Submissive kinky women are far from the shrinking violets that BDSM's critics have characterized them as being. Often they're women who know exactly what they want.
by Alex Henderson
BDSM has come a long way in the last 20 years. A subculture that was once very underground has been infiltrating mainstream American pop culture in a major way since the early 1990s; pop stars like Christina Aguilera, Nine Inch Nails, Madonna and Joan Jett have employed BDSM imagery, and kinky references have popped up in mainstream television programs ranging from “Frasier” to “The Young and the Restless.”
Most college-age adults of the 1960s and '70s had no idea what a dominatrix was; now, it’s hard to find a college student who doesn’t know what a dominatrix is. But as ubiquitous as BDSM has become, there is one area of BDSM that continues to be widely misunderstood: female submission. From the anti-porn school of radical feminism exemplified by Catherine MacKinnon and the late Andrea Dworkin to Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Phyllis Schlafly on the religious right, BDSM’s opponents have often denounced female submission as misogyny taken to the extreme. Even people who are relatively BDSM-friendly may have some wrong ideas about women who volunteer to be tied up and spanked.
But the reality is that submissive kinky women are far from the shrinking violets that BDSM’s critics have characterized them as being, and in many cases, they are women who know exactly what they want in a relationship.
Outside of the BDSM scene, there are many misconceptions about submissive women. Non-kinky individuals might assume that submissive women are passive, indecisive or weak individuals who lack ambition—in other words, the anti-feminists. But spend some time around the BDSM community, and one encounters plenty of submissive women who describe themselves as card-carrying feminists. A female submissive might be a corporate lawyer or an emergency room physician, or she might be signing a major book deal. The fact that she is voluntarily submissive in the dungeon doesn’t mean that she is submissive outside of the dungeon.
One card-carrying feminist who is deeply involved in the BDSM community is New York City-based Susan Wright, founder/president of a sexual rights organization called the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). Wright, who founded NCSF in 1997, is also a widely published science fiction author and a long-time member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). It was Wright who successfully petitioned NOW to drop its anti-BDSM position—and thanks to Wright, NOW’s official position against BDSM became a thing of the past.
“The common misconceptions about submissive women are that what they are doing is not consensual, that they have been coerced, or that they are doing something that they really don’t want to do,” Wright explained. “That’s a misconception because submissive women know exactly what kinds of partners they want and what they want to do and how they want to play. Submissive women have a fantasy. I think that everybody who is into BDSM has some type of fantasy that they want to fulfill, and that includes submissive women.”
Wright continued: “Being submissive is very compatible with feminism because it is choosing your own form of sexual expression. In the end, sexuality is empowering—and you can empower people in all the diverse ways that they enjoy sexuality. Power exchanges are one of those ways. That’s certainly why I did the SM policy project for the National Organization for Women. I’ve been a NOW member since I was 16, and when I found out that NOW had an anti-sadomasochism stance, I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t believe that feminism and BDSM were at all incompatible.” ...