Your first question might be: why am I defending lesbian sadomasochism, seeing as I am neither a lesbian, nor a sadomasochist? I am not even a woman. The reason is because, sadly, the opposition is so incredibly ludicrous that they deserve to be called out for their buffoonery. At least the opponents presented in “Unleashing Feminism”. How anyone could take these arguments seriously is beyond me, but some do, especially from similar feminists such as Andrea Dworkin (to whom this book was dedicated), who has no sense of reality.
Although the words of these women should speak for themselves, I will present them individually to point out their stupdity, ignorance and logical flaws. I do not mean to sound disrespectful, but the fact that universities employ any of them in a field outside of creative writing is a blemish on the entire academic framework of this country. Luckily, most of them are not employed in such a manner (though I have to wonder how some of them ever got Masters or Doctorate degrees.)
Pat Parker, a black lesbian, passed on in June 1989 from cancer. As the book was published after her death, it is very kind of them to put her words first in the book, and also to use a selection that is probably the most sane aspect of the book.
She asks, “Did we grapple with our own who hated us so women could use whips and chains?” [Reti: 5] Indeed, “We must not offer haven for fascists and pigs be it real or fantasy; the line is too unclear.” [Reti: 6] While she presents one of the running, and misguided, themes — that sadomasochist role playing is too similar to real life — her words are not completely ludicrous, as others in the book are. Let us continue.
Miriam, at the time of the book, was a graduate student in the History of Consciousness program at UC-Santa Cruz. She asserts that, “Lesbian sadomasochism is much more than what women do in bed, it is a widespread ideology concerning what lesbian identity means (or doesn’t mean).” [Reti: 8] This seems to be something the women in the book agree with, though it is never explicitly stated where these sadomasochistic women are redefining lesbianism or feminism for the rest of the world. Surely, I can think of no prominent sadomasochist claiming to be mainstream, nor have I ever thought of lesbianism or feminism to have necessary violent tendencies.
Miriam quotes Dodie Bellamy as saying that feminism has “limitations” that lesbians must “get beyond” [Reti: 11]. Miriam sees this as a rejection of feminist values, whereas I see it as expansion.
“Lesbian sadomasochists (most of whom are also pro-pornography) claim that there is a clear line between sadomasochist sexual practices, based on consent, and sexual violence. They claim that consent makes all the difference. Agreed. But the question, as I see it, is not whether sadomasochist sexual practices are based on consent. For me the question is, what is lesbian sadomasochism consenting to?” [Reti: 12] First, while I will not dispute that most sadomasochists are pro-pornography, I truly wonder where she gets that statistic. But more importantly, the issue is consent, and not what is being consented to. Different people enjoy different things, be they sexual or otherwise. Why it is up to anyone to decide what is “feminist” based on someone’s consensual act is beyond me. There is an extreme brand of feminism that labels all male-female sex as “rape”, while the majority of the world clearly recognizes that women can and do enjoy sex, and do not pursue it simply because of men’s desires. That is what I see here: a woman who finds sadomasochism repugnant, and therefore sees it as an abuse. The answer is simple: if you do not want it, do not pursue it.
“I agree that there is a difference between sexual violence and sadomasochism. Sadomasochism is not rape. But a parallel point, rarely accepted by lesbian sadomasochists, is also true: there is a clear line between thinking critically about lesbian sadomasochism on the one hand, and censorship on the other. I agree that sadomasochism (unlike pornography and other systems of sexual violence) should not be legally regulated. Lesbian sadomasochists, however tend to blur this line and squelch critical thinking by screaming ‘censorship’ and ‘sex police’ whenever feminists attempt to articulate a connection between sadomasochist sexuality and rape culture.” [Reti: 12] I do not know the issues enough to delve deep, but I do not see the problem as theorists presenting a connection — I see the problem as the theorists pushing their perceived connection on to others.
