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Archive for June 26th, 2009

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to talk about it anymore. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t been over to the radfem blogs lately, though I’m sure I’ll keep on reading Trinity and then it’ll be all over.

But I just finished reading two essays from the old standby that I’m ashamed not to have read yet, Coming to Power, edited by Pat Califia. The first, by Gayle Rubin, is entitled “The Leather Menace: Comments on Politics and SM,” and was completed in the very early 1980s.

It begins with the wonderful line, “It is difficult to discuss the politics of sadomasochism when the politics of sex in general are so depressingly muddled.” As I read on through the article, as well as Califia’s article on the founding and first few years of the lesbian leather association Samois, I was struck by what my leather ancestors, as it were, went through. Raids; attacks by not just the mainstream media but by NOW and other feminist organizations, including lesbian organizations; exclusion from the gay rights movement; silencing by the feminist movement; demonization by nearly everyone; arrests, child custody contests, and so on.

But the thing that killed me was the rhetoric from feminists of the day, like this gem from Diane Russell:

I see sadomasochism as resulting in part from the internalization of heterosexual dominant-submissive role playing. I see sadomasochism among lesbians as involving in addition an internalization of the homophobic heterosexual view of lesbians. Defending such behavior as healthy and compatible with feminism, even proselytizing in favor of it is about the most contra-feminist anti-political and bourgeois stance that I can imagine.

Not to mention Susan Griffin, whose essay “Hunger as Ideology” I have taught to freshman writing classes, who had this incredibly insulting thing to say about it:

The fact is, the whole culture is S/M, we’re all sadomasochists. The people in SAMOIS, or gay people who wear leather, have a more severe form of the disease.

Nice. Sound familiar to anyone here? Has this rhetoric changed in thirty years, like, at all?

I guess it’s nice that we’re now living in an age where S/M is a fact of life, suffuses the fashion industry and music videos, and will not generally get you arrested. Getting tongue-lashed by feminists is not the worst thing that can happen. But I just find myself really sad that this segment of feminism, which tends to claim to speak for all feminists, hasn’t gotten its collective head on straight yet about this issue.

For those following along at home, Pat Califia said it best, back in 1981 or so: “Until women own their own bodies and have the right to seek erotic pleasure completely, with no restrictions, women will not be free.”

As the kids were only too recently saying, period-dot.

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