Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
I’ve been thinking a lot about Constance’s post, and how it actually relates directly to my last Saturday night. And I’ve mulled whether or not I should talk about this, because it’s personal. Repeatedly, though, I’ve found that I’ve managed to get through to people from different backgrounds and mindsets by relating personal experience. It bridges the gap in a way detached theory can’t. I’m going to take the risk. You don’t have to take it with me.
See, I want to go further than Constance.
But when we default to yelling “sexism!” at images of women in submissive sexual positions, I would argue that we are actually being oppressive ourselves.
I agree with this, completely. But I’ll go further. It’s not just oppressive, and erasive, it’s dangerous. Reading BDSM as abuse is dangerous. And to explain why I think that, I’m going to tell you something about my experience of being a female sub in public. And to do that, I’m going to have to reveal what might be the worst-kept secret on the internet.
For the last while, I have been in a Male/female (M/f) Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship. The scope might be referred to as “in the bedroom”, but that would be misleading. It extends beyond the infliction of pain and the use of restraint in conventionally “sexual” situations, and into psychological submission. When we are together, I am always his sub, and he is always my Dom.
In this relationship, it’s actually never occurred to me to wonder if I am respected or valued or seen as an equal. I know I am. In the past I’ve been sexually and physically abused, and I’ve been in relationships that were psychologically abusive. I know when I’m being abused, and when I’m not. Anyone who wants to suggest I don’t, go right ahead. I have no problem with other people coming across as patronising ignorant fuckwits.
What fascinates me is how other people react to me when they realise I’m a sub. Oddly, there’s significant cross-over with how people react to my bisexuality.
I’m talking about fairly liberal, open-minded, licentious people who are (for the most part) not kinky. People who have spoken to me for the couple of minutes it takes to realise that I know my own mind and speak it. (I don’t really understand why so many vanilla people think subs are weak, and are surprised when they turn out to be strong. You don’t think this takes strength?) On Saturday night, I openly subbed for my Dom at a party. I wore my collar. There was enough “behaviour” for people to realise what I was. Overall, this was an enormous amount of fun for everyone, and something I was massively glad to be allowed to do. And I know some people would be disturbed by the sight of a woman being undressed by a circle of her lover’s friends, but that unease fails to take into account how I felt about it, which should be the most important thing.
There were a couple of times during the night, though, when the reactions were interesting.
Sometimes, just like when I tell people I’m bi, there’s the Jaded Disbelief. My sexuality isn’t real, it’s a put-on, a desperate attention-getting device. (My Dom gets this too, the whole “Oh yeah right” thing.) I’m acting, and if pushed far enough, I will crack, and react like a Normal Person. And that? The urge to make me Prove It? Is dangerous. If people in general both knew and accepted more about BDSM, for a start I wouldn’t have this pain where someone hit me in the small of the back. You know, over my kidney, right next to my spine. Something my Dom would never, ever do because it’s stupid and dangerous. A good Dom knows how to inflict pain without causing damage. He has no desire to cause serious injury, because BDSM is not abuse.
And then, just like when I tell people I’m bi, there’s the Salacious Fetishisation. This guy (it’s almost always a guy) simply can’t believe his eyes. He’s come into this believing it’s not real, and when it turns out to be genuine? He thinks it’s Christmas. The woman is doing what she’s told. She’s enjoying being beaten. He can, therefore, do anything he wants to her. Because he can’t tell BDSM from abuse. And he’s dangerous. If you read BDSM as abuse, you can’t read a boundary between the two, so you’re going to cross it.
Those are the more obvious and serious dangers. But let’s not forget about the quiet sneering, the concern-trolling, the fake pity. The theoretical discussions that erase my experience to my face. The things that ensure I won’t be coming to them for help.
I’m proud of my Dom, who kept me safe in difficult circumstances, who read little shifts in facial expression or small touches to realise when I was uncomfortable and needed rescuing. The nature of our relationship means he shows more active care for me than a vanilla lover would have to, not less.
I’m proud of what I am. It brings me peace and surety: the opposite of the effect of abuse. The nature of our relationship means I need to be stronger than a conventional lover, not weaker.
There are photos of me that perhaps resemble some of those White Ribbon ones. The idea of anyone seeing those as sexist, as abusive, makes me feel sick.
