Lesbian BDSM, part 1: Lesbian BDSM in Fan Fiction

by admin

Guest post by Maggie H.

This post is the first part of a series of posts based on some of the RadFem Reboot 2012 presentation talk that I gave in Oregon recently on the patriarchal takeover of women’s sexuality.

Warning: This post contains some descriptions of what happens in written pornography. Skip those parts if you feel queasy; read them if you really want to know what some lesbians are writing & reading ‘for fun’ these days.

Disclaimers: By writing this post I would like to make very clear that I am not criticising individual women for having particular sorts of fantasy. I am a former BDSMer myself. I am actually being critical of the pornographic works being published online, and of the patriarchal context within which such stories get written and read in the first place. I believe it is important to challenge the everyday political poisoning of our lesbian communities by BDSM culture. If you read or write those kinds of stories, I am not ‘attacking’ you personally; I am just trying to make a point concerning what you read or write.

*****

I feel the need to talk about fan fiction, as it has become an important part of lesbian culture nowadays in some circles. This includes stories based on the characters of Willow & Tara (from Buffy: Vampire Slayer) and Xena & Gabrielle (from Xena: Warrior Princess) –and there are also lesbian fan fiction stories based on the characters of Stargate SG-1, Rizzoli & Isles or other shows lesbians happen to be fans of.

Not all lesbian fan fiction stories are bad or misogynistic (some can actually be really good and female-centred), but BDSM sexuality is often glamorised in some popular lesbian fan fiction tales. Those stories are written and read by lesbian fans of those TV shows, everyday women: women like you or me. Any lesbian can become an anonymous fan fiction writer nowadays, and get easily published on the Internet for free via specific fan fiction websites.
     Willow & Tara (left) from Buffy, Xena ‘the Conqueror’ and Gabrielle ‘the slave’ (centre and left). ‘Conqueror’ fan fiction is a sub-genre of Xena fan fiction.

Although produced within a patriarchal context, the shows themselves are not necessarily bad. I haven’t watched much of Buffy, but I heard that the Willow/Tara relationship was one of the first openly lesbian relationships to ever make it to the small screen. Despite some annoying occasional patriarchal undertones, Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) was one of the very few shows that portrayed female bonding between two women on a deeply intimate level –presenting two strong and assertive women loving each other. I personally am a Xena/Gabrielle fan (I understand that not every radical feminist feels this way, but I just am).

These characters can mean so much for many lesbians and bisexual women. For some of us women, we have learned to identify with these characters as we were growing up and learned how to see ourselves through them. Some lesbians even decided to write some romantic and/or erotic lesbian fan fiction stories about them. However, while some of those anonymous authors desperately strive to write some lesbian material that attempts to remain as respectful as possible to the characters from the on-screen relationships, other writers have been thoroughly patriarchally influenced into writing some stuff that is very disrespectful to women.

For example, most of the Xenaverse pornography takes place within the ‘Conqueror’ fan fiction genre –a sub-genre of fanfic within which Xena is depicted as being ‘the Conqueror’ (a ruthless, cruel handmaiden of patriarchy) and Gabrielle as being ‘her slave.’ The ‘Conqueror’ genre should not even be considered a real part of Xena fan fiction in the first place, since the character of Xena the Conqueror was introduced only in the episode ‘Armaggedon Now’ from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, a male-dominated show.

In the ‘Conqueror’ stories, within a nonsensical, pornographic sort of fashion, Gabrielle is often portrayed as ‘enjoying’ the rough sexual treatment she sustains at the hands of her Conqueror captor, a female abuser. Conqueror stories can earn fanfic awards for the lesbian anonymous writers, as clearly shown on the Hall of Fame of the Royal Academy of Bards website –on which the anonymous lesbian author WarriorJudge recently won a ‘Top Vote’ prize for her story Lord Conqueror of the Realm.

This is the reality of lesbian culture today: some women write those stories, some women read those stories and even some women vote for those stories to make it to the top of certain lesbian fan fiction sites’ Hall of Fame.

Within BDSM fan fiction stories, ‘open-mindedness’ typically gets defined as a lesbian’s willingness to try ‘new things’ and these new things are often BDSM-related. Kinky sexuality is generally portrayed as the ‘most intense’ thing two women can ever try together. For instance, Experimentation is a Possibility is a typical example of BDSM lesbian fanfiction based on the Buffy characters. One part of the dialogue in the story –in which Willow and Tara start talking about ‘trying new, kinky things’– reminds me of how women get caught up into BDSM culture and practice in the first place.

Stories like these are part of a society that basically influences some lesbians to get caught up into that BDSM world. This culture basically tells you that BDSM is the ‘sexiest thing’ to try or the “most intense” thing that can happen between women. That’s why it is very important to remain non-judgemental towards the women who have participated as ‘bottom’ in BDSM practices in the past (and those who are still trapped into it). I used to be involved in the goth music scene, which is very much linked to both straight and lesbian BDSM. I am an ex-BDSMer myself.

I would certainly never shame or blame the women who end up being ‘sub’ in BDSM practices, as I myself understand how much I had been indoctrinated by that kink culture. It can be very hard for some of the women to know there is a life after BDSM, that sexuality can exist without the need to degrade ourselves. We survivors of BDSM tend to already have a very low self-esteem and a dreadful past of internalised self-hatred. Many of us were victims of either rape or of girlhood abuse before we’d gotten involved in BDSM, and we thought that re-enacting our past trauma over and over again would give us a great ‘way of coping,’ but we were wrong.

