Me me me
Posted on February 5, 2009
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read recently how feminism is all about a woman’s right to make her own choices in life, and quite frankly I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing it. “You can’t criticise prostitution or porn” goes the cry, “some women these days have chosen freely to take part in it. They’re empowered and liberated, all those things feminists have been fighting for for decades.”
It seems that no matter what the choice in question is, whether it’s to sell her body for sex, or whether it’s to submit to the man in her life, the very fact that a woman has made that choice, all by herself and without any sign of having been overtly coerced, means that as feminists we’re under some kind of sisterly obligation to respect it.
Well I’ve got news for you: no it fucking well doesn’t.
Because feminism is not all about you.
Or me for that matter.
Feminism is about us: women.
Feminism has never been about fighting for the right of every individual woman to do as she damn well pleases and sod the consequences to anyone else. It’s always been a collective struggle, one that was founded to win freedom from male oppression for us all, a social movement for change in the position of “the people of women.”
And guess what. Every so-called liberated choice a woman makes has an impact on other women somewhere else – and it’s high time some people woke up to that fact and started taking some responsibility.
For every woman who claims sex work as empowerment, there are a dozen others out there wishing she’d shut the fuck up ‘cos the men who’re trying to make money off their backs keep quoting that shit right at them. For every woman who celebrates submission as a form of emancipation there are a dozen others somewhere being beaten down or murdered for their refusal to submit; and for every empowerfulled woman out there shouting loud and proud about how she loves being tied up and whipped in her totally egalitarian relationship, there are scores of others who know what real pain and fear feel like, and who really don’t need their suffering rubbed in their faces by some privileged little girl treating torture like it’s some kind of edgy fucking game.
Know that what you do and how you try to sell it has an effect. Know that what you do and how you try to sell it may well feel empowering to you, but it is not in the interests of women as a whole, and it is not contributing in any way to the emancipation of those who don’t yet have the same “agency” as you claim to possess.
And if you truly don’t give a shit about the impact your choices have on others, if you truly think that your right to self-expression and personal fulfilment comes first, then don’t try and claim that you’re any kind of feminist.
And don’t tell me that I’ve got no right to criticise another woman’s poor choices, and don’t tell me that when I do I’m somehow trying to silence her or negate her own unique experience, ‘cos quite frankly all this libertarian me me me “I’m all right jack” shite doesn’t wash.
This movement exists to win rights for the majority, not for the individual, so just because you like something, or just because whatever it is you engage in doesn’t harm you, makes not one iota of difference.
It’s not all about you.
It never was about you.
In a word, EXACTLY. Thanks for posting this.
I have been so demoralised by people pushing an individualist agenda for women, this piece is a breath of fresh air. More please.
Aw Cath you are truly Evol now….But yes I’m sick of hearing ‘feminism is all about women doing anything they want’ as well. Because by that reckoning Rosemary West and Myra Hindley are feminist heroines.
Yeah libertarianism is what it is – “Let me do what I want in my privileged white world where I don’t have to give a shit about anybody else”. And all this stuff about choice comes for loony right wing free market ideologues from the 1980s. Goodness knows how it came to be stuck to feminism and why most feminists don’t even seem to have noticed it happened. I guess they’re all closet Tories or really ignorant about politics. It’s got to be one or the other.
Brilliant! Thank you.
I kind of disagree about the ‘1980’s’ bit Delphyne. Loony right wing ideologies have been around longer than that (Ayn Rand) , they only really became ‘mainstreamed’ around the 80’s when individualist rhetoric was adopted politically in the USA and the UK followed like baa lambs.
See ‘The century of the self’ for more (google it, it’s on the intertoobs)
[loony right wing]only really became ‘mainstreamed’ around the 80’s when individualist rhetoric was adopted politically in the USA and the UK followed like baa lambs.”
Clue: “pull up the ladder Jack – I’m all right” imploded and so will memememe feminism. And, just because Margaret Thatcher thought there was ‘no such thing as society’, well she was wrong, on a whole load of levels.
Hear, hear, Cath. Hear, hear.
I am sick of the memes, and every frickin choice that a 20-something privileged WS feminist makes is automatically feminist.
The fact that they are promoting BDSM as harmless fun and empowering, is not only anti-feminist, it is downright dangerous putting other women into harm that would not have thought it OK to try such things.
I feel like I shouldn’t be commenting here, but I find it hard to read stuff so thoroughly misrepresenting me, not to mention insulting me, without responding. So here goes…
I never said BDSM was empowering (I don’t think it is), and I am not trying to sell it as such. I’m not trying to sell it at all.
I never said my choices were feminist.
I never said, and I certainly don’t think, that torture is some ‘edgy fucking game’. I didn’t even mention torture: torture is the infliction of pain on another person against their will, it has nothing to do with my sex life. As for encouraging other women to put themselves in situations where they might be harmed: women can be harmed during any kind of sex. It’s about the man/men in question, not the act the woman decides to engage in. Besides, I never mentioned anything other than being ‘tied up’.
I guess you won’t believe me, Cath, but I totally agree that feminism is about collective struggle, not individualism. But I do not see how what I do in my bedroom has any effect on other women.
If I’d written a post (as a number of people seem to think) detailing how wonderful and empowering it is to submit to a man all the live long day, then that would be irresponsible. But I didn’t. I simply said that I enjoy certain sex acts, I’ve examined why I enjoy them, and I don’t think condemning what I and other women do is particularly helpful to anyone, as implying that we are blinded by patriarchy denies women’s ability to fight against patriarchal conditioning and make our own life decisions.
The post you link to is just one of hundreds I’ve written, and, for the record, I think it is unfair to judge who I am, what I believe and whether I’m a proper feminist on this one collection of thoughts.
Thanks for your comment Laura, and of course you should be commenting here, you’re very welcome.
Just to clarify, the link to your article was put in as an example of the way the current discourse on BDSM is being framed, so the comment about torture etc wasn’t specifically aimed at you personally, but at all those, predominantly younger feminists, who are writing about this stuff. This is not about you.
And you’re right, what you do in your bedroom doesn’t affect other women, what goes on there is entirely between you and your partner; however, what you write about does have an impact, and I don’t think that can be underestimated, especially when you’re writing for a hugely popular site like the F Word.
You wrote in your piece that “pain can be pleasurable”, and about how “letting another person be in charge of your body can be intensely enjoyable” and that’s what I meant about needing to know that how you sell what you do has an effect. Because while this may be your experience, for countless other women that’s most certainly not the case. Having a man take charge of their body and then hurt them has been the very opposite of pleasurable and enjoyable, and to be frank, reading of how other women are re-enacting what they’ve experienced as abuse, and seeing that abuse framed in a way that makes it sound attractive to others, is not only potentially triggering, but is also hugely insulting to them.
I think there’s also the risk that a piece like yours may prompt someone who might previously have been hesitating, and who may be under pressure from a partner, to give BDSM a go, and that their experience of it not only doesn’t then live up to your description of it, but in fact does result in them both feeling and being abused by it.
As feminist writers we need to know that what we write does have an effect. We’re not writing in our personal diaries or journals, we’re putting our words out there for the world to read. So while I don’t think you should be made to feel guilty for indulging in certain sexual practices, I do think you need to take responsibility for the messages you’re sending out.
Word. And FWIW this is the second BDSM advocacy piece the F word has published (the first was by Kit Roskelly) with no attempt to provide a counterbalance at all.
There IS such a thing as society. And women need to stop pretending their ‘choices’ have no impact on other women. Especially when they’re writing for a site with a lot of influence that is the most widely read and publicised “feminist” blog in the UK.
And yes the inverted commas were intentional.
Interesting piece. I like the focus on holding each other to account, and also your challenge that one woman’s privilege may be another’s oppression.
A few points in response.
First, I am surprised that you are responding to Laura by saying the bit of the post that linked to her article wasn’t about her personally, when the way the sentence is structured clearly suggests that it is:
“For every woman who celebrates submission [link to another post] as a form of emancipation there are a dozen others somewhere being beaten down or murdered [link to another post] for their refusal to submit; and for every empowerfulled woman out there shouting loud and proud about how she loves being tied up and whipped in her totally egalitarian relationship [link to Laura’s piece], there are scores of others who know what real pain and fear feel like, and who really don’t need their suffering rubbed in their faces by some privileged little girl treating torture like it’s some kind of edgy fucking game.”
That semi-colon (ridiculously pedantic of me, I know) really does imply that the second half of the sentence is about Laura.
Second, to this idea:
“Feminism has never been about fighting for the right of every individual woman to do as she damn well pleases and sod the consequences to anyone else.”
I have to ask: is this in the guidebook somewhere? Who’s feminism are you speaking about here? Because in some places/countries/cultures/ the right to individual choice for every woman and sodding the consequences for other people *is* pretty much what the feminist movement is about. (Though I don’t think anyone says ‘as she damn well pleases’, they certainly do imply it – read veil debate.)
Third, any reason you’re focusing on age in your critique? Like, what’s this about: “some privileged little girl”?
