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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

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(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.
(no subject) - fierceawakening - Mar. 23rd, 2009 04:30 am (UTC) - Expand
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.
(no subject) - fierceawakening - Mar. 23rd, 2009 05:16 am (UTC) - Expand
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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. :)
(no subject) - fierceawakening - Mar. 23rd, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - miz_evolution - Mar. 25th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
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.
(no subject) - lilairen - Mar. 23rd, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
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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
(no subject) - lilairen - Mar. 23rd, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
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.
(no subject) - harperjean - Mar. 23rd, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
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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.
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