Imagine my pleasant surprise when my Internet radar picked up a great post by a thoughtful new feminist BDSM blogger. FeministSub has a thing or two (or three) to say about the phrase “good girl” worth pointing out:

“Good girl.”

I don’t think there’s anything that captures my mixed feelings about submission like that phrase. There’s so much in there.

Until very recently, it was one of my least favorite things to hear. So condescending. Patronizing. Paternalistic.

[…]

[W]hat feminist wants to be a Good Girl? After all, every feminist knows that Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. And then there’s the whole madonna-whore complex thing, which will certainly be a subject of its own post at some point.

[…]

So that’s why I don’t like “good girl.” Or rather, why I don’t want to like “good girl.” Because, honestly? I fucking love it. It makes my pussy wet and my heart sing. The first time a dominant partner called me a “good girl,” I felt like I had just taken a shot of morphine. And I wanted more.

[…]

[T]he very fact that I like it so much[…]is a little, well, humiliating. And that just adds an extra frission of erotic stimulation and emotional intensity. As maymay said once, ”I don’t want to be tortured, but I want it.” Obviously, being called a “good girl” is not exactly torture, but I think maymay perfectly captures that paradox of being submissive for me—of wanting the things I don’t want. I want them both in spite of and because of the fact that I don’t want them.

There is, indeed, so much in there. Others’s comments are good, too. I left a comment, which turned into two comments, both of which are relevant enough to this space that I’m cross-posting the ensuing exchange:

Huh. Interesting.

For what it’s worth, being a “good boy” has been one of my favorite things to hear for as long as I can remember. Reading your uncomfortableness towards the phrase makes me inclined to attribute our differing feelings about it to our gendered experiences in the world. (For another example, see also The Sexism of Sex and Smarts.)

When you say:

Oh, and of course, there’s the fact that it’s “good girl.” I know it’s pretty commonplace to refer to grown women as girls, and I do it all the time. But there’s no denying that it adds to the patronizing tone.

I’m reminded of the examples many dictionaries cite to explain the meaning of the word “pretty”: pretty song, pretty room, pretty girl. These are (sexist) sexual standards. They hurt me—and many others, too.

Also, Leah:

I like the powerlessness of the experience. […] Sometimes it embarrasses me to ask for a thing, but I do so out of desire — because I want. Although I am not the one in control, I nevertheless consider myself an equal partner, fully complicit in the sex.

In my (not so) humble opinion, extricating control from power is what claiming sexually submissive agency is about. We are not often taught, as bottoms in the BDSM Scene, how to do this and I think that’s because most of the BDSM community at large has an unacceptably poor understanding of the systemics of power itself, sexual and otherwise. It seems to me that your desire for the experience of powerlessness feels at odds with your claim of “complicity” precisely because you wish to abdicate your control of the sexual situation in order to serve the fantasy of “not being in control.”

That’s totally cool (and fun), but by your own admission of being “an equal partner,” that’s not really what’s happening. Put another way, the liminal space of “wanting what we don’t want” problematizes dichotomized notions of control to a degree that threatens much of the powerful/powerlessness fantasies intrinsic to most BDSM discourse. The BDSM community, writ large, enjoys either/or thinking to an astonishingly damaging degree—not to mention how disgustingly sexist they are.

Let’s develop a deeper understanding so more of us can approach these issues using both/and thinking, instead.

FeministSub briefly responded asking for clarifications:

This comment will take me a while to work through. :) But thank you! I did stop and think while I was writing this about whether or not male subs enjoy “good boy.” It actually made me think about how much of the language of domination and submission is at least subtly gendered.

Do you mind explaining what you mean by this?

Put another way, the liminal space of “wanting what we don’t want” problematizes dichotomized notions of control to a degree that threatens much of the powerful/powerlessness fantasies intrinsic to most BDSM discourse.

Since she asked, I went ahead and risked explaining without sugarcoating:

I did stop and think while I was writing this about whether or not male subs enjoy “good boy.” It actually made me think about how much of the language of domination and submission is at least subtly gendered.

Subtly? :) It’s quite overt. “Sissy,” “bitch,” “slut,” etc., all usually treat femininity as intrinsically submissive.

And it’s not just gendered. Sexually dominant and submissive lingo frequently puts underprivileged (oppressed) populaces in the submissive role while putting privileged populaces in the dominant one. See, for example, “little girl/boy,” which highlights both size and age—youth are arguably the most consistently disadvantaged populace on the planet—or “who’s your daddy,” for the reciprocal perspective. In other words, if “power is an aphrodisiac,” then oppression is a sexual performance enhancing drug.

In my experience, most BDSM’ers like to avoid thinking about this potentially uncomfortable truth because they either think it might ruin their fun or that they’re not complicit in the damage this can cause. But turning a blind eye to this is as idiotic as saying talking about sex (e.g., negotiating) “ruins” the fun of playing or it’s narcissistic to the point of being inhumane. Yes, some BDSM’ers say that and are those things, too, and they’re usually idiots or privileged shits.

Do you mind explaining what you mean by this?

Put another way, the liminal space of “wanting what we don’t want” problematizes dichotomized notions of control to a degree that threatens much of the powerful/powerlessness fantasies intrinsic to most BDSM discourse.

Oh, all I mean is that most BDSM’ers enjoy treating “What It Is That We Do” as a dichotomy of power wherein bottoms/submissives have none (they are powerless) and tops/dominants have all of it (they are powerful), as if it’s all some kind of zero-sum, either/or game. The way the community talks about this (i.e., its discourse) typically fails to acknowledge or delegitimizes situations in which bottoms have power and tops do not (regardless of whether or not they also have “control”).

For instance, “service top” is a vague pejorative in the BDSM community precisely because it threatens the “powerfulness” of a top. Conversely, “do-me bottom” is similar because it threatens the “powerlessness” of a bottom. I think this is why expressing desire in the form of “wanting what I don’t want” is complicated; it problematizes my own fantasy of absolute powerlessness and my top’s absolute powerfulness, which can feel threatening to many ignorant or simple-minded BDSM’ers.

Since so much of the way the BDSM community and, in fairness, contemporary overarching society, couples submission with femininity and femininity with powerlessness, it should come as no surprise that most BDSM’ers are profoundly sexist and, worse, often willfully ignorant of that. Sadly, the petulant self-righteousness with which many of them go about espousing their “lifestyle” can easily obscure a greater understanding of both the problems with and benefits of “The Scene.” They certainly obscured them from me for a long, long time.

I hope that wasn’t too brash a comment for your blog. I think your post was really good.

As is always the case, the best places to see idiocy and inhumane narcissism of the kind I described is to go to the places where idiots and privileged shits talk amongst themselves. The Internet is amazing for this because few people have the technological know-how to shield their internal discourse from prying eyes—not to mention that such shielding is often antithetical to the point of telecommunication in the first place. In this sense, FetLife offers ideal grounds for privileged-shit-spotting, and David Futrelle’s blog Man Boobz consistently offers awesome roundups and priceless quotes from inside the pro-sexism MRA forums.

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