Thinking Kink: No, Female Submission Doesn't Mean Oppression

This is the second part of a two-part series on female submission and oppression. Read the first post here.

"[Some feminists believe] that our society is so patriarchal that women cannot validly participate in S/M...I don't suppose these authors would would say that our society is so patriarchal that a woman cannot validly consent to have an abortion." Jay Wiseman, author of S/M 101.

The woman who admits to enjoying sexual submission often finds herself stuck between the rock of a sexist society that tells her she's just exemplifying women's true nature, and the hard place of a feminist community that considers her brainwashed by the patriarchy. Why is a female submissive so rarely accepted as "a woman just plain getting her rocks off," Cliff Pervocracy wonders? A deeply unhelpful media may be part of the answer. As feminist kinkster Mollena Williams, co-author of Playing Well With Others, points out, "If people see the imagery of BDSM, whips, chains, pain, the serial killers of film and television...? Of course they may be repelled and confused." That itself doesn't make an activity wrong, or anti-feminist. The feminists who condemn female submissives "mistake their sexual preferences for a universal system that will or should work for everyone," says pro-BDSM feminist Gayle Rubin. When women's sexual behavior is subject to negative scrutiny and found "wanting" by other women, it isn't feminism—it's bigotry, often fueled by little more than personal prejudices.

Sexual judgment can be a one-way street in the feminist community, with the supposedly all-knowing,Cover of 'The S&M Feminist' by Clarisse Thorn superior feminist criticizing the "brainwashed," patriarchy-internalizing woman who enjoys BDSM. Yet no one dares ask what makes anti-BDSM feminists so neutral. Perhaps we feel it would be unsisterly, but what's sisterly about feminists telling other feminists that they are "dupes of the patriarchy?" Those who condemn female submissives need to consider what conditioning has created their own sexual compass before they judge others. As Cliff Pervocracy says, "I don't get on vanilla women's cases about how maybe they're only vanilla because society discourages women from unconventional sexual choices." Plus, the conditioning argument is overly simplistic—for Mollena Williams, coming out as a submissive involved rejecting, not embracing, much of her conditioning. She says, "I was taught that being strong was the first thing you had to be, especially ... as a black woman. To be submissive, to be obedient, was NOT acceptable." 

Anti-BDSM feminists also need to understand the difference between consensual kink and violence against women, as they regularly fail to distinguish between the two. While a woman being dominated in a BDSM scenario and a rape scene may look similar to the untrained viewer, they're about as different from each other as skydiving and being shoved out of an airplane. In direct opposition to a culture which so often disregards women's consent and desire, BDSM places the submissive's right to choose—the right to change their mind, the right to say no, the right to pleasure—front and center. Since when did patriarchy care about women enjoying any of those privileges? BDSM often prioritizes consent and safety far more effectively, especially for heterosexual women, than the sexual culture of the vanilla mainstream.

That it's only women whose sexual tastes are dismissed as a mere result of sexist brainwashing is likely due to our culture's penchant for denying women their agency. When did you last hear of a man who enjoyed the services of a dominatrix being accused of not really wanting his salary, or the vote, or a life free from violence? Speculating that women enjoy sexual submission because "free will is such a burden for 21st century women" is to take a patronizing and limited view of women's intelligence and sexuality. People are aroused by many things that are not necessarily indicative of their wider lives. And why does no one ever consider that it is only when one's status in society is not in question that it feels safe to surrender power? As Stacey May Fowles writes, "the more I submitted sexually, the more I was able to be autonomous in my external life, the more I was able to achieve equality in my sexual and romantic partnerships."

By condemning subs, feminists are taking autonomy away from submissives. Fowles observes that, in the recent media shitstorm about 50 Shades, "no one took the time to actually even ask one [female] submissive what her personal wants or needs are." Cliff Pervocracy agrees: "When I look you in the eye and say 'I want this, I chose this, I sought this out,' believe me. If you trust women to know their own needs, believe me; and if you don't, don't call yourself a feminist."

Previously: Does Female Submission Mean Oppression?, Did Jared Leto and 30 Seconds to Mars Do BDSM Better?

