Submissive while feminist

Posted at 16:10 on 5 Nov 2011 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: dominance and submission, Gender politics, Politics

I was very young when I first started practising kink. Young enough that I hadn't really started to understand the nuances of consent, autonomy and privilege, and I hadn't politically 'awakened' to the oppressive patterns that are propagated within our culture. I knew I wasn't 'normal', that I was attracted to men and women, had kinky fantasies and was spectacularly bad at monogamy - but beyond that I hadn't started thinking critically about gender, sexuality and relationships.

I got together with both my long term partners before I started calling myself a feminist. (My feminism, btw, is sex-positive queer and trans feminism: in a nutshell, aiming to radically redefine our understanding of gender in order to improve social conditions for people at all points on the gender spectrum, rejecting inequality based on gender or sexuality and promoting sexual freedom and acceptance.) I've changed a lot as I've educated myself about gender and culture, and my relationships have had to change with me.

So has my feminism affected my submission and my D/S relationships?

The 'approved' answer for a lot of people seems to be "no". No, it hasn't affected my submission: of course I can be a feminist and a female submissive. It's my choice, my agency, my desires: what's the problem?

I believe all these things to be true.

But since feminist theory became a structural part of my thinking and cultural analysis, it's impossible to deny that yes, of course it has had an effect on my sexuality.

Mostly, that effect has been good. Sex positive feminism teaches us to reject patriarchal shame culture: neither male nor female sexuality is immoral, and it's healthy and affirming for women to express and explore their sexualities without feeling shame or guilt. Feminism has taught me to be more articulate about my desires, to ask my partners for what I want in bed without feeling embarrassment or guilt. It's taught me to practice safer sex, to negotiate boundaries and expectations clearly with new partners, to talk frankly and openly about sex with my lovers. (And this is to some extent about our feminism; my partners and I have all, collectively, got better as this over the last few years.) Both feminism and kink prioritise consent, negotiation and communication in sexual practice; there's no contradiction there.

I fell into feminism late, at the age of 23. I dont think its much of a coincidence that all my negative sexual experiences occured before this date, and all the positive ones after. [...]

I had submissive desires, but I didnt express them because he was very normal and not very sexually motivated. I couldnt imagine him having sexual kinks. I wanted to enjoy sex, and I encouraged it taking place, but it felt more like a duty. Pants off, do the deed, fake an orgasm, and about our merry way.

What changed, later in my life, is that eventually something snapped, and with the help of feminism and a considerable degree of choosiness regarding sexual partners, I learned to communicate my sexual desires frankly and honestly. My current sexual partners, and those Ive had sex with on a more casual basis since discovering feminism, have been supportive of my submissiveness and made me feel safe in communicating those desires. Ive felt far more empowered as a practicing submissive, having fantasies about being ordered and even forced almost everytime Ive had partner sex, than I ever did in a more conventional sexual relationship.

Despite Ogi Ogas, Why Feminism and Submission Are Great Bedfellows

Feminism has also taught me to examine my sexuality, and identify areas where my desires might have been affected by patriarchal memes. It's enabled me to start to dismantle the fatphobic misogyny and transphobia I was taught by the culture I was raised in. At 19 I tended not to sleep with fat women, trans or genderqueer people (fat men were less of a problem for me - go figure). At 27, I've realised it's naive to think of that as "just personal taste" and have started to challenge received wisdom about what qualities are sexually desirable. As a result, I've had some fantastic sex (and indeed relationships) with beautiful people I would otherwise not have considered as potential lovers.

Feminism and gender theory have allowed me to look at male submission with new eyes, to challenge the gender inequality in kinky porn. They have taught me to love looking at men as much as women, and to identify with my male submissive brothers. They've inspired me to get over my hangups about subbing to women, which I had few models for as I grew up (to the extent that I wasn't sure if I ever would), and they've helped me find the confidence to explore my switch side.

Feminism has also taught me to stand up for myself when I'm being bullied or silenced, and helped me reach a place where I am more grounded and secure in myself. It's even helped me get over my eating disorder. These are all good things; they've made me stronger and more capable. And honestly, I think a strong, independent, responsible submissive has far more to offer than a broken, insecure one who is desperately dependent on their dominant.

