QotD: “Liberalism and the Death of Feminism”

Then there was the debate over sadomasochism. If it had escaped you before, it was hard to miss this breakdown in what the women’s movement had meant. The part I want to highlight has to do with our ability to say the word “we” in discussions of sexuality, including of sexual abuse, and to have it mean anything. It seems to me that the advocacy of sadomasochism as women’s first love, women’s final destiny, what we would all do if we really did what we wanted, is based on the absence of a critique of why women would experience sexuality in exactly the way in which it has been shoved down our throats since day one: top down.

Actually, women have largely rejected the politics of sadomasochism. But the residue of its defense has been extremely destructive nonetheless. In discussions of sexuality, women don’t say “women” any more, but “speaking only for myself, I …” The debate over sadomasochism made “women, we” taboo in the sexual area. It began in a moral morass and left us, politically, with an individualistic analysis of sexuality, undermining a collectivity that was never based on conformity, but on resistance.

Everything some of us had started to notice exploded in the discussion on pornography. As many of you may know, Andrea Dworkin and I conceived and designed a law based on the politics of the women’s movement that we thought we were part of and fielded it with others who were under the same illusion. It is a sex equality law, a civil-rights law, a law that says that sexual subordination of women through pictures and words, this sexual traffic in women, violates women’s civil rights.

This was done in feminist terms: as if women mattered; because we value women; because it wasn’t enough only to criticize oppression, and it wasn’t enough only to engage in guerilla activities of resistance, although they are crucial. We wanted to change the norm. To change the norm, we looked for a vulnerable place in the system. We looked for something that could be made to work for us, something we could use. We took whatever we could get our hands on, and when it wasn’t there, we invented. We invented a sex equality law against pornography on women’s terms.

To no one’s surprise, especially ours, it was opposed by many people. It was opposed by conservatives who discovered that they disliked sex equality a lot more than they disliked pornography. It was opposed by liberals, who discovered that they liked speech—i.e., sex, i.e., women being used—a great deal more than they liked sex equality. Then came the opposition from a quarter that labeled itself feminist: from FACT, the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force. At this point, for me, the women’s movement that I had known came to an end.

Catharine A. MacKinnon, Liberalism and the Death of Feminism

(Found at the Bewilderness)

9 responses

  1. Now, I may be anti-porn, but try as I might I can’t bring myself to be anti-BDSM. If one of I or my partner happens to enjoy being in pain during sexual activities, and the other is willing to grant such pain or even enjoys causing pain during said activities, why should you or anyone else care? Would you burst into our bedroom to lecture us on how one is oppressing the other, even as that other screams in ecstasy?

  2. What a wonderfully lazy comment! Not just straw radical feminist bashing (you want to police my bedroom!!!), but also terrible grammar (“If one of I or my partner”)!

    There is an ‘anti-BDSM’category in the side bar, and two posts with ‘BDSM’ in the title under ‘recommended posts’, it’s very obvious you haven’t bothered to read either of them (but hey, that’s ‘male logic’ right? Any uniformed opinion you pull out of your arse must me true because you’re a man and everything men say and do is ‘logical’).

    You are, or course, entitled to do whatever you like to your body, including self-harm and suicide, but that doesn’t mean either of those are good things. No aspect of human existence, including what gets you off, is beyond critical thought.

    The BDSM ‘scene’ is a haven for abusers, and predators, and people who think that women should be slaves (and are raising their daughters as slaves). The pattern of abuse followed by ‘aftercare’ mimics torture/interrogation techniques, designed to break someone down and make them dependent on their abuser, and mirror exactly the way abusive men know how to be charming and kind when they need to be to keep their victim off-balance and under control. Women who have exited the ‘scene’ describe it as being brainwashed, and when submissive women aren’t perfectly submissive (even though the claim is that they are the ones actually in charge), men whine about it and other men support them. Even active members of the BDSM ‘scene’ describe severe psychological fall-out from such behaviour (see below).

    Also, it’s ridiculous to suggest that someone who enjoys causing pain isn’t dangerous, ‘safe, sane, consensual’ is a legal white-wash, designed to protect abusers more than anything else, and only barely adhered to anyway (all the talk of ‘pushing boundaries’ shows that BDSMers are abusers who will do what ever they think they can get away with.

