National Leather Association–International
Cynthia Slater Non-fiction Article Award Finalist
This post originally appeared October 15, 2013 on Female First.
While I do not believe 50 Shades of Grey has any redeeming qualities, I frequently find myself defending some of its concepts against the so-called “feminist” backlash.
Self-identified “feminists” (SIFs) object to statements such as “freedom is slavery,” “submissiveness is empowering,” and “BDSM erotica is feminist,” claiming they are “lies that patriarchal culture has served up for women.”
Since they shut down any comments defending those statements — but continue to promote them — I find it necessary to take the conversation to a forum that is more open to both sides of the discussion.
The first flaw in the SIFs argument is that BDSM is only about male domination and female submission. I am a FemDom (female dominant). I own a male submissive and have owned a male slave. I have never submitted (and never will) to any male.
I’m not unique. BDSM offers alternatives to women who refuse to accept patriarchal hierarchy in their lives or their relationships. In reality, BDSM relationships span the gender combinations, including (but hardly limited to) Male/male; Male/female; Female/male; and Female/female.
For some, slavery is freedom. It’s freedom from decision making, freedom from responsibility. Submissiveness can be empowering for those who choose to submit and who submit to a dominant who respects and honours their submission.
BDSM and BDSM erotica absolutely are feminist. Feminism is the fight for equality — to not allow gender to limit one’s opportunities. BDSM (and the erotica written by those who actually understand it) is about choice — about selecting your role based on your desire not your genitals.
Some women prefer to submit only in the bedroom. Some choose to submit for all aspects of their relationships. Some women submit to other women. And some women accept the submission of men (or women) and assume the dominant role in their relationships.
Feminism means not being forced to accept a role because of your gender. BDSM is about not being forced to accept a role (or even a gender) based on what’s between your legs.
50 Shades of Grey is not about BDSM. Christian Grey is not a dominant. He is, like Twilight’s Edward on whom he’s modelled, an abusive stalker. According to the Chicago Tribune, “psychologists at Michigan State University and Ohio State University concluded that its characters’ behaviours are consistent with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s official definition of intimate partner violence — and that the book perpetuates dangerous abuse patterns.”
In the series, BDSM is portrayed as what’s wrong with Grey. It’s written by someone who has never participated in BDSM, never done any research, has absolutely no knowledge of BDSM beyond her own personal fantasies.
There are myriad books — fiction and non — that get BDSM right, some written by practitioners, some by those who take the time to do thorough research. But, the media — and the SIFs — focus on the material that feeds their prejudices and stereotypes.
For many, male domination can be extremely erotic, even if they only choose to explore that eroticism between the pages of a book. However, many prefer female domination. I write about both, but, my stories — and those of other responsible authors — always make it clear that consent is required; that abuse is not BDSM.
In fact, BDSM practices do not, as SIFs would have you believe, “actively oppress women.” Mainstream media’s reporting of BDSM actively oppresses women. Ninety-nine percent of the time an article about BDSM is illustrated by a photograph of a scantily clad woman in bondage. But probably as many men enjoy bondage as women. And, many men prefer to submit in the bedroom and in their relationships.
More than anything else, BDSM is about consent, a term missing from patriarchy. Those who submit, consent to their submission at whatever level they choose to submit and can walk away anytime the relationship is not meeting their needs. Anything else is abuse (including, and especially, the relationship in the 50 Shades series).
As the Tribune article states: “In consensual BDSM relationships, partners take negotiations seriously and respect each others’ boundaries.”
Every description of BDSM relationships that delineates the options we have includes the word consensual. (SSC: Safe, Sane Consensual; RACK: Risk Aware Consensual Kink; or even PRICK: Personal Responsibility, Informed Consensual Kink.) However you define us, you cannot deny that we take responsibility for obtaining consent.
BDSM provides more relationship dynamic options than anything you’ll find in the “vanilla world.” And, because BDSM requires much more communication about sex, sexuality, consent, etc., BDSM relationships are more intimate, more intense, and more openly honest than any other form of relationship.
Are there abusers who use BDSM to mask their abuse (àla Christian Grey)? Yes. But they are abusers. They need to be prosecuted for their abuse. For those of us who practice responsible, consensual BDSM, abuse is not part of the picture.
Exploring rather than repressing sexuality, allowing people to have choices that are not dependent on their genitals, giving people the freedom to make their own decisions about how their relationships are structured rather than dictating — whether from a feminist or patriarchal perspective — what their relationship dynamics look like, is transgressive. And it is feminist.