Submissiveness is empowering.
The above are just a few of the lies that patriarchal culture has served up for women in the best selling BDSM novel 50 Shades of Grey.
First-time female novelist E L James began the piece as short fan fiction based off of the Twilight series whose main relationship between a 104 year old vampire and a teenage girl meets all the criteria for domestic violence.
Given its source material, it’s not surprising that 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels tells the story of a billionaire who convinces a young woman to agree to be his full time sex slave.
E L James’ story is not new.
The Story of O is a BDSM novel published in 1954. It details the “training”, sexual degradation, and final suicide of a woman named O (Woman Hating Andrea Dworkin p 55-63). The book was written by a woman and, similar to 50 Shades of Grey, documents female enjoyment of male domination.
In our male-dominated culture, women are socialized to enjoy being dominated sexually. As Womon On a Journey says, “The cultural of women-hatred f*cks with ALL of our brains, so that we really have no idea as women what our desires would be in a sex-equal society.”
Given this fact, what are we to make of the fact that some women enjoy fantasies of being dominated?
The enjoyment these women feel is described by Dee Graham in her book Loving to Survive as Societal Stockholm Syndrome. Because women as a group cannot escape from men, we have found ways of dealing with their violent and destructive behavior. We eroticize it, and internalize the desire for it. As Cherry Blossom Life says, “Perhaps when women talk about the empowerment of submissiveness, they are actually talking about the power of the double bluff: “You want to hurt me? Screw you; you’ll never hurt me more than I want to be hurt myself.””
By “choosing” to enjoy male-dominant sex, women are able to develop a sense of power, however limited.
BDSM practitioners often engage in a classic patriarchal reversal. That is, they claim that they are actually an oppressed group in society who lose social power due to their kinky sex practices. They claim that non-practitioners, that is, those whose sexual practices do not involve explicit domination and submission, have “vanilla privilege“, which means that non-BDSM practitioners oppress them.
Radical feminists see that since all our desires occur within a patriarchal context wherein women are submissive and men are dominant, the explicit enactment of this dynamic in the bedroom is in direct conformity to male-centric sexual norms. We recognize the framing of BDSM as” transgressive” as a patriarchal reversal (where the opposite of what is being claimed is actually what is true). In fact, BDSM practices actively oppress women.
Note that I am not blaming these women for attempting to carve out space for female agency in an exceptionally coercive, abusive, and traumatic patriarchal society. Nor am I blaming the women who buy and read 50 Shades of Grey, or as it has come to be known, mommy porn. Rather, I am analyzing the context under which this glorification and erotization of male domination has become an outlet for female sexuality.
Radical feminists see the justification of BDSM- whether in erotica, or in practice- as a form of orgasm politics, which we reject. We do not agree with Barbara Seaman, who said, “The liberated orgasm is an orgasm you like, under any circumstances.” We do not believe that activities should be immune from criticism simply because they occur in our minds or our bedrooms.
Rather, we agree with Sheila Jeffreys when she says,
“Traditional forms of male-supremacist sexuality based on dominance and submission and the exploitation and objectification of a slave class of women are being celebrated for their arousing and “transgressive” possibilities.”
There is nothing transgressive or feminist about BDSM erotica or sexual practices. The popularity of this new novel, as well as the Twilight series, show the way in which women cope with male violence and oppression by eroticizing male dominance.