Monday, 10 March 2014

Why I'm Against BDSM - Radical Feminist Perspective

This post is an opinion piece and as such it will have a more light hearted, less formal tone than the previous piece. If you are an anti-BDSM feminist I hope that you enjoy the piece. If you are not, I hope you find it frustrating, but intellectually stimulating.

The acronym BDSM stands for bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadomasochism. In Liberal Land it’s somehow okay to have a single letter stand for two different words, I suppose they think it makes their acronym more “subversive” or whatever, but other people are more likely to find it confusing. In fact, the acronym itself masks the nature of the practice. “BDSM” sounds a lot less scary than “sadomasochism”, doesn’t it? The word “sadomasochism” calls to mind an image of a man inflicting physical pain upon a woman, who is screaming in terror, and enjoying the fact that she is in pain, while whispering to you (the onlooker) “Trust me, she likes it”. It all sounds pretty freaky, doesn’t it? Of course, the word “BDSM” contains the acronym for sadomasochism within it, suggesting that sadomasochism is a form of BDSM, but this is not immediately obvious to the uninitiated. Thus when you tell people you’re against BDSM, people assume you must be a prude, because you sound like you’re objecting to some mysterious sex act that they see no reason to be afraid of, a sex act which is merely “weird”, rather than violent, dangerous or degrading.

Regardless of which term you use and regardless of how “varied” and “complex” the behaviours may be, all acts which fall under the BDSM umbrella have one thing in common, the domination of one human being over another. The phrase its advocates often use is “the exchange of erotic power”. Like with many liberal terms, it is not comprehensible to those who have not studied the issue. I’m not even sure if it’s entirely comprehensible to the people who use it. I think its intent is to inspire positive-thinking in the reader/listen. After all, we all like erotic things, right? Meanwhile the word “power” implies that what they’re saying is really profound and philosophical and the word “exchange” implies that something fair and egalitarian is going on. When you examine the term “exchange of power” more closely it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that is a topic for another post. Suffice it to say, liberal language is littered with euphemism and deception.

So why would anyone be opposed to “weird”, “kinky”, “steamy” “[insert deceptive adjective which is likely to appear in mainstream articles about BDSM here]” sex? In the remainder of this article, I will be presenting some of the arguments which are made against BDSM from a radical feminist viewpoint.

1. BDSM is contrary to the ideal of equality between humans

This argument really needs no explanation. BDSM is an anti-egalitarian human interaction (it involves some people being dominant and other people being submissive.) Radical feminists oppose anti-egalitarian human interactions (especially when they occur within the realm of intimate relations.) Therefore radical feminists oppose BDSM. It is really that simple.

Philosophy geeks may have noticed that what I provided above was a deductive argument. The structure is undoubtedly valid. Thus the only way to refute it is to show that the premises are wrong. Go ahead. Try it in the comment section. I dare you. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, feel free to ignore this paragraph. Unlike liberal feminists, I’m not here to bamboozle you with fancy words. If I use a fancy word it will be because the word properly expresses the thought that I’m trying to get across to the reader. Anyone who writes things that have been specially designed to only be understood by people who have done majors in gender studies probably isn’t serious about changing the world.

Back to the topic at hand, radical feminists fight for equality, not “choice”, not orgasm, equality. Yes liberal feminists and pornography lovers everywhere, there is something out there which is worth more than an orgasm (or any kind of sexual arousal.) To quote Gail Dines, orgasms are great, but revolutions are better.*

Equality (i.e. the elimination of power hierarchies within sexual relationships and in general) is the aim. Without equality there can be no genuine freedom. It is freedom feminists fight for, not “choice”. Not all choices lead to liberation and the fact that we may be allowed to choose our cell, does not mean we are not in a prison. Many of the choices women are faced with can be summed up as “submit to men this way or submit to men that way.” Some lucky women have the option of being dominant rather than be dominated, but what about the option of having a relationship that involves two people treating one another like equal human beings? That options is only available to those who consciously strive for it and radical feminists believe it’s worth striving for.

* For anyone who feels the need to verify everything someone says on the internet, the quote I’m paraphrasing is near the end of the talk. 

2. BDSM glamorises rape and abuse

Though it may not always seem that way, I like to be charitable when I’m arguing. If I grant that all of my opponents’ assumptions are correct and still show that what they’re advocating is messed up, it becomes pretty hard for them to refute me. So I’ll grant that BDSM is always consensual (even though it sometimes isn’t) and I’ll grant that BDSM is never abuse (even though it sometimes is.) That still doesn’t let BDSM off the hook.

