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The sad battle of feminist influencers vs BDSM practitioners (2021)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

I usually try to stay away from everyday politics because I want to dedicate my time to researching BDSM and sexuality. However, the past years’ stigmatization of BDSM-practitioners by (some) feminist influencers makes me very sad (male tears) It is so destructive to something I believe to be a common cause. The regular critique is that no woman can volunteer degrading and violent sex, and any man performing such acts is an abuser. Any documentation of such sexuality is pornographic and teaches other men to rape women.

I can understand their line of thinking, and being turn on by violence and degradation is problematic, independently if you are dominant or submissive. That is why BDSM-practitioners spearheaded the development of consent during the past twenty years. To practically play safer; to psychologically to cope with an often shamed sexuality; to philosophically understand power and sexuality from a boarder perspective. But maybe most importantly, to politically forefront how consent should be a part of everyday life. BDSM-practitioners practice, discuss, and nerd about consent because it is the most vital tool to avoid becoming both abusers and abused. Compared to theatre education, the self-development movement, a big company office culture and the general dating scene, where I have the experience, the BDSM-scene is the best at dealing with consent. The fact that most people feel safer in a BDSM-club than a nightclub says a lot.

That is why I become so sad when (some) feminist influencers that should be our allies decide to become our enemies. We want the same thing. We want to empower women (and everyone else) to reclaim their sexuality, whatever it might be. You don’t have to take my word for it because there is research. For example, the paper “Participating in a Culture of Consent May Be Associated With Lower Rape-Supportive Beliefs”[1] published in 2017 where BDSM-practitioners scores better than both college students and the average American citizen when it comes to “Hostile sexism”, “Rape myth acceptance”, “Victim blaming”, “Expectation of sexual aggression” and some more tests. So really, I believe that practising BDSM makes better feminists.

And the whole debate feels like a staging of Don Quichotte because who is the real enemy here?

From my perspective, people who use BDSM as a cover for their abuse and the non-consensual power games in society. When consent isn’t even on the table, the mutual play with power turns into a real power game, and when all the warning signs for a harmful situation are ignored.

Every time the media labels a rapists crime scene in the woods as “his BDSM dungeon”, I’m horrified. Saw and Silence of the Lambs are not BDSM-movies. I wouldn’t even label porn movies as BDSM if the primary focus is satisfying a paying audience at the practitioners’ expense, but this is a sidetrack that I wrote about two weeks ago. The fact that abusers hide behind the BDSM-flag is a known problem in the community. It is a continuous effort to sort out the tragic mistakes from the deliberately malicious. So when a strong group of influencers aims to paint every BDSM-practitioner as an abuser or a victim, they hide the real problem and puts everyone into murky waters. That becomes the ideal hunting ground for predators. When the difference that we fight so hard to maintain gets undermined, the result is a much unsafer space for women, especially those new and curious about BDSM, without a contact network or experience. And they are many nowadays with the recent popularization of BDSM in the media. By stigmatizing BDSM and undermining our community, it becomes harder for us to organize meetups, clubs, educations, etc. That is why I believe that this conflict hurts woman much more than it helps.

Then there is the argument that no woman can consent to violence and degradation because such sexuality is the result of a patriarchal society. Maybe our sexuality is sick, but is it then right to ban it? Like homosexuality was banned not a long ago. I don’t think so, and neither does mainstream psychology. BDSM is no longer considered dysfunctional in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)” released by the World Health Organization (WHO). For some reason, some people are turned on by violence and degradation, and I believe that the most empowering thing we can do is create a community and knowledge, so people can choose how to live their lives. Maybe in a hundred years, when patriarchal values are balanced with matriarchal values, and gender no longer is a thing to debate, then perhaps BDSM won’t be a thing. Or we will all be kinky as hell.

But meanwhile, saying that women cannot consent to their desires only replaces one oppressive system with another. And that is not feminism in my eyes.

[1] Kathryn R. Klement, Brad J. Sagarin & Ellen M. Lee (2017) Participating in a Culture of Consent May Be Associated With Lower Rape-Supportive Beliefs, The Journal of Sex Research, 54:1, 130-134, DOI:10.1080/00224499.2016.1168353