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Examination

I'm having a discussion which actually seems to be more productive than usual over at this Feministing post on submissiveness and feminism.

I have noticed, though, that one of the people I'm conversing with seems unacquainted with the problem I've usually got with the "examine your desires" meme. Namely, that as I've often experienced it, the seemingly reasonable "Well, have you thought about why you might enjoy [BDSM/porn/submission/blowjobs/gonzo/rough sex/whatever]?" turns into a rhetorical bludgeon, where the only acceptable answer to the question seems to be "Yeah, I admit this comes from patriarchy and I do it anyway."

She's being very reasonable, saying that "I don't know why" and "I don't think that's productive any more" and "I've done that, thanks" are all reasonable responses. HURRAH!

But I'm wondering whether any of you lovely people would be willing, in comments to this post, to describe any experiences you've had where "examine" was used as that bludgeon, just so I have something to point to. (Or link to any posts you've made about this.)

Comments

( 98 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
crafting_change
Mar. 23rd, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
yes.

Also, I've seen the 'lets inspect the root'... at least in these spaces (the OP touched on how this was something she had inspected to some degree) that there is this assumption that the person questioned it. It is condescending.
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ext_101032
Mar. 23rd, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)
Well, there's always my classic "Examining Desire (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2008/06/examining-desire.html)" post.

"Having the Wrong Sex (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2007/07/having-wrong-sex.html)".

"Centres of Power" (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2007/10/centres-of-power.html) has a bit of poking at trying to recover from the damage of examination in it, though that's not the direct point.

"On not being a disease (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2007/04/on-not-being-disease.html)".

There's growing up in a culture in which 'You don't have to examine this beyond saying "no"' was the default for sexuality (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2007/12/constructing-consent.html). Which I've never directly connected to the "If you really care about society, just don't kink" stuff, but which seems now obviously so, in a perverse way.

I imagine my cranky tone in my you want examination? here's some fucking examination, I know you won't think it's good enough, that's not my damn problem (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2009/02/to-two-year-old-of-blogosphere.html) post carries information in its subtext if nothing else.

There's also a tangential note at the end of a post about setting aside the 'feminist' label (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2007/06/one-of-those-thoughts-to-save.html).



I suspect that the more-productive-than-usual discussion might be further illuminated if the person you're discussing with (and I'm reading the discussion, but I don't comment on big feminist blogs because I don't fancy abuse) were familiar with the most recent go-around (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2009/02/shareef-dont-like-it.html) on the subject -- that's linking to my compilation post, but more specific notes on the stuff at SM-F might be worth adding (though I linked a bunch of them there). Gods know I'm still burned out from that epic clusterfuck of fail and having to see the same. Damn. Thing. Over. and Over.

I am also reminded of this old post of yours (http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/2008/06/re-education.html), on a whimsical note.



... I have other posts, but most of them are dealing with the thing obliquely. So I'll stop.
ext_101032
Mar. 23rd, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
... sad Dw3t lost all that careful a href formatting.
lilairen
Mar. 23rd, 2009 04:45 am (UTC)
I went and looked at your examine your desires tag, and dipped back into the whole morass of horribleness at Nine Deuce's place, and saw this comment from an anonymous commenter, talking about refuting the false examinations that were being projected by the radical feminist crowd.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 23rd, 2009 05:09 am (UTC)
I'll probably not be making any friends with this comment, but here it goes:

Many theories that are called "feminist" are nothing but spinoffs on Marxist social theory. A dead give-away is when someone brings in a Hegel-esque Master/Slave dichotomy to explain just about every aspect of humanity. At this point the theory becomes a dogma and despite evidence to the contrary the "feminist" will pull out all the stops to save the "theory." There is a built in safety net for these ideologues and it lies in the premise that "patriarchy" is responsible for every event involving people ever, ever. Therefore, even your deepest, darkest, sub-conscious urges are mere pre-determined effects of "patriarchy."

-Konservo
fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
Konservo,

I don't disagree.

