Like Anastasia.

When I first stepped into the world of feminism; from what was a very antifeminist stance, I was stunned by the sense of community that I had entered. Women who were not only encouraged to find their own tribe and their own voice, but who had a responsibility to listen to those who, for so many reason, experienced the world in a way they never would. To form; from near or far, a deep sense of solidarity with each other no matter how different our, inequitable, oppressive experience of the world were. We had each other’s back and made decisions, especially in regards to the words we chose to speak about each other, that would let others know we’ve got this.

Of course this utopian nirvana I thought I had found has lost its shine over the last decade. Feminism is imperfect, complicated, diverse and sometimes down and out infuriating. But it is, and will always be, the one choice I will always make. To not only be a feminist but to deliberately use my space in this world to smash the status quo. 

But, to me, the almost universal premise that brings feminism from the world of theory and academia and into the ways that women, right here right now, make and experience their bodies in this patriarchal world is the curiosity and respect for each other’s voice. And right at the heart of this idea (or is that ideal) is that no other person, feminist or not, is not in any position to tell women what they should or shouldn’t do. While this new vouge feminism centred in choice is deeply problematic; choice, not just the ability but the permission to, engage or disengage with the world in informed ways, has to mean something.

One of the things I’m learning about being a submissive woman, is that I now exist in this cultural paradox. Within BDSM, when a woman tells her story and she says that her experiences of submission are negative, that she has been harmed. That she is living with trauma. She is called a liar. She is shamed. She is blamed. Outside of BDSM, when a woman tells her story and she says that her experiences of submission are positive, that she feels safe, that she is experiencing pleasure. She is called a liar. She is shamed. She is blamed.

It doesn’t matter what we are saying; our voice is ignored, ridiculed and rejected.

I’m not arrogant enough to tell women what they should be doing. So it was no surprise that Caitlin Roper’s latest account of her angst surrounding the newest Fifty Shades release was something that I was going to find hard to read. To me it is deeply paternalistic, her words and those like her are founded in the genuine belief that they know what is best. Rejecting the experiences of women who genuinely enjoy the franchise and intentionally subjugating the dozens if not hundreds of reasons why they are going to see the movie.

So when I see women like Caitlin Roper jumping from the clichéd volley of platitudes usually directed at the franchise (I’m surprised that the condescending mummy porn portrayal wasn’t front and centre in her piece) into the position that tells the readers of the Sydney Morning Herald that “these are the services where women like Anastasia end up” I have to stop and really think hard about what the overall intention of this piece was.

Did Caitlin want to add something to the numerous conversations about the structural and cultural barriers to women freely engaging with frontline services? Was she writing this because she has a genuine concern for women “like Anastasia” and a desire to make sure that we too have access to relevant interventions and services?

Call me sceptical, but I’m going to say it’s a sure bet that neither of these were part of the reason why she wrote this piece. Nor why the Sydney Morning Herald chose to take it to publication.

Because the reality is that women like Caitlin Roper have little to no concern about women like me. The women that they choose to cast as presumptive victims while choosing to ignore our voices and our stories. Women like me, who are safe in our intimate spaces even though the behaviours, language, attitudes and community commonly associated with BDSM and dominance and submission are at the core of our relationships. While people will jump to read the narratives of our sexploits when it is all about the whips and chains and orgasms; it’s getting harder and harder to get others to actually take the time to sit down, shut up and listen to us. Well they have no reason to right?

For all of the pieces about “women like Anastasia” I have not yet encountered one which actively seeks out what we need in frontline services; especially with regard to mental health care. And from the hour or so of searching on the website of those organisations behind this campaign, I can safely assume that not one of them has any dedicated service or counsellor informed about or directed to meeting the needs of submissive women.

But beyond “these services” that she has so carefully promoted in her piece not actually being services that would be responsive to who I am and what I would need if in fact I did ever need to access their services; I want to question the dominant narrative of her piece.

There are lots of things wrong with the character of Christian Grey. He is materialistic and status driven. He believes that his philanthropic endeavours account for the business choices he makes. He has acquired so many unhealthy and dysfunctional approaches to and behaviours within both his relationships with women and in his sex life (it’s interesting that, of all the pieces written about his behaviours not one piece has tried to explore the correlation between child abuse and the attachment disorder that Christian so clearly has). He has unresolved trauma. And most importantly connected to BDSM his sexual identity has stalled in its infancy stage, the only way he can feel safe engaging with sex in a mutually satisfying way is my having a signed piece of paper kept in the bedside table; or wherever a billionaire would keep his important documents. Christian Grey also embodies a lot of the fragile yet toxic masculinity that has created the realm of the pickup artist; and, unfortunately, has begun to infect BDSM. It’s egocentric, entitled and dangerous for women, because, amongst other problems it schedules women as passive in their own bodies and as characters that men create through their own sexual prowess. So I am not defending the character that is Christian Grey. And let’s be honest he and the world that he commands is one walking, talking product placement.

