In 2009, I was asked to write a series of articles at the blog More Inches. This series is about the argument made my radical feminist Melissa Farley as she condemns the sexual minority often referred to as sadomasochists or BDSM:ers. As I now republish this series on my own blog, I keep the division into three parts. These are Totalitarian Categorism in Radical Feminism, The Strawman Sadomasochist and Sadomasochism versus Radical Feminist dogma.
It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this metaphor is very true for totalitarian branches of radical feminism. Tough everyone divides things and people into categories, it is all too easy to make the categories into prisons instead of tools. This is the point at which categorization turns into what I call categorism: When categorization by skin color or ethnicity turns into racism, where categorization by gender turns into sexism or transphobia, where categorization by sexual orientations turns into homophobia, heterophobia or paraphobia.
Feminism focuses on the categorization of people into men and women, and on the oppression of the second category. At best, this focus is liberating by fighting oppression and by making oppression visible. At worst, however, feminism can be misused to lock people into narrow categories of what it means to have a certain gender or sexuality. And thus, certain branches of radical feminism are infamous for prejudice against gender identity minorities (notably transsexuals, for example with Raymond’s book The Transsexual Empire) and against all sexualities that do not fit their narrow normative orthodoxy.
Such orthodoxy can be relatively harmless when it is very far from what the mainstream believes. If a debater claims in the name of feminism that all heterosexual women are brainwashed victims of male rapists, then the debater is unlikely to accomplish anything other then giving antifeminists an opportunity to ridicule feminism as such. But if the same debater instead claims that all masochists are brainwashed victims of sadistic rapists, then the debater has a chance to cause real harm to real masochists since this sexual minority is already viewed with mistrust and prejudice by many in the mainstream.
One good example is Farley’s “The Ten Lies of Sadomasochism”. In this text, the author makes the claim that there are ten claims that sadomasochists usually make about themselves. She also claims that these ten statements are lies, and that she has successfully exposed them as such.
Three things are wrong about this statement. First of all, her list is highly questionable. Some claims are twisted into generalizations, others are outright outrageous. It is obvious that it is the list of a radical feminist who want to portray sadomasochism in a bad light, not a list that the sadomasochist subculture would agree on. Thus, her whole argument is based on a “Strawman Political”. (See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StrawmanPolitical )
Second, not only does she use heavily ideological definitions of what certain words mean, but she also pretends that sadomasochists agree with her definitions of these words.
Third, she generalizes in ways that very consistently imply the word “all” without using the word itself. She talks about how all sadomasochists are, without ever using the word “all”, taking for granted that all sadomasochists form one coherent group. This kind of generalization is a hallmark of categorism.
The ten so-called lies are:
1. Pain is pleasure; humiliation is enjoyable; bondage is liberation.
2. Sadomasochism is love and trust, not domination and annihilation.
3. Sadomasochism is not racist and anti Semitic even though we “act” like slave owners and enslaved Africans, Nazis and persecuted Jews.
4. Sadomasochism is consensual; no one gets hurt if they don’t want to get hurt. No one has died from sadomasochistic “scenes.”
5. Sadomasochism is only about sex. It doesn’t extend into the rest of the relationship.
6. Sadomasochistic pornography has no relationship to the sadomasochistic society we live in. “If it feels good, go with it.” “We create our own sexuality.”
7. Lesbians “into sadomasochism” are feminists, devoted to women, and a women-only lesbian community. Lesbian pornography is “by women, for women.”
8. Since lesbians are superior to men, we can “play” with sadomasochism in a liberating way that heterosexuals can not.
9. Reenacting abuse heals abuse. Sadomasochism heals emotional wounds from childhood sexual assault.
10. Sadomasochism is political dissent. It is progressive and even “transgressive” in that it breaks the rules of the dominant sexual ideology.
In the next two parts we will take a closer look at each of these claims. I have divided this into two chapters: The Strawman Sadomasochist and Sadomasochism Versus Radical Feminist Dogma.