I came across a really interesting writing on Fetlife the other day titled On Personal Responsibility. The author has said some thoroughly problematic things about consent in other posts, but in this particular one she makes an excellent point:
But here’s another question, because in general, I prefer to be hated by both sides wherever possible.
Shouldn’t those upstanding members of the community also take personal responsibility for judging whether they are about to stick their figurative and/or metaphorical dicks in crazy, and choosing not to engage with those who qualify?
I’d have a lot more respect for the ‘personal responsibility! everything that happens to you is your fault!’ crowd if they put as much pressure on tops to be ‘personally responsible’ as they do on bottoms. While I can’t claim to have read everything ever written about personal responsibility in kink, what I have read seems to be all about pushing bottoms to take all the blame for everything that happens to them.
If the writing I quoted above had gone Kinky&Popular (the Fetlife equivalent of featured, for those who don’t spend much time there), I expect the comments on it would be full of domly doms whining and crying about how they aren’t mind-readers and it isn’t fair to expect them to be. But somehow it’s fine and dandy to expect bottoms to magically divine that the d-type who is being so lovely and charming right now, who has such a good reputation in the scene, is actually grooming them for abuse.
Fuck that noise. If bottoms have to responsible for everything that happens to them, then so do tops. Have a scene go badly? Should’ve done a better job of reading your bottom. Somehow run into the largely mythical malicious bottom who cries foul after a scene they seemed to enjoy at the time? Should’ve gotten to know them better before you played with them. Have a messy breakup that involves your now ex submissive screaming at you at 3 am? Should’ve dated someone with better control of their emotions.
When I put it like that, does the whole personal responsibility thing start sounding like an unreasonable standard to hold people to? If it does, that’s because it’s not actually about responsibility, maturity, or owning your shit for you. It’s about doms not wanting to take responsibility for their actions.
Maybe that sounds harsh, but think about it for a minute. Who benefits when bottoms are told that its their responsibility and only their responsibility to prevent themselves from being victimized? It’s certainly not bottoms. In fact, blaming the victim is a classic tactic of abusers.
Once more for the cheap seats: blaming the victim is what abusers do. You are not responsible for what other people choose to do to you, full stop.
Personal responsibility is great and all, but you’re got to apply it to everyone equally. For example, doing kinky things involves a certain amount of risk, and you probably shouldn’t play if you can’t handle things going wrong. No matter how carefully you prepare and how well you negotiate, there is always a chance you will suddenly discover a trigger you didn’t know you had, or equipment will fail, or you’ll misunderstand something your play/partner told you, or something that worked just fine last week will end with you crying your heart out this week. Shit happens, and the more you play, the more chances it has to happen to you. If you’re not at a place in your life where you can handle potentially feeling shitty for a few days after you play, it’s probably a good idea to play very carefully.
See how I’m not singling one group out to blame them for everything that happens to them? That’s how you talk about personal responsibility without grooming people for abuse.