Nor am I blaming or shaming the women who end up reading or writing those types of lesbian fan fiction. I am more interested in questioning the social influences coming from the patriarchal system we’re living in, what exactly leads women to reading and writing those woman-hating stories in the first place.

The fact that misogyny is the norm within our culture and that so many woman-hating ideologies get taken for granted, including by lesbians, is very alarming. A stark example of this is the fact that so many aggressive and degrading woman-hating Conqueror stories get defended and lauded by so many lesbian XWP fans, including by so many good-intentioned women among them –women who, if they were not so heavily conditioned by patriarchal ideologies, would certainly not normally like those fanfics.

Woman-hating scenes, stereotypes and ideologies that are present in some of the lesbian fan fiction (or fanfic) hardly ever get questioned because nowadays lesbians hardly ever dare question or challenge what has been recognised by radical feminists as deeply ingrained, deeply embedded and socially internalised misogyny. I would argue that the lesbian fan fiction universe should not carry on supporting woman-hating messages because it hurts women as an entire class of human beings. I understand that it’s not likely to happen though, since we live in a misogynistic world in which even some lesbians internalise misogynistic norms to the point of not even noticing them.

A lesbian fan fiction author that I just mentioned earlier, a woman who calls herself ‘Warrior Judge’, typically writes BDSM Conqueror fanfic online. I spoke to her online as she was writing her Conqueror series and tried to explain to her that BDSM was very unhealthy from a feminist perspective. Here is what I said to her:

“I would like to make it very clear that I am certainly not criticising the ‘consent’ aspect of BDSM, which is what people wrongfully assume when I criticise it. The consent was never an issue for me. I agree that there is a difference between BDSM and actual rape. The issue was mostly what exactly I was consenting to. I really had to break free from sadomasochistic chains, for our own personal, psychological, physical, social and political well-being as women. When I chose to withdraw consent and refuse to continue to re-enact or accept symbols of slavery, captivity, rape or torture as a turn-on, I felt a lot better, a lot more autonomous as a human being.” ~ Myself, online, speaking to a BDSM lesbian writer.

Here is what she nonetheless replied to me:

It is my belief that women should freely choose for themselves what best suits them without fearing criticism. I think that women who truly make their own conscience choices – are true feminists.” ~ Warrior Judge’s answer to me.

What kind of a world is this in which only a woman who simply “makes choices” within a coercively patriarchal context is considered to be a “true feminist”? I was not ‘criticising’ her as an individual. I was just trying to help her, trying to tell her that things do not have to be this way. I do not believe any woman is ‘naturally submissive,’ as she portrays one of the characters from her fanfiction story. We, women, have in fact been socially trained by patriarchy to be submissive. We are even sometimes socially conditioned to become ‘masochistic.’

What typically gets edited out in those BDSM pornographic stories (of course) are the negative and uncomfortable ‘after-feelings’ that many women actually feel in real life after sadomasochistic activities (right after the initial orgasmic ‘kick’ has worn off), feelings which prove that women do not in fact truly enjoy their sexual degradation.

WarriorJudge of course did not seriously consider what I had to say. She even went so far as saying that rape survivors ‘can’ overcome their trauma through participating in BDSM, a lie that I once used to believe myself while I was into it. Rape survivors merely get trapped into the endless re-enactment of their own violation via BDSM scenarios and activities.

WarriorJudge of course carried on writing her BDSM fiction series after this conversation I had with her on a XWP forum. Not long after this, she had a story chapter up online within which she warned at the start that it: “… contains a rough sex scene, which contains light bondage and a few whiplashes – nothing more than that – it is consensual.”

In this story chapter (called ‘Lord Conqueror of the Realm, Part 9’), she wrote a pornographic scene that depicted the ‘conqueror’ woman doing various kinds of degrading and violent things to the female ‘slave.’ The ‘conqueror’ was described as gagging her ‘slave’ with a phallic object, pushing her, forcing her to obey her sadistic orders, tying up her arms and legs to a tree in a spread-eagle position, biting her, plunging her fist into her vagina, whipping her until she gets ‘red welts’ and inflicting serious injury upon her –resulting in the ‘slave’ having a ‘ravaged tissue between her spread legs.’ The female ‘slave’ was sometimes portrayed as “admirably enduring” the humiliation and torture –thus reinforcing a typical bullshit pornographic ideology that constantly tries to justify violence against women.

Just like many other Conqueror stories, that pornography was loaded with glorification of the phallus. Why include so much phallic imagery within lesbian fan fiction? We are not attracted to men so why, as lesbians, would we ever be attracted to phallic symbols in the first place? We are a PIV-colonised people, that’s what it is –just like any other kind of women (that’s why dildos have become so popular within nowadays’ lesbian community). What kind of a world is this within which lesbians (supposedly women-loving women) end up writing this sort of fiction, reading it, getting off on it, voting for it to become ‘top lesbian fan fiction story of the year,’ and even sometimes calling it ‘feminist’? Not a healthy world, that is for sure.