Suppose you were watching a film in which a thin, busty women (or a highly muscular man, take your pick) struts across the screen smoking a cigarette. If you’re one of those media-analysis-is-above-me types you’ll probably shout “It’s just entertainment. Why you got to think so much about stuff?” as if thinking were a bad thing, but anti-tobacco activists know that when we see images of prettified celebrities smoking, it makes smoking seem glamorous. If you create a link in people’s minds between smoking and something pleasurable, like sex, it causes them to have more positive feelings towards smoking. Thus if we care about the welfare of human beings, we should be very careful about linking things with sex. Of course, corporations don’t care, but those claiming to be progressive should.

BDSM links sex with things that are just as horrible, if not worse, than smoking. These things include aggression, domination, violence and the abuse of women. “But wait,” BDSM proponents will scream, “BDSM is not abuse”. I already granted that assumption earlier on and in this situation it doesn’t matter. In the best case scenario, BDSM is a simulation of physical or emotional abuse which is aimed at causing sexual arousal. It thus trains people’s brains to associate abuse with arousal. In the case of the arousal-causing celebrity with the cigarette, it doesn’t really matter whether the actor is actually smoking in real life or not. It is the effect of the image on the audience that is significant. Likewise, when we’re discussing BDSM, we have to look at the bigger picture and ask what effect the practice has on our culture. 

The pro-BDSM response to this will no doubt be something along the lines of “but BDSM has no effect on the culture, it goes on in the bedroom, in private, not on movie screens”. Well as of February next year, it will be happening on movie screens. Even now, sadomasochism is a common theme in pornography. This is not something that the BDSM community objects to. They just want the pornographers to add boring scenes where the people involved talk in detail about what they’re going to before they do it (which is not something pornographers are likely to include if they want to maintain viewer interest.) In fact the activist portion of the BDSM community believes that the only way to alleviate the constant persecution which BDSM practitioners supposedly experience is by educating everyone about BDSM as much as they can. Some advocates argue that a lack of BDSM imagery within mainstream media leads to (or is a form of) persecution against the BDSM community. As long as there are people advocating this belief, BDSM cannot be understood purely as something private that goes on in bedrooms. It must be understood as what it is quickly becoming, a powerful political and cultural movement. 

For a list of gripes that BDSM advocates have concerning mainstream society, see the Vanilla Privilege Checklist.

3. Many BDSM acts are physically dangerous (to women)

“BDSM groups often try to educate people in safe practices (e.g. making sure gags don't cause suffocation). Some people have died; this is tragic; don't end up like them.” From a pro-BDSM blog called “Going Rampant”

Notice the power-neutral language in the above quote. We’re told that “people” have been killed by BDSM. In reality it is almost always the submissive whose life is endangered by violent sex. Dominants do not have objects shoved down their threats. They do not have knives or fires waved near their naked bodies. Only submissive BDSM practitioners are physically endangered by BDSM sex (but of course that fact does not fit well with the Orwellian pro-BDSM claim that the submissive is actually the one with the power) and, let us be honest here, there are good reasons to believe that it is typically women who play the submissive role in BDSM. So a more accurate statement would have been “BDSM kills women” or better yet “BDSM dominants sometimes kill their submissive female partners by inflicting dangerous sex acts upon them” (let’s just hope they’re doing it by accident.)

Even if we assume that BDSM does not involve any gendered power dynamics, surely I don’t have to defend the claim that the death of human beings (be they male or female) is generally a bad thing, do I? The usual response to this argument is that life is full of risks and it is crazy to oppose all risky behaviours. While I do not oppose all risky behaviours, I do believe that risks should be minimised whenever possible. This cannot be done for BDSM, because the risky nature of it is what makes it exciting to those who practice it. If power is what turns you on, then the best way to get that arousal is by placing yourself in a situation where you literally have the power of life and death over your partner. Meanwhile the submissive partner proves that she really does trust her sexy, sexy dominant by allowing him to have that kind of power over her. Thus danger is not an accidental feature of BDSM, something that just happens to exist during BDSM sex acts. It is part of the inherent nature of BDSM.

This is not true for other risky things like transportation. The purpose of the planes, buses and trains, for example, is to get people from point A to point B and making a plane, bus or train ride more dangerous will not improve its ability to do so. In fact public transport which is safe does a better job of getting people from point A to point B. Safe public transport is good public transport. Safe BDSM is bad BDSM (from the viewpoint of those who are into BDSM.) Unsafe BDSM sex acts can never become truly safe without losing much of their BDSM character and that would spoil the BDSM community’s fun.