Miriam believes that pornography is “made exclusively for men, and exclusively for men to jack off to.” [Reti: 12] There are plenty of women who would disagree with her, and I will not speak for them.
“To me the the popularity of lesbian sadomasochism is a sign of some success in this patriarchal venture. Lesbian sadomasochism is about, above all else, a radical cleavage between feminism and lesbianism. Not only does lesbian sadomasochism represent a split between lesbian and feminist identity, but its fantasy of the old guard vs. the new establishes a redefinition of lesbianism as a rebellion against feminism. This, of course, is a reversal not only of recent seventies lesbian history but of the original lesbian sadomasochists’ strategy: to claim inclusion as feminists.” [Reti: 13] I do not know how this makes sense: sadomasochism has split lesbians and feminists? I am sure that just as many lesbians are opposed to sadomasochism as feminists are… why lump all lesbians in the sadomasochist camp?
“Lesbian sadomasochism cannot be understood except in the context of an ongoing contest over the meaning of lesbian identity.” [Reti: 13] Why? Do lesbians lie awake at night trying to figure out who they are because some of them engage in violent acts? LSM “demeans radical lesbian-feminism and does so in such a way that it absorbs everything into the frame of its fantasy, including the debate itself.” [Reti: 14] In other words, “Lesbian sadomasochists … have framed the debate as a challenge to the ideological rigidity of lesbian-feminism.” [Reti: 15] No, it has not. If feminism is the push for women’s rights, those who engage in sexual practices are doing nothing to reduce those rights.
“The triumph of sadomasochism as a cultural credo is that it shrinks feminists’ capacity to express outrage at atrocities against women.” [Reti: 29] Again, no. Sadomasochists are not pushing for violence against women or the acceptability of rape. “Lesbian sadomasochism not only redefines freedom: it re-works the language in which it is possible to speak of freedom meaningfully and distorts the historical context (women’s liberation struggles) in which women found this speech. Ignoring ‘no’ or having our own ‘no’s’ ignored is not the freedom that, as Gillian Hanscombe might have said, women ‘went to the barricades for.'” [Reti: 32]
Miriam thinks that “women are socialized to respond sexually to sadomasochism.” [Reti: 36] What is the basis for this claim? Women, like men, enjoy certain activities based on the pleasure they provide. Does the social environment change what the human body finds pleasurable? If yes, how?
Ultimately, Miriam believes that “lesbian sadomasochism and lesbian-feminist ideology are two different and incompatible ethical, cultural and political practices” [Reti: 37]
Jamie Lee Evans
Evans is by far the biggest nutjob in the book, who identifies as a “lesbian of color” because she is part Asian. According to her bio in the book, “She likes orgasms, but… she wouldn’t sell her brain for one. She’d rather be destroying pornographers.” [Reti: 154]
Evans maintains that “the backgrounds of masochists are usually of those who have been victimized and those who are sadists are usually people who hold power positions in their family, workplace, etc.” [Reti: 75] I do not know if this is true or not, but the message I get here is that if you want to stop sadomasochism, your goal should be the reduce the victimization of people — fewer victims, fewer masochists.
Also, “sm is simply another way for heterosexual males to abuse women and get away with it”. [Reti: 76] This may be true. It makes sense that if a man wants to abuse a woman, he could look for a woman who enjoys it. Though, then the question must be asked: if she enjoys it, is it abuse?
Evans says that “so many newly out lesbians are now under the impression that sm and lesbianism go hand in hand… people have a hard time separating sm and lesbianism” [Reti: 77] I do not know who these “people” are, because I never thought of the two together before reading this book. And, of the lesbians I know, I do not believe any of them have ever grappled with sadomasochism.
