Here's the challenge: being queer, feminist, sex positive and kinky in an heteronormative sexual environment. I write this following a conversation with Majeste and Mrs Magpie, as we tried to balance the desire to look good (and thus feel sexy, confident and suchlike) without feeling like we were being categorised according to what we were wearing, or, more to the point, without feeling like our ideas of "looking good" are responses to male sexual desire. This was even more complicated for Majeste: at least I can affirm that male sexual desire is interesting to me and that my submissive tendencies make responding to it part of my own sexual make-up.
We were talking about club Black Whip which I've never visited (although do hope to do so), but which Majeste had recently attended. Ostensibly, it's a club for black, female dominants. However, the impression that was received was that is was more a club for men who wanted to be dominated by black women. I'm not casting aspersions on the club, far from it, rather I'm using it to emphasise a general trend, which is also observable in mainstream sexuality, of desire being male-led, of catering to male fantasies and of, effectively, all sexuality being male sexuality.
In her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy coins the term Raunch Culture, describing western society as hyper-sexualised. Rather than the 70s bringing about a sexual revolution in which we are all free to enjoy whatever type of sexual experience and gender expression we wanted we are instead caught in a closed system that only classifies a very narrow field as "sexy" and does so in abundance: sexy is when women are made attractive and available for the male gaze. Whilst Levy is primarily focused on criticising the way in which women have been co-opted into this system as equating "sexual freedom" with "going to lap dancing clubs". My issues with lap dancing clubs are reasonably well known, but putting that aside, where is the room for female sexual expression that doesn't merely ape male sexual expression. Can we find enjoyment in doing something other than gyrating on a pole, or watching other women do it?
My interest was particularly piqued by the similarities I found between the sexual mores of the world Levy describes and those generally found within the BDSM scene. Surely, I thought, surely we kinksters are much more alternative and varied in our sexual expression - it can't all be young, attractive girls with big boobs dressed in tight black latex and getting hit or hitting people?
A quick glance at the internet is probably enough to prove me wrong. Whilst there are some sites and publications that cater to the wider market, the pervert's porn is very much like the vanilla porn. Except in black. And shinier. The emphasis here is on the look and sexualisation of the female for the consumption by the male. I'm not sure whether this is entirely driven by the vanilla world becoming more "extreme" (one could point to the rise and rise of hardcore pornography) or more accepting - one could say, expecting - of nude and semi-nude women in compromising positions.
It could be argued that porn on the internet is always going to be more reflective of the mainstream, but here's another argument - the standard BDSM aesthetic touted around is not so much a reaction or rebellion against vanilla sexuality and gender norms as logical conclusion of it. Let's take some examples - the standard expectation of "girl on girl" and the rejection of "boy on boy", the eroticised dress of the dominatrix as roughly similar to that of the submissive - revealing, figure hugging, with high heels, the high conformity to gender norms (and yes, I know that I might be adding to this through the Doll Project, though hope this works to explore and challenge the issue), the total lack of decent, sexy fetish clothing for men that don't make them look like a vinyl Count Dracula.
The important thing to recognise is that this is not female sexual empowerment. It's not anyone's sexual empowerment, if anything, it's a reduction, a weakening, a limitation. We need to challenge the stereotypes that exist within BDSM, not because I am looking to criticise sexual choice (and vanilla kink is a sexual choice, no matter how much we might look down our noses at it), but because I want to widen sexual choice. Next step is working out how.