    Also, if you are going to comment on this blog regularly, at least have the courtesy to acknowledge the replies I write to your comments (even when you are losing the argument), it is incredibly arrogant, you think you are entitled to my time, energy and effort (and put so little effort into your arguments yourself), but you don’t owe me anything in return. It is not behaviour I will tolerate for long.

  3. I fail to see how you do not want to police my bedroom (though please bear in mind I have never been in a BDSM relationship). If you knew that I was beating my partner in the next room, I don’t doubt you would intervene. Since you consider BDSM “abuse” in the same way, I cannot imagine your neutrality if you knew I and my partner were engaged in consensual sexual activities incorporating rope, pain, and/or master/slave roles.

    I too used to be a grammar nazi before I realized that attacking the vehicle of the argument is just as bad as attacking your opponent’s character. The substance is all that matters.

    The substance, in this case, is straw, because I not once mentioned logic in that comment. I conveyed it as pure opinion, and you read male supremacy into it.

    You seem insulted that I do not respond to your comments. If I made this a requirement for myself our discussions would never end; you appear to feel obligated to respond to every comment, even when your response is nothing but “Yep!” (made to my first comment here).

    To BDSM. I do not deny that there is bad BDSM, and it is not penalized well enough if at all. What you fail to acknowledge is that there is good and healthy BDSM. I would provide links, but this comment is much too long already.

    It all boils down to the number of abused individuals versus the number of individuals who enjoy such activities. If the number of abuse victims is an insignificant minority, comparable to, say, the number of domestic violence victims in non-BDSM relationships, then we can conclude that BDSM is an activity like any other that carries risks. We would like to lower both percentages, but we aren’t about to ban or campaign against serial monogamy for its abuse rates.

    It would be reasonable to conduct a survey of a given BDSM community and determine the percentage of users who say they have been abused. Of course, the questions will need to be phrased carefully to work around the tendency not to see kink abuse as abuse.

    If you have concluded that BDSM is evil, then evil BDSM is all you will see. I, on the other hand, wish to take the numbers (again, logic) into consideration before making my conclusion.

  4. Look Bub,

    You choose to come hear and read this blog, and to leave comments. When someone leaves a comment I disagree with, I have two choices, delete it (and look like I can’t come up with a reply) or reply to it, which takes up time and energy. If I agree with a comment, a ‘yep’ is enough, and I would not expect a reply to that. You are being dishonest, you lost that argument, and are an intellectual coward to ignore it.

    If I heard a woman being beaten next door, I would call the police, this is not the same as wanting to install surveillance into every bedroom (which I don’t want to do) to ‘police’ people’s sex lives.

    “The substance, in this case, is straw, because I not once mentioned logic in that comment. I conveyed it as pure opinion, and you read male supremacy into it.”

    Oh please, in one of your comments on the other post you said:

    “Logic is the reason we are having this conversation, the reason we have a society.”

    If that isn’t you claiming that you believe your comments/arguments are ‘logical’ then what were you claiming? You are just shifting the goal posts because you were too lazy to read up before offering your ‘opinion’ (which you obviously believe is fueled by pure ‘logic’).

    I link ‘logic’ to male supremacism, because men have this habit of calling everything they do ‘logical’, regardless of the actual logical content involved.

    “if the number of abuse victims is an insignificant minority, comparable to, say, the number of domestic violence victims in non-BDSM relationships”

    The numbers of domestic violence victims is not insignificant, a quarter of women will experience domestic violence in their life time, two women a week in England and Wales are murdered by a former or current partner, that is not insignificant (did you actually bother looking it up, or did you pull something out of your arse and label it ‘logical’ because you were the one who made it up?).

    Kitty Stryker wrote that she had “yet to meet a female submissive who hasn’t had some sort of sexual assault happen to her.” You have demonstrated that you didn’t bother reading a single one of the links I supplied for you, showing that you are lazy and arrogant (but you still call your behaviour ‘logical’).

