Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A few rageful thoughts about why 50 Shades of Grey is NOT and should not be everybody's BDSM

There was a protest last week in NYC against a 50 Shades of Grey inspired training workshop called "The Hands Tied for Two". I have no clue what the workshop actually entailed and actually want to talk more specificity about the connection the protestors are making between the book/workshop and violence against women. What caught my attention and (incomplete) solidarity this was this particular bit of messaging: "50 Shades of Grey: BAD FOR WOMEN! BAD FOR SEX!"

Perhaps because this group of protestors sees all/most BDSM as (contributing to) abuse/rape, or maybe because they wanted to keep their message simple, they missed a very important third group of folks that this book is especially bad for. Yes. 50 Shades of Grey totally is bad propaganda about women & sex/pleasure, but it is also bad for BSDM'ers and BDSM communities. BDSM communities and relationships are already inundated with the tired tropes, images, and stories about women submitting and it being the job of a women and specifically a submissive (woman) to have their limits pushed. It is expected that they will always submit to those pushes regardless of whether or not they think they'll enjoy or be able to endure the pain of having those limits pushed.

Not having read the book I don't know what the play/sex scenes actually entail, but from what I have gleaned, the protagonist receives rewards (in terms of material goods, financial security, and affirmation) for her participation in the role of sub. For this type of play to be the most preventive of abuse or danger, it needs an acknowledgment of the incredible power inequality it is playing with, more importantly it needs an escape route for both parties, but especially for the one with the least power (who risks the most damage). Part of this means (for me) exploring where the power dynamic you're playing with comes from culturally, what it has been used for in the past and how it might affect the people about to play with it.

What's more, this type of power play is only a single facet of BDSM play and NOT the one that should be anyone's (certainly not everyone's) entry point. High risk play is dangerous and better approached AFTER a rigorous setting down of ground rules and communication tools for power/pain play. I have sometimes called type of play represented in 50 Shades "transactional" because it involves one person receiving goods/social capital for their engagement in the play. It is a valid form of play, but I can't stand that through 50 Shades it has become the face of BDSM right now. It's over-prevalence now and historically diminishes the idea that anyone would engage in (non-transactional) pain play without being coerced or compensated.

Pain play and power play are not inherent bedfellows. This book will and has confused people into thinking that you can't have one without the other and that all BDSM is transactional; that all BDSM play requires someone always be there just to endure until they are rewarded by their partner. Bull. Fucking. Shit. This book also makes it seem like you can't engage in BDSM unless you or your partner have lots of extra money, time, and toys (this is whole other topic).

As I, and others, have said previously a lot of this same shitty oppressive tired broken crap really DOES happens in BDSM communities. And it does need to be called the fuck out. The narratives of 50 Shades seem like they'll just add to the crap-pile with more tired broken notions and more people who blindly believe and act them out. Which adds to the work that already needs to be done around BDSM. So yes 50 Shades of Grey IS bad for women and bad for sex, but it's also really bad for anyone who wants to build better BDSM communities!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Quick Response to "Newsroom" honesty clip.

I, to be clear, am thrilled that this topic is being outed on TV for folks to have fits and conversations about. I do have a quibble however...

I was loving it until the music got all soft & Jeff Daniel's character got all reminiscent about the "good ol' days" by talking about how america "used to be"? You know, back when oppressed folks (nonwhite/disabled/female) had no visibility at all? Folks who say shit like this forget about them (and appropriately so as they are rarely represented in the history or progress). I refuse to think that the past America was "better" just because the way we counted progress then compared better to other nations during that time. That is not a good enough metric for me. 

I agree that there has been generally less progress in the US (as compared to other nations) but we are (still!) transitioning into a more inclusive definition of progress. In many ways folks already privileged are resisting this (see here the often rage-inspiring, dehumanizing "illegal alien" shitstorm) because it does slow and complicate our traditional definition of progress. But embracing diversity of peoples and ideas really IS how other nations are getting so far "ahead" of us. America is still getting over it's collective narrow & xenophobic definition of progress. Our xenophobia is a costly vestigial block to fully engaging as a nation of the world. Talking about the good ol' days does nothing to move us forward.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Familiar Fear: Why cycling is sometimes like existing as a woman* in a misogynist culture

Every time I ride my bike legally centerlane through SoDo (south Seattle) I find myself, without fail, afraid.

This fear strikes my body in a familiar way. My stomach flinches with recognition. “I know this feeling.” I think in conjunction with gripping the brakelevers a little too tightly. My wrists and elbows harvest the the all-too-familiar tension of traveling through space that was not designed for my existence. At best these roads accommodate my journey with retrofits. Often these artificial additions serve as triggers for the the rage many drivers feel toward cyclists in general and me in particular.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely thankful when a roadway opens up with a bike lane or announces me and my simple machine with signs or white symbols. But it is not enough.

If it isn’t apparent already, that fearful correlation I feel in my belly-- the one I am attempting to draw out here-- is a parallel between the twisted visibility & ever-apparent danger inherent in biking in spaces designed for cars, and the problems and challenges presented by navigating a misogynist culture as a female-perceived person.

Ask any cyclist you know and they will tell you story upon story of either being physically damaged, verbally harassed or having their journeys otherwise disrupted by drivers and their vehicles. Ask any female-presenting person 
you know (who has an awareness of what harassment/abuse looks like) and they will be just as able to tell you many stories about having their journeys disrupted by physical, verbal or other means.

You see, there is this thing about being a vehicle or gender (and gender is just a vehicle) in a system not designed for you (which at best accommodates you with retrofits): Our journeys and our bodies are constantly subject to the self-righteous scrutiny and disruptions of those for whom the systems were designed.

There is a special sort of visibility afforded to a cyclist or a female-perceived person. One which immediately appears to insight ridicule from those for whom the cultural/transportation system was designed. Cyclists and women* are expected to accept the fact that they are often gawked at and even to have their performance and appearance scrutinized and commented upon without invitation or permission. And so often the space a woman or a cyclist requests to take up is seen as merely a flashy nuisance. Most drivers/misogynists identify us as hazards within their system and not as full vehicles/people (which legally we are!).

The most prescient way in which these two types of fear connected in my belly was on the grounds of implicit but (usually) unintentional threats of harm. When a driver/misogynist does gawk, comment, honk or pass my body/vehicle too closely, there is always the implied threat of violence. Regardless of the intent.

If a car passes me and my bike too closely & the driver shouts or revs their engine, they might not mean to be saying so, but the message I always receive is very clear: “You don’t belong here and if I wanted to do something about it I could kill/physically damage you (with this machine).” This is the same sort of message I receive as a female-perceived person in spaces where violence against women and misogyny go unchallenged as the norm. I want more bike lanes and less oppressive drivers. I want better marked and maintained avenues for journeys free from gendered violence and misogyny.

*I use woman/women in shorthand here to be a placeholder for female-perceived persons. I do not believe these terms mean the same groups of people, only that these two groups are the most often subject to misogynist violence and disruption.