Top right image: cover of recommended read The S&M Feminist by sex-positive activist Clarisse ThornBottom left: from the excellent Yes Means Yes! blog.

by Catherine Scott
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Catherine Scott is author of "Thinking Kink: The Collision of Feminism, BDSM, and Pop Culture," a book inspired by the kink-themed blog series she wrote for Bitch in 2012. She has also written for Ms, the Women's Media Center, the BBC, The Times Literary Supplement and The Daily Telegraph among many others. Her second book To Deprave and Corrupt is due in early 2018.

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37 Comments Have Been Posted

Also there's that whole thing

Also there's that whole thing of lesbian kink - how can it be "conforming to the patriarchy" when a woman submits to another woman? :)

I disagree. I think the

I disagree.

I think the enormous sales of Fifty Shades is dangerous for women at large. I think BDSM is something a woman can make a choice to engage in and I respect that choice. But we seem to be blurring the lines here. The average reader will not know the difference.

I think it is somewhat

I think it is somewhat patronising to assume that the 'average reader' is incapable of googling the term BDSM and educating themselves about the relationship in 50 Shades, if they are sufficiently curious. I'm also not sure how you can claim that BDSM is a choice that you're OK with women engaging in, yet say that women enjoying one work of fiction is 'dangerous' for them.

I would propose that anyone, BDSM expert or complete novice, can see that the relationship and characters in 50 Shades are deeply unrealistic and is not going to jump to any massive conclusions about the nature of men, women, sex, or BDSM based upon one extremely badly-written piece of Twilight fan-fiction.

I recently met a woman at a BDSM play party who was new to the scene. She had read 50 Shades and thought it was rubbish. So, she had bought herself S/M 101 by Jay Wiseman instead. People aren't stupid - they know where to look when they are genuinely interested in something, and are willing to do their research.

50 Shades of Gray

I haven't read the book, although I did read as much of the Sleeping Beauty series by Anne Rice as I could.

It seems to me that most people, male or female, who aren't into kink wouldn't understand what is being written about. I think we've all had encounters with vanilla partners who refuse to accept the power dynamic or see that there is benefit to both partners in it. They just aren't wired that way. I wonder if this isn't true of a lot of people who read these books.

I think submission is okay for some, as long as they only read about it. Romance novels have been objectifying women forever. It's a way to enjoy a taste, without risking anything. It is a socially acceptable way to indulge in power play fantasies. Largely, I think this makes these books pretty harmless rather than inviting abuse.

I don't think simply googling BDSM will 'educate' most people. Talking with a dom or sub won't either. Unless they have the proclivity (Is that the right word?) to enjoy power exchange. Otherwise, most people I know look at BDSM with a cocked head and, at best, a "huh?"

As a dominant male, these books do nothing for me and I love erotica. I'd much rather 'play' with my sub than read about it. Just my input...

I have to completely disagree

I have to completely disagree with you here, Catherine. As a BDSM educator who's working on a consent project, stories like "50 Shades", "The Story of O" (which also has some terrible consent guidelines, coercion, emotional blackmail), "Secretary" (which features a boss crossing boundaries with an employee, but it's ok, cause she likes it?) and more all feature problematic situations lacking an understanding of verbal and nonverbal consent. Considering the number of stories I have heard from people who have gone into kinky community seeking the romanticized mind reader Dominant and been badly hurt in the process, I think it's vital to address that these depictions, while mirroring social expectations of how vanilla romance works, become much more dangerous when you add kinky play and power dynamics into the equation. Not everyone when they first start exploring this have access to varying levels of critique. Never mind that going on the internet for quality factual information involves knowing enough about a topic to effectively sort the wheat from the chaff. I don't think it's patronizing to point that out, but rather an important part of a solid critique of feminism, BDSM, and choice (which *has* been done, and done well, while still acknowledging these things).

BDSM is not beyond the power structures we live in. It *can* be an effective and fun way to challenge those structures, to re-envision them, to bend them to our purposes. It can also be a way to perpetuate them. Until the BDSM community at large begins to acknowledge that in a structural way, I don't think we'll be very effective at dealing with abuse within this community.

Also- just because someone is a community leader does not mean that they're actually safe. When gathering stories for Consent Culture's blog carnival, over 50% of the stories were people who were community leaders, who taught workshops and were dungeon monitors. I don't think that correlation equals causation, by any means, but I do think we MUST really examine and discuss these things if we truly care about the multifaceted nature of consent.