  5. If you take deciding not to respond as a sign of concession, then you have guaranteed a way to win any discussion that happens here. Either the user eventually decides to stop posting, or you are unable to reply and delete their comment; in both cases you have the last word. I had a reply prepared for that argument, but decided not to post it.

    You answered something similar to the question, but not the question itself, again. This happened repeatedly on our discussion on soft-core pornography. If you knew that I and my partner were practicing BDSM in the next room or next door, would you intervene? And what do you actually propose be done about BDSM?

    “If that isn’t you claiming that you believe your comments/arguments are ‘logical’ then what were you claiming?” Why, exactly what I literally said, that logic is far more powerful than emotion and should be given infinitely more consideration than the products of a few hormones. Once again, you read male supremacy into my comment.

    Indeed, it is not insignificant, but it is important to note that we can allow abuse to continue at that scale. As I said before, we’re not about to end or campaign against serial monogamy because of the high rate of abuse within it. If the rate of BDSM abuse is less than or equal to the domestic violence rate, then surely it should be allowed to continue as no more harmful than something commonly accepted.

    While I would prefer more evidence than a personal testimony, that sways my current opinion. I will recommend against BDSM to those considering it, and not abuse my partner / not tolerate their abuse if I ever enter such a relationship.

  6. “I had a reply prepared for that argument, but decided not to post it.”

    Ha ha, whatever you say bub, this kind of claim is real easy to make.

    “You answered something similar to the question, but not the question itself, again. This happened repeatedly on our discussion on soft-core pornography.”

    Your questions and my answers are in public, and I write them for anyone who may be reading, if I use your question to give my wider opinion on a subject, that’s something I have every right to do on my blog.

    “If you knew that I and my partner were practicing BDSM in the next room or next door, would you intervene?”

    I think masochism is self-harm by proxy; people do lots of things that are harmful to themselves, like smoking, or eating a poor diet, or not exercising properly. Do I think the people who do such things should be locked up in re-education camps ‘for their own good’? No. It might be possible for a professional psychiatrist to come up with a set of criteria under which it could be ascertained when masochistic behaviour became so self-harming that medical intervention was necessary, but I am not such a professional.

    The only way I am likely to ‘know’ if a neighbour is engaged in BDSM is after I hear violence, call the police and the police arrive and leave again without an arrest (the police often leave without an arrest in cases of ‘regular’ domestic violence). If the woman (or man) on the receiving end swore up and down, with out the dom/me present, that they were happy with the arrangement, I would have to respect their wishes, but then, lots of women don’t initially want to leave ‘regular’ abusive relationships. I would tell them (woman or man), that I would be there to help them if/when they decided to leave.

    “And what do you actually propose be done about BDSM?”

    I think you over-estimate how much influence I have here. If attempts were made (as has happened in the past in the UK) to change the law so that people could consent to violent physical harm, I would campaign politically against such changes. If I found out my local school was teaching BDSM as a positive part of sex education, I would do something about it. If a friend or acquaintance of mine was thinking about experimenting with BDSM I would warn them off.

    “Once again, you read male supremacy into my comment.”

    Whatever bub, you flip-flop around as much as you like.

    You realise, in your last comment, you effectively admitted your opinion wasn’t logical (“The substance, in this case, is straw, because I not once mentioned logic in that comment. I conveyed it as pure opinion, and you read male supremacy into it.”), so, therefore, you admitted it was irrational, and based on prejudice. I try to make sure that all my opinions are rational and based on real-world evidence. The fact that you don’t think you have to is, in itself, male supremacism!

    “Indeed, it is not insignificant, but it is important to note that we can allow abuse to continue at that scale.”

    Can ‘we’? I can’t.

    “As I said before, we’re not about to end or campaign against serial monogamy because of the high rate of abuse within it.”

    This isn’t about ‘vanilla’ vs ‘alternative’ lifestyles (and lets be real here, lots of BDSM relationships are heterosexual and monogamous), it’s about violence, and violence happens in all kinds of relationships, and as a radical feminist I’m not exactly cheer-leading for heterosexuality. I believe all BDSM relationships are inherently harmful, whether or not the ‘sub’ in the relationship believes so at the time.

