Monday, October 18, 2010

Is Spanking a Feminist Issue?

Jessica Wakeman likes being spanked. She has liked it for some time now, and has happily shared her fetish with the rest of us. Link here.

Wakeman has no real moral qualms about liking being spanked. Nor does she have qualms about exposing her predilection to the rest of the world.

Yet, she has been very concerned about whether or not her spanking-induced thrills disqualify her from being a good feminist.

She wonders whether she  selling is out her cause when she enjoys being sexually submissive. In her first essay on the topic, she concluded that she could like to be spanked and still be a good feminist.

Admittedly, Wakeman wrote about her issue last year. I prefer to open with her because the word “spank” is far more decorous than the word that heads Jaclyn Friedman’s latest interview. Link here.

I have written about Jaclyn Friedman before, because she is supposed to be something of a rock star in the sex positive feminist crowd, and also because she hands out an awful lot of bad advice.

In her recent interview, she opines on the correct way for feminists to have sex and to have relationships. Apparently, there are right and wrong ways for feminists to conduct relationships.

In addressing the issue, and in provoking much conversation, Friedman raised an important philosophical question: who owns your sexual experience?

I am happy to give her credit for raising this issue. In her article “My Sluthood, Myself” Friedman she echoed the title of a well-known book, Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era which contributed mightily to women’s efforts to assert ownership of their own sexuality.

Friedman took it a step further. After confessing to a series of anonymous sexual encounters, she declared that while society might want to call her a slut, she would deprive them of pleasure, by embracing the label herself. Thereby she felt that she was striking a blow for female sexual liberation.

For my part I have no opinion on either woman’s sexuality. It is none of my business. As I mentioned in previous posts, I would seriously caution everyone against exposing their sexuality in public.

Not so much because Wakeman and Friedman cannot handle such exposure-- they seem to say that they can-- but because theirs will be an example that younger, less competent, adolescents might follow.

So, the discussion involves two separate issues. It is good to distinguish them.

First, if you must make your sexual experiences conform to certain feminist principles, does that mean that feminism owns your sexuality?

You can sense that Jessica Wakeman is at some pains to wrest her sexuality from feminist control.

If your standard for good and bad conduct involves conforming to an ideology, then you are also saying that the ideology, not you, owns and directs and judges your behavior. 

Second, if you decide to expose your sexual experiences to the world, doesn’t that also mean that they are no longer your private property, but belong to the world outside.

Surely, you may share your intimacy with another person. Once you start sharing it with multitudes, it is, effectively, no longer something that you own. If you give it away, it will no longer feel like yours.

Sex is about private parts. It is not, for the most part, about public display of said private parts or about public discussion of experiences involving said private parts. That’s why they are qualified as “private.”

I have insisted that young people, in particular, should not be encouraged to believe that exposing their own or anyone else’s sexuality in public is a good or reasonable or acceptable thing to do.

More than a few young people have been traumatized, some to the point of committing suicide, because their intimacy has been exposed to the public.

Sometimes they have consented to limited exposure, only to find that their teenaged friends do not understand how to keep secrets.

At other times, they have tragically been victimized by people who have spied on them against their will and exposed or outed them.

This is not about society’s attitudes toward straight or gay sexuality. Even though a recent case involved a gay college student, most of the cases involve teenage girls who are mortified beyond anything they can imagine once they discover that their intimacy has gone on public display.

Shame is an extremely powerful emotion. A young person might think that it is basically a good and innocent thing to go public with their own or someone else’s sexuality. It is not.

Young people do not have the experience to judge for themselves what it will feel like to suffer such exposure. And they often do not have the emotional or psychological tools to deal with the negative emotional fallout, the shame.

The first and most important way to deal with shame is to avoid it. To avoid it by all means necessary. That means not just keeping your private parts private, but behaving in a courteous, decorous, and proper fashion at all times.

A culture qualifies as a shame culture when it produces a large variety of customs that ensure that people will be able to maintain their dignity by not shaming themselves or being shamed by others.

Such a culture offers several ways to overcome the effects of shame, from apology to rectification to self-exile.

What can be done when a young person’s sexuality has been publicly exposed?

Take the example of sexting. Surely, all young people should be strictly encouraged against it. And yet, as experiences of shame go, it is far from the worst or the most irremediable.

The embarrassment of sexting does not rate with the shame associated with making mistakes that cost you your company and cost your employees their jobs. It does not compare to a commanding general’s failure to prepare his troops for battle or for his being on the losing side of a war.

Yet, for an adolescent who is socially dependent and has very little experience dealing with shame, the possibility that compromising photos exist and have been seen by many people counts as an extremely painful experience.

Given that what is online is supposedly forever, a young person will surely have a great deal of difficulty understanding that reputation is elastic, that it can be stretched without being broken.

Every teenager makes mistakes. It goes with the territory. And every teenager who makes a mistake thinks that it is more important than it is.

How many of today’s politicians have made egregious mistakes in their youth? How many of them risk seeing their campaigns undermined by youthful indiscretions? More than a few. As an example, check out the college photos of Congressional candidate Krystal Ball.