The "Social Class A Vs. Social Class B and nary anything between" is a spinoff of Marxism, which in turn comes from Hegel. It's often, like you say, so oversimplified that it becomes a dull and uncomplicated reflection of the Master/Slave dialectic that misses said dialectic's nuance entirely.
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lilairen
Mar. 23rd, 2009 05:27 am (UTC)
Continuing to chase links around ...

This post of yours could probably do with an 'examine your desires' tag. ;)

Ren replied to it.

Dammit, I have other things I should be writing, why am I so distracted by old blog entries?
fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks, that post is tagged now. :)
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kerrickadrian
Mar. 23rd, 2009 05:40 am (UTC)
Another example of "you just haven't thought about it enough"
I've had a few people suggest that the reason I transitioned is because of internalized misogyny, and that I hadn't sufficiently examined my gender identity "confusion". The fact that I don't have one clear answer for why I'm transgender gives them this opening. I refuse, though, to advance an answer as complete that is clearly not complete. It maybe has to do with my parents' non-traditional gender roles, my mother's relative emotional inaccessibility as compared with my father, my desire for sameness with my (mostly male) partners, liking slash fiction and wanting to model my own relationships after the M/M relationships I read and wrote about, maybe some biological tendencies that manifested in early childhood, and tiring of trying to be strong and invulnerable (like my mother) in order to not be so feminized living in society as a woman, among other factors. Some of that has to do with patriarchy—if we didn't live in a society that's sucky for women, I wouldn't have had to try so hard to be strong and invulnerable in order not to be feminized. None of that means my decision is bad for me or bad for others in my life, let alone that it somehow supports the patriarchy more than it undermines it. But the point is that clearly I have thought about this, with the aid of psychotherapy and introspection and all the feminist gender theory I can muster, and thinking about it doesn't make it go away. Presuming I haven't thought about it enough is a way of infantilizing me, and it's a coercive way of pursuing an argument. If someone wants to know what reasons I've explored as possible contributing factors for my transgender identity, they can ask what reasons I've explored as possible contributing factors for my transgender identity. I'll be happy to tell them as much as I can.
fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Another example of "you just haven't thought about it enough"
But the point is that clearly I have thought about this, with the aid of psychotherapy and introspection and all the feminist gender theory I can muster, and thinking about it doesn't make it go away. Presuming I haven't thought about it enough is a way of infantilizing me, and it's a coercive way of pursuing an argument.

Bravo! So well said.

That's part of it for me, too... the idea that thinking about it really doesn't affect whether it's there or not for a lot of people.

And if it's a given that something's not going to change, what exactly does the examination do? It might, in some cases, allow someone to see more clearly where her personal boundaries are (say, "I'll do SM with anyone, but I'll only bottom to other women") but it won't do more than that. And I do get the impression that people expect it to ultimately make you reject whatever they're finding problematic.
roykay
Mar. 23rd, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)
I can't exactly respond on the point of "examination" being used against me because, frankly, I don't put up with that shit and it's pretty clear from the get go.

It doesn't take a whole lot of deconstruction to realize that the person requiring examination is arrogating dominance to themselves from the get go. The natural turn back on that is to ask "Have you examined why it is that you feel it your right and duty to demand examination from others?".

You will almost certainly get into THEIR personal history, usually including some epiphany brought about through a class or reading or some other form of instruction, i.e. a hierarchy where someone was projected and accepted as superior to them. Breaking that hierarchal chain is difficult, especially if your personal identity derives from that chain.
fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
The natural turn back on that is to ask "Have you examined why it is that you feel it your right and duty to demand examination from others?".

I agree with you, Roy, but you do realize, don't you, that if you word it this way, many of these people will launch into Radical Feminism 101, assuming you are just unfamiliar with the idea that patriarchy influences preferences?

*smh*
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kawakiisakazuki
Mar. 23rd, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
This dynamic occurs frequently in contexts where religious believers try to convert agnostics. The unbeliever has never sufficiently "opened their heart" or whatever until they agree with the believer. Meanwhile there is *never* any need to examine Zeus or Loki or any belief that isn't the one held by the believer, ever. Greta Christina blogged about it in the past but I would have to search for a specific post...

