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Sep 27 2005

Fashion Week: The Corset Tightens

I know I promised to complain about tiny handbags today, but something’s come up. Specifically, a nice comment left by Nassoid on yesterday’s Intro To Fashion Week post. So we’ll just clear up this little matter, shall we, and then it’s on to the fluff!

Yep, I was anticipating the argument that, by offering a critique of the influences of patriarchal hegemony on the behavior of women, I am “patronizing” them. What took you so long, Nassoid?

Nassoid, correctly deducing that I take a dim view of the corset-piercing depicted in the post (a photo so disturbing it made at least two commenters cry, so click at your own risk), wonders if I am not doing women a disservice by suggesting that patriarchy denies them “agency.” Women, asserts Nassoid (I paraphrase), are not dumb-bunnies. They are perfectly able to choose what they do with their bodies without any condescension from the spinster aunt camp. “It feels,” she says, “like you’re characterising a vast group of women as mindless consumer drones, rather than people capable of making their own choices, on the basis that you purport to understand their choices better than they themselves do.”

To which I reply, I sympathize, but don’t shoot the messenger. Within a system where males dominate a subordinate female sex class,  women’s agency is extremely limited. Without full human status, “choice” is an illusion.

A brief review: male dominant culture wouldn’t be the superstar it is today without its closely regulated sex class, a class that is rewarded most lavishly when costumed for convenient male titillation. Feminine drag — high heels, corsets, “one-size-slimmer-tummy-technology,” tight jeans, tube tops, push-up bras, miniskirts, pantyhose, handbags et al, as the uniform of the subordinate sex class, identifies (a) a woman’s subordinate status and (b) her degree of sexual availability. To facilitate male titillation, minute variations within this rigidly enforced dress code — say, a pair of red Candies vs. a pair of alligator Manolos — conveniently locate the individual within her particular sexbot caste (in this case, redneck ho vs. summer house in the Hamptons). Thus a horndog can tell at a glance whether his object is easy or expensive or chaste or kinky or straight or hard-to-get or an indie rocker or, I suppose, even a spinster aunt.

In male dominant culture, “kinky” is the most prized of all the sexbot sub-classes. Kinky women express the greatest and most dude-affirming allegiance to male supremacy by their willingness to endure the most pain for the dubious pleasure of gratifying male horndoggitude. The better a woman titillates, the better her fortunes are likely to be, and no woman titillates more successfully than one who enthusiastically embraces sadistic male fetishes. I am aware that the body-mod gang are convinced of the supposed transgressive and rebellious nature of their lifestyle, but corset-piercing — a masochistic riff on a primitive misogynist torture device — can only be construed by this spinster aunt as an example of extreme conformity and obeisance to patriarchal oppression.

Clothing — and I mean all clothing, not just the get-ups people use for sexin’ it up — clothing itself is invested with highly symbolic, connotative qualities that reach vastly beyond its primary function as protection from the elements. These connotations inevitably point to some popular fantasy (damsel, hippie, 18th century poet) or widely recognized caste (art student, small-town Wal-Mart granny). Because every outfit comes preloaded with cultural narrative, clothes cannot possibly proclaim “individuality.” I assert that, because every human specimen who is not an identical twin is already phenotypically and genetically unique right out of the box, clothing serves only to mask one’s natural differences with a display of allegiance, homage, and conformity to the group with which the putative rugged individualist wishes to identify. This is as true of soccer moms as it is of bod-mod chicks. A tattoo doesn’t make you an iconoclast, it makes you one of those people with a tattoo.

I further assert that sadomasochism, which glorifies like no other ism the dominance/submission dynamic, represents the absolute zenithical epitome of patriarchal ideology. Which would be no big whoop if patriarchy were the bee’s knees, but  I further further assert that S&M is a totally bogus practice because patriarchal ideology sucks the bag.

A few of you have wondered what I suggest in terms of the patriarchy-blamer’s value-neutral wardrobe. Sadly, if my hypothesis is correct, such duds do not exist. Feminism cannot seem to counteract the intoxicating effects of male domination. In our culture it is the moral duty of every woman to be “sexy”, and her value remains tied to her success in this painful endeavor. You’re either “sexy” or you’re a schlub. Fucking patriarchy. I blame it, I do.

160 comments

1 ping

  1. Nassoid

    Slightly immature, but hurray I have a post sort of about me, or at least mentioning me! I’m also about to go home, but I (surprisingly) don’t think your argument is entirely fair to my point of view so, work permitting, I’ll try and say something else tomorrow.

  2. Rene

    This whole question of agency has been on my mind a lot lately, and I’ve been hoping that you’d write about Lynndie England, who, as I’m sure you know, was just found guilty. Her defense, such as it was — that she was just some susceptible little idiot in thrall to her Svengali boyfriend — always made me squeamish, and I’m not sure why. I felt a grim satisfaction when she was convicted, even though I realize that she’s just another scapegoat/grunt. Maybe I felt that way because the alternative is worse — that she’s not a sadistic moron, like the rest of the Abu Ghraib crew, but a lovesick robot incapable of thinking for herself? If I were a better feminist, would I have some sympathy for that fucking troll and try to find a way to blame the equally hideous Graney as the embodiment of the patriarchy? I don’t know. I can still blame the patriarchy, of course, because the military couldn’t exist in its current incarnation without it, but I blame Lynndie England, too. Maybe I can’t be a true feminist because I hate people in general.

    Bert is really, really cute, though. Those sly black-rimmed eyes get me every time!

    Rene

  3. norbizness

    Now I remember why I dropped that sociology class back in the day.

  4. WookieMonster

    Blaming the patriarchy seems to me to have a lot to do with seeing the bigger picture. Without considering the causes and consequences of your actions you are merely reacting, not making conscious decisions to act. Fasion as a reactions can feel empowering, but there are all of those unconsidered causes and consequences that are acting like a ground, draining all of your actual power away before it has a chance to harm the patriarchy.

    Deja Pseu quoted this in the last thread, but it bears repeating: “when you find you’re choosing what the patriarchy is pushing, it’s a good thing to sometimes stop and ask yourself why.”

  5. Josef K

    So, Twisty, what do you actually wear? A few commenters asked “so how do you solve the problem?” in response to the most recent post, but my question is less ambitious and more answerable.

    I spent too much time today trying to create an 18th-century man’s costume from charity shop odds and ends, and I’m totally blaming the patriarchy for that crap.

  6. Twisty

    Oh, Lynndie England’s a douchebag, all right, although I don’t think any more so than her Cro-Magnon cohorts. I certainly believe it is possible to be brainwashed by a Svengali, but somehow the notion of England as Graner’s mousy minion doesn’t jive with the exhilaration she expresses in the infamous photo. She clearly is deriving no small satisfaction from her work.

    But really, aren’t all those fuckers in thrall to the military? Aren’t they, in fact, precisely what the military wants? You aren’t going to find too many fine, upstanding, sensitive, hearty American youths who are willing to commit the necessary atrocities.

    The whole Abu gang should be in prison, if you ask me, starting with Bush and Rumsfeld. And what the hell, throw in the Svengaliest of’em all, Karl Rove.

    There’s nothing wrong with a little grim satisfaction in my book. Although, as I discovered in a recent post expressing same with regard to the beheaded Saudi rapists, some people don’t like hearing about it.

    And I speak from experience when I say it is completely possible to be a feminist and hate people in general. I wouldn’t know about being a good feminist, though. I think one of the prerequisites of goodness is, you have to not hate people.

  7. Hissy Cat

    I’m wondering, Twisty, where men who dress sexy for other men fit into all this? I’m with you on the whole fashion-is-not-empowerment deal, but what about gay men who wear fashoinably tight jeans or who cross-dress in high-heels and minis? Where do they fit into the Twisty analysis?

  8. res publica

    What a great post. ‘Because every outfit comes preloaded with cultural narrative, clothes cannot possibly proclaim “individuality.”‘ is precisely what I wish I’d said. Just try and tell someone that, though. I am constantly amazed at how committed people are (still!) to the concept of their own precious specialness as manifested through their clothing, jewelry, tattoos, piercings, and greenish-black lipstick (“Nobody Understands” by MAC). I know you know, too, because you live in Austin, galactic headquarters of the Terminally Different and Misunderstood.

    And as much as today’s glossy, skanky neo-feminists love to ignore it, this is a real issue. As a man, I can just not care about clothes and more or less get away with it. I’m a “technology professional” so people expect me to look like a “dork” anyway, and it’s completely possible to shop only at Target and still look employable, if not totally great. But I suspect that the long-term socioeconomic consequences are rather severe for women who choose not to play dress-up. It depends somewhat on your profession, I suppose. I guess a female truck driver can wear sweats to work every day. On the other hand, places like sales and upper management are heavily oriented toward appearance (specifically, the appearance of being a highly-disciplined-yet-still-nasty sexbot). I don’t know how far you’d get in that world without towing the line. And most workplaces are probably somewhere between. IT is a great example of a double-standard in this regard. There is no female equivalent of the bearded Unix hippie who is excused from wearing deodorant because he’s such an awesome shell programmer. If you see an unshaven, stinky woman in your office, you call security.

    Anyway, I’d also like to express strong agreement with the statement that patriarchal ideology sucks the bag. And I wish I’d said that, too. *sigh*

  9. Hissy Cat

    Also, cute puppy!

  10. Twisty

    In response to the urgent query re: my personal wardrobe, I own eleven incarnations of the same outfit, one of which I wear every day. The Twisty uniform consists of a pair of baggy “men’s” (for the pockets!) hiking shorts made from some technical fabric that air-dries in about 2 minutes and is made out of recycled soda bottles, an organic cotton T-shirt, and a $2 pair of rubber flip-flops. I have it easier than some, I admit, since I neither work in an office nor give a fuck if people want to sleep with me within 30 seconds of meeting me.

  11. Q Grrl

    Hissy Cat: gay men are already empowered within the patriarchal/gendered hierarchy in ways that women aren’t. Gay men dressing up or dressing sexy for other men is, IMO, a completely different paradigm — even if there is a particular power imbalance or dynamic within individual gay relationships, gay men have an ability to step outside of that imbalance in the larger society. It is the inverse for women, if even that.

  12. Twisty

    Poor Norbizness. He only reads this blog for the taco-porn.

  13. res publica

    Hissy: “sexy” is a game that gay men can play for the night. We still get to be fully human adult professionals in the office the next day. It’s no more equivalent to the “sexiness” regime under which women live than is occasional mild bondage-play to actual slavery.

  14. norbizness

    Check that: deviant taco porn, where the top of the taco is sewn shut with black ribbon.

  15. Anonymous Today

    “I further further assert that S&M is a totally bogus practice because patriarchal ideology sucks the bag.”

    Just wondering, Twisty, what you think of S/M when the woman is the dom, or what you think of it when it’s two women?

    I very much agree that patriachal ideology sucks the bag (and everything else). And I try to avoid reading about male-dom S/M because the power balance is rarely separated from from gender roles enough for me to be comfortable with it. (I wonder if that wasn’t Too Much Information.)

    It is *kinda* refreshing though, the looks on the faces of kink-loving (i.e. fantasizing-about-submissive-women) sexist pigs when the object of their fantasies insists on equal time (or all the time) with the whip in *her* hand. You can just *see* the satisfaction drain from their faces.

    *smirk*

    Maybe I shoulda posted this anonymously.

    *considers*

    In fact I will.

    *signs out*

    Hmm . . . is the patriarchy to blame for that, too? For making me uneasy about not being completely vanilla?

  16. Chris Clarke

    Somehow, Norbiz’s kink confession reminds me that I have been meaning to submit this as potential fodder for Twisty’s brilliant antipatriarchal muttering.

    (Not safe-for-work link to disturbing, politically disgusting, and yet metaphorically succinct summation of the whole patriarchy thing with a tie-in to the whole tattoo-S&M fashion trope.)

  17. Twisty

    Hissy, I’m no gay man, but my hypothesis is that gaydude interactions are not ideologically different from straight ones. Everybody pretty much adheres to the same rules for dominance/submission/masculine/feminine. A gay dude in heels is expressing feminine submission. I just don’t see how it could be otherwise. Gay dudes, tell me I’m wrong!

  18. Jodie

    Who knew that space really DOES look like Peter Max artwork? That’s it, I’m applying for astronaut school…is Bert up to teaching yet?

  19. res publica

    Twisty, I’m not sure it’s as simple as that. But that doesn’t mean that gay relationships somehow magically escape the nefarious influence of patriarchy, because they definitely don’t. Sometimes practices like drag can subvert it, though more often than not they reinscribe it. Sometimes there are clearly gendered power-positions in gay relationships, but even when there aren’t, you still have two guys carrying all the bullshit patriarchal baggage every guy grows up with.

  20. antelope

    Yes, men’s outfits tend to be a lot more comfortable (with the exception of neckties, which are horrid), but within any given sub-culture, men’s outfits have a lot less variety than women’s do. And for that matter, men’s permitted range of emotional expression and lifestyle choices within most American sub-cultures have a lot less variety as well.

    On the one hand, this means that they have an easier time figuring out the “right” things to do, which gives them either an appealing self-confidence or a boring rigidity depending on your point of view. On the other hand, they don’t get as much opportunity to play with their identity by looking different and acting different from day to day and situation to situation.

    Maybe there’s not much individuality in any one outfit, but I still feel like the range of stuff that I wear over the course of a month says something about who I am, and that it’s too bad most guys don’t get the chance to play with color, texture, pattern and drape in as many ways.

    BTW, I always make a point of complimenting men on ties that deviate from the norm – even the ugly ones (ugly ties or ugly men, that is) – because at least they’re doing what they can within the context to perk up the scenery a bit.

  21. AB

    I still think Nassoid has a point that wasn’t quite addressed. It seems like a bit of an over-simplification to say that because women are constrained and don’t have complete agency they must have no agency at all.

    I mean, clearly any choice about fashion or body modification cannot be made in a vacuum. But do you have any allowance for women to take that little space for choice they do have and try to fashion a response to patriarchy? Of course the end result will always be influenced by oppression. But to say that there is no difference between women making (constrained) choices that mindlessly accomodate patriachy and women making (constrained) choices that are an attempt to subvert or oppose the patriarchy… is really, really depressing to me.

    I suppose people may be arguing that the only “right” choice that actually opposes patriarchy is to dress/body-mod in the ways that you would choose if we lived in a world with no male oppression. (I don’t necessarily agree that the best path of opposition is to act like the offensive party doesn’t exist, but that’s just my opinion.) I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that what feels profoundly liberating for one woman seems just as profoundly oppressive to another.