It's taken me many years of unlearning mainstream power dynamics to understand and accept my own desire for fictional, fetishized ones. Despite this deliberate journey of self-discovery and the accompanying (and perhaps contradictory) feelings of being in total control, it's pretty evident that the feminist movement at large is not really ready to admit that women who like to be hit, choked, tied up and humiliated are empowered. Personally, the more I submitted sexually, the more I was able to be autonomous in my external life, the more I was able to achieve equality in my sexual and romantic partnerships, and the more genuine I felt as a human being. Regardless, I always felt that by claiming submissive status I was being highlighted as part of a social dynamic that sought to violate all women. [...]

The safe, sane, and consensual BDSM landscape is made up of stringent rules and safe practices designed to protect the feelings of everyone involved and to ensure constant, enthusiastic consent. The culture could not exist if this were not the case; a submissive participates in power exchange because a safe psychological space is offered up to do so. That space creates an opportunity for a display of endurance, a relief from responsibility, and feelings of affection and security. Before any "scene" begins, the rules are made clear and the limitations agreed upon.

Finding a partner or dom to play with is the ultimate achievement in trust, and giving someone the power to hurt you for pleasure is both liberating and powerful. The more I embrace submissive sexuality, the more I come to learn that, despite all appearances to the contrary, consensual, respectful SM relationships generally dismantle the very tropes that rape culture is founded on.

The Fantasy of Acceptable 'Non-Consent': Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn't)

But my feminist learning has, undeniably, triggered hiccups in my submissiveness too. The submission I knew as an unreconstructed teenager is no longer applicable. Then, I would have submitted uncomplainingly to a sexual relationship which always prioritised my dom's pleasure or orgasm over my own. These days, I'm less inclined to see that as an okay or healthy pattern, even within a D/S context. Then, I loved doing housework for my dom and was perfectly happy for this to be a one-way transaction. Now, I'm unwilling to use housework as a D/S exchange unless my partner's contribution to the household chores are fair in general. In other words, I'm unwilling to let D/S become an excuse for us to replicate patterns of gendered behaviour that continue to oppress women.

That last example is revealing. As a feminist, it's not that I'm unwilling to engage in consensual domestic service: only that I'm motivated to ensure that I only do so within a healthy, functional and balanced domestic relationship. In other words, feminism has helped me define the parameters of my submission and establish its boundaries.

That's no bad thing. I've got over the idea which I had when I was younger that being more submissive in a D/S exchange somehow equated to being "better" in a moral sense. When I was 19 I looked at 24/7 relationships and wondered if they represented something I should aspire to. Now, I know I am a fiercely independent, proud individual who thrives on self-sufficiency. At the moment I'm mostly living on D's generosity, and while I hugely appreciate his support, in a way it's also driving me nuts. I'm someone who needs, financially, to stand on her own two feet; who needs independent means with which she can be generous to her loved ones, rather than depending on the generosity of others.

As a feminist adult, I've come to terms with the realisation that I'm not 100% submissive - and accepted that that's nothing to feel guilty about. When I started on my kinky journey I didn't know how submissive I would turn out to be. At 27, I have a clearer idea.

  • I'm not submissive with everyone. On the contrary, I only give my primary romantic partners that gift.
  • Within those relationships, I'm not always submissive. When it comes to my finances, my work, my art, my schedule, my friendships, my sexual affairs with other people, how I spend my time, I'm naturally very dominant. I juggle several professional roles with various creative and political projects, and within that, I thrive on pushing myself hard and making my own decisions. What's more, this dominance over certain areas of my life doesn't devalue my submission in other areas.
  • My dom can't tell me that I need to work harder. But they can tell me that I need to look after myself better; that I need to take time off or relax more.
  • I can't hear any comment or criticism of my eating patterns. As a recoverer from an eating disorder, that's entirely my own business. But (once I've stated an intention to do so in general) I can be prompted to go to the gym, and I can be told I need to have some juice rather than another glass of wine. Our D/S dynamic undercuts my pride and makes it easier to accept good advice.
  • I won't believe I'm behaving badly on their say so, just because I'm their sub. But if they can reasonably persuade me that I've been in the wrong, I can accept (and will sometimes even ask for) corporal punishment as a way to resolve my remorse and guilt.
  • If I'm stressed and struggling to make a decision, and actually any of the options I'm considering would do, I'll sometimes ask my dom to make it for me simply to save on faff. I value their opinions highly and will tend to take their advice, especially on personal or social matters, or in areas where they have greater expertise. (But that's not really submission in a power exchange sense, is it? That's just not being an arrogant dick.)

