Posts Tagged ‘ranty’

Firefly and Gender Politics

July 27, 2011

Recently, I read a lovely book called ‘Whedonistas’, by Mad Norwegian Press. (Full disclaimer: The publishers are really nice people and I recommend the book both because it has a lot of merit and is immensely, entertainingly readable, and because you should support small press publishers run by extremely nice people.) This book is in the same basic vein as ‘Chicks Dig Time Lords’, essays on the series from women giving their perspective, but–and I say this with the sincerest hope that you will understand that I still enjoyed the book greatly–it suffers a little in comparison with ‘Chicks’ because it’s a little easier to be critical of Doctor Who than Joss Whedon.

This isn’t anything to do with my lifelong attachment to Doctor Who, I should clarify. (Oh, while I’m clarifying things, there’s a reason this is on my sexy sexy sex blog and not on one of my many vanilla blogs.) This is to do mainly with the fact that Doctor Who has been around for decades, and while people have a great attachment to the series in general, there are lots of specific eras that they feel very comfortable saying they don’t care for. When someone says, “Wow, making up a white guy in ‘yellowface’ for ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ is amazingly racist,” there are enough people who didn’t grow up in the Fourth Doctor era that the opinion isn’t shouted down. Whereas with Joss Whedon…

Joss’ series are still very close in the memory of the fans. Very close and very powerful–for most of the people now talking about the series on the Internet, these memories form a big chunk of the backbone of their memories of transitioning to adulthood. Someone who’s thirty now was graduating from high school at the same time as Buffy, going through their life’s journey along with her. They discovered Angel and Firefly just at the point where they were emotionally ready for it, and they accepted it almost uncritically. It’s hard for someone like that to say something’s wrong with Whedon, and it’s just as hard for someone else like that to hear it.

Which is a big part of the explanation for one of the truly unforgivable omissions to the book: an analysis of the gender politics between Mal and Inara. For some reason, this is always seen as one of the great whacky mismatched romances of science-fiction, as the two of them comically bicker and argue to cover their true feelings for each other. And I’ll admit, when I first watched the series, I felt the same way…until I watched ‘Out of Gas’.

When I watched the first meeting between Mal and Inara, it made me deeply uncomfortable. Inara sets a few very clear ground rules. No entering her quarters without permission. No taking advantage of her sexually. And no calling her a whore. These are entirely sensible ground rules, set by a woman who is in a somewhat hazardous position; she has no legal structure backing her up, nobody she can turn to except herself, and she doesn’t know if she can trust any of this crew. It is entirely fair of her to set these rules, and entirely understandable that she is forceful and direct in doing so.

And we know that Mal consistently ignores two of these three rules for their entire time together.

It’s hard not to see that as anything but bad. He is continually violating her personal boundaries, he is constantly demeaning to her profession and her person, and in doing so, he is indirectly threatening her with sexual violence. If he has never given her any reason to trust his word when he agreed not to demean her or enter her private spaces, how can she feel safe around him sexually?

But this is always played as “charming frankness and roguishness” on Mal’s part, and fandom seems to agree. Part of it is, I think, because Whedon is a skilled wordsmith and because Morena Baccarin and Nathan Fillion have great chemistry together. But part of it, I think, is that even among female fans, even among self-identified feminist fans, there is a sense that Mal is right and Inara is wrong. Inara is just a whore, and Mal is terming her correctly. Inara is trying to pretend she’s something better than she is, and she should stop. (Either stop pretending or stop being a prostitute, depending on which species of sex-negative “feminist” you are.)

This is, of course, bullshit. Inara has a right to claim whatever power she feels entitled to, and she has the right to feel safe on an emotional, physical and sexual level. Mal is wrong to deny her that right, he always will be, and Inara’s strongest moment in the series is when she decides to tell him to fuck off and she leaves the damn ship. Because Mal always talks about how Serenity’s crew is a family…but when it comes to Inara, he doesn’t practice it because she enjoys sex and makes a living at it. And that’s not right.

And I wish someone had written an essay saying so.

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A Word to the Unwise

March 30, 2011

Y’know, at this point I’ve been a member of the hypnokink community for about a decade. Longer than some, less than others, and some of that time was spent as a quiet lurker, but the point is that I’ve been around long enough to see a few patterns emerge. And one of those is…well, we pretty much all approached the fetish through Simon bar Sinister’s Erotic Mind Control Stories Archive. Reading the stories that he’s meticulously collected is the gateway for most people into hypnokink, which means that one of the first things they read is the disclaimers on Simon’s website. Specifically, Disclaimer #3, which reads, “This site is for fantasy only. The situations described here are at best impossible or at worst highly immoral in real life. Anyone wishing to try this stuff for real should seek psychological help and/or get a life.”