But there are probably parallels.
fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
*nods* Yeah, that's what I think's going on too.
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fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
There's also this post that Hope just made over at her blog Hopeful Descent:

http://hopefuldescent.blogspot.com/

Why am I the way I am? It is something that I have spent years wondering, easily more than half my life. The standard reasons given by those who don’t get it, that I am merely reacting to having been abused or acting out the patriarchal script I was raised with, really don’t apply to me. I was raised in a subculture intent on examining and deconstructing patriarchy , and I had fantasies of bondage and submission long before I ever experienced any type of abuse.

Actually, I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As long as I have been aware of my sexuality, I have known that it is inextricably linked to things that I was supposed to find distasteful, disgusting, or frightening. The first real sexual fantasy I ever had was of being tied down and forced to orgasm. I was less than 10 years old, ashamed, and terrified that there was something horribly wrong with me. Before that, before I even recognized it as sexual, it was still there. I remember when I was five or six one of the local boys wanted to practice his knots (for Boy Scouts, I think) by tying someone to a chair, I eagerly volunteered. I didn't think of it as sexual, I didn't know yet what sexual was really, I just knew it made me feel good.

....Part of what appeals to me is the lack of control. This doesn’t mean that I want to avoid making my own decisions or don’t want to be a responsible adult. When I say that I don’t want to be in control what I really mean is that I want to let go of my perfectionism, of all the uptight bullshit that is always happening in my head. I also mean sensation I have a lot of trouble really letting go and just feeling things. If I’m not "in charge" of a situation, it’s much easier to push past that and feel. I mean really feel, to the fullest extent possible and then some; I want to be overwhelmed with sensation.


I think there's an awful lot of wanting to ignore or let go of perfectionism in some people's attraction to submission. If a dominant person says "Let go; I say what you did pleased me, and that's it" it's refreshing to someone who'd otherwise comb very precisely through her every action for a mistake or a flaw.

I'd love to see people who are very into the idea that BDSM comes from patriarchy come up with a thoughtful way to account also for explanations like this that have nothing to do with it.

That would be a strong first step to getting SM people to think that perhaps there's something more than just "a gotcha" in "Examine your desires."
fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
oops, somehow I didn't manage to link the specific post; that's here:

http://hopefuldescent.blogspot.com/2009/03/why-am-i-way-i-amit-is-something-that-i.html
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harperjean
Mar. 23rd, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
I've been thinking lately that any "examining" relative to sexual desires is better focused on their effects rather than their causes.

We could stipulate, purely for the sake of argument, that someone's desires for dominance and/or submission are the result of bad relationships, bad role models and sexist culture. So what? I don't think feminism is about abstract notion or morality or purity. The relevant question is not where desires come from but where they take you. Do your submissive fantasies and/or experiences leave you feeling good about yourself and your relationships? Do they contribute to safe and satisfying relationships? Do your dominant fantasies and/or experiences lead you to actually denigrate or abuse your partner, or others around you, or have other harmful effects? The Feministing commenter who said it would be better for people's communities if they didn't do BDSM seemed to hint at such an effects-based analysis, but didn't offer anything to support it.

Surely, some people do experience kinky fantasies or play in ways that are harmful to self-esteem, intimacy, personal autonomy or mutual respect. We might say that they're "in it for the wrong reasons," but whatever the reason what's important is that, at least in the ways they're currently doing it, being in it is not good for them or for others.

So, I think it is not helpful and can be hurtful to ask someone to examine and justify where their desires come from. By contrast, at least as a piece of advice, examining how you're going about it and what it is doing for you seems just fine. And in fact that's something how-to writes, presenters and other community figures often do advise.