It probably goes without saying that the place I am most submissive is the bedroom. So has my feminism affected that?

The principles of sexual agency, communication, confidence and self-love that I have learned from feminism have a complicated relationship with my kink. Sexual agency for a sexual submissive and masochist are not straightforward. I want my pleasures to be tended, yes: I want orgasms, I want to be spanked, I want to be beaten. These are all direct wants which it's possible for me to ask for, and feminism has taught me that it's okay to ask for what I want in bed. The sex I'm having has improved as a result.

But, sexually, I also have other, more subtle wants. Sometimes, when I'm with my doms, I want my wants to be ignored. I want to be used without reference to my pleasure. I want to play non-consent scenes. I want to surrender to my dom's will, trust them to push me through my fear and uncertainty, and be carried by them on a journey that leaves me sated and reeling. I want to experience the joys and thrills of relinquishing control and responsibility.

My doms are respectful, socially conscientious men and feminist allies. They are willing to listen to me. If I say I want to be beaten with such-and-such an implement, I'm expressing my masochistic desires and sexual agency as a bottom, but am I submitting?

Asking to be dominated, rather than simply topped, is a much bigger, more complex beast. It requires a great deal more trust and puts my dom in a far greater position of responsibility. I am, in effect, gifting my sexual agency to my dom for the duration of an individual scene.

If our D/S dynamic ever steps beyond the bedroom, I am gifting not just my sexual agency, but (an aspect of) my agency itself. That gift is not absolute - I'm not a slave and never will be - and is defined by carefully negotiated boundaries, but it involves giving up power nonetheless.

Making that gift is not inherently unfeminist. We give up or delegate power all the time - to employers, clients and political representatives. Giving it to a trusted partner is arguably a safer bet. Feminism has taught me to value, recognise and act on my agency and responsibility, and that validation has, I think, increased the value of the gift. Giving submission as a feminist is a different, more conscious act, involving a subtler understanding of the interaction between my short-term and long-term desires, and requiring, if anything, even greater trust in and respect for my dom.

My submission has needed to be re-built within the empowered, reconstructed self that has emerged as I've grown up. What that means in practice is that I need to have a very clear idea of what I want and what I'm asking for; and be willing to take responsibility for my reactions if I get it. It also means that I can take responsibility for the decision to accept an experience I don't particularly want right now as a gesture of submission to my dom's will. Submission is not my default: every time I choose to submit, that is a deliberate and conscious act of will.

Acts of submission are often harder for me to give, these days, and they're rarer than they were eight years ago: but that makes them more precious. Now that I have more self-worth, more independence, more strength of mind, I need to give that much more if I want to experience the joys of submission. I think that overall, the difficult submission of a feminist adult is healthier, more meaningful and more rewarding than it was when it was easy.

Comments

I see no contradiction between your feminism and your desire to engage in roleplay. Putting on a costume at Halloween doesn't make you a vampire anymore than watching MACBETH makes you a serial killer.

You consent to surrender some autonomy as part of a roleplay, but you're still your own person outside the limits of that fantasy scenario. Unfortunately, particularly when it comes to sex, most people are unwilling to accept any norms other than their own.

Good for you for being your own person, and thank you for your thoughtful post!

Yeah, but it was never the roleplay that was the problem really - but actual dominance and submission, in the bedroom and out of it. Surrendering to the will of a dominant partner and letting their desires and wants override your own. Even within the bedroom that's definitely not roleplay! When it extends to the dominant partner making decisions, giving instructions or setting punishments in real life, that's where my personal conflict has mostly lain. As I say, though, as I've established personal boundaries I've gained more faith in my ability to make the call to choose those areas in which I want to, in a limited way, relinquish autonomy.

Pandora,

I just discovered you recently, and I might to confess that I am in love for your bright wonderful texts. To me, who is a Master, but also a feminist (In a way that many of my female friends use to say that I am strongly familiar with women needs and rights). And also a wannabe filmmaker, I am trying to create my works on the field of kink porn with screenplay and feminist plot. Good to find you here. And be sure, you have a fan in Brazil now. (Sorry for the bad english).