  22. Q Grrl

    I think gay men can slip in and out of roles and still maintain their general/class hierarchy over women. Women who may feel like they are playing a “role” when dressing sexy (or practicing S/M) do not have the option of stepping out of the larger, imposed role of being female in a patriarchal society. Women may have the personal agency to be deviant in their personal relationships, but they lack the agency/autonomy to be deviant as a class (currently). So, in essence, personal deviance is not really that per se, as someone (usually male) is to a great extent allowing that deviance to occur for his benefit. If that deviance moves outside of the personal/private into social realms and norms, it is unacceptable [think back to the thread mentioning toplessness in public or breastfeeding].

    A woman may be able to “weild the whip” in an interpersonal relationship with a man, but we have yet to elect a woman president. To me, that’s it in a nutshell.

    Gay men may be able to replicate submissive roles in interpersonal relationships, but their maleness would never prohibit them from becoming president.

  23. fayrene

    Fine, fine. I don’t doubt your correctness, but I think that you discount the impact of exercising what limited agency we DO have in a patriarchy. Maybe choice is an illusion, but I think that I’ll take an illusion of control and limited choice over the alternative, since I can’t quite opt out of living in a patriarcal society. The illusion, it keeps me sane – wazoo intact.

  24. Q Grrl

    Well, so what if you have the choice to dress as you please? What does that mean? What does that choice mean?

    If you are raped while wearing something that you chose out of your personal agency, what does that agency amount to when what you are wearing is more important than the fact that a man raped you?

    If you are a college educated women vying for a top-level administrative job you can choose what you wear to an interview… but what if your agency costs you the job, especially when your male counterparts only have to choose between the grey, the black, or the blue suit? What if you have to tour a planning site, or a hospital and your male counterparts are in (very) comfortable wingtips, and your fashion choice has you in 2 inch heels — and the men get tired of slowing down for you? The men certainly aren’t going to think that you are expressing agency: They’re going to think that *all* women are incapable of filling the job you have.

  25. Tony Patti

    I see a big difference between an uniformed choice and an informed choice when it comes to fashion. I’m still bewildered by the earnest need to somehow solve this unsolvable problem. I can only see individual solutions, like Twisty freeing herself from any need to deal with it in her own life.

    This is what I wish for the women of the world: A male’s sense of privilege; in this case, the ability to not care too much what you look like and a certain fatalistic attitude towards the somewhat false or completely false and therefore subversive and fun personas and ideology you are forced to choose from whenever you make a choice about fashion.

    Even in male fashions you have this consumer-culture glut of choices out there. Reducing the anxiety imposed by patriarchal assumptions would be one positive action to take.

  26. magikmama

    If fashion was “just a choice” there would be no seperate clothing policies at workplaces for men and women.

    Our dress code at work is “Men: Hair should be clean and neatly styled. Hats and dreadlocks are not allowed. Shirts should have collars and be of muted color. Ties are per your supervisor.Pants should fit tailored, ie not baggy or tight. Shoes should be dress (no sneakers or sandals.) Jewelry should be minimal. Facial piercings and visible tattoos are not allowed. Any other questions should be directed to your supervisor. Remember: these are minimal requirements, your department may have different requirements.

    Women: Hair should be clean and neatly styled. Hair color must be within a natural range. Hats, scarves and dreadlocks are not allowed. Hairstyles should be considered conservative. Shirts must have sleeves, and necklines should be no lower than an inch below the collar bone. Dress slacks are acceptable, but skirts should be worn when meeting with high-level visitors and foreign dignataries. Pantyhose must be worn when wearing skirts. Shoes should be of conservative style and dressy. Sneakers, flat sandals and ballet-style flats are not allowed. Oxford type shoes must be leather and have a heel. Heels should be no higher than 2 inches. Makeup is required. Makeup should be considered “tasteful.” Jewelry should be kept minimal. Visible piercings other than ears are not allowed. Visible tattoos are not allowed. Any questions should be directed to your supervisor. Remeber: these are minimal requirements, your department may have different policies.

    For your enlightenment – I want you to count how many more requirements women have, and how many more restrictions than men.

    Counted yet?
    Requirements: Men(5) vs Women(12)
    Restrictions: Men(2) vs Women(7)

    But fashion isn’t part of the patriarchy? Why the hell should my wardrobe have to have an entire extra set of clothes just in case I have to meet with a high-level visitor (congressperson, chairperson of another company) or foreign dignitary? Sure, you could justify it that men would have to wear suitcoats, but that’s just an extra part of A OUTFIT THEY ALREADY OWN. But if I want to be a pants-wearing rebel, then I damn well better own a skirt, just in case. And panty hose.

    Also – why the hell should I have to wear makeup? And then I have to go about figuring out what you folks mean by tasteful??? What the hell is up here? And then, the 5 sentences about shoes. Cause god forbid a women wears shoes she could actually walk quickly in without risking a broken neck. Argh.

  27. WeaverRose

    Twisty, you are so right about clothes carrying all kinds of identity information and that the range of identities permitted for women is very limited.

    An experience that was revelatory for me was going to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where about 8,000 women live in community for a week and clothes are optional. I realized for the first time that our bodies are as unique as our faces and that clothes make us all look much more alike and uniform. Like the old makup advertisements in magazines that filled two pages with “before” and “after” makover pictures. All the “after” pictures made the women look more glamorous (according to the rules of glam) but also much more alike and uniform.

    I can’t imagine what life would be like if our clothes were protective and decorative without the sexism.

  28. Q Grrl

    Magikmama: can the women wear the men’s required clothing? What about the dykes in the workplace?

  29. AB

    Q Grrl, I think you’re misinterpreting what I meant. I’m not one of the people that believes the point of feminism is to give women more choice. In fact, sometimes it makes me want to punch myself in the face whilst arguing with another woman who defends every patriarchy-upholding action she does with “but it’s my choice.”

    The point of feminism to oppose patriarchy.

    What I’m arguing is that it seems problematic to me to look at a woman who is acting in a way she understands as subverting patriarchy and to proclaim she’s wrong.

  30. Hissy Cat

    Thank you for all the thoughtful answers to my previous question.

    What I’m still having a hard time to square away, though, (sorry if I’m leading this too far off-topic) is this idea that gay men who dress drag or femme are just playing dress-up and can always take the costume off and effortlessly step back into a patriarchal privledge. What I am thinking about in particular are “feminine” mannerisms that are like fashion in that they display certain appearances of sexuality and gender for the world to see but are unlike fashion (at least in the narrow sense, by which I mean clothes) in that they cannot be taken off.

    It seems to me that some people really do experience dress, etc. as a very real, sometimes unalterable part of themselves. Even if I think, in theory, that fashion is a crock, when I imagine myself telling this to a friend of mine who is (FTM) transgendered, it feels so intuitively wrong. For him, and for others, presenting and dressing a certain way is not something he can (or would want to) easily step out of.

    So I guess I’m just wondering where all this fits in. I agree that choice in terms of what you buy and wear does not amount to very much in terms of power– and that there is no really “radical” choice one can make. On the other hand, there are ways of presenting (through clothing and otherwise) that do seem to upset people enough to make me think that dress can have some force of meaning behind it if not the force of power.

    Sigh. . .I guess I’m not the advanced patriarchy blamer I’d like to believe. . .

  31. Q Grrl

    “when I imagine myself telling this to a friend of mine who is (FTM) transgendered, it feels so intuitively wrong. For him, and for others, presenting and dressing a certain way is not something he can (or would want to) easily step out of.

    I disagree. It *is* something that he can easily step out of. Just once he’s done so, he loses all privilege associated with appearing male/masculine in this society. Once again he is perceived as female; which was probably the crux of his personal issue in the first place. [I say that b/c you said transgendered, not transsexual].

    That alone says something: that a masculine-dressed women is acceptable on the condition that she denies her femaleness and transgresses to become the opposite gender. What about dykes (or other women) who work for majikmama’s company who neither wish to wear make-up or subordinate themselves to visiting dignitaries (or whatever) by wearing skirts/hose? Why is it more socially acceptable for a woman to deny being female in order to access male power/male accoutrements/male dress, than for the average woman to just do so? Where is women’s choice if they cant’ chose the same things that men can?

    … not that I’m advocating neckties and 3-piece suits for women!

  32. res publica

    It’s interesting how much work comes up in this conversation. The “world of work” is like 99.98% “other bullshit” and .02% “getting stuff done”. I mean…that dress code that someone posted above blew my mind. I can see a company requiring people to dress professionally, but how can you require a woman to wear a skirt? Isn’t that against the law? What possible defense could you rationally mount for such a practice? “Your honor, it is vital to our firm’s bottom line that high-level visitors and foreign dignitaries have at least theoretical access to the vaginas of our female employees at all times.” If the high-level visitor is a woman, does she have to wear a skirt too?

  33. Twisty

    Dang, that dress code blew my mind, too. Holy bias-cut dupioni!

  34. emjaybee

    Magikmama, I think the mandatory makeup thing is definitely the worst; what if your skin is highly intolerant of the processed chemicals and bat guano (yes! in many products, bat guano) that makeup is made of? I would fight that one. And at my old job I got my supervisor to let me wear knee highs and long skirts because I hated pantyhose so much. Not that that was really a victory–and I caught heat from other women for it too, they would get angry at my “special privileges.” One woman dared to wear a denim skirt one day…she was ratted out and sent home within 2 hours. God forbid anyone get away with anything. We all resented the rules for women’s dress so much in that place, I think it made everyone a little crazy.

    effing dress codes. I’m so glad they don’t have them where I am now.

    And I buy men’s shorts for the pockets too! So handy! Men’s swim trunks with a girl top are a hell of a lot better for swimming also, and require no Brazilian to wear.

  35. Megan Good

    Regarding BDSM:

    I have a hard time believing that women like Mistress Matisse are just pawns of the patriarchy. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions here about BDSM. Without going into a lecture, I don’t see much of a power descrepency–especially when physical pain is involved. The person on the recieving end has quite a bit of control on what’s going on. With a bit of research, I think you’d find that a lot of people involved in BDSM are about as assertive, feminist, and powerful (all of them, not just the tops) as you can get.

  36. Q Grrl

    Yeah, but once outside the bedroom, that power is meaningless.

  37. Hissy Cat

    Q Grrl:

    I think I may have got transsexual and transgendered mixed up. I’m not sure which I meant. I’m a dofus.

    In any case, it would be innacurate to say of the friend I referred to that he now has all the privledge of appearing masculine. He has all the privledge of appearing very trans, which is to say, not much.

    And I guess this actually speaks very much to the stumbling blocks that I encounter when I follow the all fashion = patriarchy reasoning down its narrowest path. I think that there are permuations that aren’t accounted for in that analysis.

    I don’t want to be rude, but I have to say it. Q Grrl, I really respect you and appreciate what you are saying, but I believe you are out of line when you make assumptions about the “personal issues” of someone you don’t know.

  38. Q Grrl

    FTR: I didn’t mean personal issue in the typical snarky way. I meant, that if this person wasn’t transsexual, that it would logically follow that it was a personal issue with being gendered as “female” that bothered him enough to switch genders [or better phrased: transgress out of the female gender]. By saying that he can’t easily wear overtly masculine clothes kinda hides the politics of what he is doing. Yes, clothes could be chosen, but because clothes are so heavily gendered, only a narrow option is available if he wants to appear as a male/masculine-gendered individual.

    I guess I’m speaking in generalities — and am not trying to speak for your friend.

    I still think it is highly relevant in today’s society that it is *more* readily acceptable to apparently switch genders than it is for an individual to breach gendered conduct. I also come from a POV that gender is not a personal thing/entity/choice but is superimposed on our lives by patriarchal structures.

    I don’t know if that clears things up or not. How is it relevant to fashion? … I might have to backtrack again on that.

  39. Q Grrl

    wait, that should read: “he can’t easily wear anything but overtly masculine clothes”

  40. magikmama

    Actually, thanks to the lovely courtcase in which the Nevada supreme court decided that a “seperate-but-equal” rule allowed employers to require their female employees to wear makeup as long as their male employees were forbidden to do so would probably be able to be used as precedent to argue this. Link http://www.alternet.org/story/20963/

    The reasoning behind the skirt thing is that most foreign dignitaries who visit are from the following countries: India, Saudi Arabia, China, Singapore, Japan, Dubai, Mexico, Brazil and Italy. Otherwise known as The Still Blantantly Misogynist Alliance.

    Apparently, not offending them is more important than the comfort and security of their female employees. Of course, I work in the finance industry, which is one of the most sexist industries around. Sure, there are one or two women in high positions – but they are all divorced or never-married, and NONE of them have kids. Not only that, but they still are always in charge of HR or Accounting. Nope, no women above supervisor in sales, marketing or legal – the three departments all prior CEOs have come from.

    But we’re an equal opportunity employer. Argh.

  41. Hissy Cat

    Thanks for the clarification, Q Grrl.

    I think that, actually, I agree with you that fashion choices are severely constrained by gender. I guess I was using fashion in a broader way to mean how people present themselves to look. That’s an awkward definition, and not exactly what I meant either. Oh well.

    Anyway, I gues I was thinking that when it was said that fashion choice doesn’t amount to much I was thinking that it meant that even choosing to wear, say, men’s clothes, was unmeaningful, but I don’t think that’s what you were saying. I may still be confused.

    But I think you are spot-on about how deeply uncomfortable people are with breaches of gendered consuction. My Kansas City friend talked about how when she would be out with her girlfriend she didn’t get harassed but her very butch girlfriend did, even though they were both obviously lesbians in a publicly hand-holding couple. I would disagree that switching genders avoids this; trans people as well as lots of other people who look in some ways like women and in other ways like men upset some people because in being ambigusouly gendered, trans people are a conundrum for anyone who wishes to keep people ordered in two classes with two different standards of conducts and scripts for interacting. People get really frazzled and crazy when someone or something they meet does not conform to their world view.

  42. res publica

    I don’t buy the whole pants-as-cultural-offender argument. Pants actually cover MORE of the body than pretty much any skirt that anyone has worn since 1929. You’d think that coverage-obsessed godbags would be all about the lady-pants. I can also think of several good reasons why we would ALL want to wear airy linen caftans, which would be both relatively modest AND comfortable (especially since it’s 103 degrees outside right now). But we all know that no one would go for that. Skirts are something VERY different from robes or tunics. I maintain my stance that skirts are really about symbolic vagina-access.

  43. Mandos

    Wow I got on the Twisty front page too! Now I just have to start blogging again so that I can actually earn a delicious link. So, so lazy.

    But I still doubt Twisty’s necessary connection between patriarchy and dominance. Dominance is simply the logical outcropping of greed. In a sense it’s prior to patriarchy. I mean, it’s prior to any -archy in general. That’s why we call it -archy.

    Similarly Twisty implicitly connect group-belonging (and hence fashion) to patriarchy by way of dominance. But I also doubt the necessary connection between group-belonging and dominance. Lots of things go into group belonging. Like, for instance, the desire for insurance against personal calamity.

