Why Writing About Female Submission is a Feminist Act

February 3, 2014

I reserve this blog as a soapbox. Starting today, I have decided to occasionally step aside and let others use this platform to share their thoughts. As my first guest blogger, I am excited to welcome Cecilia Tan who is an amazing writer, a ground-breaking publisher, and a great friend.

Why Writing About Female Submission is a Feminist Act
by Cecilia Tan, author of Slow Seduction

I’ve been writing fiction and non-fiction about BDSM for over 20 years and I often write about women on the bottom: subs, masochists, “slaves.” I write from the following basis:

  1. Sexuality is a normal part of being human and being a healthy female.
  2. Sexual and erotic fantasies are a normal part of being human and being a healthy female.
  3. Oppression of women’s sexual fantasies is oppression of women.
  4. Anything which oppresses women’s sexual fantasies cannot be feminism.
  5. Feminism’s goal is to overcome power structures that empower men at the expense of women.

By writing and sharing my sexual fantasies, some of which are about submission, I commit a feminist act.

Where people get tangled up when discussing BDSM is when #4 and #5 seem to be at odds, because in their view BDSM is a power structure that empowers men in favor of women. Put simply, that is a shallow, misinformed view of BDSM. BDSM is practiced by women, men, and people self-defining all along the gender spectrum, with no inherent role ascribed on the basis of gender. But the common idea that a man “should be” the dom and the woman “should be” submissive persists in the mainstream. That’s the setup in the wildly popular book 50 Shades of Grey, a book that has opened a huge conversation about BDSM but which doesn’t push that conversation beyond what the mainstream already gets wrong.

Setting aside the fact that in BDSM women are often dominant and men are often submissive, let’s talk specifically about women on the “bottom”–women like me and the women I write about. If we believe that women’s sexual pleasure is central to their freedom and to their health, we should be celebrating the diversity of things that turn women on. On one level, BDSM is a sensual and sensory experience.

There is a panoply of sensations, cravings, and tastes to be indulged when one is a masochist or a sub. This is the sensual world that Karina, the heroine of my Struck by Lightning book series, is introduced to by James, the mysterious dom she meets at the beginning of Slow Surrender. Karina quickly comes to realize that what makes BDSM so vastly different from the unsatisfying vanilla sex she’s previously had is that as the submissive, her pleasure and sensations are the absolute central component to her interactions with James. She’s confused when James doesn’t want his dick sucked at the end of their first encounter. It really is all about her. What gratifies James, as a dom, most is not his own orgasm but his ability to play Karina like a fine violin.

The psychological aspect of D/s comes quickly into play in Slow Surrender, too. Karina comes to realize how silenced she has been in her vanilla relationships, which have been built on (patriarchal) assumptions about what a “good girlfriend” is supposed to be like. Based on some unspoken standard, a good girlfriend is supposed to make herself attractive to her mate, be sexually available when he needs, but never too pushy with her own needs (because that would make her a slut). In her BDSM relationship with James, she finds he fully expects her to be open and honest about her needs. Consent and negotiation, the basis of BDSM relationships, can’t exist or take place without that honesty and disclosure. James also takes the guesswork out of it by being equally honest with her about what he wants and needs. Karina finds it refreshing that he will tell her what to wear, or that he’ll set options before her in which there is no “wrong” selection: Each choice she makes informs him about her preferences.

As Karina learns, dominance and submission doesn’t mean James dictates her every move. It means they have a framework within which each partner has agency. Unlike “traditional” relationship structures, which hand the majority of the power and privilege to the male partner, in a BDSM relationship the power is split in a systematic way. At first, Karina doesn’t even realize how much power she has in the relationship because she’s having too much fun to have thought deeply about it. When she realizes what immense power BDSM–and love–give her over her partner, it’s a lesson she’ll never forget, and I hope it’s a lesson the reader will remember, too. Not every reader is going to go out searching for a BDSM relationship, but my hope is that by seeing how an alternate power structure creates a functional relationship, some readers will be able to effectively seek out honesty, agency, and erotic satisfaction in their own lives.

If that’s not a feminist act, I don’t know what is.

About Cecilia Tan:
Cecilia Tan is “simply one of the most important writers, editors, and innovators in contemporary American erotic literature,” according to Susie Bright. Tan is the author of many books, including the ground-breaking erotic short story collections Black Feathers (HarperCollins), White Flames (Running Press), and Edge Plays (Circlet Press), and the erotic romances Slow Surrender (Hachette/Forever), Mind Games (Ravenous Romance), and The Prince’s Boy (Circlet Press). She was inducted into the Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame for GLBT writers in 2010, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Leather Association in 2001, and is a current nominee for the Lifetime Achievement Award in Erotica from RT Magazine. She lives in the Boston area with her lifelong partner corwin and three cats.

About Slow Seduction:
Slow Seduction is Cecilia Tan’s latest BDSM erotic romance novel, the second book in the Struck by Lightning Series. Karina finds herself in England, working at a major museum. There she meets the enigmatic Damon George, a dominant man with clues to James’s past… and to James’s desires. Damon is rich, gorgeous, and a member of a secret society that caters to the sensual thrills of the wealthy and powerful. And he’ll help Karina lure James in, while teaching her how to please a dominant man. By the time she finds James, Karina has been “trained” to please another. Will James reject her, or find her more irresistible than ever? Karina is determined to confront him and she will not be denied.
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