be monogamous; in fact, I would argue that monogamy is inherently unstable and for most people incompatible with faithfulness and honesty.

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I would argue that monogamy is inherently unstable...

There is a self-reinforcing component inherent to monogamy. The greater the amount of time you invest in the relationship, the greater its perceived value. I feel less willing to jeopardize a 20 year relationship than a two year relationship.

...and for most people incompatible with faithfulness and honesty.

I'm not sure how monogamy would be incompatible with faithfulness. But I can see how it could be incompatible with honesty if you feel that being honest with your partner about your attraction to someone else is destructive to a monogamous relationship. The trick is to accept attraction as more or less uncontrollable, and judge your partner on their ability to control their urges.

Honesty

As someone who values honesty very higly, and even dare I say total transparency, this has proved a challenging issue to me.

As a man, I think it is only natural that I feel volatile temptations. Although I know I have more than enough strenght of character to ignore this, I feel the urge to acknowledge natural temptatio and it is often received... huh not so well. The worst is to be prompted about it.

Okay, to be honest...

...it was her idea. She's ruthlessly honest, and I could either deal with it or not. She'd get a crush on Russel Crowe, and I'd have to sit through all thirty of his movies and pretend like it didn't damage my ego in the least.

But eventually, she'd start finding flaws with him and I'd have the satisfaction of knowing I was the better man (at least in her eyes).

Look Around

It's a bit jarring to encounter a self-declared "submissive male." But now that I think about it, most married men I know are completely subservient to their wives.

The Indeterminacy of the Culture War and Progressivism

"I remember reading a personal ad on a BDSM website by a women who used to consider herself 'normal,' but old-fashioned; she longed to be dominated by a man, not in any weird, freaky sense, but in a very conservative, traditional 1950s gender-roles way. She eventually realized that this sort of relationship was a thing of the past, a relic, and that times have changed so much that her preferences could only be met within an alternative lifestyle community."

Thus, conservatism is rendered "alternative". Which is why a woman donning a burqa in San Francisco is more radical and counter-cultural than a pierced, punk rockin' lesbian biker. When cultural liberalism is the status quo, does traditionalism - especially of the old school, archaic peasant type - become, like, totally far out? Perhaps so.

Are "lipstick lesbians" MORE progressive than regular ol' lesbians because they've combined lesbianism with traditional methods of attracting straight men - quite imaginative and upsetting to both "camps" - or LESS progressive because they still adhere to visual cues traditionally of greatest value to horny, straight male chauvinist pigs? Who knows?

Unless one tries to claim that the Muslim woman was brainwashed while the biker wasn't (but what of the other examples?), which seems rather tenuous though convenient for Sociology 101, who is to say who is further along the path of "progress"? Subsituting environmental context and social pressure is a better way of determining whehter something is "alternative" or "anti-establishment", but it can't tell us whether it is "progressive", i.e. something further along the road toward human equality and cultural emancipation.

Lipstick Lesbians

Presumably lipstick lesbians are trying to attract other lesbians, not men, which is an unfortunate side effect they probably ameliorate by hanging out in lesbian bars. Do worry they aren't trying to cock tease you.

Besides if you are against lesbians doing it to you presumably you are against the other 99.999999% of straight women doing it who are never going to sleep with you. So why target the lesbians?

I think I missed whatever

I think I missed whatever point you were trying to make, assuming you were trying to make one. Sure, it can sometimes be tough to tease out genuine, self-chosen, healthy desires from socially constructed, socially shoved-down-you're throat pseudo desires. But do any of us honestly believe that in all but the smallest minority of cases, the burqa is self chosen? That in all but the smallest minority of cases, female genital mutilation would have been self chosen? In all but the smallest minority of cases, women actually enjoy being beaten and raped by their husbands? No, reasonable people have no trouble distinguishing progress from regress.

I didn't mean "progressive" in the generally liberal sense...

...of individual rights, but rather cultural progressivism, meaning progress AWAY from male headed households, maternalism and religion and TOWARD free love, bisexuality, and secularism, etc. Whether someone is beaten as a child to believe something is in this case beside the point.

You sort of inadvertently made my point about the incommensurability of "regressive" and "progressive" cultures. That's why I used that particular quote of yours. Is a woman who arrives at a preference for self-submission and male domination behind a "veil of ignorance" (of patriarchy, history, etc.) choosing a "regressive" lifestyle? History and patriarchy may mean shit-all to her.