As Susan Hawthorne made it clear, there is a clear link between BDSM degradation and actual torture:

“… the promotion of sadomasochism by Califia (1988), Weiss (2005), and others contributes to the escalation of violence and social acceptance of violence under the guise of “free choice.” … if Weiss (2005) can argue (and her audience can feel comfortable applauding her arguments) that acts identical to torture–humiliation, violent penetration with objects, cutting off of clothes, bondage–are acceptable in a BDSM scene, and are deemed philosophically acceptable, where does the slide down the slippery slope begin and end? ~ Susan Hawthorne, in her paper on BDSM and the torture of lesbians.

Focusing on ‘consent’ is a slippery slope into desensitisation, into accepting pretty much everything degrading and painful to women until it eventually slips into non-consensuality. BDSM re-enacts the actual torture and hatred of women and lesbians that goes on every day in society. Lesbian BSDM is connected to internalised misogyny, lesbophobia and violence against lesbians around the world. So many females are being raped on a daily basis (or have been raped at least once within their lifetime) and all we have been told to do is to just “lie there and enjoy it.”

This is the only escape we can find when we’re listening to nothing but patriarchal messages all the time: to just fucking put up with it. This is where BDSM starts, when some of us who have internalised misogyny the most decide that there is no escape –apart from re-creating, re-enacting scenarios based on all the hatred we have had to put up with on a daily basis (in sexual violence, in the school, in the university, in the workplace, in the family home, or from lesbian-hating heterosexual godbags, etc). Then we learn how to get off on all these scenarios of hierarchy and see them as a potential ‘release’ (albeit illusory), at the expense of our true liberation. And we become overall desensitised to the atrocious misogyny and violence against women that goes on all the time when we accept the re-enactment of our own torture as a turn-on.

The construction of SM sexuality is a mighty clever ploy for the Oppressor. Our resistance is undermined in our very guts if our response to the torture of others… is erotic rather than politically indignant. It is very hard to fight what turns you on.”~ Sheila Jeffreys, in The Lesbian Heresy, p. 73.

Men know well that people who get off on re-enactments of their own violation, pain or fears will not start a revolution. It is also important to remember where woman-bashing and woman-hating among women also starts, in an identical way to lesbian BDSM. From childhood on, we females have been told that we’re nothing (compared to what men are), that we’re only good as sex objects, and that we shouldn’t protest the degradation done to us but just either ‘lie there and enjoy it’ or enjoy it when it is done to other women.

As for the lesbians who attempt to defend lesbian BDSM fan fiction as being linked to romantic love by saying things like “…but the characters do love each other in the end” or something similar just because there is somehow a ‘happy ending’ in the story after all those woman-hating pornographic scenes have been depicted, well… I want to add that BDSM is only based on a one-sided, patriarchal aspect of love –a form of love generated by men and male-supremacist gendered cultures, not a form of love between women that would involve mutual Sapphic respect and preservation of women’s humanity and selfhood.

There is no reason for one lesbian partner to ‘have to’ sacrifice her dignity or bodily integrity for the other partner’s happiness. This is all pure patriarchal bullshit and lies. I want lesbian romantic love to be reshaped in different terms, that are more female-centred and that do not negate a woman’s full humanity so that another can be made ‘more dominant’ (as in butch/femme roles, for instance).

Eroticising acts of sexual torture is pornography ; its purpose is to diffuse these practices to millions of women / lesbians and to pressure them into doing things they would not normally do. What proof do I have that the Conqueror stories, for instance, have not been used to harm a woman in real life at one point? Pornography is political. It has political impacts onto women’s situation within society as a whole. We are not free so long as there is a form of media out there that portrays us as slaves, as bitches, as ‘sluts,’ as fuckholes…

Refusing to surrender to scenarios, fantasies and re-enactments of rape, captivity, misogyny, torture and slavery is our true pathway towards freedom –as lesbians and as women:

Now that the sexual revolution has come to lesbians we have all the problems associated with the practice of eroticised inequality, heterosexual desire in our community… The results of women’s oppression, the damage done by sexual abuse, by the use of women in the sex industry, by the hatred of lesbians has provided the raw material, the lesbians who will invent and model in the pornography, get beaten at S/M parties, perform live sex acts. Those who want ‘equal opportunities’ in sexuality hope that a code of ethics will prettify this scene. I suggest that the strong and healthy survival of our community requires the construction of a quite different sexuality, one based upon love of women and lesbians, a sexuality that will support our lesbian pride.” ~ Sheila Jeffreys, in The Lesbian Heresy, pp. 43-44.

Despite viewing themselves as ‘rebels’ and dismissing lesbian feminists as “vanilla women,” lesbian BDSMers (and BDSM fiction authors) in fact reproduce patriarchal power dynamics already present in a hierarchical society. There is nothing revolutionary or rebellious about participating in BDSM. You are simply submitting to a mainstream, overall system of worldwide degradation of women. Consent does not deny internalisation of misogyny or male supremacist norms; it actually confirms it. BDSM consent for the supposedly ‘bottom’ woman means consenting to degradation. It does not nullify internalisation of our own oppression; it confirms it.

