It’s not about you: Beyond ‘kink-shaming’

Let’s just start by saying this: I really don’t care about ‘kink’ or about ‘kinky people’. It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t give a shit about your leather fetish. Really.

But because I recently dared to suggest that RCMP officer Jim Brown’s sadomasochistic behaviour might, just might, be related to the fact that we live in a pornified world that sexualizes violence against women and male domination, it was decided by the internet (and the internet never lies, folks) that I hated ‘kinky sex’/’kinky people’, that I simply don’t know enough about BDSM to be qualified to judge images that are very clearly fetishizing male domination, and that I think all people who are into BDSM are terrible, terrible people.

Basically, the response I got was exactly the same response I get every time I critique porn and prostitution and, in fact, was the EXACT same response I got from the burlesque community when I dared to suggest that burlesque wasn’t feminist. What was that response? “BUT I LIKE IT.” “IT’S MY CHOICE”. “IT MAKES ME FEEL GOOD.” “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO.” “MEMEME.”

Well hey, here’s a wild idea! Maybe it isn’t all about you. Maybe the things that turn you on, make you feel hot, and give you orgasms aren’t *just* about your own personal, private, individual life. Maybe the things you do are shaped by outside forces like patriarchy. Maybe your actions have a larger impact. Maybe you didn’t spend your formative years deep asleep in a magical fairy cave only to awake from your slumber to suddenly and mysteriously have fantasies about hog-tying and raping women.

But hey, I get it.

People are defensive about their personal lives and private interests. Particularly when those interests are very much attached to their identities. If your entire conception of yourself is based on being a part of the BDSM community and you think that BDSM is just about the awesomest pass time ever then it might be hard to hear critique. It might be hard to digest the fact that, just because you really, really like something doesn’t mean that it is or should be free from deconstruction or critique.

I like makeup. I wear it almost every day. I think eyeliner is the best. I really like being able to cover up my zits and under eye circles. Does that make makeup an inherently ‘good’ thing? Does it mean that makeup is feminist and progressive because I am feminist and progressive? Does it mean that the only possible reason I could ‘enjoy’ wearing makeup is because I like it, point blank? No. Of course not. I wear makeup because I grew up in a culture that scrutinizes women’s looks and values their appearances above all else. I live in a consumer culture that invents flaws and insecurities in order to be able to sell us things that will ‘fix’ our flaws.

So makeup isn’t really the best. There are many aspects of the beauty industry that can and should be critiqued. But does that make me a terrible person because I wear makeup? No. Does it mean I’m not a real feminist because I wear makeup? Of course not. But it also doesn’t mean it’s perfectly fine and awesome and that I shouldn’t explore or acknowledge the fact that I wear makeup because I was taught and bought into the idea that, in one way or another, I was going to be judged based on my appearance and that I’ve been convinced and have convinced myself that I needed to wear makeup in order to avoid looking ugly and sick.

I’m not perfect. No one is. But every time someone criticizes the beauty industry, do I get all offended and up in arms and pretend like I’m being personally attacked? No. Because criticizing oppressive practices and an oppressive culture is not the same thing as saying that I, as an individual, am a terrible person.

And back to kink. Again, I don’t give a shit if you have ‘kinky sex’. So stop tweeting at me about it. I really don’t give a fuck. Second, I don’t think that all people who engage in BDSM are necessarily terrible, evil people. Third, just because you are a feminist or because you consider yourself to be a progressive guy, doesn’t make everything you do a feminist or progressive practice.

Now, for the purposes of clarification, when I stated that, with regard to the discovery of photos of Cpl. Jim Brown engaging in sadomasochism: “We’re only permitted to say ‘he should have kept it hidden from public view’ because to say anything else defies the modern ethos, post-sexual revolution, that says: Sex is always good. Erections are always good. If it turns you on, so be it,” it isn’t because I agree with the idea that erections are always ‘right’ (boners aren’t in charge you guys!), that male desire should decide what, how, and with whom sex happens or is, or that only PIV equals sex, as this blogger decided I did because it was convenient for the purposes of their argument, stating after my quote:

“For Murphy, for the purposes of this article, it’s the erection that dictates sex.  Again, this is something feminists have been fighting for a long time, trying to erase the idea that PIV sex is the only sex that counts.”

It’s very obvious, both within my original post and based on all of my previous erection-related writing, that I am critical of the idea that male desire rules all, that I am critical of heteronormativity, of compulsory sexuality, and of the idea that PIV is the only way to have sex. In fact I make exactly the opposite argument. Often! But if you can’t come up with a quality argument, the best thing to do is just invent one, yeah?

Basically, because I pointed out that we live in a culture that sexualizes violence against women and that it wasn’t the best thing ever that an RCMP officer who was involved in the Pickton investigation was also into dominating women and eroticizing violence in his private life,  I got a whole bunch of comments and tweets from people explaining to me that either their female partner enjoys being submissive, that they themselves like being tied up, spanked and beaten, that BDSM is consensual, that fantasy and reality are completely separate, blah blah blah.

