I feel like there are only a couple of relatively basic conversations that are going on about the intersections of kink and feminism, and that old stereotypes and these old patterns are silencing deeper, more informed and important conversations that need to be had.
I want to talk about gendered violence. I want to talk about the times when kink *is* abusive, when abusers use kink as a cover or when people aren’t feminist enough, and aren’t good enough at consent, to play safely.
Again and again, I see conversations that go like this, and no further:
Question: “I’m a female submissive and a feminist. OMG all those other mean horrible feminists are going to say that I’m not really a feminist! They’re so sex-hating and kink-hating and hairy-legged and they don’t want anyone to do anything but eat granola and talk about their own oppression all day. But anyway, what I want to know is – can I be submissive and still a feminist?”
Answer: “Yes. Feminism is about having the freedom to express and own your desires, and if you desire being sexually submissive and you express that and go out and get it, that’s awesome! It’s really empowering to have sex in the way you want! Anyway, there are loads of really sex-positive male doms around who totally get that feminism’s all about letting women escape slut-shaming and have loads of casual sex with them and submit to them a whole lot, so you’re totally safe in the kink community because it’s so feminist. And any feminists who do say kink might be problematic sometimes just don’t understand kink and they hate sex.”
Every time I see a conversation starting about feminism and kink, I feel like it’s quickly shut down by this spectre of mean, fun-hating feminists who don’t understand kink and think it’s actually abuse. Now, excuse me, but exactly which year are we living in here?! I have NEVER, EVER, met a feminist woman who thought this. Or anyone, actually. I have had a lot of conversations about feminism and about kink. I am in my mid-twenties, and have never experienced this, ever: as far as my own (yes, privileged) experience goes, the sex wars ended decades ago. What I experience instead is this constant silencing of any feminist conversation based on this stereotype: it’s just like the stereotypes that keep many women from feminism by telling them is all about hating men, becoming hairy lesbians and never being allowed to bake or knit again. I mean, really.
Every time I see a conversation starting about being a female submissive and feminist, the party line just seems to be ‘you have choice, you’re empowered because you can choose freely to submit to men.’ *This is a great starting point – it’s a fabulous bottom line.* But I want to have more complex conversations.
Look. I’d like free choice. I am feminist, and experienced with kink. I get it, right? I know kink isn’t abuse, I know it’s okay to submit to men, I know that all the control is really with the bottom. I also know that no choice under patriarchy is really free. I know that all het sex is to some extent coerced by a million social and interpersonal pressures, however careful and knowledgeable the participants may be. How is it that we can acknowledge social pressures and privilege gradients in the workplace, in the home, in the pubs, on the streets, yet as soon as things hit the bedroom or the dungeon we think that those all evaporate and that things simply become a matter of ‘free choice’?! We live in a rape culture. There is no free choice.
I want to talk about that coercion, from a position of being experienced and knowledgeable and looking for pragmatic solutions. I want to create a world in which saying ‘no’ gets as much social reward as saying ‘yes’, where Prude Walk receives as much celebration as Slut Walk, where there is more to being a male feminist than campaigning for the right of anonymous women to suck your cock. Then, I will know that the choice to be submissive, to be dominant, to have missionary sex twice a month or to eat granola is truly free.
I want to talk about the abuse in our communities, from a position of knowing that kink isn’t just abuse and that the kinky party line is one of careful negotiation, informed consent and full aftercare. Yes, kinky folks are often better at doing consent than mainstream folks. That doesn’t mean our communities and bedrooms and dungeons aren’t still full of coercion and abusive behaviour – we still live under patriarchy. We still live in a rape culture. There is still coercion, because it’s not something we can ever escape. In addition, many abusers come to the kink community and abuse because they know that they can get away with it in an environment that is very invested in maintaining that kink is never, ever, ever abusive.
This is gendered. In the vast majority of individual cases, this is about male violence against women. Male-on-female abuse is also the only kind with widespread social sanctioning – that context is why I want to talk about it the most. This is a feminist issue. I am also tired of seeing this conversation shut down – every time male violence against women is mentioned, the woman who talks about it (because of course it’s never one of these very-helpful male feminist allies) is drowned in a cacophony of people telling her off for not including male victims, queer situations, everyone else. Why aren’t those people talking about queer and male victims?
Please, please, can we move on this conversation? Can we acknowledge that we don’t like slut shaming and we do like nice sex, and then talk about not necessarily wanting sex? Can we acknowledge that kink is consensual and good consent is feminist, and then talk about the times when kink’s guidelines fail? Can we know that choosing to submit is both free and coerced, that this coercion isn’t necessarily anyone’s individual fault but that we still need to work, hard and constantly, against it? Can we talk about the actual abuse that is going on unchallenged, right now, in our oh-so-safe-and-consensual communities?
Sex-Negative Actions In Sex-Positive Communities – the list of links at the top of this post are also essential reading, especially: