Thursday, October 4, 2007

Feminism vs. Fetish

There has been a lively debate the past few days on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog. The debate revolves around the question of whether feminists can really be into the fetish/BDSM scene. Schwyzer, a college history and gender studies professor, self-proclaimed feminists, and Christian believes they can. The debate continues through more posts and dozens of comments, where it becomes clear that those against BDSM will remain so, and those for BDSM will do the same.

This raises more questions. How can a feminist practice a submission fetish and still be considered a feminist? Isn’t feminism based on the struggle for power and respect lacking in a patriarchal society?
Does a woman like Carlotta Champagne, fashion designer and model, somehow give up their rights as a woman by letting themselves get tied up and bossed around?

Schwyzer answers this question through careful thought and a view different than the one he once held.

Twenty years ago — even ten years ago — I was certain that an authentic devotion to public equality couldn’t possibly coexist with a delight in private transactions in which sexual power is surrendered and taken. But I’ve met too many women whose public “feminist credentials” were impeccable and whose freely chosen delight in submission was equally sincere.

He also comes to the realization of the pain principle: many people who submit themselves to pain through submission do if for the same rush Schwyzer himself pushes for in athletics.

The greatest payoff of marathoning hasn’t been the lowered resting heart rate or the endorphin high. The greatest payoff has been the end to the dualism that sees the body as separate, disconnected, and alien from me. Running — especially hard, painful running — has helped me understand what it means to be an incarnate spirit, a soul and a body joined together. And I’ve become convinced that for many men and women, participating enthusiastically in BDSM can bring about the same sort of epiphany.

The problem with this and many other discourses about the fetish scene is it focuses on the act of submission almost entirely. Schwyzer does bring up female domination of others, but it is easy for members of the mainstream to forget how much variety really falls under the word “fetish.”

For some, fetish is an obsession for shoes. Some want to be wrapped up in soft scarves or tied with silk ropes. Others want to control or be controlled. Even more individuals in the scene have constructed entire fantasies about their true selves being animals, babies, or something in between.

Fetish is fantasy. Men and women join the scene because something is missing in their everyday life. They want to be different than they actually are. This is what makes fetish an industry, where merchants like Ceres make money selling their wares at conventions. Ceres also has a Web site, where men and women can buy their transformation-wear and have it shipped directly to them.

No one falls into the fetish subculture. They actively pursue the kinks specialized towards their happiness, which ultimately brings them control over their own body and psyche. At fetish conventions, a diverse group of people finds a gathering place where fat women can wear thongs and big burly men can dress up as Little Bo Peep and not attract a second glance.

Probably the most telling aspect of whether or not feminists can be into fetish was displayed prominently at Fetishcon 2007. The superheroines were out in force, in a host of capes, masks, and costumes.


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