Yeah, I see what you're

Yeah, I see what you're saying, but it's also true of sex generally. That romanticized omniscient Dom? You could substitute sex partner for Dom and you have another recipe for potential disaster. Establishing any sexual relationship without talking about boundaries, expectations, like and dislikes has the potential to create to some pretty messed up dynamics that mimic oppressive social structures. It's not just a problem in the BDSM community. The problem isn't that certain books and movies are dangerous for certain women/kinksters, it's patriarchy infused in these media that is dangerous. The lack of a culture of consent everywhere trickles into the scene, which is a distinction that you almost make, but what's lacking is the reality that it can happen in the most vanilla of sexual scenarios and be just as damaging.

What's patronizing about assuming that people can't educate themselves about X is that it assumes that they could about Y, but X is so complex that the average person needs an expert guide. BDSM isn't particle physics, it's a type of sex that some people enjoy. When we have a sex-positive culture that embraces consent and talking about sex being crucial to sexual fulfillment, the BDSM community will benefit along with every other person/community that engages in sex.

What's further patronizing about saying X bit of fiction/media is dangerous to women is that it assumes that those works don't cater to women who have those fantasies. Some of us thought Secretary was a seriously hot fantasy piece about a boss crossing boundaries in a way that seriously turned us on, BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT WE'RE INTO. Some of us have fantasies that involve shady/no consent and thus fucking loved the Story of O. Some of us have rape fantasies. Telling us that porn/media/fiction that caters to those fantasies is inherently dangerous to us is insulting and patronizing. And it's tantamount to telling us that our fantasies are dangerous and wrong and that thus a certain type of sex is dangerous and wrong.

All sex requires negotiation and what we should be working towards is a sex positive culture wherein all couplings start with the "what are you into" conversation, followed quickly by the "how do you want to establish consent during sex" question. Now matter how vanilla or outrageously kinky we are.

We can't possibly judge an

We can't possibly judge an entire aspect of sexuality (both ancient and modern) only by one piece of modern art produced portraying it.


Many good points made here by the BDSM feminists. But as someone who's not into BDSM, I wish those who are would stop referring to me as "vanilla." If you're making the case that everyone should be free to do what they like without being judged, why call non-BDSM people a derogatory name that implies they're all prudish bores?

You anticipated me,

You anticipated me, Anonymous! - I have already planned a post for later in this blog series on whether 'vanilla' has become a perjorative term. I would ask that you consider where the assumption that vanilla = prude originates from. For the BDSM community it started out simply as a term to refer to non-BDSM people. I think that yes, since then, the term has transformed into something negative as the cultural pressure for everyone to be leading insanely exotic sex lives has intensified. But I'm not sure kinksters are the ones to blame. If 'vanilla' has become a stick to beat people with, I'd be looking at the media, the writers of sexual self-help books, women's magazines and many other sources before I'd accuse the BDSM community of being judgemental of others' sexual tastes.
Look out for my post on this in the next couple of weeks!

Vanilla has always been pejorative

Yes, "vanilla" has always been somewhat pejorative. Before it was picked up by the BDSM community it still meant "run of the mill" or "boring" or "ordinary." I will argue that most BDSM people who use this term do indeed mean it to imply that those not interested in kink are "boring." It is kind of their response to people calling them "freaks" or "sick," which of course are also very pejorative terms. The term "vanilla" comes from the scenario that someone walks into BaskinRobbins 31 Flavors an ends up ordering plain vanilla ice cream. It is derogatory. It shouldn't be, I realize this. It shouldn't be seen as negative if some people just really like vanilla ice cream; it is a flavor after all. However, it is seen as a slam and has come to mean "prudish" when used to describe a person's sex life.

Who gets to pick the names?

The BDSM community refer to themselves as kinksters, which is fine. But where do they get the right to name the rest of us? I prefer to call myself normal. I prefer chocolate ice cream and cake over vanilla. People should be able to determine their own sexuality for themselves. The whole idea of feminists embracing submission is interesting to say the least. But such is the hypocrisy in the feminist movement and there are very clear comparisons to Marxism.

Looking forward to reading your post

I see your point, though I think the word vanilla does have a connotation of "boring," no matter who is using it, and if it's the term that people in the BDSM community chose to describe people who aren't BDSM, then it's not quite fair to say it's "simply a term." It's not a huge insult to call someone's sexual habits vanilla, but it's not totally neutral, either.

