Us kinksters pride ourselves on being ‘sex-positive’. It's a phrase we use a lot, but it's not without its problems; our predilections are not formed in a vacuum. The things we’re into all have to come from somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ is generally found in either our own personal histories or the society we live in.
Sex is not some super-special cordoned-off bonus level to which the game’s core mechanics do not apply. For example, it seems spurious to suggest that a kink for rape play has nothing to do with having lived one's whole life in rape culture.
Our kinks are, as the saying goes, okay - but they are not untouchable; they shouldn’t go unexamined, and they cannot merely be given a free pass. Examining the origins of our kinks and desires for submission makes us more aware of our own psychological makeups and helps us to be better critical thinkers.
This sort of understanding arms us with the tools necessary not only to understand our life choices but also to defend them against those who may take them from us.
There’s a lot of talk in BDSM communities about how vast the depth and breadth of who we are can be, and those points are valid. There are dominants, switches, and submissives of all possible types, genders, and orientations out there. Moreover, the world contains literally millions of people who destroy the popular conceptions of what BDSM practitioners are “usually like”.
We have to face up to it: on an ordinary night in an ordinary fetish club, you’ll see more female subs with male doms than you will any other configuration. On an individual level we should all get on with doing whatever the fuck is right for us, obviously, but collectively - what does that mean?
The short answer to that question is “we don’t know”. Very little study has been conducted in this area, and we have very little idea where kinks come from. We don't know if they’re hard-wired, if they’re universal or if they’re nature or nurture or simply the human condition.
For a lot of people, kinks and fetishes seem to come from a place of personal taboo. This is particularly true of homophobia play, race play, and Nazi scenes. All of these role plays are surprisingly common amongst gay men, people of colour and kink practitioners of Jewish descent respectively.
It is entirely possible that this is also about reclamation, about dragging something hidden out into the light where it’s less terrifying. “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself”, as Harry Potter is fond of saying, and the same may well be true of slurs and subjugation.
When we as women and as feminists submit to something that is undoubtedly male authority, this is submission entirely on our own terms. This is a luxury we do not usually have.
Society is, effectively, brainwashing. There’s a good chance that we like a lot of these things simply because they’re what we know. That is to say, our sexualities are an amped-up, high-octane version of the rest of our worlds and lives. This might be the most troubling of the potential explanations, in a “the patriarchal enforcement is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!” kind of a way.
Humans, however liberated and unusual, have a strong tendency to behave in the ways that they are expected to behave. There seems a sort of grim inevitability to the fact that the maledom/femsub dynamic is so prevalent. Of course, it is, because that’s how the world works. I think it’s as important for feminism for us to think about this more as it is for our own communities and introspective tendencies.
Abi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to genre fiction, social justice and M.A.C lipstick. Follow her on her website or @see_abi_write.
What are your opinions on sex-critical feminist submission? Let us know in the comments below.
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