  44. Liz

    Why does Majikmama’s workplace forbid women to wear scarves, but not men? Do they mean the scarf you wear around your neck when it’s windy? Or the scarf you wear over your head when you’re a muslim? Does that mean muslims are forbidden in majikmama’s workplace, but only because of the dress code? That’s like the old favorite that “it’s not that we don’t want women in [insert occupation] but it’s just that we don’t have the toilet facilities”, ie, bogus.

    Politicians here in Australia recently tried to forbid girls to wear head-scarves in government funded schools. The feisty muslim girls wrote to the papers saying “my headscarf is my own business, and being ‘liberated’ from a cultural dress code by a woman politician wearing make-up and high heels is deeply ironic”.

  45. magikmama

    You know – I never even thought of the scarf issue that way. I always thought of it as in the way I’ve always worn scarves sort of kirchief style to cover really greasy hair – usually a bandana actually. I think I have seen a couple of women wear the muslim headscarf at my work, but they are all in the telecom department, which means they never get seen by anyone other than employees.

    Res – I totally agree with you. I was just stating my company’s “official” aka “cover our ass” stance. The wearing of the skirt, especially since it is pretty universally a shorter-than-knee-length ally mcbeal sort of skirt, is ALL about the pussy availability. It’s also why whenever it is a skirt day, I wear an ankle length black wool skirt with at least 3 petticoats under it and very dress black boots (no pantyhose for me, suckers.) Ok – this is also because they keep my building at about 20 degrees f. But mostly because I like frustrating the people I work with in general by specifically following their rules without following the unwritten ones they can’t formally enforce.

    Plus, I’m quitting in another year once I start my junior year. Anyone know any good feminist social work program in/near chicago looking for interns circa fall 2006? I’ll be a dedicated junior in a social work bachelor’s program with more than a decade of volunteer experience….

  46. mcmc

    Couple of things–What creeps me out about that photo is the vulnerability to injury of the person wearing that ribbon. Ugh! Nobody in the world I trust that much.

    I still would like to hear what people think about female doms.

    I’d also like to know where majikmama works–I’m mired in the financial industry as well, and I wear no makeup and got through the summer in my personal uniform of black pants, white shirts and tevas (on account of my broken toes).

    I guess I’m the female equivalent of the hippie tech guy, as I have particular skills and am definitely not on a management track. However, as far as I can see, the clothing rules are pretty similar for both men and women on that track, if you accept an equivalence between pantyhose and neckties as the price each gender must pay for club membership.

    Anyone interested in climbing above the admin level definitely mutes the sexuality of her attire. there are no chanel/manolo hotties here. Yet hell will freeze over a couple of times before there’s a female ceo here, is my guess.

  47. Twisty

    I can appreciate your chicken-or-the-egg position on patriarchy and dominance, Mandos, and will be pondering this interesting idea in future, but I have to say that for the discussion at hand, the point is sorta moot. I mean, whatever its origins, at this moment patriarchy sez, to women, to brown people, to homos et al: “go one down or I will kick your ass.” Surely you aren’t arguing that patriarchy isn’t modeled on dominance/submission?

  48. ripley

    I think this is a fascinating discussion, but I’m still confused by some of it

    Twisty, it sounds like your ultimate conclusion is “nobody can escape, regardless of how they dress, but some people are still worse or more duped”

    so all the criticism is going towards femmey women, or sexy-dressing women, but then, even if you don’t dress that way you are still affirming those patriarchal norms.

    So is it the fact that the femmey/sexy women *think* they’re being individualistic that’s so bad? because they are denying it?

    Also, some of the comments sound like they are blaming women who dress sexy for patriarchal harassment of women – i.e. by supporting the fashion patriarchy they in some sense deserve or incite what they get? or am I missing something? Q girl, why are you focusing on the fashion and not the man raping, in the example you give?

    Following on that, what is the effect of conforming to fashion? (this is different from what you think it symbolises). Do you think there is a way to mitigate it?

    and if our aesthetics are inextricable from patriarchy, and there’s no way to escape, and some of us get pleasure from wearing certain things (in my case, that I don’t *think* are simply because I want to please a man, but feel free to tell me I’m wrong about that).. then how are we to give ourselves aesthetic pleasure? or is the entire visual side of our participation in society so corrupted that we should give it all a miss?

  49. d.e.i.x.i.s.

    +++ I am constantly amazed at how committed people are (still!) to the concept of their own precious specialness as manifested through their clothing, jewelry, tattoos, piercings… +++

    Oh, no. I have absolutely no delusions about my gay ass little subkulture style. When non-scene people tell me that it’s so unique, I’m just like fuck you– I get the overwhelming majority of my garments from totally mainstream retailers, I just get them in black. Even my purple hair comes from a box o’ Garnier. My tattoos are different than everyone else’s, but that’s about the extent of it. I am not special.

    Anyway, thank the lard Megan Good stepped in– if one more person said ‘SM’ I was going to spaz. And going back to corset piercings, I actually read a really touching story that I was thankfully able to find again. This girl had it done [with 38 rings, no less!] to emotionally reclaim her body after sexual abuse. Story: http://www.bmezine.com/ritual/A30517/ritpulli.html

    Interesting fact: do a google image search for corset piercing & the second result is the girl I know!

  50. antelope

    One thing I’m surprised no one has addressed yet is that it’s really only a very small group of men who even have the ability to notice the kinds of stylistic differences that seem to matter so much to the fashion industry. Guys know what’s in style in a general way. Women who care about fashion know what’s in style to the month and they know appropriate hemlines to the inch.

    Most of the noticing and approving or disapproving of women’s dress is done by other women. My frumpier women friends and my flashier women friends all agree that it is women who will notice, and women that you want compliments from, when you wear whatever is your version of “something nice.” Ditto for hairstyles.

    I’m not saying the patriarcy isn’t involved here, just that I think the women who really, truly think of themselves as dressing for the male gaze are either a very small group, or maybe they’re just much younger than me & I don’t end up talking to them much.

    If the insane swiftness of trends were to suddenly slow down fivefold, I think most men wouldn’t even notice.

    I think fashion, as we know it, is about brainwashing people for the sake of capitalism moreso than for the sake of patriarchy. Of course, they’re often so close they could piss through a straw together, but I still think it comes down more heavily on that side.

    Who was it that said, “capitalism is the tendency to treat people like things, and to care for things like people”?

  51. Aaron

    S&M is totally not rebellious or transgressive or whatnot. It’s incredibly patriarchal, even when it’s a woman dominating a man. Bizzarely enough, the misogynistic sucky band Puddle Of Mudd stumbled onto the truth of this with their lyric: “I love the way you look at me, I love the way you smack my ass…. now that I have control of you.” It’s ultimately men who benefit, whether their fetish is for having their ass smacked or for smacking someone else’s ass.

  52. robin

    What y’all said..
    yeah.

  53. Kyra

    “But mostly because I like frustrating the people I work with in general by specifically following their rules without following the unwritten ones they can’t formally enforce.”

    I love doing that. My favorite is, when makeup is required, to put it on badly, so it’s obvious and unflattering. Blush on the wrong parts of my cheeks, too much eyeshadow (or badly asymetrical eyeshadow), lipstick that doesn’t match the eyeshadow and doesn’t properly follow the contours of my lips, etc. It certainly ruins the effect they’re looking for, and they can’t really call me on it.

    Magikmama, you might be able to try (once) wearing flat sandals along with a stretch bandage wrapped around one ankle, like it’s been sprained. Tell everyone you fell off your high heels.

    I recall some anecdote some time ago about a woman in the 60′s or 70′s going to be married in a city hall with a Justice of the Peace presiding, and she wore a nice, dressy, tasteful white pantsuit, and the JOP refused to let her get married in pants. So they came back a little while later, with her wearing the a very trashy, filthy outfit with a skirt, and that was just fine.

    If I wear high heels, I spend the whole time tottering around in them; there’s not a step I take that I’m not very aware of the ease with which I could sprain my ankle. And that’s the ones with the big clunky heels. I cannot even balance in stilettos.

  54. Nancy M

    There is no female equivalent of the bearded Unix hippie who is excused from wearing deodorant because he’s such an awesome shell programmer. If you see an unshaven, stinky woman in your office, you call security.

    Res Publica, congratulations on encapsulation of the primary patriarchal reaction to a woman who will not submit.
    Witches and their treatment is no historical blip on the radar; if you will not hurt yourself to look submissive then men in charge will do the hurting for you. I know because I’ve been a non self-hurting clothes wearer since the scales fell from my eyes when I turned 25.

    For protection from the sun and for going out in the world, I have an unvarying black or dark blue uniform of self-made loose trousers with big enough pockets, and pull-on shirts. Just as long as it’s loose enough it doesn’t really matter what fibre the material is made of. In the cold, I add a jacket of that most wonderful material innovation – fleece made from recycled plastic. I admire the ingenuity of modern materials chemists and am always interested in finding new stuff to sew.
    Why dark rather than light tones for a mediterranean climate summer?
    Look up the physics of black body radiation.
    All the above is for a life of occasional outside work together with around 6 hours during daylight of inside work.
    If I was an outside worker then I would wear much different stuff.
    The footwear is a no-brainer: Dunlop Volleys. The quintessential Australian work boot. Men’s because of course the women’s are cripplingly too narrow.
    I wash and groom well enough to be in the same room with others.

    But come into my house and you’ll find I can’t resist making jewels out of les meubles. Currently the sofa is wearing some de-lustred polyester satin of a peach and wine flavour and the pillows are lime and tangerine.
    The grand joanna has a lovely fringed shawl glittering around her robust legs and my students cower on a bench needleworked with a 7 colour tapestry.

    So I get to see the rainbow I want to see, not wear it for other eyes.

    Meanwhile, out on the high street, everyone’s idea of self-expression is a nauseating cacophany.

    Nobody said I had to be a nice old lady did they?

  55. binky

    There is no female equivalent of the bearded Unix hippie who is excused from wearing deodorant because he’s such an awesome shell programmer.

    Not even “the academic female?” We (academics in general) revel in our lack of fashion sense. One of the things I love about academia (when there’s so much to love to hate) is that you can roll in as rumpled as you want, wearing something that pretty much looks like jammies or like you slept in it even though it wasn’t jammies, and it’s a good thing. The whole “oh ho ho, they are so busy thinking deep thoughts they didn’t have time to look in the mirror” thing works great. Getting to wear mens’ levis and men’s shirts (cheaper than girl gear) and walk around covered in chalk with hair like Einstein – i.e. looking like the rest of the professoriate – is priceless.

  56. Xavier Harkonnen

    Yes, the academic female. I’ve always gone for nerdy types who wear little or no makeup and who some guys would call plain. I disagree with the plainness claim. They are beautiful in an atypical way, a way that radiates a lack of affect and self-consciousness. Actually, the most “plain” women are the ones that are considered beautiful by most. In an experiment cited in my social psych textbook, scientists took a composite of many female faces and showed them to men, along with the individual faces that made the composite. It turned out that the men preferred the composite over all or most of the actual female faces. The most AVERAGE was the most beautiful. Blech.

  57. ae

    Re: BDSM, the power to say ‘no’ in a controlled environment (which replicates the dominant patriarchal paradigm of dominance/submission), is not the issue. We all know this power to say ‘no’ does not extend into the real world. DEIXIS’s example of the woman who mutilated herself to “reclaim her body” from rape illustrates this quite clearly: a violation that is the most brutal literal expression of the dominance/submission that undergirds patriarchy, then a secondary mutilation to counteract the psychic and physical horror of the first violation.

    In both instances her body is ravaged (or, at the very least, pained), and are we to believe her response to the patriarchy’s abuse of her, her “control” over her own body — that is, control to cut it, hurt it, mutilate it — provides a psychic salve that is patriarchy-free?

    I do not deny the very real psychological drive toward hurtful “self-defensive” measures, but I maintain that these “defenses”, or, if you prefer, transgressions, are doing the patriarchy’s work for it. The patriarchy’s planted the seed of boundary-less, trespassed-upon, indefensible female bodies, and here so many of us scramble to show that two can play that game, and we can undermine our physical integrity, too.

    Even if the “kinkster”‘s intention is to make a body that challenges patriarchal norms w/ mutilations, etc., it does the patriarchy’s bidding by reinforcing that women’s bodies are about adornment, pain, sacrifice, and sexual exhibition, all in the service of a “freedom” from norms associated w/ adornment, pain, sacrifice, and sexual exhibition.

    I ask simply: why does women’s physical integrity, as expressed by (some) women (in some circumstances), so often mirror women’s lack of physical integrity as expressed by the dominant culture? Where is this mythical realm in which we are free to create our own rules, according to our own desires, in which our expressions, logically valued, are not what they seem but what we say they are? I’d love to visit.

  58. anon coder

    whatthe? do not adjust your sets

  59. clew

    Antelope, I think the fleeting trends are to distract women from the underlying grim constant of the sex class. Well, also for capitalism, yeah.

  60. clew

    Oops; I thought I opened that with an italic-closer.

  61. Josef K

    Res Publica, I know many female computer programmers who wear whatever the f*** they want, coming into work in baggy jumpers, long hippy skirts, miniskirts, PVC catsuits, whatever. One of them also has BO. I guess this is because they’re shut away from “the public”, who might be offended otherwise.

    Twisty, many thanks for your prompt response re: re: regarding my urgent query obligingly accordingly. I wear very similar things every day too.

  62. BritGirlSF

    A question about the BSDM issue – you are aware that not all women involved in that scene are subs, right? And you are also aware that some of us actually enjoy the practise? I’m not saying for a moment that the practise is not related to patriarchy (indeed, what isn’t related to patriarchy?), but I’m also not convinced that the possibility for geunine subversion of the paradigm is impossible.
    Interestingly enough though, I was very much involved in that scene as a young ‘un and was very definately a dom only. And, even though I’m bi, I had no desire to interact with female subs. The stench of patriarchy was just too strong, and it freaked me out. The one time I tried the sub thing I ended up throwing the gentleman in question out of my apartment in the middle of the night (in London, in winter) and wouldn’t let him back in until he begged forgiveness for ever suggesting such a thing. So, I can totally understand why the BSDM scene sets off the old patriarchy-blaming bullshit detectors, but what about all the happy female doms?

  63. BitingBeaver

    I’ll go ahead and throw in my two cents on the Female/Dom question.

    The problem with the female Dom setup, and the reason that it is inherently Patriarchal is due to several reasons. The first being that (most) female doms are still relegated to being the sex-class. When a woman, in a leather corset, a thong and thigh-high stiletto boots is spanking a man it’s not a WOMAN spanking the man, rather it’s a VAGINA spanking the man. Confused? I’ll explain.