I don’t see how there possibly CAN be a ‘feminist movement’ which is about
the right to individual choice for every woman and sodding the consequences for other people
Because ‘movement’ to me implies some kind of collectivism. Saying “I want the right to do what I want and to hell with the effect on anyone else” is as I pointed out earlier, in it’s most extreme form, what Rosemary West and Myra Hindley did when they murdered and tortured young girls. And is just the type of extreme libertarianism/individualism beloved of extreme right wing ideologies.
And how is that either collective, or indeed feminist?
Hi Polly Styrene
The attempts to reform personal laws in Pakistan and Iran which constrain the individual rights and freedoms of women for the ‘collective’ good are examples.
As zohra said, including the link to my post within a sentence referring to ‘some privileged little girl treating torture like it’s some kind of edgy fucking game’ makes it very much appear that you were referring to me, but thank you for the clarification.
“You wrote in your piece that “pain can be pleasurable”, and about how “letting another person be in charge of your body can be intensely enjoyable” and that’s what I meant about needing to know that how you sell what you do has an effect. Because while this may be your experience, for countless other women that’s most certainly not the case. Having a man take charge of their body and then hurt them has been the very opposite of pleasurable and enjoyable, and to be frank, reading of how other women are re-enacting what they’ve experienced as abuse, and seeing that abuse framed in a way that makes it sound attractive to others, is not only potentially triggering, but is also hugely insulting to them.”
But I am talking about pain and “control” (because this is not real control) within the context of consensual, respectful sexual relations. Of course I would not find these things pleasurable outside of this context, and I don’t believe I imply that they are. I do not state that ‘abuse’ is attractive or enjoyable, only that I find certain sex acts to be pleasurable. Some men may harm women by perpetrating these acts upon them against their will, but they may equally do so by perpetrating non-BDSM related sex acts: by your logic I should never talk about any kind of sex in a pleasurable context, because sex has been a terrible experience for many women.
I do not believe that readers of TFW are incapable of telling the difference between a description of consensual, respectful sexual relations and the advocation of abuse. Mentioning something that I find pleasurable will not lead to a woman being abused: that abuse comes from the man who abuses her, and if he is that kind of man he will abuse her regardless of whether of not she fancies trying out something which could come under the umbrella of BDSM.
Cath – this is the best feminist article I’ve read in bloody ages. Thank you!
The link was also there because the term “totally egalitarian relationship” was a direct quote from Laura’s piece. I would hope the mention of being whipped made it clear I wasn’t referring to Laura specifically, because she made no mention of whipping in her article.
But yes, let’s not get hung up over the placing of a semi-colon!
I second Polly’s comment on your question about whose feminism I’m talking about, because I can’t see how the feminist “movement” or the women’s liberation “movement” in any culture or country can be about a struggle for one individual’s right to do what they want. It’s a collective effort to win rights and freedoms for all, not just for some (although I do accept that historically that hasn’t always been the case – hence the campaign to win voting rights for privileged women).
And yes, there is a reason I’m focusing on age in my critique, and that’s because I’m old:) Not old old, but old enough to read the stuff that’s being promulgated on sites like the F Word and completely fcuking despair at how little seems to have been learned from all the work of those who came before.
Seriously Zohra, we’ve been here so many times, we’ve had these arguments so many times, books have been written, speeches given, endless conferences held, and yet it seems like the younger generation of feminists think they have to tear all that up and start again from scratch. It’s like reinventing the wheel, and it’s pointless. All that happens is the same old arguments get trotted out, the same conclusions eventually reached, and 20 years down the line we’re left wondering why we wasted all that time doing the same old same old dance when we could have been out there changing the world.
Robin Morgan: To Younger Women, in Sisterhood is Forever
The F Word labels itself as the site for UK Contemporary Feminism, and as an older feminist I am angered by and totally opposed to the message of sexual domination and violence that recent articles on the site have been promoting.
Even the campaign to win voting rights for privileged women ( BTW – I’m not sure what campaign you’re talking about though Cath, as the twentieth century campaign in England was for suffrage for all women, even though it’s only the middle class women we hear about, many working class women were involved)was for a group of women, not an individual.
I think there are very valid criticisms of some second wave feminists and white middle class privilege, and indeed what passes for ‘feminism’ today.
What bothers me most about the F word is that what they are doing is just completely ill informed mud slinging. Have THEY heard of Shirley Chisholm (a second wave feminist) as they praise Obama to the skies? Have they even heard of Audre Lorde FFS? Most of the criticisms of privileged second wave feminists came from other second wave feminists. Read some herstory. Listen. And then comment from a point of being informed (Look at Joan Kelly’s blog for an excellent example of this). Instead of just straw rad fem bashing. Who are these people who are telling Laura Woodhouse all these things she claims? Do they actually even exist?
Polly, I didn’t mean to imply they were campaigning for voting rights for an individual, just recognising that the original campaign for women’s suffrage was about winning the vote for women of property only. So while it was a campaign to win rights for a group, at that stage it wasn’t about universal voting rights for all women.
Thanks for coming back.
I’ve answered Polly’s question – it’s not about ‘one individual’s right to do what they want’, but about ‘the right of individuals to do what they want’.
That’s a good point about not wanting to re-invent the wheel. I hear that. Can I challenge you on three points about what you’ve written, then, against what I think you’re saying:
1. The fact that some haven’t read x or y text (or ‘done their homework’) is not about age. There are a lot of reasons why people may not be up on The History of Feminism in the UK. We know this, you and I, so why make it about age?
2. Even if it was about age, it is rude to say “some privileged little girl” the way you did in that sentence.
3. There will always be people who disagree with your feminist analysis. The fact that we’re still having ‘the same old arguments’ is not only a result of the fact that there are new women in the movement, but also of the fact that some of these issues were never resolved. You are clear and firm about your analysis and beliefs and so perhaps feel that there was some kind of consensus; the literature, however, confirms that actually, there isn’t a consensus on this in feminism, there wasn’t one in the past either, and it’s not that the ‘newbies’ just forgot to read that memo.
I think the most powerful part of your post is it’s critique of privilege, and it’s underlying points about power and voice. That some good stuff. I’d be interested in exploring more how accountable individual women are/should be for their choices – that’s a debate worth having (even if you’ve already had it before!).
Hi again Polly Styrene
Shirley Chisholm – no
Audre Lorde – yes
Mud slinging – am not
Ill-informed – disagree
As I’ve said to Cath above, I get the frustration of having to engage where it seems like people haven’t done their homework. But this frustration is not a license to be rude and is itself coming from a place of privilege (‘I know more than you, have been around longer, am better read’).
As for the bashing accusation, simply untrue.
Rudeness is entirely a subjective term and I dont think Cath was being rude at all. Age is a factor in this, many of us have been living and struggling a feminist life for much longer than you or others that write on the F Word have and we do have a different take on things.
It is demoralising to see a lack of a collectivist approach on the F Word – its one of the many reasons I would dispute it is the voice of feminism and why I dont regularly visit the site anymore.
A lack of editorial direction means that the F Word accepts pieces from any side of an arguement and has no policy position to stand for. FFS the F Word even puts up articles from men – just what we need, more men trying to teach us what feminism is.
I’m going to put my cards on the table here. I don’t really much care what sort of sex you or anyone else is having if it is consensual- by which I mean *genuine* consent, not a polite ‘yes’ or a wanting to please the other person, or a capitulation to overwelming emotional blackmail. You’ve met me irl, and so you know what sort of a person I am, and how I treat people. So please listen to me when I say that for those of us who have suffered under BDSM, for those of us who have been humiliated, browbeaten and broken by it, an outright celebration of it on a supposedly feminist blog seems like a kick in the teeth. I cannot possibly celebrate an act that mimics sexual violence, nor accept it as okay and fine, not after knowing what I know and having felt what I have felt.
I don’t believe that you have wanted to trigger or upset me or anyone else, but there was an underlying tone of shutting up the mean ol’ radical feminists (which is why I am responding here where I feel safe, rather than on the F Word, where I do not). This is an extremely emotive issue for me, as well as for those on both ‘sides’, and I get that I am not always going to be tactful in my responses. But the whole fucking world celebrates BDSM, and to see it celebrated on a feminist site is extremely hurtful. Many women who have been hurt in such circumstances are going to find it extremely hard to post a dissenting comment in response to your pro-BDSM post.
You know that I believe that BDSM is the product of a misogynistic society that likes those oppressed by it to give the appearance of enjoying their oppression. However, there are many things we all do that we do because of the conditioning from the patriarchy we live in. I pluck stray dark hairs, for example, while knowing perfectly wellthat the only reason I think they shouldn’t be there is because of our society’s idealisation of women as children. What I won’t do, however, is suggest it as a course of action to others, nor shall I try to defend it with words like ‘agency’ and ‘freedom’. It’s just something I do because I can’t bear not to.
Also, what gets confused in this discussion (generally I mean, not by you in particular!) is the difference between feelings and actions. Sexual feelings are involuntary, and are morally significant in themselves. One can find BDSM erotic and still disagree with BDSM; the two do not contradict. One is accountable for one’s actions, not one’s feelings. There is no shame in feeling. Sheila Jeffreys, whom for some reason you criticise obliquely in your article, has noted how we have no word for unwanted sexual feelings. If there is no word for a concept, then we can’t articulate it and understand it.