Which brings me to the Muslim woman in San Francisco. She resides in a country where self identified secular, single feminist women on average have more "social power" than a conservative Muslim woman. Thus, the secular feminists are the tradition, the establishment. Is the Muslim woman then the proper target of progressive concern, and indeed perhaps more progressive?

>Sure, it can sometimes be tough to tease out genuine, self-chosen, healthy desires from >socially constructed, socially shoved-down-you're throat pseudo desires.

Yes, it can be. It can be even harder to tell a Muslim woman in Algeria that she's wrong when she says, when asked, "Yes, I choose to be Muslim."

I think the proper way to

I think the proper way to look at conservatism / progressivism is not to look at it based on current standards. It doesn't really make sense to define conservatism as conformism to the more or less recently established rule.

A better indicator is to look at the spontaneity of the institutions proposed by both. A woman who whishes to mary and live in a stable monogamous relationship is conservative, even if she lives in the middle of a free-love community, simply because she is valuing a way of life that is, arguably, more natural and specific to humans.

The word "arguably" is key,

The word "arguably" is key, of course, since monogamy is not at all natural to humans or animals in general.

Research supports the claim that lifelong sexual monogamy is unnatural and unrealistic. Biologists have strong evidence that social monogamy is rare among animals, and that sexual monogamy is even rarer, as most socially monogamous species are not sexually monogamous. [11] [12] [13] [14] It would be somewhat odd if people were sexually monogamous for life. The fact that 80-85% of societies allow polygynous marriage further argues against the idea that sexual monogamy is built in to human nature. [1] [2] [3] Studies of extramarital affairs and divorce provide evidence that lifelong sexual monogamy is unrealistic. Substantial numbers of people engage in extramarital sex. [15] [16] [17] About half of married people in the United States divorce, and the majority of divorced people find new partners and marry again. [18] Many people, perhaps the majority, simply do not live up to the expectation of lifelong sexual monogamy.

Maybe one should make a

Maybe one should make a distinction between something being naturally desired and naturally occurring. It may be that people evolved to desire monogamy, but often can't live up to that desire.

That's also what I think. Or

That's also what I think.

Or rather monogamy is a prisonner's dilemma.

We expect fidelity from the other partner and trade away our potential other partners for that garanty. We are then torn between our reputation, the desire to hold to our word and the temptation of extramarital sex.

 

I for myself argue that

I for myself argue that monogamy is more natural :)

But I think I don't use the correct definition of the term, since it includes for me extra-marital sex and eventually divorce. 

I do include extra-marital sex, because occasional infedility does not contradict monogamy, as long as it is frowned upon.

It is obviously natural that a man cares more about is wife not  having extra-marital affairs than his wife does about him. Both don't want it to happen, but the enforcement will be less strict from the woman's part and she is more prone to forgive. Therefore, while both expect a monogamous relationship, infringements may happen, but they remain infringements.

I also think of monogamy as a status of a relationship, not something that necesseraly extends in time, that's why I stated stable monogamy, to indicate a certain timespan.  Of course, a changing environment mean natural behaviors are also bound to change, contraception changes the way cheating is  to be perceived, specifically by men.

I do however believe that many environmental changes where actually brought upon unaturaly by the state. Social security, public schooling, etc.

Monogamy is unstable....

...sure. For different reasons, men and women have drives to cheat. But for those same reasons, polyamory is even more unstable. Simply put, love and sex are chaotic realms.

That quote does not support polyamory. It supports polygyny, something that has existed in nearly every society in which some men became very rich. For both biological and cultural reasons, polygyny has been historically frequent whereas polyandry is virtually unheard of.

For those cultural progressives reading this: You do realize that monogamous marriage is the ultimate egalitarian human tradition don't you?

I didn't mean

I didn't mean "progressive" in the generally liberal sense of individual rights, but rather cultural progressivism, meaning progress AWAY from male headed households, maternalism and religion and TOWARD free love, bisexuality, and secularism, etc.

I don't make a sharp distinction between those two uses. They are closely connected and mutually reinforcing.

Is a woman who arrives at a preference for self-submission and male domination behind a "veil of ignorance" (of patriarchy, history, etc.) choosing a "regressive" lifestyle?

She might be. She might not. It's hard to say in any individual case. But it's surely true that for the vast majority of people living lives of subjection and submission, most would not have chosen that lifestyle if they were truly informed of the options available, despite their own acquiesance to the contrary.