Sunday, 22 April 2012

Chains of oppression: Katie Roiphe, Lena Dunham and the sexual counter-revolution.

(Image via The Daily Beast)

Things that Jean-Jacques Rousseau really liked included: the philosophy of universal liberty, and having young ladies spank him into a frenzy. In "The Confessions", he wrote: “To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments, and the more my blood was inflamed by the efforts of a lively imagination the more I acquired the appearance of a whining lover.”

Like a great many wealthy, important men throughout history, Rousseau was a humiliation slut. He loved to have women boss him around in bed. He was also a flasher, and liked to moon unsuspecting ladies in the street and then prostrate himself for punishment. Nobody has ever suggested that this meant that the great enlightement philosopher secretly wished men didn’t run the world. In fact, Rousseau had some very specific things to say about women’s place in the social order. “Woman was specifically made to please man," he wrote in "Emile." "If man ought to please her in turn, the necessity is less direct. His merit lies in his power...If woman is made to please and to be subjugated to man, she ought to make herself pleasing to him rather than to provoke him."

Kink has been part of the sexual menu for so long that it’s hard to pretend anyone is shocked anymore when it turns up on the table. The practice of male masochism, for example, has become almost idiomatic when one is discussing Wall Street workers, or the British aristocracy - despite Rousseau and De Sade, the French still refer to sadomasochism as ‘La Vice Anglais.’

At no point, however, has anyone implied that men who want to be sexually dominated by women also want to be dominated by them socially and economically. Quite the opposite, if the long history of powerful men paying poor women to beat them up in backrooms is anything to go by. Apparently, though, a few smutty books about naughty professors wielding handcuffs are meant to prove that modern 'working women' (sic.) aren’t really as into all this liberation schtick as we make out.

In a cover story for Newsweek, noted rape apologist Katie Roiphe argues that the recent success of pop-porn bestseller ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ proves that even feminists secretly want to be shagged into submission by great, big, whip-wielding brutes. Not just in spite of our feminism, but because of our feminism. Roiphe argues that modern "working women" - I'm sorry, was there ever a time when women actually did no work? - find “the pressure of economic participation... all that strength and independence and desire and going out into the world”...”exhausting.” Roiphe goes on to theorise, based on precisely one film, one tv show and one novel, that “for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality.”

I’m not going to waste my time being mean to Roiphe, the unfortunate straw-lady who was encouraged to write this woeful piece of drivel. Suffice it to say that her piece says a lot more about the sadomasochistic relationship between female freelancers and their editors than it does about any other so-called ‘trend’. The article seems crafted to do one thing well, which is to make a lot of people angry, which, hella, it has: having supper with a dear friend and her girlfriend last night, I showed her the article on my phone, and was genuinely frightened for the device after she slammed it down and muttered, simply, "fuck you". But just because a piece of bait is obvious doesn’t mean it’s not worth a nibble. So let’s have a conversation - a real conversation - about what women want, and what that means.

The first thing to note is that sexual submission is is the acceptable face of female perversion: pliable, obedient and all about pleasing your man. Most of the available submissive fantasies that Roiphe and others have cited as part of a ‘trend’ insist on their protagonists’ initial unwillingness to be tied to enormous beds and rogered by wealthy professionals. In "Fifty Shades of Grey", the protagonist only acquiesces to the kink because she wants to please her dominant lover. In "The Story of O" - which, although hardly part of a ‘trend,’ having being written in the fifties, is still one of the only dirty books written for women that you can buy in respectable shops - ‘O’ agrees to be whipped and fucked by rich anonymous strangers to please her partner, Renee. These women may learn to love being spanked, but they certainly don’t seek it out: they are passive, rather than just submissive.

In real life, men and women enjoy being bossed around in bed for lots of reasons - sometimes it might be about being punished, sometimes it might be about working out personal baggage, sometimes it might be about taking the break from all the responsibilities you have outside the bedroom, and sometimes it might just be about wanting someone else to do the work. And sometimes, yes, it might be about wanting to experience sex without having to take responsibility for your own desires - it’s not as if we live in a culture where women who want to have sex are encouraged to have it in a shame-free way. Both Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, the teen series the adult erotic novel was based on, are fantasies of pursuit, of the responsibility for sexual agency being entirely in the hands of a man, who desires the point-of-view-protagonist completely.