I hope you can see from what I have written why a number of us find the celebration of BDSM on a feminist site very disturbing, and highly triggering. What I have been through is (on a scale of sexual violence) relatively minor, but it still hurts like hell. Again, I really don’t care what you do so long as you are consenting and enjoying, but I do object to treating BDSM as some inviolable unquestionable practice when it has caused so much hurt.
sorry that should read ‘sexual feelings are morally *in*significant in themselves’. Note to self: proofread!
Laurelin, I disagree that “the whole fucking world celebrates BDSM.” It seems to me that a lot of people -whether for traditional or radical reasons- find the idea of it distasteful and would be pretty disapproving of it even being condoned, let alone promoted. I appreciate that some of the superficial imagery surrounding BDSM has become rather fashionable but, really, it strikes me that BDSM is a minority taste and that members of that minority have to regularly fight discrimination from a variety of factions and for a variety of reasons because of that.
My own response to this, as a woman with sexual preferences that some people (admittedly conservatives rather than radical feminists) would find odd, is to view people who express a preference for consensual BDSM as potential comrades. I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that openly expressing a particular sexual preference is somehow inappropriate. Viewing my own as somehow more “correct” within the given context just feels frighteningly like like double-standards to me.
This isn’t about taking a “me, me, me” approach. It’s about allowing each other the sexual freedom that the traditions of the past have denied us and not just replacing them with other (more feminist) reasons to feel guilty.
Msvirago: This is just an aside but, as many of us keep saying, the F-word does not claim to be THE voice of feminism. Also, let’s say the site did develop a “collectivist approach” that excluded whole sections of the movement… Wouldn’t that actually mean many more people saying it doesn’t speak for them than there are currently?!
As it stands, I think both Jess and Catherine have always made an effort to include a variety of feminist perspectives. Obviously, there’s always room for more but you’ll find contributions from radical feminists (for example, Jennifer Drew and Finn Mackay) have been included in that.
Re: “…many of us have been living and struggling a feminist life for much longer than you or others that write on the F Word have…” Not all of us have discussed how old or young we are so I don’t see how you could possibly know that.
Holly- I can’t just choose not to be triggered by celebration of BDSM- if it worked like that, don’t you think I’d have done it already?!
And if the pornographic imagery we see everywhere is just ‘superficial’, then I sure as hell don’t want to see the non-superficial stuff.
There are times and places to express things, Holly, don’t twist my words. There are plenty of sites on the internet where you can freely discuss your sexay games- why should you do it on a feminist site and drive away the survivors of violence who badly need the space there? You are not taking the effect that such celebration of BDSM has on survivors. What could be more important? taking the discussion somewhere more appropriate won’t prevent you from your sexual activities.
‘not taking the effects… seriously’. Duh to me.
I missed that the the last link was to Laura Woodhouse’s post at the F-word. As it was though I’d be interested to know why BDSMers think that their activities are somehow beyond criticism. Radical feminism criticises and analyses all sorts of patriarchal institutions – marriage, heterosexuality, intercourse, motherhood in the patriarchy, male dominance, pornography, rape, beauty practices ….. and so on. It’s a long list and there’s no reason why BDSM shouldn’t be on it too.
And why on earth does Sheila Jeffreys or anybody else applying radical feminist analysis to BDSM in particular though suddenly turn her into a misogynist? It doesn’t make sense and it actually seems quite controlling – as if people who partake in BDSM think they get to decide how far and no further feminist analysis and interrogation of a subject should go and if you don’t comply you’ll be insulted. I don’t think Sheila Jeffreys has ever called Laura Woodhouse names but the same can’t be said to be true the other way around.
To me it seems like a reversal. It’s pretty obvious that men who enjoy tying women up and hurting them for sex are taking part in misogyny, but instead of that fact being noticed, it gets turned into an attack on radical feminism and radical feminists.
Feminism does not equal “what I like”. I’m sure most of us enjoy things that are harmful to women in some form or another but it’s ridiculous to say that because you enjoy those things that somehow its the political movement that has to change.
Fair enough but does Laura’s post really constitute an outright celebration? I mean she didn’t say anything resembling “Yay! BDSM for all. Just try it people!”
I guess you could read the statement about “letting another person be “in charge” of your body” to be a more general one? I just think that, really, it was fairly clear Laura was offering that as her *own* reason (i.e “*I* like doing it because I enjoy the physical sensations, because pain can be pleasurable, because the trust aspect of letting another person be “in charge” of your body can be intensely enjoyable”). Personally, I don’t think it’s wrong for her to say that.
Laurelin: To clarify, that was a response to “I can’t just choose not to be triggered by celebration of BDSM- if it worked like that, don’t you think I’d have done it already?!”
I think we’re talking about two different campaigns cath…..as I understand all men were given the right to vote in 1832, but women were excluded. By 1918 all women over 30 had the right to vote.
I don’t believe I have twisted your words, Laurelin, but can see I should have perhaps made it more clear that my reference to “the idea that openly expressing a particular sexual preference is somehow inappropriate” was a response to the overall discussion and Cath’s post rather than just your comment.
However, you do say there are “times and places to express things.” IMO, disparagingly suggesting that a feminist should go elsewhere to play her “sexay games” (rather than a feminist site) is *kind of* telling her that her preference is inappropriate and that we don’t want that kind of thing round here, thank you very much.
Again, I guess this particular sticking point comes down to a difference of opinion with regard to what constitutes a “celebration” (i.e telling others they really should be doing it because it’s totally fabulous as opposed to simply asserting the right to claim one’s sexuality as one’s own).
Holly- Yes. It reads as celebration to me.
Zohra – a quote from Laura Woodhouse.
Let she who is without sin….
[The following comments should be taken as having a general application. I am not trying to pick on Laura, but am trying to discuss the general situation]
The language itself is triggering, Holly. The language of describing BDSM acts is triggering, no matter what the author intends. I think it is inappropriate to describe it in a forum in which survivors of sexual violence are reading. At least put a trigger warning.
However, and here we will also no doubt disagree, I don’t believe it is a feminist act to celebrate BDSM, and therefore i think that those who wish to partake of it and discuss it in such a manner should find a more appropriate forum. It’s not a big ask.
And yeah, I’m not being uber-polite right now. I’m angry and upset.
Zohra to say ‘ms blah blah, the second wave feminist’ said x and I disagree because y’ is analysis
Unfortunately, many second wave feminists have been just as guilty as the recovery industry of generalizing from their experiences and enforcing how survivors should be and look on other survivors of violence. In fact, as second-wave feminism mainstreamed and got institutionalized (and whiteness and class priviilege was a huge part of that) that part of the movement did a lot to silence survivor voices and contribute to the professionalization of survivor culture. For example, saying that all sex workers who have survived violence are of course reenacting trauma if they’re doing sex work, instead of looking at the complex continuum of sex workers’ experiences doing sex work (and what sex workers, themselves, are saying about their experiences, instead of thinking that sex workers are too stupid to think for themselves); or enforcing an idea that all sex has to be vanilla or you’re re-traumatizing yourself, or not really being able to think beyond an identity that remains broken to thinking about what an identity would look like that both still broke the silence about how common being a survivor is and was resilient, had moved forward, what healing looked like in real life. We need to learn from this- that we need to continuously challenge ourselves in our movements to stay fresh and free of bullshit.
Is mudslinging. And I’ve had plenty of mud slung at me personally by F word bloggers – including Laura Woodhouse. And no hint of an apology.
And to clarify. The REASON why the above is mudslinging is because it’s just repeating generalised cliches.
Delphyne: You’re right that feminism does not equal “what I like.” It’s just that, sometimes, a feminist is put in the position of having to defend her own choices (to whoever- I’m not just singling out Rad Fem critics here). Other times, however, it is called for her to defend those of another woman, regardless of her own.
Laurelin, I don’t want to keep going over the same ground if you’re upset so I won’t but, for the record, I don’t believe it is somehow “a feminist act” in itself to celebrate BDSM either. I would not make such a generalised statement as that. In my view, to say such a thing would be as ridiculous as claiming one can’t be a feminist and engage in BDSM. (NB: I’m not putting words in anyone’s mouth and saying they said that. I’m simply offering it as a overly simplistic position to take.)
And again. Has anyone read Sheila Jeffreys before they start trashing her? Found out what she actually says, rather than what someone else has told them she says?
I didn’t see Laura being put in the position of having to defend her choices. I saw her picking out something Leah said in her interview having a go at second wave (read radical) feminists and riffing off of that. Her post seemed to come out of the blue. Perhaps you could be clearer about what you think happened there, Holly and explain how you think she was put in that position and who you think put her there (let’s get rid of the passive voice!)
But going on my interpretation about what happened I would have said that Laura’s piece was really about trying argue that feminism should be about “what I like” and expecting other feminists to go along with it and not have different views in order to avoid being called misogynistic.
Ur, make that “*an* overly simplistic approach to take”!