Someone else’s inability to tell the difference between a M/f D/s relationship and a sexist abusive one should be their problem, not mine. Yet that’s not how it works in practise. My life would be easier if more people were at least aware of the possibility that what they’re seeing might be consensual. In the meantime, if you’re really worried, can I suggest quietly coming to me and saying, “Are you all right?” In BDSM circles, we call this a check-in. We do it all the time. And when I say yes? Believe me.
This year, I watched something completely different. Something less….well, exuberant might be the right word.
The Lulu Sessions is the story of Dr Louise Nutter, a cancer researcher, and her battle with cancer. And her relationship with the filmaker, Casper Wong.
When I asked a friend what I should see from outtakes, she said “The Lulu Sessions. You’ll love Lulu. But don’t watch it when you’re happy. Or really sad.”
And she was right. I did love Lulu. It’s hard not to love a woman who, in the midst of chemo, when she’s asked what she’s doing replies. “I’m smoking. And Drinking. And Swearing.” She’s a woman after Tallulah’s heart. She’s also incredibly complicated, hard to love, more than a little messed up, and completely brilliant.
And she’s dying. I got about twenty minutes into the film before I started crying. Watching someone call their family to tell them they have cancer is hard enough, but the touching “I’m not going to cry…fuck….FUCK” moment made even this dried up old battleaxe reach for the tissues.
The relationship between Casper and Lulu is fascinating. They don’t know, and it feels like at some point, they give up trying to decide what they are to each other, and just try to figure out how to support each other through operations and crises and hair loss and family fighting and the constant knowledge they’re going to lose each other.
It’s the story of two women, but it’s a universal story. So. Go see it. But as my friend said…don’t go when you’re happy. Or when you’re sad. Take someone you love. Or, at the very least, someone who will give you a hug and light your cigarette at the end. You’re going to need it.
Follow along with me here, people. Young people in New Zealand drink too much. I KNOW. We have a problem with binge drinking and violence and people generally behaving badly at 3am on Queen St (And Courtenay Place, and the Octagon and wherever the hell Christchurch twatcocks gather these days. Papanui?)
Yes, this is a problem, one that has many causes, including but not limited to: the availability of cheap pre-mixed drinks, bar staff who fail to police people’s drinking, the concentration of bars in these areas, our general poor attitude to alcohol, and people’s general fuckwittery.
You know what doesn’t cause this problem? Short skirts.
Queen Street, just before midnight – there are pushes, shoving and foul language. We had just arrived, and already we see a woman bloodied after a girl-on-girl punch up….
All night I have seen young drunk revellers. Some of them are underage; most of them are women wearing tight, revealing dresses. They have admitted to me they are binge drinkers getting drunk on a Friday and Saturday night. They come to Queen St because they like the attention.
“The girls here are completely young and drunk,” says Lana MacFarlane. “They are so much younger than I am. It’s so awkward. You feel old at 21. I feel ridiculously old at 21.”
Combine that language with some loving, lingering shots of young women’s asses.
Here’s my question, Amanda Gillies. What on earth does it matter what these women are wearing? God knows, I am all for binge drinking, but I try to avoid the hideousness that is Courtenay Place (and I assume, Queen St, it’s been a long time since I was there after midnight) early on a Sunday morning. Looking after one’s beautiful shoes is much easier when one doesn’t ave to sidestep puddles of vomit. This is an actual, serious problem, and one isn’t going to be solved when the news is served with a good healthy dollop of slut-shaming.
What, exactly, are you trying to say here? Only sluts would get drunk like this? They deserve whatever happens to them because of their behavior and attire? What’s the subtext here? Because the actual text is more than offensive enough.
This week, I fell in love with a Guardian columnist. No, actually, not Julie Burchill. Martin Robbins. His porn panic column was a great first date, but the clincher was this column on FHM and the ‘mainstream’ view of female attractiveness. Or rather, what we’re told men find attractive in women.
(A little side-note. This post is about what men find attractive in women. I think it’s a topic worth discussing. So complaining that the topic is ‘what men find attractive in women’ will largely be a waste of time for all of us, okay? Also, yes, this post will be remarkably heterocentric. I see it, it’s okay.)
My new darling’s point was basically this:
Nobody I’ve ever seen really looks like Cheryl Cole, and that includes Cheryl Cole. Yet almost everybody in FHM’s list looks a bit like Cheryl Cole, with only minor variations allowed in age, breast size, body shape or even skin colour: it seems Beyonce marks the acceptable limit of darkness for black people.
here’s an experiment you can try at home: go to any porn site that ranks its most popular clips, and have a look at the top 100 clips that people actually pay for – the range of outfits, body types, situations, ages and skin colours far exceeds anything you’ll find in FHM’s list. When it comes to what people find sexy, there’s a truth in porn considerably purer than the sterile, manufactured consent of glossy magazines.