In a culture where women who express sexual agency are punished, humiliated and threatened with real rather than ritualised violence, that sort of fantasy is entirely comprehensible. What is more significant is that submission - alongside, from time to time, sex work - is the only kind of female sexual ‘unorthodoxy’ that is currently deemed worthy of discussion - unorthodoxy trussed up tight by the bondage tape of patriarchal expectations. Unorthodoxy that happens to involve fantasies of being dominated by men. Unorthodoxy practiced exclusively, if we go by the ‘examples’ Roiphe’s investigation turns up, by women who are young, and white, and straight, and middle-class, and, most importantly, fucking fictional.  

INCIDENTALLY - why is it that young, white, straight, middle-class, fictional women are  the only type of women that routinely interest the trendmaking mainstream press? And why is it that women are not permitted to be creative without having to speak for the entire condition of womankind? The most exhaustively discussed new cultural artefacts in recent weeks - 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and Lena Dunham's new HBO show 'Girls' - are being treated as if they were straight memoirs, rather than, in one case, a piece of redrafted fan-fiction based around a story that was originally about vampires? Is it because we don't believe that a woman can truly create fiction or write meaningfully without drawing entirely on her own experience? Is it because mainstream culture still lacks a language to talk about women's issues and women's lives that is not at once confessional and riddled with lazy stereotypes? Is it because most 'fictional' women are still created, cast and directed by men? Is it because we don't believe women can actually be artists? DISCUSS.

Anyway. Fantasies about pretty young white women being controlled, hurt and dominated by men have always been the the part of kink that nobody ever really had a problem with. During the crackdowns on the fetish and kink communities in the 1980s and early 1990s, submissive heterosexual women and their play partners were rarely targeted for prosecution. Today, when you think of ‘fetish’, many people think of Jean Paul Gaultier models strutting the runway in elegant leathers, and arty snaps of willowy girls doing Japanese rope bondage in low-lit loft apartments . You might not be quite so quick to picture middle-aged gay couples in matching latex, or enormous, hairy men called Nigel waddling around fetish clubs with joysticks up their bottoms and big grins on their faces, but kink has always been as much about them as it has been about the beautiful young girls, breakable or pretending to break others, who tend anyway to have less disposable income to spend on rubber.

Here are some non-standard sexual trends that editors at Newsweek, Glamour and Cosmopolitan are less keen to make headlines out of: poor women fucking. Black women fucking. Queer women fucking. Old women fucking. Fat women fucking, ugly women fucking, bossy, arrogant women fucking. Women who are dominant in bed. Women who like to penetrate men with big pink strap-ons. Women who want multiple sexual partners at once or in succession. Women who just want to go to bed early with a cup of tea, an Anna Span DVD and a spiked dildo the size of an eggplant. Here are some more: sex workers who want to be treated like workers, rather than social pariahs. men who want to get fucked. Men who are gentle and submissive in bed. Men who don’t enjoy penetrative sex. Men for whom sex is an overwhelming emotional experience. I guarantee you that all of these things go on, but any of them might actually destabilise for a second our cultural narrative of sex, gender and power, so none of them are allowed to be ‘trends’.

In truth, there has never been anything controversial about the fantasy of female submission. These days, most of the ‘mainstream’ pornography readily available online involves some variation on the theme of outrages against young, prone, fuckable females. The rituals of whips, leather and safe-words are not part of the language of ‘normal’ porn, but otherwise the horny prospect of prone pretty girls having violent sex done to them and learning to love it is a dialect of desire everyone understands - so much so that lots of young men grow up knowing no other box to put their lust in. In Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’, the protagonist’s useless hipster quasi-boyfriend spouts ‘dirty talk’ that Katie Roiphe identifies as specifically sado-masochistic - but actually, it could be lifted off the commentary on any ‘vanilla’ porn site. Check it out on if you don’t believe me. Actually, don’t. Actually, do.

Female sexual submission has never really been shocking. Right now, we are in the middle of a sexual counter-revolution. The backlash is on against even the limited amount of erotic freedom women have won over fifty years of hard campaigning: abortion and birth control are under attack, sexual health clinics are kitted out with bomb detectors and staffed by doctors who come to work wearing bullet-proof vests, and a fully-grown woman is denounced as a slut and a whore by male commentators across America by suggesting as part of a congressional hearing that yes, she may once or twice have had intercourse for pleasure rather than procreation. And until very recently, Rick Santorum, a man who considers contraceptives morally wrong, was a semi-serious contender for leader of the free world.

The sexual heresies that truly upset the pearl-clutchers of middle America have nothing to do with whips and chains. That’s just faux-outrage, a bit of editorial baiting designed to upset feminists and titillate everyone else who likes to get cross and horny over the idea of dirty little girls tied up with tape.

