Blogging “Yes” Day 9: Submissive Sexuality and Fantasy
Today, day nine of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “The Fantasy of Acceptable “Non-Consent”: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t)” by Stacey May Fowles. I had mixed feelings about this essay, because on the one hand I definitely agree with the main point that BDSM-style negotiation can be far more liberated, far more feminist, and far less contributory to rape culture than vanilla sex. On the other hand, I felt that there was a confusion in the essay between submission generally and con non-con scenes or fantasies specifically and that the heterosexual perspective wasn’t really explicitly pointed out enough.
One point I definitely agreed with was that BDSM imagery when incorporated into mainstream culture without a BDSM cultural context can perpetuate rape culture in a way that BDSM sex usually does not. However, I do think it’s important to distinguish between responsible adult fantasy and this out-of-context type viewing of pornography
The appropriation of BDSM imagery is problematic because while community members understand that it is important to be sensitive to the needs, boundaries, and rules of players in order for a scene to function fairly and enjoyably, mainstream porn is primarily about getting off as quickly as possible. Add that to a disgraceful lack of sexual education (both in safety and in pleasure) across the country, and a general belief perpetuated by the media that women are sex objects to be consumed, and you have a rape culture that started by borrowing from BDSM’s images without reading its rules.
I think it’s important to note that the problem here is context. What BDSM does is give people a safe space to play out their fantasies, including things like con non-con (the consensual roleplaying of a non-consensual fantasy, with the safeword always there as an “out”) and humiliation. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with having fantasies, even those that some of us would consider downright disgusting, if you’re not acting on them. I’m a firm believer in “Your Kink Is Okay,” and I think it’s fine to have humiliation fantasies, or fantasies about actual rape. However (and this is a big however) when those fantasies come from a rape culture, from a culture that objectifies women, when they are not paired with exploration and understanding of one’s own desires, when they are not paired with sex education and a clear knowledge of what consent means, and when they are bolstered by pornography absent any of this additional knowledge, you can have problems. The problem is when BDSM-style porn is taken out of context and the scene is presented as being real–a con non-con roleplay, for example, presented as an actual rape, so that the viewer does not believe that the submissive has any control over the situation (and then starts to normalize that kind of situation mentally). That’s why those scenes at the end of BDSM porn that Fowles mentions are so important, when you have the smiling happy people, often deconstructing the scene, talking about what worked and what didn’t, etc. Negotiation and aftercare need to be taken as givens–in that context, it would be easy to view a piece of pornography even without the filming of the before-and-after, even with the viewer fantasizing that real rape is happening, and still understand that real rape is not acceptable, that no one wants real rape, and that the invisible safeword is what makes such a roleplay possible.
Another important thing about BDSM culture is that the emphasis on consent applies to the viewer, too. When I say “Your Kink Is Okay,” that doesn’t mean I want to watch. Fantasizing and the playing out of fantasies needs to happen in a space where there is no non-consensual participation. Fowles talks about feminists seeing “the six ‘o clock news” in a (presumably heterosexual) scene with a female submissive, but it’s important to recognize that such scenes (indeed, any scene) can be painful or difficult for others to watch, and that’s okay. I can recognize your sexual liberation and pleasure in an act while viewing the act would at the same time be a trigger for me. I choose not to watch females submitting to men not because I have any problem with that configuration, or believe that it is un-feminist, but because of my own personal kink/squick boundaries. I think that in most cases, BDSM culture is aware of and celebrates this need to choose what one sees, and that’s part of what makes BDSM environments (in many cases, at least) safe spaces.