Of course, either way it could still be used as a bludgeon, because it can still carry the assumption that the examining can only have one result and if you reach a different one you're just wrong.
fierceawakening
Mar. 23rd, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
We could stipulate, purely for the sake of argument, that someone's desires for dominance and/or submission are the result of bad relationships, bad role models and sexist culture. So what? I don't think feminism is about abstract notion or morality or purity. The relevant question is not where desires come from but where they take you. Do your submissive fantasies and/or experiences leave you feeling good about yourself and your relationships? Do they contribute to safe and satisfying relationships? Do your dominant fantasies and/or experiences lead you to actually denigrate or abuse your partner, or others around you, or have other harmful effects? The Feministing commenter who said it would be better for people's communities if they didn't do BDSM seemed to hint at such an effects-based analysis, but didn't offer anything to support it.

I couldn't possibly agree with you more, Harper. Sadly, though, a lot of people are stuck at "but but but but have you thought about where this comes from?" and don't seem to understand why people would find that question unproductive.

Personally, as I said in the Feministing thread, I take "is X feminist?" to be a question not about what ideology leads a person to do X, but as a very specific question about whether and how X facilitates greater social opportunities for women.

The question "does X arise from a problematic historical situation?" then is, to me, a very different question from "Is X feminist?"

Something isn't feminist unless it actually directly affects women's lot in society, or facilitates positive effects on it. Similarly, in my view something isn't anti-feminist unless it has or facilitates deleterious effects on women as a class.
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mightyfastpig
Mar. 23rd, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
This whole "examine your desires" makes me think of some Red Communist "criticism" session, in which the only right answer is, "It's my fault", and they'll continue the session for as long as it takes until they get that answer.

It's a rhetorical trap, having to justify ourselves as kinky people to people who aren't.
fierceawakening
Mar. 24th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
*nod* I agree, though I will say that Nerdisms appears to mean by it "I wonder why I am the way I am a lot; I'm not sure why you feel threatened by people saying maybe you should."

Which strikes me as possibly more just not understanding how some people use the idea.
sweetchild92
Mar. 25th, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I'm a radical feminist. Just to get that out there. What me and others were saying, the majority of us, was that to act as if your sexual desires are not susceptible to influence is...well, it's a bit odd to think that things just shut down once sex is involved. Most of us aren't saying (I speak for me, oh hey, I'm 'danielle' btw, SarahMC and RachelWY) "this is a bad desire, you're not a feminist for it" but "looking at where a desire MAY HAVE come from is not harmful, it's not "intruding into your bedroom" etc. If you say "no, I don't feel like that's something I want to examine about myself right now or ever" alright, nothing wrong there. Or even "no, I don't think it is" is cool. But "it is definitely not, and you even trying to have a discussion about it is not good" is where it gets ridiculous. If you don't want to participate in the discussion, don't. If you don't agree, say so, but do it in a reasonable way (I'm thinking of the "you're an idiot!" comment). The only thing I take issue with is "sexual desires are NEVER EVER even slightly influenced by the patriarchy."
sweetchild92
Mar. 25th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC)
I meant "NO ONE'S desires"
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ext_101032
Mar. 25th, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
I, uh, think I may have lost my temper.

I also think I'd never admitted how much of my frustration with the whole "examine your stuff" ... stuff ... was tied up in shame over being assaulted.

http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2009/03/examination-burnout.html

Putting it here for the record, I know you'll see it on your own time.
fierceawakening
Mar. 25th, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
sweetchild92
Mar. 25th, 2009 06:51 am (UTC)
Maybe it wasn't a good idea of me to come here? I just wanted to try and see more of what you had to say, and hopefully you the same. I just really have no clue if I'm getting any of my points across, because I was really hoping I would be able to.

Thanks for including the link in your response at feministing though, I'm glad there was another place to disucss this at.
fierceawakening
Mar. 25th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
Sweetchild,

You're welcome to come here. What I do think you should realize, though, is that people are going to be frustrated, and I intended this space as a place where they could feel free to say things like "Look, there's a long pattern of badgering here, and we see comments like laughingrat's as a prime example of that, so it makes us *facepalm* when people act like what we see as badgering is some sort of brave move in a debate."