Anything Evans says has to be questioned, though, because her credibility vanishes when you realize she is a pathological liar. “I am a lesbian who has survived direct attacks against my life, including being whipped, beaten, burned, chained, tied down, tied up, gagged, gang raped, choked, and forced to witness all of the above being done to other children, in a Satanic foster home subsidized and supervised by the State of California.” [Reti: 77] Evans further claims she was forced to lie down in a coffin with snakes inside, had the lid closed on her, and was buried in the ground. She had the “ability to forget/deny most of it until a few years ago”. [Reti: 78] Of course, none of these things ever happened to her — she either invented them or is clinically unstable.
Both of Reti’s parents were survivors of the Holocaust, which helps explain her unhealthy obsession with the topic. One might hope that as the editor of this book, Reti would be more intelligent than the average person, but she proves herself to be prone to logical failures and half-truths.
She says that “sadomasochism was an integral part of the Holocaust”. [Reti: 81] This may be true — but probably is not — but has nothing to do with anything. Vegetarianism was an essential part of Hitler’s personal belief structure, but vegetarians are not potential Hitlers, at least not due to their eating habits. She reiterates that “sadomasochism fueled the Holocaust.” [Reti: 95] No, it did not. A hatred for the Jews fueled the Holocaust.
“In the Holocaust Museum in Israel there is no exhibit revealing the execution and torture of thousands of gay men by the Nazi regime.” [Reti: 83] Maybe because it’s Israel?
“In the world of the Holocaust, Jewish people played the role of the submissive masochists.” [Reti: 89] Played the role? More like, were forced into the role. And why only Jews now? What happened to the gay men?
“The kind of feminism I believe in also opposes social hierarchies based on race, anti-Semitism, class, age and other differences. I believe sadomasochism is both racist and anti-semitic and to advocate SM is to seriously contradict feminist ideals.” [Reti: 95] Why sadomasochism is racist or anti-semitic is beyond me. All races can be sadomasochists, as can Jews. Reti tries very hard to draw a connection between Nazi ideology and sexual practices, but it simply does not exist. You can be opposed to Nazi ideology and/or sadomasochism, but let’s not pretend they are one and the same.
D. A. Clarke
Regarding D. A. Clarke, it is odd to even have her essay in the book, because the bulk of her contribution is actually about prostitution and porn, not sm. She also finds time to talk about the Sambia, a tribe of people where boys “are required to fellate as many young warriors as possible every day”. [Reti: 122] If the other writers are trying to say sadomasochism is connected to our “rape culture”, where do we fit in a foreign culture that also has unusual sexual practices? This either convolutes the central theme, or calls the whole thing into question.
She also says Ayn Rand’s philosophy is “Logical Positivism”, and it can be found expressed in Atlas Shrugged. No supporter of logical positivism would identify with Ayn Rand, whose philosophy was Objectivism (though they do have some overlapping views, such as the denial of metaphysics). Clarke further says Senator Joe McCarthy was “known to have had sex with men… (he) could and did fuck queers as a means of asserting (his) maleness”. [Reti: 122] Evidence? And why the vulgar language?
With regards to sadomasochism, she says, “I do have a problem with fantasy as the basis of relationships between adult human beings.” [Reti: 109] Basis? Sure. But is the act of sadomasochism the basis of a relationship? I suspect not. Plenty of couples role play, and this does not interfere with their ability to interact as normal human beings and as equals. A man’s love for his wife is not based on a belief that she really is a cheerleader or a nurse or whatever else.
Clarke throws out the idea that the term “the oldest profession… is inaccurately applied to prostitution, when it should be applied to pimping”. [Reti: 111] Again, evidence? And without prostitutes, why would there be pimps?
In closing, “People who find whips exciting and bruises alluring, Nazi regalia attractive and slavery titillating, will have a hard time suspending their love affair with evil for long enough to oppose it.” [Reti: 145] Based on what? Bottom line: there is no reason that consenting adults that hurt each other would be in favor of rape or child abuse or any other criminal act. If you do not like sadomasochism, do not engage in it. To smear the people who do engage, as distasteful as you may find their sexual appetites, is dishonest.
Reti, Irene, ed. Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties HerBooks, 1993