In any case, I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming post on this!

This post really makes me

This post really makes me want to start brainstorming new words that aren't just "non-kinky" or whatever. Are there terms that non-kinky people would feel comfortable being used as descriptors? Or is any distinction other than "not-that" ultimately destined to become pejorative?

Vanilla replacement

How about instead of vanilla vs. Baskin Robbin's 31 flavours, we go with:

Great Sex Lover vs. Kinky Great Sex Lover vs. BDSM Great Sex Lover.

Wordy, but inclusive and non-pejorative, right?

"Non-kink Identified" is my term...

...for those who choose to not carry public identity as a BDSM practitioner/kinkster/pervert/fetishist. Mostly I do so because I've discovered, over the years, the majority of people have some seasoning up in there, and while "vanilla" is certainly not always perjorative, and many happily self-identify that way, I try to avoid it. In a discussion of BDSM, using terms like "kinky" vs. "Not kink-identified" leaves room for everyone to listen and participate in the discourse without feeling marginalized or dismissed.

Thanks for the comments on my post!

It's always hard to dislodge a term that's become widely used, but if I come up with a good alternative, I'll post it! "Vanilla" does usually make me feel defensive, but it depends on the user's intent--I've been referred to as vanilla in both respectful and non-respectful ways.

I like "non-kink-identified," though that's probably more appropriate for discussions like this than everyday use. It's sad that we need to struggle with labels but it's also true that language is important and shapes the way we think about each other.

That last line hit home.

That last line hit home. Thank you so much for addressing this issue. I am so sick of hearing about what 50 Shades of Grey REALLY means and how people use this kind of thing to invalidate our agency and our choice.

Nailed this.

Thanks again.

You're very welcome.

It was those very feelings that made me want to write this blog series. Clarisse Thorn has an excellent post on the subject here:

One of many great lines from her piece:

"The mere act of asking this question [what does women enjoying submission mean?] implies a cultural context that is seeking excuses to disempower women. Female sexual submission means nothing …

… except what every woman wants it to mean, for herself."

Glad you found this post helpful. Thank you for reading.

While Jay Wiseman did

While Jay Wiseman did literally write the book (SM 101) and is married to a pretty fantastic queer(-ish?) woman, I finid it interesting that Scott chose to open with a quote from a male, even if he is a male feminist.

Re: "vanilla", as a queer kinkster, I have never thought of it as pejorative. Vanilla IS a delicious flavor in its own right.

Male = not OK to quote on a feminist blog?

I felt Wiseman's quote summed up the spirit of the post very nicely. As a writer, if someone speaks sense on an issue, I will quote them regardless of gender. Implying that there's something wrong with starting a feminist post with a quote from a man sounds like the very 'feminist policing' that I speak out against in the piece.

I don't think there's

I don't think there's anything wrong with quoting men, implicitly. I meant to express that I was surprised that you used Wiseman as a starting point - and really, that I'm more interested in/would like to see more viewpoints from queer-, lesbian-, and trans*-identified folks. Of course, that may have more to do with the abbreviated medium of these posts that your own arena of interest.

Thanks for clarifying.

I definitely want to look at the intersection of BDSM and queer culture later in this blog series. Any suggestions of folks who might have a useful contribution to the issue would be great. I would also add that Gayle Rubin is a proud S/M lesbian whose writings have been incredibly useful in my research for this series. As have the work of Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. I hope also to look at the views of Pat Califia, who has written in defense of BDSM both as a lesbian woman and a trans man.

~claps~ you are doing such a


you are doing such a wonderful job on this series!

The Power of Choice

I am finding a common thread in recent issues. This idea if you discuss a woman's internalized oppression as a reason for behavior you are removing agency. This isn't specific to submissive relationships. I have been seeing it when it comes to lipstick feminism and the like. How are we to route out our own misogynistic tendencies? How are we to find our true selves under the various oppressions that are woven into our very story and existence? I think that this lack of critical eye has created a kind of essentialism that helps keep these internalized behaviors safe and sound. I do believe women know their own needs, but I also know that some of my needs are based in my experiences and the ideas that have been impressed upon me. I think that we should be critical of our predications whether they be vanilla, chocolate or strawberry in expression. To think our expressions of sexuality (vanilla or adventurous or whatever name you use for your specific brand of sexy times) is some how above the state of things is quite foolhardy. Please don't miss read this. I am not saying women who participate as a submissive are just fooled into it, and that vanilla sex is the only way to be respected, quite the opposite. I think we should all be critical of the things we take as essential to us and make us happy, and make sure they haven't been tampered with or distorted. I remember the first time I realized that my confidence in wearing makeup was one of the ugliest things, it was a confidence in hiding myself in distorting my beauty. I often feel like when it comes to sex we are too scared to know why we like something. I am offering another approach, know why you like it, I promise it is even better. The same goes for why you don't like something. Sometimes you are able to discover yourself and the world in a new way. We need to use our power of choice, not turn a blind eye to the possibilities (that means all of us, open your mind).

