I was pretty much born a feminist, if you go by the words of activist and academic Cheris Kramarae, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
I grew up with a single mother, a biology researcher turned science teacher who taught evolution and sex ed in a school system that argued with her about both. I can remember coloring in my Precious Moments coloring books while my aunt (a social worker turned attorney) volunteered at a pro-choice hotline for women who needed information about how to obtain a safe abortion.
But as I grew older, my love of reading led me down some dark and lusty hallways adolescent fantasies took the scenic route: I read The Diaries of Anais Nin, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, and the Story of O, I watched Rocky Horror Picture Show and was introduced to the idea of “kink” as an alternative/subversion to white Christian values (such as they are). I even found myself watching and rewatching the Castle of Anthrax scene from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail because the idea excited me so.
As a young adult and a submissive in the making, I had a difficult time processing all of these ideas. I wanted to embrace Anais Nin’s erotic appreciation for feminine submission and Erica Jong’s positive sexuality and freedom, but I didn’t live either of their realities!
I lived in an alternate reality full of sex-starved hypocrites and rapists.
I grew up on overseas military bases, where the population of active duty personnel was roughly 85% male. It created this sort of economy of sexual poverty in which women were the currency. Men treated sex as a scare resource to be hoarded, the access to which controlled. In
In my reality, I was surrounded by young men who competed for the few eligible women (there were rules that prohibited even fraternization between enlisted and officers), and this led to a culture that shamed women who dared to enjoy sex the way the men did. I saw it everywhere: men and boys would barely know a girl before ‘claiming’ her and then, if she flirted with or dating anyone else, she was called a slut or a whore by the first guy and by every jealous spectator. Young women who didn’t know better were often ‘passed around’ the barracks by disillusioned young men who proposed marriage one day and talked about them like they were prostitutes the next.
The rate of sexual assualt in the military is startlingly high and hugely under-reported, due to a culture of slut-shaming the sexual minory (women) and the corrupt politics of the chain of command. If an active-duty victim (female or male) reports an assault, s/he is often threatened with charges of adultery (illegal in the military) and loss of rank. S/he may be assigned duties below rank and will often face harassment from every direction.
Growing up in this culture did not allow room for the development of positive sexuality. Sex was to be guarded carefully or else passed around to be shared by men who would alternately enjoy you and then shame you if you enjoyed it.
I returned to the civilian world in my early twenties, but it took me years to lose the feeling of shame I learned to associate (or at least demonstrate) when engaging in sex. To some degree, I still worry about how others will view or judge my enjoyment of sex.
Good girls should never enjoy sex, or at least not let anyone know about it!
Considering the feminist values of my early childhood, my adolescent experiences with the male-dominated military, and my secret submissive desires… it sure made for some conflicted yearnings!
But the heart wants what it wants. And I want equality and respect as a woman and a submissive.
Let me be clear: I am a woman, first and foremost. I am a woman who chooses to take on a submissive role in my sexual/romantic relationship(s). I choose that role because I find that dynamic sublimely enjoyable and because I have the right to engage in whatever consensual sexual relationship types or specific acts my partner(s) and I happen to find enjoyable (provided they are not exploitive or hurtful to anyone or anything). As an adult woman, I have the right to decide for myself what is right for me. And I choose this.
It’s can be difficult to reconcile the concepts of empowerment and submission, as Morgan at Alternet.org notes:
“It took years for me to embrace my submissive nature, in part because it seemed to be so antithetical to my feminist beliefs. Then I realized that part of being a feminist, for me, is taking control of my sexuality – admitting what I want, and finding a way to have it that keeps me safe in both body and mind. I am fundamentally in favor of everyone being able to admit to, and negotiate, the sex that they want – as long as it does not endanger others.”
In an essay titled, “Why the Female Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t)” Stacey May Fowles says:
“It’s pretty evident that the feminist movement at large is not really ready to admit that women who like to be hit, choked, tied up, and humiliated are empowered. Personally, the more I submitted sexually, the more I was able to be autonomous in my external life, the more I was able to achieve equality in my sexual and romantic partnerships, and the more genuine I felt as a human being.”
The Power of the Submissive
There is a lot said about how the submissive holds the ultimate power. This is because of the universal use of “safe words” in the BDSM community and the constant focus on consent and safety. When a sexual submissive speaks his or her safeword, all action stops.
Unlike the real world where ‘no‘ might mean ‘maybe,‘ and consent often hinges on what a person was wearing or drinking at the time of the assault, in BDSM, consent is given explicitly, often contractually, and can that consent can be withdrawn with a single word. In dungeons or play scenes, there are often monitors there just to ensure the safety and enjoyment of every participant.
“Safe, sane and consensual BDSM exists as a polar opposite of a reality in which women constantly face the threat of sexual violence.”
I, for one, would feel much safer in any BDSN dungeon than in any Stanford frat party.
“With all of its limitations, safe words, time limits and explicitly negotiated understandings of what is allowed — is the consensual SM relationship actually the ultimate in trust and collaborative “performance,” its rules and artifice the very antithesis of rape?
Paradoxically, sexual submission and rape fantasy can only be acceptable in a culture that doesn’t condone them.”
Choosing submission, choosing kink is my right as a feminist.
Sure, there are men (and women) out there who misrepresent themselves as BDSM Dominants and manipulate submissive women or men. I’m sure there are instances of consent violations in BDSM, too. I can’t argue that. But I can argue that women who choose submission are not stupid or incompetent to do so, and that feminism includes empowerment to choose a lifestyle that bring enjoyment, even if it isn’t what others would choose.
“Sadly, claims of sexual emancipation do not translate into acceptance for submissives — the best a submissive can hope for is to be labeled and condescended to as a damaged victim choosing submission as a way of healing from or processing past trauma and abuse.”
Feminist women should be able to choose whatever lifestyle suits them, and that may include an alternative sexual orientation or practice, the option to never have children or to have many, working in business or working a blue colar job or even not working at all!
Cliff Pervocracy agrees:
“When I look you in the eye and say ‘I want this, I chose this, I sought this out,’ believe me. If you trust women to know their own needs, believe me; and if you don’t, don’t call yourself a feminist.”