Hi again Polly Styrene
Your charge was that ‘the F Word’ is (a) ill-informed (b) mud-slinging and (c) rad fem bashing. Your link is to writing from one blogger that might fit (b), but not (c) and I’m not sure about (a).
My defence is that I haven’t been doing any of these things in this conversation (or the previous one we just had where you also accused ‘the F word’ of attacking rad fems and second wave feminists).
On women’s votes, the first Suffrage Act granted married women and women over 30 the right to vote (1918), the second one granted the right on the same terms as men (1928).
Holly- I didn’t think that you would think that BDSM celebration/ BDSM was feminist, I meant that on a feminist site one talks feminism and is aware of one’s audience. Hope that makes sense now!
Cath – this article said exactly what I was trying to say on the F-Word article, but much better. Thanks for all the work you do and your erudite words!
Cath, a question, since we’ve been over this territory before.
I’m no fan of libertarianism, but I think there’s a middle ground here.
If I applied this to the race debate, you’re actually repeating what John Pilger said earlier – that just because Obama isn’t playing the Black Power game, then he’s just an Uncle Tom.
At what point do people within a movement have a right to say ‘listen, I have a different opinion / view on this and I don’t buy the traditional paradigm’?
Whatever the merits of the arguments on both sides in the feminist debate, all I’m saying is that this worryingly sounds like you’re calling Laura an uncle tom of feminism.
Delphyne: I would say this debate is much wider than what just one or two people said to trigger Laura’s post and that’s why I chose to depersonalise some of my comments. Obviously, I can’t speak for Laura but I believe she was responding to several sources. Anyway, as I think Zohra has said, these debates are not new and weren’t resolved when they came up years ago so I would say this is the sort of conflict that builds up over time. For me, this means it wouldn’t be fair to point the finger and say “she did it!” because, really, it’s much more complicated than that.
I just don’t think there’s anything to be gained from singling people out and if not resorting to that helps avoid a blog war, I’m happy for you to continue viewing my points as questionable.
That’s fine Holly. I guess my interpretation stands then, at least until Laura answers for herself if she wants to.
Actually we digressed off the real topic of my post and on to a side issue there, Holly.
Like you say this is a much wider debate going on here and I’m still interested in an answer to my two questions, one of which I think anybody who is a BDSMer in feminism can answer:
“I’d be interested to know why BDSMers think that their activities are somehow beyond criticism [from radical feminists].”
Sunny, I don’t understand your comparison at all.
Cath, as far as I can see, isn’t saying every woman has a duty to be a radical feminist of spotless purity toeing the (wholly imaginary) party line or else she’s a gender traitor. What a lot of rad fems are saying is that it’s ok for us to critically analyse BDSM withouth being accused of being ‘anti women’ (especially as men take part in BDSM too, but seem to be invisible).
What some of the BDSM advocates seem to think is that it’s perfectly ok for them to say the kind of things the F word says about radical feminists, but that radical feminists have no right to apply their own critical analyis to the wider topic of BDSM – which is not the same as criticising individuals doing it. Because analysis of any kind is ‘silencing’ and ‘anti women’.
Which is just a ludicrous position. Can I ask you and everyone else to try a thought exercise. What if there was an article on the F word dissing ‘third wave’ feminists the way they’ve just dissed “second wave”/radical feminists. There’d be uproar.
F word bloggers have directly linked to a post accusing me of being homophobic (Helen G) in this case I was denied a right of reply, or any kind of apology, despite writing directly to Jess McCabe and Catherine Redfern, and despite other bloggers (including Cath) raising the issue. This despite Catherine Redfern protesting on my blog about how keen she was to listen to all views the F word received. I was contacted by ONE person from the F word over this, who was not Jess McCabe or Catherine Redfern.
The F word is of course a much more widely read blog than mine, but they seem to think this kind of bullying is ok.
Laura Woodhouse directly insulted me and misrepresented what I was saying on the now deleted blog ‘The Burning Times’.
Anyway, that’s the past.
I don’t accept that the original post wasn’t calculated second wave/radical feminist bashing. The questions from the F word were obviously structured to elicit certain responses. And the fact that it was immediately followed up by the post Cath links to above doesn’t lessen my suspicions one iota.
The F word needs to get some ethics.
Polly – I was talking about the original campaign for women’s suffrage and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS)led by Millicent Fawcett. In the beginning they excluded married women from their demands, and argued for equal voting rights for men and women under the existing franchise laws, which at that time (late 1800s) required property qualifications.
Sunny – “At what point do people within a movement have a right to say ‘listen, I have a different opinion / view on this and I don’t buy the traditional paradigm’?”
At any point obviously, but that’s not what’s happened here. In the cases we’re discussing the writers have simply presented the reader with what amounts to a fait accompli if you like, saying: “This is what I do, and if you dare criticise me for it, or indeed for even mentioning it, then you’re oppressing me, ‘cos the very fact I’ve made a decision about something is in itself a feminist act.”
I’m simply saying no it’s not, and no I don’t have to respect your choices just because you’re a woman or just because you’re a feminist. Not every choice a feminist makes is feminist, so stop trying to pass it off as if it is.
In her first post on this thread Laura said: “I never said my choices were feminist.” In which case I have to ask, what on earth was that article doing on the F Word?
But I do also think that within any movement there has to be a cut off point, there have to be some non-negotiables, or else what’s the point of a movement – if anything goes, what exactly does that movement stand for?
As for calling Laura an uncle tom (or should that be aunt thomasina?), I’m not calling Laura anything, and I wish this discussion hadn’t got quite so centred around one person.
But surely even you can accept Sunny that sell-outs do exist within most movements, and that there comes a point when someone loses all credibility in claiming to represent a cause. And again, I am not talking about Laura here! But just as a for instance, look at all the fun we had with Sarah Palin and her claim to be a pro-life feminist…..
The idea of ‘choice’ is a libertarian one and if taken to its logical conclusion then why is it not acceptable for adults to engage in sexual activity with children. In the late 20th century this was promoted as a ‘right’ by the man-boy organisation (if memory serves me right). This organisation sought to make it acceptable for adult men (because it was overwhelmingly men who wanted this ‘right’ to be accepted) to have sex with boy children. Their reasoning was that children supposedly had agency and were supposedly capable of giving informed consent to sexual activity with an adult, irrespective of the obvious power imbalance. So what was wrong with these men demanding their right of exercising their right of ‘choice’ after all they were not attempting to rape boy children because children in their view have agency and ability to give consent. The issue was in these men’s view, just about their right to ‘choose to have sexual relations with children and it was not about raping children. Anyone who objected was just being prudish or anti-sex! The issue of male power over children who do not have equal power with adult males was considered irrelevant.
So, it is with the idea of ‘choice’ in respect of BDSM, pornography and of course prostitution, because women supposedly have ‘free choice and agency’ to consent to engaging in BDSM because it is ‘edgy’ or simply role playing. Likewise pornography is supposedly fantasy and has no relation whatsoever to the real world. As regards prostitution – well it is just work and is not connected in any way with men’s demands and beliefs it is their right to have unlimited sexual access to any woman or girl.
The two recent articles in The F word whilst not directly promoting BDSM as a ‘harmless fantasy practice’ did indirectly claim it was just ‘role playing’ between two consenting adults who had equal power. Now in an ideal world this would work fine because there would be no need to critique or understand just how the patriarchal system operates, or how this system gives men as a group far greater power than women as a group. In an ideal world women and men would not learn different social scripts in respect of what passes for masculine and feminine behaviour. In an ideal world women would not be subjected to male violence and then blamed for supposedly allowing this to happen. But we do not live in an ideal world. Instead we live in a rigid patriarchal one.
The patriarchal world which we all live in excuses and justifies male sexual violence against women and children. It also reinforces misogynistic beliefs that women should sexually submit to men because it is natural and normal. BDSM is part of this patriarchal belief and irrespective of whether or not a woman and a man indulge themselves in ‘role playing’ and believe their practices are private and personal which has no effect whatsoever on anyone else, once either party publicly states they enjoy BDSM then it no longer becomes a ‘private practice.’ Instead it confirms what patriarchy constantly tells women – which is women supposedly exist to be men’s sexual servants or slaves. It also confirms patriarchy’s claim that women are innately masochistic and enjoy pain inflicted on them. Porn tells this lie too.
I have lost count of the times I have heard or been told that rape is not rape but just normal heterosexual practices between two consenting adults. I also happen to know many women have been coerced or subjected to immense pressure to submit to sexual practices they do not want by male partners. The common tactic such men use is to say to their female partner/girl friend ‘try it once because if you don’t try it you won’t know if you like it or not.’ Or the woman is made to feel guilty and selfish because she is not accomodating the man’s sexual needs. This is clever manipulation and so when I read the two articles on BDSM and ‘women’s agency and sexuality’ it immediately reminded me of how women continue to be pressurised or cajoled into submitting to sexual practices they do not want. Ah but these women were not supposedly exercising their agency sufficiently because if they had then they would not have been raped or subjected to sexual violence and sexual torture by their male partners/boy friends. Easy to claim but in practice it is very difficult when men as a group continue to be socialised into the myth they as a group are superior and they are entitled to enact any sexual act they wish upon a woman simply because she happens to be a woman. This is where power comes into play. An excellent example is the recent case of an MP who was coerced into handing over personal papers to a police officer. Now this male MP had power and social position, yet he himself admitted he felt powerless to refuse the police officer’s demand, despite the fact this police officer did not threaten him physically. Why? One answer could be because of the police officer’s social position – he was a representative of the law and part of our social conditioning is to ‘respect the law.’ Some of course do not – but most individuals do. This is how power operates. Did this police officer abuse his position of power? The matter is still being investigated.