Lesbian BDSM fanfic stories, however, are merely the tip of the iceberg. There are many more aspects of contemporary lesbian culture that have been poisoned by patriarchal sexuality. More information coming later in future posts…

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Maggie H. is a radical lesbian feminist. She frequently reads the Radical Hub, and has commented here before. She is a sociology student in the School of Social and Political Sciences at University in the UK. She has taken a temporary break from radical feminist blogging (during her studies), and plans to come back to the radfem blogosphere under a different screen-name after graduating…

27 Responses to “Lesbian BDSM, part 1: Lesbian BDSM in Fan Fiction”

  1. Consent within the context of abuse does not negate the abuse. Fetishizing bullying does not make it okay. Encouraging people to think this sort of thing is therapeutic is just one more way to open the doors to the evils of patriarchal dominence.
    You don’t recover from abuse by reinacting it over and over again. You recover from it by calling it out publicly for what it is, and sternly refusing to let anybody ever erode your boundaries thusly ever again. You recover from it by turning yourself into a person who will not countenance being used to feed mentally unhealthy fetishes.
    I pity anyone who is addicted to pain. I have no sympathy for anyone who is addicted to inflicting it.

  2. thank You. (i’m sorry I comment in french)
    Vous prenez beaucoup de précautions, et malheureusement, vous avez raison : le patriarcat pornolibéral a réussi à nous faire croire que critiquer des lignes politiques ou analyser les consciences dominées des individus, c’était “juger moralement” “les choix” des personnes. La notion même de détermination est ridiculisée par ces considérations individualistes et bêtement psychologistes, imposant d’expliquer l’oppression sociale par les choix individuels des individus (“méchants” oppresseurs et “pauvres” victimes “soumises”). Or le BDSM, en tant que pratique “sexuelle” est le complexe par lequel l’oppression s’intériorise le plus au plan individuel, implique que l’on associe l’analyse psychologique sérieuse (analyse des déterminants sociaux de la conscience humaine) et l’analyse sociologique politique.
    I’ve written a blog-article on this … in french
    http://www.feministes-radicales.org/2012/04/19/bdsm-not-about-consent-but-about-rape/

  3. First of all – I respect your opinion of what you feel is best to read.
    Can you respect my opinion as to what I am inspired to write?

    Ok. So you can’t. I won’t even try to force that on you. True freedom.

    But – while I don’t generally write BDSM – and don’t write X/G for that matter – I do respect those writers who are drawn to explore that territory. And no, not all fan fic is porn. Not even all fan-porn is ‘just porn’. We as writers are drawn to explore in text the experiences and the outcomes of our lives, to explore options and alternatives, and to suggest scripts which may (or may not) suggest paths by which different characters can develop in different ways. (Including – as you might discover from certain writers – that *this*is*not*good* – although again that is just one end point on a path.) So long as women experience pain? So long as pain and sex travel together in so many women’s lives? Well then – that is going to get explored. It’s on the map because it’s part of the territory.

    Telling a woman – any woman – what she is ‘allowed’ to write ( for which read *think*) (for which read *say*) is the harshest form of oppression since it colonizes the inside of our heads.

    You don’t have to accept a particular genre as healthy or good. You don’t have to accept it as wise or profitable for learning. You don’t – and again I say ‘true freedom’ – have to accept it at all. BUT! The rest of us don’t have to accept your ‘rules’ as to what we are allowed to explore/consider/type.

    I suppose I could write ‘safe’ fiction – maybe Leave it to Beaver fics – but I don’t think I will grow much from such thinking. I will explore the characters that are real to me in the ways that I think define and explore their characters AS I SEE THEM. If that means I see a character as inclined to such acts.** I will write what my Muse whispers. I will tell MY truths. As for the rest of the world? I will here repeat the eternal invocation of fan writers.

    Don’t like? DON’T READ!

    ((Now that I consider matters? I’m thinking Abby Scuito might be a good character – if there were only another interesting and suitable woman in the series to pair her with. Pity I think Ziva David has too many tramas to ever consider such a scene.))

  4. AnnieB,
    This post is a radical feminist analysis of lesbian BDSM, so while the author does make the suggestion that women who wish to be liberated from male dominance shouldn’t write or read BDSM fanfiction, to focus on that aspect alone is to miss the point.

    What she is saying is: read if you must, write if you must, but understand that in doing so you shore up male power, because patriarchy itself is sub/dom. So be aware that you are reproducing patriarchy each time you participate in BDSM, each time you write BDSM fantasies, and each time you read them.

  5. I also disagree with this statement:

    “Telling a woman – any woman – what she is ‘allowed’ to write ( for which read *think*) (for which read *say*) is the harshest form of oppression since it colonizes the inside of our heads.”

    The harshest form of oppression is the torture and death of women, which is reproduced, re-enacted, glorified and indeed parodied in BDSM culture.

  6. With respect to cherry blossom – I have to disagree.
    I can write about war without ‘reproducing’ war.
    I can write about poverty without ‘reproducing’ poverty.
    I can write about slavery without ‘reproducing’ slavery.
    I can write about disease without ‘reproducing’ disease.
    I can write about sick exploitive sexuality – because it is darn sure out there.
    If I can not write about these?
    Well, then, what am I ‘allowed’ to write about?
    Kittens?
    Am I a writer at all, if all I put to text is what I am told by others is ‘good’?
    Personally, I think that a woman who wishes to be liberated from mail dominance ( or from war,poverty, slavery, or disease or yes – sick exploitive sexuality) might have quite a lot to say on the subjects.
    Just because the patriarchy currently trades in sub/dom fantasies? So what? They also trade in war, poverty, slavery and… yada yada yada. They trade in labor and in rest and in fantasy and in reality. If I never wrote on any topic which the patriarchy had ‘contaminated’ by the warping effect of the system’s self interest? I’d be writing about kittens. (And give me five minutes – I can explain how they have appropriated kittens.)
    Like Brutus, I can write to bury a topic as much as to praise it. (And – as that example – the distinction can be very hard to define from the outside.) Buf if I praise or blame or just *observe* – my writing is MY REALITY as expressed by my muse.
    I am not going to surrender my sense of reality. Not to the patriarchy, and not to what is looking – forgive me for this – darn close to feminist-shaming.
    I can appreciate the overview – but the prescription? If I wanted to be told how to express myself like a ‘good little lady’ – I’d date men.