No, what really gets social conservatives angry still happens not in swanky fetish clubs, but behind the closed doors of abortion clinics. It’s women who want to be able to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Women who want to control their own fertility. Women who want sexual autonomy, which is what any attack on abortion rights is fundamentally about. Women who want to live independently or raise children without the help of men. Women who want sex on its own merit, whether it comes wrapped in black bondage rope or scattered with rose petals.

Female sexual autonomy itself is what’s really unorthodox today. Agency and self-determination, the right to own our own desire - those are the kind of forbidden fantasies women across the world still pant over in private, unable to pronounce for fear of being slut-shamed. As Rousseau might put it : “Whether the woman shares the man's desires or not, whether or not she is willing to satisfy them...the appearance of correct behavior must be among women's duties.”


  1. If you're not aware of him, @maymaym does a lot of work on sexual politics, particularly in the BDSM and poly communities. He's got a particular thing for artful depictions of male submission, and I challenge you to go through the whole of the (NSFW) archive without either getting soppy or horny. :)

  2. Female sexual autonomy itself is what’s really unorthodox today.

    And old white men, especially those in the GOP, or Catholic Church hierarchy(most prominently), hate that women don't need men to validate themselves. They hate that they are being challenged in their supposed perch of superiority.

  3. Nice article, thanks for the information.

    Anna @ rental mobil

  4. A fantastic article. Thank you.

  5. This is a really good article - except you neglected to mention former sex workers like Stella Marr, Angel K, dublincallgirl whose experience of 'sex work' was violence, rape and degradation. You mention various kinks and types of women, but only one experience of being a sex worker.

  6. I presume, when you wrote this:

    "a fully-grown woman is denounced as a slut and a whore by male commentators across America by suggesting as part of a congressional hearing that yes, she may once or twice have had intercourse for pleasure rather than procreation."

    You were referring to Sandra Fluke, famously described as a "slut" by Rush Limbaugh after testifying in Congress about the medical necessity of birth control for many women. But I should clarify for you that Fluke did no such thing - one of the things that was outrageous about this incident is that Fluke at no point mentioned her own sex life or relationship status. What she DID say, though, is important and work hearing in full. She packs a lot of important information into 17 minutes of testimony:

  7. Really good piece, I particularly found myself nodding at your description of mainstream porn and the dominance and aggression that pervades the "vanilla/normal" bulk of the medium.

    People are repulsed by the whips/leather etc which immediately mark out the dynamic being played upon but are barely conscious of the pervasive imbalance present in the vast bulk of of mainstream online porn, every second video a demented man apparently doing his very best to put his partner into a coma with his genitals, the lucky recipient jobs largely to lie there and do her best to survive the experience. It's not the content that's most disturbing, it's the lack of acknowledgement of the dynamic at play and the unquestioned acceptance of this as "normality", with any variation on it seen as a niche kink.

    You articulated a number of thoughts and feelings I've had on the topic but far more concisely and accurately than I could, I'm going to have to absorb and think over this essay until i reach the point where I don't directly reference "that woman from the internets" as my opinion in debate!

  8. "what really gets social conservatives angry .. is women who want to be able to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Women who want to control their own fertility"

    I note you don't use the common expression "women who want control over their own bodies". The simple implication of all this is the absolute right to kill another human being - with many words being written by people trying to argue that it's not the same thing.

    (unfortunately, the burden of proof is on pro-abortionists to show that a human being is not a human being below a certain number of weeks, inside the mothers' womb. If you cannot see how tenuous this is, I despair. You do not have to be right-wing or christian to see it)

    Not only that, but to do so when the woman chooses, on her own judgement. The father of the unborn child never seems to get any say. So not only do you seem to be trying to euphemise a kind of killing, you also want fathers to be irrelevant in this matter. All in the name of equality, I'm sure.

    Plenty of issues with almost everything else you say here, but that's a start.

    1. If men want to impregnate unwilling women so badly (for the sake of the sanctity of life, ofc), I'm sure you- sorry, men can find another way than making abortion illegal. Aren't you meant to be the inventive sex? See, even if- sorry, when you make abortion illegal women can throw ourselves down stairs, go to back-street abortionists, commit suicide, and all sorts of other things! Get creative!

      The human rights of a potential person should not trump the rights of the class of "women", of all women everywhere. If we must frame things in the flawed language of "rights", people - women - should have the right to live a life free of coercion and systemic oppression.

    2. "The simple implication of all this is the absolute right to kill another human being - with many words being written by people trying to argue that it's not the same thing."

      Harry, the simple implication of all this is the absolute right to control a woman. Your counterpoint, no doubt, would be "But the woman had control, she chose to have sex and now she must pay the price by bringing the baby to term."