Allow me to reiterate: I DON’T CARE. Just like I don’t care what specific kinds of porn you are into, just like I don’t care how much super awesome empowering fun stripping on stage for an audience is for you. You liking something doesn’t make it innately ‘good’. There is no protective bubble around things we think are fun. I think watching the Real Housewives of Vancouver is ‘fun’. Does that make it ‘good’. Hell fucking no. But I suppose it’s about time I came out about that secret shame.

Whether or not an individual enjoys being beaten up does not negate the possibility that eroticizing male dominance is tied to the fact that we live in a male dominated culture. Whether or not an individual consented to being dominated doesn’t alter the context of patriarchy. Just because a person is not an evil piece of shit or a murderer in their day to day lives does not mean that their fantasies are not fantasies that were shaped by sexism and a porny culture that objectifies women and thinks that rape scenes should be masturbatory tools.

What I wrote about was an RCMP officer who played a role in the Pickton investigation. So Brown was looking into the disappearance and sadistic murder of dozens of women. He also happens to be turned on by dominating women and playing out sadistic fantasies in his private life. Does that necessarily make him a murderer? No. Is it worth exploring the fact that a man in a position of power who was a part of a force that made it pretty clear that they didn’t give two shits about the women who were going missing from the DTES until they were forced to pay attention AND that he liked to play out misogynist, violent fantasies in his private time? Yes. Is it worth exploring the idea that violence against women is consistently eroticized in pornography as well as in mainstream media and that that is bad for women? Yes. Does it mean that everyone who likes kinky sex is a bad person? No.

This isn’t about you and you alone. BDSM is hot to some people because these power roles exist in real life. You didn’t invent power roles and you didn’t invent your sexuality out of thin air. It exists as it does because of the world we live in, in one way or another. We understand sex as we do because of the world we live in and the culture that surrounds us.

Panic claims that “most of the men who hit a woman consensually would never do it outside a sexual context; the taboo nature would be lost otherwise.  (Just as rape is not about sex, neither is domestic violence.)” So what? So you hit a woman in the bedroom and not ‘outside of a sexual context’ and somehow that’s supposed to convince me that BDSM isn’t a turn on for some people because of a context of inequity and the unequal power roles that already exist between men and women? That a woman who gets off on by being hit by a man in bed isn’t getting off on that because male power and dominance is eroticized by our culture? Is that supposed to convince me that when a man hits you within a ‘sexual context’ that has nothing to do misogyny? I don’t think that woman who is turned on is bad. In fact, I think it’s totally understandable that this is the kind of thing people might think is hot in the sex context. Aaaaaand… end of conversation? No.

While I understand the concept that “rape is about power not sex”, it actually isn’t completely true. Power turns some people on. In the sex way. Rape is played out in porn all the time. People are into rape fantasies, like, in the bedroom. Rape is very much tied up in our conception of sex. Again, that doesn’t mean that a person who plays out rape fantasies in the bedroom is necessarily going to go out and rape a woman in real life, but because we live in a rape culture, rape is tied to our understanding of sex and sexuality. And that is shitty. In fact it’s more than shitty. It actually impacts the real lives of real women. It certainly isn’t an untouchable subject just because your sex life is dependent on those fantasies.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on BDSM. I’m not, nor do I desire to be. Your personal, individual experiences with BDSM are of little interest to me. That said, the phenomenon of sexualizing male violence against women and male dominance is of interest to me. And it is that, and only that, which I was addressing in my previous post. The reason why I would address that particular aspect of BDSM and do not care to address any other aspects of kink/BDSM at this moment is because eroticizing violence against women and male dominance is a big part of our culture and is actually dangerous for real women in real life. Men are a dominant group and women are a subordinate group. Women are subjected to violence at the hands of men on a daily basis. The missing and murdered women were killed by men. That’s why the sexualization of inequity matters and that’s why images of an RCMP officer posing in sadistic scenes with submissive women matters.

There are many more discussions to be had on the topic of BDSM, to be sure, but those conversations are not the conversations I am currently addressing. I know it’s difficult to digest the idea that everyone in the world isn’t particularly interested in the intricate details of your costume parties, but deal with it.

And to those who leaped to defend Brown, comparing the discussion of his sadomasochism to homophobia, as though this dude is somehow part of an oppressed minority group, I suggest you read this important (and very disturbing) post. An excerpt:

“Some are even comparing the public smearing of this man’s reputation to the gay rights movement, and the collective oppressions faced by gays and lesbians whose sexuality was once criminalized and punished by beatings, rapes, abductions, murders, involuntary incarceration in mental hospitals, brain-washing camps, and prison sentences spent in solitary confinement. Why not just start comparing him to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while you’re at it? Why stop there, even? Why not start calling this a genocide against perverts? And then there are the people who are writing tirelessly about how he is a man of integrity — well I suppose whether or not he is depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? Or does a man of integrity typically live a double-life? Is unapologetic sexism a form of integrity?”

I said it already and I’ll say it again, because it’s key: This isn’t about you. This is not the time to defend your kinks. Get some perspective.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.