Jun 132011

Laura Kipnis opines on the DSK scandal and the apparent lack of female sex scandals, drawing on Louise Kaplan’s Female Perversions:

In her influential 1991 book “Female Perversions” (later made into a movie starring Tilda Swinton), psychoanalyst Louise Kaplan writes that we tend to think of sexual perversions as a male province only because female perversions are more hidden. In fact, they’re hidden in plain sight. The point is applicable to sex scandals too, I believe. According to Kaplan, perversions aren’t primarily about illicit or deviant sexual behaviors, they’re actually pathologies of gender identity. “What makes a perversion a perversion is a mental strategy that uses one or another social stereotype of masculinity or femininity in a way that deceives the onlooker about the unconscious meanings of the behaviors she or he is observing.”

Women too, are capable of perverse behavior, and enlisting others in such stratagems, but this kind of thing generally doesn’t make the headlines. Very occasionally we see women getting themselves into scandals in ways we’d consider “masculine”—high school teachers sleeping with their students for instance—but it’s rare. More often, when we see a woman behaving in caricatured feminine ways, the response is, “Thanks for doing the laundry, baby.”

The stereotypical cliche of perverse sexuality, the CEO who pays a dominatrix thousands of dollars to dress in a French maid uniform and do her laundry, doesn’t seem to have a direct female analogue. When we look for female scandals with this perspective, things start to pop up, of female celebrities under tremendous pressure and acting out in bizarre ways. I think of Angelina Jolie’s (perhaps excessive) display of maternity in adopting African children, or Tammy Faye Bakker’s grotesque exaggeration of female makeup back in the days, or women who have multiple cosmetic surgeries. Still, these examples are something inward directed.

As women move into more positions of authority in the corporate and political realms, will they start to display more male-like sexual perversions, or will we have to create a new category of scandal for them? Tabloid journalism obsesses over the bodies of female celebrities (too fat? too thin? botched operation? pregnant? infertile?) but not their sexualities, not the objects of their desires.

Mar 152010

While I generally avoid talking about the physiological basis for BDSM in this blog, an article on tickling in Slate.com got me thinking.

Tickling is an odd thing. It causes the recipient to lose control and perform involuntary reactions like laughing and squirming away, yet the experience is pleasurable. Also, it appears to be impossible for people to tickle themselves.
However, tickling seems to require that the tickler and the ticklee know each other. When truly unwelcome, the contact is no longer tickling.

Continue reading »

Jun 202007

Salon’s Broadsheet blog has an interesting theory on the reactionary images of helpless, out of control women that seem to be filling the media these days. Instead of a regressive sign, this may actually be a sign of how much their status has changed.

Naomi Wolf … has an interesting take on why women take on the role of shrinking violet. In yesterday’s Washington Post, Wolf addresses Hollywood’s helplessness narrative, …

…this is where Wolf’s argument is most daring: “Yes, it gives many of us the thrill of feeling morally superior,” she says. “But it’s also a way to tap into a yearning for regression and irresponsibility — even a fantasy of not being so competent, of letting it all go to pieces and having someone else clean up the mess — that millions of us generally have to suppress as we make our way successfully through the daily checklist and get it all done.”

The overworked BDSM cliche is the male executive who pays a pro dominatrix huge amounts of money to be beaten and infantilized. Critics say that the executive’s submission to the prodom has nothing to do with changing power structures in the real world. If the real world and the kink world have no relationship, and male submission is a vacation, then doesn’t it follow that women of responsibility and authority would want the same kind of vacation?

I’ve started on Louse J Kaplan’s Female Perversions from 1991, which takes direct aim at the old “do women have fetishes?” question. Kaplan isn’t really interested in consensual BDSM, and focuses instead on the clinical definition of fetishism and perversion, something that is compulsive and fixed.

Kaplan says that “the perverse strategy” is a way of escaping the strictures of gender. Men get aroused by, say, infantilism or transvestism, because they want to act in a non-masculine way; the arousal is actually to decoy or divert attention of the fetishist and/or observers away the desired behavior by expressing sexual performance.

This is the inverse of Michael J Bader’s theory of sexual fantasies in his book Arousal. Bader says the fetish allays anxiety to make arousal possible. Kaplan says the arousal allays anxiety to make the fetish possible. I’m divided on which I think is true; maybe it’s a chicken-or-egg thing.

Kaplan says women have perversions that allow them to escape the strictures of their gender (e.g. being nice, clean, caring, etc.) while being camouflaged by other things. Maybe by observing female celebrity basket-cases, women vicariously experience being greedy, callous, self-indulgent, irresponsible, etc.

Addendum: This seems every apt to the discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Jun 092007

Elizabeth of the Alternative Journey blog calls Jack Bauer, the hero(?) of 24, her “ultimate conquered male.”

Bitchy Jones followed up with a related post on male suffering and heroism.

Male submission and the archetypal heroic narrative are basically interchangeable. But somehow submissive men (and, I guess, a lot of people in general) seemed to have been tricked into thinking submission is basically feminine; that submissive men need to create feminine personas to make their submission make sense, get I touch with their feminine sides.

Which is bollocks.

Submissive men are heroes. Every time they take off their clothes. Which they should do both frequently and often.

Look, Prometheus stole fire for humans and was, in retaliation, tortured daily for 30,000 years (sm). Atlas holds up the fucking sky on his shoulders (predicament bondage).

And then there’s Jesus Christ. Where to begin? Sacrifice? Submission? Dying for all our sins? Nails? Hot jewish guy in pain and mostly naked? My god, my god, why have you forsaken me? He safewords on the cross! I fucking loved Sunday school.

Do you see what page I’m on? Every story of heroism. From then to now.

Dr Jack says to the evil ‘others’ in Lost – let my friends go and you can do what you want with me.