  7. You can certainly write about BDSM. Sheila Jeffreys has done a very good job of writing about it, Gail Dines and Dworkin and Mary Daly have all written about BDSM and their material is not for anyone with a weak stomach.
    But they don’t eroticize it in their writing and they demonstrate the damage it does to women as a class. It’s beyond the scope of this article, but there is lots of material on this subject from a radical feminist viewpoint and I’m glad Maggie H has been brave enough to take it on, because her stance (like all radical feminist viewpoints) veers away from the mainstream.

  8. Note: Generally, the comments section is used to further radical feminist analysis, not to teach people about radical feminism.

    AnnieB, these articles explain the political ideology behind the movement known as “radical feminism.” Please read them if you want to learn more about the RadFem stance because your point of view represents a more mainstream approach to BDSM.

    https://radicalhubarchives.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/radfem-101-a-radical-feminist-primer-part-one/
    https://radicalhubarchives.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/radfem-101-a-radical-feminist-primer-part-two/
    https://radicalhubarchives.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/radfem-101-a-radical-feminist-primer-part-three/
    https://radicalhubarchives.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/radfem-101-a-radical-feminist-primer-part-four/

  9. What she is saying is: read if you must, write if you must, but understand that in doing so you shore up male power, because patriarchy itself is sub/dom. So be aware that you are reproducing patriarchy each time you participate in BDSM, each time you write BDSM fantasies, and each time you read them.

    Thank you so much for your defence, Cherry. 🙂 This is exactly what I meant. People can write what they want. I’m just making the point that if they write pornographic texts, it indeed supports male power. It capitulates to patriarchy.

    And yes, Annie B, not all fanfic is porn. I have said that I do like some fan fiction myself at the beginning of the post. I just prefer the more female-centred, non-pornographic and respectful sort of stories…

  10. Also, I’d just like to make it clear in what I mean by ‘pornography’ for women who may read here and might come from fan fiction:

    Pornography: material that combines sex and/or complete or partial nakedness with misogyny, degradation or abuse in a way that appears to condone, endorse or encourage such behaviour.

    This was inspired by the Dian E.H. Russell definition and this is how I define pornography. I do not criticise “all” the lesbian material lesbian fans may have written or read about their favourite character (inclunding Willow/Tara, or Xena/Gabrielle, etc) and that may contain nudity or a love scene in the story. The lesbian fan fiction stories that contain some sexual/erotic scenes that are non-degrading, woman-loving, respectful enough to the female characters involved and respectful to women in general are okay.

    But BDSM contains degradation as an inherent aspect of this sort of sexuality…

  11. Great post, Maggie! I had no idea that fanfic was so porny. Ew.
    And Annie B, women’s heads are already colonised – by patriarchy. We are trying to deprogramme ourselves. I suggest you do the same. It’s very liberating. “Choosing” to do something degrading and harmful is not choice – it’s what you’ve been taught to do from the day you were born in this male-serving, pornographic, sadistic maniverse.

  12. from a writers perspective, it is pretty hard to find a topic to write about (or a style or perspective for that matter) that isnt male-serving. this is especially true if you hope or expect to make any money at it. but cherry is absolutely right: sheila jeffreys and other radfems have written extensively about BDSM and all of it, from a radfem perspective. and they have de-eroticized it, and showed the true horrors involved and that its actually sexualized and political torture of women. thats the point. writing “about” war is not the same thing as glorifying it, or eroticizing it, or making war-related rape scenes the highlight of the novel. writing about the sexual politics of war could be done instead, but isnt going to make you much money. for women who are talented writers, or who wish to be self-employed to “empower” themselves or not have to work in the male-dominated workplace, it is tempting to write about anything that people will buy. but it doesnt make the work feminist, or the “choice” to write and sell pornography an empowered choice. its harm reduction, to avoid homelessness and poverty, like all jobs. i daresay even dworkin pulled a couple of punches bc she had to please her editors — she admits to having to change her style to use proper punctuation and grammar for example. she also says that her book “pornography” was about a third (or some fraction) of what she wanted it to be, but she had to stop and publish it as it was for reasons that had nothing to do with the integrity of the work. imagine what we couldve had, what an incredible resource, if she had been allowed to finish.

  13. binKa- Merci beaucoup. 🙂

    Hannah- hehe, not all fanfic is porny. 🙂 Some popular fanfic stories are though. That said, I agree with what you said to Anni B. Thank you.

    FCM- You make great points. Thanks. Though fan fiction typically does not involve any money (to write it, to publish it or to read it, it’s free), it does involve fame sometimes instead for the writers (and votes from readers in fanfic awards).