      It seems to me that in most conservative fantasies, an unwanted pregnancy is a careless woman's penalty for having sex, whether it is protected or no. The logic that seems to be at work here is that a woman who gets pregnant after having sex, whether or not the sex was "safe", must now by law carry the baby to term, regardless of 1) whether or not the sex was consensual, 2) whether or not the pregnancy will harm the mother, 3) whether or not the foetus is likely to come to term.

      "The father of the unborn child never seems to get any say. So not only do you seem to be trying to euphemise a kind of killing, you also want fathers to be irrelevant in this matter."

      So the anti-choice solution is to turn the gender dynamic around and ensure that the mother, not the father, is irrelevant in the matter. All in the name of protecting the sanctity of life, I'm sure.

    3. Men do not carry the foetus in their womb. The process does not affect their health, sanity or job prospects. Few men end up as primary carers for their children. So yes; they get less say.

    4. "unfortunately, the burden of proof is on pro-abortionists to show that a human being is not a human being below a certain number of weeks, inside the mothers' womb."

      Where do you live? In a free country, by definition, things are legal unless there is a good reason for making them illegal. You may not like it, but if you live in one of the aforementioned free countries, the burden falls on you to prove that a fetus is an individiual person. Not only that, but you have to prove that a fetus is deserving of special rights, since born humans don't have the right to use another individual's organs without their consent. I have yet to see a cradle-to-grave anti-abortion argument that didn't have at least one of: religious arguments (irrelevant in a country with freedom of [and from] religion), arguments that women who have sex should be punished (again, free country here), fallacies, or outright lies about the biology of fetal development. So I hope you'll understand that I ask you to fully source all your claims.

      "The father of the unborn child never seems to get any say. So not only do you seem to be trying to euphemise a kind of killing, you also want fathers to be irrelevant in this matter. All in the name of equality, I'm sure."

      Feel free to donate money to scientific research to develop artificial wombs and a method of safely transporting a fetus into it. (By safe, I mean for the mother as well, since piddling details like that seem to so often slip the minds of the forced-birthers.) Women are not your breeding cows, and it's pretty disgusting when certain men whine that their newfound inability to use us as livestock is anti-male oppression. Hey forced-birth dudes, if you want children, why not attempt to have them with someone who consents to carry them in her body for nine months? Do you just get off on the idea of violating a woman's bodily integrity? Maybe rape does not last long enough, is not extreme enough, for you? Yeah it's really sad that the law doesn't support you in this. Watch me play my tiniest violin.

    5. "The human rights of a potential person should not trump the rights of the class of "women", of all women everywhere. If we must frame things in the flawed language of "rights", people - women - should have the right to live a life free of coercion and systemic oppression."

      What does this mean in the case where the "potential person" is a woman? Or does a potential woman somehow have fewer/lesser rights than an actual woman?
      This idea kind transcends womens' rights in particular, and becomes simple selfishness: A woman can terminate any other person who inconveniences her.

  9. Brilliant article, Penny. Thank you.

  10. Marvellous article. Thanks for sharing. The second question in your bolded middle paragraph reminds me of an interview with Jeanette Winterson that I recently read here, which I quote:

    BNR: Even the use of the word memoir is fairly loaded. You were very emphatic that Oranges was not a memoir but an autobiographical novel, with points of fact and points of fiction. Are you comfortable saying that this is the memoir?

    JW: I don't even call it that. I just say it's a cover version.

    BNR: I like that phrase. That's pretty wonderful.

    JW: I really think, well... Let's not call this "sexism." Let's call it an "asymmetrical judgment" between men and women. If Henry Miller writes Tropic of Cancer and calls the hero "Henry Miller," he's still allowed to say these are novels, and none of the guys question it. Because a man is allowed to be bigger. A woman isn't. She can only possibly talk about herself.

    BNR: Meanwhile, Anaïs Nin is just writing "journals."

    JW: Journals, right, journals! If I want to use myself as a fictional character, why can't I? Over the years, it's been one of the most frustrating things. If you call yourself "Jeanette" in the novel, then it's all about you. And I'm thinking, No. This is a person I've invented. Why shouldn't I? That's what I mean by an asymmetrical judgment because Paul Auster, Henry Miller, Milan Kundera, any of those writers who quote themselves directly, Philip Roth, for God's sake! We all say, "That's so great! That's so interesting!" But if you do that as a woman, it becomes confessional and autobiographical.

  11. Men have an equal right to decide what happens to his child.

    1. Yes, but the mother is the one entering into the physical commitment of labour. The danger inherent in man's "equal right to decide what happens to his child" is when it overrules the mother's right to determine what happens to her body.

