• Anonymous

Feminism, BDSM & Me

A dive into how feminism and BDSM can co-exist and actually empower women.

“How can you call yourself a feminist when you’re in a Dominant/submissive power exchange relationship AND you’re on the crew for a monthly BDSM club night?”


It’s a valid question, one that a close friend recently asked me in the wake of yet another news story surrounding misogyny within the Metropolitan Police force. But when I began to answer her, I didn’t really have an articulate answer. I have daily routines and rules, that if I don’t follow, I’ll receive a punishment for. If you opened the wrong cupboard in my bedroom, you’d find canes, paddles, floggers, rope, cuffs and more than a few sex toys. But being on the receiving end of the contents of that cupboard, at first glance, probably doesn’t scream ‘outspoken feminist’. So instead of standing up for myself, I stumbled over my words for several moments before awkwardly silencing myself to avoid the topic altogether.


Now BDSM and feminism are both concepts and practices that have existed almost as long as each other in some shape or form. However, since the rise of the term ‘feminism’ itself in the 1960s, and later more radical feminism in the 1990s, swathes of women have been vocal in their criticism of women who derive sexual pleasure and satisfaction from submission and pain. Enter in Gail Dines, a radical feminist and professor in sociology widely known for her views on pornography, capitalism, kink and feminism. Her personal viewpoint on the relationship between BDSM and its relative compatibilities with modern feminism revolve around critiquing the commodification and glorification of sex where women do not have choices. On the surface, it all seems quite logical and sensible doesn’t it?


But personally, I would like to call bullshit on these nuanced ‘progressive’ stances. It may be surprising, but the same issues of misogyny in vanilla society also exist in kinky society too. And instead of safeguarding women, these ‘radical’ feministic views often liken and compare unsafe sex work and objectification of women to consensual BDSM play, dynamics and relationships. What results is the perpetuation and projection of misogynistic views on women who partake in BDSM. Instead of uplifting all women, large numbers of feminists end up actively causing harm to these other women who don’t meet their criteria of what feminists and women should be. It’s a slippery slope. And is one that creates a dangerous ‘two tiered’ feminist movement; even if those creating it don’t realise the consequences of their actions.


I am in a deeply loving and caring relationship with a man I adore. It also happens to be a Dominant/submissive, power exchange based relationship. What does this mean in the eyes of feminists who agree with the likes of Dines? Should I feel lesser than more ‘platinum level’ feminists simply because I enjoy being tied up and flogged? Should I feel lesser for monitoring other people’s play and scenes at BDSM club nights because, according to them, I’m enabling their misogynistic sexual behaviour when I stand and observe various impact play scenes with male Doms and female submissives? Why do I feel guilty about buying my Dom a beautiful hand carved wooden paddle for him to use on my body? Why, even now, do I feel bad for calling that present beautiful? It's almost as if feminism has become an awards show in which I've been relegated to bronze by ‘platinum’ level feminists, simply because they fail to view my pleasure, my autonomy, as an empowering choice.


Of course, I can appreciate how people like Gail Dines may arrive at these rather clean cut conclusions. For those outside of BDSM communities, when confronted with a rack of floggers, canes, whips and various other impact play toys, it would be reasonable to think “how the fuck could someone find that enjoyable?” If you were to only hear the sounds from an impact play scene, it would be logical to be concerned about the loud wails and screams following the crack of a loud leather belt making impact with skin. These are both what I would consider natural reactions, especially if BDSM doesn’t appeal to you as an individual. And that is completely cool and valid. What isn’t quite so cool, is the projection of individualised opinions onto the people participating in risk aware and consensual kink.


But despite how uncool these conclusions are, I do think they are not only easier to arrive at but are also easier to hide behind. So for that, I can’t be angry. In fact I kind of get it. Delving deeper into BDSM dynamics and why women who are feminists find pleasure in submitting requires some deep thought. And if you don’t know where to look, it can be hard to know where to start. I just hope that this ramble will at least begin to help people understand that the submission of women does not magically inhibit their identity as feminists.


When I moved cities in September, I made a promise to myself that after years of stalling I was finally going to go to events and get to know people in the BDSM community where I now live. Although I’d played occasionally with people when I was an undergrad, I had never gone out of my way to find and befriend other kinky people. Eventually, I found myself working on the crew of a BDSM club night serving drinks, but by December I was paired with another crew member to learn the ropes (no pun intended) of play space monitoring. It’s these exact experiences from my time in the BDSM community here, alongside my current D/s power exchange relationship, that are the key reasons behind my gradual acceptance that I can be both a submissive AND a feminist; and that there is nothing shameful about this.


Over the past six months, I have got to know so many wonderful people within the BDSM community where I live. From getting a drink in our regular bar with friends on the scene to learning how to dungeon monitor at BDSM events, I have slowly grown more comfortable with my identity as a submissive woman and a feminist. I think it is a common idea that submissives give up any freedom of choice, and it’s this idea that is an antithesis to modern feminism. Yet, in my D/s relationship I feel more empowered to make choices that I know will be respected, than I have in any vanilla relationship that fits the mould of what a ‘feminist woman’ should be like.


The more I think about it, the reason I can be such an outspoken feminist is because I feel at ease with myself and my own identities; including my pleasure from submitting to a Dominant partner. So next time I get asked “How can you call yourself a feminist when you’re in a D/s power exchange relationship AND you’re on the crew for a kink event?” I know my answer and I hope you do too.



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