Monday, March 23, 2009

The Problem As I See It

It's not that I have a problem with cultural critiques of sexuality, I don't.  I am fine with discussing theory.  Really, we can all sit around and talk about how patriarchy affects sexuality all day long (although I'd really prefer the conversation included all kinds of sexuality), but we need to be aware of the effect that our words and our opinions have on people.  The problem comes when theory begins to interfere with practical reality.  

I feel, very strongly, that if member's of the dominant culture want to ask members of a less-privileged subculture to "examine their desires," it must be done very carefully and with as much respect as possible.  It's easy to theorize about things that have no effect on your own life, but for some people it's not just a theory.  It is imperative to remember that what is no more than an intellectual excursion to some is to others a matter of health, sanity, even life and death.

I'm not trying to be dramatic here, this is serious.  Many, maybe most, of us have examined our desires more thoroughly than you could possibly imagine.  We have passed countless sleepless nights wondering why we are the way that we are, often asking ourselves the question, "what is wrong with me?"  We have asked ourselves if there is some trauma that explains this desire, if perhaps it is due to some relational issue with our parents.  You had better believe that any of us who call ourselves feminists have already thought to ask ourselves if we are acting on some sort of patriarchal conditioning or internalized self-loathing.  We would have to be fools not to have considered that, please don't insult us by implying that we haven't.

We have hated ourselves and feared our desires, fruitlessly wished to just be normal.  Some of us have become suicidal.  Some have desperately tried to be the people we thought we should be, we have even tried to convince ourselves.  As a result, we can (and do) end up in horribly unhealthy and dangerous situations.  And really, this is the place where I would really like to see some feminist critique, but I don't.  Everyone is to busy telling me to examine my desires to deal with the practical implications of my examination.

So here's the deal, and this is what I wish feminist discussions of BDSM and submissive women looked like.  It can be dangerous to be a submissive woman in a male dominated society.  Specifically, it is very dangerous to be a sexually submissive woman who is conflicted or ashamed about her sexual desires.  Women who are trying to come to terms with submissive desires need a support structure of strong, vocal, and supportive women.  Trying to deny submissive desires, or feeling secretive and guilty about them, is dangerous; it can easily lead to relationships that actually are abusive and make it harder to leave those relationships.  This is particularly true when we feel alienated from feminist support systems and discourses regarding abuse.  If we are sexually assaulted we are likely to be told that we were asking for it because, after all, we're into that sort of thing.  We are also likely to feel confused and guilty about the ways our desires resemble the assault.

Submissive women do not need to be talked down to, we (generally) do not need to be told to examine our desires.  We certainly don't need you to help protect us from ourselves.  What we do need is your respect and support.  Please remember that, regardless of your intentions, the words you use matter.  Choose them wisely.  

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