Power relations and interpersonal relations – by which I mean, those that carry substantive sexual content, regardless of whether they ultimately lead to coitus – must be kept separate. When they are not, they both become twisted. The preceding invites immediate misinterpretation, and so I must take steps to clarify and set that misinterpretation aside. I’m not talking about the kinds of “kinky” sex games that go by the various titles of “bondage & discipline” (B&D) or that form of pain management that falls under the title of “sado-masochism” (S&M). Note, first off, that the two are not the same. Note, secondly, that, when engaged by two (or more) consenting adults, the power relations are what might justifiably be characterized as “pseudo power” relations. There is a pretense of power in real play. Indeed, insofar as any person in such plays or scenarios exercises real power, it is the “sub,” the “submissive” (who might be either male or female), because this is the person that can bring the whole thing to a stop with a single word. In all real play, the sub has the “stop,” the “safe,” or the “control” word, and can exercise it at any point of his or her choice. And herein lies the difference between consensual B&D or S&M play, versus genuine abuse: in the former, there is a pretense of power in real play, while in the latter, there is a pretense of play in real power.
This is where we find so many of the objections to the sexual fantasy Fifty Shades of Grey. (I decline to link to it.) Well, one of the objections; evidently the writing was not such as to be short listed for the Booker Prize. I’ve not read the book myself, so everything I say here needs to be viewed with some skepticism. However, I am reporting the evaluations of people I trust. So while that should mean nothing to you, it means a quite a bit to me. In any case, the female protagonist in the story never exercises any real power. Rather, she is the Stockholm-Syndrome participant in her own degradation. Persons can certainly appear, to all superficial observation, to be willingly consenting to such degradation. But this is the paradigm of the pretense of play in real power.
And it is twisted. Continue reading