Angel goes back to fight in the Ring even when he could walk free because he can’t leave the other demons to their fate.

Goddamnit, Indy, where doesn’t it hurt?

And Elizabeth has covered Jack Bauer in detail. (She’s an inspiration – that woman.)

Bauer suffers, certainly, but is he a masochist? His suffering is incidental to his mission. He does not suffer for its own sake, or find meaning in it. Arguably, he undergoes torture out of guilt for his own actions. Bauer’s distinguishing characteristic, at least in my mind, is sadism. Over the course of the series he mentally and physically tortures several people, kills a man in cold blood and cuts off his head with a hacksaw, and executes people on his own side. Like Richardson’s Lovelace and Sade’s libertines, Bauer justifies his actions by claiming he is aware of a higher truth about the nature of the world.

I’d call Bauer a stoic, not a masochist. Masochists suffer; stoics endure. A masochist wants to feel deeply, while a stoic wants not to feel pain or pleasure.

Old school male heroes, the John Wayne/Humphrey Bogart/Gary Cooper generation, were defined by stoicism, their immunity to fear, pain, exhaustion and loss.

The thing is, stoicism can easily shade into masochism. In order to prove one has the proper stoic’s indifference to pain, one seeks out suffering, makes a performance out of it. Is masochism the sign of a person insecure in stoicism?

It’s later on, starting around 1990, that we get male action heroes who not only suffer, but make flamboyant displays of suffering. Mel Gibson’s characters are often tortured in his films, while Bruce Willis weeping while picking broken glass out of his bare feet in Die Hard is a far cry from Sylvester Stallone as Rambo cauterizing his own wounds with gunpowder.

Furthermore, masochism can be a relief from stoicism, saying, “Yes, it does hurt, but I can still take it!” Masochism was defined as a specifically male problem by Kraff-Ebing when the masculine ideal was the height of stoicism, and self-sacrifice was the female ideal. Sacher-Masoch could be viewed as a holdover from the previous century’s culture of sensibility.

I’ve been talking about male characters so far, but what about women? Currently, there are two female characters on TV who are defined by their capacity to withstand suffering. Claire Bennet of Heroes and Jane Vasco of Painkiller Jane both have superhuman regenerative abilities, being nearly impossible to kill. Their storylines offer plenty of scenes of them being injured and recovering, and their willingness to undergo harm is a big part of their heroism.

However, Jane feels pain, while Claire doesn’t, or not as most people do. Does that mean Jane is masochistic, while Claire is stoic? Or does it mean that Jane is the stoic, ignoring pain, while Claire is the true masochist, experiencing intense physical sensations as pleasure?

Ariel Glucklich’s book Sacred Pain emphasizes that we do not just experience pain, we interpret it, assign it meaning in our life stories. A stoic sees pain as a distraction, to be ignored, or perhaps as proof of determination to accomplish goals. A masochist sees pain as a way to get outside our self.

Apr 252007

Morgan, David. Visual Piety: A history and theory of popular religious images University of California Press, 1998

Since I started this project, I’ve thought that Christian religious art depicting Christ and saints in positions of torment was a key element in the story. But I’ve yet to find a good book on the subject that explains the why of these images.

Morgan’s book is a good start on this. He links the late medieval practice of depicting a beaten, bloody Christ to the psychological practice of empathy. In this case, the believer practices piety by looking at the image of Christ (or a saint) and imagining him or her self in the same situation. Humanity suffers along with Christ, and reaches the divine. The suffering body is a route to the divine, or put another way, we suffer to reach beyond ourselves. God suffers as humans do.

Continue reading »

Apr 062007

Glucklich, Ariel. Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Although this is a fairly academic read, Glucklich’s book has given me a lot of food for thought on the role of pain in human life and society. It’s a shame that Glucklich doesn’t discuss sadomasochism and instead confines himself to medical and religious contexts.

Continue reading »

May 132006

Nerve has a great personal essay on a woman’s quest to develop her sexuality after an accident paralyzed her and put her in a wheelchair. (Emphasis added)

Unfortunately, when we turned on the lights, I discovered I had bled like a sieve. Back then, I had a catheter in my urethra to keep my bladder empty. (I can now independently drain my bladder via a tiny hole in my bellybutton.) His penis had rubbed the catheter the wrong way and irritated the inside of my bladder. Blood was flowing into my drainage bag, which was lying on the bed beside me.

But I didn’t let this scare me off. A year later, the Oklahoma guy and I were deep in a serious, sexually active relationship, even talking about marriage, when a friend of mine told me I was being stalked online by several “devotees,” a group of fetishists who get off on wheelchair users, particularly those with atrophied legs and spastic muscles. I told my boyfriend about this shocking revelation and he acted surprised, weirded out and disgusted. A week later, he tearfully confessed that he was one of those freaks. I was devastated. He told me that even though my wheelchair was what attracted him in the beginning, he was now truly in love with me. I was too in love with him to break it off.

…we sat on my automatic bed and made out. He leaned over and quickly pulled up my tank, exposing my breasts. He was so deft, so confident, and clearly experienced. I let go at that point and let him explore me at will. I’m a submissive at heart and get turned on from giving up complete control. Being paralyzed makes that very easy to do, which is perhaps the one ironic benefit of my accident.

The relationship to how powerful people are in their everyday life and how powerful they act in the Scene or in bed. There seems to be no correspondence between the two, in my experience. Some people who identify as Dom are high-powered, authoritative types in the work and home lives, while others have low authority jobs.

So, what’s the relationship between a person who fantasizes about being disabled (other examples: Vicky Hooks, ParaCathy) as a form of submission and a person who is submissive sexually and disabled? If your physical circumstances require you to be submissive, does your sexuality adapt to that out of necessity?

More on disability fetishists