    Her sex becomes the weapon. She is clearly female, and she is still dressed to titilate the male in question. Her clothing alone shows us that she is working on the Patriarchy’s behalf. She becomes the embodiment of a Vagina. Her ‘femininity’ is pushed to the limits. Overly female, aggressive etc. Her sexuality (as seen by male eyes) is overdone to the point of silliness. She is playing out the idea that so many men have that women are all vengeful, spiteful, dangerous creatures. That women use their sexuality to inflict pain.

    When sex is involved Patriarchy is involved. For those who would say “Wait a minute! BDSM isn’t even about sex, it’s about power exchange!” I say horseshit. BDSM is all about sex, if it weren’t then female doms could just as easily be the middle school lunchroom lady with a hairnet and the false teeth. But no, when men think about female doms they picture the corset wearing, whip wielding, DD breasted, porn star (though, probably with dark hair instead of light) It’s the Virgin/Whore syndrome.

    The woman has no ‘true’ power, because, most of the time, she’s only doing what the man wants her to do. What HE views as acceptable behavior. If he gets off to being flogged with a vibrator that’s what she’s doing. She may throw a few things in that are of her own making, but if it gets unpleasant for the man (even if that involves something as harmless as rubbing ice over his body) then it stops, immediately, no questions asked.

    Would we say that an actress who is given her lines, is told what is acceptable to say, is given her costume, and who is only allowed to perform certain actions lest the director yell “Cut!”, has all the power? Or would we say that the director is the one wielding the power?

    Wow, there’s so many other aspects to this and I’m not going to clutter up Twisty’s blog to list them all. Hmmm, sounds like I need to get hopping and pull a post together on this myself, for my blog.

    Excellent discussion folks!(btw, please, please, please, forgive any and all typos! I’m still chugging coffee to get the ol’ blood flowing *grin*)

  64. binky

    A thousand pardons. All the italicization was my fault for forgetting a close italics tag in the middle of an insomniac post.

    XH, men might prefer the female faces sans makeup, but if we follow that as our guide, then we are still looking unmade as a choice to please men. This is the opposite of being able to look vaguely homeless (as most of my peers do) and not care what others think. There is some level of patriarchy blaming that should go on even in relation to the academic scruff, as of course, it is a boys’ club look and if one is more stereotypically female in attire, one might not be taken as seriously (or taken with a nice classist and sexist set of assumptions, to be a secretary).

    On the S&M front, I am also ambivalent that it must be always about male dominance. It certainly can be about male dominance, but people in the community have come a long way in stressing the equality of consent and value of both partners. Frankly, I’ve met some people in the leather community who have much more equal relationships and more, ah, balanced and consensual sex practices than most married people, precisely because their negotiation of scenes requires full communication and trust, not to mention absolute respect and equality. It’s hard to know what proportion of the community falls into which category, I suppose, but I would imagine that the “equal” dom/subs (ah, linguistic cognitive dissonance) are a larger group than one might initially suspect. But, my opinion is likely colored by the fact that my education to the scene was from radical feminist lesbians.

  65. Nassoid

    So you don’t feel that any kind of resistance or reinscription of patriarchal norms is possible? What about the idea of a kind of parallel to the reclamation of hate words amongst queer communities?
    I’d say it’s pretty uncontroversial that the way that patriarchal norms and controls operate has altered substantially since, say, 1800: doesn’t the fact that the woman in a short skirt and heels can also vote, wields consumer power etc. alter the way that norms or controls function? If you think patriarchal norms\control have been changed or fought back at all- and I’d say it’s pretty hard to say that they’ve just metastasized and we’re all as subjugated as women of the 19th Century- then isn’t it possible that some of how women choose to express themselves nowadays is a product of authentic choice rather than patriarchal control?

  66. Finn

    Blaming the patriarchy is sometimes meticulous business. And I couldn’t begin to speak for Twisty, but… isn’t it true that:

    It’s not about whether all acts of S&M are a type of male dominance. (They’re not.)

    Isn’t the question actually whether male dominated society as an environment actually creates the need for S&M fantasies?

    In other words, if society was not male-dominated, we wouldn’t have a need for S&M. The suggestion is that S&M is a reaction to and/or a result of patriarchy. That much, I could be convinced to believe as true.

  67. Nassoid

    With BDSM it’s a negotiated power exchange and even if that negotiation does not extend to the rest of the world it’s still a space that offers a different take on power relations. Irrespective of whether you believe that what is then done is problematic, you still have a situation whereby the woman and man (assuming it’s not queer kink) are forced to recognize each other as equal partners in the discussion. That negotiation is going to be overlain by patriarchal and gender stereotypes but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still a culture and setup that requires that the woman be recognised as a person with her own subjectivity and desires, which would seem to be a distinctly anti-patriarchal assumption.
    What I found really noticeably absent from Bitingbeaver’s discussion of BDSM was any sense that the female Dom might be getting off on what she’s doing. Similarly, in AE’s post, there’s no sense that maybe the person being pierced or playing with the boundaries of her body in an environment that’s safe and that allows calculated and willed intrusions into bodily integrity is actually taking pleasure or enjoyment from what’s done. Even where that pleasure is a result of behaviour that appears to reinforce patriarchal norms (and I’m a little sceptical that BDSM can be simply represented as doing so) the fact that it has been chosen and negotiated rather than imposed on a person means that it’s pretty unclear that the whole patriarchal paradigm is operating.
    Also, mutilated is a pretty emotive term, and one that’s been thrown around (mostly on the other thread) in a way that’s fairly awkward, perhaps we could adopt a less value laden term (altered?)

  68. Q Grrl

    If a man is consenting to being dominated by a woman, then there is no true domination. The consent kills it. He knows that at any time he can walk out the door, no? Even if he is restrained for mutliple hours or days, the social conditioning of women will preclude the mixing of sexual fantasy and actual murder. Which is quite opposite of the social condition of the average male, which does incorporate both sexual fantasy and murder into one tidy little package.

    It is similar to men arguing that some women fantasize about rape. The reality is that it is *impossible* to fantasize rape, because as soon as you do, you are giving consent (even if it is just happening in your mind). Men, as the rapists, can fatasize about rape. Women, as the raped, cannot.

  69. Finn

    >If a man is consenting to being dominated by a woman, then there is no true domination.<

    That seems like a valid point.

    But, to attempt to get even closer to the bottom line…

    The concept of dominating someone physically is inherantly patriarchal in nature, due to the historical fact of male size superiority. So, whether it’s a woman or a man doing the dominating in the role playing or fantasizing, they’re still taking on the role of a patriarch.

    Mental domination, now that’s a different story for a different day…

  70. Ripley

    I think the issue of consent in S&M scenes is more complex

    because many people never seriously explore exactly what they enjoy and what they don’t enjoy, in so-called normal sex. Instead they go on whatever it is they learned from society, plus accidents. I know many women still do not have orgasms (even though they want them), in this day and age.

    While most people I know into more complex and supposedly artificial sexual role-playing, have thought extensively and seriously about what they do and do not like, and also come up with and agreed on basic ground rules for feeling safe, for stopping what’s happening if they need to, etc.

    I find this impressive, because I think most people having sex who haven’t addressed these things may just as well be recreating patriarchal expectations about sexuality, and in fact are less in command because they haven’t thought about it and haven’t discussed it with their partner. I don’t think it’s liberating to trust that everything in sex is just going to be okay and somehow you and your partner (maybe especially if your partner has male privilege) are going to always have good and safe experiences.

    and of course, the consent and discussion within the bedroom doesn’t mean males don’t have more power outside of it.. but that is true anyway. And with NO explicit consent and NO discussion, are you better off?

  71. Q Grrl

    I think that the sex expressed through S/M is a byproduct, frankly. As is the sex expressed through heteronormativity. Not a lot of differnce there, through my lens.

    I also don’t think it’s an either/or situation. … that you can only have true communication through the use of S/M and safe words. I’m not sure that’s what you are saying, but to me it hints at that, and I find that to be a bogus claim.

    What I find problematic about S/M is that it gives the false impression that women can and do transgress the limits of their gender through switching roles in the patriarchal paradigm. But switching roles doesn’t dismantle what happens to that women when she walks out the bedroom door (assuming there is a bedroom :) ). The random man who sees the female dom doesn’t know anything about her other than she has a woman’s body and he has been socialized to treat the female-bodied as inferior.

    It’s kinda like Finn up there trotting out the tired line about male physical superiority. All he knows about me is that I’m female and therefore pigeonholed into certain preconceived and socialized expectations in his mind. Nevermind that I’m an ex-Rugby player with 220 lbs of hurt that I could lay on him. His socialized reality trumps my lived reality. And I think that’s true for the female dom once she is extracted from the scene.

    [I'm also assuming Finn is male b/c of the particular political bent taken in his/her last post]

  72. Finn

    >It’s kinda like Finn up there trotting out the tired line about male physical superiority.<

    I’ll admit the line is getting tired, as women and men are getting physically more similar all the time.

    My point was simply that the roles in SMBD are archetypes drawn from patriarchal society. Is that a tired idea, too?

  73. Q Grrl

    No, you are presupposing an inherent physical strength/superiority that you cannot prove. You are setting up the strength, then the patriarchy, then the dominance. I don’t think you can do that without also looking at how patriarchy has also established selective breeding for females over the years.

    Yes, I went there. It kinda goes hand in hand with fashion: those most feminine, delicate, pretty, etc. are probably the most likely to “find” a mate. Puke. Husbandry anyone?

  74. BitingBeaver

    Nassoid. You are correct that I didn’t broach that particular line of thought. The reason is relatively simple. Just because someone (male or female) is getting off on something doesn’t inherently mean that what they’re getting off about is a *good* thing. (Sorry about the asterick to note my word choices, html still remains elusive to me!)

    For example, we can say that a woman who is starring in Porn could, feasibly, be ‘getting off to it’ however, that doesn’t deter from the fact that Porn is one of the most powerful arms of the Patriarchal octopus. Whether or not she’s getting off to it is irrelevent in a discussion over whether the act itself has inherent roots in Patriarchy.

    Through my lens the ‘Power exchange’ in BDSM is a lie. It is another arm of the Patriarchy though, as are many other arms, it is cloaked as something else entirely.

    BDSM is all about turning a woman into an object. With woman as submissive she is clearly objectified, she is a toy to be played with in many respects. With woman as Dom she is *also* an object, the epitomy of a walking vagina, her *sex* causes the pain. The pain is secondary to the fact that it’s her SEX causing it, her ‘femaleness’. She is acting out, in true form, an age-old concept of The Patriarchy. Woman is vixen, Woman is cruel, Woman uses her sex to hurt men.

    If it weren’t about the sex and it were truly about ‘giving over power’ then we’d see straight male-submissives getting off just as much to a male Dom. The very fact that the Dom (to a hetero male submissive) is a Woman, and not a genderless person, is indicitive of the inherent sexual power involved.

    It is an illusion of control. If we were to sneak into the bedroom of a couple who were using a more balanced ‘power exchange’ we may be surprised to see that the female dom is dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans with sneakers as footwear. (NOT because she couldn’t afford the prerequisite clothing, rather because she sees no need to dress in a certain way because SHE’S the one who is truly in control) But no, the full Dominatrix regalia is generally thigh high boots with stilleto heels, and a black corset of some unknown fiber to accentuate the breasts.

    She has to DRESS the part in order to make the fantasy for the *male* come to life. Men aren’t fantasizing about the lunchroom lady, complete with hairnet, flogging them and ‘forcing’ them to go down on her. No, they’re fantasizing about the porn star woman who wields her pussy as a sword to strike at a man.

    That’s Patriarchy at it’s finest.

  75. binky

    To Devil’s advocate for a moment, I think the notion of a female dom being exclusively conformative to the corset, pointy boots image is just as preconceived and socialized as a man assuming a woman is smaller and weaker. The random man who sees a female dom might not even recognize her because she is wearing jeans and a t-shirt (and I don’t just mean walking down the street). There is no rule book that says “if you want to tie someone up then you must own black patent leather corsets and hideous shoes.”
    As to the issue of a man’s consent negating the dominance, ANYONE who is subbing should be giving that consent, whether it involves het or queer play. Do you think that a woman sub can’t truly consent to a male dom? Or that a woman who gives consent to a female partner cannot truly consent either because they are both trapped in patriarchal patterns? Wouldn’t that also mean that they can’t truly consent to vanilla sex either? (and yes, I know the answer to that question is “yes” for some patriatchy blamers).

    I understand the perspective that views BDSM as a social contruction inherently tainted by the patriarchy because it involves dominance. I’m not sure I agree with it, especially in light of fact that the temporary sexual dominance is rooted in an actual equality of sexual automony and agency (I think Ripley explains it well). In the end, if we take the connection between the “personal and political,” if women could extend the ability to negotiate power arrangements in the rest of life as they could in good, equality based BDSM relations, we could smack the heck out of the patriarchy.

  76. Q Grrl

    “The random man who sees a female dom might not even recognize her because she is wearing jeans and a t-shirt (and I don’t just mean walking down the street). ”

    But doesn’t this imply that her dominance is firmly rooted in his first recognizing her as a dom? It is dependent upon the male gaze, no?

  77. binky

    By the way, that was pun intended smacking.

  78. Anonymous

    “But doesn’t this imply that her dominance is firmly rooted in his first recognizing her as a dom? It is dependent upon the male gaze, no?”

    Actually, no. Whether someone is a dom has nothing to do with whether some random man sees her as such. She is. And in the context of the power play, she can be a dom regardless of whether there are men present.

    Look, I’m not telling you that the idea you are talking about (the pointy shoes etc) is not dependent on the male gaze. I’m saying that the dom you describe is rather stereotypical, and may be a product of porn’s relentless message rather than the actual relationships many female doms have with their male and female partners. To me that’s as much of a problem of porn and patriarchy as is is of the existence of female doms. Again, as I said before, the introduction I had to BDSM was going to a fetish fair with a radfem lesbian, and meeting lots of same sex partners running around wearing jeans and t-shirts saying “Top Half” and “Bottom Half.” Emphasis half, as in equal.

    I understand that there is the negative patriarchy-embedded construction of dom out there, but there are people in the community transgressing those inherited stereotypes, and building relationships built on equality. Does their existence negate the patriarchy? No. However I don’t see why we have to give into a patriarchal construction of something. I’m not sure if I’m clear here, but I’m thinking along the lines of genderfuck, but with BDSM.

  79. WookieMonster

    I don’t see BDSM as starting at equality and agreeing to dom/sub. I see it as an extension of the traditional dom/male-sub/female roles adapted with safety words and negotiations so that it can be consensual. It is role playing and just because you get to play a dominant role doesn’t mean that you really get to be dominant. I don’t see female doms getting off on what they’re doing as any different from the woman who dresses up all “pretty” and feels powerful. The power she feels is an illusion.