Christian is not the absolute everything of FSOG. And while he clearly exhibits problematic behaviours he is a fictional character that is a cluster of everything unlikable and unacceptable. And women are allowed to like him.

And this, as far as I’m concerned, brings to a head the idea that the franchise is glamourising intimate partner violence.

Finding something alluring about a fictional character; even one as dysfunctional as Christian Grey. Finding points of reference in fiction that you connect to, that resemble the story of your own sexual realities. Does not, in anyway, negate the way you perceive intimate partner violence! And to consider the audience of Fifty Shades Darker as ignorant about the realities of intimate partner violence., is quite arrogant!

And that is just not how I choose to approach the millions of women, throughout the world who have gone and will go and see Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. I see them, as I see myself as women entitled to make their own decisions regarding how they spend their disposable incomes. But more than that, I am not so isolated from the community of women who either enjoy the Fifty Shades franchise or who choose to bring behaviours commonly associated with dominance and submission into their erotic space, to see these women as ignorant about the realities of intimate partner violence. We see the same news headlines as you. We read the same reports that tell us the attitudes regarding women, violence and sexual behaviours is repulsive. We know that intimate partner violence kills at least 1 woman a week in Australia and costs our economy billions of dollars in lost wages, first responders, health care and our legal system We see the same shallow and pathetic attempts at awareness, band aid solutions, funding cuts and inadequate structural and institutional action as every other woman. We see the casual and often inadequate ways that the media engage with the complexity of gendered violence. We understand that domestic and family violence has, over generations, has been relegated to behind closed doors, assigned to the too hard or not our problem basket. We may enjoy a movie that some see as problematic, be we, as individuals and a collective group of women are neither the cause of intimate partner violence not blatantly ignorant of it.

I think that there is a lot wrong with infantilising women’s consumer choices. The women who are seeing this movie found something interesting to see; and dare I say it something that turned them on. I know I did! And I will unapologetically, defend the right for a woman to watch a movie and, when well informed by complete understanding, motivated by mutual satisfaction and framed by affirmative consent, defend the choice to be “like Anastasia” in her boudoir. 

So while I have to agree with her proposition that we (although I have no doubt that her “we” does not include women like myself) need to begin to really interrogate the way that intimate partner violence is discussed and represented I will not be actively supporting anything that intentionally creates and us and them divide. As a woman “like Anastasia” I will let other women just like her make their own choices about what they watch at the cinema and how they come to understand what intimate partner violence is.

And if that contribution to creating a better understanding of women’s experiences of intimate partner violence involves actively boycotting one book/movie franchise than, by all means, actively boycott Fifty Shades Darker; and in a years’ time when Fifty Shades Freed is released, make the same choice. But the choice to watch the movie is no more or less a choice.

But please, understand the services and the political/social ideology that you are really supporting. Spend 5 minutes Googling the individuals and organisations behind it and where exactly your money will go. Because, as a feminist, I unequivocally stand behind the idea that it is only through education; both as a social institution and self-driven, that women will be able to make the best choices for themselves.

I’m not asking you to change your opinions about the FSOG franchise; love it, hate it, it’s your decision. But what I am asking of you is that, before advocating for a particular campaign or position, you choose to understand the realities of those women “like Anastasia”. The women like me, like dozens of friends of mine – women and men alike. To stop and listen to our voices and our stories.

Being able to write and to write well is a privilege. Being given a public platform is an entitlement. Those who are gifted this public space are entitled to their own words and their own agendas. But doesn’t someone with this privilege have a responsibility to, at least consider, their potential audience? The Sydney Morning Herald is not some niche blog or sub forum. It is a mainstream media platform, and one that has a diverse audience; an audience that includes women “like Anastasia”.


Pleasure and not practice.

There seems to be a growing trend, or maybe I’ve just not noticed it before, which revolves around the idea of sex being something that needs to be practiced. It’s like there is this objective goal – squirting, multiple orgasm, larger toys, longer penetration, in which the sole focus of our sexual experiences revolve around perfecting their objectives.