    “I will recommend against BDSM to those considering it, and not abuse my partner / not tolerate their abuse if I ever enter such a relationship.”

    Good for you?

  7. It may be your blog, but it’s my question. And it should not take three iterations of a question to get the actual answer instead of a broad analysis that doesn’t answer it.

    But thank you for that answer. I have no comments on it.

    “Can ‘we’? I can’t.”

    It should also not take three iterations to make you understand a simple analogy. So I’ll add another analogy on top of it. Imagine I am a factory safety inspector. For every 100 units Machine A produces, 10 are defective. The factory owner tells me, “We know about the defects, and we’re doing everything we can to lower their rate of occurrence, but we’re not planning to replace the machine.” For every 100 units Machine B produces, 2 are defective. Now imagine the factory owner said to me, “That machine is defective beyond repair, and we’re planning to get rid of it altogether.” I would be shocked, for they are willing to tolerate the higher failure rate of Machine A.

    I’ll just copy and paste what I said before. “We would like to lower both percentages [of abuse in vanilla and BDSM relationships], but we aren’t about to ban or campaign against serial monogamy for its abuse rates.” If the abuse rate of BDSM relationships were (the subjunctive because evidence indicates that it isn’t) less than the vanilla abuse rate, campaigning against BDSM would be, wait for it, illogical without campaigning against an institution that has a greater rate of abuse.

    “…as a radical feminist I’m not exactly cheer-leading for heterosexuality.”

    Are you truly “pro-sex, anti-porn”? Because if you’re pro-sex, you should absolutely be cheering for heterosexuality.

  8. “And it should not take three iterations of a question to get the actual answer instead of a broad analysis that doesn’t answer it.”

    If you are not getting the answers you want, maybe you are not wording your questions very well, or maybe you are demanding simplistic answers to what are complex questions.

    “I’ll add another analogy on top of it”

    Your analogy is sorely lacking.

    Imagine a product where 1 in 4 of said product will spontaneously self-combust, resulting in minor to serious injuries and 2 deaths of consumers a week in England and Wales. The response from the manufacturers is to downplay and cover-up these injuries and deaths, or to say that the consumers must have been doing something wrong with the product to cause it to injure/kill them in that way, so they are to blame. The manufacturers also say they have no intention of changing the product, because the consumers keep on buying it anyway, and it is the consumers responsibility to prevent these spontaneous combustions.

    “I’ll just copy and paste what I said before”

    You are missing my point, I think all BDSM relationships are harmful even if they have been fully consented to.

    “Are you truly “pro-sex, anti-porn”? Because if you’re pro-sex, you should absolutely be cheering for heterosexuality.”

    I actually took the tag-line ‘pro-sex, anti-porn’ off the top of the blog a little while back. It is a slogan that the group Anti-Porn London came up with back in 2008 for our protests outside the Playboy Store on London’s Oxford Street. While it was fine as a slogan on a badge or placard, it lacks nuance for the level of discourse I wish to engage in on this blog.

    The phrase ‘pro-sex’ risks being mistaken for so-called ‘sex positive’ thinking, which means being actively uncritical of anything that results in a (male) orgasm. The fact that you think I should be “cheering for heterosexuality”, tells me that I was absolutely right to take it down.

    There is a difference between not being ‘anti-sex’, and being ‘pro-sex’. Many radical feminists use the terms ‘sex negative’ (to counteract ‘sex positive’ as described above), or ‘sex critical’, I am happiest with the latter.

    Second wave/radical feminists labelled the concept of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’; the vast majority of women and girls (and vulnerable boys and young men for that matter, so perhaps we can also have the wider concept ‘compulsory sexual servicing of men’) in the world have little or no choice about when or how they have sex with men; girls are married off to men decades older than them, rape within marriage is legal or de facto legal, contraception and abortion is unavailable, and men deliberately interfere with birth-control as a way of keeping women dependent.

    Also, few women outside the privileged western classes can survive socially or economically without being attached to a man, there are still many parts of the world were widows are destitute social out-casts, and single women considered appropriate targets for violence or scapegoating.

    So no, I am not, ever, going to cheerlead for heterosexuality.

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