Sheila Jeffreys despite being maligned and demonised has much to say on the issue of how male power operates and why the issue of ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ is used to hide women’s continued oppression as a group. Her latest book The Industrial Vagina discusses the issue of ‘choice’ and how all too commonly women do not have real choice or agency but instead continue to be constrained by their economic, social or cultural circumstances which continue to privilege men as a group and define women as non-human. Catherine MacKinnon has much to say on the issue of ‘are women human?’ Another feminist who has been demonised because she dared to speak/write the truth about women’s status.
Yes the issue of women’s choice and women’s agency is not a new one and yes the wheel continues to be re-discovered but that is because challenging male power is a radical notion and it does mean overthrowing our patriarchal and now capitalist society. But this in itself is seen as too radical an idea even to consider so far better to appease and opt for less, but what happens is patriarchy does not want that instead the system demands women’s total subjugation. Yes, some women have managed to achieve ‘agency and choice’ but they are few and the vast majority continue to be constrained and oppressed by patriarchy. One primary method is subjugating women’s sexuality to men’s service and how this operates varies from culture to culture but the end result is always the same, women’s continued subordination. So, it is not about ‘individual choice’ but it most certainly is about how women as a group continue to be oppressed and subordinated to men as a group.
Hi Polly, you say:
Hmmm, you seem to see this as a wider issue about the attitude of TFW towards radfems, and bring up stuff from the past that I have little history of.
My point related specifically to what Cath said about who is allowed to say what on feminism, and who can define it as feminism.
Cath, you say:
Mmmm… it seems to me that you’re more questioning her right to call herself a feminist rather than saying what was specifically wrong with the issue.
I guess it comes down to the cut-off point. What would it be? If one takes an extreme position, such saying that slavery was alright (as one US rapper actually said recently) or that the British Raj was not a bad idea after all, then I can see how that’s Uncle Tom behaviour.
That is deliberately and openly saying I’m ok with being oppressed by this person because I think they did a good job.
The problem is that these phrases are chucked around too often. Islamists for example regularly call more moderate Muslims Uncle Toms or sell-outs because they prefer a more confrontational approach than one that isn’t to standoff-ish.
This is one of the reasons why I now rail against the whole Uncle Tom paradigm so much, because it assumes everyone thinks the same in a given movement. But even on the left, we have people who broadly pro-free markets all the way to hardcore socialists.
If one spent all their time denouncing each other then frankly you wouldn’t get anywhere (read: SWP).
I think the Sarah Palin case was easy because she actively wanted to stop women from having the choice. I’m struggling to understand what line has been crossed here. It may be because I’m new to these discussions so you could spell it out for me.
Even if the discussion isn’t around one person, and I agree it shouldn’t be – your original blog posts seems a bit worryingly treading that fine line saying that if someone doesn’t agree with your version of feminism then they’re a sellout. How does one build a broad coalition on that basis?
because they prefer a more confrontational approach than one that isn’t to standoff-ish.
sorry, I meant that the Islamists prefer a confrontational approach and more moderate Muslims don’t.
Yeah, you you you.
Quite frankly, Cath, ‘feminism’ has always struck me as a word as about as useful as ‘socialism’ – which got banded about by Hitler, Stalin and an awful lot of people in between.
You see, your arguments disintegrate upon close examination. For example, you really would be amazed how many of these evil male exploiters, pimps, brothel owners, human traffickers and porn kings turn out, upon close examination, to have the wrong set of genitalia for your arguments. Which isn’t to say there aren’t any male ones – just a lot of females.
And I have to say that I do feel that any attempt by anyone to marshal the world’s women to some single cause is likely to be as doomed to at least as much failure as any guy trying to do the same for the male sex.
If I were you I’d jack what you’re doing in and embark on something entirely different. Tried writing?
Or how about this for a new hobby?
I think you’ll find that’s ‘bandied about’ Stephen Paterson. Maybe you should jack in what you’re doing and take a course in spelling.
“not every choice a feminist makes is feminist”.
Let’s assume I am a feminist. If I go out and get drunk, does that make getting drunk feminist? Does that mean that if people criticise me for getting drunk, and say – vomiting all over the night bus – that they’re not respecting my choices as a feminist and a woman? Are they questioning my right to call myself a feminist if they say getting drunk isn’t feminist? Or are they just saying I should learn to moderate my drinking and not make a mess that makes life unpleasant for other people?
Obviously getting drunk IS feminist. But throwing up on the night bus is very anti social.
Jennifer – I’ve written a few times about the promotion of sex with children as ‘choice’ – one leading advocate of this is Patrick Califia – also a major figure in starting the lesbian BDSM movement before changing gender. The organisation you’re referring to is the Paedophile information exchange. But in the 80’s it was very fashionable in liberal circles to claim that not allowing adults to have sex with children was somehow depriving the children of ‘rights’ to express their sexuality, especially if this was gay men. This led to the situation in Islington where gay male paedophiles took over and ran children’s homes and weren’t challenged at all.
This thread confirms what I have always suspected – that socialism, particularly in its more extreme forms, demands conformity and is therefore incompatible with individuality, diversity, inclusiveness, liberty and freedom of choice.
As demonstrated very well by the present government.
Jennifer Drew at 12.05am – excellent stuff. If only this blog had a ‘recommend’ option!
And as always, Twisty hits the nail right on the head:
Yup David Tong, we’re coming to get you, and we’re going to make you conform.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Ms Virago: I agree, Jennifer Drew is very erudite.
Wow – now that sounds like violence against men! I don’t (normally) do BDSM…..do you?
Tell you what David, why don’t you set up a petition about it……
Awwww, I see you’ve got both Dougie Fox and Stephen Patterson on board……sweet.
What am I meant to be conforming to? I didn’t get the memo.
Poor David, being threatened by the evil online feminists. We should all remember that violence against men is *bad*, while violence against women is *fine* so long as you have a camera, a website and a complete lack of conscience.
Honestly David, are you one of those victim masculinists or something? Don’t you see that you are denying men agency?
Who mentioned violence? We’re just going to use our rad fem superpowers of mind control…..
Good idea, Cath, but you always sign the wrong blooming ones!
Polly’s controlling me right now. If she weren’t controlling me, I’d be getting all empowerfulled in Ann Summers, or something.
Er…I hope she’s not controlling you for gain…? 🙂
No, just for evol. And the sheer joy of it. Don’t give up the day job for stand up comedy anyway, rhymes with pong.
Enjoy your evol evening, rhymes with brolly! 🙂
No still not funny……
Well, have you heard the one about the dachshund whose ladylove lived on the the top floor of a tower block the night the lift broke down…?
So wankerson is The Expert on feminism now? Just last week he was appointed Expert to Pimping. Which is probably a good thing, as having a sleezeball MRA as spokesperson puts the IUSW’s cred more completely down the S-bend.
Pong isn’t even the least bit amusing. The Crime of being Unfunny is a serious one, so do take your position as first up against the wall.
Troll quality is seriously lacking these days.
Ever tried presenting serious arguments along with the jokes?
Yes. Shame you haven’t tried it.
(btw, last time I actually engage you directly, you waste of space)
Polly, you say:
That’s a good analogy. But let me turn it around. People can tell you off for anti-social behaviour. But what if they told you off for not being a ‘proper woman’, under the assumption that ‘nice ladies’ don’t do such things?
Furthermore, what if another woman said you weren’t a proper feminist for getting drunk in the first place? Does she have the right to say when she can and cannot call you a feminist?
Well ‘proper woman’ isn’t the same thing as ‘proper feminist’ though is it Sunny? I picked the example deliberately – mainly because I’d just got off a night bus where someone had thrown up all over the floor (eeuuwww).
There IS a lot of misogynist crap talked about “drunken sluts” – mainly in the Daily Mail. That doesn’t mean getting drunk is a feminist act (I was being facetious, even if my old blog WAS called You know that I’ve been drunk a thousand times). Which is the point Cath is making as far as I can see. Just because a woman chooses to do something which she individually enjoys, it isn’t feminist.
Cath isn’t as far as I can see, saying anyone ‘isn’t a proper feminist’. What she is doing is saying that in her book (and mine as well) feminism is a collective movement for the liberation of women. And that if you choose to do something that can be to your personal advantage, but to the collective disadvantage of women as a whole, and that works against the liberation of women as a whole, that’s not feminist in her definition.
Whereas ‘feminism’ has now cleverly been reframed, by a capitalist, patriarchal society, to simply mean women gaining individual social advantages for themselves. That’s why personally I don’t think Margaret Thatcher was a feminist for instance – yes she was the UK’s one and only woman prime minister, so she gained great personal advantages. But she worked against the interests of women overall.