But as a lot of people (including pretty much everyone who reads this blog) has found out, that’s not 100% true. Simon treats it as though it were, of course, because he’s running a website and doesn’t want to get sued by someone who read one of the stories there and decided it’d be a good idea to kidnap a teenage girl and drug her with experimental chemicals to see if he can brainwash her. That’s the sort of thing disclaimers are for. But the fact of the matter is, some of the situations described in some of the stories are not impossible, and are…well, at least only moderately immoral in real life. 🙂

There is a certain type of person, though, that believes that if the disclaimer is not entirely true, then that must mean it is entirely untrue. They find out that you can do lots of fun, sexy things to men and women with hypnosis, and they go out and learn hypnosis with the full intent of using it for fun, sexy things. This is, of course, not at all a bad thing in and of itself. Fun sexy things are fun. BUT…

I have seen, over the years, people who have gotten so excited about the idea of being able to indulge their fetish for hypnosis that they forget that the person on the other side of the watch is a person. (To quote Terry Pratchett, “There’s only one true evil in this world, and that’s treating people like they were things.”) They get so turned on by the idea of being able to actually, really, genuinely command another human being to do whatever they say that they do exactly that, even when those commands are pushing very real limits that the other person has. Sometimes it’s trying to trigger someone in an inappropriate situation (like at work, or with family.) Sometimes it’s trying to bypass their hard limits (like getting them to send photos or reveal personal information.) Sometimes it’s trying to get them to forget things that they probably shouldn’t forget (like the inappropriate things that the hypnotist tried earlier.)

In general, these people usually wind up with a bad reputation in the community, just like tops in the BDSM community who don’t respect safewords get bad reputations. I generally don’t call out bad hypnotists, because there’s always plenty of people to do it for me. I will, however, give you a word of advice. If you’re thinking about getting into hypnokink, and if you recognize some of what I described in yourself (and you don’t have to admit it to me, if you do. Just admit it to yourself…) listen to this.

I won’t say that you’ll wind up some sort of pariah. You’ll still be able to find bottoms from time to time, just because there’s always someone who just wants the experience (either because they’re curious, or because they miss it a lot and don’t have a good hypnodom/me they can call their own.) But those people will not stay. They will wind up unhappy with you, they will stop trusting you, and you will lose those good relationships. That beautiful, wonderful person that has trusted their mind to you will walk away, and hypnosis will not help you keep them. Their subconscious is trusting, their subconscious is welcoming, but their subconscious is not stupid and it is there to protect them. And you will wind up losing someone that you will wish you’d treated better. So remember…they’re people. Not things.

An Open Letter to the GLBT Community

August 10, 2010

Congratulations on overturning Proposition 8! I’ve read the news about it, and it looks like this is a pretty definitive challenge to the retrogressive, homophobic marriage laws in that state…and one, no less, that might very well set the kind of precedent that will set the cause of gay marriage moving forward at the federal level as well as in those states that don’t yet have equal rights for gay couples. I support you fully, and am absolutely thrilled on your behalf.

There is, however, one thing you might want to be aware of.

You know how all those asshole conservatives keep saying, “Watch out! This could lead to incest, bestiality, and polygamy being legitimized!” Uh-huh. And you know how you keep saying, “No, don’t be silly! Of course it won’t! We’ll keep those nasty people safely tucked away in the closet where they belong!” Uh-huh.

Yeah, um…speaking as a straight polyamorist, I would like you to be aware that statements like that are setting my marriage rights back by a couple of extra generations, at least. I understand why you’re saying them: You’re in a fight for something you believe in, and there are just some things you gotta say. I’m not saying you should give up your rights so that you can stay stuck in legal no-man’s-land with us. (Even though I know a lot of GLBT folks that are also poly, so in some ways, you kind of are. But that’s neither here nor there.)

All I’m asking is that you remember us, when it comes time to talk about this. Remember that we still support you, knowing what it means to us and our ability to stand out in the open and pledge our love to the people we care about under the eyes of the world. Remember what we’re giving up, once you’ve got it.

Thanks.