You're perfectly welcome to come here and ask us what we mean or even argue with us. But as we've said, a lot of us are very tired of a pattern of behavior we find repetitive, insulting, and exhausting.

If you want less combative responses from many of us, here are a few suggestions:
  • If you haven't, read the comments and the links here thoroughly. Let us know that you have by responding to them specifically.
  • If you want us to understand that your view is nuanced and not wholly anti-SM, demonstrate this to us by telling us when you agree with us, as well as when you don't.
  • Be careful when you rephrase what we say. I've seen you say several times that we're saying that we are not influenced by patriarchy, and several people have said that we are or that we acknowledge that we might be. Be charitable in your reading of what we say, as you hope we'll be toward you.
  • If you have time, do some research on the sex wars in the '80s. While yes, it's true that many radical feminists phrase their views differently or hold more nuanced ones now, think about how it might feel to people to hear distinct echoes of the rhetoric that called us "sadist-rapist" and the like. Think about, especially, what rehashes of this might be like for women who remember violence and blacklisting. No, it's not entirely fair to equate you with all of this, but it's also not fair to ignore historical significance entirely either.


Regardless, you won't be banned here or have your comments deleted or frozen unless you say something egregious. Unlike some radical feminist blogs, I don't run my LJ as a "safe space" and enforce this by deleting or freezing comments.
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fierceawakening
Mar. 25th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
This comment is also brilliant:

It's by reading this stuff, that intersects with my life, that I learn better about there not being a vacuum in regards to privilege and racism.

The people who ask, only once, "have you examined why you do bdsm?" haven't hurt anyone they ask - haven't insulted them, denigrated their experiences.

Not intentionally.

But they aren't asking in a vacuum, they are asking after dozens of people have asked it, many of whom DO think that people who are into bdsm are either abusers or abused.

And, so, every time someone in the bdsm community gets asked "have you looked at this?" it comes with the weight of the hundreds, nay thousands, of people who ask while thinking "you poor deluded victim!"
25 March, 2009 09:00

sweetchild92
Mar. 25th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
Crap, there's an anonymous comment that's me, but I'm at school and didn't realize I'm not logged in.
fierceawakening
Mar. 25th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
No problem, I just approved it. :)

Here's my response:

http://trinityva.livejournal.com/1000547.html?thread=6254435#t6254435
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fierceawakening
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)
And one from Ren, on the claim that there'd be no BDSM in Utopia:

http://miz-evolution.livejournal.com/95132.html
lilairen
Mar. 26th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
fierceawakening
Mar. 26th, 2009 10:49 pm (UTC)
My response over there, copied here for the hell of it:

For me, being asked / obligated to 'examine' oneself is very othering. For me, it is what it is and it's mine. Furthermore, and perhaps this will surprise some, but sex for me is very private. I don't think it 'ought' to be private, 'special', any of that - absolutely not. But for me personally, I like it between me and the dude. My close friends may know I'm sleeping with a guy, but actual sex acts, all those details... like I said, between me and the dude. Why? Well, I suppose I like the privacy, 'secrets' maybe. I like the connection. Call me uptight, if you want to. Fuck you, though, if you do. Like I said, I'll do what I want, that's how I like it, and this is the most I've ever said publicly on the matter. Examining my personal shit in front of a hostile audience - no.

Well said, Caroline. Thing is, I think a lot of the radical feminists will at least nominally say that your "examination" can remain private and yours.

The problem, though, comes in when others, late to the party, say "have you examined?" If you don't make it public, some of them do take "Sure I have, but I don't make that sort of thing public" to mean "No." Or at least are suspicious, wonder if you fully understand radical feminism/patriarchy/their point/etc.
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pharaoh_katt
Mar. 28th, 2009 09:06 am (UTC)
I feel like I'm coming a bit late to the party, but the recent slew of "Examine" posts was making my head reel. But, here's some stuff I've written about examining:

Yes Means Yes - my first open post
Dangers of Submission
Pain and all that jazz - Masochism compared with self-harm
This Week in Child Care - Actually about sports, not submission, but has a lot of the same examine themes and conclusions.