When a child who does not know how to deal with shame, exposure is a catastrophic event, one that threatens his or her social existence. For an adult, it is an embarrassment that offers a challenge to be overcome.

If it does happen, it is best for a child to understand that the vast majority of youthful indiscretions are ultimately of no real interest to anyone but the person involved.

So long as he or she does not choose to self-identify as the person who loves to be spanked or who embraces her sluthood, most of the world does not really care.

And try to recall the old rule: if you get caught with your pants down, you should pull them up and walk away as though nothing has happened.

Feel confident that with time the image will fade from people’s minds. As long as you do not act as though you have been exposed, most people will find more interesting topics of conversation.

If it is not possible to ignore the violation of your privacy, it might be a good idea to fight back, by taking legal action.

More than a few celebrities have used legal means to ban compromising photos of them from being exposed.

Whether it involves criminal prosecution or civil suits, once you initiate legal action you have declared to the world that you have not and do not approve the exposure. Once people know that you have been victimized, they will tend, naturally and normally, to forget that they ever saw it.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Ack!!!!

You HAD to mention a spanking.


P.S. Maybe this should be linked to in some discussion regarding Freud....

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Chuck. That's a great clip... from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, incidentally. I hope everyone checks it out...

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Ahem....

It does not compare to a commanding general’s failure to prepare his troops for battle or for his being on the losing side of a war. -- Stuart Schneiderman

As a young captain of infantry, in a mech infantry battalion in the early 80s, WE—my collective group of combat-arms officers—witnessed the 'relief for cause' of a brigade commander because he had HIS 'priorities' bass-ackward.

It seems that CINC FORSCOM paid a visit to his 'water walkers'. This brigade commander being one of such.


....CINC FORSCOM walks into the office of this water-walking brigade commander. And on the wall is this list of priorities for his brigade command. The first item on the list is "Command Image". The last item on the list is "Training".

This four-star general, i.e., the CINC FORSCOM, looks at the list for a bit. Then he takes out his pen and scratches a huge "X" through it. To the flabbergasted staff members....let alone the brigade commander....he turns and says, "If your last priority were your first, all the rest would fall into their proper place automatically."

The 'water-walking' brigade commander 'disappeared', within several days.


[Lead by example.]

P.S. Mere 'image' is not, repeat NOT, a 'good' example.....

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Exposure

I have insisted that young people, in particular, should not be encouraged to believe that exposing their own or anyone else’s sexuality in public is a good or reasonable or acceptable thing to do. -- Stuart Schneiderman

What was it, in that old song from aterhole #3....

It's the Code of the West;
When the boys talk of women.
The Code of the West;
What you know;
You don't tell.
-- Roger Miller, Ballad of the Code of the West, Title Score, Waterhole #3.

Hence my reticence in a thread down the hall from here.


[Half the 'fun' is 'getting there'.....]

Anonymous said...

Wonder if there are more women these days who like to be spanked than in the past or if it's just discussed more openly? It does seem to be mentioned a lot of late.

Until 50 years ago or so men automatically had a certain dominant position in relationships because that's just the way things were. Then there was an era when any suggestion of male dominance was suppressed at least among the highly educated. Now people on blogs are discusing the female desire to feel dominated in a way that wouldn't have been allowable even 5 years ago. Maybe the female desire to be spanked is in some cases part of this reaction to the feeling that men have goten too wimpy, too beta, too dominated by women, etc

Antigone Amplified said...

Interesting question posed by your blog, Dr. Schneiderman.

In response: Yes.
It's also a 'masculinist' issue. Depends who's being spanked, I guess.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the comment, Antigone... and congratulations on an exciting and (relatively)new blog.

Anonymous has hit on something very important in the debate, even if I do not have a great answer.

As fetishes go, spanking can certainly be counted among the most harmless. (Exception given for those who go in for more violent versions of the fetish.) And, we do not know very well how people discover or are trained to like it.

In Wakeman's case, if you read her post, she was held down and spanked by a bunch of boys at her 16th birthday party.

She says she was excited, though other girls might well consider that to be a trauma, even being forced to submit against her will.

I am not going to go further about her experience, but it might be seen at an angle that makes it appear far less anodyne.

If there is more spanking and other fetishistic activities going on, that might be a function of the fact that young people are arguably overexposed to sexual stimuli. Perhaps when this happens they require more exotic stimuli to feel turned on.

The other side is equally interesting. Why is there so much discussion of spanking and submission among feminists. And how did it become a feminist issue.

Putting aside the fetishistic aspect of the question, perhaps this is really a question about whether a woman can identify as a feminist and as a woman at the same time.

Is submissive here simply a way of expressing feminine feelings that feminism does not allow women to feel, and that, when women do feel them they seem only to be able to classify them in the category of sexually submissive.

Proud Hindu said...

Many men like it as well. If fact, I think the sexual submissive fetish is more of a guy thing than a girl thing.

I read on a science blog that there's a reason why spanking feels good. Something to do with blood vessels and chemical release, whatever.

It's definetly not just a girl thing.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Are you saying that spanking is something that men and women can share, reciprocally?

If that's true, do women especially like to be doing the spanking?