    I’d also like to point out that there are women everywhere in vanilla relationships who are negotiating sex just like the BDSM crowd are, it may not be as explicit, but there are rules and boundaries put in place just the same.

  80. ripley

    “I think that the sex expressed through S/M is a byproduct, frankly. As is the sex expressed through heteronormativity. Not a lot of differnce there, through my lens.”

    Qgirl, I agree. In fact, I think all human behavior is pretty much best explained as a byproduct of culture. I am curious as to your idea of a way to escape this. it seems a truism to me.

    consent, communication, and pleasure are all important things, surely. I don’t see where any of these things fit in to the critiques being made here, except as tricks that dupe us into patriarchal behavior.

    “I also don’t think it’s an either/or situation. … that you can only have true communication through the use of S/M and safe words. I’m not sure that’s what you are saying,”

    I was saying that communication and self-knowledge are important, and contrasting that with a lot of sexual practices that aren’t coming in for the same kind of criticism as S/M.

    It sounded to me like people were suggesting that sex without S/M was pretty much better (in some way), less patriarchal, something. In fact, some people did say that, explicitly, by saying S/M was the worst. I was pointing out some aspects of S/M that I think can be, uh, not worst.

    Can we talk about “heteronormative” sex, and what’s wrong with that?

  81. binky

    The power of the scene is supposed to be an illusion. Yeah, there are some “lifestyle” people out there, but that’s a minority within a minority.

    Putting rules and boundaries in place doesn’t necesarily imply equality. But as I said above, it would be great if the equality underlying the power negotiations were more widespread.

  82. Q Grrl

    “Actually, no. Whether someone is a dom has nothing to do with whether some random man sees her as such. ”

    I think what I’m tryint to point out is that her dominance only exists within the role (which when acted out *is* independent of the random male gaze). Once she steps outside the role or is unrecognizable as a dom or dominant by the random male, her dominance is contingent upon his recognition. Short of her beating him up randomly, or murdering him, his socialized preconceptions of her as woman = submissive is going to trump anything that she might do in public.

    This, of course, is all my conjecture/opinion. :)

  83. Q Grrl

    “I think all human behavior is pretty much best explained as a byproduct of culture. I am curious as to your idea of a way to escape this. it seems a truism to me.”

    Well, there are dominant cultures and subcultures. I think where we would disagree is whether BSDM or SM truly represent subcultures — I would say no.

    For example, I think of my particular lesbian lifestyle as a subculture. However, I have many peers who embrace heteronormative marriage as the best option for being perceived/treated as equals in this society. I see mimicing heteronormative practices as harmful and assimilationist, and more likely to backfire in the long run [read: the only good queer is a married queer].

    I would love to talk about heteronormative sex — especially if combined with discussions of fashion. I would guess though that it might be quite the hotbed of contention!

  84. Q Grrl

    ARgh. My brain isn’t working. Post above above post should read: anything she might do in private. Not public.

    Must. find. more. coffee.

  85. binky

    Q grrl I appreciate your patience in explaining your conjecture/opinion. :) I’m thinking outside the het framework, and trying to deny the necessity of the male gaze for a dom role on those grounds. You are right about socialized preconceptions, and I see your point. I think perhaps I am too optimistic that it could be possible to “fuck with” the patriarchal notion of pointy shoed female dom and reclaim it as something else based on equality within the pair of partners.

    And sorry, but I think I dropped off my name on a post up there. I was the blank.

  86. Q Grrl

    …work is starting to beckon. Work sucks.

    I don’t think you can easily fuck with the pat. notion of the pointy booted dom if you aren’t also simultaneously fucking with the entire dichotomy of the virgin/whore. Yes, the dom can wear sweatpants and houseshoes for all it matters, but I feel that even that falls into prescribed sex roles for women: this time the virgin (although a little more grown up and appropriately looking like the housewife.)

  87. binky

    I think the introduction of the marriage question is perfect for looking at these kinds of debates. The idea that marriage has been able to escape its past as a political exchange of diplomacy in which women were “goods” to be traded and transform into something based on love and equality is hard for me to believe. However there are plenty who insist that it has been or is capable of being rehabilitated or transformed. Perhaps the peers you describe believe this, that by participating they can transform the institution?. My cognition is dissonant here, because I think it would be easier to transform BDSM than marriage, because with marriage, there is such an institutional structure and publicness that far exceeds the structure and visibility of dom/sub practices. Even if both embody patriarchy, we have laws tax structures, etc etc ad nauseaum to reinforce marriage but in BDSM there isn’t.

  88. binky

    Yeah, work. OK. Me too. It’s been fun. :)

  89. Finn

    Q – “No, you are presupposing an inherent physical strength/superiority that you cannot prove. You are setting up the strength, then the patriarchy, then the dominance. I don’t think you can do that without also looking at how patriarchy has also established selective breeding for females over the years.”

    It might be picking nits, but what I was referring to is not a current physical strength/superiority thing, but a historical one. I’m perfectly willing to accept the idea that selective breeding could’ve affected the balance, but how was that breeding enforced in the first place if there wasn’t, at least at some point, male physical dominance?

  90. Hissy Cat

    Yes, the dom can wear sweatpants and houseshoes for all it matters, but I feel that even that falls into prescribed sex roles for women: this time the virgin (although a little more grown up and appropriately looking like the housewife.)

    It seems like a girl with a healthy libido just can’t win. I can’t dress up sexy. I can’t not dress up sexy. I can’t dom, I can’t sub, I can’t give consent, I can’t accept the consent of another.

    The analyses of various sexual arrangements are intellectually interesting, but I think it’s a bit reductive to say that patriarchal power is sex. A part of it, sure, but does no one see any place for personal experiences of desire, pleasure, curiosity, fun, etc. in sex?

    It is similar to men arguing that some women fantasize about rape. The reality is that it is *impossible* to fantasize rape, because as soon as you do, you are giving consent (even if it is just happening in your mind). Men, as the rapists, can fatasize about rape. Women, as the raped, cannot.

    Does the “cannot” in “women, as the raped, cannot” mean incapable? If so, that is untrue. Women can and do fantasize about rape, and the fact that some of us do absolutely does not translate into consent for actual rape. Rape, by definition, does not ask consent. Rape is rape. Predelictions for certain fantasies, enthusiasm for spanking or being spanked, wearing mini skirts and heels, behaving or dressing provocatively, walking alone after dark, promiscuity, being a prostitute– none of these things constitute consent, none of these things makes rape anything less or other than rape, none of these things makes rape defensible or ok. I am allowed to think whatever I want. I am allowed to fantasize about whatever I want. What goes on in my head– or on my page, or stage or canvas– does not have to be lawful or inoffensive or empowering.

    If the “cannot” in “women, as the raped, cannot” means “ought not” or “should not” or “must not,” then I’m less offeneded than I am puzzled. What does it mean to tell people what personal fantasies are right and what ones are wrong to have? I see your point intellectualy, as it applies on a broader and more theoretical scale, but I don’t think that most people plan their sex and fantasy lives so that they align neatly with their own political views, much less those someone else tells them they ought to have.

  91. Q Grrl

    I don’t think that it is psychically possible to fantasized a rape. By the act of mentally engaging in fantasy, the consent for the imagined act is already given.

    You can fantasize forced/violent/rough sex, but not rape, per se.

    And FTR, you can do whatever you want, and I truly hope it is good for you. However I don’t think you can be fully politically aware and not acknowledge some of the more dicey aspects of dominance play. One of things that’s been running around in my mind this afternoon is wondering about the prevalence of BSDM or SM in lower-class or poor women’s lives. And then I’m trying to figure out why I think knowing this would be significant.

    Even as a lesbian, politics is in my bed. I don’t think it’s currently possible to kick it out.

  92. rm

    So as i’m procrastinating on actual homework, i looked up the “enforced makeup” case (Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Co., 392 F.3d 1076) and it was an opinion by a 3 judge panel which has since been vacated (meaning it has no precedential value) and is currently being reheard by the Ninth Circuit en banc. So no guarantee that the final result will be different, but there’s room for hope.

  93. piny

    >>If a man is consenting to being dominated by a woman, then there is no true domination. The consent kills it. He knows that at any time he can walk out the door, no? Even if he is restrained for mutliple hours or days, the social conditioning of women will preclude the mixing of sexual fantasy and actual murder. Which is quite opposite of the social condition of the average male, which does incorporate both sexual fantasy and murder into one tidy little package.

    It is similar to men arguing that some women fantasize about rape. The reality is that it is *impossible* to fantasize rape, because as soon as you do, you are giving consent (even if it is just happening in your mind). Men, as the rapists, can fatasize about rape. Women, as the raped, cannot.>>

    Well, yes, exactly–that is why a bottom in an S/M scene is different from someone actually being sexually abused, and this is why rape fantasies and rape scenes are crucially different from fantasizing about real rape. While a woman cannot trust men as a class the way men can trust women as a class, a woman can depend on a vetted, known male top to not actually hurt her or violate the parameters she’s set up for the scene. And when bottoms contemplate rape scenes, they contemplate them under very specific, prearranged controls.

  94. piny

    >>I think what I’m tryint to point out is that her dominance only exists within the role (which when acted out *is* independent of the random male gaze). Once she steps outside the role or is unrecognizable as a dom or dominant by the random male, her dominance is contingent upon his recognition. Short of her beating him up randomly, or murdering him, his socialized preconceptions of her as woman = submissive is going to trump anything that she might do in public.>>

    But this is true of any BDSM-related arrangement the couple enters into. His dominance in the bedroom, specific to a BDSM scene, has exactly as much bearing on public perception: his male status under patriarchy continues to exist, regardless.

    So what difference does it make either way what they get up to in the context of a BDSM scene?

  95. Q Grrl

    Piny: The difference that is made is that some women have stated (not necessariily here) that BDSM gives the autonomy or independence and is a way of combating patriarchy. You yourself have pointed out what I’ve been trying to say: regardless of what a man chooses to do in private, his public autonomy and power does not diminish. The converse does not hold true for women — and because of that I, personally, do not see the revolutionary act imbedded in BDSM, if there is one.

    I’m not so focused on women being bottom’s or submissive. I’m rather interested in dissecting the false-positive of women as dominatrix translating into women being empowered.

  96. piny

    I see. And I appreciate the distinction.

    I don’t see BDSM as empowering, any more than I see any other kind of screwing around as empowering. I have a problem with people who see it as disempowering–and with people who refuse to conflate the scene with reality when the woman is topping but who insist on conflating it with reality when the woman is bottoming.

    Now, I do find the idea of women as tops interesting, if only because the tops I’ve spent time with reject outright the porn-star dominatrix stereotype in one way or another. I don’t think I can relegate female tops to male wish-fulfillment. But no, it’s not a substitute for actual sexual autonomy. It can also definitely coexist with a relationship between a selfish, sexist man and an unhappy, oppressed, woman whose sexuality is nothing more than the burden of her husband/boyfriend/bottom’s fun. Nor are formal BDSM-style dynamics in scene a defense against the possibility of non-negotiated, non-consensual relationship dynamics in scene. Male tops (and tops in general) who know all about safewords and follow-up calls don’t necessarily behave ethically when it comes to less obvious potential for abuse and manipulation.

    That having been said, BDSM as practiced by the people I hang out with is very much tied up in feedback and evolving consent. The tops I’ve known have been the biggest neurotic second-guessing Cowardly-Lion control freaks on the planet: “Is this okay? Are you okay? Was that okay? Are you feeling okay? Do you need a break? Do you need a drink of water? Are you sure you ate enough beforehand? Do you need a snack? How are you doing? I think maybe it’s time to stop.” And all of that is after a set of pre-scene negotiations that would rival the Diet of Worms and before a check-in call to ask how everyone’s feeling. And the bottoms I know are the opposite of submissive when it comes to articulating what is and is not permissible.

    _That_ having been said, there’s a difference in communities and practices between touchy-feely queers and straight people. And there are abusive tops in every community, as well as bottoms who don’t understand that they’re entitled to be treated as human beings.

  97. Hissy Cat

    I don’t think that it is psychically possible to fantasized a rape. By the act of mentally engaging in fantasy, the consent for the imagined act is already given.

    Agreed. Such is the nature of fantasy, i.e. not real.

    I, personally, do not see the revolutionary act imbedded in BDSM, if there is one.

    I, personnally, don’t see it either, but there is a huge gap between not seeing sex acts as revolutionary and seeing those acts as necessarily counter-revolutionary or conservative actions.

    I’m not a big believer than the potential for personal transgressions to be meaningful on any scale is all that great, but I think that has more to do with the private, complicated and mysterious nature of sex and fantasy than any meaning we might ascribe to this or that sex act or practice in particular.

    However I don’t think you can be fully politically aware and not acknowledge some of the more dicey aspects of dominance play.

    I don’t think I suggested that one should not acknowledge the troubling, inconsistant, political and so on aspects of dominance play. I don’t see how it is possible to not be aware of if not all than at least some of the issues raised by this kind of sex play. But I can’t take too seriously an analysis of sex practices that can’t find some place for questions of pleasure, sensation, attraction and desire. It is certainly possible to struggle intellectually with the implications of a sex act on the one hand and on the other hand acknowledge the pleasure and attraction it might simultaneously hold.

    Any patriarchy-blamer who is not a hermit or a nun has to negotiate contradiction and compromise. It is as true in the bedroom (desire and pleasure vs. politically symbolic implications) as it is in the boardroom (fighting a sexist dress code vs. advancing to a more powerful position). It is not hypocrisy to hold two or more contradictory thoughts in one’s mind. It is honesty and intelligence.

  98. piny

    >>The converse does not hold true for women — and because of that I, personally, do not see the revolutionary act imbedded in BDSM, if there is one.>>

    I just want to make sure I understand you correctly. Since a woman’s private sexual contact (as, r example, a domme) has nothing to do with her permanent, public position of submission under patriarchy, female tops are not empowered by virtue of being allowed to pretend, under incredibly controlled circumstances that the bottom helps determine, that they are in control.

    Did I get that right?

  99. Hissy Cat

    Well said, Piny

  100. Mandos

    Wow I’d respond to Twisty’s post but there were so many posts in between that I think I’ll wait for another opportunity to engage in that discussion. The short answer: You’d be right if that’s all you were saying, but I think you were implying more than that.

  101. Mandos

    By Twisty’s post I mean her last comment.