You're saying you trust women to know their own needs...

...yet you're still demanding they be more self-critical. I think this is inherently contradictory. It's important to invoke the argument of 'choice' for female subs because they are one of the most patronised groups, assumed to be brainwashed or responding to their 'true female nature'. Why focus on female subs? Why not demand that foot fetishists be self-critical, or dominant men?

We are all affected by social conditioning and will probably never be able to know for sure where our desires truly originate. But even if every female sub were to go for intensive therapy and discover her preferences came from misogynistic conditioning (which I don't believe for a second is the case), what should happen then? Should they abandon participating in sexual behaviour that makes them feel happy and fulfilled, in order to show loyalty to feminism? No - they should continue demanding a safe space to practise submission with educated, safe and respectul partners.

To paraphrase Clarisse Thorn, wondering about what submissive preferences MEAN or SAY about women is only a question that needs asking if you are looking for an excuse to disempower women. As I say in this piece, men's sexual preferences are never deemed as evidence of 'men being naturally submissive' or 'men being naturally dominant' or 'all men liking feet', nor are men pressured to examine where their desires come from. I think it's therefore reinforcing our unequal status to put all the onus on women to constantly be self-censoring and fretting about whether our sexual behaviour is 'betraying' women who are entirely unconnected to our private lives.

I also don't think the comparison with make-up stands - yes, perhaps women can be pressured into thinking they need mascara and lipstick to leave the house. But submissive sexual scenes can't give you an orgasm just because 'society says submissive women are sexy' - you have to actively enjoy, seek and be aroused by submission beforehand.

Please read whole comments

You didn't read what I wrote:

"I think that this lack of critical eye has created a kind of essentialism that helps keep these internalized behaviors safe and sound. I do believe women know their own needs, but I also know that some of my needs are based in my experiences and the ideas that have been impressed upon me. I think that we should be critical of our predications whether they be vanilla, chocolate or strawberry in expression."

"Please don't miss read this. I am not saying women who participate as a submissive are just fooled into it, and that vanilla sex is the only way to be respected, quite the opposite. I think we should all be critical of the things we take as essential to us and make us happy, and make sure they haven't been tampered with or distorted."

My whole post was about everyone not female subs. EVERYONE. I repeat this multiple times, because I knew it would be misconstrued. The post is about everyone turning inward to better understand.

Your whole premise is based on me questioning the female sub, when I am questioning the entire structure of our expression of sexuality. Your comment appears to be a knee jerk reaction without actually reading my whole comment or attempting to understand it.

You kind of sneer at the idea of turning a critical eye inward (the therapist line, which I never suggested a therapist). Without this critical eye we would never have moved out of 2nd wave feminism and into a an era where internalized oppression is a concept that has helped in combating and moving past many socialized strongholds of oppression. My other point was, to assume that sexuality should be spared the critical eye turned toward social norms and gender bias, race bias, extra seems to be foolish and is creating a hiding place for all the things feminism tries to route out and expose.

I am not asking other people to be critical of another's choice, but rather placing the responsibility on the individual, every individual. Again I will say (as I fear my words are not being read) EVERYONE, no matter their sexual expression (vanilla, kink, dominate men, foot fetish) should try and understand why we feel the way we do.

I did read your post

and although you claimed not to be focusing specifically on female subs, the fact remains you chose to post this comment on a piece about female submission, not any of my earlier posts about female dominants or switches. So I can't help but continue to see a connection, and a specific discomfort with female subs.

