Last week (at least it was last week when I started this post) I read Jessica Wakeman's piece over at The Frisky about her first D/s relationship and was going to write about the similarities/differences with my own first spanking relationship. Except that within the essay was a link (that didn't work but I found eventually) to Amanda Marcotte's post at Pandagon about that article Jessica wrote for Bitch Magazine regarding domestic discipline two years ago featuring, among others, yours truly and my dear friends, Mija and Pablo (see this post for my thoughts on that article). Needless to say it rather distracted me from the post I intended to write.
I'm not sure how I missed Marcotte's post as I was reading Pandagon fairly regularly at the time (and would be now if I was awake more), but it was probably a good thing I did miss it as most likely I would have taken it quite personally ("these people are fucked the fuck up")*. Instead I shrugged off it and its comments as sort of like watching and listening to random people in a bar discuss an event they saw on TV in which you actually played an intimate part. Plus the idea of A. (or Pablo) as an ideologically-motivated pater familias or a misogynistic wife beater made me laugh.
At least, initially I shrugged it off. But…it kept bugging me. As it's been two years since her post, it seemed just a bit late to write a post in response. However the more I continued to think about it, the more I began to feel that a post addressing why domestic discipline is not domestic violence had a great deal of merit.
Definitions: domestic discipline vs. domestic violence
Domestic discipline is planned, contained, sexually-oriented acts of power exchange with regard to real life deeds that may include physical violence between two people who have explicitly consented to those acts, the violence, and the mutually-defined structure of power exchange.
Domestic violence is behavior that seeks power and control through physical and/or psychological coercion over a partner who has not consented to being controlled (staying with the partner is not consent) and frequently includes spontaneous, unrestrained emotionally-mediated outbursts of physical and/or psychological violence.
Domestic violence is about manipulation and focuses exclusively on the desires of the abusive partner, whereas domestic discipline is far more centered on the needs and desires of the submissive partner.
Within domestic discipline, both partners create a construct in which one partner gives authority (in varying degrees) to the other partner in a way that produces sexual arousal for both. Within this construct the dominant partner will speak and act in ways that would be cruel, unfair, and absolutely inappropriate outside of the construct. Nobody ever really, truly requires a partner "take them in hand." When the submissive partner says he or she "deserved" his or her punishment or the dominant partner beats the other with a rattan cane, both are fully aware that they are acting within the construct they have both chosen and actively participated in constructing.
Safe, Sane, and Consensual
I failed to see how it’s much different from domestic violence, except that the women in this situation tend to minimize the conflict through stylizing the violence and submitting to it in a tacit exchange for their partners’ agreeing to have a limit on how much beating and abuse is handed out.
The difference is quite simple and stark: consent. Just as in any BDSM relationship, the motto remains safe, sane, and consensual. Even in the "consent to non-consent" relationships, it always begins with consent. With discussions of fantasies and limits (hard and soft) and safe words.
Part of the process of breaking a victim down is slowly introducing her to this narrative in bits and pieces while depriving her of her independence…
Except that in domestic discipline, the overwhelming majority of the time it's the submissive (male or female) who is the one who introduces the domestic discipline narrative to his or her partner and pushes him or her to "be stricter." Or the two partners meet because they are both interested in the same narrative and join a spanking-fetish group of one sort or another. This is markedly different from the bullying that occurs in domestic violence where the abuser's narrative is forced onto his or her victim.
Some abusers will indeed use spanking as a form of violence, particularly when one partner is into spanking/DD and the other isn't. Such was the case in this situation I wrote about where the guy was (and may be still, alas) "disciplining" his girlfriend without any consent on her part because he thought "she needed it." No consent = abuse.
I've also seen situations where one partner wants the other to spank him or her and seeks to get him or her to do so by engaging in greater and greater deliberately provocative behavior (aka "bratting for it"). It's one thing to "brat" with someone you know is into spanking and may view it as a form of foreplay (though a lot of spankos are just as likely to find it annoying as hell). But doing so with someone who is not into spanking or DD is also a form of non-consensuality. Do note, however, this does NOT excuse the non-spanko partner from responding with violence (you have agency, asshole). Bratting for it may work in John Wayne movies and spanking stories, but it's not going to turn someone into a spanko anymore than a girl in a bikini will turn a gay guy straight.
It's all about sex
DD is not BDSM, which is a sexual game, though some DD couples do also enjoy incorporating BDSM elements into their relationships
This is absolutely false and indeed Jessica made a point of linking domestic discipline to sex in her article ("each and every one considers herself a 'spanko' whose fantasies have long revolved around being spanked."). DD is a sub-fetish of BDSM. It is why you find DD groups at places like FetLife or SpankoLife. Or why DD groups on Yahoo are considered "adult." It is true that those in the "Christian Domestic Discipline" community are probably markedly uncomfortable admitting that what they do is connected to gay leathermen. It is also true that there are some Christian DDers who have a difficult time acknowledging DD is about sex. But even evangelicals who believe in the "headship" of husbands look down on domestic discipline as a sexual fetish.
At the end of the day they are simply using a traditional, religious, patriarchal narrative to make palatable what is very much sexual. And we feminists who practice DD are pretty shameless in declaring that what we do is directly related to our clitorises.