  14. Thank you for writing this, Maggie! It’s excellent. I hadn’t know about the fan writing travesty of making beloved Lesbian television characters transform into sado-masochists. It’s the “normalizing” and mainstreaming of sado-masochism that is part of what is so dangerous and harmful about it. The male and het mainstream media does it already, so it’s even more upsetting when “Lesbian” media does it as well. And of course they keep up the same old propaganda that they’ve been sending out for decades — that sado-masochism is trendy and new and exciting, when it’s actually the same old boring, tedious playing out of male games that is already mainstream in the patriarchal media. It reminds me of how they push heterosexuality so much because it really is not innately appealing to women. Same thing with the hard-selling of sado-masochism.

    For those who want to see my update of our chapter against sado-masochism in our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes (which we published in 1990), at my blog, it’s at

    Leather = S/M = BDSM –
    It’s All Still Sadism and Masochism

    http://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/

    I believe the article it was based on that we wrote in the Eighties was the first written by Lesbians about the sado-masochistic invasion of our community. (Previous books and articles that I know about were co-written with heterosexual feminists.)

    There is a German Feminist anthology against sado-masochism, “Mehr als das Herz Gebrochen” (More than a Broken Heart) that re-printed and translated our chapter. Our struggle against sado-masochism is international!

  15. (by the way, I just wanted to tell readers here that I just noticed I’d made a mistake at the top of this article when talking about the positioning of the characters’ pictures. I meant to write in brackets ‘centre and right’ and not “centre and left,” sorry)

    Bev Jo- Thank you very much for commenting. 🙂 I agree with you and I admire your work too.

  16. I enjoyed hearing you speak in Oregon, Maggie, and it’s great to read the article based on your talk. 🙂

    I clicked on the link and read most of the “Conqueror” story (although I gave up when they got married and Gabrielle became pregnant in their pseudo het relationship), and what struck me most about it apart from the brutal sadism was that the story doesn’t even seem to be about lesbianism: the “Conqueror” is called my lord, and uses a giant phallus in Gabrielle’s sexual abuse. Their sexual activities, apart from the sadism and beatings are overwhelmingly vaginal penetration, anal penetration and oral sex with a phallus. Xena appears to have been transed.

    If a woman is committing brutal phallic acts on another woman, she’s not a woman-loving woman, she’s become an agent for the patriarchy. This is a description a token torturer in an intimate relationship. It’s shocking that lesbian imagination has been colonised to this extent.

  17. Thank you, Delphyne. 🙂

    I completely agree with your analysis of that Conqueror fan fiction. Thank you. It does not look like lesbianism at all; it indeed looks more like a pseudo-het sadistic relationship. The fact that readers fall for this lie is absolutely alarming. 😦 The story is completely cruel, and looks nothing like the beloved woman-loving relationship that Xena and Gabrielle were sharing onscreen within the main Xena: Warrior Princess show. I hate the (other) Hercules show for introducing Xena the Conqueror (and Gabrielle as her ‘slave’), though actually in the original Conqueror story Gabrielle was initially portrayed as being afraid of the Conqueror (and not attracted to her at all). I agree with Bev Jo: it is a travesty to turn the few beloved Lesbian TV characters we have into BDSMers. I’m glad there are at least quite a few other types of fan fiction stories out there which are much more respectful of Xena and Gabrielle’s lesbian relationship and Sapphic love. I just thought it was very important to talk about Conqueror fan fiction because most of it is not respectful at all (and rather misogynistic and violent) and what’s even scarier is that many lesbian XWP fans buy into this Conq fiction (love it, and praise it, even) unfortunately, at the expense of their own true lesbian freedom and liberation.

    If a woman is committing brutal phallic acts on another woman, she’s not a woman-loving woman, she’s become an agent for the patriarchy. This is a description a token torturer in an intimate relationship. It’s shocking that lesbian imagination has been colonised to this extent.

    I agree that a woman who has internalised misogyny to the point of perpetrating very aggressive acts onto another woman is an agent of patriarchy, and not a woman-loving woman. It is indeed very, very worrying that there are many lesbians getting off on this, including (in many cases) good-intentioned women. Their minds have been so colonised by heteropatriarchy, it’s very scary. De-programme yourselves, women! Stop buying into those kinds of sadistic stories. Those pornographic stories are not telling the truth neither about your favourite characters nor about you. When lesbians buy into this stuff, it is not only “personal” but it is political too, because women who buy into those sorts of stories do not start a revolution or improve the social conditions of lesbians for that matter…

  18. That is so terrible what they are doing with the original Xena/Gabrielle story. Media is so influential. It’s really interesting about your focus on popular Lesbian and women’s media having cultural influences, because, in many ways, it has FAR more influence than any amount of feminist books or articles. It reaches so many girls and women.. What would make a huge difference culturally would be if more real feminists became writers, producers, and directors on television. Films are so bad now and are mostly done by men. But television has many more women involved. The more feminist attitudes I saw in Seventies and Eighties shows seem usurped by the “funfem” politics in current television. The new popular cable series “Girls” is just horrific, in terms of the degradation the trendy young women subject themselves to sith men and then how they betray each other. A lot of this kind of thing really is pornographic, as much as can be shown on television.