"I think we should all be critical of the things we take as essential to us and make us happy, and make sure they haven't been tampered with or distorted." - I just don't think when it comes to sexual tastes, this is necessarily possible. It veers dangerously close to asking gay people to 'consider' whether their homosexuality comes from some form of 'distortion' (psychiatrists often used to hypothesize that gay men had simply been 'feminised' by identifying with their mothers too much or not having a father figure). I believe that the desires played with in BDSM are often irrational (not to mention sometimes very dark and discomforting) and that what is far more important is creating safe spaces and communities where people can let these desires out without judgment or abuse.

"EVERYONE, no matter their sexual expression (vanilla, kink, dominate men, foot fetish) should try and understand why we feel the way we do." Why? Unless someone is deeply unhappy or uncomfortable with their sexuality, why is it necessary that they question and analyse what gets them off? And much as we can pretend that applies to all sexual tastes, ultimately it is mostly submissive women who are asked to 'justify' their sexual choices. Otherwise why would there have been such a shitstorm over women enjoying a book that depicts a submissive female?

I'm pro-critical thinking, but I'm not pro the idea that people should be unpicking their desires with a fine toothcomb unless that is what they want to do. While our believe our sexual behaviours may be influenced by outside forces, and we need to be aware of that, I do not believe our actual desires or fantasies can be created by something beyond us. They are within us, often irrational, often not reflective of what we want in reality, and sometimes weird, politically incorrect or seemingly anti-feminist. But they are not going to change just because we relentlessly analyse ourselves.

Focus on the things unsaid I suppose...

The topic is what brought my comment not the submissive article. I had been forming these ideas through out the series (which I have enjoyed). Sorry if I didn't go back a put it somewhere where the idea wouldn't make you assume my discomfort with the submissive. I was actually debating waiting for a vanilla topic to make sure no one read into my comment things that are not there.

Not that it should matter, but I do have a submissive bent and am very comfortable with it, but I didn't think that it should matter, or that it was anyone's business. I do wonder if disclosing this from the beginning would have spared me the condescension and would have offered my post being taken at face value. You are reading in the "discomfort", and this seems to be the base of most of your arguments. It was truly a coincidence it was placed here. If I had come on a day later it would have been on the next post.

I feel like you keep making arguments for claims I am not making. I never said sexual preference did I? I said sexual expression. Suggesting that critically thinking about sexual expression (acts) will lead to questioning sexual preferences is a slippery slope, a philosophical fallacy. BDSM can be acted out by every person, just as vanilla sex can be acted out regardless of sexual preferences. These are the acts I am suggesting we think critically about. Perhaps I should have said we look at erotic/sexual acts. Maybe that would remove the confusion, sorry I did not define my terms.

Also I understand submissives are asked to defend themselves, I have never disagreed with that. I am asking that we should all look into ourselves. The knowledge acquired by this "soul searching" can yield knowing yourself better and getting the most out of your sex life.

"Why? Unless someone is deeply unhappy or uncomfortable with their sexuality, why is it necessary that they question and analyse what gets them off?"
"While our believe our sexual behaviours may be influenced by outside forces, and we need to be aware of that, I do not believe our actual desires or fantasies can be created by something beyond us. They are within us, often irrational, often not reflective of what we want in reality, and sometimes weird, politically incorrect or seemingly anti-feminist. But they are not going to change just because we relentlessly analyse ourselves."

We create our fantasies, agreed. We are influenced by outside forces, right. Somehow that influence has no bearing on our creations? Even if it is a small fraction, I think it is important to know. By not exploring the whys of our sexual expression we may be missing out on growth and understanding. We live in a world that does imprint on us, on our experiences, and to turn a bind eye to that leaves us open for the possibility of acting in a way that could be misogynistic, racist, transphobic etc. by exoticizing difference in a damaging way toward a partner. This can be expressed in our sexual act. That is the WHY we should be looking at ourselves critically, because we effect others. The same reasons we pick apart language, customs, and laws, as feminists is because we live in a community. It is not out of a self harming or self denying place, but out of a place of respect for our partners (no matter the sexual acts we decide to take part in). I am worried about our partners not society, so please do not read in policing for "normal", but rather critically thinking to ensure the safe respectful environment you suggest creating. How else are we to create this truly respectful open spaces without routing out the elements that threaten that from both the inside and outside of the community? And the best place to start is from within. "Be the change you want to see in the world."