  102. BritGirlSF

    This comment really bothered me
    “Yeah, but once outside the bedroom, that power is meaningless.”
    True, but does that then mean that one should not be pursuing such behavior in the bedroom just because it doesn’t change things in the world at large? If that’s what you’re saying then that’s very problematic, and we’re veering into “where do you get off telling other people what they should and should not be” territory.
    And here is problem number 2 – “and if our aesthetics are inextricable from patriarchy, and there’s no way to escape, and some of us get pleasure from wearing certain things (in my case, that I don’t *think* are simply because I want to please a man, but feel free to tell me I’m wrong about that).. then how are we to give ourselves aesthetic pleasure? or is the entire visual side of our participation in society so corrupted that we should give it all a miss?”
    Again, it seems deeply anti-feminist to be getting into the business of telling another woman what she thinks, or assuming that we know why she’s doing something. I’m feeling like there’s an undecurrent of that going on here (and in many similar discussions), and it’s bugging the hell out of me.
    Here’s the thing – clothes don’t really signify individuality, as Twisty pointed out. They often signify one’s sense of belonging to a particular “tribe” or subculture. For example, I was very much goth/punk/industrial as a teenager. To a certain extent I still am. I used to traipse around in all-black, corsets and thigh-high boots. From the general tone of this discussion I gather that my doing so would be seen as kowtowing to the patriarchy. The thing is, that was not the intention, the intention was to signify my membership in that particular subculture. I didn’t really give a damn how it was interpreted by people who are not part of the subculture in question, and I still don’t. Then problem I think we’re running into here is that for some of us our sense of identity and our tribal affiliations are complicated and multi-layered. I’m a feminist, but I’m also a goth/punk, and I see no reason why my feminism should mean that I can’t wear things that identify me as a goth/punk just because of the fucked up notions that lovers of the patriarchy may project onto my apparel. The fact that some people do indeed to be implying that any woman wearing anything that might be considered “feminine” or “sexy” is a slave to the patriarchy or suffering from false conciousness is, frankly, insulting.
    Sorry to write such a novel, but I run into this issue regularly in feminist circles and it always annoys me. The same thing happened way back in the seventies with conflicts about the presence of lesbians who were very visibly into BSDM roleplaying in feminist spaces. Are we really still having this argument 30 years later? That’s kind of depressing.
    Also, as has already been pointed out, a lot of people are assuming that all female doms get nothing out of what they’re doing, which is both bullshit and more than a little condescending. Given that you’re obviously not personally involved in the scene, you know what these women are feeling how, exactly? It might be worth remembering that the word “dom” does not automatically mean “a woman who dominates men in exchange for money”.
    “This, of course, is all my conjecture/opinion. :)”
    Indeed. What puzzles me is why, lacking any personal experience in the matter, you’re so convinced that your perceptions are more valid than those of women who actually have some experience with this subject.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think that the idea that BSDM automatically equals empowerment is bullshit. The porn version in particular is clearly created to please men, not women. What I don’t get is why so many of you are so quick to assume that you can know what the experience means to other women, and why the fact that it doesn’t necessarily lead to political change means that it’s a bad thing. Are individual women not allowed to find their individual pleasure where they may? Why is it any of anyone else’s business what they choose to do in their own bedrooms?

  103. Hissy Cat

    Britgirlsf–
    I really, really like your comment.

  104. delphyne

    Most women who shoehorn themselves into patriarchally approved fashions wouldn’t acknowledge that they are doing it to please the patriarchy but it doesn’t mean they’re not BritSF Girl. Unless your male goth friends were outfitting themselves in corsets and thigh boots and you were wearing comfortable shoes, you and they were still maintaining the male/female fashion division that demands that women wear something restritcting and sexualising and men, well men don’t.

    “Then problem I think we’re running into here is that for some of us our sense of identity and our tribal affiliations are complicated and multi-layered. I’m a feminist, but I’m also a goth/punk, and I see no reason why my feminism should mean that I can’t wear things that identify me as a goth/punk just because of the fucked up notions that lovers of the patriarchy may project onto my apparel.”

    I think the problem is the assumption that goth/punk has somehow manages to escape the influence of the patriarchy. It looks to me as an outsider just as sexist as the rest of the culture. Is there any reason to think otherwise?

  105. Twisty

    I concur with Finn, who says that without patriarchy there would be no BDSM.

  106. Twisty

    It seems like a girl with a healthy libido just can’t win. I can’t dress up sexy. I can’t not dress up sexy. I can’t dom, I can’t sub, I can’t give consent, I can’t accept the consent of another.

    Yeah, and you know why? PATRIARCHY! Women, I say again, do not enjoy liberty under this system. No matter what we do, we are always in a state of reaction to male dominance. This whole blog is reactionary. Women cannot win. This is why patriarchy is bad. See?

  107. WookieMonster

    Ug, I don’t remember if this was the thread where someone said that women dress for women more than for men because women are the ones who notice, but I’m not going through all of this to check. It’s just been bugging me and I forgot to address it when I noticed it the first time.

    Sister shaming is a huge part of the patriarchy. Convincing some women that they’ve got it really great in the patriarchy (of course this is always comparitive, “see, we could be raping and beating you, aren’t you happy we aren’t?”) then convincing her that she must help keep her sisters in line by shaming them into patriarchal practices. Really, it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book that has been applied to every race/gender/culture that another group has an interest in dominating.

    Think about The Handmaiden’s Tale and how the culture that is built would never work without some women helping to oppress the other women because it keeps them in their cushy place. The wives and other women keeping the handmaidens in their place so that they could continue to be the spoiled wife of the rich and powerful man. Even though it would have been much more simple to simply replace the infertile wives with the fertile women (the handmaidens) rather than making an intricate system of wives, handmaidens, and whores because otherwise who would keep the unwilling handmaidens (who are the only fertile women, thus the only way to continue the culture) in their place?

  108. WookieMonster

    Oops! Forgot to close the italics, sorry!

    (And I was kind of babbling, oh well.)

  109. WookieMonster

    It was this thread, I just found it. It is a comment way up there by Antelope:

    Most of the noticing and approving or disapproving of women’s dress is done by other women. My frumpier women friends and my flashier women friends all agree that it is women who will notice, and women that you want compliments from, when you wear whatever is your version of “something nice.” Ditto for hairstyles.

    I’m not saying the patriarcy isn’t involved here, just that I think the women who really, truly think of themselves as dressing for the male gaze are either a very small group, or maybe they’re just much younger than me & I don’t end up talking to them much.

    To which I replied that sister shaming has alway been one of the patriarchy’s most sneaky and effective tools, ala the above post.

    On an entirely different topic, something I don’t understand about BDSM fans is how they explain the inital pain=pleasure revalation. It seems to me like there would have to be some sort of experience such as the woman being raped “reclaiming” her cunt via piercings, that would make that connection that does not normally exist in the brain function that way…maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know much at all about the psychology of it, but it just seems to me that there has to be some wires twisted to get a pleasure response to pain.

    I realize that I’m sort of taking pain and domination as the same here, I do know that not all BDSM involves actual pain, but it would seem to me that the same sorts of wires would need to be crossed to get pain=pleasure as domination=pleasure. I just don’t think they’re the default settings for the human condition. I would say that pain and domination result in torture rather than pleasure for most people. I’m not saying that it’s wrong or that you shouldn’t do it if it gets you off, just that it isn’t the way we’re generally programmed to be, and that perhaps the patriarchy has worked to mold some people into the pain=pleasure mindset.

  110. Q Grrl

    Britgrl: I’m sorry if you think I’m trying to tell women what to do. I thought I was explicit earlier when I stated I didn’t care how people got off. My issue is not about actions or sex, it is about power and what I consider false assumptions regarding empowerment. All I have tried to do is say that I do not see the empowerment experienced by women in BDSM scenes translating/transferring to the larger class of women.

  111. Q Grrl

    Britgrl: You also conflate two qoute above, one of which is mine, the other of which isn’t. So I didn’t know if you were trying to draw larger parallels in this thread, or if you thought that I was truly trying to tell women what to do.

    (I personally don’t feel any woman can tell another woman what to do, so I think that’s rather a bit of a red herring.)

  112. Q Grrl

    Piny writes:

    “I just want to make sure I understand you correctly. Since a woman’s private sexual contact (as, r example, a domme) has nothing to do with her permanent, public position of submission under patriarchy, female tops are not empowered by virtue of being allowed to pretend, under incredibly controlled circumstances that the bottom helps determine, that they are in control.

    Did I get that right? ”

    No. A woman’s private sexual conduct has everything to do with her submission under patriarchy. A woman may feel empowered through private acts, but that empowerment does not largely translate further than the bedroom. Does this mean she shouldn’t do as she wishes — seems to me that if that’s what you think I am concluding than you’re either forgetting the patriarchy all together, or just focusing on my apparent criticism of sex.

    Or better yet, as above, thinking that I’m telling women what to do.

    I pull everything apart. All actions, all theories. It’s how I learn. I think it helps to illuminate the more hidden boundaries that are placed on women’s actions and choices. If women were autonomous and empowered through their individual choices, we wouldn’t have to be blaming the patriarchy.

    … that said, even though my tone pretty much sucks in this post, I apologize if I unnecessarily offended any of the women here.

  113. Q Grrl

    sorry for my flurry of posts here…

    “What I don’t get is why so many of you are so quick to assume that you can know what the experience means to other women, and why the fact that it doesn’t necessarily lead to political change means that it’s a bad thing.”

    I’m not concerned with what the experience means to any particular woman. I’m concerned that her experience becomes meaningless outside of her privacy, when she is classed, automatically, by the patriarchy as subserviant. It means one thing to me when my big gay girlfriend tops me in bed. That same action, the very same action, becomes titillating to the patriarchy and is used against me: my privacy and private acts are used to humiliate or belittle my own sense of empowerment. It doesn’t matter what I do in private, nor what it means to me. The larger context within which privacy is situated doesn’t allow for my personal meaning to transcend my “role” as a female in a patriarchal society.

  114. piny

    Q, I think you’re misreading me, and I think we agree after all.

    >>No. A woman’s private sexual conduct has everything to do with her submission under patriarchy. A woman may feel empowered through private acts, but that empowerment does not largely translate further than the bedroom.>>

    This is pretty much what I was saying/concurring: a domme in the bedroom is still a woman when she leaves her home, subject to the same sexism as a woman who is a sub in the bedroom, an anti-bdsm lesbian separatist, or a nun. All female, all equally victims of sexism.

    This is what you also seem to be saying, and what I agree with but have reservations about as applied to an explanation for bdsm and its interest: when that woman enters her bedroom, as a domme, a sub, a separatist, or a bride of Christ, she’s still a woman. Patriarchal training informs her sexuality, her desires, and those things which are considered tokens of submission, dominance, constraint, freedom, masculinity, and femininity.

    So we’re talking about two different effects of the patriarchy, and two explanations for why bdsm is not empowering: it doesn’t make women equal outside, and it is not immune from gendered inequality as expressed in sex.

    And, meh. Your tone is much more reasoned than many others I’ve heard. Plus, we just found out that our favorite feminist blogger is going forth to do battle against one of the most patriarchal institutions there is.

    Thanks for the disclaimer. I hope I don’t sound like I’m blowing off either the problem of misogyny or the problem of sexual violence.

  115. Hissy Cat

    It seems like a girl with a healthy libido just can’t win. I can’t dress up sexy. I can’t not dress up sexy. I can’t dom, I can’t sub, I can’t give consent, I can’t accept the consent of another.

    Yeah, and you know why? PATRIARCHY! Women, I say again, do not enjoy liberty under this system. No matter what we do, we are always in a state of reaction to male dominance. This whole blog is reactionary. Women cannot win. This is why patriarchy is bad. See?

    Ok, patriarchy is bad. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. So, what then? People still have to live their lives, and most people, patriarchy-blamers included, would rather live in the world, even one that is compromised and fucked-up, than live out the rest of one day’s hiding alone in a cave somewhere clad in a burlap sack. No one, as far as I can see, has responded to the question of how one is to live with the extremely paralyzing, crushing charge that she can’t lift her little finger without aiding and abetting her enslavers.

    A problem with making broad, unforgiving statements like “patriarchy is inescapable, and you, yes you, are a slave to it even when you believe you are not” is that, whether or not the statement is true, it flattens the world to allow for no gradation or nuance. Ok, so consensual, pleasurable sex contains elements of patriarchy. But when the discourse becomes so polemical that it is fails to recognize any distinction between consual sex acts and rape, then the conversation has crossed over to a dangerous kind of absurdity.

    So, all those who think I’m in denial about my motivations every time I “shoe-horn” myself into a dress I happen to fancy or initiate sexual play I find pleasurable with a partner I desire; tell me: how do you live? What are the decisions that permit you to live lives that are in alignment with your own ethics? What does one have to do to live so pristenely as to never sully one’s self with compromise and contradiction? Because so far, the only practical advice for thwarting/ escaping patriarchy that I’ve seen here is to wear comfortable clothing made of recycled pop bottles– advice that, frankly, is pretty lame. How are organic cotton shirts and loose-fitting pants anything but another badge of tribal allegiance, albeit to a tribe you find more palatable? A sex-slave in GorTex fleece is still a sex-slave, just one in GoreTex fleece.

  116. Hissy Cat

    Q Grrl–
    I really appreciate your clarifications.

    Having just reread my last post in light of all the posts that popped up between the time I started writing it and the time I posted it, I’d like to make my own preemptive clarification: I don’t mean to offend anyone, either. If my posts get a little too intense, it is because the debate is one worth getting worked up over. Lest it be interpreted otherwise, my post is definately not intended to suggest that we shouldn’t try to analyze patriarchy in the bedroom. I think this discussion is fantastic.

  117. AB

    I *heart* hissy cat, because she said everything I was trying to get at earlier.

    And I also *heart* twisty, and don’t really know what to say other than my thoughts will be with you. Cancer sucks.

  118. Q Grrl

    Piny: I see the light. Finally.

    :)

    Hissy Cat: thanks for your contributions. I think it would be interesting, but strangely impossible, to discuss or try to envision the lifted finger without the patriarchy.

  119. piny

    Gah, finally.

    Kidding! I’m kidding!

    This has been an interesting discussion as always. I’m glad I managed to provide a gloss on it that was clearer than my first attempt–I hate getting into confusing lexical disputes with people whose analyses I have a great deal of respect for.

  120. piny

    >>Hissy Cat: thanks for your contributions. I think it would be interesting, but strangely impossible, to discuss or try to envision the lifted finger without the patriarchy.>>

    This is a very valuable point.

  121. Hissy Cat

    Disclaimer: This post is not meant to argue one way or another, just to provide some information that might be of interest.

    On an entirely different topic, something I don’t understand about BDSM fans is how they explain the inital pain=pleasure revalation. It seems to me like there would have to be some sort of experience such as the woman being raped “reclaiming” her cunt via piercings, that would make that connection that does not normally exist in the brain function that way…maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know much at all about the psychology of it, but it just seems to me that there has to be some wires twisted to get a pleasure response to pain.