[...] PS Pandora wrote an amazing piece on TTWD and feminism. If you would like to read it click here. [...]

I found this to be excellent introspection and quite relevant to something I'd been discussing with my wife and her other dominant recently. We all consider ourselves feminist in that we all agree that gender is certainly no basis for the assignment or expectation of power roles. This is something she's had to deal with, of course, being a feminist woman.

But additionally, as someone with a background in psychology, I'm also interested in the ways in which the mind of a woman is "built" differently. I'm aware of previous research about physical differences as in the corpus callosum and how that might effect communication between left and right brain and the processing of emotions. And of course, one cannot separate out environmental differences that may have shaped the way girls and boys have been raised in our cultures. So often we're exploring the ways in which male submissives differ from female ones.

However, beyond the intellectual curiosity, I truly admire feminist women who happen to be submissive and that choose to express their submissive desires and feelings, despite any risk of judgment from other feminists, or indeed, their own potential inner conflicts. And as a feminist dominant, I appreciate the encouragement to identify in this way - rejecting the idea that sometimes gets perpetuated that being a dominant man is about projecting "manliness".

Geez, I wish I had my talk show going now and that you could be a guest on it :-) Ah well, so more motivation to move forward on it...

Best Regards,
Quai

This is beautifully written, profound and is a post I will read again and again.
Thank you,
Poppy

"every time I choose to submit, that is a deliberate and conscious act of will."

I could not have but that better myself.

I have little to say about this post, except if you ever feel like writing more in this vane, please, please do.

Prefectdt

[...] Feminism enriches submission (via Spanked, Not Silenced) [...]

I wanted to cheer when I read this. And then I wanted to make a poster, or a manifesto, or something.

_Thank you._

Brilliant - I'm so glad to hear it resonated with you. Thanks very much :)

Don't worry, the big decisions are mine alright. It's the little decision that help me achieve those goals that I'll delegate from time to time ;)

Pandora,

I enjoyed reading your fantasy alters reality piece.You are a feminist in your own way but you have your mind in the right place to control your actions. Its you to decide what type of a lady you want to be.You are a very smart lady and please set back and enjoy life, because its so short........Do what Pandora would like to do and get your advice but make sure its you who makes the call.......ITS YOR LIFE.....

Be Safe,
Bryan

Don't worry, the big decisions are mine alright. It's the little decision that help me achieve those goals that I'll delegate from time to time ;)

[...] Pandora Blake [...]

For me it's probably an impossible task to truly reconcile my love of females in submission with my anger and dissatisfaction at the way women are often treated and regarded.
Admittedly, my enjoyment of spanking media is a matter of taking the good with the bad. They can draw a mix of positive and negative reactions from me.

I think the real key thing is how submissive women are perceived, particularly by men. At my best, I'm humbled and honored by the beauty of a woman offering herself in submission. In that way a submissive woman gains power over me and almost becomes my dominant. I love having this kind of respectful perception of a submissive women.

Then theres also the side of me that sees submissive women as free orgasms basically. No humility and respect for what she puts herself through. Someone to be taken advantage of. Sadly I think there are more men that have this perception of submissive women. They just want their orgasms. Sure, they might pay money for them, but I think that paying respect is important for the good of the relationship between men and submissive women.

Sorry, I sounded a bit preachy at the end there. I won't say anymore.

Andrew

If Feminism does not advance freedom for inividual women, then it is just another form of oppression. The movemment took a wrong turn when it equated the personal with the political. Rahter, if it were serious about individual freedom, Feminism would have emphasized women's right to choose. So many feminists affect to be censorious of other women'' choices. If that isn't coercion then I don't know what is. Pandora Blake, at least, seems clear on the concept. Good luck and best wishes to her.

[…] today called Spanked, Not Silenced and can’t wait to check out its articles “On Being Submissive While Feminism” and “Doing Feminist Porn.” Um, it’s very, very NSFW. – […]

Thank you for such a thoughtful treatise on the subject. As a staunch feminist, it took me a long time to accept that my spanking desires did not make me weak. Indeed, the more I embraced them, the more empowered I became because I was allowing my real self expression.

And yet I do still wonder when/if I explain to my children that I'm submissive to Daddy because I like for him to be the head of the household, not because it's a man's place or right... They're young, so they probably couldn't understand it all yet...

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