It is because we do have internalized oppression, internalized misogyny, internalized racism etc. at the internal is where our fantasies come from that I think we need to know thy self to avoid only further reinforcement of these things that we as feminists try to wipe from our world. Also working within the feminist structure of critical analysis of the world it seems wrong to neglect any piece of the human experience. Again I am not saying you have to do this, I am saying it is a good idea. We disagree on this point, and that is fine, but I do take issue with you misrepresenting my points, and neglecting my base point that we should be introspective to create the world you want. We disagree on the means, but agree on our desired outcome, a safe respectful for all people to get their kicks. SEXUAL HAPPINESS AND HEALTH FOR EVERYONE!

It's interesting

It's interesting that you assume as a response to her quote that " I do not believe our actual desires or fantasies can be created by something beyond us. They are within us, often irrational, often not reflective of what we want in reality, and sometimes weird, politically incorrect or seemingly anti-feminist."

You reply that: "We create our fantasies, agreed."

I don't quite see desires and fantasies coming from or arising from within us, being synonymous with a willful or subconsciously willful act of creation.

This assumes a sortof new/age view that everything we do is somehow willfully created by an act of our own will.
That the universe and everything around us and that effects us is basically subject to our own, personal wills.

If I may say so, that is a metaphysical assumption, and one that seems to be the basis of your argument.

After all, if we "create our own reality" as new age groups would like us to believe, then everything that effects us externally is somehow influencing our subconscious "decisions".

I don't suppose it ever has occurred to you that, some aspects of our personalities might not be dependent upon us "creating" them, or as by-products of external circumstance?

Sexual orientation is a perfect example of this.
Gay people seem to very well be gay regardless of parenting, or their subconscious "creation" of being gay.

It's entirely possible other forms of sexual orientation such as kink are the same way.

Certainly many kinky people have clearly said that they remember having such interests often from a very young age, irrespective of their parenting.

I highly advocate contemplative self-examination of our minds and of who we are and our reasons for doing things, such a practice can be very informative.

But sometimes the conclusions from such "research" our actually that we are born these desires as a part of who we are.

The idea that all things are a by-product of external circumstance (including the corresponding belief about patriarchy which depends on that prior belief) is a very Freudian view mixed with "new age" "we all create our own universe" statements, and don't necessarily jive with the actual experience of many Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender people.

If sexual orientation towards a particular gender is not necessarily dependent upon externalities or "acts of will" subconscious or otherwise, why not other forms of sexual orientation such as kinky people?

The idea that critical thinking and self-examination and/or contemplative reflection will lead to the discovery that kink is somehow dependent upon or linked in some way to internalized patriarchy, is not necessarily the actual case.

The way it robs women of their sexual agency, or comes across as patronizing, is it assumes
women who are kinky, have not already done this.

Indeed many actually have.

Assuming otherwise, and/or dismissing their conclusions, seems at best shortsighted, and and worst a bit presumptious.

-Sara H


The makeup comment was an example of turning a critical eye inward, not that sexual gratification and feeling confident are similar. I was showing an example of using critical thinking toward yourself, and then follow it to say we are often afraid to do this toward our sexual expressions.

Also I feel like the word critical is being used it tandem with judging. I mean exactly what I say. Critically think about what you do, critical thinking is not a negative thing, but rather opening up your mind, finding new angles, new ideas. We should all do a little more critical thinking.

Last One Swear

I also think it is misleading to insinuate that choice and critical thinking do not go hand in hand. I think our disconnect is that I think after the choice is made there needs to be follow up critical thinking, to make sure the application of action was as desired. Critical thinking does not equate into different thinking until you are "correct" in the eyes of society, but rather making sure you are obtaining the highest level of happiness available to you. I just don't want people to settle, but always be striving for the most jollies they can get.

I really am enjoying this series, it is nice to see balance in this conversation.

And then there is always

And then there is always Humbled Females...

Indeed :)

Got here after reading a Humbled Females post and wanted to read a different perspective!

I find the relation between submission and feminism very interesting - the above is all about submissive women's sexuality, and there seems a general consensus that sexually submissive women should be free to pursue their sexual 'kink' safely, whether or not they need to look 'deeper' or 'further' into their desires. So far so good for women's (and others') choices.