I hope that this post has provided a useful introduction to the radical feminist critique of BDSM. This article is not intended to provide an extensive list of the arguments which feminists make against BDSM. I have barely touched on the ways in which BDSM is gendered. I am yet to discuss the ways in which BDSM embodies masculine and feminine ideals or the ways in which it glamorises oppressive systems of the past (e.g. slavery), nor have I responded to all pro-BDSM arguments. I do however feel that I have presented the main radical feminist arguments against BDSM, those which get to the heart of the matter and that I have provided sound arguments as to why any decent, equality-loving person should oppose BDSM. Maybe I even managed to generate some laughs along the way.
Since this post is an opinion piece, rather than a trope page. Opposing viewpoints are allowed, but do try to be original. If your comment is pro-BDSM and made up only of arguments which have already been made in other comments it will probably be deleted. Personal attacks against individuals are still not allowed. As always constructive criticism is welcome.

If you enjoyed this post then stay tuned for posts discussing common pro-BDSM arguments, the causes of BDSM desires, the harmful nature of specific BDSM sex acts and why the left should be opposed to BDSM.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Liberal Feminist Trope 1: Ignorance Breeds Hate

Happy International Women's Day! I've been thinking of starting a blog devoted to discussing radical feminist issues for some time now and have been waiting for the right day to come. Now it has arrived! I do not claim to speak on behave of radical feminism, but I hope that radical feminists and their allies will enjoy my blog.
 “No matter how many burlesque shows I endure, I have never been to enough, so long as I continue to critique the phenomenon. I am told that, either, I have only seen “amateur” performances … or that I haven’t been to enough “alternative” shows.” Meghan Murphy of Feminist Current in the post “Responding to critiques of burlesque cheat sheet (crazy-making edition)”

Type: Argument Trope, Clearly Liberal

Definition and Uses

The Ignorance Breeds Hate trope is the assumption that anyone who disapproves of a particular behaviour or community must necessarily be ignorant of it and have some caricatured image of it in their head. The trope results in accusations of ignorance being directed indiscriminately at all critics of whatever behaviour is being defended. The critics are then deemed to be “hateful” and their hate is said to be inspired by ignorance, which is seen as the root of all prejudice within the liberal worldview.

In cases where a person’s ignorance is clear and obvious, pointing out their ignorance is not an example of this trope. It should be noted that the failure to mention a particular fact in one’s article, does not prove that the writer is ignorant of the fact. A person would actually have to say something that was clearly false (and could be shown to be false) about a particular behaviour or group in order for the “ignorance” accusation to be legitimate.

This trope is used most often by pornography/prostitution defenders, burlesquers and the BDSM community. It is also used by mainstream, liberal proponents of gay rights and by liberal feminists when promoting their “feminism” to the public.

Generic Examples

“You don’t really understand what it is you’re critiquing. You’ve clearly been influenced by media/government/conservative/psychiatric/radical feminist misrepresentations of it. You need to look into it properly.”

“You’re only looking at one (or the worst) type of porn/sex work/BDSM/burlesque. There’s a lot of diversity/subversion going on that you’re ignoring.”  


While criticisms of behaviours and groups can be based on ignorance and lies, some criticism is based on well thought out, well informed political analysis. The trope functions as an excuse to ignore such criticisms and denounce them as a form of irrational hatred.

Furthermore, there are cases where being ignorant of something prevents one from fully acknowledging its harmful nature. More knowledge gets you closer to a true understanding of the thing you’re exploring. It does not always bring you closer to approving of it. To assume otherwise is to argue that all controversial behaviour are perfectly good and thus nobody could genuinely disapprove of them without having an incorrect understanding of them.

There is also the issue of how much knowledge is necessary in order to not be “ignorant” of something. Human knowledge is quite extensive and it is nearly impossible for one person to know everything that humanity knows about a given topic (this applies to scientific, historical and philosophical topics as well as political issues). No matter how much knowledge one demonstrates regarding a particular topic, their opponent can always bring in new information (and say, “I bet you didn’t know this”), extend their definition of ignorance and demand a higher level of expertise. This strategy is an example of the logical fallacy “Moving the Goalposts”.

