BDSM & Feminism – Are They Compatible?

Originally published: 09.12.15

Nobody knows why one thing turns them on over another. Would you ask me why my sexual orientation is the way it is? In the same way, enjoying BDSM does not feel like something I can (or want) to change. A lot of feminists argue that I’ve just internalised the patriarchy, that it’s not my fault but, y’know, I’m not very ‘feminist’ for enjoying it. I find this theory unappealing because I think the false consciousness they are talking about refers to things you can rationally think your way out of:

“Do I belong in the kitchen? No, I can’t cook for shit!”

But I can’t programme myself out of what turns me on. For the sake of argument, let’s say I have internalised oppression via the media – then what else have I internalised? Do I really find Kiera Knightley attractive or have I just internalised a false beauty ideal? This line of argument is vague and attributes right and wrong arbitrarily. For example, I could easily argue that caring about makeup and beauty is internalised patriarchy, but I’m not going to go around telling women they shouldn’t wear or enjoy wearing makeup because it’s wrong. These sorts of things (beauty, fetishes, humour) are non-morals with no right or wrong to them; they’re just preferences.

There is a problem when one ideal is pushed on society, but that’s not a problem with the ideals themselves, rather the media being non-representative. When women being submissive in the bedroom is the only thing being represented in the mainstream, we have a problem. It sets the narrative and a lot of people will never question whether this is what they truly enjoy should they find themselves in a particular situation. However, actively partaking in BDSM acts when you know it’s what you like seems to be unproblematic, as you are fully aware of your choice and your pleasure is paramount.

Things like rape and paedophilia are wrong because one agent is acting without consent, and that’s when morality does come to the forefront of discussion. With BDSM, both partners consent and exercise their agency. In my relationship, was the one who introduced the concept into the bedroom. Some go as far to argue that women aren’t really capable of consenting to BDSM because they’ve been culturally programmed to want it. Is that not the most patronising sentence you’ve ever read? I can and do express agency, believe it or not, and a woman who is unafraid to express and fulfil her sexual kinks seems to me to be acting in a profoundly feminist way.

As for the power imbalance, it stops outside the bedroom, for me at least. It is not ‘real’ in the same way privilege imbalances exist in society. My boyfriend will stop if he oversteps his boundaries, and in this way I’m the one who holds all the power. In society, I can’t tell the media to stop fat shaming women because I’m not in control.

I’m not saying BDSM can’t be abused. You hear awful tales of strangers meeting up and a dom taking full advantage of a sub. This, however, is a problem with certain people abusing the lifestyle, not the lifestyle itself. You can’t blame Catcher in the Rye for the murders committed in its name, and neither can you blame BDSM for the opportunists who use it to commit terrible acts.

There’s also the view that by taking part in BDSM you are somehow insulting those who have been victim to real abuse. This line of argument is ridiculous because the two things are in no way similar. With BDSM there is enjoyment, consent and control. The opposite is true of something like rape so they should be viewed as completely separate concepts. We would not argue that it is insulting to war victims to take part in paintballing, it is just because sex is shrouded in centuries of sin and taboo that we are told to be ashamed of anything to do with it, especially when it deviates from the norm.

So to answer the question with which I am plagued – are the two really reconcilable? Of course they fucking are.

 

 

One thought on “BDSM & Feminism – Are They Compatible?”

  1. I agree that it’s possible to be into kink and remain a feminist – I’ve been into both for most of my adult life.
    There is just one point not addressed here that I would raise, though: not all women who are into BDSM are submissive. This is not to say that being kinky-dominant makes you a ‘better’ feminist than one who is kinky-submissive, just that the current lazy narrative of BDSM as being *all* about 50 Shades and ‘alpha males’ dominating dainty ladies is not the whole picture.

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