But what if I, as a submissive feminist, want my partner to take the lead in other areas of life? Is that un-feminist? I'm not sure, but I can't resist the conclusion that it is. Why? Partly, yes, because I, a woman, am asking a man to take control of my life. But also because it's one person passing a hell of a lot of control to another person, and that diminishes the submissive's autonomy - whether the submissive is male, female, or neither, that feels uncomfortably un-free, illiberal and, therefore, un-feminist. Still, can't help but like the idea - so much so that we're now pursuing submission in other areas of life.

Interestingly though, I would never give up work because I think economic independence is vital for the submissive party, whatever their gender - if someone disagreed with me on that point, I'd try to persuade them they were wrong (which is not something I do often!).

I certainly don't think all women should submit to a male partner - men, women and trans-gendered / transsexual people should quite clearly be free to decide for themselves (and it shows how much this challenges my principles that I felt the need to state such a thing... would there ever be a question over that? Does the fact that I feel the need to re-state a fundamental principle show that I'm doing something wrong? Again, I'm really not sure).

What I personally can't ignore that I want to submit to a dominant man in more areas than just sexuality, though sex is obviously an important part. I do so critically - why else would I be reading HF as well as this site? What I want is to be able to say that "I live feminist principles in my life", and I don't think I can. Can I then still say "I am a feminist"? I still hold feminist (and liberal) ideals dear, so I would hope so.

Maybe what I want for everyone is not equality, but a free and safe choice. Whether that choice is the result of patriarchal culture or not is a moot point - we're all influenced one way or another - a free choice is the main thing, even if I (as I do) choose to be unequal in my relationships. I find it reassuring actually, that I would find submission in areas other than sex a tricky idea - my assumption is clearly one of equality, and I'm finding it hard to reconcile my personality / desires with the zeitgeist of the times. Surely this is reassuring!

Ultimately, I reckon if you stare too much at a topic, anything will become confusing... so here's my solution: I'll submit to my male partner in whatever area of life he and I think is appropriate. That way, he and I get to live our lives as we want to. Obviously, others can do as they please also. If it makes me happy and comfortable, is there really an issue? Is it really as simple as 'live and let live'? As a woman grappling with feminism and submission, I really hope so.

feminism and submission

"Is it really as simple as 'live and let live'? As a woman grappling with feminism and submission, I really hope so."

My preferred term is "free sex." Your preferred term is something else. But we both have a reaction to each others terms, and tend to see them through all of our filters, political, sexual, theoretical, historical, etc. That's the problem with labels, They never completely do what you want them to. They never quite mean to anyone other than oneself quite what they mean to you when you use one.

This is not to say that such discussions and arguments are pointless, but that our terms and definitions and labels are never pure. They come from us and they define us as we use them to define others. Imagine 'vanilla' for a moment. Vanilla is a lovely flavor and scent, isn't it? But if it's used or thought to be used to denigrate, it is no longer the same flavor and fragrance it was before I started this sentence. (Isn't it?)

When you and I meet, physically, sexually, scientifically, digitally, regardless of who we are, what attributes we have or express, we try to be pleasing or convincing or objective as much for ourselves as for each other. The concept we are tussling with is always in danger of being subsumed by the tussle itself - or by the way we smell to each other. Or by something else entirely.

So, as a surfer on the ocean of meaning, I don't look for resolution, here or elsewhere, though I may find a satisfactory understanding for the moment. And that's as it should be. It is enough.

And thanks for the ride. I hope yours was as enjoyable as mine.

"Vanilla" is simply as term

"Vanilla" is simply as term used to distinguish between those who enjoy BDSM and those who do not enjoy BDSM. It's not like it's a word that has been used for generations to systematically ostracize and discriminate against those who enjoy your certain brand of sexual pleasure; unlike "freak" and "sicko" have been for those of us who enjoy the BDSM variety of sex. Vanillas requesting to be referred to as "normal" as opposed to"vanilla" is an awfully privileged thing to do; it is implying that the way vanillas experience sexual pleasure is the default, while enjoying BDSM is some kind of strange "other". Think heteronormativity, cissexism, white beauty standards, etc.

I literally can't even

I really don't know what to say.
See, it would be funny or free choice, if it wasn't rape. This is totally trivializing rape here. It ALL should be forbidden and all women believing that they want that be put into therapy to face their deeprootet, internalized misogyny. Seriously what u say there is UNACCEPTABLE and nothing but that : trivializing rape and internalized hatered of women ! THIS is why we still need feminism !

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