Sexism and Kink

October 15, 2009

That’s the weird thing about three-day weekends; they always seem to make you a day late in doing other things. Your Tuesday feels like a Monday, so your Wednesday feels like a Tuesday, so you wind up posting your blog entry a day late. 🙂 My apologies to all my readers.

So today, I’m going to tangent a bit–this blog mostly discusses hypnosis, with an implied understanding that we are actually discussing “erotic hypnosis”. But I’m actually going to focus on the sex part today. Unfortunately, it’s not in one of those “ooh, sexy hot secrets from my personal life” sort of way. I’m going to take the time to rant a bit about sexism and BDSM.

For a lot of people, this rates a sort of automatic, “Well, duh!” Many people (and many feminists) feel like any BDSM relationship in which the man is the dominant and the woman is the submissive is automatically a sexist relationship, just like the sky is blue and the grass is green. It’s not even hard to understand their logic; we’re just now coming out of a seemingly-endless period in history where women heard from every conceivable source that their role was to submit to the male authority in every area of their lives, and it took a lot of time, energy and effort to break free of that indoctrination (which is not the same as hypnosis, a topic I might discuss someday.) And it’s by no means a completed process. (Just ask Phyllis Schlafly.) So when some people see a woman in a subservient relationship to a man, it is natural to think of that as sexist.

But the kink community is all about (and I know some people are going to wince at hearing these words, because they are so overused, but bear with me) power exchanges. BDSM is about voluntarily giving your power to someone else, letting them enjoy the rush of dominance while you enjoy the rush of submission. Those are both enjoyable feelings, and both fun roles to take. There really is nothing wrong with wanting to take either role, because it is a voluntary submission. Any good scene, and any good BDSM relationship, has at its base the knowledge that the bottom can take that power back whenever they want, but are choosing not to. (And the very best scenes come along when the bottom lets that knowledge slide far enough to the back of their head that they only remember it if they absolutely have to, which is part of what makes hypnosis so much fun in BDSM play.)

It’s that word, “voluntary”, that is key here. “Voluntary” means that the submissive only gives up power under the conditions they’ve determined, at the times and in the places they’ve decided. They set the boundaries for their submission. Maybe that’s only submitting when wearing a collar, maybe it’s only in the bedroom, maybe it’s 24/7 lifestyle submission. But it’s their decision and their boundary. They might lose all their power within those boundaries, but they never lose the power to set them.

That’s the difference between submission and sexism in the world of BDSM–when someone else decides that they have the right to set your boundaries, that’s sexist. Saying, “You did that for your last boyfriend, you should do it for me,” or “You did that last week, you should do it again this week,” or “You submitted to me in the bedroom last night, that means I’m in charge and you should let me decide whether or not you keep your job” or even, “You hypnotize some people for free, that means I should get a freebie because I don’t want to pay for it” (to cite a particular pet peeve of many hypnodommes…) All of these are ways of trying to take the power that the submissive has the right to keep for herself. That’s sexist.

Or, to give the example that originally prompted this line of thinking, Valerie D’Orazio posted on her blog a while back about a comic book convention with a “Slave Leia Photoshoot”, where lots of women dressed up as Leia in her metal bikini from “Return of the Jedi”. D’Orazio said, “No matter how many times the girlfriend says that this was completely her own decision and that her man, standing beside her in a Han Solo outfit or trucker’s hat, had absolutely nothing to do with it, I just didn’t buy it.”

Which prompts another question: By refusing to accept that another woman could set her own boundaries, enjoy sexual behavior (in this case exhibitionism rather than actual BDSM) and still be an independent feminist, isn’t D’Orazio trying to set boundaries for them? And is that a form of sexism in and of itself? Saying, “I wouldn’t do that, so you can’t” could be seen as just as sexist as saying, “I want you to do that, you you must.”

(Although, in the interest of fairness and accuracy, I should point out that D’Orazio might very well be right, too. If, in fact, the boyfriend was pressuring his girlfriend to dress like this, he was taking away her right to set her own rules for when she displayed her body, and that’s clearly sexist by my own definition. I’m just pointing out that in any situation involving sexuality, particularly sexual kinks, it’s not ever going to be as simple as “sexy=sexist”, and that in fact, a lot of the people trying to banish women’s sexuality are doing so in order to control it…and nobody but the woman in question has the right to do that. Just to make things clear, in case Valerie D’Orazio should happen to visit the site and worry that I’m slamming on her. 🙂 )