I am currently reading Yes Means Yes, and my favorite chapter (and probably most relevant to this blog) is the chapter on female submission fantasies. I actually thumbed to this chapter when I first picked the book up from the library, and I have been excited to write the post on it since.
The title of the chapter said it all to me the first time I read it: “The Fantasy of ‘Non-Consent’: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t).”
The title captures so many of the feelings I have had since realizing that I love being submissive during sexual encounters. I can definitely be an equal part to sexual decision-making, and can definitely be assertive and enjoy being so, but there is nothing quite like being told what to do or being handled in a way that capitalizes on my submissive side. However, I have felt since realizing all of this that this part of me scares me. What does this mean for how I identify as a feminist? Does this mean I have bought into a culture that says woman are supposed to be submissive and men are supposed to be dominant? Have I internalized a deep sense of sexism, which now turns me on? The last part of the chapter title made me relieved: I shouldn’t be scared of my own desires and fantasies, and I don’t have to be. Thank god.
The central idea of this chapter is similar to Dan Savage’s idea of “suspending disbelief.” I am not really giving up all of my power during a sexual encounter, and I am not really “not consenting” to an encounter. It is more about buying into a fantasy for a short period of time so that I can live out that fantasy in a safe and consensual way.
Stacey May Fowles (author of the chapter) discusses how, in the BDSM community, a “non-consensual” scene has parameters set before the scene is acted out: there are clear boundaries and rules, each person has a role to play, and safe words are set. In this way, a “non-consensual” scene is quite the opposite, and person acting in a submissive role (the one “giving up” all of his/her power) is actually the one holding the power during the scene.
Fowles argues that mainstream porn, as part of a larger rape culture, is partly responsible for the belief among many feminists that the image of a female submissive is horrible: you simply cannot be a feminist and believe that rape is wrong while also believing that female submissiveness can be a consensual part of female sexuality.
I think that if we critically think about our fantasies, accept the fact that our fantasies are influenced the families, schools, religious institutions, and cultures that raised us, and can plan thoughtful fantasies that include clear boundaries and roles for those involved, then those fantasies can be healthy parts of our sexual experience. Which is good news for me, since being submissive is such a turn on for me and a huge part of many of my fantasies. Not only that, but I can still call myself a feminist! 🙂