      The pro-choice / anti-choice debate is not about taking rights away from men; it's about ensuring that the woman has a right to decide too. It's about ensuring that the man's "equal right to decide" does not reduce the woman to the working of her womb.

    2. Don't want your child to be aborted? Make sure you only have sex with a woman who would keep an unwanted pregnancy. Or, don't have sex outside marriage. Or only have sex with infertile women. Or use a condom.

    3. A fetus is not a child, and neither men nor fetuses have the right to violate the bodily integrity of women. If and when it becomes a child -- after birth -- then I totally agree that both parents should have equal rights, barring unfit parenting, and that any criteria used to determine unfit parents should apply equally to both genders.

    4. It's a child as soon as the sperm enters the egg.

    5. Only if you say so, billybob? I think you are just playing with words here. A child is a child, an egg is an egg, fertilized or not. And is the answer to this conundrum, in any case, relevant? The violence against the individual involved in the prohibition of abortion has to be unacceptable. Otherwise you are reducing the humanity of half the human population. The question of when human life begins is a legal, not a moral question, and the only feasible answer appears to be, at the exit from the mother's body. Even that raises difficult issues, but there will never be clearcut answers in such an area. As someone else has implied here, certainty is a religious concept, and religion is personal.

  12. I think that sexuality is often, but not wholly, portrayed negatively in popular culture and in the press.

    This piece of writing depicts sexual expression of males in the form of hate figures enjoying a good spanking. If male sexuality is only defined by pornographic images of men using women, and feminist discourse disparaging it’s very existence where is the space in our culture for a positive message?

    You can’t fix half of a problem Laurie. We need positive depictions of sexuality for all, not snide imagery disparaging half the population.

    Sexual autonomy is masturbation.

  13. I have often wondered what an fully organized and well coordinated Army of Dommes could achieve. I suspect that in a very short time they could quietly gain near complete political and economic control over the entire country, possible even the entire world.

    1. Yes, because women who enjoy tying up and spanking men must be female supremacists. I ~usually~ only hear this kind of stuff from some male submissives with reality/boundary issues and their professional `dominatrices` (women paid to satisfy the fantasies of said male submissives). Most women willing to dom for free seem to prefer being treated like equal human beings outside the bedroom. Truthfully I suspect a fully-organized and well-coordinated army of dommes would probably just finance the creation of some decent malesub porn and maybe strongarm reality-deficient people of all stripes into knocking it off with the gender superiority missives. We'll never know for sure, though, since any such army would be led by the now-retired Bitchy Jones.

    2. Yes, this is another cliche fantasy. The dominant women who I know who are not pay-for-play tops aren't interested in living out these sorts of moist-brow male sub dreams.

  14. "Like a great many wealthy, important men throughout history, Rousseau was a humiliation slut. He loved to have women boss him around in bed"

    Meh, this is the same tired old "rich guys like kink 'cause they need to give up control" cliche. So boring, so untrue. Get out there in the kink scene and you'll find that rich guys are only disproportionately represented in the sence as depicted in movies and tv.

    1. I'd say rich guys are disproportionately represented because they can afford the kink.

    2. Its not all that expensive at its most basic level (unless one pays pros). Rope is super cheap.

  15. I love 99% of what you have to say here, but your assertion that "there has never been anything controversial about the fantasy of female submission" rings very false for me.

    I (straight female) was raised in a very progressive, sex-positive, feminist home, and for years, I was extremely disgusted by my own submissive fantasies (this may have to do with the fact that I'm also a masochist). It took me a very long time to come to terms with them and embrace my sexuality. So I honestly find it somewhat offensive and dismissive to read comments like that.

    1. No one is saying that sub women don't face problems or guilt over their sexuality, but it's not remotely reaching to say that M/f is the most socially acceptable form of kink. Even media depictions of the most vanilla het relationships have heavy M/f overtones to them. And at least when you meet a partner and confess your feelings to them, they're more likely to see the acts you want to do as a somewhat more hardcore version of "normal" sex than some completely weird shit they can't even begin to try and handle.

      I was just on my way to comment that I appreciated someone finally acknowledging that when I saw your comment. I'm tired of sub women's voices being the loudest of all women in feminist conversations about kink despite the fact that male doms are probably the only group in the community that is more catered to than them.

  16. Reading pieces like this always makes me pause for a second and check that all my parts are in place: yup, I'm still sex-positive; yup, I still don't personally enjoy having sex; yup, I'm still left out of a published list of possible (acceptable?) iterations of female sexuality.