While I’m all for goal setting and navigating our relationships in particular directions. I’m finding it really hard to get my head around this idea of practicing. We practice the piano. We practice baking macarons. We practice parallel parking. We just don’t need to practice sex. Gaining a better understanding of our bodies and those of our partners and figuring out what comes next for us in the bedroom, is one thing. But using our erotic spaces; masturbation or sex, as a space within which we practice until we obtain an imagined sexual perfection – I can’t wrap my head around the idea. Or where the motivation for this come from.

Sex is not an experience measured in results. Now, I’m sorry if this dints some male ego (okay not really sorry). Sex is, well should be, about us creating physical intimacy that allows us to form connection and explore sensations and pleasure. PLEASURE NOT BLOODY PRACTICE!

What exactly are we supposed to be practicing? And where are women getting their ideas of what to practice? I’m asking because I had an interestingly frustrating conversation with a couple of women who, while telling me that practice is necessary, became, seemingly mortified when I suggested that they grab a printout of what a vagina looks like, a mirror, and for them to start exploring their own bodies. How is it uncomfortable for a woman to explore her own body but it’s assumed normal to use your body to practice until sexually perfect?

And what happens when this perfect doesn’t eventuate? What happens to her self-esteem and her confidence in herself as a capable sexual being? What happens when a woman practices and practices – let’s say masturbating so that she can squirt, and this never happens? Where does she take her body next, if she has failed? If her body just can’t do it.

There is a lot about the common narratives weaved about the female body and sex that needs to be changed. Positioning the male body as the sexual normal and seeing the female body as deviating from that norm, has to be number one. But maybe number two has to be destroying this idea that perfection, be it some sexual behaviour or body experience, as being the reason we have sex or masturbate.

Why can women not fuck for pleasure! Why must our cultural obsession with perfection and achieving the next best thing infest our sex lives? Is this what sexual liberation for us really is? Practicing sex until our bodies perform on command, recite the perfected recital to the applause of our sexual partners?


You can slut shame me all you like …

But your slut shaming tells me more about you and the culture you exist in than you could ever imagine!

Before today I hadn’t directly experienced slut shaming. I’ve encountered it through traditional and social media (I doubt there is a woman who hasn’t), but to have a man explicitly shame my sexuality wasn’t something I’d had to process before today.

This man not only chose to outwardly reject my position and shame me for it but he mansplain me into tomorrow. I’m not going to lie, it was confronting to read. I’ve received abusive messages which have been quite confronting, but this was something else. I’m not even sure I can adequately describe it. One of the things we know is that we don’t passively engage with our online spaces; they can be just as real as our face to face experiences. We are often in a very relaxed mental state – In bed drinking coffee, lazy Sunday morning and we aren’t physiologically prepared for a confrontation; so it can become quite overwhelming. As this was for me.

His words were not threatening, quite laughable actually. Chest thumping ‘me dom, you sub’ quintessential kinky mansplaining. It’s not as if I hadn’t read it (or heard it) before, you can’t get far on Fetlife without meeting it. But this time it was a direct attack on me and mine. I’m quite confident in my sexuality, it took me a long time and a lot of hard work to get to a space where I can own my self as a sexual being without hesitation or the need to defend it.

But I didn’t realise there was this point of vulnerability, this fragile edge to me self. Until today.

I don’t usually respond to these people. I usually don’t extend any more emotional or mental energy than what it takes to delete and block. It’s one of the consequences of being a female bodied human being who engages with and puts forward positions and opinions online. But today I had this, what I can only describe as niggling feeling that just wouldn’t go away. I’d walked away from the computer, made the decision not to engage (my positive coping strategies) and yet I couldn’t remove myself from this. Why?

So I sat down and got thinking.

And boy, was I surprised where that took me!

I began to question why something that is presented as alternative or ‘other’ is founded in this absolute appropriation of heteronormative femininity. How can “submissive” be queered if the essence of the identity is a performative, constructed armour worn to conform to a culturally constructed and prescribed set of normative behaviours? I began wondering what on earth motivates a man (a total stranger) to reject outright the proposition that centring the physical sexual pleasure from all of this is legitimate. And what made him think he has the right to demand justification and apology.

And that’s when I realised this was nothing more than slut shaming!

This man, so encased in heteronormative assumptions about female sexuality, so finite in his assumptions about acceptable and punishable female/feminie sexuality, believes he has the right to govern my sexual choices and expressions.

