Feminism and Sexual Submission Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
A Sex Ed(itorial) Column
A meme showed up on my Facebook newsfeed one afternoon a few weeks back.
It was shared by some fuckboy I worked with for about five minutes before he was never seen again, except when sliding into his female former colleagues’ DM’s—which should have been reason enough to keep scrolling past, yet here we are.
The picture was of a young woman. “Preaches feminism,” it said just above her head. And below, “likes bondage.” Accompanying the meme was some type of monologue calling out women who support equal rights but “like to get slapped around” as hypocrites.
If women are going to “complain” about the things feminists get all up in arms about—like the fact that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, or that almost half of murdered women are killed by current or former partners—then they’d better not enjoy a bit of roughness directed their way during sex or they’re full of shit. That was essentially the message of his ever-so-valued input about a woman’s sexuality. Because, clearly, those things are identical.
A few commenters pointed out that enjoying some naughty fun between the sheets is, in fact, completely different from experiencing abuse. “The difference is consent!” one commenter asserted, drawing digital thumbs-up from me and many others.
I agree wholeheartedly with that idea, and I think that the logical argument ends there. Rape and domestic violence are by definition not at all the same thing as enjoying and consenting to being in a position of submission during sex, and there is no correlation between the two. End of story.
But of course, fuckboy didn’t see it that way—how can a woman who likes to have physical force used on her in a sexual context walk around saying that hitting women is wrong? She obviously could not be taken seriously, he asserted.
I know I should’ve moved on, forgetting him and his irrelevant commentary. But I didn’t. It bothered me to reading that post, because I know a lot of people actually believe the things he believes.
Then I realized something: people who think that way, that feminist women cannot also be sexually submissive, probably just think that way because they don’t understand either concept.
And so this is me, after sitting on it for about a month now, retroactively explaining to Mr. Fuckboy what he doesn’t seem to understand.
First, it’s important to know that feminism is about a lot of things, but primarily it promotes political, social and economic equality regardless of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation, etc. It focuses on the issues that affect women, as well as other marginalized people, with the goal of empowering them and helping them achieve equality with privileged groups.
Sexual and domestic abuse are therefore important feminist issues because, though anyone regardless of gender can be the victims of these, they disproportionately affect women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and so on.
But on top of that, feminism is about making sure everyone has the freedom, education and tools required to make their own choices and become the rulers of their own destinies.
This includes, but is certainly not limited to, sexual preferences. Feminists believe that people should have the necessary information and confidence to figure out for themselves independently of society’s imposed constraints what feels good, what turns them on, and how they want to have sex—as long as it’s done between people who are fully informed and consenting.
Therefore, if someone comes to the conclusion that they enjoy being in a submissive role for sex and they want to act out fantasies of submission with a trusted partner, it in no way makes them less of a feminist—in fact, that’s feminist as hell. Feminism supports people owning their sexuality; so it’s not an excuse to start criticizing people who know what they want and actively seek it out.
But perhaps fuckboy’s issue is more with the notion of a feminist, someone supposed to fight for equality, wanting to submit themselves to the whims of another human being, very oftentimes a man?
The thing about submission is, like most other fetishes, it is the complex and unpredictable result of years of lived experience, exposure to all sorts of media, and plain old nature and nurture. And, just like every other fetish, it is a sexual fantasy that for most people in no way dictates how they wish to be treated outside of a sexual setting.
Think about it: just because you like being touched a certain way during sex does not mean that you want people to touch you that way when you’re on the bus, or making dinner, or reading, or doing whatever else. This can’t be repeated enough—consent is the key.
The truth of the matter is that we can’t control what turns us on, and our turn ons usually have nothing to do with how we live our lives. But something we can do is find ways to act out our turn ons in such a manner that is safe, respectful and enjoyable for everyone involved.
For people who enjoy experimenting with a power exchange, that’s where kink comes in. With communication, safe words, discussions about hard & soft limits, people who want to take on a dominant or submissive role during sex can do so in a way that is respectful and mutually beneficial. If you want to learn more about kink and dominant/submissive relationships, this guide is a really great start.
With all these tools at their disposal, people who are interested in being dominated—or dominating—can do so in a way that makes them and those they engage with feel comfortable. The goal is never to actually hurt someone, push someone’s boundaries or to make them feel unsafe.
Submissive feminists aren’t hypocrites. They are people who know what they like, know what they want, and know that their preferences don’t take anything away from their value as human beings.
If you’d like to contribute to the column, send us your questions, comments, stories and thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.