    The new “Lost Girl” sci-fi series is about a sub-community of fae (people who have supernatural powers) and the main character did not know why she kept inadvertently sucking the life out of people (she’s a sucubus) until she “came out” and discovered who she was. She has a human best girlfriend she lives with and the two women are very loving to each other and are actually in a primary relationship. There is also a lot of Lesbian teasing and occasionally full love-making between the main character and other women as well. Anyway, it’s mostly quite shallow, but I did appreciate the recent joke made of sado-masochism, which showed an evil woman letting the hero woman handcuff her before theoretically making love, which the hero did just to keep the evil woman from hurting her friends. For once, sado-masochism was made to look silly instead of trendy and exciting. This series will primarily be watched by girls and women, so I hope that has an influence.

    I also really like your saying how, even if it seems compelling at first, sado-masochism inevitably leave women feeling worse about themselves, which is like other addictions. That is so important for women to think about as a way to quit or not start. I’ve been very heartened by continuing to meet Lesbians who don’t really identify as feminists but who have a real revulsion to any kind of sado-masochist. My new friend who is 25 is so repulsed by it, as are friends much older. I always speak out if the topic comes up and so find out they are feeling the same. I think such sharing support really spreads through our communities, even in just casual conversations.

    And now we have your article to link to!

  19. Thank you, Bev Jo. 🙂 Interesting things that you’re saying about women in television. I agree it’s very crucial for women to either quit BDSM or not get involved…

  20. Excellent analysis Maggie! As you already know, I am a huge Gabrielle/Xena fan. I read lots of the loving and respectful Xena fan fiction. I have not read any Conqueror fan fic. I’m tremendously glad that I haven’t because it sounds very demeaning, oppressive, disrespectful, etc. Unfortunately, many lesbians (and heterosexual women for that matter) have embraced patriarchal norms and ideology which results in them being totally unaware of the fact that by reading and writing the types of stories that Maggie referenced in her post is essentially advocating for brutal sexually exploitive depictions of lesbian relationships and our sisters in general. I think this is quite sad, honestly. I wish there were more women loving women erotic (non pornographic) stories and fan fiction. Stories that don’t attempt to recreate heterosexual, heteronormative, misogynistic, phallic saturated, portrayals of lesbian relationships.

    If only more women would truly open their eyes and be open to exploring radical feminism and the truth of our society instead of exploring and embracing patriarchal dominance and male supremacy. Exploring male supremacist ideology, norms, and expectations just further clouds women’s brains and allows for the continued oppression of women which is exactly what men what women to do. Men want women to happily endure being oppressed and “convince” other women to happily endure their own oppression..

    My intention is not to belittle or berate any women for writing or reading the type of fiction referenced in Maggie’s post. I am also not passing judgment on women who have participated or currently participate in BDSM play/activities. I am a former BDSMer, as I got caught up in this ‘trend’ a few years ago during my early 20s. I am merely stating that I think it would be beneficial for lesbians/women to conduct thorough research of BDSM and the pornography industry and it’s emotional, physical, and oppressive impact on women before “choosing” to participate, advocate for, defend, read, or write it…Maggie, I really appreciate your radical feminist analysis of “The Patriarchal Takeover of Women’s Sexuality.”

    Well done.

  21. Thank you very much, Marcia. 🙂 It’s great to see you here. I agree with what you’re saying.

    I don’t agree at all with the lesbians who say “Oh, but these are ‘just stories.'” Those pornographic stories obviously do not exist in a “vacuum.” Those pornographic stories are a part of a male-identified sexual ‘revolution’ that has infiltrated lesbian culture. Moreover, those stories are part of a whole pornographic culture that promotes violence against women. It is not just “personal” when lesbians read or write pornography –as lesbian porn clearly has negative effects on them when they use it. It is political when there are stories out there to teach lesbians that the degradation of ourselves or other women is “okay” so long as it’s sexualised. It is political when there are stories out there that teach lesbians (and other women) that violence against women is “okay” so long as it is done within the realm of “love” or “consensuality.” That’s right, Marcia. Lesbians internalising the oppression of women within heteronormative ‘lesbian’ pornographic stories or BDSM activities is exactly what men want lesbians to do. Men totally want lesbians (and other women for that matter) to eroticise symbols of their own oppression. When lesbians accept BDSM fan fiction (or any other type of pornography for that matter) as a turn-on, they become heavily influenced into ceasing being woman-loving women –and they capitulate to men’s rules, to male-identified women’s rules and to male-centric norms and rules instead…

  22. Maggie, yours is amazing work! All the commentators here are amazing, and the primary bloggers a breath of change. During the past year or so (because my online accounts and anon. radfem blogs keep getting jammed) I’ve used more than one name for posting online. Nothing’s actually been successfully posted by me for about 4 months, and (to survive — day job), also not being that tekkie, I’ve not had time to try to straighten it out. But this article of yours so moved me, I typed out my kudos and responses you sparked with your woman’s genius! Then when I tried to post it, there was a bizarre wordpress login correlate and I’m not sure you got the reply comment. If not, it’s here again, in the other name I use online —

    Oh, dear my head hurts when I read the rationalizations for the patriarchy’s embeds affecting women’s creative output! Oh course Maggie is 100% on her position. Hers is a truth I would stake my every breath on.

    Please understand, I love women, love myself and hate the patriarchy (as well as the conduct of the patriarchs and the all-too-numerous token-torturing handmaidens of the patriarchy).

