I have spent much time pondering the seemingly conflicting views of feminism and submission. In the first part of my article, I would like to discuss feminism and how it fits in with my view of both the BDSM community and submission. In the second part, I will explore how I practice feminism in my personal life.
Some definitions are pertinent to this discussion. In a class on gender issues, I heard that ‘traditional’ feminism, the feminism I grew up with, is defined as a movement with a belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. A speaker who did her Ph.D. on feminism defined the current form of a feminist as ‘a person who shares a concern regarding how women live in the world’. When I spoke to her afterwards about how she thought that definition might fit into a D/s relationship where the submissive considers herself an ardent feminist, she said that as long as a woman had an interest in self-improvement, and/or the improvement of the lives of women, that she would be a feminist. Aha! I thought. This fits so well into D/s!
I also read a description of D/s that further fit my thoughts on feminism. Tristan Taormino in The Village Voice (www.villagevoice.com) wrote that “successful D/s relationships are like well-choreographed dances: there is a clear leader and a clear follower and both partners get a lot out of their respective roles. The dominant provides structure and guidance, and the submissive wants to surrender control. Each person has equal power within the relationship, but the dominant has more authority”.
The key to the D/s relationship is the power exchange. The submissive gives the power to the Dom, who then controls her. (I am going to use male Doms and female subs for this argument. Female Dommes are an obvious indication of feminism I think). Yet the submissive retains the power to call ‘yellow’ (or God forbid ‘red’) and regain control. In reality, the submissive is powerful all the time, whereas the Dom is powerful only with her willingness. Considering Taormino’s definition of both partners having equal power, this falls into even the traditional definition of feminism as social equality between the sexes.
The ability to choose one’s path is the ultimate goal of social feminism. A woman interested in the BDSM lifestyle has multiple choices open to her. She can submit to either a male or female Dom/me, she can choose to be a Domme herself, or she can follow the ultimate feminist choice – switch and be whatever she wishes whenever she wishes.
Strong concerns with gender and sexuality issues are a hallmark of feminist interest. People in the BDSM lifestyle tend to be inclusive rather than exclusive. The pansexual attitude welcoming gays, lesbians, transsexuals, transvestites and more, show an acceptance of equality for all gender types and preferences.
The motto of BDSM is ‘safe, sane and consensual’. Many in the community are concerned with the safety and personal growth of newcomers to the lifestyle. This becomes especially obvious reading postings on the list from ‘newbies’ and viewing the constructive comments which pour in from other members. Concerns about abuses are particularly strong as every case of abuse hurts the image of a community which is just starting to come into the limelight. These concerns with safety and abuse are also a trademark of traditional feminists who have fought for so long for every woman to be safely able not only to walk openly at night but safe to express her own sexuality or femininity in any way she wishes.
Most women in the lifestyle are ‘of a certain age’. The young tend to jump in and out as they explore various forms of sexuality. Mature women who become subs or Dommes tend to be very strong-willed and ‘self-knowing’. They enter the lifestyle either out of a need to express themselves, to further develop themselves, or to fulfill something that was “missing” or needed in their lives. It is a true expression of feminism to know one’s self enough and be strong enough to explore such a non-traditional lifestyle. The stronger the sub is the better the relationship with a Dom as the partnership is more equal. The sub is less likely to be open to abuse, and more able to learn and grow in a D/s relationship. Taormino further says that “a dominant on a power trip who likes to manipulate and prey on weakness is as dangerous as a submissive who doesn't know what she wants and can't stand up for herself, and neither is fit for a d/s relationship”. What fits the idea of a submissive better than a feminist: strong, able to stand up for herself, and with a clear sense of self.
I will discuss how I have practiced feminism in my personal journey through BDSM in the next post of this series.