I’ve read this post on BDSM and the ensuing discussion of it on Feministe, and I am crestfallen (“crestfallen” – I like that word. It is underused and underrepresented, like many good things in life).
It’s not the issue affecting the BDSM community – not to mention people’s weird reactions to BDSM – that trouble me per se. I’m not part of that community, so anything I say is just a comment going out from the sidelines – not particularly interesting or insightful. It does bother me whenever people casually dismiss BDSMers as “those freaky people over there – let’s stay away, they might have freaky people germs”. The false dichotomy of kinkster vs. vanilla chaps my hide as well.
But. BUT! I’m not here to talk about all of that right now. I’m here to talk about whether or not dominant tendencies in dudes are de-facto a Very Bad Thing. Because I was reading the comments of a blogger named Pepper, and saw this:
Here’s some concrete examples of the kind of self-policing I do:
1) I’m very aware of the dominant streak in my personality. In social or group situations, I purposefully stay quiet, tone down my language, make sure others are heard, apologize for interrupting, and so on. I know that others listen to me more than they should, both because of my gender and this dominance aspect, and I try to counteract this…. [etc.]
Now, the way Pepper conducts himself is Pepper’s business. This is in no way a comment on Pepper himself. Whenever I’m in a feminist-oriented discussion, I instantly bristle at people who tell other people that This Is How You Should Act In All Circumstances and This Is How You Should Feel About This And That and Check Out This Excellent Feminist Apple-Peeling Technique I Invented, Bitch, Or Suffer The Consequences. So if I fall into the same trap, I apologize in advance.
The thing is, there are dominant people and there are dominant people. As a collective feminist movement, we often argue against general male dominance – but I feel that if I am with a man who’s got a dominant streak, I wouldn’t want him to feel permanently conflicted about it. If I choose to be with someone, then I choose to handle certain aspects of their personality.
Who I date or don’t date doesn’t really matter in the context of the larger conversation, of course, except for the fact that I recently had a conversation with someone that went along the lines of, “and you know, [dude I’m seeing] has SUCH a dominant streak” with the other person responding with a “wait, what? Aren’t you a feminist?” Well, yes, I am a feminist. This doesn’t mean I’ll automatically reject someone because they’re loud, or because they’ll go “you know what, you need to listen to THE MAN, i.e. me, right now” every once in a while.
“Dominant” does not necessarily mean “controlling” or “abusive.” It can mean a lot of things. Not all dominant guys are jerks, or bad listeners, or ego-tripping bastards, or male chauvinists. If a guy’s got a dominant streak, but happens to be secure with himself, he won’t mind if you challenge him. If you say, “actually, I’m not going to listen to THE MAN, i.e. you, right now – and here’s why.” And if you trust a guy – then you trust him to make certain decisions, without necessarily compromising your own integrity. Two adults can negotiate and renegotiate their roles as they see fit. It doesn’t mean they won’t fight – but then again, who doesn’t fight?
I suppose I’m bringing all of this up, because I am tired of the notion that there is just one “correct” way to pursue a romantic relationship in particular, and that if you don’t embrace certain social norms that (mostly) middle-class Western progressives follow, then you’re getting raped and abused every night, even though you’re too uncivilized and stupid to actually realize it – or whatever.
I mean, while the Not Encouraging the Weirdos policy is still very on around here, I can’t help but want to share when I go into my moderation queue and find gems such as:
“I see you published and commented favorably on a cartoon in which the man you are dating is depicted with clenched fists. It’s not doing a lot for your feminist image. I’m worried for you. Or I would be worried – if you were worth it.”
OMG I’M NOT WORTH IT?!?!?!?!
OK, but seriously now…
The dude I love clenched his fists – and ruined my public image…?
When we speak of institutionalized male dominance and the way that individuals conduct their relationships, we must obviously admit that there is no crowbar separation between the two. I mean, that’s kind of a GIVEN (I hate it when people remind me of the fact – as if I’m five years old and just learning that people and ideas don’t exist in individually sealed vacuums). But, as trite as it’s going to sound, part of respecting a person’s agency is trusting their lived experience, and trusting how they feel about said lived experience.
Otherwise, the purpose is defeated. Squarely. In the jaw.