It might appear here that we’re just arguing about the definition of a word. But it’s more than that. If patriarchy convinces women that ‘liberation’ consists solely of seeking individual advantage, that’s a huge blow to any possibility of organising collectively.
Which patriarchy and capitalism doesn’t want to happen anyway of course. It wants to keep things just the way they are. And the best way to do that is hegemony – when women are convinced that things that are not in the interests of women overall actually are in some way a movement for liberation. It stifles any real possibility of social change, encourages women to believe that the interests of capitalism/patriarchy are also their interests, and just feeds you the same old crap.
I don’t think those were ‘jokes’ Stormy……
I make no apologies but it is absurd to imply that bdsm can be feminist. Bdsm supports and reinforces the domination – subjugation paradigm of patriarchy which lies at the root of women’s oppression. It is the bedroom matinee of patriarchal tyranny that underpins the very power structure that we as feminists are challenging. No one is saying that women cannot partake in or indeed enjoy bdsm activities just that they leave it out describing it as an acceptable, innocuous, agency driven, facet of feminism. It’s not; it’s just part of the same old system that grinds women into dust. Just because it gives you an orgasm – doesn’t make it feminism. In the end bdsm is the result of oppression, not the antidote to it.
In the end bdsm is the result of oppression, not the antidote to it.
Unless we are gonna get all pomo Michael Foucault about it – and yeah he practiced bdsm too.
*gazing at naval*
Quote of the week 🙂
Though, I wasn’t necessarily making a maritime reference.
*navel* fracking fire fox auto spell thingie…
Excellent post, Cath. Just great.
Mmm… yes I know that, but Cath know what point I’m trying to make. Which is – who decides what’s the proper definition of feminism?
As I asked earlier, who decides where the line is drawn at what a woman does is feminist and what isn’t. Another woman might be trying to help a fellow woman from puking up, which others might interpret as feminist solidarity, but she interprets as ‘helping a mate’. So I’d like to know where this mythical line lies.
Well, I was told one of the main points about feminism is: the personal is the political?
So I think if you’re going to try and separate individual action from ‘the collective’ then I think you’ll end up tying yourself into knots.
Secondly, you’re implying what Holly is saying goes against the liberation of women. That may not be the implication, but that’s what I’m reading here.
Like I said, I’d like to look at this narrative in a broader sense because I see it come up all the time, especially in minority communities.
A black or Muslim woman may want to stand up against forced marriage / FGM in her local community for example. Now there are multiple identities at play here. So as a feminist you say – go on sister, stand up for the rights of women!
But the local Muslims / blacks might say: Oi, you might want to do that for your interests but what about the fact that collectively you’re giving Muslims / blacks a bad name? We’ll deal with it in our own way thanks!
How would you deal with that scenario? Because, what I’m trying to say is, your argument can end up undermining the people it is designed to help.
The framework has to change as the world changes – that is the way any movement develops and re-invigorates itself.
I’d deal with that scenario, Sunny, by supporting the Muslim woman as she wanted me to. I really don’t see the point you’re making. It’s completely unrelated to the topic at hand, and there is no analogy. People who practice BDSM may be a minority, but they’re not a minority community in the sense that UK Muslims are.
Nobody ‘gets to decide the proper definition of feminism’. It’s a word. If I say ‘feminism’ and what I mean is a flat square wooden object about 80 cm high with four wooden legs, I could be describing a table. What I’m saying (and I presume Cath is) is that the activities of individual women who assert their ‘right’ to do BDSM, who have a degree of privilege, in that they are writing on a widely read feminist blog, can work against the interests of other women.
As a radical feminist, my analysis of BDSM is that it springs and echoes from power relations within society that are harmful to women (note, I’m not having an argument about this here, if you want to argue, there are plenty of pieces on my blog). I therefore do not think that actively advocating the practice of BDSM is compatible with the wider liberation and interests of women as a group. Just as I don’t think advocating the practice of female genital mutilation is compatable with the wider liberation and interests of women as a group.
HOWEVER, the situation where a woman who already lacks privilege in society as a result of being a BME woman is subject to cultural pressures that may be harmful to her individually is ENTIRELY DIFFERENT from a white, privileged woman advocating a sexual activity that she has voluntarily adopted. Especially when that women loudly proclaims her individual ‘agency’.
In the first situation, it would be entirely wrong of me to not acknowledge the cultural pressures, and desire/need to remain within her own community,which make that woman’s situation complex. In the second situation, there are no cultural pressures.
The last sentence should probably read “In the second situation, there are no comparable cultural pressures, which would lead to the woman being alienated from her community”. Because you are not going to be cast out of white, heterosexual, middle class life if you refuse to do BDSM.
Sorry this is a bit late; I’ve been away for a few days. I just wanted to apologise for triggering you. For what it’s worth, I deleted a fair bit from my first draft of post in order to try and avoid any more graphic descriptions that might upset people, but if I write anything on this topic in future I will make sure I put a warning at the top of the post indicating that BDSM will be mentioned in what follows.
I feel like I shouldn’t be commenting here either, but Laura deserves support.
For the record, I don’t think “choice” really exists either, and I’m not too big on “agency” either. However, there is no way in hell that every woman should be held accountable to womankind as a whole for what she does in the bedroom.
Claiming that Laura’s sexual prefences harm womankind is complete nonsense. Plenty of people like it a bit rough. There are no simple rules about what happens in the bedroom and its effects on the condition of womankind. There are as many ethical dilemmas and different situations as there are different relationships. In fact, by sharing her own experience with such honesty I think Laura has contributed towards understanding these better, if anything. So, it’s okay if she does it along as she shuts up about it? What the hell kind of feminists are you?
Sexual preferences are something incredibly personal, that you don’t have total control over (you do a certain extent obviously). Laura was brave to share hers – I certainly wouldn’t – and it is incredibly callous and bullying behaviour to claim that something that personal about someone actually harms you not only you, but womankind as a whole. Plus it’s utterly bloody ridiculous.
I would have expected better of grown women. Now please get the hell over yourselves.
And might I add that making the link you do between someone who enjoys a spot of S&M and actual violence against women is also completely nonsensical.
Really, think about it (as you obviously do, quite a lot): how brutal and domineering do you have to be to seek out a submissive to have sex with? How gentle do you really have to be in order to do what he or she wants, without actually physically harming him or her? The answer is, quite a lot. In fact, you could almost say that the submissive in this case is the dominant partner.
Whereas in the case of some guy who gets satisfaction from brutalising women, and decides to act on it, the relationship is obviously completely different.
Although the reality is of course a lot more complex than that.
To throw in prostitution and pornography in there as well as though they’re completely the same thing, well, that’s too much utter bullshit to list.
Besides, I’ve seen a lot of you inform Laura that her sexuality is “influenced by patriarchy”, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. But (and whether patriarchy even exists or not makes no difference to this), you are all complete products of patriarchy, your entire identities are built around avoiding it. If it didn’t exist, you’d be different people entirely. Therefore, you don’t really have a leg to stand on.
Not that I’m sure why I’m even bothering, because none of you are making any sense. We might as well be arguing about horoscopes.
Also, just to say, Cath is new to the blogosphere, but some of you must be getting some serious deja-vu in terms of bullying the crap out of people in totally unacceptable ways. Maybe one might infer something about your own proclivities.
Zenobia, I think you need to read the comments that are responding to again, and properly this time. Then respond. You’re accusing people of things they haven’t said or done.
Cath, apart from this blog,which has been around since last year, has been on Liberal conspiracy and comment is free (that would be um, the Guardian, a national newspaper) for some time. If I were cynical, (dawg forbid) I’d think the ‘national newspaper’ bit is why some people find their way here.
And, to repeat what Laurelin said. Instead of just slinging mud, please cite what/who you are referring to and back it up with examples.
“you are all products of patriarchy, your entire identities are built around avoiding it”
You have never met me, and I don’t know whether you’ve met any of the others who’ve commented here. How the hell do you know what our ‘entire identities’ are built around?
And of course I’d be a different person if patriarchy didn’t exist. To give just two examples, I’d be better off financially, and not have suffered abuse from men.
Look, I don’t especially give a fuck about your opinions about stuff. As far as I’m concerned, you’re all internet whackjobs (except for Cath who’s a professional freelance internet whackjob). All I care about is that you’re being dicks to someone who doesn’t deserve it (as opposed to the way I’m being a dick to you guys because you do deserve it). And, what’s more, someone who seems quite likely to get upset about it. In any case, you’re being quite personally mean to someone who you are quite aware will be bothere by it under cover of making theoretical points.
For instance, Cath, can I ask you something? You did quite a bit of sneering about Laura’s “supposedly egalitarian relationship” up there. Is this (this post and thread) really how you talk to women who you believe to be in abusive relationships? Because if that’s the case, you have no business whatsoever lecturing anyone on solidarity towards women.