    I don’t think anyone knows the default settings for the human condition. The neurobiology of pain is pretty dimly understood even by researchers. It might also be worthwhile to keep in mind that many psychological theories, even current ones, don’t attempt to deal with recent developments in neurobiology. Which is not to say that psychological accounts of the subjective experience of pain are not valid; merely that psychology and neurology, even when drawing on the same (or on one another’s) lexicon(s), are not really talking about the same thing. A lot of bickering between the natural sciences and the social sciences stems (in my observation) not so much from opposing claims but from a failure to recognize that the claims made by the two fields are different in kind.

    For anyone who, like Wookiemonster, doesn’t see why “painful” activities would be pleasureable, it might be useful to consider a few practical examples. Runners and bodybuilders (and other athletes) experience pain while running or lifting weights, yet will tell you that their workouts leave them with a rush of good feeling, likely having to do with the surge of endorphins the body releases in response to certain kinds of stimuli. That is one example of pain sensations that are mingled (and perhaps outweighed) by sensations of pleasue.

    Another example, perhaps more directly related to Wookiemonster’s questions, would be how vaginal penetration by a digit feels different in different situations, even though the physical stimuli are the same. Being fingered in the context of sex play feels different from being fingered by the gynecologist. Although the stimulus may be the same (or very close to the same), the pleasure and arousal I feel when I’m in bed with my lover has little in common with the discomfort I feel when I’m in an examination room, my heels planted in the stirrups, or the pain it would cause me if the same action were performed without my permission.

    A person who ‘gets off’ on being flogged by their partner would not likely find it arousing or pleasurable to be flogged by a guard in prison or hurt in some other non-consensual way. These disparities contradict the hypothesis that there is some Pavlovian response at work that confuses pain with pleasure due to ‘twisted wires.’ On the contrary, the capacity to experience the same stimuli in such different ways depending on the context suggests that how we experience sensation is much more complicated than a simple pain = pleasure statement of equivalence. (None of which is to say there is no relation between trauma, sex and sensation– many, many survivors of sexual of traume, by their own accounts, deal with a lot of issues having to do with conditioned associations. But it isn’t as simple as “in order to find a spanking pleasurable, one must have been traumatized” or that finding “painful” sensation pleasurable is always a case of crosed wires.)

    Hope that helps.

  122. piny

    What Hissy Cat said, especially wrt the idea that bdsm practitioners would not be at all interested in or responsive to nonconsensual pain and humiliation. Thanks for pointing that out. Please note as well that plenty of bdsm practitioners are not survivors, and that plenty of survivors have no desire whatsoever to be hurt in any situation.

    And I can tell you that the feeling is in fact very similar–but much, much stronger–to the endorphin rush I get during a workout.

  123. AB

    >>I think it would be interesting, but strangely impossible, to discuss or try to envision the lifted finger without the patriarchy. >>

    By this, do you mean that the only actions women can take that don’t “aid and abet” the patriarchy are those actions that would occur if the woman could exercise free choice as if patriarchy didn’t exist?

    I’m not trying to be snarky, but it does seem like you’re operating from the assumption that just because a woman is reacting to patriarchy, that reaction is inherently capitulating to further oppression. I would argue that there’s a long history of people in awful, dehumanizing, oppressive conditions, who have reacted to those conditions (“lifted their little finger”) in ways that aren’t just a reflection of the oppression itself. (Hello, most of the African-American musical tradition.)

    I can respect that people disagree about whether piercing or tattoos or BDSM are actually those sorts of actions, or the type of actions that really are just reflections of oppression. But I just can’t agree at all with the premise that the entire possible sphere of women’s actions in our world are equally useless and patriarchy-supporting as all others, just because the patriarchy *exists*.

    Does that distinction make sense?

  124. AB

    Ah, I just found this–

    >> It doesn’t matter what I do in private, nor what it means to me. The larger context within which privacy is situated doesn’t allow for my personal meaning to transcend my “role” as a female in a patriarchal society.>>

    Perhaps this is the answer to the question I asked above. I’m going to have to mull that over for a bit. Sorry for missing it before, Q Grrl.

  125. Hissy Cat

    Makes perfect sense, AB.

  126. delphyne

    “So, all those who think I’m in denial about my motivations every time I “shoe-horn” myself into a dress I happen to fancy or initiate sexual play I find pleasurable with a partner I desire; tell me: how do you live? What are the decisions that permit you to live lives that are in alignment with your own ethics? What does one have to do to live so pristenely as to never sully one’s self with compromise and contradiction? Because so far, the only practical advice for thwarting/ escaping patriarchy that I’ve seen here is to wear comfortable clothing made of recycled pop bottles– advice that, frankly, is pretty lame. How are organic cotton shirts and loose-fitting pants anything but another badge of tribal allegiance, albeit to a tribe you find more palatable? A sex-slave in GorTex fleece is still a sex-slave, just one in GoreTex fleece.”

    As “shoehorn” was the word I used I’ll try to answer this. I live by acknowledging those patriarchal forces that attempt to dictate my behaviour. So in situations when I have worn a dress, make up or whatever I note that I do it to fit in, to avoid the sort of criticism that I may face if I don’t conform to the sexist patriarchal norms. If I’m being really honest I note that I do it to receive the type of approval a woman gets when she’s “pretty”. We each have to do what we need to survive in a patriarchal society where as Twisty rightly says, women can’t win. Acknowledging those facts isn’t telling women what to do it’s being realistic about the forces that are working on us.

    However why is not wearing clothes that classify you out as a member of the sex class lame? The rest of my life I do wear comfortable clothes – I can’t say I’ve even done it consciously, it’s just the way things have turned out for me. If it marks me out as having a tribal allegiance then that tribe is feminism and I’m pretty comfortable with that. I’m fighting to be free.

    It seems like criticising the patriarchal forces that endeavour to get women to fit into our prescribed role often turns into the idea that feminists are telling women what to do. I can’t tell anyone what to do and I don’t know of any feminist that can.

  127. joolya

    i had a horrible temp job in a hospital where i never saw anyone but a couple of doctors and the other secretary, but i was instructed to wear a skirt, no tank tops, no open toed shoes, and pantyhose. as it was the middle of july and i was all of 19 years old, i clearly had all of two outfits that fit this criterion. i rebelled by wearing no pantyhose (what, are they going to pinch my legs to check?) and tank tops that were covered by the ugliest “i’m only wearing this because you’re making me” cardigan i could find. as for sandals, i could sort of see that in a hospital those were inappropriate, so i wore them to work and changed into flat slipper-type shoes while in the cubicle.
    i like to wear skirts, but i don’t get the whole skirts are more chaste and feminine and work-appropriate thing. i liked the pussy-availability comment. also, i have heard from “godbags” that a woman wearing pants is too suggestive because it reminds people of the crevice between her legs . . . riiiiight.
    now i am in a work environment where i can wear whatever i like – sometimes this is a low-cut top, sometimes it is the same jeans for ten days – and my attitude is pretty much, “fuck it, i am a science nerd with boobs, that’s just the way it is.” we’ll see how far along my career this attitude takes me.

  128. joolya

    one more thing re: females in academia. it’s true that women who are too cute or wear too cute outfits are automatically not taken as seriously by a roomful of listeners (male and female) as an older or homelier woman.
    i like to use the shock value of this to catch people off guard, which actually makes me feel more powerful, since i know i am messing with their heads. but i have a good friend who is a brilliant scientist but is very girly and perky and has had trouble (she does some work with “manly” technical biochemical machinery, groan) getting the mostly-male post-docs in her lab to listen to her or not resent her, which totally sucks.

  129. Hissy Cat

    Thanks, Delphyne, for your reply. I agree with you that the only option is to be aware of and critical of the implications and meanings of my dress.

    However why is not wearing clothes that classify you out as a member of the sex class lame?

    Because I don’t see how relaxed-fit chinos as close to capable of classifying you out of the sex class. If you believe that women are as a class a sex class, then you are saying that there isn’t any way to dress yourself out of oppression.

    (By the way, I didn’t mean lame as in “uncool.” I meant lame as in weak, undeveloped, ineffective, etc.)

    If it marks me out as having a tribal allegiance then that tribe is feminism and I’m pretty comfortable with that. I’m fighting to be free.

    Of course. But then why not give wearers of other styles the same benefit of the doubt? I can only assume that the girl in thigh-high boots, black tulle skirt and corset is as comfortable displaying her allegiance to the tribe of goth-kids-and-die-hard-fan-of-Robert-Smith as you are displaying your allegiance to the tribe of feminism.

    There is another reason I think it the idea that that dressing “schlumpy,” or unstylishly, or in organic fibers is somehow better/ more feminist/ more of a statement against patriarchy than wearing a femmey dress or whatever. That reason is this: let’s assume that wearing eco-friendly men’s t-shirts and elastic-waisted pants really did show that you are a feminist. Your clothing say other things as well– about your class, geography, ethnic or cultural identity, career, education, etc.

    I suppose what I find particularly irking is the same thing that irked me about the vegan, organic co-op mentality at my college that by not bathing or not wearing fashoinable clothes, that they were being political. I don’t really crap if someone wants to go barefoot and I don’t really give a crap if someone wants to go around zipped up in a vinyl catsuit. I don’t see anything wrong with either choice. I also don’t see anything particularly revolutoinary or effective. It strikes me as a fetish of privledged Americans to think that private, individual actions (like choices about dress or consumption) are 1)catalysts for change, 2) meaningful to anyone other than ourselves and 3) interesting to anyone other than ourselves.

  130. Hissy Cat

    I meant to type “I don’t see anything revolutionary or effective about either choice.” Ha!

  131. BritGirlSF

    Delphyne, goth boys do often wear rather uncomfortable shoes – I’ve even seen a few in thigh-highs. They also wear makeup. Goth boys are very highly sexualised, and if they don’t conform to a beauty standard just as stringent as the one that the women conform to they’re going to be very lonely. The whole scene (at least in the UK, which is what I’m most familiar with) has a noticeable tendency to blur traditional gender lines, a certain fluidity if you will.
    But that’s not even really the point. The real point is that which subculture one chooses to be involved in and how one chooses to dress is one’s own business. I’m not seeing why the mere fact that goth, or BSDM, or whatever subculture you want to pick on is not about to smash the patriarchy to smithereens means that participation in those subcultures is an unnacceptable choice for a feminist, which is what you seem to be implying. No subculture is really revolutionary (I don’t consider feminism to be merely a subculture but a political movement, ie it’s more like socialism than it’s like being into a particular musical scene – a subculture is an entirely more trivial thing). We all simply pick the subcultures which appeal to us, and in which we feel at home. Why exactly is that a problem?
    It is also worth noting, as HissyCat said, that there really is no way to subvert the patriarchy simply by wearing different clothes. The system’s not going to come tumbling down just because Twisty wears cargo shorts, or someone else wears chinos and fleece instead of a skirt and heels. It would be great if it was that easy to destroy the system, but it isn’t.
    Q Grrl, I wasn’t specifically picking on you, sorry if it came across that way. I was more trying to point out a general tone that was appearing in this discussion, and that almost always appears in this kind of discussion. Look back at the records of feminist conversations from the seventies and you’ll see similar conversations. This is an issue that our community seems to have a very hard time resolving amicably.

    “If it marks me out as having a tribal allegiance then that tribe is feminism and I’m pretty comfortable with that. I’m fighting to be free.”
    Sorry to pick on one person here, but this comment sums up EXACTLY what drives me nuts about this debate. The implication seems to be that women who make different clothing choices than the writer are somehow less feminist because of it. That’s bullshit, and whether you realise it or not it’s a form of sister-shaming, albeit a fairly subtle one.

  132. BritGirlSF

    By the way, sorry if I sound a bit heated here, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard the “you’re not a proper feminist if you wear heels and makeup” argument, and I’m getting very tired of it.

  133. BritGirlSF

    Oh, and HissyCat, I’m enjoying reading your comments too.

  134. BritGirlSF

    OK, one more comment and then I really am going to shut up. This comment from HissyCat intrigued me.
    “Of course. But then why not give wearers of other styles the same benefit of the doubt? I can only assume that the girl in thigh-high boots, black tulle skirt and corset is as comfortable displaying her allegiance to the tribe of goth-kids-and-die-hard-fan-of-Robert-Smith as you are displaying your allegiance to the tribe of feminism. ”
    I suppose that part of the point I’m trying to make is, why assume that this is an either/or choice? Why assume that the girl in the goth get-up isn’t also a member of the feminist tribe? To my mind identity is a multi-layered thing – feminist is a part of my identity, but so is punk, and so is goth, and so is socialist, and so on and so on…why should one be restricted to just one of these things? Why can’t they coexist, with each person picking the particular blend that works best for her?

  135. BritGirlSF

    OK, I lied, one more thing I forgot to add. For many people race is also a vital component of one’s identity. The failure to pay attention to and acknowledge this is one of the few criticisms of feminism that I consider to have any real merit. Class is also a compenent of one’s social tribe, as is sexual orientation. One of the problems I have with the idea of ” chinos and organic t-shirt” as a sort of feminist uniform is that to many people that quite clearly says “white, middle class, college graduate”. That style of dress is not value neutral, it has a coded meaning too, and the meaning is a lot more than just “feminist”. That’s a point that often seems to be forgotten.

  136. WookieMonster

    I wasn’t trying to imply that all BDSM fans are survivors or victims, but that the patriarchy messes with your head in so many ways that it’s possible (I think likely, but you’re entitled to your own opinion) that the pain/pleasure connection that makes BDSM fun is a product of the patriarchy.

    Think about the cliché, “for beauty you must suffer”. Women wear high heels, corsets, restrictively tailored clothing, we subject ourselves to bulimia and anorexia so that we can find approval in the male gaze and it all make us feel powerful (even if it is sexual power, the most useless and subversive sort of power) while they wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. How is this not patriarchy conditioning us to find pleasure in pain? Is it possible that the people who are into BDSM, while they may or may not have given up on other patriarchal trappings, may be channeling their conditioning to “for beauty you must suffer” into their BDSM play?

    Seriously, what I’m arguing here isn’t that people shouldn’t be into BDSM. Do whatever the hell you want, but to claim that it is subverting the patriarchy just seems really false and wishful thinking to me.

  137. kathy a

    i just love the word “horndoggitude” in twisty’s original post.

  138. Minion

    You see, Twisty? Your cause is hopeless…Mwa ha ha ha ha!

  139. Hissy Cat

    Seriously, what I’m arguing here isn’t that people shouldn’t be into BDSM. Do whatever the hell you want, but to claim that it is subverting the patriarchy just seems really false and wishful thinking to me.

    Seems everyone’s more or less in agreement with you that subversion via mixed seperates is wishful thinking.

    Britgirl SF– I’m glad you made the point that people often, if not always, have multiple identities. Also your point about the non-neutrality of feminist drab. Totally what I was trying to say. You articulated it a lot better than me.