    It's a small thing, this lack of language specifically representing me. I'm a young, white, able-bodied woman who lives in the US, and I can pass for straight and sexual in most communities. In many ways I feel over-represented, and I am definitely more privileged than many of the groups you did mention. But I feel like I see this lack everywhere there is a conversation about female sexuality, and every time it warps my mind. Why is it not okay to be like me? Why is it not talked about?

  17. M/f is the most acceptable face of kink because it's a fetishization of the normal, of something that's universally accepted as the "normal" male/female roles. A fetishization of hetero-normativity at its more traditional. For this reason too, it fills many submissive women with guilt about their own feminist beliefs, but there is an intrinsecally feminist or non-feminist in any sexual preference.

    On the other hand, as a female dominant, some misguided people assume that this sexual orientation makes me a feminist by default. Female dominance is as riddled with oppressing, mysoginist, reductive and plain sexist cliches as any other sexual role that concerns women. it;s not always easy to see them, or to shake them off my practice, but I'm very aware of them.

    Back to the question of dominance and wealth, there is also a cliche of aristocratic-monikered, plummy voiced, arrogant Dominatrices. It's always miffed me, this equating power with material wealth or birth privilege. It's very, very obsolete.

  18. Sorry, typo here. What I meant to write here: "... but there is an intrinsecally feminist or non-feminist in any sexual preference."

    was in fact: "... but there isn't anything intrinsecally feminist or non-feminist in any sexual preference."

  19. From a certain perspective, the above raises some good points and does indeed contribute to the back-and-forth flow of spectacular, 'civilised' conversation. However, it does only that, and it doesn't really say anything about what the excitable half of me thinks Roiphe was up to. Kink, BDSM, 'Queer', this whole taming and civilisation of the 'perversions' can go to the devil as far as I'm concerned, our appetite for perversion not reflecting anything so reasonable as language or social nicety, but more reflective of unreason or madness or death itself. 'Kink', lifestyle etc serve as pallettable manifestations of their background lunatic shadow who can't be tamed, made to make sense nor mostly can it even be harnessed to serve us in any useful way. What the above post does - and fair enough - is puts sexuality, porn, 'men' and 'women' into a linguistic framework, gives them the value of signs and then manipulates them within some logical order utterly alien to the desire it refers to. This, of course, is the essence of civil discourse.

    But what if Roiphe is looking for the freedom to represent something else? Not the exchange of sterile signs and referents within an air-conditioned atmosphere of social logic, but instead, what if she wants to start freeing the stuff that burns outside this atmosphere? If there is a will to insanity at the heart of certain erotics - and the example of the powerful man actively seeking humiliation would bear this out - then why shouldn't feminism condition a desire for its own defilement? Feminism's own structure would surely provide no higher contradiction to its own values than to laud its own rape? Forget smiling Nigel and his butt-plugs. This is the civilised face of eroticism and it really isn't that interesting. Maybe Roiphe represents a new Rouseau? A strong identity seeking out that which contravenes its own internal, social logic? In this respect, isn't it Roiphe who has transgressed? Not patriarchy - which is just conventional behaviour for a feminist - but transgressed the terms of her own cultural origins? By this measure, it's the backlash that stifles female creativity, and though her article was clumsy, I'd imagine it's a very difficult space to philosophize from.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. I genuinely agree with 90% of what you write here, but please stop this:

    "Women who want sexual autonomy, which is what any attack on abortion rights is fundamentally about."

    No, some people oppose abortion because they genuinely believe that it is murder, and they think that it is their moral duty to oppose legalised murder.

    By all means disagree with them, argue against them, whatever, but don't feel the need to traduce the motives of everyone who disagrees with you. It adds nothing to your case.

    1. I think she's got a point there though, having said that again it's just repeated what some lesbian in the sixties once said lol!
      It is about controling fertility in a round about way but what annoys me about this attitude is that A. Men have every right to voice their opinion on this subject and who the hell does this little girl think she's trying to shame into not lol! B If we don't control fertility in a acceptable way or at least work towards a better way they'll be too many people but cutting up human beings in the womb is not acceptable to everyone obviously. C. If she, like superslag Madonna had a daughter she'd think totally differently about young women 'exposing' herself but we both know next week she'll be accusing men of sexualising women.
      You couldn't make this mentality up in a fiction novel but it is so common amongst young women probably suffering from penis evny.

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  24. This is the same old boring tripe that has been regurgitated over and over and over again for the last 30 years. Have you ever had an original thought?
    By the way on porn you a blatantly lying or you don't watch porn in an anylitcal way at all.
    The market is flooded with women dominating men.
    Have you ever heard of a dominatix?
    Unbeliable lol!
    All I ask is if you don't like men don't have nothing to do with them. No loss love.