I don't think people understand just how hurtful this sort of prodding can be. To ask in good faith, because you're curious, is one thing, and completely acceptable. I share a lot of this curiosity, wondering how the world works.

But... I think the best way I can describe it, the constant prodding, is a different person each day asking "Why are you a goth?" and automatically assuming it's because you hate the world. The first few times, it's fine, I'll answer happily and try to explain it, but after a while your patience wears thin. You get sick of the assumptions, the insults, the threats, the ridicule, the misperceptions, so when finally someone is asking in good faith, you just want to scream.

And another thing that's not realised? It's just as hurtful, as insulting, to insist that your Dom is abusive. "We don't hate you honey, just the man you've dedicated your life to." 'Cause that's not demeaning at all...

Sorry, mini rant.
fierceawakening
Mar. 28th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
And another thing that's not realised? It's just as hurtful, as insulting, to insist that your Dom is abusive. "We don't hate you honey, just the man you've dedicated your life to." 'Cause that's not demeaning at all...

Yeah, this. This is a BIG thing for me that I really don't understand. It's like these people see sexual partners as totally independent of one another, to such a degree that loving someone doesn't mean being invested in that person's needs, life, and destiny.

I do understand that I can judge someone's lover without judging her: "Wow, that guy annoys me to be around. I'll bet he's pushy and obnoxious." Or even "I think Rick is abusing Angie -- she's always crying and on eggshells. I hate that guy."

But the whole "I'm not judging you, I'm judging your partner" as a line in an Internet conversation puzzles the hell out of me. Uh, if you really think someone is staying with an abuser, shouldn't you be trying to help rather than using the dynamics you're seeing as something to prop up your position in a blogwar debate?

And if you don't think there's abuse going on, just something that "looks like it" or "mimics it" (gah, that bothers me to even type), then... again, I wonder why you look at two partners without looking at their relationship. I know feminists value independence, and I know that some people have relationships where the partners aren't very enmeshed in one another's lives (casual fuckbuddies, for example.)

But... when you do have an intimate relationship, when you (as Ren has put it a couple times, very memorably) "look at that person beside you in bed and think 'home,'" you're no longer a person who is totally disconnectable from that other person. You're invested in one another's destiny. So an insult to them, or at least an insult to how they treat you, IS an insult to you.

It would be much better for these feminists, if they really want to Save The Subs because they actually think The Subs are being abused, to provide support systems than to debate online. That they're debating online and using "he's abusive" as some kind of trump card means, to me, that they either

  1. Actually don't think doms are abusive and just like flowery language because it makes them sound important, which makes the word "abuse" no longer mean anything; or
  2. Actually do think doms are abusive, but care more about winning blogwars than helping people they ought to believe need support.


It's really gross.

And the whole idea that you need saving from your partner, but mine doesn't from me is still gross to me. If dominant people are all abusers, why feed men to the wolves? Just so you don't get accused of "PHMT" or something?

(By the way, yes Virginia, PATRIARCHY HURTS MEN TOO.)
(no subject) - pharaoh_katt - Mar. 29th, 2009 08:32 am (UTC) - Expand
fierceawakening
Mar. 29th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)
The discussion of examining at Feministing just got posted about on Good Vibrations blog, here:

http://magazine.goodvibes.com/2009/03/27/examining-your-desires/
(Anonymous)
May. 12th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
A different realization I've been having...
...is that for me, the whole process of examining the origins of my own desires is fascinating (not just around sex), but when I'm seriously going about that, it's a very different atmosphere than the klieg-lights-Admit-you-are-a-tool-of-the-patriarch scene.

But what I've noticed recently is that I am drawn to that latter situation, over and over, and in some way it is a (fucked-up) submissive act on my part, which the Examiners are unknowingly(?) expoiting.

So now I am going to examine my desire to have assholes tell me I should examine my desires.
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