Basically: what the media (in the broad sense) present to us as the range of attractive women bears absolutely no relation to what actual men find attractive. (Martin doesn’t seem to have considered that around a third of that porn is actually downloaded by women, but that’s okay. We can sort it over dinner.) And this disconnect is intensely damaging to both men and women.
It’s damaging to men because if the kind of women who turn him on physically aren’t of the accepted mainstream type, he may see his desires as aberrant and sick, or conceal them so he isn’t mocked by his peers. Who wants to be branded a “chubby chaser”?
And it’s obviously damaging to women because many (not all, this is not universal) feel pressure to try to conform to the outlines of that ‘attractive woman’. They will use up acres of time and money and potential happiness doing things to their bodies that men, generally, never even fucking notice.
So yes, I think it is well worth taking the time to point out that this Universally Attractive Woman is a lie. Men, being different, like different things. Also, during any man’s lifetime, the fashion in what’s supposedly attractive in women is going to change. His taste in women is not going to change to suit. I was at my ideal boinking age in the 90s, when heroin chic was in. None of the men I knew suddenly starting finding protruding hip-bones a real turn-on.
And that’s one of the two great tools I had for understanding that ‘more conventionally attractive’ didn’t mean ‘more attractive’. For a start, there was my bi-ness. When you find women sexually attractive, it helps you understand the breadth of female attractiveness. Yeah, I have a type, but I’ve fancied and crushed and loved outside that type many times. Why? Because of a lot of the things Girl on the Net talks about in this post: confidence, intelligence, humour, presentation.
The most important thing, though, that kept me from buying into the myths about What Men Want was having lots of male friends. Seriously, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Have a variety of men that you’re close enough to to talk about attraction, about sex, about what they like and want, and what they don’t. Eventually the realisation you come to is that men are, and I cannot emphasise this enough, no fucking different from women.
That was part of what gave me the confidence to weather the fashion for skinny over-plucked eyebrows. Now suddenly the fashion has changed. Heavy, strong brows are just obviously the sexiest. Just like they weren’t last year. My actual sexual attractiveness hasn’t changed at all.
With the exception of symmetry, which seems to have a sound biological basis, every indicator of attractiveness is simply a matter of fashion. Tall, short, plump, slim, tan, pale, hair, no hair: they’ve all been the height of “conventionally attractive” at some point. And it’s all bullshit.
When I was talking about our sex-pos utopia, I said we needed to change the way we thought about masculinity, and male sexuality. This is part of that. The myths about straight male sexuality aren’t even consistent. Either men are total horndogs who want all the sex all the time, or they’re so incredibly picky they’ll only fuck you if you’re really attractive. They can’t be both. We need more straight men talking openly and honestly about sex.
Me, I like women (and men) with really sexy brains. And I’m not the only one.
We here at TLG are massive supporters of the Slutwalk movement, and are hoping to see as many people as possible in Wellington and Christchurch on Sunday.
So, I thought we’d have a talk with one of the organisers, Maria-Jane Brodie. She is awesome. Thanks for being so generous with your time, MJ.
Why did you decide to organise another Slutwalk?
Last year’s SlutWalk was, for me personally at least, a hugely empowering experience; something that obviously struck a chord with a lot of people (I’m assuming from the turnout in both Wellington and Auckland!). And for all that we generated some fantastic discussions, we still have a very long way to go. I never wanted this to be one march and then fade into the background – the movement has to be ongoing, it has to be loud, we have to make it clear we’re not going away until the victim-blaming culture we exist in checks itself.
What impact do you think last year’s had?
It got people talking. That’s the biggest thing. For all that the media had their own agenda, for all that we got a lot of hate, it got people talking about sexual assault, about victim blaming, about the diversity of survivors, and I think that’s really important. We’ve had this cloud of shame for too long, I think.
Last year, there was criticism that the Slutwalk movement hadn’t done enough to involve women of colour, or with disabilities. Do you think that has/can be addressed?
The accessibility of the route was a massive checking of our own privilege last year; and while it wasn’t our intended route and we did have issues with the double-booking of Civic Square, the responsibility for that ultimately fell to us as organisers and it just wasn’t something we were as conscious of as we should have been. It’s certainly been in the front of everyone’s mind as we planned the route this year!