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  29. Extremely well written. Every word.
    I've personally always typed myself as a sexual submissive even though I'm very A-Type at work, with my family, I pile a lot of responsibility on myself--that's what I WANT for myself. In bed? Not so much. I'm not even sure the two things are related. BDSM is first and foremost about trust, and that is what a lot of these articles fail to notice while they focus on the "salacious" details. Honestly, I would go as far to say the "romance" in 50 Shades is not consensual, slut shaming, verging on sexual abuse. It is not an accurate portrayal of fetish or submission, so needless to say it's fucking insulting that it's become the poster child.
    Whether women want to be subs or doms or neither has no bearing on their philosophical stance...unless her philosophical stance is the rote acceptable idea that women shouldn't enjoy sex in the first place, which is, I have no doubt, the root of all this hysteria in the first place.

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  37. I would argue that female sexual autonomy is alive and well, Penny Red. Women have practiced as much kink as men do and always have. The condition of propriety and appearance of correct behavior falls on both men and women. The difference is that men have always had more lee way when it comes to acceptable sexual behavior. Some of this has to do with differences in preferred learning styles between the genders and some of this has to do societal enforcements meant to control genetic inheritance from one generation to another. Men tend to be more kinesthetic learners, while women tend to be better audio-visual learners(both learning styles are used by either sex and there are plenty of outliers due to differences in how individual brains process cortical steroids and while such preference is a slim majority a slim majority of preference can influence a society greatly). What I am trying to say is that because men tend to be more kinesthetic learners they learn independence and certain aspects of self-development earlier(although this drops off around puberty and girls tend to advance quicker at this stage with both sexes balancing out around their late teens). Women on the other hand because they tend to be more audio-visual tend to learn by example and therefore put more importance on inter-personal relationships. Which means they tend to have more psychological and social blocks to sexual autonomy because they are more aware and tend to worry over the negative effects of their behavior than men. As to the other reason why women have difficulty with sexual autonomy is actual cultural repression because two different phenomena, role identification and paternity protection. Role identification has to do with how people view or personified others which is part of the evolution of self-hood, identity and the development of empathy(which I will get into at a later time). Needless to say society needs women to perform the role of motherhood which puts a great deal of strain on women to be arbiters and examples of civilized behavior to their offspring. Because of this there is greater societal pressure on women by both sexes to censure women for improper behavior. The male only needs to be a good provider(although it helps if he is a good nurturer as well), a female on the other hand must be a good nurturer. As to the reason why there is such a thing as proper behavior it is due to the possibly mistaken belief that engaging in the bread and circuses of hedonism will lead to social disorder, lack of respect for authority and just sheer laziness. If we only did what we wanted to do then not much would get done in society because all most would want to do is lie around, eat, sleep and fuck. If anything it is women's nagging and whipping of men into shape that pushes men to create what we call civilization.

  38. On the development of self hood, identity and empathy or, "Papa don't preach and it begins with princesses". One possible theory regarding the evolution of kink is that it is the result of skewed love maps and another is the courtship disorder theory. Either way these theories are effectively based around McClelland's motivation needs theory which consist of the three needs: affiliation, affirmation and power. So it is not just about power and the dynamics of power in relationships but about the evolution of self-hood or personhood as it relates to those three needs.

    Personhood, social awareness and empathy develop over a continuum within childhood and has different stages that go something like this:
    1. Objectification and awareness. Which occurs in the natal stage between ages 0 to 2. This where children become aware of others around them and see them mostly as "objects of use". The child does have a need for affirmation from the parent and others but it is primarily the selfish need to survive that motivates the child's understanding of the world around it. So in this sense people are objectified because the child itself does not have a fully developed idea of self or personality.
    2. Personification or role identifcation and the development of personality. Typically occurs between 2 and 5 years of age(although it may occur earlier in many as indicated by recent studies, or later in the case of autistic children). This is the stage where children develop a personality or personae and start to see other people as individuals who fulfill a specific role with specified or expected norms of behavior. It is also a part of healthy sexual fantasization and is often confused with the most hated objectification of women(which rarely occurs in adults). When fantasization and role identification become tied to dehumanization and depersonalization then it becomes a danger to social relationships and can lead to criminally sexual behaviors and deviance.
    3. Personalization and social dynamics. This is the stage where children start to develop relationships based on a pecking order around the fulfillment of the above motivational needs, this typically starts around age 3 and continues to develop and expand social dynamics throughout the life of the individual. As the name suggest people personalize the relationship and kinship they have with others to meet specific needs, this is an extension of role-identification and improves ones own self-identity over time.
    4. Individualization/Humanization and the development of independence and individuality. This typically occurs by age 7(the age of understanding), but does not fully develop until about age 10. This stage consists of recognizing your independence and autonomy from social groups(the separation from the pack mentality and the family unit and going your own way) and has a lot to do with children's ability to be mobile and complete tasks on their own. Out of this independence children realize that other people are individuals to with different feelings other than the role-identification they may have assigned them previously. For instance they may realize their parents, teachers and peers are members of a family, a community and the human race in their own right as well as an individual person. This stage is paramount for people to understand human dignity and the extension of kinship ties to larger affiliated groups like a nation or species. For instance the understanding that the high school stud and the high school pervert are both human beings and not just the role they perform or are perceived of in society.

