Kink and Ethics

This post was inspired by Cliff Pervocracy’s post titled “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?”, and some particularly interesting comments on it (purely as an aside, Pervocracy is one of the few places on the internet where you can read the comments and not immediately smack yourself in the face and say “Goddammit. I knew I shouldn’t have read the comments”), which you should go read. Some interesting issues come up in the comments, and one of them is:

Given that there are kinks that resemble real-world oppression, how can we pursue those kinks ethically? I think we can do that by acknowledging the resemblance to real-world oppression, explicitly stating what we’re doing to make sure our playacted “oppression” doesn’t become real oppression, and doing as much as we can to reduce real-world oppression.

Let’s take forced feminization as example. This is an inherently misogynistic kink. Without the belief that women are lesser and therefore it’s wrong for men to dress in women’s clothing, forced feminization loses much of its erotic charge. It’s still possible to be turned on by your partner controlling the way you present yourself, or to feel off-balance and therefore vulnerable when wearing a strange costume you wouldn’t normally wear, but most of the comments I’ve read by men who are turned on by forced feminization talk about how humiliated and slutty they feel while wearing women’s clothing.

However, feeling humiliated and turned on by wearing panties doesn’t mean the man wearing them is a bad person or a hopeless misogynist. It just means (assuming I understand how fetishes work) that it’s not unlikely that when he was a child he tried on a woman’s clothes, was shamed for it, and eroticized that shame. Or maybe he was never actually caught but was aware enough of social norms to fear getting caught. In a society that didn’t devalue women he probably wouldn’t have developed a humiliation-focused fetish for being forced to wear women’s clothing (he might still have a fetish for wearing particular styles and fabrics, but he wouldn’t feel humiliated by wearing those things), but that doesn’t mean that growing up in this one makes him a bad person.

All I think our hypothetical forced feminization fetishist needs to do is a few simple things. First of all, just fucking admit that forced feminization is misogynistic. You’re not fooling anyone when you try to tell me that using the same clothes I wear every day to humiliate you is somehow magically empowering to women, so knock it the fuck off. Next, make really fucking sure any woman who consents to dress you up and call you a sissy little bitch knows that you don’t believe she deserves to be mistreated because she had the poor taste to be female instead of male. Don’t assume that when the two of you disagree, you get your way because you have the almighty penis. Don’t act like your orgasm is the one that really matters, don’t act like your kinks are the ones that really matter, don’t insist on having your kink indulged every single time you see each other, don’t, in general, be a dick. Finally, stand up for women whenever you can. Don’t vote for woman-hating shitbags, call people out when they spout misogynistic bullshit, don’t support companies that use sexist advertisements, and for fuck’s sake listen when women tell you you’re acting like a misogynist.

While there’s a simple and obvious difference between playacted oppression (consent, it’s good for you), it’s worth talking about how we can be ethically kinky. As Boldly Go states in their blog post Kink and Power:

To use an example, if I have an acquaintance who I trust to top me in scenes, who has never disrespected a safe word or gone against my wishes, who has demonstrated a good balance as a top who will push boundaries when requested, but never overstep their bounds, that overall may be a good thing. But if the second the paddle’s put down and the rope is away, he gaslights and dismisses me when I bring up the sexual harassment I’ve faced in work situations or walking down the street or he attempts to condescendingly explain to me how wrong I am that racism is primarily a system that benefits white people at the expense of people of colour because ALL races experience racism well… does it really matter if he respects my safe words if he doesn’t respect anything else I say?

As firmly as I believe that what we like in the bedroom does not define the whole of who we are (subs can be CEOs, doms can be shy, and can we please stop acting like that’s news?), we can’t leave our whole selves outside the bedroom door, either. If you can’t be bothered to at least try to understand how power works outside of consensual, negotiated scenes, I won’t trust you with it in a scene anymore than I would trust someone with a welder if they’ve never so much as read the wikipedia article on welding.

4 thoughts on “Kink and Ethics

  1. Love your observations. I tend to sort feminization into two categories.

    1) Acceptable: Wearing womens’ undies or clothing because the feel of the fabric is a turn on for the submissive in question.

    2) Unacceptable: Wearing women’s undies or clothing is humiliating. In this case, the humiliation is the turn on, not the fabric.

    As long as a gender bender has analyzed his proclivities and is certain that he is not exercising deep seated misogyny, it’s all good!

  2. Thoughtful piece. Yes, D/s IS a feminist issue. The best of D/s allows women and men to reject patriarchal stereotypes and allow them to redefine themselves as they wish. In short to rediscover their true selves. This won’t happen if D/s simply re-hashes the same old patriarchal tropes.

    I’m reminded of Lynne Segal’s excellent words, written in the 1980s, but still true today:

    “…there are gentle, caring, celibate, submissive, unassertive, dependent and passive men, just as there are lusty, authoritative, aggressive, insensitive, dominating, independent and assertive women. We all criss-cross these supposedly gendered lines, displaying greater variation within our own sex than between sexes…”

  3. From a male perspective, anything that isn’t a boring black or grey suit is not for you. You’re not allowed to wear that. It’s for women or kids. The power you perceive is a burden. You must wear identical clothes, be responsible for everything, and never show emotion. Gender roles suck. Stop hating men for the situation. Hate the games we play instead. We need to work together to fix it.

    Calling other people’s fetishes unacceptable, real nice.

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