I don’t fucking believe any of you were triggered by Laura’s article either. Why? Three reasons: you all write stuff that’s far more gory and in-detail yourselves and then congratulate each other for it. You’re actually able to coherently type “oh no you triggered me”. And, I’ve known genocide survivors (you know what you often have to go through to survive a genocide if you’re a young woman, right?) who find the whole idea of being triggered by a women’s magazine article on S&M completely laughable.
Unless by “triggered” you mean that she triggered your arsehole gland, in which case that’s your fault for being arseholes. To be honest, I think you know from experience what’s going to cause Laura to apologise to you and possibly upset her (I don’t know her well enough to presume that).
In any case, the point is: you’re being horrible. I can’t stop you I guess, but I just wanted you to know.
Fuck you Zenobia. Don’t you dare try and talk down to me, as if you know how I am feeling and whether or not I am triggered. When I say I’m triggered, I fucking mean it, and you have no right to say such vile things to me. How fucking dare you?! As it happens, different people are triggered by different things, and I am triggered by celebrations of BDSM- which I do not exactly go looking for. Capiche? Need me to write it down for you? Oh wait, I just did. I won’t bother describing what exactly triggering is, as you obvious do not give a flying fuck about anything except your own precious ickle ego. Laura apologised for triggering me- for which I am grateful, and I have no doubt that she never intended to do so. But you- I’m so glad you have all this knowledge about who I am and how I feel! And you think *I’m* being an arsehole! If I spoke to you the way you just spoke to us, I would be accused (justly) of refusing to believe you. It’s okay when you do it to me.
Congratulations, you’ve made me lose my temper; few women can do that. Now fuck off to the rest of the sex pozzies and tell them how you bravely stood up to the Big Radfem Meanies who dared to express their vulnerability. They’ll be well impressed, no doubt- they love bullies.
zenobia – give up the crappy attempt to shame people into silence. your accusations are based on straw, youre being judgmental, and your insults directed at peoples mental health and ptsd make you far more of a dick than anyone else has been on this thread.
so what if laura wants to do consensual sexual violence. everyones said thats her perogative, noone is forcing her not to. but is the f-word the place for her or anyone else to blather on about it? the answer is, no. its really that simple. what next, a post about how lipstick is brilliant and subversive, and feminists who criticise the beauty industry are just big old meanies? or maybe one of the f-worders will put up an article about how much they like liquorice, i mean if feminism is just about stuff we like. thats the level on which i took lauras post, like one of those ego columns in a crappy womens supplement from some newspaper, where the author babbles about how they like cheese, or whatever.
cath has taken pains to say she wasnt aiming at laura but more generally, and for all the whinging otherwise, i read caths post here that way, as general comment. lauras post was linked as a recent example, thats all.
i think its fucking despicable that you chuck around the ‘ive known genocide survivors’ spiel irrelevantly as if it makes you look more legitimate in your abuse. thats called USING PEOPLE. youre using them to try and give yourself credibility, there’s no other reason for you to have brought them up in this thread other than that. sort yourself out, that shit is not cool.
Ok folks, I realise some of stuff coming up in this discussion is proving challenging and upsetting for some, but can I just ask that people cool it with the personal abuse.
A couple of points.
Zenobia, as I hopefully made clear upthread, this blog post was not about Laura, and nor was it about any woman’s personal sexual preferences. I completely agree with you that what goes on between two consenting adults in the bedroom is entirely their business.
I’m also not trying to tell anyone that their choice to engage in BDSM or porn is wrong, or to pass judgement on anyone for doing any of those things. The issue here is not with what Laura or any other woman gets up to in the bedroom, but with how some of those women then try to frame their personal choices as being feminist acts, when they’re quite blatantly not and never will be, and the wider implications of them doing that. I didn’t actually think there was anything particularly contentious about saying that to be honest. I mean, even Renegade Evolution, who is absolutely unequivocal about her right to take part in BDSM, porn etc, acknowledges that this stuff isn’t feminist.
I repeat, not every choice a feminist makes is feminist, and we shouldn’t try and sell those choices as though they were. God knows, I’m certainly no holier-than-thou put-me-on-a-pedestal model feminist, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and done plenty of shit in my life, the only difference is I would never try and claim that any of that crap was feminism.
TLDR to most of you
Cath – where exactly did Laura say her sex life was feminist or empowering? She just said it happened. In light of all the exclamations of “women would never enjoy that!” you see around (maybe not necessarily in this thread, but I’ve seen it, and Laura has I’m sure), I can see why she felt the need to actually speak up about the fact that she enjoys it.
I mean, someone up there described it as “consensual sexual violence” but then said she shouldn’t “blather” about it. On a side note, I’m having trouble with the whole “consent” issue here, because consent is a very complex issue. For one, when can you be said to have consented? How much were you forced (or not?)? For another, once you’ve consented, it’s entirely possible for something you didn’t want to happen anyway. What if you like it rough, and it gets a bit too rough? What if he decides to biff you one? There’s a fine line between consensual sex and abuse.
But what I’m seeing here is that as soon as consent has taken place, all of a sudden all empathy vanishes – so, what, if she said yes, it’s okay to physically abuse her? (Not that I think this is what’s happening with Laura’s relationship, it’s entirely theoretical).
Not only that, but she shouldn’t “blather” about it? At least not where anyone can hear it?
And, I still maintain that you’ve conflated a whole bunch of things in your post that have nothing to do with one another. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of these pronouncements in feminist blogs over the past years, or at Comment Is Free even, that BDSM = rape, marriage = prostitution, and a host of other oversimplifications. But the reasons why a woman will choose to get married will be different for each person, and the same goes for BDSM, everyone’s psychology and relationship to power will be different. Same goes for prostitution actually, people get into it for millions of different reasons, although I’d agree with you that it’s nearly always a bad situation for the woman.
Do we acknowledge that every woman’s situation is going to be different, or do we stand on a pedestal and tell them that they’re all deluded?
The way I read Laura’s post was that she’s read in various places that her lifestyle is wrong, and that women who think they enjoy that stuff really don’t, and she was saying “excuse-me but I do”. That’s not claiming something to be a huge feminist statement, that’s just saying it happens to women – which I think actually is very relevant on a feminist website.
What I think you’re doing, if you don’t mind me saying, is that you know your audience and how to impress them. That’s your prerogative as a freelance journalist trying to find an audience, but try not to be a dick to people along the way.
In fact, I would usually have stayed out of this argument, but I thought my input could be useful here, because I think everyone is aware I’m not a huge fan of the F-Word, so my opinion is objective. I know when you’ve written something and a whole bunch of people fall on you and start shouting at you it’s hard to figure out if you’ve said anything wrong or not, and there needed to be a redress of balance in this case, mainly to be supportive to Laura.
Anyway, I don’t really want to be involved any further. I’ll let some of you get back to your long emails of complaint to Laura’s editor (or “civil disobedience”, as you believe you like to call it), and the rest of you to penning frightfully important feminist commentary for the Guardian.
It depends on how you define the personal is political.
When feminists first coined this phrase it was in recognition that a woman’s personal experiences have political causes; that the problems we face as women are due to the patriarchal nature of society, not necessarily because of any personal inadequacies. It was never meant to mean I’m a feminist; feminism is a political stance; therefore everything I do is feminist.
The personal is political encourages us to look more closely at our lives as women and recognise how patriarchy has impacted on us. So in the context of this debate, it could be argued that those claiming BDSM as empowerment or liberation are completely failing to make those basic feminist connections, seeing their own personal choices as being made entirely autonomously and without influence from any social, cultural or religious conditioning (ie patriarchy).
Personally I think that attitude’s a crock, because no matter how much we’d like to think of ourselves as completely free-thinking individuals, none of us remain unaffected by these things. Feminism recognises that and gives us the tools to analyse what those influences are and the systems of power and politics behind them.
I’d also argue, just as I did in the post, that the personal is political means that while not everything we do is feminist, what we do and the choices we make are political and do have a political effect. That effect can be counter-productive (reinforcing and upholding patriarchal values for instance), and work against the collective interests, and against the very thing (feminism)we claim to represent.
zenobia: “Anyway, I don’t really want to be involved any further. ”
thank fuck for that. talk about giving yourself an ego trip.
Not that anyone else here was on any kind of an ego trip.
Let’s all tell Laura that we have to condemn her for talking about sex on a blog. It’s for the cause of Feminism! Let’s all make ourselves feel better for picking on an easy target. Let’s not just tell her, let’s instruct her to “know that” it is so.
Let’s all pick on an easy target who we know feels strongly about violence against women and would be upset to be told her sexuality is triggering to people. That’s not an ego trip at all. And you all fucking know it. That’s why you do it. I mean, it’s not like you’re really concerned about whether she’s in an abusive relationship, otherwise you would talk to her differently (I would hope, especially since some of you actually work with vulnerable adults I believe?). You also seem to believe that once someone has chosen what you believe is abuse then they should shut the fuck up about it and put up because they brought it on themselves, which is surely contrary to all you’re supposed to stand for.
And then I’m on an ego trip because I’m asking you to be a bit consistent and have some solidarity towards women in all types of situations making all kinds of decisions. You know, where you’re telling someone to shut the fuck up about her sexuality out of solidarity for womankind.
