By Rikki de la Vega
Recently, someone submitted the following comment to my site:
Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so, how do you justify supporting BDSM and prostitution? These are practices oppressive to women and opposed by the feminist movement.
My first thought was to just type madly in response; then I considered whether I should delete the comment and be done with the matter. But I reminded myself that being a writer of smut, however well-crafted that smut may be, is bound to attract this sort of reaction, and that how I respond (or not respond) is rather important. I checked in with some online friends and acquaintances, and decided to compose this missive.
Let me first begin with the last portion of this person’s statement, claiming that sex work and BDSM are “opposed by the feminist movement.” Really? Which “feminist movement” are we talking about here? The reality is that feminists, like any other grouping of human beings, have rarely been entirely unified. Even on the issue which galvanized modern feminism – votes for women – its organizers divided over strategies and priorities; and after women’s suffrage was achieved, they splintered further over every issue and question put before them.
So yes, self-declared feminists actually disagree with one another over a number of concerns, including issues of erotic expression. But the one thing on which we agree (or, at least, I hope we would) is that every woman ought to have the power and the right to choose what is best for her own life. Others would say that the goal of feminism is equality between men and women, but “equality” may take many forms, including equal deprivation and degradation. So I would say that feminism is about achieving equality by lifting women up, and expanding women’s rights and choices so that gender is no longer a barrier to fulfillment and freedom.
Now, the author of the above comment has asserted that BDSM and prostitution are “oppressive to women”; and, because I’ve expressed support for people to engage in these on a consensual basis, this individual thus questions my right to call myself a feminist. Well, I could easily point out that many other self-declared feminists have expressed support for both voluntary adult sex work and consensual BDSM, including some leading scholars and organizers, but that might be seen as an appeal to authority. I could even point out that the National Organization for Women first passed a resolution calling for decriminalizing voluntary sex work in 1973, and in 1999 reversed its anti-BDSM policy after years of education and discussion, but I am sure that some feminists would simply dismiss NOW with the same ease with which they would dismiss myself and other feminists who disagree with them. …