Another problem with the trope is that often times the information that one is ignorant of has no bearing on the argument being presented. Interesting facts are called “trivia” for a reason, they are often trivial. When putting forward an argument, one only needs to have enough knowledge to back up their argument and have it be relevant to the group being discussed. One does not need to know the entire history of certain behaviour or the trillion different ways in which it is practised in order to develop sound arguments against it.

Those who wish to avoid falling into this trope should recognise that when someone, especially someone who is invested in discussing feminist issues, says they are opposed to something, they usually mean it. Their arguments should be taken seriously, not seen as excuses to mask some inner hatred, and attempts should be made to refute them. Information relevant to refuting such arguments should be included. If a critic makes a statement which is clearly false (when applied to the behaviour/group as a whole) and which is essential to the critic’s argument, then evidence should be presented to counter the false assumption.

When it comes to subversion, the standard set by liberal feminists is really low. This means that radical feminists are most likely not ignorant of supposed “subversion”, they just don’t recognise it as such. Even if traces of genuine subversion do exist within a behaviour/group these are not enough to justify the practice’s existence. This is especially true if such traces or so rare that a large amount of research is required to uncover them.


“If we left critical conversations only to the people who were actually doing whatever we were being critical of, then nobody would get to say anything about anything ever.” Meagan Murphy of Feminist Current in the post “Responding to critiques of burlesque cheat sheet (crazy-making edition)” 

Sometimes knowledge gained through reading about and discussing a particular issue is not good enough for users of the Ignorance Breeds Hate trope. They demand that a critic have personal experience with a behaviour or group in question before they make any statements about the topic at hand. Of course this same principle does not apply to supporters (or “allies” as they’re often called) of a behaviour or community. Liberal feminists will happily allow people to endorse behaviours they do not have experience with, but to be critical of them without personal experience is considered unacceptable.

The demand for personal experience can take on several forms. The critic might be asked to get to know members of the group whose behaviour they are critiquing. Since such criticisms are believed it be based on hate, interactions with the “hated” group are supposed to alleviate this hatred and therefore end all criticism.

Some trope users go a bit further and suggest that behaviours can only be criticised by those who practice them, leading to the conclusion that critics either need to reframe from expressing their opinions regarding the behaviour in question or “try it out” for themselves. The latter approach is usually employed by practitioners of BDSM and demonstrates the supreme arrogance of those who make up the community. They appear to be under the impression that radical feminists will happily engage in sex acts which do not appeal to them for the sake of “research” and will experience mind-blowing sexual arousal as a result, causing them to abandon all intellectual criticisms of the behaviour. This is not likely to happen.

It should be clear from the previous example, that the standard for “non-ignorance” is often set way too high. These standards usually exist to prevent valid criticisms from being made rather than to promote unconventional sexual behaviours (the BDSM community is unusually evangelistic.) The prevention of criticism is achieved through ensuring that only those who have an interest in defending the behaviour (e.g. those who practise it) and are therefore unlikely to criticise it, are given permission to do so. The few who decide to criticise a particular behaviour despite being involved in it (or having past experience with it) are typically dismissed as unrepresentative of the behaviour as a whole. Hence no matter how “non-ignorant” one is, liberal feminists do not feel obligated to take their opinion seriously.

In short, ideas should stand and fall on their own merits. If someone criticises something, the rational way to respond is by addressing the criticisms, not attacking the person for their failure to adhere to a particular lifestyle or associate with the “right” people.


While ignorance accusations can be made by adherents of any ideology, over reliance on this accusation is a classical liberal feminist tactic. Hence use of the Ignorance Breeds Hate trope, which involves wrongful accusations of ignorance, clearly marks someone out as a liberal feminist. Those who wish to argue honestly should do their best to ensure that they only accuse others of ignorance when they have actually said things that unambiguously reveal their ignorance. That said, accusations of ignorance made in relation to the beliefs of radical feminists are likely to be accurate, since radical feminist beliefs are marginalised within academic discourse and the culture as a whole.

Coming Soon: The Political is Personal (in which criticism of behaviours are equated with hatred of the people engaging in it.)
Feel free to leave comments, but be aware that I might delete them if I find them objectionable. Defences of liberal feminism are not allowed on trope posts (that means no defending pornography, prostitution, BDSM or gender.) Personal insults are never allowed (especially if they are directed at me or people I like.) In a later post I will discuss the rules for this blog in more detail.

If you have ever encountered the above trope, I'd really like to hear about it in the comment section (this goes for all tropes posts.) Constructive criticism is also welcome.