…It seems that domestic discipline is a way of thwarting conflict in your relationship by assuming that every conflict or problem in the heterosexual relationship is the woman’s fault (because she’s childish, scattered, rebellious, whatever) and that it’s up to her man to discipline her.
This sentence requires unpacking, and I'll just start at the beginning.
Her point about thwarting conflict in relationship is an important one that deserves far more discussion in the domestic discipline community than it gets. I am always disturbed when I hear couples say they are using DD to avoid arguments. Conflict is a part of ANY relationship, healthy or not. Spanking (or sex, job, exercise, etc.) should never be used as a substitute for good inter-personal communication skills. Ever.
That said, once the conflict is resolved, DD couples will use spanking in the same way that non-kinky people use intercourse to make up. It may not be the way you have sex, but it includes all the aspects of love, intimacy, and affection that one associates with sex.
It's not about gender
And I use the androgynous term partner because it could just as well be a woman as a man. Marcotte insists that one, domestic discipline only exists within hetero couples, and that two, the man is always dominant. Now based on reading Jessica's article, I can see why she thinks this. While I thought Jessica's description of domestic discipline was very perceptive on a number of levels, she made a crucial mistake in stating that female-dominant or same-sex domestic discipline is merely "theoretical." There are plenty of couples in which the wife is the one disciplining the guy (I really could have linked to a bazillion places for F/M couples). And there are also women disciplining women (if I ever find my Nanny Bea, I can add my name to that list) and men disciplining men. One very astute commenter at Pandagon pointed out that
it’s actually my impression that there’s long been more female-D/male-s than visa verse. My assumption has been that that’s because male-D/female-s overlaps with traditional gender roles, so people who like that sort of thing don’t need to go to a subculture to find it.
Indeed that's exactly been my experience as I've started switching. It took me a little while, but once I found the F/M community, I found more blogs and websites than I could ever possibly visit even if I was healthy and had all the time in the world. And I think Jessica's own male-D/female-s interest kept her from looking for that subculture, leaving the reader to falsely assume that DD is about male superiority by default.
That is not to say misogyny is lacking within the DD community, as well as in the larger BDSM community. Yes, there are men (and women) who engage in domestic discipline (and D/s)** because they believe all women are meant to submit to men (we all know that guy[s] who thinks all dominant women are just waiting for the right dominant man to submit to — who would be him, of course!). There are men (and women) who are disturbed by feminism and find domestic discipline to be sexually, and yes, politically and religiously attractive. Add thousands of years of patriarchy and a society which is still rife with sexism, and it can make the distinction between ideology and wank fodder difficult.
My first draft of this post was snarky, sarcastic, and downright indignant. Marcotte and her commenters come across as condescending and distinctly uninterested in DD as a form of sexuality. However after more reflection, I had to acknowledge my own lingering discomfort with the language of domestic discipline — so much so that I don't even like calling what I do "domestic discipline" because of its 1950s "Father-Knows-Best" connotation, preferring to use "punishment fetish/kink" or "What It Is We Do" instead — even if the fantasies that make me orgasm most often involve domestic discipline. It's because of that discomfort that I almost never read fiction that includes domestic discipline, and when I do, it usually features female-dominant or same-sex couples. Or it's real-life accounts from couples where I know sexism is not the motivation. It's hard for me to not take a "sexist-until-proven-innocent" approach so I can imagine how hard it must be for people outside of our community to hear that my boyfriend spanks me when I go to bed late and not think something terribly sexist is occurring even though it really is true that gender has little to do with the disciplinary arrangement I have with A.
I agree with Marcotte that feminism is being defined too much these days as choice and not enough as empowerment, especially given the growing climate of dis-empowering women regarding their reproductive rights or equal pay. And I'm not going to suggest — as I often see women in the BDSM community doing — that embracing my choice to engage in DD is some grand feminist act, anymore than my eating Cheerios for breakfast is. Domestic discipline is sex and sex is…sex with all of the love, intimacy, transcendence/spirituality, and personal fulfillment that it involves. It's not feminist or misogynist. It's certainly not a movement to return male-female relationships back to the 1950s (even if it may mean that for some who practice it). It's sex.***
But I will say that making women feel bad about the kind of sex they have contributes to their disempowerment. And that is most definitely NOT a feminist act.
*It is also quite possible that I knew about it at the time but deliberately chose not to read it because I suspected this sort of response and now, two years later, forgot that I wasn't going to read it. As you might imagine, my illness-induced poor short-term memory makes reruns far more interesting. ::grin::
**The line between DD and D/s is a murky one. The best way I would differentiate between the two off the top of my head is to say that DD includes a sort of parent-child dynamic while D/s has more of an adult master/slave dynamic – PG vs. R-rated, if you will (or perhaps Freud vs. Hegel). But, of course, there is enormous overlap between the two. Indeed in Jessica's article in Bitch, as well as in The Frisky post that originally sparked this post, she uses the terms interchangeably. But I'll save that question for a whole other post.
***I am fully aware that sex is political and among the many ways the patriarchy has traditionally sought to control women. In this case, it's other women — not the patriarchy — trying to control women and so while yes, DD may be political, engaging in it is not an act of sticking it to the Man. Unless, perhaps, it's a female-dominant relationship.
(Cross-posted at Natty's Spanking Blog)