  39. As to paternity protection or as with humans and other species that have been subject to population bottlenecks it would be better to call in paternity identification.

    One of the other reasons that many MRA nuts and socio-biological feminists try to exploit as to the reason for repression of female sexual autonomy and sexual autonomy in general is largely misunderstood even by academia. While it is true that in nature that males attempt to restrict female sexual autonomy, they generally don't do a very good job. Even in very patriarchal species offspring are as likely to be the result of lower ranking males than dominant ones and that becomes even more common among species where there is a genetic bottleneck and all individuals within a species tend to be closely related. Typically in those species whose members are closely related or that have complex social hierarchies like humans it is the job of dominant males to set standards of behavior and not to set themselves up for a genetic monopoly. As long as those with similar genetic traits and behaviors tend to dominate the gene pool that is beneficial to the dominant males in a group because it allows for greater organization and loyalty within the group which increases the survival of the dominant males offspring and increases the odds that similar genetic traits and advantages are passed down as part of sexual selection. On the other hand many subtle cheaters mimic those traits as a means of passing their genes on the next generation and you have some males who utilize a predatory mating strategy to pass on their genes.

    There are three different forms of mating strategy: Reciprocal mating strategy, nurturing mating strategies and coercive mating strategies. Both sexes utilize these strategies to some extent. Just because sugar mommas aren't as common as sugar daddies doesn't mean they don't exist and indeed their dearth may just be a sign of our current societies repression of female wealth and power to practice sexual agency or autonomy. So the idea that women don't engage in reciprocal sex is hogwash. What is hogwash is that women predominantly engage in sex as a favor to men and not for their sexual pleasure.

    As for coercive mating strategies while men tend to predominate in this category that does not mean that women are not sometimes coercive through blackmail, drugs, emotional manipulation and other methods. Also, it is a small minority of men who actually engage in predatory forced coercion of females for sex, most sexually exploitative men use emotional and economic manipulation as well as other coercive tactics.

    Nurturing mating strategies involve the use of nurturing skills to make others feel secure, powerful and affirmed. If you particularly jaded though you could certainly view these as an offshoot of coercive or reciprocal strategies since they do involve providing a service in return for sexual receptivity and they can be coercive in nature at times. Most people do things out of educated self-interest after all. The idea though that human females have a false estrus though is unfounded. It is better to say they have an undefined or malleable estrus that changes over the course of their monthly cycle. Human sperm can survive for up to two weeks in the female so the period in which females can become pregnant is exceptionally long and due to females ovulating year round homo sapiens has evolved to maximize that period of reproductive receptivity. Humans also evolved highly complex social strategies that required a women to biologically cast a wide net when it came to beneficial physical and behavioral traits and adaptations. Because of this women tend to be attracted to different traits in males during different periods in their ovulation cycle. In other words the traits that women look for pre-menstrual are different than the ones they look for post-menstrual.

    1. How all of what I just said relates to sexual submission is up to the audience, I was more concerned with sexual autonomy. Why people seem to think sexual submissiveness or even sado-masochism is a sign of sexual weakness, mental illness or codependent behavior is an entirely different subject. While in can certainly be a sign of codependent or abusive behaviors that is not always the case and it is often more a sign of sexual juvenility and skewed love maps than it is a character weakness. So while it may be a sign of mental health problems, those problems are for the most part not pathological or destructive for the individual. Also, we tend to concentrate far too much on autonomy and independence in our society for my tastes and not enough on community and interdependence. Affiliation and affirmation are necessary for people to feel powerful and comfortable with practicing their autonomy and agency.

  40. On the subject of favor sex. It's something that everybody does even men. Sometimes we don't feel up to it either. That doesn't mean that people should not necessarily give out favor sex. But, people should be honest about their sexual desire and feelings and make informed decisions regarding the maintenance of each others sexual and romantic relationship and whether favor sex is necessary for that maintenance. It should be treated on a case by case basis because it is actually rare that people in a committed relationship will have the same level of desire all the time(although when they do it is glorious).

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