Yesterday, I found my twitter feed buzzing about Katie Roiphe’s lurid Newsweek cover story, “Spanking Goes Mainstream.” And with good reason: much like many members of the Republican Party, Roiphe wants to take us back decades. With a wave of her magic wand, Roiphe imagines away years of sex-positive feminism and instead takes us back to a time when the idea that women have rich, complex sexual fantasy lives was shocking and strange. Suddenly we’re back in 1973, when Nancy Friday published My Secret Garden to much nervous giggling around the Mad Men-esque water coolers of the day.
Dr. Allison Absinthe, a friend of mine from Houston, got frothy about a quote from the article. She replaced a key word to highlight the absurdity — a woman’s sexual fantasies have no bearing on her choice of feminism.
I understand why my friends were so worked up. As if it’s not bad enough that we have to refight battles over reproductive rights, sex education, and contraception we should have won long ago, now women and men are back to defending our right to sexual fantasies. The article focuses entirely on the apparently newsworthy fact that some successful heterosexual women choose to submit to men in the bedroom. It completely ignores the booming demand for professional female dominants, whose clients are primarily men.
And it assumes that political belief and the fight for equality are somehow undermined by these fantasies. Last year, my lover Mizz Honey J wrote “A Feminist Defense of Consensual Nonconsent” for this blog, in which she said:
My sexual activities are not how I define myself. Consensual non-consent is something I enjoy, but it is no more a part of me than my love for my cat or my ability to write fiction. Consensual non-consent and submission are how my id works out the stress that is constantly being dumped on my superego. Allowing myself to let go, having my partner take control over me physically and mentally is an amazing release.
Over on Feministing, Maya’s “What Katie Roiphe Gets Wrong About Fantasies of Sexual Submission” includes this comment:
“Why is it so interesting to surrender?” Seriously, is this even a question? We’re talking about sex. One of the researchers described the fantasies as the “wish to be beyond will, beyond thought?” Who doesn’t have that wish? Or Susan Sontag’s description: “the voluptuous yearning toward the extinction of one’s consciousness?” I mean, this makes sexual submission sound like the BEST THING EVER. Do we even ask men if they have fantasies like that? Because I’m pretty sure they do. I mean, basically I think that women and men are interested in sexual submission because it’s hot.
Let’s consider some C words for a moment: words like consent, control, and choice. No matter how wild our fantasies get, no matter what kinky games we play and how much a part of the BDSM lifestyle we become, a healthy relationship means that all participants have control over and consent in their sex lives. A rape fantasy is not about a desire to be raped; it is wanting to surrender to a chosen lover’s overwhelming desire. None of this would be hot if someone were truly forced into the situation, without consent or choice. A human with a rape fantasy doesn’t want to be raped any more than having sex with a person in a catsuit is committing bestiality.
It is unclear which rock Roiphe is living under since “a woman getting what she wants sexually is very feminist,” Kenney notes. “We all love to play armchair psychologists. But I can say that as a former professional dominatrix, my male clients were sexually submissive for lots of different reasons.” And, contrary to what Roiphe suggests, women are, too.
As Tarrant and many other writers point out, what’s noteworthy is not so much that women continue to have fantasies of submission, but that the mainstream media is highlighting this fact at a time when women’s rights are under attack. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 916 Bills affecting Reproductive Rights were introduced in just one quarter of 2011. Politicians refer to womenas livestock, condemned to breeding the next generation of wage slaves if this the Handmaid’s Tale future comes to pass. Are we to believe that women secretly want this treatment too, because some want to submit to men in the bedroom?
But what sane woman in control of her life would choose such treatment from anyone?
- A Savage Take-Down of Roiphe & Newsweek Editor Tina Brown by Virginia Heffernan
- In a video response, Katie Roiphe says We’re Only Angry Because She Made Us Uncomfortable.