I get overwhelming sexual pleasure out of submitting. Dominance for me is first and foremost a kink. Bossy pants make my ladybits all hot and tingly and my orgasm wave after wave of explosive pleasure. I own this, unapologetically. I love my body and am committed to ensuring that I keep it functioning in a way that works for me and my sexual partner. I am his slave, but a slave who is a sexual being.

Since I began exploring this side of my sexuality I’ve encountered so many self and culturally imposed road blocks. I grew up being constantly conditioned that “good girls” should never expect attention, never expect too much of a man, should submit passively to her biological fate and to never ever feel sexual desire. I can’t remember how many times I’d encountered the idea of a woman’s “lot” and lectured about subjugating pleasure for permanence.  Then there is this ever existing tension between owning my autonomy and serving the greater good of women. The toing and froing between embracing choice and dismantling the oppressive patriarchal structures that police every move I make; including the ones in my bedroom.

I read a quote once (I have a feeling it could have been a Cosmo or Cleo article) that said “there is a fine line between sexy and slutty”. I can’t tell you what came next, I think it was another one of their how to please a man pieces, but this one line has stuck with me for years. This idea that there is obvious permitted relationship between women and sex; it’s so normalised and idolised (dare I say it, even a fetishised) line we women walk just as easy as we breath. It’s innate, maybe biological, and always present. It is always our fault when we cross the line and when we do we must accept punishment – slut shamming.

Dominance and submission are characterised by these oversimplified caricatures, which are often grotesque, stereotypical, common and harmful! Sure, we may laugh off ‘one true wayism”, we snark it and ridicule the ideas. But that’s just not enough anymore! We need to stand up and start challenging them, the language and the assumptions! – I mean isn’t this what feminism is all about?

But first we need to better understand where they come from.

The dominant paradigm of dominance (male) and submission (female) is sold to us as the legitimate representation. It’s ascribes performative ethics to the roles – dominant = active, submissive = passive. Please don’t dictionary definition me! Using the dictionary to present and argument is immature, it rejects the nuance and complexity of humanness. I’m not interested in definition, I’m interested in the way one experiences themselves as a submissive women.

I’m going to make some big claims here, but here goes.

Five common assumption caused by this active/passive dichotomy and why they are grotesque and harmful:

  1. It is an absolute double standard!

When a dominant steps out of the assumptions of heteronormative masculinity he is hero-worshiped! If he brings in emotions, if he is reactive and empathetically responsive to his partner or if he conceded weakness then he is respected. When I as a submissive step outside of the assumptions of heteronormative femininity I am judged and compelled to apologies! If I am displaying desire as opposed to being desirable I am shamed.

  1. It rejects women’s creative power and denigrates our sexual labour!

When one is cast as passive she is without real and present personhood. She is an object within her own sexuality rather than an autonomous being who is eligible for recompense for the physical and emotional labour she exerts

  1. She must be chaste.

To be chaste is not simply to be without sex. It is the rejection of any form of sexual nature and intention. To be passive is to be without intention and meaning. Why do have to be meaningless to be submissive?

Further it positions my sexuality as absolutely symmetrical with his; allowing no deviation. It positions his sexuality – needs and performance as the image that I need to be reactively mirroring if I want my sexuality legitimised.

  1. It rejects a “whole body” approach to sexuality.

When I am compelled to accept that the mental is of more importance that the physical I am being asked to accept a version of me that limits, if not destroys, the intimate and social essence and expression of my self as a sexual being and instead, conform to a prescribed set of normative behaviours. You cannot disconnect the mind from the body and the emotional fulfilment I get from submission is satisfying. But it does not come at the expense of the physical pleasure I receive.

  1. The notion of a coherent submissive self rejects the fabrication of any identification of submissive woman that exists within an in-between space, outside of heteronormative assumptions.

Which brings me back to me question: How can “submissive” be queered if the essence of the identity is a performative, constructed armour worn to conform to a culturally constructed and prescribed set of normative behaviours?

When my behaviours and the core of my identity as a submissive woman are not functionally feminine must I subjugate myself to the approved cultural and linguistic codes? Present myself not as a creation of desires, physiological capacities and emotional needs but as an imitation of harmful and dominant heteronormative norms?

We cannot create identity without the culture around us. There is a deep interrelationship between the self and culture. But we must reject this oversimplified and externally ratified cultural caricature and codification of our experiences as submissive women if we are to ever be free to express ourselves as sexual beings when we do not toe this fine line between sexy and slut.

So you can slut shame me all you like – it’s not going to challenge or change anything that I know about myself. But it will cement my focus on rebelling against the status quo and my feminism every time you do.