    And I no longer wring my hands about what awful deeds men do every day. I hate their deeds and also I get that women are on this planet living as if pet (or experimental subject) animals in captivity to whatever men want, some more privileged than others by prettiness, money, etc., but always the one-down-beneath-men by the bullshit and cruelty mean men have programmed into the global social structure. Societal Stockholm Syndrome. True. We’re living in it.

    So I withdraw every bit of attention possible from men and all things male (even when women have been injected with the male ideations and don’t know better) — and that includes not lending any energy to BDSM thought or stories, other than to help others see how wrong-headed a direction BDSM takes us in. But BDSM and apologetics for BDSM is heartbreaking!!!! No judgment of women even if I don’t like the behavior — I blame the patriarchy and its patriarchs in pants and skirts.

    If we ever needed to doubt that men lie and have made a liars’ bed for all women to lie in, look at what’s in every day’s man-stream news to prove that it is indeed “[patriarchal] garbage in, garbage out” in how the so-called mere “stories” of porn-fried global insanity are escalating male violence against women.

    Today, the 9/2912 “news” of 6 teens (unspecified sex class, need we guess?) who “for fun” invaded a 48-year-old female neighbor’s house to beat her up (hospitalizing her), also to post their video on facebook. And the prurient interest escalates by all the men who get to watch it as “news.”

    Also news today — CA’s former Gover-nator has been busted for having an affair (guess he didn’t knock this one up with his PIV like he did the nanny during his marriage to Maria Shriver) when he was already living with Maria and starting to enjoy the political contacts of her Kennedy-esque family connections. But when the Gover-nator news comes up on my home page, it is trumped by the predictable patriarchal misdirection of showing a booking photo of an obviously impaired woman (looks like maybe a 60 IQ or lots of drugs in the eyes) charged with — oh, no, the horror, what if it was a boy??? — dumping her baby in a dumpster.

    Being in denial about internalized or acted-out misogyny is depressing and pathetic (mainly because men so get off on the sadism of subordinating women and they especially salivate when women subordinate other women in BDSM).

    Once I saw the sadism of patriarchy (thank you, Mary Daly, for the sado-state wording), there was for me no going back to the old blindered belief that men might collectively change things. They won’t. Collectively they are turned on by women suffering. There I said it. Others have said it, too, and it’s sad and something to grieve, but once any woman gets this reality, her life force expands and it is better, really, just because it is real.

    It is up to us — women — to be the change we wish to see. And Gandhi probably stole the quotation for which he is attributed from a woman. He psychically incested little girls in his bed (trying to prove he wouldn’t screw them) and was a scandal in India sort of hushed up, but due to Societal Stockholm Syndrome we are not in polite enlightened circles approved if we criticize Gandhi! Oh, no, no criticism! Gandhi was a man, and he didn’t like nuclear weapons, so let us be ever so grateful and worshipful forever, amen, namaste, horse snot.

    Then, not that it is news, but today in a Panera Bread, an old geezer who you’d think would know better made an intrusive, rude comment as I was there working on my laptop. When I responded with an exact match in kind as to rudeness (no profanity even, and he’d started it), he turned to his female companion and, swear to Goddess, he said, “Shall I hit her?”

    Societal Stockholm Syndrome, even in geezer land in a white-bread USA franchise.

    I said loud enough for 4 tables away to hear: “You are such a jerk of a man to threaten hitting me.” People looked at me like I’m the deranged one. But … after he left what I did resulted in my connecting to some budding women comics who, it turns out, make fun of women (why are we not surprised) because if they did a reverse Chris Rock and picked on men as women, they said they are afraid they “might get jumped” when they leave the open mic venues where they’re trying to hone their comedy skills.

    We worked on a few reverse Chris Rocks, and I made a commitment to show up as support (the gals’ posse) with other women when they perform the new material.

    In a world this upside down, it felt a little like a victory.

  23. What a comment Sally Archer! I loved reading it haha!

  24. Thank you so much, Sally, for your interesting comment. 🙂 (and your kind words)

  25. In Part 1 here, I explained that there are lesbians who read and write BDSM fan fiction. The reason why I wrote the first part on lesbian BDSM fan fiction is because this sort of sub-cultural phenomenon seems to be heavily influencing many later generations of lesbians nowadays. And this is no kidding. Women write that sort of pornographic stuff for other women to read. They cheer on it, and they even go to (Xena or Buffy) conventions and brag about reading/writing that sort of stuff (We even get to see pictures of the anonymous female Conqueror writers and readers, for instance). I thought this was really scary and needed addressing. Part 1 was mostly about symptoms: I was asking “why?” Why do so many good-intentioned lesbians get drawn into supporting this sort of fiction? (I understand that there are also men who read those stories. However, it does not change the fact that many lesbians still read them and brag about it online and elsewhere) The answer was because they are being influenced by a patriarchal society. Nowhere do I blame those women for writing/reading that stuff; I simply question them, and question what is going on. Their writings and readings are obviously the symptoms of a currently queer/postmodern-dominated lesbian community as a result of patriarchy. Then later on in Part 2, I expose some popular elements of contemporary mainstream lesbian culture, and I explain clearly the kinds of media that are influencing those women (and others like them) –a form of patriarchal ‘lesbian’ media generated both by male owners of popular TV channels (e.g. for the films and the TV shows I mention) and handmaidens of patriarchy (e.g. for some of the mainstream lesbian magazines and websites).

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