    “If it marks me out as having a tribal allegiance then that tribe is feminism and I’m pretty comfortable with that. I’m fighting to be free.”
    Sorry to pick on one person here, but this comment sums up EXACTLY what drives me nuts about this debate. The implication seems to be that women who make different clothing choices than the writer are somehow less feminist because of it. That’s bullshit, and whether you realise it or not it’s a form of sister-shaming, albeit a fairly subtle one.

    I am in whole-hearted agreement.

  140. piny

    >>Is it possible that the people who are into BDSM, while they may or may not have given up on other patriarchal trappings, may be channeling their conditioning to “for beauty you must suffer” into their BDSM play?>>

    Assuming, against my better judgment, that this question is not in fact rhetorical:

    It’s possible, just like it’s possible that every sexual practice exists merely because it is conditioned under patriarchy. Take cuddling and spooning, for example: clearly a result of women being trained from birth to seek protection from other people.

    But it’s not true.

    I can’t speak for everyone involved, but I’ve always been a papercut-sucking, scab-picking, itch-scratching, gee-I-guess-I-am-bleeding, dehydrated?-me? kind of person. I have a really high threshold for pain. I play not because it’s merely fun or sexy, but because I get an endorphin high so extreme I have trouble walking straight. This phenomenon is common to other people in the community.

    Also, please remember that most bdsm practitioners are deeply committed to their own physical and psychological health. If we truly believed and were acting out the idea that we had to suffer to be acceptable, we probably wouldn’t be so careful with ourselves. We are not merely permitted but encouraged to safeword at any point if we feel hurt, uncomfortable, disinterested, scared, anxious, unwell, or turned-off. I’ve done so countless times, and I’ve never been made to feel ashamed of it. Under no circumstances are we supposed to put up with something we don’t want to happen in order to please someone else.

  141. AB

    Okay, this thread has gotten so far off the original fashion topic that I feel bad posting… but I’m gonna do it anyway.

    Q Grrl, you wrote that >>It doesn’t matter what I do in private, nor what it means to me. The larger context within which privacy is situated doesn’t allow for my personal meaning to transcend my “role” as a female in a patriarchal society.>> And Wookiemonster seems to agree that how one perceives ones actions (as liberating or oppressive) doesn’t necessarily line up with reality.

    And I’m sympathetic to that argument, to some extent. I think corporations and commercial culture have latched onto feminism, as they have latched onto many other movements, as a chance to sell you something while gutting the actual meaning. Buy a short skirt, because that means you’re empowered! You’ve come a long way, baby!

    But it seems to me that feminism, of all the social movements, *is* really one in which the boundary between personal perception and wider cultural “reality” is the weakest. That is to say, I believe that a large part (50%? 60%?) of the way patriarchy works is by brainwashing women through socialization to be subordinate, to participate in their own oppression, to believe that they are weaker, less smart, more emotional, etc etc etc than men. To not resist, because all resistance is futile. Within that framework, anything that is “personally liberating” *is* significant, even if it doesn’t appear to have effects on patriarchy. It’s either an underground shift that primes us to further recognize and resist oppression, or is akin to creating “drag” on the forward movement of patriarchy. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors there.)

    So in a sense you’re right that getting a bunch of body piercings won’t change the way that men view me, as a sex class. But it may change the way I view myself–as stronger, able to endure pain I didn’t know I could, as claiming my body as *mine* to do with as I see fit–and that can’t help but shift things. Doesn’t mean some jackass isn’t going to try to jump me and rape me while I’m walking home. But it may mean that for the first time, I believe that I’m strong enough to fight back; able to endure pain enough to not crumple when he punches me in the face; to believe that I’m badass enough to move to a big city even without a boyfriend or a husband as a protector from guys like him.

  142. Anonymous

    “By the way, sorry if I sound a bit heated here, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard the “you’re not a proper feminist if you wear heels and makeup” argument, and I’m getting very tired of it.”

    You know if you can find one example of this mythological attitude on this thread I’ll eat my tiny handbag. And yes I do have a tiny handbag, I have it because my comfortable clothes don’t stretch as far as having pockets so I need it for carrying my wallet, keys and change around, in fact it’s almost identical to the one in Twisty’s photograph. However reading Twisty’s criticism of the tiny handbag has made me rethink. In fact I feel a little stupid as I am usually so aware of these things, but she’s right, it’s a tool of the patriachy, it’s uncomfortable, it gets in the way and it’s a compromise because of the failures of other parts of my clothing. It’s also, according to Germaine Greer, a symbolic representation of my womb.

    Now maybe someone will swoop down here and tell me that I’m not a proper feminist because of my possession (possibly short-lived if I have to eat it) of a tiny bag, but I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. Feminism is about criticising patriachal practices and subverting them whereever possible, it’s not about criticising women who succumb to those practices (almost each and every one of us) because we understand where the pressures to succumb come from.

    Criticising feminists for criticising patriarchal practices is anti-feminist however.

  143. delphyne

    “It is also worth noting, as HissyCat said, that there really is no way to subvert the patriarchy simply by wearing different clothes. The system’s not going to come tumbling down just because Twisty wears cargo shorts, or someone else wears chinos and fleece instead of a skirt and heels. It would be great if it was that easy to destroy the system, but it isn’t.”

    It is possible to subvert the patriarchy by wearing different clothes, it won’t bring it down but again nobody’s arguing that, however if every women decided to dress for her own comfort rather than for the pleasure or approval of men’s eyes, it would mark a sea-change in our culture. You only have to be aware of the enormous social pressures that are placed on women to dress in a certain way to see that it is extremely important to the patriarchy for women to be marked out in this way, it lets them know at a glance which women they need to worry about. Why do you think so many people get up in arms about hairy-legged, dungarees wearing feminists?

    I’m getting a bit shirty here myself I admit, but I’m wondering why you are so concerned that chinos and a t-shirt is “middle-class”. Goth clothes have always screamed “middle-class” to me. The goth kids at my school were always the poshest.

  144. delphyne

    The unauthored post two posts back was by me.

  145. delphyne

    I missed this point -

    “”If it marks me out as having a tribal allegiance then that tribe is feminism and I’m pretty comfortable with that. I’m fighting to be free.”
    Sorry to pick on one person here, but this comment sums up EXACTLY what drives me nuts about this debate. The implication seems to be that women who make different clothing choices than the writer are somehow less feminist because of it. That’s bullshit, and whether you realise it or not it’s a form of sister-shaming, albeit a fairly subtle one.”

    Do you know what? It doesn’t make that implication. I was responding to the idea that my clothes somehow meant I’m part of a tribe, I don’t think that’s correct, which is why I said “*if* it marks me out”, I was agreeing for the sake of the argument. I should probably have responded differently but I was getting irritated with the “all clothing choices offered in patriarchy are equal” line. They’re not. There are clothes you can wear to subvert patriarchy. It doesn’t make you less of a feminist if you don’t do it, but if you do it, it may make you more visible as a feminist. I find there’s a flavour of patriarchy in the idea of tribes. Maybe what I should have said is that I’m a member of the tribe of women.

    So I guess that this sister-shaming is so subtle it doesn’t actually exist. You do what you want, just don’t get pissed off when I, or any other feminist, criticises the clothing choices that patriarchy offers women.

    Robert Smith doesn’t wear corsets, Nick Cave doesn’t wear thigh high stilletoe boots, Siouxie Sioux is stuck in both.

  146. BritGirlSF

    “Criticising feminists for criticising patriarchal practices is anti-feminist however.”
    Oh, please, get off that high horse before you fall and hurt yourself.
    The real difference in attitude here isn’t the degree of committment to feminism, it’s the willingness to allow for the fact that other women might make choices different to our own. Notice that I didn’t say that wearing the “schlumpy” clothes was bad, just that the message those clothes send is not value-neutral. Also notice that I am not criticising you for owning a tiny handbag, even though I find them absurd and have never owned one myself. I am assuming that as an adult you have the right to make up your own damn mind about how you dress yourself. Why is it so difficult for you to extend the same respect to others? None of us is able to live completely free of the patriarchy – who are you to decide which compromises are acceptable and which are not for anyone other than yourself?
    I’m still not seeing why critiquing the choices of other women who identify as feminist is a worthwhile endevour. There are plenty of openly non-feminist women who we could get out there and engage with – what’s the point picking on members of our own community just because we don’t care for their sartorial style? This part of the conversation wasn’t about clothing choices in the abstract, it was about the assumption that one can know what other women intend by the choices they make. If you feel that your personal choices are superior, fine, but it’s a bit arrogant to expect that everyone else will agree with you. If you dislike goth, or BSDM, or any other subculture then again, that’s your choice, but the mere fact that you don’t like it doesn’t make it anti-feminist, nor does it mean that other women might not find some degree of satisfaction or empowerment in those subcultures, or merely find them enjoyable in a trivial and apolitical but harmless way. If a number of feminist women whom I respect say that they find BSDM (or goth, or any other scene)empowering, then I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they may know what they’re talking about.
    So by all means criticise the “clothing choices that patriarchy offers women” all you like, but recognise that criticising the choices that other women make is an entirely different thing.

  147. delphyne

    Like I said, if you can find one post that demonstrates that I’m cirticising women for the choices they make then the handbag’s gone.

    Until then I’m done with this conversation. Trying to deal with your insistent misrepresentation of my position and what I’ve said just isn’t worth the effort.

  148. BritGirlSF

    Funny, I feel exactly the same way. It’s the superior tone that ticks me off, but if you can’t see it then it’s really no skin off my nose. I any case, you’re boring me.

  149. BritGirlSF

    Oh, and my the way, my whole point was that you should be able to keep the silly little bag if you want. What I think of it isn’t the point, the point is what you think of it.
    Or, to put it more succinctly – what does a feminist wear? Anything she damn well pleases.

  150. piny

    It’s words like, “succumb,” that the women being, ahem, _not_ criticized have a problem with, all right? Misplaced sympathy is just as insulting as blame.

    And if you want to see men in corsets and thigh-high boots, go to a fetish party. Don’t check out the handiest three album covers at the local Tower franchise.

  151. piny

    >>I think anorexic, bulimic, and eternally-dieting women are victims of patriarchy. Just as I think those who transition are also victims of patriarchy. I don’t hold their actions to their account; I don’t blame them for what they do. We are all doing what we feel we have to do to survive in this world. But I do believe that their actions perpetuate, shore up, the nuts and bolts of male heterosupremacy, what is central to male supremacy, even though that is not what they intend.>>

    Here’s another example of the same basic argument. Do you understand why it’s not better to be a victim of patriarchy than to be a shill for patriarchy?

  152. BritGirlSF

    Hi, piny. Was your last comment directed at me or at Delphyne? If it was directed towards me I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say. I’m certainly not intending to come across as shilling for the patriarchy!

  153. BritGirlSF

    Actually on re-reading I think I get it now. Sorry, lack of sleep catching up with me.

  154. Adrienne

    Feminine drag…identifies (a) a woman’s subordinate status and (b) her degree of sexual availability.

    I think that’s very true.

    I’m a university student studying to be an engineer. I’m almost always surrounded by boys, and I’ve discovered one thing: I can be sexy, OR I can be respected.

    If I’m seen as feminine (read: a sex object), I suddenly become part of the Other, and I’m treated as such. If I’m dressed attractively but not femininely, I’m treated more like a guy and given respect.

    I think one of my most defining moments was at Take Your Daughter To Work Day when I was eight or so. My father took me in to see his company, a software engineering firm. I saw a woman with long pink nails and told my dad that I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. My dad picked me up, sat me on his desk, and explained to me that she was a secretary.

    He then pointed out another woman I’d spent time with. She was an engineer. He explained that she didn’t wear long nails or lots of makeup because people knew that she was smart, and people who are smart don’t need to “play dress-up as adults” because they are happy with who they are.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a secretary, but I realized at 8 that I wanted to be like the engineer. I never wanted fake nails again.

  155. klem

    In response to the observation by d.e.i.x.i.s. on how this girl is ‘healing’ her pain via this corsetting.

    The is pure bull. If a child burns their hand on a stove and feels distressed, would we then suggest that it might make them feel better if the repeated the act in order to feel in control?? No, we tell them to remember the lesson!

    The patriarchy has done such a great job at convincing us that dominating is the way to go that they’ve got us dominating ourselves.
    ‘They’ , if the patriarchy were actually any particular person(s), would be laughing their asses off at the fact that they can just sit back and let us do the job for them.
    People will continue to repeatedly traumatize themselves until they realize fighting fire with fire pretty F*cked up.

    (and yes I’m late to this part of the blog party but, hey 2 cents is still 2 cents) *wink

  156. klem

    Yes, fem doms are a tool of the patriarchy and only reinforce the distortion that an imbalance of power is healthy tool and is somehow actually liberating. This goes back to the hand on the stove analogy.

    We’ve been so brainwashed by 12 years of good old fashioned ‘schooling’ to be told what to do, when to do it, not to think the question why? We have aged but not grown up!

    The confusing thing is that both men and women are products of this distortion, the collective psyche stinks of it.

    Some identify with a certain end of the spectrum and are trying to rebalance. We will continue to merge with /desire that which we percieve to be lacking in ourselves-most notably power. Top, bottom from what I’ve read the role doesn’t matter.

    When we look at it from this perspective–an all encompassing veil of ignorance–we can begin to realize our true nature and the shift will begin.

  157. Fede

    This remains one of my absolute favourites among your countless ingenious posts.

    Does anyone need to know about my preferences? Hardly, but I couldn’t keep it in.

  158. Amber

    BitingBeaver wrote:

    >>When sex is involved Patriarchy is involved.<<

    Oh I see, so in order for women to "resist the patriarchy" they should just be celibate; even if they really enjoy sex and don't wish to repress their sexual desires? Funny enough, what you call "patriarchal" is what the fundies call "immorality" or "living in sin"…

    And for the record, ladies:

    Other women are not obligated to dress in a way that YOU personally find comfortable if we don't wish to do so. In fact, we're not even required to (only)wear comfortable clothing whatsoever. Deal with it!

  159. No Sugarcoating

    Amber:

    No, that’s not what she was saying at all. She was merely making an observation. Patriarchy influences all forms of sex we know. The end. There is no recommendation to be celibate. It’s just analysis. However, it is definitely better to be aware of how patriarchy influences our actions, even if we don’t change them. No one was telling women to stop wearing uncomfortable or feminine clothes either. Maybe you should try thinking about what they’re saying objectively instead of filtering it into a referendum on your life.

  160. Cyberwulf

    Stick around and read the blog for a while, Amber. You’ll learn.

  1. Hissy Cat

    My Sick Day

    My sick day was given over largely to particpitating in a very involved debate at Twisty’s about, among other things, mysoginy and corset piercings. I may post further/ revised/ better articulated thoughts on the topic later this week. Then again,…

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