In terms of the inclusion of women of colour, it’s been a really tricky one for us. We all read the open letter to SlutWalk and took it on board; at the same time, that was written for a North American culture and context and it’s not up to me as a white woman to decide how that should be applied to New Zealand culture. With that being said, we’ve always welcomed diverse participation and organisation, we do have a woman of colour on our organising committee (as well as at least two queer women!) and we would always welcome more input on the intersectionality of SlutWalk
Has your own thinking around SlutWalk changed in the past year?
I had the privilege of speaking at SlutWalk Perth in December last year and it was fascinating to see the different approaches in organisation and focus – we had a short, sharp planning time where they had a months-long build up; they also had a much bigger focus on reclamation of the word ‘slut’ than we did. It was really interesting, for me, to see so clearly that no two SlutWalks are the same, that it’s not a homogenous group (and nor should it be). Coming off the back of the criticism levelled at SlutWalk NYC for the “Women are the n***er of the world” sign that had quickly become criticism of the SlutWalk movement as a whole, that was really interesting to witness first-hand.
I’ve had a lot of time over the last year (time I didn’t have in the lead up to SlutWalk 2011!) to read the criticisms levelled at SlutWalk – and while there are plenty I don’t agree with, there are also a lot out there that I think have some really good points that have certainly given me a lot to think about. And while ultimately my feelings on SlutWalk haven’t changed all that much, I’ve certainly been able to take on a lot of things that have given me a lot of clarity.
What do you want people to get out of the march?
Ultimately, I want people to come away with a sense of empowerment – it can be a huge thing to talk about your own experiences, to hear about other people’s, but I really think that just walking amongst a crowd of survivors and refusing to be shamed or afraid can be an incredible, enriching experience.
What advice do you have for people that might find SlutWalk triggering or confronting?
Obviously, keep yourself safe first and foremost, whatever you need to do. Wellington will also have support workers from Rape Crisis available on the day, and the organising crew have also had training in dealing with disclosures.
And finally, what are the details people need to know?
We are meeting in Te Aro Park (in Wellington) at 2pm – marching along Dixon St, down Cuba St, along Wakefield St and into Civic Square for the speeches. There will also be a forum held the Saturday following – 26th May at 2pm – at St Andrew’s on The Terrace to discuss intersectionality and inclusion within the SlutWalk movement, koha entry, which everyone is welcome to come along to!
In Christchurch: From 2pm: Shand Cresent, down Riccarton Rd, then Riccarton Ave, then Oxford Tce to the grass opposite the central police station
[Tallulah here: I know that the boner-killers are also planning a pre-walk lunch, which some of the Lady Gardeners will also be at.
It’s not often that your opposition tells you exactly what you should do. Even less often it turns out to be a good idea. But, and I can’t really believe I’m saying this, John Key is right.
Yesterday he was asked his opinion on marriage equality. Turns out he doesn’t have one. He’s put as much thought and sense of personal ethics into this as he did the Springbok Tour.
He said he didn’t think there was any “clamour” for gay marriage in New Zealand and it was not on the government’s agenda, NZ Newswire reports.
Got it? No clamour. If we want marriage equality, we need to make some noise about it. And given how often this issue actually makes an impression in the media in New Zealand, we need to do it NOW.
Those in favour of same-sex marriage outnumber those opposed nearly two to one. Yet you’d never guess it from the amount of noise we make. This is our chance to make ourselves heard on an issue that, apparently, our Prime Minister has no strong views about. David Shearer and the Greens are in favour. Peter Dunne wouldn’t comment.
So let’s clamour. Make some noise. Tweet. Facebook. Say you support marriage equality in New Zealand. Use the #clamour hash-tag. Write to Key. Tweet him (@johnkeypm). Go to the marriage equality website and sign up. If you’re in Wellington, Queer the Night is tonight. Go be clamoury there.
I don’t often get hectory. But this isn’t a lot to ask. If you’re in favour of marriage equality, if you think it matters, say something. How can we expect schoolyard bullies to treat us as equals when our government doesn’t?
If you have friends or co-workers or schoolmates who are on the fence or who argue against, try sending them here: if they’ve got an argument I haven’t covered, I want to hear it.
One thing Key has admitted: there are no legitimate arguments against gay marriage. Just a lazy feckless government that doesn’t give a shit. It’s up to us to change their minds. Who else is there?