I mean, fuck it, sexuality is something very personal. It’s the same as if she posted a picture of herself and you told her to put a bag over her head out of solidarity of womankind. You’re still telling her what she does is an aberration that should be kept secret.
Shame on you all, for fuck’s sake.
so you haven’t finished your attempt at virtual shame-silencing then?
get over yourself.
I like Zenobia doing the old TLDR, when her post is one of the longest on here. Har, har. Sometimes the internet is funny.
i noticed that too. i was vaguely amused by the hypocrisy of zenobia shouting insults at people to chastise them for insults they never actually made. i was less impressed by the blatant using of other peoples shittiest life experiences to try and score credibility points in an unrelated argument. and i note that zenobia hasn’t even acknowledged the way she attacked people suffering from ptsd as ‘whackjobs’, let alone apologised for it.
Wow, this is an amazing post! Thanks so much Cath- you really just wrote everything that I have been wanting to say for a few weeks now- so thanks! Now I can be lazy and not write it 🙂
seriously, just perfect, PERFECT!!!! Thank you!!
sing of other peoples shittiest life experiences to try and score credibility points in an unrelated argument
Hey, you’re slightly right about that, but at least I didn’t link to something calling for “justice for Banaz” to try and shame someone into shutting the fuck up about her sexuality.
I mean, talk about totally unrelated things. “Your boyfriend can’t wrap string around you because Banaz Mahmoud was horribly murdered by her father and uncle”. You know, like Cath did here:
For every woman who celebrates submission as a form of emancipation there are a dozen others somewhere being beaten down or murdered for their refusal to submit; and for every empowerfulled woman out there shouting loud and proud about how she loves being tied up and whipped in her totally egalitarian relationship, there are scores of others who know what real pain and fear feel like, and who really don’t need their suffering rubbed in their faces by some privileged little girl treating torture like it’s some kind of edgy fucking game.
Actually looking at Cath’s Comment Is Free piece on those Christian women’s groups that she linked to here – how the hell can you say that women in those kinds of situations are harming the cause of feminism?
There are loads of reasons why women in a Christian environment could be driven to have those kinds of ideas. I mean, it probably spares them a beating or two in some cases, for a start, and if not then it certainly eases a fuckload of guilt they have to live with if they’re not submissive.
But no, they should shut up about it because somehow they’re the problem? No woman is the problem. And it’s so much fucking easier to blame it all on women in crap situations for letting the side down than it is to actually address problems, isn’t it.
“Oh no, how dare women in bad situations not act in a perfectly reasonable manner at all times!”
Jesus. I’m surprised people who have been known to apply the adjective “lah dee dah” to students, call-centre workers and secretaries would go in for this kind of despicable bourgeois bullshit.
what cath did was link sexual violence against women that is done consensually to that which is done non-consensually. there are connections between the two, and feminism is in part about seeing those connections and working them out.
what you did was nothing like that. it was out of order, as was your ‘whackjob’ jibe.
i’ve been there done that on the bdsm front. i think many radical feminists have, including some of those on this thread. should we stop having the right to analyse or talk about it when we stop doing it?
i dont think that the f word is the place for puff pieces about stuff the blogger enjoys with no space for feminist criticism or analysis. as soon as laura put her post up she invited other points of view, i dont think she needs to be defended from hearing them.
the most recent piece on the f word, when i checked earlier, was a piece about labiaplasty and cosmetic surgery of young women. im waiting for the cries about how the author is ‘denying their agency’ by making a feminist analysis of the situation. how is this any different? those women and girls make choices to have medically unnecessary surgery, so is it mean and anti-feminist and ‘whackjob’by to discuss why they might do so, what cultural forces might be in play, what effect their choices might have on other women?
i really think that the whole ‘youre denying my agency by criticising something i like’ deal is about anti-feminism and anti-change. if everything was valid as a personal choice and above any political reflection, there would be no revolutionary movements for anything.
I think I must have missed the bit where I told anyone they couldn’t do stuff…..
Let me spell it out for you Zenobia, as you’re obviously having some difficulty understanding what I wrote.
I couldn’t give a flying fuck what other women choose to do in their bedrooms: I am not the sex police. Seriously, they can get tied up, whipped, whatever floats their boat, I really couldn’t give a shit.
However, write it up on an allegedly feminist blog and claim it as some kind of liberating, empowering, feminist act of female emancipation, then yes, I’m going to challenge that assertion. Or is that not allowed?
Are you telling me I can’t do stuff now?
“fuck me” Thanks for the offer (although I’ve had better), but I think I’ll pass this time.
“However, write it up on an allegedly feminist blog and claim it as some kind of liberating, empowering, feminist act of female emancipation, then yes, I’m going to challenge that assertion.”
Cath, for the last time: I did not say it was liberating, empowering, feminist or an act of female emancipation. You want to criticise me and what I believe and write, fine, go ahead, but would you PLEASE stop putting words in my mouth.
Strangely, I don’t have the energy or the heart to engage with any of the other comments here.
Cath- I apologise to you for using abusive language on your blog. I should have toned it down; I realise that.
Hey Laura, no you’re right, you didn’t say that. You did however talk about “women’s ability to overcome these experiences and socialisation and forge our own sexualities,” assert that any suggestion of patriarchal influence in a woman’s sexual choices was misogynist, all in a post entitled “Women, agency and sexuality” which to me pretty much amounts to the same thing.
But I hear you with regards to not wanting to engage much further in the comments here, and I truly am sorry this all got so personal: as I said earlier, that was never my intention.
“…assert that any suggestion of patriarchal influence in a woman’s sexual choices was misogynist”
No, I suggested that when a woman states that she HAS examined her sexual choices, that she has questioned and explored her sexuality, and then decides to engage in certain practices based on the conclusions she reaches, those conclusions being that what she does does not harm her or others and is not sexist (when practised in the way in which she practises them), is verging on the anti-woman, because it denies her ability both to make up her own mind and to challenge patriarchal influence on her life. Not every woman will come to the same conclusions on issues that affect us, and I believe that, insofar as her conclusions do not hurt others (and here we will have to agree to disagree), we should respect that.
I actually came back because I thought V had a good point regarding the labioplasty article, and wanted to respond.
I think the difference here is that the girl in question had not been given the chance to analyse her “choice”. She had not been equipped with the feminist arguments necessary to help her assess why she felt as she did about her genitals. In my case, I have (contrary to speculation) read a good deal of feminist theory on BDSM and sexuality, and spent a great deal of time analysing my feelings and desires. As a result, I dealt with some feelings I decided were suspect, cut some things out of my sex life, and carried on with others/explored new things. The girl in the article was not in a position to make this kind of more informed choice.
So, I certainly do think we should analyse the motivations behind what women “choose” to do, I fully support all attempts to help women see why they may want to do certain things or why they experience certain feelings or desires: I agree that saying ‘women want to do it so we can’t criticise it’ is not good enough, and not going to help any of us. What I wanted to highlight was that where women have been supplied with these analytical tools, we will not all come to the same conclusions. We may suffer under many of the same oppressions (some more than others), but we are all very different people, and I think that in order to free us from these oppressions we need to accept that we are not all going to come out of the feminist revolution (to be overly dramatic) looking the same. Otherwise, we end up spending more time worrying about and condemning individual women than looking at the bigger picture.
OK so I’m going to get called passive aggressive now, blah blah blah, but just so you know, Cath, it really hurt to see your latest piss taking post (the bus) after I took the time out to calmly and carefully write the above post. I’ve tried really, really hard not to express my emotions on the few comments I’ve left here, but to be honest I was in tears when I first read this post and I am again now. All I’ve ever tried to do with my writing is explore ideas and help other people in interested in feminism do the same – I know I’ve slipped up a few times, we all do – but this piss taking and mischaraterisation really hurts.
“in any case you’re being quite personally mean to someone who’re you’re well aware will be bothered by it under the guise of making intellectual points”.
I know absolutely nothing about Laura Woodhouse, and I’ve never met her, so no I don’t know she “will be bothered by things”. To be quite honest, if someone is very, very sensitive, perhaps she shouldn’t be writing about her personal life on a widely read blog? So I’d assume someone who chooses to do this feels they can cope with the comeback they’ll get.
If I burst into tears every time someone was rude about me on the internet, my house would be underwater by now….
Nobody knows whether I will be ‘bothered by things’ either. But if I write something about Laura Woodhouse, or anyone else, she’s quite welcome to a right of reply, on my blog or here.
Which is more than the F word (a much more widely read blog than mine) gave me when they slagged ME off and denied me any right of reply. And Laura Woodhouse defended the person who did it.
Sorry Cath. But I had to say it. Delete this if you want.
And can I ask you what makes you not an ‘internet whackjob’ then Zenobia?
You’re not going to get called anything Laura and the bus post is most certainly not aimed at you.
Gahhh,I was trying to lighten the atmosphere round here, give us all something we could chuckle over, not make things even worse!
If it makes you feel any better, this is the sort of shit I’ve been getting over this post.
And now I’m going to close this train wreck of a thread to further comments.